First of all, I want to apologize for not posting for so long. I am a junior in high school and I have been overwhelmed towards the end of the school year. I took the SAT on May 4th, which I might discuss in a future post, and I have been having identity crises.
I hated my name since the beginning. It’s too feminine and it doesn’t represent me as a person. I was not a native speaker and my name was not given at birth. I chose it when I had my first English class in kindergarten. Our teachers only give us options that were feminine, common, and easy to remember. So even when I left my home country and decided to pick a pen name, I thought I had to choose a “girl’s name” that is not too weird so people wouldn’t raise their eyebrows.
My best friend said, “A name is what you made it.” I agree with her, but I still felt embarrassed to introduce myself as [insert my dead name] to a stranger. Due to the same reason, I never shared my name online. I came up with several pen names and grew out all of them. Finally, I realized it was negatively influencing my self-esteem and there was no point to continue suffering.
I considered (overthought) it for months before I started researching. I read other people’s stories and was reassured when I saw the name change had a positive impact on most of their lives. I went to websites for baby names and wrote down the names of my favorite characters. But none of them provoked a special feeling that gave me enough courage to make a decision. This is until I started a new writing project.
It was inspired by a book we were reading in English, Black Cherries. I thought it’d be a short story, but it gradually evolved into a novel. I didn’t brainstorm the protagonist’s name because it subconsciously came to my mind. “Ocean.” A perfect balance between strength and peace. As I kept writing, I grew more and more attached to the name, and at one point, I realized I should be called that.
But even after that, I still wasn’t sure. I didn’t have any doubt about the name itself. The only reason for my hesitation was what other people would think. What if people hate this name? It’s a proper noun. They have never heard of it before. It’s different, and therefore deviant.
But it’s hard being different everywhere. I’m tired of being afraid of what people think. I’m weird enough, I might as well choose a name that is unique. They’ll love it or hate it, but at least they’ll remember me.
I became “Ocean” on April 1st, 2019. Ironically, it was April Fool’s Day. The last straw was that I needed to turn in the enrollment form for a writing workshop (Kenyon Review Young Writer’s). I knew if I’m going to meet young writers like me, I definitely don’t want to introduce myself as [insert my dead name]. I will regret it if I don’t do anything.
I wish I can say that I have always been Ocean, but I was not. There were years when I was too afraid to be myself, beaten up by others’ opinions and my own anxiety. But now, I’m Ocean, and I’ll never look back.
Thank you for reading. There will be a future post documenting the process of my name change. See you next week!
Whenever my friends grumble about how difficult math or computer science are to them, I get really jealous.
My friends mostly have the same interests as me. Drawing, singing, photography, creative writing. Analyze and compare literature and historical documents. Most of them aren’t sure about what they want to study in college, and I don’t either. But I have some vague ideas: philosophy, anthropology, history, English, creative writing……
But every time I hear that kind of conversation, I start second-guessing myself. You understand math formula faster than any other student. Your teacher said you’re “gifted” in computer science. You’re two chapters ahead of everyone else in statistics. Without even trying. Even your friend who never gets math isn’t sure that they’re not going to study science. Are you sure you don’t want to go into the STEM field?
“You’re wasting your talents,” They say. And for a long time, I believed it.
Growing up, my math and science grade is always higher than language art and social science. My father is a math genius. He got the highest math score out of thirty thousand people and studied physics in college. My mother works with computers all her life. “I’m not bragging, I’m blaming my genes,” I told my friends. Some people feel like they were born with the wrong body, but I feel like I was born with the wrong talents.
No one has told me I’m a bad writer. I am good at writing, too. I’m a profound thinker, too. I get straight A’s in English and history, too. Maybe there is something less apparent about the achievements in them.
But I danced in my bedroom for minutes the day my English teacher first told me I’m a brilliant writer. I jumped up and down like a child when I got a story idea in the middle of the night. I smiled so hard that my muscle hurt and then cried for hours when I finished the first draft of my novel.
I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer.
“But you’re so smart,” They say, “You could totally be an engineer or something!”
Yes, I can.
But I’ll be miserable.
I wish I’m not good at math because society values STEM over humanities and arts. I wish I’m not good at math because if I choose my passion, somehow that will make me less worthy of respect. I wish I’m not good at math so I won’t feel guilty “wasting my talents” to do something that I’m actually passionate about.
I think the world needs more creator. I believe creating arts that feed people’s soul is just as important, if not more, as creating new technologies that bring convenience to people. I see arts as a tool to express yourself and make people feel less alone, and most importantly, something so fascinating and intriguing that I want to “waste my whole life on”.
Creativity is my core value. It’s one of the reasons I left my home country; the education there eliminated creativity. They were trying to kill the creator inside me, which is equal to killing me. I’m sure math can be creative in some way, but I just don’t get it.
I’m a writer, an artist, and a mathematician. If I want to put “writer” before “mathematician”, that’s okay. This is my life and my choice, and I have full control over it.
We woke up early in the morning and drove an hour to the Waitomo Cave. During the ride, my plant-photographer friend drew our cartoon portraits on the icy window. She is so talented! My best friend taught us this game which we claimed the cows we saw. If one person sees a graveyard (or a water body, in this case), the other two lose all their cows. There were so many cows and sheep on the hills! The weather was gorgeous. The caves originally belonged to the government, but as time passed the farmers complained that their cows and sheep got lost in the caves so the government granted them the ownership. The farmers there live like kings!
My best friend and I changed into swimsuits early and I felt a little self-conscious. But it was an appropriate place to wear them and I learned to feel comfortable in my skin. Putting on wet suits was painful. And it was hard to hike in those water-proof boots (I wore size 2—they didn’t have anything smaller) and a tight jacket. We climbed down the ladder and walked on the uneven rock underneath the water. The rocks we held on to were sharp. I’d have more fun if I don’t have to worry about keeping on with others’ speeds: I’m relatively fast, but I still worried I blocked anyone. Plus I wanted to enjoy the experience with my friend. There were times when we needed to crawl through narrow holes which could be scary. But I wasn’t scared.
The tour guides, Charlie (who was really good at remembering names) and Ben, were funny and friendly. They gave us chocolate and a drink that tastes like hot orange soda. Cave cafe!
My favorite part was the tubing. We each had an individual tube that resembled a swimming ring. We held the previous person’s leg and floated in the water. It felt nice. We turned off our headlights on the hamlets and looked at the glow worms on the roof. They were neon blue (and not actually worms). And we sang. We had a few girls from our a cappella group and we sang “Clearing in the Wild” and “This Town”, two very tender and lovely songs.
We were starving when we were done. After stuffing a hard boiled egg and some leftover fries in my mouth, I ordered a lamb and mushroom pie and shared a raspberry lemon Zumbocha with my friend. We sat at a nice little table in the sun and talked. I took another nap on the way back and we stopped at a store that said “cat cafe” but there was no cat. I brought a beautiful star that changes color when you press it. I named it “Cassie” and my other friend named her cloud “Charles”.
By the time we got back, everyone was tired. The place smelled questionable and you had to share a public bathroom with the whole floor. Like a boarding school dorm. Like my old French school. (I should stop insulting it because it wasn’t even French. It was an international school in France.)
Then we went to this pool where the water changed temperature. Your arm can be in a really warm area but your legs might be freezing. The boundaries between hot and cold were blurry and indefinite. There were candles on the stairs and the atmosphere was relaxing. I talked to my friends in the dark. The sky was beautiful and my teacher said the stars were like glow worms in the sky. She also offered advice in term of mental health. It was getting late and my stomach growled, so we went to a variety place and I ordered delicious Singapore rice noodles. Then I went back, tidied things off, and caught up on journaling.
Day 6 (Geothermal park & gondola + luge ride)
I ate a chocolate muffin, peanut butter bread, and a boiled egg for breakfast and didn’t get hungry the whole morning. We went to a geothermal park and saw the hot (100 degrees!) pool that has white fog all over. There was a neon green lake but if you pull out a cup of water, it’d be clear. The tour guide was only two years older than us. We also saw the mud pool, which can range from really cool to mildly creepy to extremely disgusting.
We went back to the place we went to last night. There wasn’t Zumbucha so I brought ginger beer, ate the leftover ride noodles that I carried with me (it was surprisingly still good) and stole my friend’s fishes and chips. We haven’t talked much during the tour so I was glad we got time to catch up from eating habits to politics in China.
Then we went Skyline where we took the gondola and lugged. We had a beautiful view in the gondola but the luge ride was kind of rocky. My friend didn’t really enjoy it. It was scary when people passed her. It was interesting how people changed lines like car drivers though. We had fun trying on helmets and discussing head size. We then sat with our teacher and another friend. I brought two scoops of ice cream: cookie ’n cream and Boysenberries. It was delicious and we had good conversations.
Later on more people joined in and someone pointed to me that there was a cat! I petted them for a while and kissed their forehead. It might be the best part of that day! Then I talked to my friend who co-writes a play script for our school’s theatre production with me. Since our initial script was rejected by the editorial group a few days earlier, we decided to restart with a brand new plot. We brainstormed ideas and figured out most of the characters. I’m excited for our creation about turn into lives!
After that, most of us agreed on having some downtime. I went back into my room and journaled. My roommates were talking to their boyfriends so I plugged my earbuds in. Music transferred me to a calming, magical world. I listened to City of Stars (from La La Land), I Had a Dream and Thank You For the Music (from Mama Mia). That night, our chaperone asked us about our highs and lows and I realized I have had so many fun and meaningful moments during these few days.
Special Section (Fun quotes)
*my artistic friend draws on the icy window*
“His mouth could be a croissant!”
“Who’s that?” *points to a devilish smiley face on the window*
“My inner critique.”
“I have a hundred cows, get mounted.”
“Mounted” is a local word which means “screwed”. “Get mounted” is an incorrect usage according to the locals, but it’s so fun to say!
“Be wild and free.”
“Like my leg hair.”
“Don’t eat too many nuts, you’ll get indigestion or whatever you get when you eat too many nuts.”
“Or maybe I’ll just go nuts.”
“What are you doing?”
“I should have found my head.”
“They have a very American sense of humor.”
“Probably college students.”
“I got sunburn on my shoulder but then it ran away.”
Sorry for the late upload! I went on a college visit trip (which I will also document here) which lasted a week and was kind of exhausting. Warning: This is going to be a long post.
Day 3 (The hike & the sail & Sky Tower)
We took the train to the city, then took the ferry to Rangitoto Island. I grabbed a Beetroot Kombucha on the way. My best friend said she felt edgy drinking it. I felt like holding a bottle of beer, especially when we cheered. I don’t drink alcohol, but if I do, this was a perfect time. The blowing sea wind reminded me of my sailor dream. Oh! I still want to learn to sail someday. It’s on my bucket list.
I enjoyed the hike on the island. The road was hot and rocky and we went uphill most of the time, but we made it with lots of snack break. It was the hardest hike during the trip. One thing I especially liked was that I didn’t only get to talk to my friends, but also people I like but don’t have the chance to talk during school days. My wonderful chaperone hugged us when we reached the top and complimented my Little Price socks. (Have anyone read that? It’s the only book I read in three languages!) I forgot my lunch so I ate mint chocolate biscuits, veggie straws, and nuts instead. My friend and I took selfies by the ocean.
We strolled downhill more on the way back, but we also tripped a lot. My friend and I talked about families, although her stomach was feeling well. It was a warm afternoon. During the ferry ride, I felt heated up by an oven. I fell asleep. After I got my friend a stuffed bird for her birthday (this friend loves animals. She wants to be a zoologist. Woohoo!), we went on a sailing boat.
The guides explained the history of the boat (primarily the awards it won), and we had a chance to participate by “grinding” or steering the wheel. “Front group backward! Back group forward!” It wasn’t that difficult and it was cool looking at the sea on a slope, but the skin between my thumb and pointer got ripped up. After someone replaced me, I sat with my friend in the front part of the boat. It was a peaceful ride, but I didn’t feel a deep connection with the ocean. Maybe my blood thrived for something more exciting and adventurous. I wanted the wind and the waves to slap me and empower me.
Then we walked to the Sky Tower and went on the highest (60th) floor. From the floor-to-ceiling window, we saw the beautiful combination of the city, the sea, and the islands. I took a goofy video of my best friend and brought some outdated but still hilarious pins at the gift shop. My friend and I went to Denny’s for dinner and they didn’t even have root beer float. The chili fries were good though. When we got back, our other friend (the plant photographer) told us about the two beggars who cursed them.
Day 4 (local school & the beach)
We went to a local school this morning, and the experience can be summarized by the thank you letter I wrote them.
“On the third day of our international trip to New Zealand, the students visited Pakuranga College. From the moment we stepped onto the campus, local students came up and introduced themselves. We visited three different classes. My group joined the music classroom where we listened to and analyzed a beautiful European song. The teacher explained music in a way that everyone could understand without too many confusing, technical terms.
During recess, we ate our snacks and got to know the students. We were a little shy at first, but some students approached and started playing American football with us. The diversity at Pakuranga amazed me; there were students of all colors and shapes laughing and learning together.
My favorite part of our stay was the language class. The teacher was enthusiastic and experienced with teaching people who are not familiar with Māori culture. The students were friendly and professional. Before the lesson began and ended they said a beautiful prayer which made us curious about the words.
We made a small booklet about “My Pepeha,” which is a way to introduce yourself in Māori. It said a lot about their culture, and I admire how they honor their land and ancestors. We also braided “Poi,” which we learned to dance with. Bella, the girl who instructed us, was very friendly and we chatted about the similarities and differences of our schools. When she heard that we have goats at our school, her face was priceless. We learned a lot about the Māori people in a fairly short amount of time.
Later on, we went to the gym we played netball, which was similar to basketball. The students were incredibly energetic and had about the same level of competitiveness as us. We shook hands after the game was finished. Some people in our group said it was one of the best parts of our trip.
We are extremely grateful for the teachers and students who gave us the opportunity to learn about their culture. It was so meaningful to talk to students from a local school, and it was probably the most educational part of the trip. We will remember the hospitality of Pakuranga College and hope to come back.”
Of course, there are things that I didn’t share in the letter. For example, despite the excellent teaching, some students were texting or watching videos during class. I was too exhausted that I almost fell asleep. Or one part that especially touched me when they honor their ancestors was their understanding that your parents might not be great, but you can still be grateful because you wouldn’t be here without them. (My best friend said she was thinking about me when she listened to this part too.) And we came to the conclusion that our school isn’t an accurate representation of American high school because of our uniqueness. And that gym class had always been anxiety-inducing for me and some of my friends.
It started raining so we did a quick grocery run instead of heading to the beach straight away. After we got home, another friend cooked pasta so we had a low-key party with Tim Tam (seriously, this snack is addictive! You can find it in the U.S. as well) and smoothies. We drove to the ocean before sunset. My best friend and I walked along the sand. I climbed to the top of some rocks. It was so pretty, like a 3D video game. We talked about what kind of characters we would be in a video game and took goofy dance videos. “Family” came up again in our conversation. Maybe I’m not meant to have a functional family of origin, but that’s okay. I heard from a podcast that before we came to this world, our souls chose our parents. You might ask, why would I choose a toxic family? Well, maybe your soul knew that without all the adversities, you wouldn’t become the person you are today.
Some of our classmates jumped into the ocean. My friend and I hesitated. We did swim in the ocean though. It was magical how the waves came to us and pushed us. “I feel like the ocean is holding me……I’m chosen!” The water was really salty. Three of us swam to catch another friend (who is both an Aries and a Gryffindor) and we were screaming-singing “friendship never ends”. So that was fun. Afterward, my friend and I took another walk and ate the best fish and chips that we’ve ever had. All of us put our arms around each other, swung, and sang “Country Road”. It was a night to remember.
Special Section (Fun quotes)
“You know that meme where a person drops a croissant? I just dropped a croissant.”
“I glow in the dark.”
“I just think A+ looks good on me.”
“You’re always eating an apple. Like a squirrel.”
“When I went on boating, the wind used to taste like cheese.”
“Let’s mark the sand with more sand.”
New Zealanders use the phrase “sweet as”. My best friend keeps saying it, and it makes everyone cracks up. When she said “nice as”, my immediate reaction was “What the heck?”
Earlier this month, I was blessed with the opportunity to go on a school trip to New Zealand. It was the best days of my life so I want to share the highlights with you guys. Plus, it’s fun to review the moments. I journaled seven pages every day, so it would be redundant if I paste everything here, but I’ll cover as much as possible. Disclaimer: this blog post will sound like a diary.
Day 1 (On the plane)
I saw my friends at the airport and there were some not-so-emotional goodbyes. I chatted with my best friend about our weekends, hopes for this trip, and everything. I small-talked with people I used to be close to and still care about. We went through security and found our gate. Everything felt familiar. The snack machine, the pass-way, and the Starbucks nearby. We ordered lattes and croissants and took selfies.
During the four hours flight to San Francisco, my friend and I had some in-depth discussions about subjects like race, nationality, and human rights. We disagreed with each other on religion, but we did so respectfully. “We’re solving some world problems here!” We also talked about things that directly impact our lives more like the relationship with teachers, friendship, college, and career. She is one of a kind and I believe this will turn into a lifelong friendship.
During the nineteen hours flight to Auckland, I watched Ralph Breaks the Internet and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (!!). The latter was exceptional. I did not understand the plot at first which I half-heartedly blamed the British accent but it portrayed the magical world that I’ve always dreamed of. (I did not watch Harry Potter movies because I love the books way too much. It’s an obsession.)
I could not fall fully asleep, but I napped frequently with my earbuds in. Otherwise, my sensitive nature would force me to eavesdrop conversations that have nothing to do with me.
Day Two (Arrived)
After a few stressful moments of declaring plant products (if the security finds food that you did not declare the fine was $400!), we were finally showered in New Zealand’s warm sunshine. I couldn’t believe it was summer here! And people were driving on the left side of the road! I exchanged cash, ate lunch, and brought some healthy snacks for the next few days at a mall. We sang pop songs in the van. I took a nap; when I woke up, we were driving under a beautiful tree avenue.
We hiked through the mountains and arrived at a waterfall. Nature was quiet and breathtaking. My adventurous side finally revealed herself: I helped my friend through the river and climbed on the rocks covered by soft green moss next to the waterfall. My classmates gasped. Then I swam under the waterfall twice. I wanted to see how long I could stay under it. It was so refreshing!
Since then, my dream had changed; my future home is not only going to be a cabin in the woods but a cabin in the woods near a waterfall. In ten years, I would have a creative job that allows myself plenty of time to write and slowly work on my Ph.D. I would have adopted two cats and perhaps a bunny that accompanies me in the wilderness. As we talked about our future, we slowed down our paces. It was a waste to ignore the beautiful scenery! My other friend, who was addicted to taking plant photos, caught up with us and we jogged on the wooden trial. We thought we might get into trouble for falling behind—spoiler: we didn’t—but we just smiled.
“If I didn’t get into trouble in high school for friends, my high school years were wasted.”
Because we were running out of time, we only stayed at the beach for ten minutes. But my friend and I raced in the sand to the ocean.
It seemed like we were running towards the sun.
Then we went to one of our chaperone’s in-laws’ house. They were so friendly and generous and offered us various kinds of food. Rice with comforting curry, roasted potato (I’ve never eaten anything more delicious in my life!), sweet potato, chicken, lamb……egg white cake and cream donut for desserts. I even tried ginger beer. I usually don’t like ginger flavor but it was surprisingly good. (Spoiler: I also drank tons of Kombucha during the trip.) They also have a dog who just loves people.
Travel usually caused me anxiety, but this time, perhaps because of my friends’ presence, I felt more carefree and unafraid than ever. Bonus point: we were so exhausted that I slept like a rock.
PS: It seems like that I can’t finish the narrative in just a couple of posts……please let me know if you want to hear more about my trip. Thanks for reading!
There were countless nights that I couldn’t sleep. I shut my eyes and attempted to relax my body, but it only grew stiffer and stiffer. For the thousandth time, I surrendered.
I quietly took out the box of flash cards and went over them. I opened the notes on my computer, culled out the words that stand out to me, and typed them in Quizlet. If I felt more old-fashioned, I copied them on a yellow notebook. I’m always hungry for more words. I want to see the familiar faces in books and newspapers (who read newspapers these days?) and capture their meanings. I infer the meanings of words based on context, but to see the definition elucidates the matter. My favorite section on Quizlet is “SPELL”. I enjoy hearing the word and feeling the whisper between my lips without even realizing I’m typing. My fingers have their own command.
My process of learning a word is kind of complicated. First I write down its definition and practice the pronunciation, then I read a few example sentences and put it in the context. Even though I rely on Quizlet, whenever I learn a new word I always practice its spelling with my fingers on the desk. Typing a word is not the same as writing it down.
But memorization was scarcely the most important part of learning words. I use new words in daily conversations. We all know the rule: when you just learned a word, you see it everywhere. Books, articles, even the practice problems you’re doing in math. I won’t be satisfied until I use a word confidently in my creative writing. When we write, we tend to use the words that we are most comfortable with. When I start using a word in a typical English essay, I’m close to mastering it.
I don’t remember when did learning words become a hobby and a daily routine. Most of the words on my list come from the books I’m reading. The practice inspires me to read more nonfiction, especially biographies because one can find enormous adjectives in the life of historical figures. My friends were shocked when they saw me learning words during lunch break and had a hard time believing that I’m doing it purely for fun. Not trying to prepare for the SAT or write more impressive essays in English. Those are only side benefits.
It’s only the beginning of March, but I already learned more than three hundreds and twenty words this year. Being a non-native speaker motivates me and keeps me humble. I was always envious when my peers use a word I don’t know, but now I can proudly say that my American friends sometimes ask me “what does this word mean?”
In my New Year Resolution post, I expressed the will to be in a part of the writing community, and how the best way to achieve the goal is to attend Wordsmith meeting every month.
First, let me explain how does Wordsmith work. Basically, it’s a writer’s group at our local library that allows us to workshop each other’s work monthly. You don’t have to submit anything to attend the meeting. We have about a dozen writers at both ends of the age spectrum: from an eager middle schooler who has admirably vivacious energy to retired teachers who dedicated their whole lives to writing. Because of the diverse nature, the feedback we give and receive are usually not severe criticism but gentle, encouraging advice. Everyone is inherently talented at finding what is doing well is others’ work.
We recently recruited some new members and their comments again reminded me of the uniqueness of this group. We hear perspectives from different generations, geographical areas, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Last night a high schooler asked an older author curiously what is a happy (cocktail) hour. We talked about the climates in Texas and Indiana. We discussed TV shows from the eighties and cartoon artists in pop culture today. We built bridges between old and young.
I am usually the quiet one. Maybe I’m still a little self-conscious about the fact that I’m an inexperienced high-schooler (who also happens to be a non-native speaker). But when I speak up, everyone listens attentively. Everyone respects my opinion and treats me as equal. The warmth, supportiveness, and vulnerability of this group are what seduced new members (like me three months ago) to stay. We feel more like friends than business partners in spite of our age and background differences.
Because of an email error, I did not receive the reading packet this month. In fact, I was so caught up in other responsibilities that I completely forgot about Wordsmith until, fortunately, one of my writer friends from school reminded me during lunch break. She sent me the reading packet right after school and I spent an hour and a half glued to the computer screen, attempting to read it all. I only took a break to microwave a bowl of noodles for early dinner and my eyes continued to burn as I stuffed the noodles in my mouth.
I was approximately one minute late to the meeting. On the way I thought, is it really worth it? I’m going on a school trip to New Zealand next week (I will record the journey in future blog posts) and had lots of schoolwork to do. But I brushed it off. Tomorrow is a late start, I can manage it.
And I was so grateful for my decision. We only have twelve meetings every year, and they never disappoint. We critiqued some truly intriguing stories, poems, and even a song. While I didn’t say much, I observed how others give advice humbly yet confidently and absorbed their knowledge like a sponge in the water. Furthermore, I learned about some wonderful news: our Wordsmith group is planning on publishing a short story collection with the theme “family”. It’s a perfect opportunity to explore the publishing industry without much risk. I’m thrilled to work closely with other writers in the group, and most importantly, I have a short story that seems just right for this occasion.
Afterward, I chatted with the organizer of the Wordsmith group—who happens to be my friend’s dad—about the story.
“Does it have to be a functional family? Because I’m only good at writing dysfunctional ones.”
He laughed. “Of course not. That’s where I usually go too.”