Monday, January 05, 2015

posts elsewhere

Hey y'all! Hope you've been having a wonderful New Year thus far. I've been writing a lot this Winter Break (mainly poetry, but also some blog posts), and those posts are viewable here:

Last Friday Night - this one's more personal (a very reductive tl;dr might be "Adora has a breakdown in a shower stall")

New Rules - this one is a rumination on the odd complexities of modern social / romantic interactions

If you enjoy reading both or either please recommend them on Medium and feel free to share with your friends! Thanks so much :)

Friday, November 21, 2014

on not being a "popular kid" in high school

I guess I achieved a certain measure of notoriety by the time I was a senior in high school, the kind that comes from whispers about "the little genius" in AP Lang (whispers I never heard directly), "the child prodigy," "the published author," "the girl with the Wikipedia page." This was cute, flattering, and constantly surprising.

But notoriety is different from popularity.

Someone might have heard of me, sure, but that was different from the kind of all-consuming desire to be with me, to be me, that shadowed the popular kids.

In tenth grade I was a shy fourteen-year-old, the kind of person who sat back in my chair and watched events I didn't fully understand. But I quickly realized who was "popular." They were carefree, rich, and beautiful. They had cars which they talked nonchalantly about crashing, and cabins at Steven's Pass or Whistler. I wasn't old enough to drive. I'd never been skiing. The popular kids all seemed to be athletes, too--beautiful lithe cheerleaders, dance team girls, tall volleyball or soccer players, and a whole lot of football and track and cross country. I didn't have a team or a club that felt particularly like home; it would be another year before RHS Speech and Debate formed for real.

Because of that lack of a cohesive group, the struggle that epitomized high school stress for me was the task of finding who to sit with at lunch. In the hallway leading from the classrooms to the cafeteria, illuminated by sunlight flooding in through floor-to-ceiling windows, were wooden benches. They lined the walls, gleaming rosily. They were always packed with people. The cafeteria itself was a zoo. Both the benches and the cafeteria tables seemed reserved for that separate class of the species: people who knew people. Oh, sure, I knew people, but I wasn't confident enough to feel like I could barge into their tightly-linked circles. My sister and her orchestra friends sat on one of those wooden benches in the hallway. We said hi, tersely, once. I didn't expect to be able to rely on her for an entry into high school social life in any way other than being introduced sometimes as "Adri's little sister."

My main point is this: much as I hate to admit it, and probably tried to forget it, I know what it's like to look around furtively for an empty table, somewhere in a corner you can sit with a laptop and some food to pretend like you're eating alone by choice. (Hint: I'm not.) I know what it's like to make a last-ditch effort to bond with two of your older sister's friends just so you have some friendly people to sit with (holla, first day of junior year). I know what it's like to sit in the emptiest of empty bathrooms with your plastic sandwich container and a sandwich you suddenly don't feel like eating that much anymore because you don't want anyone you know to see you eating by yourself. I know what it's like to feel unwanted because it takes your big sister's intervention to get you a homecoming group (sophomore year!) And oh, the most painful--I know what it's like to hear one of the boys in that homecoming group tell your sister afterwards, "Adora kind of dances like a spaz."

It does get better--so much better. In a sort of exquisite karmic retribution, the boy of the spaz comment asked me to homecoming in junior year. And at lunch I started having philosophical conversations with a classmate from my AP Psych class, debates on cynicism and idealism, and alternating dirty jokes and heart-to-hearts with my best friends. I looked around a cafeteria of hundreds of people and realized that I could find a friend at almost any table I wanted. It was the kind of thing I'd only dreamed of as that shy fourteen-year-old of sophomore year.

There's a New York Magazine article entitled Why You Never Truly Leave High School, a (grim for some) piece on the disproportionate influence of your late adolescence in shaping the rest of your life. "Our self-image from those especially adhesive," the article states. Maybe that's why I revert a lot to that shy fourteen-year-old I once was, feeling like I'm just tagging along with the big sister who didn't want the nerd kid sister around to cramp her style. Just tagging along with the boy who never really liked me that way. Just tagging along with the popular kids who find something entertaining or philanthropic or astute about being kind to the petite girl with half-framed glasses and big vocabulary, whose worksheet answers were always available for copying in the madcap minute before the bell.

When I think of my true self, sans all the impurities that come with time and the experiences that mean little more than X's on a checklist, I think of a fourteen-year-old girl who's never been kissed, still lights up with the joy of the unexpected when someone calls her beautiful, acts like everyone's kid sister, tells two boys she likes them with inelegant apology-and-pathos-filled letters, loves hard and runs fast. I think of a seventeen-year-old girl who will always feel grateful for the invite to the party and the seat at the table, and tries to pay those forward too. Sometimes it's those moments of struggle we try to forget that enable us to rescue the reincarnations of our past selves, as their eyes scan crowded cafeterias, looking as delicate and vulnerable as we once were--

in some ways, as we will all always be.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

where are you going, where have you been?

I'm seventeen, which means that I'm overdue for the Next Big Thing. 

That's the way the voice in the back of my head talks. It's the voice that feeds on every "So what are you doing now?" "Are you planning on writing another book?" "What are the issues you care about?" "When's your next speaking engagement?" -- in short, every question that could possibly be asked by some well-meaning person who's watched my TED Talk and recognizes that I'm not a twelve-year-old girl anymore.

In wishing me happy birthday on my Facebook wall, one of my roommates welcomed me to my "last year of being a child prodigy." I never really thought of myself as a prodigy, mainly because prodigies are people like Mozart. Prodigies don't sway enthusiastically to the song "Stay High" at parties or get B's on history papers (sorry, Mom and Dad). They most definitely don't write angsty blog posts about their past and future while listening to Marina and the Diamonds in order to procrastinate on writing speeches they need to deliver in less than a week.

But for the sake of discussion, let's say that this is my last year of being a prodigy. That means 18 will be my first year of being...what? Will the candle on my eighteenth birthday cake be, like a swaying flame in one of those mysterious ceremonies for sororities or secret societies I never joined, a first initiation into blissful, anonymous, normality?

That question, or some version of it, reliably wraps my mind in knots tighter and cleverer than anything my fingers could tie. It's done that ever since I turned 13 or 14, when I first became conscious of the fact that luck and opportunity had pushed my starting block ahead on the track of the archetypal rat race. At that age I was turning down some opportunities to speak in front of lots of people for various reasons: the impact wouldn't be great enough or the travel time would be too much.

I knew I had friends who would kill for those same chances.

Those are the moments when you think I'd look down at my metaphorical starting block and just be glad for where it was, but all I wondered was this: could I keep pushing it ahead? At what point my friends would catch up and start lapping me? And would anyone forgive me if I turned around and ran in the other direction, to join them? Because I wanted to go to prom. I wanted to have summer romances. I wanted to stay up too late talking to friends on weekday evenings.

But didn't I also want the inspiration of the people I met at conferences? The chance to be an influencer? The opportunities?

Por que no los dos?

The voice in the back of my head believes in a Wonder Woman, of the type that illustrates Barnard College president Debora Spar's book of the same name. A woman (or girl, I haven't decided which I am yet) who can be productive and popular, who can study in the library and finish writing her speeches and stories on time and run infinite miles per week, make oodles of close friends who she calls up for 2 AM heart-to-hearts and snuggle parties watching her favorite tear-jerkers (Philadelphia, A Single Man, and Casablanca, fyi). She is able to sing. She faithfully attends those free Zumba group classes at the gym. She delivers well-prepared speeches at every conference she attends, speeches that earn her standing ovations, and writes books that earn her all the money, power, and glory of the Lana Del Rey song. She is perfect. And she is not me.

The problem with the rat race is that it treats life like one of those clear white lines on a track, and if there's anything that isn't linear, it's life. Screw the rat race. Screw running in one direction. And you know what, screw the fact that I'm using "screw" here because using the more profane alternative in a public blog would compromise my "image" (to quote the sole line I remember from Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," "The horror! The horror!")

The other night, my friend Julian asked me what makes me wake up in the morning and I realized I didn't have a good answer. This morning I woke up around noon (in my defense, I went to bed pretty late) and stayed there until almost 1pm trying to figure out the answer, finally fixing on the thought that I really, really needed a glass of water. "I wake up in the morning because I realize I need water" is so low on Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs that the distance between me and self-actualization seems mildly insurmountable at 1pm.

The truth is, I don't know sometimes why I wake up in the morning. I don't know if my verbose anger at the rat race is just my sturm-und-drang-heavy defense of an imperfect life.

Maybe the whole rat race metaphor is the wrong one, at least one that's been keeping me looking at my feet for too long. I like to think instead that we're ships on a vast and endless sea with no land in sight. That's terrifying to some, but it gives me the thought that the sooner we stop searching for the land we'll never reach, the sooner we can turn our gaze away and upwards, to lose ourselves in the twinkling constellations where we will someday find our place.

So you're saying achieving temporal perfection is less important than finding grander meaning?


Nice try. Now get your f***ing speech done, kid.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

having fun by myself

It occurred to me a few months ago that other people watch movies and TV shows by themselves.

I know, I know, this is the sort of epiphany that isn't supposed to be an epiphany, in that class of Realizations Adora Has Way Too Late (like "Three left turns make a right? WHAAAAAT?" as my classmate patiently taught me me how to make my robot turn in my comp sci and engineering class, or learning how to tie my shoes when I was...uhhh...older than 10, or finally doing precalc over the summer before my senior year).

But this realization has deeper roots than sucky spatial reasoning or laziness in the shoe-tying department or math avoidance. Consciously thinking, "Huh, other people watch stuff for entertainment by themselves" made me reflect on why I don't.

One of my neighbors, around my age, has a TV in his own room...and in almost every other room of his house. My family owns a grand total of one TV, so out of necessity turning on the TV at all has been a family affair since I was a kid. It started with watching episodes of Friends with my parents, laughing at all the jokes before I was old enough to understand what most of them meant. Then we watched 60 Minutes and America's Funniest Home Videos, switching between ABC and CBS in time to see some dude getting whacked in the balls on one channel and some dude getting subpoenaed before Congress on the other (obviously, AFV and 60 Minutes aren't that different).

When I was a tad bit older Saturday Night Live became the latest family tradition, and when I got a little older yet we started piling into the living room on Thursday nights to watch the Big Bang Theory, religiously, at 8pm. Back in the DVD days of Netflix, we had to come to a consensus on which movies to order; grudgingly, my family once agreed to watch the thinly-veiled political commentary movie Miral, if only because I put up with my sister's 1990s chick flicks and Mom's French romantic dramas. (I allied with my dad on Humphrey Bogart/Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn movies and weird comedies). When we started Netflix Instant Play, the member of the family who skipped ahead and watched a later episode of Arrested Development without the rest of the clan (cough ADRIANNA cough) would get scolded.

The only show I ever watched by myself, without my mom or my dad or my sister or friends around, was NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. But that was never really for fun fun the same way the Big Bang Theory or Friends was for fun fun. It was fun, it just wasn't fun ^2. You know.

It was chatting with people on Facebook that tipped me off to the fact that I was weird. They'd tell me "I'm watching X show right now" (while chatting, which is pretty blasphemous--seriously, who talks while watching TV?!?! That's like farting while praying or something, right?) and I'd realize Wow, people have fun by themselves.

People have fun by themselves.

Why should that be so surprising?

My first love was reading, and reading books is the poster girl of solitary fun. Sure, you can read to someone else, but it's basically an individual thing. Except there's that scene from A Single Man (one of my favorite movies, by the way) where the two are reading, and it's gorgeous and AHHH 
But let's put that aside for now.

I've decided that I want to make having fun by myself more of a priority, because, extroverted as I am, being around people can be as exhausting as it is exhilarating. I don't need to call up a friend every time I want to watch a movie, and I can give myself permission to watch the last episode of Bob's Burgers without my sister (sorry, Adrianna).

After all, if I divide my life into this false binary of alone + working vs. with people + having fun, I'm never going to know what my laugh sounds like in an empty room, with my covers pulled up to my chin as I watch some Monty Python movie for the 3rd time.

And I think the lone laugh might just be beautiful. 

Monday, May 05, 2014

This House

Yes, it’s stupid, but I wanted this to be the house
To go to for Thanksgiving when I’m 30,
After all, this is the house where I slept with boys for the first time,
In those platonic fumbling moments during “co-ed” sleepovers,
And told horror stories on a creaky bed at 3 AM.
This is the house where I told my first crush that I liked him,
In the unjudging darkness of my pink-walled room,
The eyes of wooden dolls looking down benevolently
At my hopeful, hopeless six-year-old self.

This, the house whose nooks and crannies I knew
Like the curves of the handle of my suitcase,
Where I could fling the door open after getting home on a red-eye flight
And pad across the hall in a millisecond flat to jump on my twin bed.
The floor in the entranceway is a black-and-white chessboard,
And it occurs to me when I walk on it with sockless feet
That there’s no other place where cold marble is so welcoming.
I’ve come back so many times, that I can ride the curve of the freeway winding into this city
in my dreams, and I do.

This is the house whose green walls were Base when we played tag,
We played out in this backyard with mud and hands and knees,
Used sticks and bandanas for Capture the Flag games where
No one knew the rules. We took prisoners without asking
And when we won, we yelped from one wooden deck
Across to the other, then went inside for watermelon slices bigger than our heads
laughing at the sticky juice,
as if the raindrops that go missing from Seattle in the summertime,
dripping down our cheeks onto these granite kitchen floors like a baptism.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sorting as a prevalent plot device in YA lit

This weekend I went to see Divergent, the movie adaptation of Veronica Roth's bestselling and Hunger Games-esque dystopia novels for young adults, largely because of the buzz in my school's feminist club about the main character who (gasp!) stands up for herself, has a girl best friend with whom she does not compete over boys, and manages to save the male lead/love interest practically as many times as he saves her.

Conflict in Divergent arises because the character is, as the title might imply, different; she fails to fit into a single "faction," a group determined by your strengths--selflessness, honesty, intelligence, kindness, or bravery. The story itself isn't an unusual one for YA lit: main character faces romantic subplot plus conflict with a corrupt government that threatens her life. And there's another thing: the prevalence of sorting. Think about popular YA novels/series of our time--Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, the Giver, Percy Jackson and the Olympians--and then think about how sorting plays a role. Hogwarts houses in HP. Districts in HG. Assigned roles (Birthmother, Giver, etc.) in The Giver. Houses based on parentage in Olympians.

After watching Divergent I wondered why. Why do we rely so much on sorting in YA lit? Is it because in real life, characterization of teenagers and kids happens more by the groups we express allegiance to than the values we ourselves espouse? Because people don't think that our morality has emerged beyond Kohlberg's conventional level of moral development, and thus we need our group loyalties to keep us in line?

Or is it something else entirely, a shrewd way for writers to tap into the innate desire of so many youngsters, who are struggling with finding their own groups, to simply belong? In other words, a rather terrifying question: do all these dystopian (or simply fantasy, in the case of Harry Potter or Olympians) sorting mechanisms speak to something we actually desire?

Monday, March 17, 2014

keeping up with the joneses, when the joneses are high schoolers

When I came back from South by Southwest EDU, I felt excited. Vitalized. Energized. Motivated. All the good words that end in -ed. But I also came back pressured. 

It wasn't the kind of pressure that anyone put on me explicitly. It was the kind of pressure that comes from talking shop with some of the smartest people in the teenage jet set, the kind of people who start awesome non-profits, build their own apps, launch political action committees, and compare speaking engagements the way some of my classmates compare who went to which parties. Instead of "Were you at Dana's? Joe's? Sarah's?" these peeps ask "Were you at CGI? Davos? TED?" 

In NY Times article the Youngest Technocrati, UChicago economist Gary Becker was quoted saying, "This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks unprecedented."

As our resumes get longer, younger, the insecurities pile up too. Impostor syndrome, which Wikipedia describes as "a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments...those with the syndrome remain convinced that not deserve the success they have achieved. [They believe that others think] they are more intelligent and competent than they [really are]," runs rampant. I've heard inventors and TED speakers and university valedictorians under 20 years old all say some variation of, "I don't think I'm that smart."

It's gotten so bad that at this point, hearing someone disparage their own intelligence has practically become a sign of its existence.

Combine a room full of smart teenagers with too many accomplishments to list, all thinking that everyone else is smarter and more accomplished, with the modern world, and you have a recipe for the kind of gut-wrenching, anxiety-breeding busyness profiled so prolifically in everything from books (Overwhelmed) to NY Times opinion pieces ("The Busy Trap"). In "The Busy Trap," author Tim Kreider writes, "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day."

And existential crises are, like impostor syndrome, common among the "smart" and accomplished. On the Davidson Institute's website, J. Webb writes, "It is such existential issues that lead many of our gifted individuals to bury themselves so intensively in "causes" (whether these causes are academics, political or social causes, or cults)." 

Burying oneself in a cause? 

Sounds like a lot of people I know, perhaps including yours truly.

On the flight home from Austin, I pulled out my iPad and started a frenetic brainstorming session listing all the possible organizations to get involved with, internships to apply to, influencers to contact, topics to write about, websites to write for, causes to advocate. I tried to dream up issues to have an opinion on and vulnerable groups that people hadn't stood up for already, because I didn't want to be late to any party. 

Yes, this was how shallow I was on that evening flight out of Texas, and in retrospect, I hate it.

I got home that night and looked critically at my calendar. I decided, quickly, that there was too much emptiness. This, even though I regularly stayed up until 1 AM on school nights finishing homework and answering emails. This, even though I had to schedule in time with friends ("Hang out with J," "Froyo with H," certain days' appointments would read) and often had to struggle to find a convenient place to schedule a phone call. But it seemed like everyone else was busier yet. How could I complain when my friends were getting 2 hours of sleep and on red-eye planes to Europe and winning robotics tournaments and pulling straight A's and getting jobs, and I was...napping?

It was guilt for not being busy enough. Tim Krieder in the NYTimes went on to say, "Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work." It was immensely relatable. When he went on to write about a friend who'd taken a sabbatical of sorts from the whirlwind of NYC, he said that she'd changed for the better. "What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do."

"Force" might be overstating it. None of my friends at school or at conferences ever looked me in the eye and told me that I had to churn out some new accomplishments. In fact, our indulgent late-night conversations indicated the opposite: in our drowsy musings out loud, we idealistically assured each other that we would still be friends with each other, regardless of what we chose to do (or not). 

And yet there's still that ever-present sound in the background like a heartbeat that reminds us to get busier. In the Washington Post article, "Why Being Too Busy Makes Us Feel So Good," Brigid Schulte writes, "People compete over being busy; it’s about showing status. “If you’re busy, you’re important. You’re leading a full and worthy life,” Burnett says. Keeping up with the Joneses used to be about money, cars and homes. Now, she explains, “if you’re not as busy as the Joneses, you’d better get cracking.”" 

I need my boredom. I need my sleep. I need my 30 minutes on Thursday nights with my family to watch the Big Bang Theory, because let's face it, the fate of #Shamy is way more important than anything I'm working on.

Most of all, I need a society that's okay with me having a Google Calendar that stretches on and on with unfilled white pages, the way the sky stretches on and on above me when I'm trying to trace shapes in the clouds. I need pausing to find beauty. And sometimes it takes beauty--like a thought provoking late-night conversation with a friend, or a spontaneous adventure ditching class to run in the woods, or a highly relatable NYTimes article--to make us pause.