in which I start on senioritis and high school student expectations and end on colleges and the uncertainty of life

I wrote this before I received college admissions decisions. I don’t think this will be the last time I write about the topics in this post.

Senior Year Again, A Revised Rant/ Response to What Other People Said It’s Like

There are certain attitudes which people will generalize to something called “everyone” and it most nearly always doesn’t apply to actually everyone. So here are some of my thoughts on my experiences.

In mid-December of my senior year in high school, I was starting to see senioritis sinking in. I thought back to when I had never-ending ambition to buckle up and get work down to make progress on my understanding and mastery of course material, back when I thought I was going to fail AP Chemistry because I wasn’t smart enough and I thought it might have been a mistake for me to sign up for the class. I have prided myself on being a diligent person who doesn’t take shortcuts and who cares about the intrinsic process of learning. It’s hard to really be that with some of the strange structuring of the school system and dishonest behavior of peers dragging me down emotionally, but I was starting to think that all ideals are aspirational–things we work towards but can never achieve, things we can approach but never reach, like an asymptote. In December I was getting tired and thinking that there are better things for me to do than some of the things I’m expected to do as a high school student. And sometimes there are things that can’t be done. But I don’t think senioritis is a right.

Back when I started writing this post in December, it was a few days after one day when a portion of one of my classes blew up over senioritis. They argued with the teacher that they should be allowed to indulge in senioritis, that they needed a break after years of school. I actually kind of get that, and I myself have seriously considered taking a bridge year between high school and college so that I don’t have seemingly nonstop school. However, I think that there are some disordered habits within much of the student body which contribute to the problem. Students should be relaxing throughout the years of school, balancing deep work with deep relaxation, hopefully taking a day off each week. Though actually we have so much homework and school piles it on for AP courses during the summer. Summer’s too short, summer work’s too much. Some students find themselves thinking they’ll starve themselves of sleep and make it up during the weekend. That’s not how sleep works…though school also starts too early for me. I see people with caffeine dependencies and people with the mindset of just getting through this and making it until the weekend, and I wonder, how did you fall into this? Yet I myself sometimes fall into these places that are hard to get out of.

Some teachers keep saying that the problem is because people are telling us what to do. One teacher said that we shouldn’t be taking so many APs, especially on top of so many time-intensive extracurricular activities, but that then again parents and counselors and colleges are telling us to take on so much and build up a resume for the colleges. Another teacher commented that probably most people joined a club she advises in order to pad their resumes. I find these ideas ridiculous. One, if you ask pretty much any college representative (or at least the ones I have heard from), they are looking for commitment, depth of involvement, and basically meaningful things that tell about you as a person. Since when do laundry list items satisfy any of those things? Since when does getting volunteer hours for selling raffle tickets–or bringing in canned food that my parents paid for and picked up–make me look like a good person? Since when does it make sense to sacrifice your life for a college that will be so much harder that you won’t have the motivation to even get through that? I believe that college work is harder than high school work if you’re doing it right (but not busier–for me, that would be impossible). College requires more responsibility and personal motivation than in high school–so why would you fake having what it takes?

On why I am taking so many AP classes: I am taking four AP courses. That is not a lot compared to some people I know but I don’t think I can handle more than that and still find the time I invest worthwhile. There are only so many classes available and the most challenging ones in my school are APs. I want to take challenging coursework so that I won’t be bored–and I have been bored and underchallenged in school courses throughout much of my life. I used to think school was supposed to be easy, but it started getting boring in high school. In a way, AP courses seem to underchallenge me, or perhaps it is just my high tolerance for challenge, or perhaps it is my habit of overpreparing for projects and assessments–in some courses, I was surprised to hear my classmates freaking out about the difficulty of the content and assessments which I found stressfully difficult only when I fell behind or did not do the required preparation. The main strain was on time because sometimes it’s just not possible to get all the necessary work done if you only have so much time.

About doing more activities so I can look good for college applications: Literally, when I was recruiting members for the environmental club while trying to found it, I told someone I knew and she was like “Yeah, I’ll join. I need more clubs.” I’m not sure if she cared about the environment. She didn’t go to a single meeting, though I didn’t talk to her about it anymore because I was looking for enthusiastic and motivated members, not filler material. But the whole “more clubs” is pretty generic, like do you even care? When I was in ninth grade, my school counselor recommended to me and another ninth grader that we join at least ten clubs. This is how many clubs at my school I have attended meetings for:

  1. Debate Team
  2. Art Club
  3. Environmental Club
  4. Poetry Out Loud
  5. Endangered Species Club, which I joined in 12th grade because of its relationship with the environmental club
  6. Literary magazine, for which I attended an info meeting but the club didn’t happen
  7. A somewhat obscure philosophical and political discussion club, even though I didn’t actually join…I just observed the club a few times for a writing assignment
  8. Economics Club, if going to one meeting and deciding that I wouldn’t commit counts

Anyway, I already have lots of other activities. I wasn’t interested in any of the volunteering clubs, not because I don’t care about other people because I didn’t think those clubs’ activities were an effective use of my time. So maybe I would have looked like a better person if I had more regular community service commitments. I also claim to be interested in STEM but I don’t have any clubs involving science or engineering–does that mean I’m wrong? I wanted to join Robotics in eleventh grade but I couldn’t add it into my already busy schedule. I also wanted to audition for the musical but didn’t have time to even get involved in the production. Some people think I am being pushed into STEM because of its reputation for having stable careers or something like that, and because I have a clear interest in the arts and humanities. However, I like math. I like computer science. I like using the tools of math to solve scientific problems. I don’t want to think that there is a conflict between my many interests anymore.

I wasn’t always so enthusiastic about STEM, I think partly because I was trying to rebel against my parents and expectations in middle school. I actually considered joining some of the STEM academic competition clubs in ninth and tenth grade but I decided that I didn’t want to spread myself thin and instead I wanted to focus on ballet. I didn’t have a deep interest in science in 9th grade. It has felt to me as if people keep assuming that you’ll know what you want to be in 9th grade. Like when my physics teacher in 9th grade said if you want to be a playwright maybe you shouldn’t take AP Chemistry because it’s a waste of your time. I thought I wanted to be a playwright in 9th grade (not that I had written any plays). The thing is, once I started being challenged in science classes, I realized that I actually enjoy science. It became difficult and intellectually fulfilling, just like writing.

I read the guides online about how to get into those colleges and how you need to start from 9th grade. Which is why I was getting worried, that I didn’t quite make enough accomplishments in writing or whatever. I was just trying to live? I was just trying to do what I loved to do, which was to read and write, at the time. And maybe I haven’t been doing that as much now, because I’m not actually good at it. That’s kind of why I haven’t been writing so much–I figure I might spend time on things that I can actually do good at. But now I do want to get into a top school because of the challenge, because I really need to stretch and grow. But if I don’t get there, I can do an easier school, a less challenging program, and find a way to make the most of it. Because I have been doing this in school for much time and I can keep doing life. So life. So life so life so life.

This whole college obsession thing is kind of ridiculous I guess. Like in middle school there would be those parents who purposefully get into conversations to exchange info on their kids–SAT scores, etc. And now it’s college admissions–applications, acceptances, rejections, and it seems kind of weird. I mean I get it to some degree, this feeding off information and knowledge–it’s why people like trash gossip, not just the constructive kind of gossip if there’s such a thing, but this horrible trashy stuff like you would find on nerd E-news if I even know what that would be like.

I don’t know what school I want to go to or really what major I want to do or whatever. I’ve been thinking there are places I want to go to school. But really I want to get into a school that was at multiple points my top choice. I evaluated it practically and it fits with my goals and interests. I want to get in early so that I won’t have to worry about what school I’ll go to or about going to one of my second-tier choice schools. But who knows really. Because really it doesn’t matter because no matter what (even if I get rejected from every school) there will be a place to go, a choice, a life, a journey. And yes, I’ll have to keep on going–keep on keeping on no matter what. And what’s worth it is that I’ve been starting to live, albeit in a crooked way. My crooked neighbor, see my crooked heart.

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teenager

I don’t know where my childhood ends, and I don’t know where my adulthood starts. I remember a timed writing assignment in fourth or fifth grade on my favorite childhood toy with a prompt that implied my childhood was in the past. I remember thinking when I was ten or eleven, and still distinctly considered myself a child, that teenagerhood was a disgusting category all its own–completely different from childhood and adulthood, and a completely unfavorable experience for pretentious kids who want their lives to be knockoff reality TV. To me, being a teenage girl meant shopping at Aero and Abercrombie, meant wearing clothing that was uncomfortably tight, meant swearing and approving of middle school stairwell makeout seshes, meant starting and engaging in all kinds of drama, meant exclusive clique-iness while claiming that my friend group was in fact very inclusive, meant making fun of the freshmen in high school once I was done being a freshman in high school, meant making my parents spend all sorts of money on a new Vera Bradley item each month, meant makeup and curled hair and gossip. After I turned thirteen, for a long time I rebelled against accepting the notion that I was a teenager, and I found further reason to do so when I could only remember hearing the term to describe me when my dad spat “such a teenager” when I espoused contrarian views or got into fights with my parents.

It wasn’t until one day when a friend told me that I was about seventeen and that was a good age to start trying to enter discourse that adults were engaging in, that it sunk in. I’m seventeen, I thought. I’m really seventeen. I realized that I was not only a teenager but nearing the upper end of the teenager years, that soon I would be an adult, and that I felt way too much like a dependent kid, and that maybe it was partly because I was being treated like a kid. Half a year later, I read Hamlet in my literature class in senior year, and saw parts of myself in Ophelia, who was much older than I was. Ophelia’s father told her she was a baby and that she should listen to him because she didn’t know what to think on her own. A line that I remember is her saying, “I do not know, my lord, what I should think.” I read a post on the Adroit Journal Blog where the author argued that Ophelia is a quintessial teenage girl because of the way her own thinking and feelings are erased by the men around her.

Sometimes I feel like my teenagerhood consists of the time after I realized that I was seventeen and almost eighteen and therefore a teenager. I think I called myself a teenager before that–I remember specifying that I was a teenager (or a high schooler, at the very least) on the About page of this blog when I started it, and probably in another post. By calling myself a teenager, I was trying to show how much I wasn’t a teenager, I was trying to show that I could think what I thought were adult thoughts and live what I considered adult concepts like minimalism and sustainability too. I didn’t like Aero and Abercrombie or Forever 21, I didn’t like fast fashion and fast food. I liked Everlane and Sezane, I liked Gregorian chant. It bothered me when I wrote poems about teenage romance and existential crises, because that seemed too immature to me.

I have since changed my thinking on what it means to be a teenager. I still feel weird associating the term teenager with me sometimes. When I showed my school counselor a mood board I put together for a college application, she said she liked it because it showed that I wasn’t just a top student but also a teenager who liked to have fun. One day last year my wellness teacher said something about being a teenager–he was giving a quick statement on distracted driving, and just said that teenagers are part kid, part adult, and that we can be kids with our friends in the cafeteria, but we had to be adults when doing adult things like driving. And I think maybe that was the best explanation of teenagerhood that I hadn’t been given until then, really.

The idea of teenagerhood I had been given was that teenagers are bad and rebellious and angsty and annoying and immature. I never really fit in with the people around me, and I hadn’t had the best experiences with the older kids when I was younger since some of them were nice but the others just kept to themselves and seemed to think they were too good to associate with younger children (I don’t think that’s the case anymore, now that I’ve been on the other side and have been too anxious or nervous to talk to people that I felt no negative feelings toward, including those younger than me). My dad used the word “teenager” in what I took to be an insult, and I think that underscored my urge to prove I was absolutely not a teenager.

In some ways I might be right about my teenagerhood starting late and seeming so short. Because for so much of the time before, I tried so hard not to be a teenager, to not have the middle ground between child and adult. I wanted to keep the best things about childhood while also taking on the responsibility of adult, while skipping the confusion and mistakes and immaturity that teenagers can fall into. But I think by trying to navigate the path from childhood to adulthood, and struggling while doing so, and trying to define for myself who I am while others created their own interpretations of me and my age, then I was effectively being a teenager, albeit a teenager who hasn’t fit in many other teenagers. And I think there’s something I have liked about adulthood, or at least my idea of adulthood–that although the world is bigger and scarier than it was in childhood, there won’t be high school to squeeze me into such narrow notions of what it means to be a human being who is interesting and interacts with others.

honest and positive

I started writing this sometime in 2016 but I’m finishing writing this in early 2017

“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.”

“I’m not afraid to tell the truth. I tell it like it is.”

In these sayings there is implied a dichotomy between being nice and being honest, where being “too nice” means being too accommodating to the point of being a pushover.

In middle school, I argued that there is no such thing as “too nice.” The stepfather in a book I read in my sixth grade Language A class was seen by the protagonist as “too nice,” because he didn’t stand up to children who were being, well, mean. My sixth grade self would have argued that not standing up for yourself or other people is actually mean–it’s not being nice to the person being insulted or attacked.

Nowadays, I think my confidence in some senses has decreased while in other senses expanded, and when I think about trying to be nice I think of shrinking back, of decreasing the size and space I take up, of making my voice smaller and less important, of saying well you know well maybe you’re right more. Of trying to seem more agreeable, of compromising more, so I can get along. I don’t know, maybe it’s because trying to say what I thought and be who I wanted to be got me into trouble, and got me accused of not being agreeable and friendly in the past. Maybe because some people are just that good at getting their way and making me doubt and question what I really think. Maybe because I’ve had my confidence stripped from me, maybe because I’ve let that happen. Maybe because if you hear something enough you start to believe it.

Something I thought in ninth grade: What if you look so that the truth is good?

I was thinking, what if you look so that the truth is the good, the truth is nice? And telling it like it is means to build each other up in this world of falling down, of finding the true goodness that exists in all the dirt, of finding that which shimmers and gleams in the middle of a pile of trash, of not letting the lies of the world get to you.

So life is crazy, life is always crazy. Things tend toward disorder. This is how my time and schedule and everything goes. But there are things to say, there are things…I am so busy because there are problems, there are things to see and notice and imagine and think and say. Because there is more to the story than the same old same old, there is more to do than acquiescing to the everyday currents of life.

Since the presidential election and since I learned about the resistance at Standing Rock in November, I’ve been thinking a little more about letting a bit more of how the darkness in the world is just as valid as the light in the world settle in. Both exist. You can’t let the hope get overwritten by the negativity, but you also can’t ignore the pain and suffering which is real, the less than nice things people do every day, the ways people have their words and stories overwritten or their value and/or values ignored.

I used to think that being a good person meant being happy all the time, like having a smile plastered on my face the way some of the popular outgoing girls in middle school did–the way some girls are expected to, the way if you don’t it’s called a RBF when really it’s just a neutral face, the way females can look mean without doing anything but males can look neutral. But I’ve been learning more and more (and I still know so little) of the inequality and problems that haven’t been solved–that can and do but shouldn’t go unnoticed and unacknowledged–and I don’t think you need to gloss over the bad in order to keep your positivity. In some ways things are just bad and aren’t going to be solved easily or quickly, and things are just going bad, but in other ways honest and positive are not mutually exclusive. (And maybe telling it like it is isn’t so bad after all, if it doesn’t mean resorting to insults and ear plugging and going lalala, because like I thought in middle school, not standing up for people is mean–sometimes shutting up can be mean, other times you need to shut up and listen.) I like what Rob Morris from Love146 said in a video I am currently unable to find, something about how you need to stare into the darkness to do good. Keep your skin thin, let the problems of the world sink in.