Kid #2

Cramming for College

I just turned 18. I pierced a very sensitive piece of cartilage in my ear in celebration. A lot of changes are coming my way. I will graduate high school in five months and leave behind pretty much all I’ve ever known. And I’ve really gotta beat my bike-tire addiction — the next time they catch me stealing them, I’ll be tried as an adult!

Most of my college applications were due three days before my birthday. (Actually, for the past couple of years I’ve had big projects due on my birthday; maybe God is punishing me for stealing those bike tires.) I’ve been, for the most part, not too stressed about the college process. Which is odd, because I’ve been trying for years now to bring up my GPA to get into colleges. But now that I’m here, I’m relatively calm about it. Because if a college isn’t going to accept me, yes, it might be because my freshman year brings down my GPA significantly; yes, it might be because I didn’t take two APs this year; or maybe it’s not either of those reasons. Maybe it’s something I could never have guessed. And my friends and peers who’ll get accepted to schools that reject me? I’m working on being OK with that. I’m proud of my friends — they’ve all worked their butts off, and so have so many of my peers. In this crazy competitive world we live in right now, I’m trying not to value myself based on numbers anymore.

I did, unfortunately, still manage to nearly have an anxiety attack during the application process. I’m getting much better at not judging myself based on numbers, but I still consider words an acceptable grading scale for self-worth. I’m not just talking about the words I exchange with other people, the words I think in my head, those words that make me who I am. I’m also talking about the words I write on paper. Writing has been perhaps my best skill, though I can make a killer basket and I’m not half bad at long division.

Every month this column comes out, and every month my father posts it on Facebook. Often friends of his will give me some nice feedback, which I appreciate immensely. A while ago, though, one of his friends commented something like, “Wow! College essays will be no trouble for this one!” And that one stuck with me. Almost as if I was subconsciously determined to prove them wrong, college essays were super hard for me. They kicked my ass. Because the premise is rather absurd, right? Condense all of your being into 650 words, in the form of an anecdote. I wrote many awful drafts. My idea was good — I will stand by that — and I had a killer hook, but the rest was absolute garbage.

During the weeks before my application deadline, I was a bit of a mess. I was in the midst of writer’s block, a phenomenon which I never experience, at the worst possible moment. Self-worth has always been a hard concept for me. I never quite feel enough, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it motivates me to be better. But to have this one concrete thing that I know I’m good at taken away, especially at an important time, really shattered me for a second there. It was a very brief, very cliché crisis.

I’m all about self-love, but more than that I’m about the truth. Not that I won’t love myself if one day I wake up and my writer’s bump is gone and all my creative bones have left me. But at the same time, I won’t sit there telling myself I still have those things — you can’t get better without admitting you’re not perfect. Which, ironically enough, was pretty much what my essay was about. So although I really am working on valuing myself, I am also working on the sources of that value. Yes, I value my writing skills, but they’re not all I have; they’re not so vital that I’ll be lost without them for a few days.

I first began writing outside of school to condense my being onto paper. I think maybe it was a mortality thing? I was a bit past the age when you start to understand death and impermanence. Perhaps I was looking for some meaning and realized that the only way to immortalize myself was to immortalize my thoughts. That theory has the fatal flaw of assuming anyone would care what I have to say in a few thousand years. But it gave me an outlet that I’ve built on. Now, when I’m really angry, I write a letter — after my last break up, I wrote 10 pages, typed. So although I can’t do everything I want to do with writing yet, I guess at the very least I know it’s something I can always return to. I ended up submitting an old piece from this column for my college essay. It was the cramming of myself into 650 words that I could do better.