In Your Dreams

You push open that turquoise green painted door,

Feeling satisfied as the handle sinks down,

You peek your head in,

A smile creeping into your face,

And you rush in,

The words flying out of your mouth

Faster than you can think.

“You were right all along,” you exclaim.

“All those things you said and wrote to me…

I figured it out.

It doesn’t matter what others think of me

And it certainly doesn’t matter

If I lose half a point for incorrect sig figs.

Mistakes are okay because

I am strong enough to bounce back

And learn from them.

I just need to have confidence in myself

Because I am me,

And no one can be me

Better than I can.

But you knew this all along.

You were right, and you tried to tell me.

I was stubborn.

I didn’t trust your words

But now I can genuinely appreciate them.”

All this comes out in one breath

And with a wide smile stretching across her face,

She says “Paheli, I am so proud of you.

You no longer crave my approval

But you will always have my support.”

You could have seen and heard her

Embracing these words,

And ceasing to consider you

A worry and a burden.

But the opportunity has been lost.

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Gold Medal

My little brother used to  complain about how my parents compare him to me. They always seemed to be after him, complaining, “Why aren’t your grades higher? Why can’t you be more responsible? We never had this problem with Paheli.” Of course, in front of him, I smugly pretended I was the perfect, model student he thought I was, but sometimes I wished I could be more like him. I wished I were able to capture others’ attention as he does, make them laugh as much as he does. While people seemed to consider him a charming and self-confident young man, they passed me off as an awkward, self-conscious, twitchy nerd.

I used to be a competitive gymnast. Although I have always been shy, I loved performing. I loved how I felt as if I was flying as I tumbled across the floor. I loved the thrill of the competition. But more importantly, I loved the satisfactory feeling of standing on top of the podium, clutching my very own gold medal. My parents and my aunt and uncle used to proudly tell all their friends, “She’s a state champion,” and I would blush with pleasure. Each competition, I would bring home wearing a few gold and silver medals around my neck and dazzling videos, which I would email to all of my friends and inform them of my scores and awards. However, once I reached high school, I had more schoolork, less hours to spend in the gym, and as a result, my gymnastics became sloppy and I began to lose some of the skills I previously had. I stopped enjoying the sport because I was no longer improving, and I wasn’t the best anymore. I stopped attending my team prctices as often, and I was no longer passionate about the sport.

“It just means you’ve grown out of the sport,” My mom explained to me. “But I think you should at least finish this season. Don’t walk out in the middle of the year! I understand if you want to quit next year, because as a junior, you will not have time to juggle all of your AP class work and three hour practices. Just stick with it until this summer, alright?”

I had agreed, but reluctantly; I did not want to go through two more months of humiliating team practices, watching my teammates and old friends leap forward while I struggled with the simplest of skills. Halfway through May, I was counting the weeks until I could quit gymnastics. I was thrilled about finally being able to have a life – to be able to eat whatever junk food I wanted, and to be able to do my homework peacefully at my own desk rather than in the car on the way to practice. I surprised myself, because before, I had always expected myself to continue gymnastics until senior year of high school. There was nothing I had wanted more than to go to practice and become as good as I possibly could be. I couldn’t believe my gymnastics career was ending in such an untimely fashion. When my team was having picture day during one Friday practice, although I was exhausted from the entire school week, I decided to go to practice. I still had to be part of the team. Just for three more weeks…

“Hi, stranger!” My friend Ashley’s mom greeted me as I walked into the gym. “We haven’t seen you in a long
time! Are you competing at the Invitational Meet this Sunday?”

Shoot, I thought to myself. I had completely forgotten about the competition on Sunday. In any case, there was no way I would be able to compete. I had a huge Chemistry test coming up that week and I needed as much of the weekend as I could get to study. The competition would last for over four hours. Of course I would not be competing this weekend.

“I don’t think so,” I told Ashley’s mom. “I have a lot of work this weekend. Maybe next time.”
Soon, my teammates and I had changed into our shining, turquoise leotards are were huddled together on the gym floor. I was surrounded by glitter, combs, and the strong scent of hairspray. My teammates giggled as they combed each other’s hair and talked excitedly about the upcoming meet and the new skills they couldn’t wait to show off.
“Girls!” My coach Wes tried to yell over the chattering voices. “By a show of hands, please tell me, who is competing this Sunday?”
I looked around and watched as my teammates raised their hands. Wes looked at me expectantly. “Paheli?”
I cleared my throat. “I, um…I’m not competing this time.”
“What?” she asked incredulously. “Hold on, we need to talk about this.”
I felt a thrill of dread run through my body. I did not want to have this conversation with her – or anybody, for that matter. I was ashamed about quitting, and I knew that she would make me feel even more ashamed as she tried to convince me to compete. I had always liked and admired Wes. She was a tall gymnast, the tallest one I had ever met. I was relatively tall for a gymnast, and before I met Wes, my coaches seemed to think that I was too tall and big to succeed in the sport. Then I met Wes, who was four inches taller than I was. She believed in me and care about my gymnastics more than any other coach I had. I knew she would be disappointed that I was hiding from the sport and I did not want to face her.
I followed Wes across the gym, dragging my feet and daring to walk as slowly as I could, wishing I could disappear on the spot. Finally, she settled down on the edge of the red floor in our gym and tapped a space next to her, gesturing for me to sit down. I carefully avoided her gaze, suddenly appearing to find the texture of the floor very interesting.
“Paheli, I know you’re very busy,” she began, and I began to fiddle with my fingers. “I don’t doubt it. In fact, if anything, I don’t know enough about how busy you are. I understand that you might not enjoy competing in gymnastics as much because you don’t have time to practice. However, I don’t like the idea of you disappearing in the middle of the season. I don’t know how your family is financially, but your parents spent a lot of money on getting your routines and I would hate for it to go to waste.
I gulped, looking down. “But I can compete later, right? I don’t think I can compete at this one, but there will be more meets, right?”
Wes shook her head. “The next meet after this one is a state meet, which you have to qualify for. This is the last local meet. I know you can qualify for state as an event specialist – all you need is a minimum score of eight point five. I know you can do it; I wouldn’t be urging you to do it if I didn’t think you could. You don’t even have to compete on all four events – if you want, you can compete just on floor and go home after that.”
I hesitated. “I don’t know…”
I couldn’t get the memory of our last meet out of my head, how humiliated I had felt, being the only girl from our team who didn’t get a medal, how I had felt like crying but had to wait until I reached home because I didn’t want the others to see me.
“Think about them,” Wes interrupted my train of thoughts, gesturing to my teammates. “They need you. They score better when you’re there to support them. And they all look up to you so much. It would be wrong to desert them in the middle of the season. Even if you don’t want to do it for me, or for your parents, at least do it for those dorks in the blue leotards.”
Although at that time, I was annoyed that Wes had pressured me into competing, she assured me that later on, I would be grateful that I had finished the season on a good note. And now I can say with confidence that I am glad that I decided to compete.

When I showed up on the floor at the meet, Wes greeted me with a hug and exclaimed, “I’m so proud of you! I’ve never been happier to see a person in my life!”

Luckily for me, our first rotation was on the floor, the only event which I was competing, so I did not have to waste any time waiting. It was a different feeling than usual, sitting on the sides of the floor and cheering on my teammates. Since I was not pressuring myself to get a certain score or get a medal, I could relax and genuinely enjoy watching my friends perform. Only when my turn to compete began to creep closer, my hands started to sweat and jellyfish began swimming in my stomach – the usual symptoms for my nervousness. The worst moment, as it always was, was waiting for the judges to give me the cue to begin while they calculated the previous girl’s scores. I stood stiffly with my hands firmly at my sides, starting at the judges. My heart pounded heavily in my chest; it was so loud that it almost drowned out the sounds of cheering coming from all directions.

Somehow, Wes caught my eye. “Deep breath,” she mouthed. I nodded and gave her a tiny smile.
After what seemed like forever, one of the judges raised a white flag, and after giving them a customary salute, I walked stiffly onto the floor. The music began. After two years of performing this same floor routine at various competitions – local, state, regional, and even national meets – I had never enjoyed it more than at this moment. I flashed the judges wide smiles and gave them everything I had because I had nothing to lose. This would be possibly my last competition ever. And more importantly, I was not there for myself, to get a medal or to qualify for state. I was there for my teammates.
Finally, I finished my routine, saluted to the judges, and bounced over to my teammates. After they all said, “Good job!” and gave me high-fives, Wes told me, “Paheli, your routine was beautiful. If I didn’t know that you haven’t been training as much this year, I wouldn’t have been able to guess by watching you. You perform as well as anyone who has been coming to practice every day.”
I smiled and thanked her and then looked over at the scoreboard, anticipating. After several minutes, my score flashed in ominous, red numbers: 8.600. It was certainly not my best score. Needless to say, I did not get a gold medal for my performance at the meet. But at that moment, I felt that I was better than I had ever been.
I remember how the protagonist of Joyce Carol Oates’ Expensive People, Richard Everett, chose to retake his IQ test because his mother was disappointed with his initial score. His entire self-worth was based not on what he thought of himself, but based on his mother’s evaluation of him and his performance. While it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to meet others expectations, ultimately, what others think is of little importance. We will never be perfect, and others will always manage to find something or the other that is wrong with us. Recalling the experience of the last invitational meet of my gymnastics season, I have come to realize that I can’t control what others think of me, and I can’t waste me efforts trying to please everyone. More importantly, no one, not even judges, can tell me how good I am – only I have the power to decide that.

On College Stress and Sleep Deprivation

Bright colors,
Warm smiles,
And love of learning.

There are all the shades of my past
For the present is stress,
Lack of sleep,
Dark circles stained under my eyes,
Eternal wrinkles across my forehead
I am wounded, broken, eaten alive
For life has chewed me up
And spit me back out

Why does love of learning,
Love of knowledge,
Love of life diminish
As age, maturity, and experience grow?

We were once filled with joy and excitement
Over the smallest of things
Scrambling to soak up new information
And now we scramble listlessly
To memorize,
Cram our brains
And what will we get out of it?
Just numbers,
Maybe power, reputation,
But at what price?
What happens
When the information in our brains
Threatens to overflow
As the fuel to succeed
Begins to burn out?

Born For School

I have always wanted to become a teacher. When I was a child, I used to play school with my little brother and a group of stuffed animals. I would take on the role of the teacher, hoping to impart the nuggets … Continue reading

Rome

At the tender age of eight, my family and I embarked on a life-changing journey. My mother had collected a plethora of travel guides, maps, audio language-learning tapes for conversational Italian – any item she could lay her hands on to prepare us for our summer vacation in Italy. However, virtually nothing could have prepared me for the physical experience of the Italian culture. I was fascinated by the cobbled streets, tall-columned buildings, pesto gnocchi and ravioli, sky blue fountains, soft, fluffy gelato, enthusiastic street vendors and performers, and the vast squares where I could stand all day and feed uncharacteristically bold pigeons right from my hand.

While I was drawn to the gondolas transporting us along the canals in Venice, at the time I could not quite grasp my parents’ captivation with the museums and history of Rome. “It becomes so much more interesting to visit a place when you know about the history and background of its culture,” my mother tried to explain to me. I might have scoffed at her words then, but as I progressed further in my studies, I realized that she was absolutely correct.

In seventh grade, I began to study Latin. One of our assignments was to build a model of a Roman household. Since it was not practical to physically revisit Rome, I went to the Getty Villa in Los Angeles for inspiration. This time, I paid attention to the architecture and the paintings, sculptures, and other exhibits, trying to relate everything back to what I had studied in the classroom. For over six years, I immersed myself in Roman culture by reading influential works such as Vergil’s epic poetry, Ovid’s playful poetry, Catullus’ love poetry, and Cicero’s influential rhetorical speeches, as well as learning about the historical contexts of such pieces. I currently plan to pursue a minor in Latin Literature. Not only has my study of Latin ignited my interest in Rome, but in my sophomore year of high school, I even took a class about European Art History. The course began with a study of the Renaissance, the “rebirth” of culture and art in the European society. As an amateur yet avid painter myself, I have been amazed time and time again by the ingenuity of artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. In fact, one of the major aspects of my college that attracted me was the idea of the Renaissance scholar. Using Da Vinci as an ideal, a Renaissance scholar is one who does not merely specialize in one field of study, but expands him or herself to a variety of seemingly unrelated fields. This idea certainly resonates with my personal interests. I am majoring in Chemical Education, which synthesizes the fields of Chemistry, a very scientific discipline, and Education Studies. I am currently very involved in teaching, as I am a volunteer tutor at an underprivileged high school as well as a paid tutor for students in Mathematics and Chemistry. However, I have always been a “creative kid” and have been overcome by a desire to appreciate and produce Literature and Art.

I have often regretted the fact that although I was privileged enough to visit Rome at a young age, I could not appreciate its historic magnificence. However, I believe it would be an invaluable opportunity to not only revisit Rome, the hometown of so many inspiring artists, but simultaneously learn more about the Renaissance and Rome itself. Perhaps when I revisit this July, I will have an even more meaningful exposure to the culture, and experience an intellectual “rebirth” of my own.                                                                                

Where’s Waldo?

I vaguely remember looking through the brightly colored Where’s Waldo picture books in the various waiting-rooms of my childhood. My task was to locate Waldo, a tall bespectacled man wearing a distinctive red and white striped shirt and hat, which made it easier to discern him from the rest of the crowd. Throughout my high-school career, I have struggled to find Waldo in myself – to find my own identity, my own individual characteristics that define me and separate me from the masses of other teenagers. Every now and then, the question surfaces: “Where’s Waldo?”

In ninth grade, I defined myself as a gymnast, as an athlete and a performer. I devoted three hours for five days a week to team practices, and I competed in local, state, regional, and national competitions.  Every once in a while, as a result of my strenuous training on the uneven bars, pieces of my skin the size of large coins would peel off, and I would proudly show my non-gymnast friends my blistered and taped up hands. I loved how they would exclaim, “Oh, you’re such an intense person!” I was proud to be the person I was: a gymnast. However, while Waldo’s identity is timeless, forever in the minds and hearts of children as the man who wears red-and-white-stripes, my identity as a gymnast did not last forever. I found myself wondering again, “Where’s Waldo?”

In tenth grade, I became extremely involved in my studies and discovered that I had a love for science and mathematics. I quickly befriended a smart girl named…well, let’s call her Hermione (in honor of the character from my beloved Harry Potter series), who was, just as I was, taking Chemistry Honors, Art History, Drawing and Painting, and Yoga in sophomore year. I had a particular fondness for Chemistry early on, and each week we would share cute YouTube videos relating to Chemistry and science experiments, as well as chemistry-related jokes. We found humor in our reading assignments and enjoyed each other’s company. We were both very similar – we were both relatively quiet and introverted, yet we had our own opinions about things that we did not hesitate to discuss with each other. For example, she introduced me to the idea of collective consciousness and her views on its benefits. She believed that if everyone in the world could contribute their strengths into one collective brain, we would create a super brain that would be unstoppable! We had big dreams and we enjoyed imagining their effects and consequences. We enjoyed each other’s company mostly because we were so similar; however, if we were so similar, what were my individual traits that made me stand out from her? The question had shown itself again: “Where’s Waldo?”

It was through my friendship with Hermione that I gained clues that helped me direct my search. I now understand that Hermione sees things differently than I do, and those different perspectives, rather than our grades or the activities we are involved in, is what makes us different human beings.  Sometimes, I view school as a river of knowledge, pouring out information into our brains that flows freely and allows us to question it and interpret it. At other times, I see school as a candy store, full of options of different shapes and colors and sizes to choose from. I have always enjoyed the classroom setting, taking notes with multicolored pens and pencils and soaking in information like a sponge. Meanwhile, Hermione views school as only one thing: the intimidating pathway to a career, a place of struggle and strife. I like to explore the nit-picky details of my areas of interest in depth, while she studies systematically, skimming all subjects only enough to score high on exams. Had this difference led me to finally find Waldo?

When I was no longer able to define myself by my performance in gymnastics, I switched over to defining myself by my performance in school. But now I realize that I am not solely composed of elements as simple as the activities I am involved in, my academic interests, or numbers, such as my test scores and grades. I am goofy, sometimes spontaneous, and I have a wild imagination that is unhindered by the restraints of social conventions. My defining characteristics are not as easily depicted as Waldo’s, and it will take more than a few minutes of skimming a two-paged illustration to find myself and who I am. I suppose the search for Waldo will continue throughout my life.

Introduction

“Paheli” is the Hindi word for “mystery” or “riddle.” My parents chose a fitting name for me because there is a lot that people don’t know about me. While many of my teachers and peers will report that I am a shy, quiet girl who doesn’t say much, the truth is that inside the confines of my head, I am extremely loud and talkative.

A perfect example occurs sometimes while cleaning up the Chemistry lab equipment for the day. Two of my classmates gambol around the room with their hair streaking wildly behind them. One of them twirls around like a spinning top and the other bounces around like a baboon, as if there are springs attached to her shoes. In unison, the two of them belt out the choruses of songs from timeless musicals. They snatch handfuls of foamy soap and blow bubbles in the air, giggling.

I am torn between admiration and amusement.  I admire the fact that they do not hesitate in letting themselves go; they are not hindered by the seemingly trite apprehensions that tend to bother me. They don’t worry about how their classmates might judge them, and they certainly don’t seem concerned that they are in fact in school, and not in a playground. A part of me wishes to join them, to break free from the binding ropes of convention, and to spin around or bounce without a care in the world. But another part of me enjoys where I am now, as the seemingly quiet observer. I am still here, contained by the walls of the classroom and the school, but my imagination streams forth and past all limits. Unnoticed by anyone, I watch the two girls and invent the wildest comparisons. They are like bumblebees, flying across the room and buzzing around tirelessly, or like the brightly-colored rotating teacups at Disneyland. Or maybe they are like the wind, tickling us with silly behavior and gushing swiftly and unpredictably.  I even wander far enough to compare them to excited electrons, frolicking to and fro with random, energetic, wavelike motions but never straying too far from the rest of the group, or the nucleus, so to speak.

Some of my other classmates laugh at their behavior and make comments along the lines of “Wow, I can’t believe you guys are juniors! You’re acting like you’re four or five!” Rather than communicating every thought and comparison that pops into my head orally, I choose to put it on paper for another day. Since no one can hear the booming, running commentary in my head, they might assume that I have nothing to say, or perhaps that I simply don’t care. I could have chosen to challenge these notions by voicing my commentary out loud – it would have flown out of my mouth non-stop much like a fast flowing river – but I suppose some things are best left a mystery.