Archive for June 2014

From the Ashes   Leave a comment

 

The thing about fire is that sometimes, the destruction reveals a clarity about the relevant and irrelevant, and the heat ignites a passion to rise from the ashes.

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Recently, I lost about 6 years worth of writing on a flash drive from my previous computer.* My first thought was that I can’t believe I wasn’t more careful, and my second thought was that I had so many plots and shorts and essays written on that, my blog history, my works in progress, my character files….the only stories I have left are stories that I have sent to people, and often I only sent the best or finished parts and not the backbones. The daunting endeavor of rewriting each plot, each character bio carried with it a sliver of fear that I can never perfectly recreate them, and that maybe I’ve can’t even write that well anymore.

What a fitting Segway into something that’s been on my mind recently. This constant feeling of inadequacy. In the last several weeks, I’ve been…not quite clear-minded. The same discipline and excitement that used to wake me up at 6 or 7 each morning has worn down; over the last several days in particular, I nestle in the warmth of bed until nearly noon. I sleep very much, yet have hardly as much energy as I ought to. Right now, I have open on Chrome, two TV shows, with unfinished episodes, because somehow I don’t really feel like finishing them and mindlessly oscillate between the two, six or seven job applications that have been open for two weeks as I put off the maybe one hour job of updating my resume, a bunch of Java guides, Facebook, Expedia because I’ve been putting off booking my ticket to college because my mother wants to make sure I fly with someone else but all the people flying from the area frickin haven’t gotten back to me and just keep saying they will (for the last three weeks), Pandora Radio, two email accounts, and a list of deadlines for college forms etc. In fact, just now, I paused my writing to go book my flight. I’ve been distracted; I can’t stay on one task for more than maybe five minutes. I managed to wake up at 8:30 this morning, a close to acceptable time, and (it’s noon now) I’ve accomplished next to nothing. The first thing on my to-do list this morning was to get this off my head, and literally after writing for a couple seconds I’ll go fiddle with the radio or go through my plans again.

I’m not being unproductive because there are other things I want to be doing, I’m being unproductive because I can’t motivate myself. Even writing, I’ve had to force myself to sit down and finish this, because every time I look at this piece, I ponder for a couple seconds and think it’s too hard to go through all my thoughts. It’s much easier to read articles that aren’t even interesting and to surf the web. My to-do list has been pushed back day after day, and I both hate my listless state and lack motivation to dig myself out of it. This summer was supposed to be a glorious time, of friends, and learning new things that I’ve wanted to tackle for a while, like Java, Spanish, hip-hop, and get back to writing, a time to mentally prepare for the new challenges ahead of me. And I feel inadequate because I am not being the person I want to be, and I know it.

As is typical with me, I turn to writing to find myself again. There is no separation between my soul and my words; writing draws me back to an innate earnestness. Loss is scary because I’m afraid I can never write that alive again, because I think I’ll never keep improving, because your footing slips. The funny thing about it is that loss forces you to confront what is most important to you, and because you have to accept the loss, it forces you to confront the possibilities of how to repair the damage. Maybe it’s the utter fatefulness and irreversible consequences of loss that catalyze a surprising resilience to grow. Or maybe, in the face of despair (or desperation), the  fears that stop me from tackling projects and taking risks are dwarfed.

 

with renewed inspiration and love,

Aderyn

 

*I later found that I had copied most of my creative writing folder on to my current computer. Though I still lost 90% of the files stored on my drive, I am immensely thankful to have found the most valuable 10%.

 

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Posted June 20, 2014 by aderyngrace in Uncategorized

For the non-Tiger parented Asian offspring…   Leave a comment

I’m Asian-American. For the record, I’m not anti-social, I don’t spend twelve hours a day devouring math textbooks, and I don’t have a Tiger Mother (or Father). I am, I suppose, by normal standards, academically accomplished. I took the highest math lane my school offers (AP BC Calc) my freshman year, I’m on a nationally ranked science team, I’ve qualified to the USA Math Olympiad multiple times, and I am a national finalist in one of the top science competitions in the US.

My mom calls me her Tiger Child, and for good reason. My parents are from Taiwan, and yes, I know that for all effective purposes, it is part of China, but culturally, Taiwan is very different. Taiwan has an almost rural culture. It’s somewhere where, if you decide to go hiking with friends on one of the beautiful mountains and you get lost, or it starts pouring and you have nowhere to stay, the locals will welcome you into their homes, and you will be helpful and wash the dishes and help with dinner, and you will sleep with no fear of being robbed or violated. My parents are known for caring more about how much sleep I’m getting than how high my grades are, and for making sure I bike with at least two other people, never alone, rather than that I’m taking at least two AP’s every year. Granted, they have also been very clear that I have to work hard to get anywhere, since I was young. When I was three, I begged for piano lessons, and my parents would only give them to me on the condition that I agreed to practice. The agreement was that so long as my parents didn’t have to nag me to practice, they would invest the time and money to give me lessons. Every now and then, they would have to remind me to practice, and usually they did so by reminding me that I was the one who wanted the piano lessons in the first place, so I was responsible for practicing. It was fine if I quit, but if I chose to take lessons, I had to practice. But this is the way I’ve always been; if I wanted to accomplish something, I would decide to do it. When I was trying to get physically fit, I put my mother and me through a rigorous training schedule, and she complained every time I made her do core exercises 😛 For a good couple of months, I went to bed at eleven and woke up at five every day to work because so many good things happened at the same time and I had so much work to do. I drive myself harder than anyone, simply because I want to make the most of the opportunities I have been given.

I always had Asian friends whose parents put them in SAT prep in 6th grade, or made them spend an hour a day every day after school learning Chinese and math. I didn’t consider myself to fall under the Asian “tiger parent” stereotype, simply because I didn’t have those parents. When I was in 4thgrade, my mom started her own business (a couple of years later, my father quit his desk job to help her run the company). As a result, my older brother and I were very independent at a young age. Even before then, my mother encouraged us to not require precise instruction. My mother never taught us how to cook. If we asked how much water to add to rice, she’d say “Think about it, and add how much you think makes sense”. She’d make sure we didn’t burn anything, but she figured that it wasn’t a big deal if we messed up and ended up with weird tasting rice, and we’d get it right next time. By refusing to teach us, she forced us to take initiative and figure out the answer for ourselves. She always said it was lazy to ask others for answers without trying to figure it out first.

I had a completely unstructured childhood. I think, in a lot of ways, I was allowed to be curious, and really honestly do whatever I wanted. I really enjoyed dancing, ballet in particular, and I liked reading, ever since my brother taught me how to read when he was two (he was bored, and thought it’d be fun to teach me the alphabet), and math was fun. Sometimes, if I was bored and my mom was making dinner, she’d give me an AMC problem or something to occupy me, and if I couldn’t figure it out, she wouldn’t tell me the answer for another two days, and usually, I figured it out within then. I was still playing piano, and enjoyed a lot of play dates. I came home from my friend’s house once and told my parents I had just joined a soccer team. My parents always let us be independent; if I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, I packed my things, and it was totally okay if I forgot something. Not a big deal. If one of my friends’ families was taking me to the beach, it was “don’t forget sunscreen and be super polite, always thank their mom for driving when you get there and when you come home”. As I said earlier, my mom became pretty busy when I was in fourth grade, and my dad was still working 9-5, and so I took care of my own things. If I was working on a project with a classmate, I’d arrange the time, and then check with my parents a couple of days in advance to make sure the time worked for them to give me a ride. Starting from when I was nine, I arranged my own doctor’s appointments (funny story, it took the secretary about ten minutes to realize that I wasn’t my mother, but surprisingly, she let me make the appointment anyways). And this might sound like my parents were negligent or something, but I talked to both my parents a lot, but about other things, about people, about life, or about things that were really exciting to me, or about the business my mom was building, and for any major decisions or things I was thinking about, they would always listen. Or we’d spend an afternoon building Legos together. But the thing is, partly due to how my parents raised me, and partly due to the circumstances that required me to be mature for my age, I was always self-motivated.

I think, before sixth grade, I was a very typical non-Asian-parented kid. I liked math, honestly because I was good at it, and it is fun to mess with numbers and get cool results, but I suppose that’s the only mark of being Asian.

I’ll pause here for a second, to explain. The entire concept of “being Asian” is stereotypical. Glasses, good at math, nerdy, anti-social, probably plays video games against parents’ wishes, and yet you are perfectly obedient and your parents drill you in math, and you’re just good at every other academic subject. This is the stereotype that some of my peers may hold, in varying degrees of severity. For parents, being “Asian” means, smart, perfect grades, polite, obedient, and drilled in math, Chinese, English, writing, physics, chemistry, biology, and probably also tennis or cross country. The thing is, fundamentally, stereotype can’t be avoided.  Stereotype goes hand in hand with judgment, and judgment isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, you use judgment to determine that it is a bad idea to get in to a car with a stranger. You use judgment to figure out if a friend who told someone something you told them in confidence is still a good person to be friends with, depending on the circumstance. It is true; at most math or science competitions, probably about 65% or more of participants are Asian American, and about 80% of the top 20% are Asian. So what is wrong with the stereotype? The stereotype allows people to dismiss academic achievement, and dismiss due credit to the achiever. Stereotypes are wrong because they become excuses for misjudging people. Every stereotype has a grain of truth, but little else. I don’t even have to bear the brunt of “Asian” stereotypes, but only because I don’t look “nerdy,” or “anti-social”. And I guess I don’t look “smart,” because people are always surprised that the Aderyn Huang that they hear about from other people is me. Which I suppose is the reverse of the stereotype; I don’t look or behave “Asian enough” to be “smart”. But more so than among my peers, the stereotype comes up in Asian parent circles (and I do not mean the stereotype here, I mean literally, ethnically Asian).

The summer before sixth grade, my mother jokingly suggested that I try to skip out of sixth grade math. My brother had skipped a year of math when he was in seventh grade, just for kicks, because he wasn’t learning anything in seventh grade math (pre-algebra). I used my brother’s old textbooks, finished sixth grade, finished seventh grade, and started a bit of eighth grade. I just worked through the problems at the end of each chapter, and occasionally would ask my brother or mom a question or two, and that was it. I didn’t think much of it until I took the challenge test. I didn’t know until after the test, but the teacher gave me a sixth grade cumulative exam, which she graded on the spot, and then handed me an eighth grade cumulative exam, which she also graded on the spot. Turns out I scored a hundred percent on the first exam, and then missed one out of seventy five on the second.

So here I was, entering sixth grade and suddenly taking ninth grade math (Algebra II and Geometry). Because they had to rearrange my schedule to allow me to do so, and because I broke the record for number of math lanes skipped, people knew pretty quickly. And suddenly people started saying things like, “Oh, she must have been doing math all summer, doesn’t have a life,” or “No wonder, her parents are computer scientists, of course she’s good at math”. I remember when I passed the challenge test that when I first told my mom I had just skipped three years of math, the first thing she said to me was, “You have to be humble. If you can’t be mature and humble, I won’t let you take math with eighth graders (at my middle school, we had a ninth grade math class for eighth graders who were a year ahead)”. For the most part, I tried to be normal. There were two things my parents were adamant about in middle school. My bed time was set at 8:30, and I wasn’t allowed to wear low cut shirts. At a time when everyone else was wearing Abercrombie, the latter was rather contested on my part. I definitely wasn’t planning to dress as skimpy as some of the people at school, but I thought there was a middle ground that wasn’t so bad, and sometimes my mother would go a little bit overboard. Pretty much, I was an oddball in middle school: the girl who can beat all the guys at math, who dresses unlike “popular kids,” and definitely has straight A’s. I was also, for the most part, blissfully ignorant of how my classmates’ parents would judge me.

My freshman year of high school, I was the only freshman on our varsity science team. I was taking AP BC Calculus. Later that year, I qualified to the USAJMO. And again, people started talking about me. This time it was worse, because I guess parents and kids are getting more competitive. When I carpooled to school, or to dance class, or dinner with friends, the parents would always ask me, “How many hours of math do you do every day?” and then say to their kids, “See, she works this hard. She must have parents who are really smart and teach her a lot, and she is very obedient.” regardless of what I said. And then there were people who pitied me, saying, “Oh, you probably don’t have a life, I’m sorry, you’re parents probably push you really hard.” Neither of these two gives any consideration of me as an individual, or any credit to me for my achievements. They also don’t give any credit to my parents for their brilliant parenting philosophy and wisdom. What I owe to my parents, is that they made me realize that it is worth it to work hard, and that in working hard you better understand yourself and are exposed to more experiences. And if I was working towards something and came across a challenge, whether something like figuring out Taylor approximations or wondering if I should drop one goal for another when they came into conflict, my parents would always be there to support me and listen to me.

What other people don’t know, is that I write fiction, and I recently published my first short story. What they don’t know, is that before I was “that girl who is good at math,” I wanted to dance, and was forced to quit because my feet physically cannot stand the stress of pointe shoes. What they don’t know, is that whenever my family are all home together, we play SET for hours while singing to Les Miserables (tenth anniversary is the best), and then we make pasta from scratch together. What they don’t know, is that my mother is a genius fashion stylist and we compete to see who can find the best clothes at the lowest price in the least amount of time when we go shopping. What they don’t know, is that I have a set bedtime, before twelve o’clock, regardless of how much homework I have, and I’m not allowed to wake up earlier than five. What they don’t know, is that my parents beg me to stop winning competitions so that I don’t have to fly out of the state so many times in the year, and sometimes they like to pick me up from school to have a lunch date. What they don’t know, is that my brother taught me the alphabet by using one of those foam carpets and telling me to “jump to O! jump to B!” or that we like to talk about the history of designing warships. What they don’t know, is that when the science team travels, I remember to bring apple sauce for the guy who had his wisdom teeth pulled a couple days earlier, and am always there to support someone who’s a bit in over their head at the moment. What they don’t know, is that I’m a massive Harry Potter fan and my (joint) record on the Top 200 Harry Potter Characters Sporcle is 186. They don’t know that behind the achievements and public image, there’s support and inspiration.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be Asian, I’m proud to be Taiwanese, and I am incredibly proud to be my parents’ daughter. But I hate it when people say, “Her parents only say that she does everything herself, they just drill her extra hard in secret,” or, “Look at her parents! Of course she’s that smart, and of course she listens to them too,” or, “She’s Aderyn Huang, of course she has an A in AP Physics, it’s easy for her.” I do what I do because I like math and science, and I want to be good at them, and I do work hard to be good. And I work to keep my grades, in the same inherently human process as anyone who is working towards a goal. The way I see it, gaining knowledge is just adding tools to my toolbox that will allow me more freedom to create solutions. I don’t even get the worst of the battering, because I’m a girl who doesn’t “look smart”. But I would like to be someone regarded as competent and intelligent by what I’ve achieved; I am ethnically Asian, and yes, I’m good at math and science, but no, my parents aren’t operating my actions with a remote control. I have a(n unproven) theory that people only use “Asian” as an excuse for “smart” because they are too insecure to confront that some people work harder and therefore can perform better than they can. I am by no means saying that all non-Asians aren’t inclined to academically work hard, because that’s by no means true.

After all, that’s just the same as saying that “Asian” means “smart, anti-social, nerdy, and parent-operated robot,” which I believe, is by no means true. 🙂

– Aderyn

Posted June 17, 2014 by aderyngrace in Uncategorized