Showing posts from 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 seeme…

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 …

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…

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…

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…

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 …


The full text of the talk I delivered at Yale and Columbia:
It’s 9:01 PM, and I’m looking at a photo.                It’s a photo of a bunch of smiling teenagers. They’re standing in a rather official-looking building with wood-paneled walls and a clock on the wall. They are exuberant. Close. Joyful—and, perhaps, joyfully smug. I have known some of them since middle school, others since sophomore or junior year. They are my classmates. My friends. They are my high school’s National Merit scholars, preparing to receive official district commendations.                This group of students will get the best that life can hand them. They are getting into Ivy League schools. Prestigious science research summer programs. Becoming finalists in competitions. Winning tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships. They stand on the precipice of taking control of their lives, and they are owning it.                Let’s backtrack a little. How did they get here?                When they were six…

American Eagle

I’m sitting at my desk, staring at a coupon card from American Eagle, the preppy teenagers’ clothing store. “LIVE YOUR LIFE” it reads, with a trademark sign. I wasn’t aware that AE had a copyright on this. I guess all of us livers-of-our-lives better pay up soon, or face corporate IP lawyers’ wrath.
The entire ad is drenched in landscape porn—crystal-blue rivers, sun-speckled mountains, hills upon hills of trees or snow. All pretty normal for AE.
Ignoring the alluring “Hey Adora, here comes cool: take 25% off” I couldn’t tell why I was staring at the advert until I looked at the people in the eleven pictures.
White. White. White. White. White. White. White. White. White. White.
One person, his face mostly obscured by the coupon insert, was a light-skinned African-American, Hispanic, or Filipino guy.
Walk past any AE store and you’ll see the same amount of racial diversity throughout in-store marketing. You see, American Eagle sells more than badly designed sweaters. They…

South by Southwest, Day 2

Christopher Hayes, author of one of my favorite books (Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy), had a lot to say about "Fractal Inequality"; he used the example of the summit at Davos to illustrate his points. He writes,

"When you arrive at the Zurich airport, your first instinct is to feel a bit of satisfaction that you are one of the select few chosen to hobnob with the most powerful people on Earth. Airport signs welcome and direct you to a special booth where exceedingly polite staff give you a ticket for a free shuttle bus that will drive you the two hours to the small ski-resort town in the Alps.

But you can't help but notice that other guests, the ones who landed on the same plane, but who were sitting in first class, are being greeted by an army of attractive red-coated escorts who help them with their bags before whisking them off in gleaming black Mercedes S-Class sedans for the two-hour drive.

Suddenly your perspective shifts. At first you had vi…


The night I board the Peter Pan bus for Providence, there's a young-ish guy, hair cropped close to his scalp, in a black overcoat, arguing with the driver. The driver is collecting people's tickets, and the overcoat-swathed unfortunate is short on a paper ticket. He only has it on his phone.
I reflect for a moment on how that could have been us--at least, if I hadn't dragged my mom and sister to the Manhattan School of Music's uncomfortably warm library to print the tickets, because I didn't want to make trouble, goddamnit. Memories of aggravating Indian airport officials expecting to verify paper tickets and coming up against our iPhone versions still stung rather fresh in my mind. I didn't think they, or this Peter Pan driver, were right, but I didn't want to suffer in accidental martyrdom like this poor guy just trying to get back to Providence.
He steps on board and throws his satchel into a storage bin, but the relief is short-lived. The driver again dem…