Summer plans!

Hi! I didn’t come up with a topic this week so I decided to share a list of things that I’m doing this summer.

Events

  • Moving in (with a friend)
  • Review archaeology
  • Vacation cultural school meetings
  • Archaeological camp
  • Orthodontist appointment
  • St. Louis Pride Parade
  • Kenyon Young Writer’s Workshop
  • Tennis camp
  • Moving in (with my new host family)
  • SAT
  • Wordsmith meetings

Adventures

  • Go to Ted Drewes (ice creams!)
  • Go on long walks
  • Go to the Loop with friends
  • Make art
    • Dye clothes

To-dos

  • Write college application essays
  • Co-write a play for our school’s theatre production with a friend
  • Write the first draft of my newest novel
  • Edit a short story for an anthology
  • Building a writing & photography brand 
    • Blog weekly
    • Build a website
    • Post photos on Instagram daily
    • Submit to magazines
  • Learn more words
  • Put together a portfolio
  • Read books (both fiction and non-fiction)
  • Journal
  • Learn to cook
  • Work out
    • Build muscles
  • Volunteer
    • Rabbit society
    • Local library
  • Read news
  • Take Zumba classes

I can’t believe I’m going to be a senior next year!

PS: Happy Pride Month!

~Ocean~

On the Move

I moved out of my host family’s house on May 24th. The administration office at my school said I was the first international student who does not travel back to their home country during the summer, and there were lots of things to figure out. My decision to stay in States was complicated. I’m a rising senior and there were college preparatory things that I’d like to do, like writing application essays early. I’m also going to a two-week archaeology camp in June and a two-week writing workshop in July which I’m thrilled about.

I felt a sense of guilt not being able to visit my grandparents. But I decided to not let guilt and shame to swallow me. I’m done doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m not living my life to become who I’m supposed to be, I’m living my life to be who I am. (For those who feel like they’re not living their authentic life, I highly recommend Choose Wonder Over Worry by Amber Rae. It’s an inspiration.)

I have been here for two years, and although imperfect (it’s hard to not be furious at the state of today’s world), America had felt more familiar than my country of origin. I’m proud of my cultural heritage, but I adopted this country as my new homeland. I love my grandparents dearly and cherish every opportunity to talk to them by phone calls or FaceTime. But I will stay, and I will not feel ashamed the next time someone say I’m Americanized. I’m a mixture of both continents that nurtured me and I’m not meant to be fit in labels.

An older friend generously offers me to stay at her place during the summer. The past couple of weeks, I gradually moved my boxes into her closets. I finished unpacking on Friday when she was at work, brought necessities at Target, and microwaved frozen dinner. Yesterday we brought groceries and I began my cooking journey. I started with upgrade ramen noodles and baked shrimp. Doing the cooking and cleaning makes me feel closer to adulthood because having control over what I consume gives me a sense of power.

I became more adaptable than I thought. I used to resist changes, but now I see them and the anxiety that comes with them opportunities for growth. I’m young and I will move many times more in my life, but hopefully, each step will bring me closer to my passion and my dream life (aka a cabin in the woods).

PS: I created an Instagram account: thisisaplacetocreate. If you want to see more of my photography and writing process, please feel free to follow me.

~ Ocean ~

Why I Changed My First Name (An Update)

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! 

~ Ocean ~ 

The Magic of Words

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?”

I’m looking forward to becoming a true wordsmith.

Writers, You’re Not Alone

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.”

Outgrowing

Last weekend, I was sitting on an unmade bed in a hotel room and scrolling down my 165 pages novel draft. In our English class, all honors students are required to do an Independent Writing Project. While it might be a pain in the ass for others to write two hours per week after school, it has never inconvenienced me. I write for two hours every day if time allows.

My IWP project was the YA novel I finished during NaNoWriMo and rewrote without a revision outline. I typed the last word with a smile on my face and a feeling that I won’t come back.

When I go to college, I probably won’t read YA novels as much. Not because my taste becomes more “advanced”. My to-read list is just too long (it has 56 books already!) and there are so much in the world that I want to explore. I want to live the life of people who are so different from me that I shout with delight, “I didn’t know a person could think like that!” They might be at a drastically different age, live on the other side of the world (or a different world!), and/or come from a different culture. And I want to read more literary books and non-fiction. 

That’s how I feel about my novel. During the teenage years, a writer grows immensely, and the improvement is even more tangible for a non-native speaker. I am amazed at how much I’ve grown every time I read something that I wrote two months ago. 

Counting Clouds was a fantastic project—it was right what I needed. I started writing it when I fully accept my sexuality, when I question about religion and love, when I finally let go of the feeling of abandonment. And when I miss the elephant (whom I still couldn’t bring myself to call a stuffed animal) I lost years ago but still couldn’t get over, because the countless days and nights when my parents are “too busy”, she stayed by my side and listened and comforted me. 

Carmen Kessler was so different from me, yet we experienced growing pains and confusions together. We bonded over of our passion for writing and chatted from the warm summer liveliness to the chilly fall tranquility. I have amazing friends now and no longer seek companion from fictional characters, but Carmen and I shared a special relationship that I always hold dear to my heart. 

But now, it’s time to say goodbye.

Farewell, Carmen Kessler. May your future be clear and bright. May you get into your dream college. May your young love with Leela lasts forever. May you stay lifelong friends with Joanne and Dylan.

So, Dr. H, is it too late to change my IWP project?

Being Not Okay

I have been gratitude journaling for more than a month. Every day. It helps me to appreciate life in a whole different level. But lately, I couldn’t bring myself to it. 

Saying “it’s okay to not be okay” is unbelievably lame. In fact, I used it in my first blog. But sometimes, I couldn’t bring myself to believe it.

I know under all the gratitude, I am not okay.

My stomach feels terrible.

Activities that I always enjoyed have only bred insecurities. They bring me no joy but stress and anxiety which aggravate my performance. I wish one day I won’t feel like the most untalented person in the world. I wish one day I can be normal.

Seasonal depression—or maybe it isn’t about seasons after all—has returned. I have gotten nothing done after school (not that we got much done at school this interim). Trust me, as an overachiever in high school, this is like the end of the world. (Apparently, exaggeration does not make me feel better. I’ve tried being an edgy teenager.)

Suicidal thoughts came back, too. Though I haven’t told anyone, I’ll hand my keys to my host family and stop driving if I have them one more day. I don’t want to risk my life. I want to live. Every little thing could go wrong. If I simply close my eyes for three seconds. Please help me, dear universe. Please don’t let me hurt anybody.

I feel ugly and monstrous. Inside and out.

Is it the weather? The coldest winter was gone. We just had a gorgeous sunny day. But I guess monsters always come into sight at the least expected time. They hide in your shadows and attack when you’re laughing with your friends thinking everything will be fine. That maybe it’s different this time. 

I’d like to believe that it’s the darkest moment before dawn. Like when you write about the “Dark Night of The Soul” in a novel. It’s a mountain that I can, and will, conquer. Except that, no matter how much I love writing, real life is much more excruciating than any fiction. 

I have hope somewhere inside me, although I wish to disappear. The rock on my chest is so massive that I scarcely feel the pain in my stomach. I haven’t been studying. I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been petting my cats. I long to do the things that bring me joy, but I couldn’t bring myself to.

I hope no one who knows me is reading this. If you are, know that I’m terribly sorry for sharing and that I love you.

(This was written on February 6th, 2019. I suppose I am feeling a lot better when this is published. I’ll be okay. Maybe it will take a couple days, maybe it will take two weeks. But don’t worry, I’ll be okay.)