This Culture

Today, I was washing the dishes when my mom’s phone rang—I yelled her name, and she came to pick it up. It was Mrs. P, our old neighbor. Aw, they haven’t talked for like a year—they’re catching up! I thought. My mom always takes calls through speaker phone, so as I returned to scrubbing a particularly stubborn spot on our wok, I heard the words “two honors programs at UT.” Uh oh. I should have known better. This wasn’t just any how-are-you-doing call. This was a Kid Call.

A Kid Call is characterized by a very, very brief greeting (in this case, less than 10 seconds)—perhaps a long, drawn out “Heyyyyy”—followed by a question about your kid—in this case, “Where did Isabella get into college?” Two honors programs at UT. I don’t really know what they are, haha. I haven’t really been keeping track of what she’s doing. “But where did she apply early action?” Harvard! She didn’t get in, haha. (It continues.) “Ohh. Where else is she applying?” “Who from Westlake got into Harvard?” “What about Stanford?” “Wow, Westlake’s gotten so much worse, they used to have so many more Harvard admits and Stanford admits.” (N.B. This dialogue is translated from Chinese.)

I remember now. The last time Mrs. P called was in February 2017. She had seen my name on the list of the 2017 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards winners and called my mom to ask how I did it—perhaps my parents had hired a writing coach, in which case could they please tell her the name and phone number of the coach? Or perhaps I took after-school lessons, which perhaps might suit her son as well? This was also a Kid Call.

Sometimes, Kid Calls focus on the caller’s kid. Mrs. P called my dad last year to tell him all about how her son had been admitted to an elite, full-scholarship private high school in Boston. He really wanted to go to Harvard. He really wanted to study Computer Science.

The Kid Call is only the most glaring iteration of a gossipy, obsessive, talking-behind-backs culture that exists in some circles.But by no means am I saying that talking about something like college admissions automatically denotes obsessive gossip and immorality. There’s checking in on someone because you care about them. And then there’s checking in on someone for your own gain, or for your kid’s gain and so by extension for your own gain. It’s all about the intention.

[34 minutes after 6pm on 12/12/17, one of my closest friends texted me and said, “Isabella, what’s the verdict?” I called them and they stayed on the line with me for thirty minutes, assuring me that they’d stay for as long as I needed, comforting me, caring for me, talking through it with me.

49 minutes after 6pm on 12/12/17, an acquaintance from school texted me for the first time since 1/24/17. “Did you get into Harvard?”]

My mom came up tonight to ask me why I’d been listening to her conversation. I told her why I was upset at Mrs. P, how my anger at Mrs. P represents my anger at a culture that drives students to treat college as a sort of prize—the name the measurement of value—and practically or literally kill themselves in the process of trying to earn that prize. I told her I thought it was so, so sad that some people can’t find better things to do with their time than micromanage their kid’s life by constantly monitoring other kids for comparison. I told my mom (rather idealistically, but still) that if I were in her shoes, if I were to answer my phone and realize it was a Kid Call, I would hang up. And then I would call the person again and apologize, but ask them respectfully never to call me for the sole purpose of monitoring my kids’ achievements ever again.

It’s been an incredible month, a month where I’ve learned more about myself than in the past year. Where I’ve been able to take what I’ve always known in my head—that I’m going to do things no matter what college I go to, that I have that tenacity and work ethic, that college isn’t at all about name or prestige but it’s about opportunity, that I’m so incredibly truly genuinely sparkling-ly excited for it—and internalize that in my heart and my gut. Overhearing a Kid Call today was an ugly reminder of that this culture still exists. That my parents are still receiving Kid Calls, at regular rates. That people talk, gossip, place value on concepts I feel are undeserving. I was struck with an almost unbearably strong feeling that I need to leave this place, to go to college already. But before I do, I need to keep developing my ability to do what I can to advocate against the Kid Call culture while staving off loathing of the people who are eagerly a part of it. For someone like me who feels so strongly about her causes, it’s a difficult balancing act—for anything I believe in. It’s an absolutely necessary one.



Isabella – 1/9/18,

remembering Alexei.


Unselfish Vulnerability

Today, in Capstone Research, we continued discussing a research article analyzing the movie Big Hero 6. It thoroughly examined the setting of the film and its characters, making the argument that the film doesn’t fully realize its potential to move us forward in deeply accepting other cultures. A main sentence from the paper’s abstract: “Big Hero 6‘s agenda to promote hybridity is undermined by latent hierarchies suggested by the process of its world construction and binary oppositions constraining the development of its secondary characters.”

I didn’t like it for the primary and petty reason that I found the writing style was eloquent at best and almost overbearingly dense at worst. Therefore, going into the meat of the piece, I already had preconceived notions—that the author was pretentious. That then helped me see the piece as a ‘Social Justice Warrior’-type perspective on race—did the author really need to find fault with something as basic as the landscape of San Fransokyo? Did the movie directors really need to fully explore each side character’s backstory in order to fully promote a message about race? Continue reading

How To Enter Senior Year

(Disclaimer: I speak recognizing my place as an incredibly privileged, upper-middle-class student. More on that later.)

1. With trepidation.

Because we’re human. And we’ve been waiting for this. I know that for me, I often think, “I’m never going to be 30,” or “Yeah right, people get married, but that’s never going to be me.” Throughout middle school, I lived in an “I’m never going to be a high schooler: that’s crazy.” Throughout high school, I’ve convinced myself, “I’m never going to be a senior—never going to reach the college application stage and face those beasts. That’s crazy.”

Here I am.

Time works real weird when we quantify and personify it like that, and so here I am, much too quickly, near the end of my high school career. Tomorrow is going to be my last first day. This is going to be my last HS fall semester. It’s mind-blowing to think that I’m at the ’12’ in ‘K-12,’ and simultaneous with the thrill of being on top and in sight of the tunnel-end light… is some variation of fear.

Continue reading

My Relationship with my Body

So here’s the thing: I’ve grown a lot thicker since even eighth grade. What’s surprised me is my own attitude about it.

I don’t think I can just be “accepting” of my own body. Unfortunately, ballet is not a sport—it’s an art form, and art is created and curated for visual pleasure. We as a society haven’t reached the point where skinny and plump are interchangably beautiful, probably for the very real reason that obesity is unhealthy, and it’s survival instinct to be attracted to fit people in order to replicate healthy genes. My point is that no one goes to watch a fat ballerina dance. It’s visually unpleasing. Essentially, my body is my tool for my craft in the same way a pianist’s piano is, for instance, or an artist’s canvas and paints. Your art is limited in some respects by the quality of your main tool. And the quality of a ballerina’s body is comprised of height, flexibility, strength, and thinness. I used to have decent amounts of each. What happened to the last? Continue reading

To the Boy On Whom I’ve Had a Crush Since Sophomore Year

The way I feel about you is the way I feel about most things (definitely). Nothing special, because multiplicity breeds normalcy. To crave a fulfillment is to give in, & what I mean by that is I constantly catfight with biology. / At the same time, I can’t fake apathy. I can’t fake the thrill of new and alive things the same way you can. I haven’t spent enough time doing this—catharsis as a mood rather than an action, when the blood brings back the bad no matter how hard I try to be creative, lovely, or master. / Focus, you say. Help me, as if there’s anything I could have touched thoroughly. I never envied myself until I stopped believing your realities. / Anger & its comrades, they’re meaningless here as I hunt for paths around cliché. Your eyes are like jumping bugs; I bet you’ve never heard that one. And I’m sick of writing to & about you because it won’t change anyone or anything but me.

==> In other words, I like you hormonally and I wish I didn’t because I can’t.


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Day 9: Travels & An Incident [Sucre, Bolivia 2017]

Arrived in Panama City around 7am, left for Houston around 9:45. Arrived in Houston, cleared immigration, then spent 3 hours stuck in the baggage claim area before customs because of a very bad thunderstorm. Proceeded to freak out a little and get into survival mode. Eventually, everyone made it through and I started freaking out about how I was going to get to Notre Dame.




When I say goodbye to my teammates, hugging each one turn-by-turn, I already feel some heartache of perfect times over. When I arrive at my gate, C11, and sit down at an iPad-equipped high table, it hits me like thunder.

“I am leaving paradise.” Continue reading