Transit

16027962396_dc920bf2e0It’s the summer after my freshman year of high school, and I’m riding the metro home from my first day of volunteering.

Halfway through the route, an old man -a veteran it appears- boards the bus. As he hobbles down the aisle, I unwittingly smile at him.

Mistake. He stops in front of me, articulates something incoherent, and shakily produces a Dum Dum from his pocket.  A ghost of a beard covers his chin. Everything I learned about drug safety in elementary school flashes through my mind, but I take the lollipop, smile, and immediately break eye contact.

That was the only time I ever accepted candy from a stranger.

Whenever I tell people that I semi-regularly ride the metro in a city where public transit is associated with people who aren’t rich enough to have a car, I feel like I get judged. Maybe it’s because they expect me to have a bunch of stories like this. Maybe it’s because they know I also have my license already.

But that first year, taking a lollipop from a stranger was the only interesting story I had. I was coming and leaving during rush hour with people working in the medical center, and I wanted to believe that my red volunteer polo and khakis made me fit in with their scrubs and business clothing. This was nothing like school bus rides in elementary and middle school, which were characterized by conversations with my friends and frantically bugging people for food.

Here, I was amongst a bunch of strangers and eating was prohibited. But in sixth grade, I did run a origami business from the front pocket of my lunch box, folding on the bus rides. (Instead of money, I charged Post It Notes.) I could still do that. I spent my bus rides folding with scraps of paper in my purse, leaving the piece on the bus in an attempt at an artsy project.

Over the next few years, I began travelling other places at other times, and I began to notice more things.

If you were selfish, you took the aisle seat so that no one could take the window seat next to you. Most people generally sat in the window seat. Not that the buses were full enough to warrant filling up both seats. No one in my neighborhood ever waited at my bus stop. The buses usually came at least a minute later than the published schedule, so being slightly late was ok.

As an Asian girl, I was stereotypically one of the most vulnerable populations on the bus. The further away it was from rush hour, the more likely I would be the only non black person on the bus. And the bus wasn’t the place to forge lifelong connections, but I acutely felt like an outsider. The drivers would always answer questions if you asked them, even the stupid ones.  If there were a lot of people waiting at the stop, there was a good chance that the bus was coming soon.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been 5+ miles from home waiting for a bus that’s 15 minutes late, with my phone at 1% battery, with no data plan, alone on the edge of a busy street, in the middle of a Houston summer day. I have a friend who was mugged after getting off a bus, yet I choose to have an almost sickening faith in the good will of people. That maybe the rational side of my brain telling me that crime rates are at record lows might actually overpower whatever psychological fears I have.

Even so, I still keep my keys and money in my pockets when I have a choice in case my purse gets stolen. I rarely take out my phone on the bus.

Sometimes, I feel like a tourist on the metro, since I clearly don’t rely on it as my sole source of transportation. Yet, I’m grateful to know that for 60 cents, I could get an air-conditioned ride to anywhere in the city without bothering anyone else for a ride. The metro makes me feel like a silent ninja, moving me around while leaving behind a minimal carbon footprint. I have $1.80 left on my metro card and less than 2 weeks left in Houston.

What are my last three rides going to be?


photo credit: 20140405 03 CTA Blue Line Shuttle Bus via photopin (license)

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“Hey, I’d like to talk to you more…”

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Someone asked me for my number about a month ago. After I typed in my number into their phone, I failed to reciprocate. And after some other stuff ensued, I’ve been thinking about it.

I haven’t asked for someone’s phone number or email for personal reasons in a reallyyy long time. Instead, I’ve hidden behind Facebook friend requests and other forms of stalking to stay in contact with people.

Maybe that’s just a reflection on how easy staying in touch with someone has become, but it’s also a bit screwed up- to no longer have that in person acknowledgement of “Hey I want to talk to you more. How can I contact you?” 1

I found an old index card in my 6th grade pencil bag with handwritten email addresses on it. 2 This wasn’t for a class project, and these weren’t my closest friends. They were people I sat with during homeroom for 40 minutes a day, people I didn’t mind spending a few minutes to get in contact with outside of school, even if they were stupid conversations and chain mail…heh.

I would never dream of doing something like that now, mostly because I could just find them on Facebook and then message them “Hey what’s your email?”

But when I found those handwritten email addresses, now gone the way of physical contact books, I realized that the way I communicate with people has changed dramatically. Even though my 26 year old brother reminds me that I barely remember life before the Internet (I have vague memories of dial up when I was in kindergarten), I also can’t quite relate to middle schoolers texting on their iPhones and fluent in social media lingo. I do remember what it was like before smartphones and widespread instant messaging.

In late elementary school/early middle school, it looked something like this:

Instant Messaging: IT WAS SO COOL TO BE ONLINE THE SAME TIME AS SOMEONE AND BE ABLE TO TALK TO THEM. IN. REAL. TIME. I would schedule times to IM my friends, or secretly hope that someone I knew was online. Otherwise, I would send them an email. Chat statuses on Gmail were the coolest thing ever.

Calling: I had to get the phone numbers of my friends’ landlines, call them, get through their parents (“Hi this is Amy, one of Julia’s classmates. Can I talk to Julia?”) before asking some question about homework.

Email:  There was a point where I had 20 email conversations going on with a friend. I used to be a chain mail forwarder. (I’m so sorry.)  I could email my friends (or even all of my email contacts) with a draft of a story I had written out of the blue, ask for feedback, and expect them to respond.

Now it looks like this:

Instant Messaging: The assumption is that you’re online more often than not. I take reaching someone almost instantly for granted.

Calling: Many people I know don’t even have landlines anymore, and I can reach them directly, no proxy (assuming that I have their number). I’m more likely to voice/video chat them now as well. But now I feel like have to text someone “Hey is it alright if I call” before I call. Otherwise, it’s too surprising, too spontaneous.

Email: I think this analogy is appropriate:

 Email: IM :: WordPress: Facebook

In other words, email is the older version of the more convenient technology that most people don’t bother using anymore. Yet I use it because it has a degree of formality, the pause when you know that someone has set aside the time to read things, a bit more secluded from the rush.

Even this is a primitive description of modern technology. I still don’t have 1) a data plan on my phone,  2) unlimited text, 3) Snapchat, or 4) Instagram. 3 Regardless, I still talk to people online more than I do in person, and I hear enough about the lack of face to face communication in my generation. I wonder about all the lost subtleties in technological communication- the awkward pauses, the awkward eye contact, the awkward laughs, everything wonderfully awkward and personal.

And is that really worth the cost of not being able to talk with some people at all? In other words, is the missed connection, the missed communication really worth?


  1. But let’s be honest, if I asked for numbers/emails in the way I took pictures, I would constantly hate myself because I would constantly not feel comfortable doing it. Wait that’s why I’m writing this post. 
  2. I used to swear on carrying index cards everywhere like I swear on carrying plastic bags everywhere now. They could serve as bookmarks, scrap paper, straightedges, and uh, I don’t actually remember. 
  3. I suspect that with those 4 things, I would be more likely to ask people to stay in touch. Sharing Instagram/Snapchat handles is a thing, and had I texted more, maybe I’d have a reason to ask more people for their numbers. 

Inequity in optimism distribution

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Some books make my rational side happy. Some books make my emotional side happy. Some books make neither side happy. And then there’s Paul Tough’s lastest book, Helping Children Succeed, a compilation of the latest neuroscience research on 1) why certain students who grow up with hardships succeed and 2) how those findings can be used to improve education for all at-risk children.

The entire book is available online for free. Here’s an excerpt:

Farrington concluded from the research that the key factor behind academic perseverance was students’ academic mindset — the attitudes and self-perceptions that each child and adolescent possessed. She distilled the voluminous research on student mindset into four key beliefs that contribute most significantly to students’ tendency to persevere in the classroom:

  1. I belong in this academic community;
  2. My ability and competence grow with my effort;
  3. I can succeed at this; and
  4. This work has value for me.

If students hold these beliefs in mind as they are sitting in math class, Farrington wrote, they are more likely to persevere through the challenges and failures they encounter there. And if they don’t, they are more likely to give up at the first sign of trouble.

The complication, of course, is that students who grow up in conditions of adversity are primed, in all sorts of ways, not to believe any of Farrington’s four statements when they’re sitting in math class.

Those 4 messages match the narrative that students have been constructing for years about school. They address complaints, from “we’re never going to use this in real life” to “I’m just not good at this” to “the school doesn’t care about us beyond our test scores” to “my teachers don’t have time to know about me as an individual”. This confluence of neuroscience with the true, real experiences of students, if anything, shows the importance of students sharing their stories.

And maybe that the most damning inequity in education isn’t necessarily one of resources -counselors, social workers, quality teachers, Pre-K programs, extracurriculars-  but instead one of hope, of belief- that less privileged students don’t have.  I’m constantly reminded of this Atlantic article about the stories we craft about our lives:

The redemption story is American optimism—things will get better!—and American exceptionalism—I can make things better!—and it’s in the water, in the air, and in our heads. This is actually a good thing a lot of the time. Studies have shown that finding a positive meaning in negative events is linked to a more complex sense of self and greater life satisfaction.

[…]

The trouble comes when redemption isn’t possible. The redemptive American tale is one of privilege, and for those who can’t control their circumstances, and have little reason to believe things will get better, it can be an illogical and unattainable choice. There are things that happen to people that cannot be redeemed.

Life’s Stories

And this same sentiment in a blog post:

It is gratifying to believe that we are the sole operating agents of our own lives. It is uplifting to believe in stories of redemption, wherein those with nothing make the independent choice to strive and turn their lives around. It is unsettling to imagine the great fortune we have in a confluence of circumstances that is entirely outside of our control. It undermines the distinction between us and those less fortunate.

The Narrative of Privilege

I’ve been force-fed the narrative that I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it. And I’d love to believe that it’s true, as it motivates me and gives me faith in the world. But more and more, I’ve become aware that this optimism in and of itself is a manifestation of privilege.

Before my high school graduation, I was talking with some of the first people I met in high school and some of the last people I would talk to: the people alphabetically next to me.

Among the red itchy fabric, (almost) all 800 graduating seniors in a high ceilinged concrete hall with dampened lights and poor ventilation, behind the scenes at one of the district’s largest graduations in Houston’s football stadium, one girl asked me: “Would you do high school the same again?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you were to do it all over, would you work this hard again?”

I pause before I say: “You definitely won’t believe me when I say this, but I probably didn’t work as hard as you think.”

“Bullshit, you worked your ass off for this. Don’t tell me that you going to college for free ranked in the top 1% and that you didn’t work hard.”

And somehow, I managed to do precisely that with some remark about grade inflation. 1

What I meant, I guess, was that I didn’t work any harder than what would have been expected given my environment. You can call it privilege, or segregation, or why affirmative action exists: I was a product of all of those.

I was the student that teachers didn’t need to pay much attention to because they knew I would do well regardless. I was the student that counselors didn’t need to pay much attention to because I would definitely be going to college. I was the Asian girl who came from the magnet middle school that over-prepared its students for high school. I would be graduating from the high school that was somehow an exception from the typical comprehensive, urban school, a school that could compete with the exclusive magnet schools, the private and charter schools, the suburban schools. That I had every reason to believe that the 4 years ahead of me are, for the most part, going to be great.

And that even in the face of all science and personal experience, I still choose to have this illusion of control in my life, this almost sickening degree of optimism and faith, that in the end, it’s going to be okay, and I’m going to be okay.

And I don’t know whether to feel stupid, guilty or grateful.


  1. Actually though. When more than 70% of your AP English III class gets an “A” and when 30-40 point curves on tests are the norm in other classes, you start wondering what your grades actually mean. 

Rhymes with “Fuck it List”: Paperback Exchanges + The Sugar Shop

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I doubted there was much of a small town feel to Houston.

The two most popular hangout spots for my peers are Starbucks and Chick-fil a, both walking distance from my school. The rest of that shopping complex is filled with chain retail stores. During lunch, flocks of people head off campus to grab lunch, returning with food from Chipotle, La Madeleine, Whataburger. The lines for the outside vendors are always longer than the ones in the cafeteria. There are a disproportionate number of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals who live in the neighborhood and whose students walk the halls. Despite the 60 year old school building and the few remaining pastel-colored wooden houses from the 50s, I feel like I live in a suburban neighborhood sometimes.

That’s why I was surprised to learn that there was a used book store, Paperback Exchanges, less than a 5 minute drive away from my school, at a strip mall along a confusing three-way intersection, receded from the curb and obscured by trees. The Yelp reviews mentioned the store owner by name. Puffy yellow graffiti on the window storefront advertises the used books.

But when I went to visit with a friend Friday after school, the door was locked. The sign at the front was flipped to “open”. Store hours on the door said that the store would be open until 5.

I asked an elderly lady who was peering inside.

I don’t know why the store is closed, she said. Missi never stepped out without leaving a note. Maybe she had gone to grab a sandwich since she didn’t take a lunch break. Her car wasn’t in the parking lot. She must have left in a hurry.

We nod. How long had the store been around?

At least 20 years, and Missi had been there since forever.

We introduce ourselves as high school seniors from the local public school. She immediately names her grandchildren, nieces, and in-laws who graduated there.

Finally, a tan sedan pulls up. That’s Missi’s car.

The elderly lady introduces as “potential customers” as Missi gets out of the car and unlocks the door.

You know when banks tell you that someone’s gotten into your account and they send you in a hurry? Missy says. I had to rush over to the nearest bank and check to make sure everything was alright. Oh, you kids are so lucky.

We smile at our own naivite. After some discussions about college, they let us browse the store, as they keep talking. The front of the school contains the popular releases, the newer hardcover books. I recognize titles from the Amazon bestseller list. But they seem out of place, too shiny, too new, for this bookstore.

The store itself is only three shelves wide, but very deep. Quickly, I realize that half the store is romance and…more than romantic novels, a reflection of the people who visit. There’s a small YA section in the back corner, a scattering of recent popular novels (Twilight, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Alex Rider), right next to a section with classics. In the biography section, I find a signed copy of a memoir by a local politician.

As we buy a few books, I notice the business card for a nearby bakery on the counter. They used to be neighbors until the baker moved a few blocks away. We should go to the bakery and say that we sent them. We take the card, thank them, and leave.

With only an address and a map sans GPS, we drive past it the first time. It’s a standalone place behind a strip mall. A splash of new red metal furniture decorates the front.

When we walk in, Michael, the owner and baker, instantly greets us. After taking a glance at the pastries, we shuffle to the back, looking at the gifts. There are homemade fruit preserves, cigar boxes, assorted decorations, and …a basket full of stones glued to pill bottles.

They’re used for burying spare keys in the yard, Michael says. Put the key in the pill bottle, and bury the stone in the yard. No, there aren’t any stones buried in front of the store. The key is right here, you see, hanging right beside the door frame, and the owners of Paperback Exchanges and another children’s store each have a copy. If anyone ever gets locked in, we ask each other for the key. I’m usually the first the one here in the morning though.

How long has the bakery been around? I ask.

A long time, but I only recently moved in to this location. Do we see the fridge there? When I first moved in, I didn’t know how to adjust the temperature. Once, I heard a loud BANG in this building. Turns out a can of coke exploded all over the fridge. But now the temperature is under control.

And did we see these decorated sugar cookies? I always make a few extras because some of them always don’t turn out well, and I display them here. These were for twins, but they didn’t have names yet, so I just put “Baby A” and “Baby B”. There were so many more cookies earlier today, but they all sold out. There’s still a few sugar cookies, lemon bars, biscotti, oatmeal raisin cookies, pies, scones, and other desserts left.

I buy a dessert, and Lucian buys a slice of pecan pie.

Oh there’s an oddly shaped slice of the pecan pie left. I had a slice myself for breakfast, and there’s a weirdly shaped slice left, he says as he places an entire quarter of the pie into the box. I try to hide my surprise.

As he rings up our order, I scramble for leftover change, trying to determine the exact amount for tax.

“$3.50”

I could add tax, he said, but it’s easier to assume that tax is included. Plus, I’m not sure how the machine works.

Another pleasant surprise. We grab napkins (bright red ones, like the tables and chairs) and forks. As we step out, Michael tells us that he sells cakes as well, if we ever need them. And please, we should take a business card.

We smile, say we already got them from the bookstore, and walk out. I’m still in marvel at the huge slice of pie.

Next, we head to the nearby park across from the neighborhood library, eat our freshly-bought pastries, and read our books until the sun shines through the trees into our faces as it sets.

A true account, though there were many liberties taken with speech, hence the lack of quotation marks. For more information about the bakery and the used bookstore, check out The Sugar Shop’s website and Paperback Exchanges on Yelp

When The Snowflakes come back (NaBloPoMo Day 30)

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photo credit: snowflakes5-horGG via photopin (license)

Is it over already? 30 days? Of all the years that I’ve done NaBloPoMo, this time around has been the least “bleh”. Though it’s also ended in the most protected posts.

Now that I don’t have to expose my writing on the internet anymore, I can go back into my recluse and focus on writing college essays. Clearly, I’ve spent some posts writing drafts, but finally, there’s no pressure to post on a regular basis. (I’ll remove the password post-college decisions)

But even as I’m starting to think about college essays again, I’ve been wondering about the benefit blogging really had throughout high school. Though obviously not as consuming as most extracurriculars, I definitely do spend a non-trivial amount of time editing and writing each post, without a specific aim, without a specific focus. I never considered myself one to have extreme writer’s block, but whatever benefit I derived from simply churning out words month after month without too much concern for quality clearly isn’t evident. College essays definitely require more anecdotes and reflection, sometimes to the point that it hurts, and sometimes, I’m happy to hide behind vague ideas on this blog.

On another note, I surpassed 200 posts somewhere in the middle of the month.

Another idea that’s been buzzing around in my head is the true value of hastily writing something, specifically, on BSing it.

I rarely ever start writing something with the mindset of BSing it, but I often do take ideas and spend 2 or 3 times the number of words explaining it than necessary, often to reach a word count. Even then, I consider it writing badly, not necessarily BSing.

But what about writing BS in order to get to the good writing? Whenever I desperately need to write something I don’t want to write, I go to Write and Die, set a timer for 15 minutes, and force myself to let the words flow. More than often, I’m pleased with the end result ever time I get to the end of the 15 minutes. At the beginning, the ideas are jumbled, with sentence fragments and short paragraphs taking away any structure the writing originally, had, but as time goes on and on, the ideas become more refined, often just through starting over and rewriting, and something semi-coherent is left at the end.

Depending on how much I care about the resulting work, I either edit it, or leave it as is. Generally, I spend way too much time editing writing for it to be an efficient use of my time on schoolwork (especially considering that it rarely gets read), but I also spend an inordinate amount of time “editing” posts on this blog that maybe should have just been structured better to begin with. Sometimes, I read back on stuff that I didn’t edit, and it’s completely understandable and coherent, and it’s difficult to figure out what the value of fine tuning every word really was. Sometimes, I read back on works that I wrote in middle school that I know that I spent hours poring over and editing and rewriting by hand…and they’re embarrassing to read. (Cue Stories from Middle School)

This is a realization that I reached a bit too late, but not all writing has to be concise and clear in order to be effective. At one point, I thought that my blog could serve as a diary of sorts, where I could post about every day. As with the reasoning with NaBloPoMo, maybe the pressure of posting every day would force me to edit and closely look over my pieces. Yet at the back of my mind, I knew this wouldn’t work. Online, I would constantly self-censor my work, leaving out important details that I would simply find embarrassing, even if they looked seemlessly benign to an outsider. As a result, I started using Google Keep to store these diary-esque entries. And since they weren’t public, they were often 15 minute unedited blips that jumped from topic to topic.

That’s when I realized that it didn’t have to be perfect and public in order to be valuable.  There’s a place for public writing, and there’s a place for private writing. And then there’s college essays.

Happy December. (For anyone on WordPress, it’s only December when there’s officially snowflakes on your blog. This is always a nice end to NaBloPoMo)

Fun Fact: In the quest for discovering the value of leaving writing unedited, and for writing posts without an outline or any structure of sorts, I decided to leave this piece unedited (Once a complete word was down, there was no going back) and unstructured (Once an idea came to mind, I put it down.) .

Non-epiphany: How I see others vs. How I see myself

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TL;DR: Stop being judgmental of everyone, including yourself.

Through reading modern/classic literature (turns out all those YA novels did have some benefit), reading other blogs, thinking about/reading/writing college essays, talking to people, and my own life, I’ve noticed a disconnect between the way I saw other people and the way I saw myself.

When other people (fictional or real) share personal struggles, I admire then and be proud of overcoming them. When I see my grades slip or show some sign of imperfection, I see it as an irreversible mistake. And when I share them, I feel like I’m asking for pity. (Even now.)

Whenever I give praise, I always want it to be received positively, but I’ve been one to shy away when receiving compliments and gifts myself.

Whenever I meet someone, I used to think they would assume the worst of me and that I would have to prove myself somehow. But when I meet someone, I generally like them or have no opinion about them.

When other people talk about their accomplishments, I feel happy for them. When I do it, it felt like bragging.

Traits that I see positively in other people become negative when applied to me and only me for some reason.

The generic advice is to ignore what others think, but it’s it important to get this outside perspective sometimes, especially when it can boost my ego be comforting.

That is all.

Rejected College Essays: Nerding Out

An actual essay draft I considered submitting for an open-ended supplement but ended up scrapping.


It came in the middle of studying for my AP chemistry exam. Locked in my room the day before the exam, I had printed a pages of problems to work on as a review. My phone was beside me only as a source of music.  I had my notebook open, and I was silently working through pages of problems, occasionally looking up formulas, and writing everything I didn’t know on a sheet of butcher paper.

Oddly enough, I felt…happy. Overwhelming happy, in fact. Logically working through each problem, no one looking over my shoulder judging my every step and noticing my stupid mistakes, methodically reasoning through and checking each problem, feeling the tiny pangs of rejection and the short bursts of satisfaction. If decided to go another route, it didn’t annoyingly come back at me. If I needed a formula, I didn’t have to wait hours for a response or remind myself to make sure to follow up the next day.  In other words, nothing held me back asides from my own hard work. It was that same rush of intellectual satisfaction I got in the middle of math competitions, sans the time constraint and competitiveness.

I remembered back in middle school when doing homework alone in my room was the only thing I had to do every night. I dreaded having a textbook and a sheet of paper as my only entertainment for hours every day. (Getting a portable radio into my room was a huge deal.)

But now in high school, I missed this silent studying time. With no structured activities in my schedule (sports, band, yearbook, orchestra, a job, family obligations), I had to determine the balance of extracurricular work and school. As a result, my entire life became a cost benefit analysis, where I would consistently ask “could I spend my time any better?”

Should I spend my time writing an email, or doing my homework? Could I pay attention in class and work on another assignment at the same time? Did I know a topic well enough to do well on the test? And even if I didn’t, would the grade hit be worse than telling people about an event a day late? How much sleep did I really need to do well at x? (Too often, my sleep-deprived brain reasoned the answer to be “not much.”) Often times, Student Congress work seemed more urgent and more glamorous than sitting in front a book, and it would push aside other work that was less glamorous, more time consuming, less urgent. Namely, school work.

Even when I spent hours doing nothing, I would constantly get this nagging feeling that I was missing something and frantically figure out what it was. I began treating doing well on tests as evidence of studying too much. I know that I had formerly overlearned, but it shocked me how little studying I could get away with. Spending additional time on material solely because I enjoyed it seemed selfish, especially when I could spend that same time helping someone else. It took my last minute studying for a standardized test that hundreds of thousands of students would take to realize how much I valued my individual learning process.

In the rush of everything, I had forgotten the simple joy of learning, the very thing that I felt was missing in schools and made me interested in education reform in the first place. In 8th grade, I had spent most of my lunch doing math problems in a teacher’s room because I genuinely enjoyed it. If I was to learn anything properly, it’d have to be without the constant pressure of other things looming over me. Even if it was there, I had to strongly insist that focusing on academics was a worthy use of time.

Sure, bringing 100 students on a trip to Austin was exciting, but so was sitting with a book doing math problems. Sure, writing an amicus brief and getting national press coverage was thrilling, but so was reading drafts of the brief and struggling for several minutes to word a sentence properly. Hosting Student Congress meetings on my own was exciting, but so was figuring out a meeting format that would be both informative and engaging for students after my Cabinet had told me that they felt bored and ineffective after our meetings that first year.

That summer, alongside other things, I worked as a summer student at MD Anderson.I had no intentions of going into medicine or research, but I was curious to get a glimpse back into the academic world I had seemingly alienated.

What I found surprised me. There was no pressure to get things right the first time, as long as I had something correct to present at the end. Even though I was in front of a computer for most of the day, I had the chance to talk to the people around me. Directly asking my mentor questions in person followed by an immediate answer was in stark contrast to asking and waiting for a response via email or chat. People openly criticized other peoples’ ideas without any criticism of the person. People ate lunch in front of their computers to get more work done. No one in my department spoke English as their first language, yet when it came to explaining their project, they all spoke perfect (though accented) English and explained complicated concepts more clearly than some of my teachers. I was jealous of the people I worked with, jealous that they could spend the entire day working on a few things, jealous that they got to decide how to spend their 8 hours every day, jealous that what I only had a summer to learn, they could do all year.  Even though I knew I was enamored partially because it was my first exposure and that the novelty would most likely wear off quickly, I carefully observed everything about the environment around me and embraced my work.

As I returned to school, I began to feel this struggle again- whether to stay quiet and do my work like I had done over the summer at MDA, or to focus more on the outside world, the so-called “real world” through the Student Congress. I still cannot tell whether I’m an introvert who revels in nerding out, or the awkward extrovert who feeds off the energy of a crowd. I realize that these are not mutually exclusive, but more and more, I feel like the frantic peddler running in between two worlds that keep demanding increasing amounts of time and energy without any aim as to where I’m going. Only time can reveal where I ultimately stay.

Stories from Middle School: “The Emily Story”

“Hey, what did you get for number 8?”

We had just walked out of the room after taking a history test, and the post-test discussion of questions  officially begun, despite out teacher’s warnings that this was considered cheating.

“Huh? Was that the question with the weird graph?”

“Yeah, because there were two answers that made sense, and I wasn’t sure which one to put, since the firs-. ”

“Oh my gosh Emily,” my friend Jessie cut in. “You don’t need to be worrying! You’ll probably end up getting like a 105!”

“No I won’t!”

We all looked at her.

“Seriously!”

We kept looking at her. It was pointless trying to deny the truth.

Every once in a while you meet someone who is better than you at everything no matter how hard you try. Throughout middle school, Emily was that person. Getting all the best grades, becoming the teachers’ favorites, good at sports, music, art, and everything in between. In essence, she became a virtual standard for us– the standard of perfection that only she could reach, leaving the rest of us only able to look up to her and marvel.  Every time report cards came out, people would instinctively swarm over to Emily and ask, “What was your lowest grade?” to gauge themselves against the hard-cut standard of grades and to see how far away they were from the ideal.

And about that history test. Despite her worries, Emily only ended up getting a 100, which actually had a negative impact on her grade, pulling her average down to a 102 in a class that offered practically no extra credit. As her friends, we found this very frustrating, as our grades weren’t nearly that spectacular. It would often feel as if we were leading a rebellion against her perfection.

“Why do you have to be so smart? You make us all feel bad!”

“This is so depressing! I just figured out that I messed up in like 5 places!”

“I know! Me too!”

“Emily, you know what? You’re too perfect for your own good!”

Perhaps one of the more clever remarks we made regarding her perfectionist tendencies was “Being too Emily-like is bad for your body!”

Her response? “It probably is…”

To top it all off, she never flaunted her intelligence or grades. And she was nice. How many other people do you know like that? (Answer: None) Was it really a surprise that we lauded her as perfect?

Eventually, our inability to see past her flawlessness led my other friends and I in a quest to find every single imperfection about Emily: a word she said, something she did, anything, as long as it wasn’t “perfect.” (which we never officially defined) The list grew amazingly fast, considering that we put super high standards that declared virtually everything as“imperfect,” including but not limited to, 1) saying “It makes me happy!” in a 5-year old tone, 2) using the word “dude,” or 3) typing “idk” in chat.

This must have been far more annoying to Emily that constant bombardments of “You’re so perfect,” as every aspect of her life was under scrutiny by unforgiving middle schooler eyes, but the rest of us saw these lists as the only way of proving Emily as human.

Thankfully, we stopped this practice after a while, although we were still left  unsure as to how to cope with such…perfection in the world.

…And thus temporarily ends a story that I do not yet know how to conclude. My original conclusion was inclusive in itself, and I feel like this is a story better left unfinished.

Note: This story was originally called “Perfect,” but the name was changed since I would refer to it more as “The Emily Story.”