School, Stress, and Not So Much Sleep

credits to David A Ellis on Flickr
credits to David A Ellis on Flickr
A community is more than just the collection of people within one’s vicinity. A community is made up of people who support you, who offer advice and encouragement in your every endeavor, even the ones that seem far-fetched or downright insane. For me, that sense of community is found at Fountain Valley High School. I’m lucky enough to attend a school that is home to a number of diverse interests and activities – from field hockey to marching band – yet still has a feeling of unity among students and staff alike. But despite how much I enjoy my school’s community, there are things I wish I could change.
Though it might not seem noticeable from a quick stroll through the halls, there is an immense amount of academic pressure looming over us as students. It becomes increasingly apparent as AP season nears and teachers increase both the density of content and workload assigned. On numerous occasions, a friend will complain to me about her lack of sleep while another will stress about a looming deadline. During lunch, we all swarm to our phones the moment we hear the SAT scores have been released, and we’ll huddle together in groups studying for a test next period. Often times, I’ll wonder to myself why we find this necessary, why we feel the need to panic and cram for an exam, why doing homework at five in the morning has become second nature. The obvious answer occurs to me. We’re all worried about getting into college because we’ve been taught from an early age that higher education is the only path to a bright future. But there’s something more than that. I think a lot of the time my peers and I feel like we’re defined by the letters on our report card, that we’re only as good as our GPA allows us to be. And this mentality is the thing I wish I could change.
If I was less shy and knew more people, I would let everyone know that they are creative, wonderful, significant human beings. I would tell them to stop worrying so much about the future because they are capable of amazing things right now. I would look them in the eye and tell them that they matter. And I know that I probably can’t divulge this information to strangers I see during passing period, but I want them to remember that these four years don’t define the rest of our lives. There’s really no easy solution to changing the way that we think, the way our brains are wired as students placed in an education system built on competition. But the best thing we can do is support each other. Study together the day before a test and go out for frozen yogurt the weekend after. The most important thing we can do as individuals is support someone else. Because that is the foundation of a community.

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My Gateway Drug to Writing

Photo ©2009 by Manoj Vasanth [C.C.-by-2.0]
Photo ©2009 by Manoj Vasanth [C.C.-by-2.0]
How I actually fell in love with writing wasn’t much of a dramatic story. Actually, when I think back about it now, it seems funny how such a small thing could have such a big impact on me. Let me start from the beginning. My first language was Vietnamese and officially set foot on the USA January 2008 in the middle of fourth grade. As with any major changes, it took a while to get used to. I think I might have seen the books at a public library or I may have seen a friend reading it in class, but the next thing I know, my siblings and I were totally in love with Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The series revolved around Greg Heffley’s life in middle school, dealing with fitting in with the popular kids and impressing girls. It was around 2009 when my siblings and I discovered the series and we proceeded to check out all three books in the series at the public library and then would fight over who gets to read it first.

Soon after, Jeff Kinney came out with a “Do-It-Yourself Book”, which is basically a journal formatted like a Wimpy Kid book. I begged my mom to buy me one and she did! I was so excited and promised myself I would write in it every day. I did keep that promise, although it was close to writing four or five times a week. About half the book was dedicated to mini writing activities like writing about what it would be like if you were famous or make a signature for when you are famous. The later half of the book was just filled with lined pages for journaling. Initially, I didn’t intend to use the DIY Book as a journal but after filling out the first “fun” pages, I started writing about little things like what I ate for dinner or what games I had played that day. Before I realized it, the pages were filling up fast and I still liked journaling. After wearing out my DIY Book, I continued in a composition book and soon filled that out. It moved from me writing about seemingly insignificant events in my life to being a place where I could be alone with my thoughts. This continued until when I was in eighth grade. After starting high school, I still kept a journal where I wrote every so often but not as much as I would like to. I’ve been doing better though, as I’ve been writing in it about once or twice a week.

Anyway, Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been a gateway that opened me to the world of writing. At first, I had just started writing in it because I was bored, my brother hogging the TV, my sister too busy with schoolwork to play with me, and my parents too busy and tired from work. Before I was realizing it, writing became a part of my middle school life but when I got to high school, I stopped writing as much. A few months ago, I re-read a journal I wrote when I was in seventh grade, chuckling at the fond memories. I don’t know if this is the best way to describe it but just by reading what I wrote, I felt like I was reliving those moments. What I felt when wrote it I could still feel as I was reading the diary.

It was then that I decided that I was going to start writing again.

– Duchess

Check out more of Manoj Vasanth’s work here!

Exam Crunch Time. Just Breathe. You Can Do It.

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Dear all stressing about things like AP exams, MCAT’s, the future, extracurricular, or some other real-world difficulties,

You can do it.  I may not know you.  But, believe you can if you set your mind to it.  But first and foremost, take care of your own body and mind.  Testing beings soon, don’t crash and don’t give up; the finish line is just a few bounds away– hang on a bit more.  Don’t let the negative thoughts overcome your mind; once frustration sets in, the negative thoughts will affect your performance and make everything harder.  Take a break, breathe, meditate, or try distracting yourself by setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and reading part of your favorite book, poem, or just something you find interesting.  For music-oriented people, pick up your instrument and play something you love until the timer signals the end of the break.  Or for those who love a good song, play an inspirational piece, something that will give you a temporary uplifting reprieve from studies; start jumping and pumping your fist in the air, get your blood flowing– it helps.  If time and your schedule permit, step away from screens, put your phone in your back pocket, grab ear buds, and go out for a walk or hang out with friends for an hour or so.  Seriously, just go outside, lay on your back, and count the clouds for a few minutes (while the day is still young, of course).

If you work yourself up to the point of breaking down, set aside all the signals in your head telling you, “I can’t make it.  There’s too much to do!  Not enough time!  I won’t have time to sleep today.”  They are negative, stressful, unhealthy.  Yet, don’t let go of that stress completely, use it to empower yourself.  Recognize that your day, week, month, or some time period will be literal hell and plan accordingly.  Here are a few tips that usually help:

1. Make check lists– Let’s be honest, once you finish something on the checklist, it feels soooo satisfying to scratch that thing off the list.  It’s also calming to have a list so you can see all the things you have to do without fear of forgetting something.

2. Schedule in breaks.  20 minutes of screen/homework/study time = 20 seconds of looking out the window.  1 hour of working total, allow yourself 2 minutes social media time and 8 minutes exercise or outdoors time.

3. Every time you feel like overwhelmed, take a break, pull out that checklist, and do something “easier.”  Just try working for two minutes, but try not to think about time.  You’ll be surprised how easy it is to accomplish things once you start.

4. If you really need to nap, make yourself a coffee (erm, not too strong, just something you’re used to or a wee bit more than that), chug it (don’t burn yourself), and set alarms for 15-20 minutes.  According to several sources, it takes about 15-30 minutes for caffeine to kick in (research it if skeptical).

5. Spend some time with friends or in social situations.  Even for introverts, interacting with people for a short while can do wonders for your sanity.  Of course, make sure it’s people who can make you laugh and relax.

6. Leave your phone in a different room.  Close that facebook tab.  Turn your music down low.  Ignoring these thing will help you focus, especially while studying.  Multitasking is scientifically proven to reduce cognitive function because the brain operates linearly.  Meaning that your brain will have to work harder to switch between topics, thus decreasing the speed it takes you to finish something.

7. Test out your delayed gratification.  Activities like watching animes, reading mangas, watching a television episode, playing a game, etc. are activities you know waste time and probably useless overall unless you are brain-dumping to a fellow fan.  But let’s be real here, when deadlines are near, cutting down on daily time-suckers, no matter how small, will save you a LOT of time.  Who knows, by the end of the deadline, you may have freed yourself of a time-sucking habit.  In the last week, I have been saving about 2 hours daily just by cutting down on mangas, television shows, facebook feed scrolling (I refuse to get a tumblr… my sleep will be even more non-existent), and gaming (yeah, I somehow stopped myself from gaming, woah).

8. Set times regularly.  I usually set my stopwatch at 5 minute intervals to remind myself of how long I’ve worked.  It also forces me to catch myself whenever I being getting sidetracked.  For example, if I being scrolling through my Facebook feed and my timer goes off, it bring me back to reality, reminds me that I wasted time I will never get back, and prevents me from wasting more time.

9. Stay hydrated and open a window.  Being hydrated helps you stay awake.  Opening a window, especially if it’s much colder outside also keeps you awake (and sometimes during breaks, catalyzes you to get your blood flowing from your butt to the rest of your body :P).

10. Believe in yourself.  If you’re feeling down, take a timed break and look up someone extraordinary.  Astronauts and scientists are great people to look into.  See their accomplishments in life and tell yourself, “If they can do it, I can too!”

I believe in you, you’ll make it through.

Cheshire.

A/N: Photo taken by Flickr user Karunakar Rayker of a weasel.  Why a weasel?  Because according to Annie Dillard, we should “Live Like a Weasel.” Hang on. Persevere.  It’s going to be a long ride, but we can do it.

Peace of Mind

I’ve never really been one for beaches, at least the ones where I live, but that’s mostly a matter of wind.  The breeze down by the beach whips past me like I’m made of air and leaves any exposed skin feeling kind of sticky.  Strong wind always makes me feel really brave though; I like to stand, let my hair fly around my face, and imagine that I’m actually on a boat headed to an exciting novel adventure.  Note however, that’s not the impression of the beach that “Oceans”, by Puscifer gives off.

In one of my previous web-browsing escapades, I was lucky enough to chance upon this song, which has become my theme song for the week.  The slow tempo and hazy tone make “Oceans” so relaxing, I can almost hear the waves meeting the shore and then pulling back.  These are no mid-day, sunbathed waves fit for surfing.  They are the 5 o’clock tide, ebbing away as the sun fades.  Facing the sun are blunt, weathered rocks, split neatly into curvy shelves.  They’re the kind of rocks you just want to sit on and contemplate mind-boggling mysteries while watching the sun set.  What if the sun leaves before you find your answer?  It’s no biggie.  There’s no hurry.  It’s a moment that never leaves your head; it only goes on vacation until you decide to recall the memory.  Rather than a new beginning, “Oceans” feels like you’ve reached an understanding.  You’ve seen ocean: tempestuous and vengeful,  vibrant and beaming.  But you’ve never seen the ocean / not like this one.

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No rocks or sunset here, but I’ll leave that to you to picture.

Social Norm-ing

The loner kid versus the popular group.  The girly-girl versus the tom-boy.  The wimp versus the “guy.”  The cool kids versus the awkward losers.

I categorized people that I never interacted with based on these labels as a kid and often subconsciously, I still do.  Anyone I ask attests to hearing their own friends categorize others with these labels and admits to stereotyping other individuals based on rumors and superficial appearances.  The truth is, everyone uses these labels on people they don’t truly know.

As a child, I was shy, but I wasn’t stupid.  I knew kids my age grouped everyone they knew into these categories.  In fact, even parents did.  I loved playing sports, running, thinking, but I hated barbies (they always smelled too strongly of plastics) and “girly” things like skirts and dresses.  By default, the parents categorized me as a “tom-boy” based on my love for physical sports and dislike for barbies and the things the popular girls liked (like Justin Bieber, barbies, dressy clothing, and High School Musical, which fear not, my friends will make me watch someday because I assumed the movie worse than it is– my mistake).  Whereas, the students at school typically viewed me as a mix of a quiet “awkward loner” in elementary because I hardly interacted with others.

I learned later on that one of the “popular” groups used to think and spread around that I was stupid.  A side anecdote: my mom spoke with some of the parents from the popular group on the day of my middle school graduation.  And, shocker, a few of them openly voiced their surprise when, contrary to what their children said, I was one of thirteen (out of 200+) who maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA in middle school and their child was not.  I, the one who was “not smart,” managed to get a 4.0??

Labels are harmful.  Those who didn’t give me a chance, who said I was things I wasn’t, didn’t get to see the caring side of me.  The side that values friends above all else.  The me that loves learning and strives to be the best I can be.  The me who loves reading about fantasies, mystery, science, and what it’s like to live in the wild.  The me that loves music.  The me that is more than the ill-conceived perceptions of me.  The real me.

Never wish to be just a “cool kid” who disregards others who have potential to be great life-long friends.  Don’t just strive to fit a few labels.  Branch out and make your own label.  Let others know who you truly are.  Never let them assume.  Because you are you.  You are amazing.  And you are more than the sum of society’s opinions.  Be you and thrive, prove those labels wrong, not conform to them.

-Cheshire.

A/N: Inspiration for this post comes from March Hare’s post this week: Simply Being You.  The song above comes from EchoSmith: Cool Kids.

Scary Temptations

Photo ©2014 by Laurence Simon [C.C-by-2.0]
Photo ©2014 by Laurence Simon [C.C-by-2.0]
I looooovvveee scary things. Whenever it’s my turn to choose a movie to watch with my friends, almost always, I opt for the scary ones. Even for books, my favorite genre is horror. But… I’m a scaredy-cat. A HUGE scaredy-cat. During scary movies (even the ones I chose too!) I cover my eyes during the scary part. It happened so often that it’s almost a habit to do it. I’ve gotten slightly better at watching the whole movie (I watched You’re Next the whole way!!) but sometimes it just happens. Continue reading

Simply Being You

When I was little, I liked dolls and tea sets.  I had a couple of Barbies, including Odette from Mattel’s spin on Swan Lake and Erica from Barbie: Princess and the Pauper.  Not to discount their fancy dresses (because I really liked their dresses; they were pretty), but what I really liked about each doll was that they had a special feature that other dolls didn’t have.  Odette had a pretty pair of detachable light-up wings and luscious, soft hair while Erica had a button on her back that would play, if I remember correctly, a small portion of two songs from the movie if pressed. Though I acknowledge that my dolls were pretty, I didn’t envy my dolls, wish I was as picture-perfect as they were, or hate myself for not being like my dolls.

I feel like the anti-Barbie sentiment that is currently running amok is barking up the wrong tree; Barbies are not the problem.  Virginia Postrel’s “Dolls and Standards of Beauty” points out that dolls are simply meant to be enjoyed.  In her article, Postrel argues that “Lammily”, a doll made of average measurements reported by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, does not fit the image of the average girl better than a Barbie does.  In striving to be the “average”, one ironically never touches the “average” girl.  It’s like the saying that the average family has 2.5 kids.  Do the families really have two kids and a half of a kid just running around?  No, but that’s the average.  Some families might have one kid, two kids, no kids, or four kids.  The glorification of average is really no better than the harmful beauty standards that Barbies are rumored to create.  Wouldn’t that just continue a cycle of body image problems?  Instead criticizing themselves for not looking like Barbie, girls would examine their figures and wonder why they couldn’t look more like the “average” girl.  Though carried out with good intentions, actions taken to empower girls might wind up putting them in another box.

A particularly poignant time that stands out to me was my late elementary and middle school years.  I strongly rejected traditional female things like skirts, dresses, makeup and the like, because, I said, they weren’t really my image.  I tried so much to fit in with a more tomboy image, it was kind of embarrassing.  On the outside, I scoffed at girls who squealed over Justin Bieber and gushed over whatever so-and-so actresss wore at the Oscars, but on the inside, I was more conflicted.  Over the actress part, not the Justin Bieber part, that I was staunchly against for appropriate reasons.  It seemed that everyone didn’t like girly things, so I shouldn’t either.  But worshipping male-oriented things like video games, blue, skateboarding, rap and all that jazz wasn’t any better.  In rejecting one form of “conformation”, I had subscribed to another.

Since then, I have largely come to terms with the fact that actions and hobbies can’t be separated into “girly” and “tomboy”.  People are just a mixture of things.  I still feel pretty uncomfortable wearing skirts and dresses, but I’m working on it.  I’ve heard it all my life to “be yourself”, but I find that it’s much harder than it sounds.  I don’t think that we can hear it enough; even though I heard it multiple times, it took me a while to actually understand it, and ask myself if  I was really happy with what I was doing.  Maybe it’s curled hair and blue-eyeshadow one day and bare face the next.  It doesn’t matter; no one is keeping track.  Do what you feel like.  It doesn’t matter if you prefer ‘boarding to Barbie.  Just be you.

Limbo In Spring Break

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With exams and projects crammed into the Friday before Spring Break, I think many of my peers are glad that Spring Break is finally upon us (I know I am). Just a few days ago, I kept thinking to myself as I was studying for a History quiz that once Spring Break starts, all I would do is eat, sleep, and watch movies (rinse and repeat). However, now that I’m finally in Spring Break mode, I feel like I’m stuck in a sort of limbo. It’s like before Spring Break, all I could think about was how the grass would be so much greener on the other but now that I’m on the other side, it’s just “what now?”. I feel giddy but there’s a worry within me that there’s a whole day that I’ve wasted just lying in bed when I could be hanging out with friends or watch the movies I had put off last week to study. Two days of Spring Break are gone and we’re stepping into another day so there’s only five days left. Every time I look at my calendar, I feel overwhelmed of the amount of tests I have to study for, homework I have to do, etc. Last year in my English class, we had to do a presentation about ourselves because we were reading All Quiet on the Western Front and I remember one classmate of mine said his favorite quote was something along the lines of “the time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time”. That applies to me now more than ever as I feel the clock ticking away the last seconds of my Spring Break. Continue reading

The Halls Are Alive with the Sound of Music

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                                                                                             some Easter festivities

Ah, there’s nothing better than a Sunday night and the comforting knowledge that you have no responsibility to wake up to tomorrow morning.  (Let’s not mention the piles of homework I’m hopelessly behind on or the number of AP tests I should be studying for.)  Even before the weekend, while I was still moping my way through school, I could feel the salvation of spring break coming nearer and nearer.  Just one more week, just one more day, just one more class.  And now it’s finally here.  And things have been going pretty well so far.

I’m gonna start with Friday because my mind starts going into weekend mode once it hits Friday anyway.  Friday was really cool because the orchestra does this thing called spring grams where they go around the classrooms and deliver cards and leis to people, in combination with a performance of a prearranged pop medley – on spring instruments, of course.  I love being able to hear violin across from my Spanish class and I also find it really amusing that my friend has to drag her cello through the halls (they draw the line at the string bass).  And this was pretty much the inspiration for the title of this blog post, which really only references this paragraph, but let’s just move on.

I think Saturday was a weird transition day because it’s technically the beginning of spring break, but you already had Friday night and you know Easter is tomorrow, so you just kinda shrug your shoulders and let the passage of time do its thing.  Most of my Saturday was probably spent making plans for Sunday.  That and finding out how to do card tricks from my cousin and the assistance of the internet.  After that, I spent the rest of the day doing who-knows-what and sleeping very very late knowing full well that I would have to wake up early the next morning.

I woke up groggy but with the happy realization that it was Easter, so my cousin and I rushed out to the neighborhood park where they set up festivities every year.  We did some arts and crafts, ate quite a bit of barbeque, and snuck a couple of plastic-shelled eggs into our bags before heading home.  Then we took my dogs on a really spastic walk, I lost miserably at Battleship despite having been at an advantage for the first half of the game, and we practiced our card tricks while sipping on various fruit-flavored beverages.  And now I’m here and I’m typing this blog post, too tired to find a way to incorporate a rabbit hole pun into my story about Easter.

My apologies for the characteristic incoherence,

Mad Hatter