Creative Corner: One Word

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from eighteen years of life, it’s that boredom can be to a fault. Here I am, slouched down on my parent’s leather-upholstered couch, staring at a blank computer screen that is adjusted for maximum brightness. There are a number of websites that I could easily search up and scroll through until a snazzy picture or article catches my eye and prompts me to click on the tempting link. I could just as easily remove myself from the couch and find something mildly productive to do, but I don’t.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t in any way attempt to suggest that sheer boredom, strong enough to slay Argus, has led me to this degenerative state of mere existence. It is, in fact, a series of vaguely annoying events that has thrown me into a lack of being which I am halfheartedly pulling myself out of.

You see, this year, which is coincidentally my senior year of high school, has allowed me to realize my supposedly deepest fears. I wouldn’t typically downplay my fears with the word “supposedly,” but I’ve entered into unemotional territory as of late and I feel that I can’t honestly state my fears without something of a qualifier to describe my intense lack of feeling. And really my only goal here is to be honest, if not with others then at least with myself.

I may be a little naive due to the fact that I pictured senior year as one long episode of “Hannah Montana” or another equally picturesque high school sitcom. I would be riding around with people piled in the backseat of my car, going out to basketball games with my friends, picking up takeout on random school nights. The issue with my high school fantasy is that I left out the most important, fate-determining factor–myself. When you’re the type of person who worries over safety and legal responsibility for minors, you might not be the best driver to tote around a horde of wild teenagers in your mom’s beat up minivan. If you’re taking six advanced placement courses, you are more likely to be buried under sheets of math homework than getting takeout at ten at night. But if I have to hear the words “you did this to yourself” one more time, I just might burst.

The issue with things is that I can’t say that I’m unhappy. I desperately seek an aching sadness that clings to my rib cage and pulls me inward, away from everyone and into a self-constructed cocoon. In a way, I feel that that type of emotional distress would be reasonable as everything I thought I was working towards has been swept cleanly away like it never existed in the first place. Picture a blackboard with differential equations and trigonometric identities haphazardly written across to suggest intense concentration and high levels of academics. I’m the clean slate next to the blackboard confused because my identity seems to have been misplaced without the possibility of blaming it on disorganization.

My life is organized. One look in the mirror and I see a young girl with neatly combed brown hair, lips parted in a wide grin. There’s a splash of tiny blemishes across the cheeks, but there’s nothing inherently messy about them, despite their undesired presence. In fact, their symmetry is almost unnaturally perfect. A pert nose rests under a forehead that has remained unlined from youthful energy, despite the amount of stress that has been placed on the delicate shoulders that curve down into slim arms. Everything is as it should be. There’s still the big, bright eyes, opened wide with optimistic faith, the curious mind questioning what it is that life is all about. This person hasn’t changed on the outside, so what’s the distinction?

I suppose that the distinction here isn’t even about myself. It’s about the unfavorable, though entirely irrelevant, events that have unfolded around me into an inescapable ring of fire. Maybe I’ve been singed. But I have this uncanny ability to consistently believe that even a third-degree burn can be healed.

At this point, I’m still sitting on the couch, but I no longer feel a weighted opposition to all movement. I guess I’m just not bored anymore. Even my computer screen no longer bears the sickening whiteness of a blank monitor. Now there’s one word typed in the top search bar.

And I only need one look to comprehend the dire importance of this word, “live.”

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On Being Stuck

The summer between eleventh and twelfth grade was a difficult transition period for me. I had come out of junior year with perfect grades, a slew of extracurricular activities and plenty of self-doubt. Despite the two and a half month break from school, I knew that senior year was quickly approaching and my academic fate would soon be decided in the form of college acceptances or, *gulp*, rejections. Perhaps my parents could sense my increasing anxiety or maybe they just needed a break from their own hectic lives, but either way it was decided that at the culmination of summer our quaint family of four would head up north to experience the rugged landscape of Yellowstone National Park.

Fast forward a couple of months and there I was, boarding a flight to Utah, listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In the U.S.A.” while scanning the change in scenery from L.A. to Salt Lake City. My family would drive the long route from Utah to Wyoming in order to hit up a few other states we’d always dreamt of traveling to (yes, people can dream of going to Idaho). Of course, the crown jewel of our trip would be roaming Yellowstone’s hot spring-infested fields and grizzly bear territory.

As my family crossed the welcoming gates of Yellowstone National Park, we all felt the sense of awe that can only come with natural splendor. Our trusty rental car, the exact same model as our own car at home, drove us ten or fifteen miles past any signs of civilization and into vast expanses of meadows, hot springs and bison herds. My mother turned down the music dial so all we heard were the car’s tires rolling faithfully down the narrow road. That was what we heard for several miles at least. Twenty miles in we began to hear a soft clink and were confronted by a warning sign on the dashboard of the car: “flat tire.” Pull over to the side of the road, examine the damage, wait for help. There was nothing more to be done. The back right tire of our car had been punctured mercilessly by an industrial nail and nothing could be done as the rental car agency had failed to provide us with a spare tire. My sister cursed the stupid nail that had derailed our travel agenda. My dad ranted at the carelessness of the rental car agency. My mother paced along the road side. I sat in the back of the car.

As much as I should have been upset by the waste of time the nail had caused, I wasn’t; it was as simple as that. I didn’t care about time at the point, only about outcomes and bad ones at that. The idea of being rejected by my dream school consumed me, picked at my thoughts until I found myself awake at one in the morning with my heart beating viciously against my chest. I was stranded, yes, but where? In Yellowstone? Yes. In my own head? Maybe. I didn’t know how to get out. What I did know was there was a natural hot spring a half a mile away from our stranded vehicle. I would brave the possibility of meeting a lone bison and make the slightly uphill trek to the humid river that seemed to flow endlessly into dark crevices only to appear on the opposite side of the road. I didn’t trust my brain to remain silent when unoccupied.

Walking onto the creaky old woods of the lookout dock and running back to my family’s car to find that a tow truck had miraculously stopped to pick us up, I found that I was smiling. I had made it to the river and gotten sucked into a deliciously suffocating cloud of sulfurous gas. The hot air had gripped my ice cold hands and warmed me.

When my family left the park a few days later, I couldn’t help but feel that things would work themselves out. I’d “survived” nature. I’d survived junior year. I didn’t need to survive anymore. All I needed to do was be present in my own life.

So, to all the high school seniors who are biting their nails in trepidation of college decisions in this beautiful month of March, life is a matter of perspective: past, present, or future. Since we’re all physically in the present, we may as well mentally be there too.

 

Don’t Count Your Acceptances Before They’ve Come

As a senior in high school on the threshold of college acceptances (or rejections?), the question of the moment is undoubtedly “where are you going to college?” It’s safe to say that this question is directed at me at least once per day, if not more, and that I have absolutely no idea how to answer it. Where am I going to college?

With university admissions becoming more and more competitive, it’s no surprise that students across the nation are placing less faith in their academic and extracurricular qualifications, no matter how impressive they may seem. The declining admissions rates for top-ranking universities ensure students that there is no absolute certainty about the likelihood of their being admitted to the schools of their choice. This uncertainty has led to the great increase in applications submitted by individual students. In my twenty-student high school English course alone, I know at least two peers who are applying to over twenty universities due to fear of not being admitted at any institution.

And it is with good reason that they fear rejection from their dream schools: Harvard College’s undergraduate admissions rate for the class of 2019 was a record-low with only 5.3% of applicants accepted. Yale University, with a slightly larger admissions rate than Harvard, welcomed a whopping 6.5% of applicants to its prestigious facility. Universities claim that dwindling acceptance rates are due to larger influxes of undergraduate applications, but the suggestion that a larger applicant pool precipitates more rejections for prospective students predicts a grave future for higher-level education in America.

The United States appears to be heading on a trajectory towards the competitive educational characteristics of European countries where only select middle school students are admitted to high school. Yes, in countries like Romania, some 14 or 15 year-olds are forced to accept trade school as an alternative to high school. While high school is mandatory for all teenagers in the U.S., the declining possibility for gifted students to enroll in Ivy League or other comparable institutions parallels the lack of opportunity in the Romanian education system. My own mother, now a successful Treasury Accountant at a notable law firm, was forced to opt out of university in Romania due to her lacking physics exam score and went to work immediately after graduating from high school. It was only when she came to America that she was able to enroll in college courses and pursue a career in accounting.

If the United States were to become a country where intelligent students are forced to develop their education at universities that are unable to challenge them intellectually, the very heart of progress would be diminished. Students are told to aim for universities where they will neither be too comfortable with the courses nor challenged too greatly for their academic capacity. Yet, when many qualified teenagers are being rejected from schools that suit their abilities, there seems to be some sort of hypocrisy.

I guess the only thing that is safe to say now is that America will once again get a glimpse of its educational future come March when admissions decisions roll out.