Yesterday, I earned the first B of my life. An 89.16 percent, to be exact.
It’s really not a big deal, in the cosmic sense of things, because (a) it was in AP Calculus BC, which is notorious for near-impossibility, (b) I’m a writer, not a mathematician, and (c) it’s my senior year of high school, for crying out loud.
But still, my first reaction was to mentally start packing my bags, retreat to the Himalayas, reject formal schooling and become a female monk. I don’t have tiger parents, in case you’re wondering. That’s just the way I am — a chronic perfectionist, who also happens to be a model minority and also a writer from one of the most underrepresented racial groups in America’s literary scene….
Whenever I write publicly about my experiences, I often delve into issues that are personal — gun violence, racism, femininity — because I know that perspectives like mine are not often shared. The responsibility to speak for my generation is one that requires perfection. Issa Rae’s hit show “Insecure” nails exactly what it’s like to speak as the sole representative for billions of people — frustrating. “You are so articulate!” I’m often told with surprise: a well-meaning compliment from those who have never been underestimated. I’m 18 years old, but mediocrity is not a luxury I can fathom.
Because when you’re a young writer of color, and your success is predicated on your acceptance from the majority, perfection can feel like the only real option. It’s not only that you need to be perfectly articulate, perfectly reasonable —you’ve also got to be twice as likeable. It’s a fine line to tread — you’ve got to be kind of ethnic, like a margarita, but you can’t offend anyone, and you certainly can’t be an angry woman of color. The numbers are stacked against us — only 12 percent of children’s books feature POC, and over 80 percent of publishing staff are white. My path to success is along a percentile-skinny tightrope, so it only follows that I’ve got to be a darn good acrobat….
Last week in my English class, when my best friend and I were discussing a poem by Robert Frost, I felt myself getting irrationally angry. Angry at the fact that Robert Frost could earn a Pulitzer Prize for composing rambling stanzas of sweet nothings about nature, or something basic like that, but as a WOC, I’d have to write about immigration or cultural assimilation or hate crimes in order to be even a blip on the screen.
My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
I am sorry for the long absence. It has been extremely difficult. Parents are not meant to be apart from their children, especially not a father who, despite being a lawyer with a busy schedule, had attended every single one of his children’s medical appointments (when their mother hadn’t), who had paid out-of-pocket for his children’s weekly appointments with a child therapist for more than a year (when their mother refused to even pay for one hour to debrief with the therapist, claiming she couldn’t afford the payment despite her bank records — obtained during the divorce — showing that she’d spent almost $1,000 in a month on eating out, going to Starbucks, etc.). People lie in your name and at your expense to advance their causes and cheat you out of a future you deserve. How is that right? How is that fair? How is that just? But, the world isn’t right. It isn’t fair. It isn’t just. It just is. We can only endeavor to make our little corner of the world a little more right, a little more fair, and a little more just than when we found it. My world isn’t right without you; thus, I endeavor to remedy that. But it is a tough row to hoe.
Enough about me. Let’s talk about you, Shosh.
Your heart was broken for the first time in preschool, Shosh. It was your first experienced with rejection. You’ve always been an extrovert and people have always liked you. In fact, they liked you so much so that, during preschool, one girl even asked you to marry her. You told us you liked her, but then you came home to tell us you married a different girl during class!
But, this is not that story. Your first best friend was a boy you met in preschool. You were buddies. He was a good boy from a good family and was well-behaved. (Most of the kids from that program had parents who were doctors or lawyers.) We liked him as well.
One day, you came home all dejected. You told us your BFF, without explanation, said he didn’t want to be friends with you any more. I suspect the pain was caused by both the rejection and the lack of explanation. You wanted to know why he ended the friendship, but he never told you. He simply moved on to play with others. You were crushed.
Not everyone has to like you, Shosh. I know that’s a hard lesson, but it is one worth absorbing into your bones and the very core of your being. Not everyone has to like you.
There doesn’t have to be anything sinister about their not liking you. It may be something as simple as the fact that your tastes are different. “Birds of a feather flock together,” remember? Some people may not like the color of your hair — be it red, brown, black, blonde, or green. They may not like your height — too tall, too short, too average. Whatever. The point is they don’t have to like you.
That’s just a fact of life. Get over it.
Don’t bother wasting energy trying to get everyone to like you. That’s an impossible task. You are sure to fail. So, why bother?
Instead, focus on being you, being the best you. Celebrate who you are. Celebrate your accomplishments. Celebrate those who love you and who share their happiness with you. Do what is right. Pursue your passions. Remember, you are only the boss of you. Let others be: they are responsible for themselves. Be it good or evil, they will have to answer for themselves. Focus on making the right choices for you, and doing the right things.
Too often, people self-harm by losing sight of what they have while chasing after that which they don’t. It’s a sad mistake. Don’t be like them.
Find joy in your lives, my sons. Be happy. Celebrate life and all she’s given you. Strive to be a better person, but never strive to win the affection or admiration of others.
Too often, we Americans treat life as a popularity contest. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others feed on this at our peril. For example, studies show a strong correlation between social media and depression. See, e.g., https://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.pn.2017.1b16.
People spend too much time chasing after meaningless “Likes” on social media — a click of a mouse or a tap of the screen that most people perform without much thought. Why people allow such meaningless gestures to hold significance in, and over, their lives is beyond me. People today live for “Likes” from unknown faces and strangers who are often not who they appear to be, who may only be a facade of who they are in real life. Why? People don’t have to like you! If you are lucky, they do. If not, that’s okay too. Let them be. Let them live their lives in peace. Celebrate them for their achievements, but don’t feel bad if they don’t reciprocate. Instead, focus on being the best you and on leaving your corner of the world a better place.
All my love, always,