新课标下的高中英语课外阅读活动(6800字)

发表于:2020.12.18来自:www.fanwen118.com字数:6800 手机看范文

新课标下的高中英语课外阅读活动

瑞安隆山高级中学:项玲玲

【摘要】本文论述了新课程标准背景下开展高中英语课外阅读活动的必要性阅读材料选择的原则和范围、阅读活动的指导和管理以及课外阅读活动的模式。

【关键词】新课程标准,高中英语,阅读材料。

一、新课程标准下开展高中英语课外阅读的必要性。

《普通高中英语课程标准》(实验)(以下简称新课标)更加注重对学生综合语言能力的培养。新课标要求学生具备的综合阅读能力包括语篇领悟能力和语言解码能力;强调多学科知识的贯通;注重培养学生的语篇分析能力、判断能力和逻辑理解能力;要求学生提高阅读速度,增强阅读量和扩大记词汇量等。同时,新课标明确指出,除教材以外,高中英语阅读量六级23万词以下,八级应达到30万词以上。虽然英语实验教材在话题、语篇和词汇等方面都进行了改革,但仍然存在阅读量有限和题材单调等问题。为了实现新课标提出的阅读能力目标,教师应结合教材中课文的主题补充各类富有时代气息的课外阅读材料,指导学生进行大量的课外阅读。

在使用现行高中英语新教材的过程中,笔者所在学校进行了教学改革实验。笔者经过观察、与学生交流讨论,并通过问卷调查的方式对高二105名学生的英语课外阅读状况做了详细的调查和分析。调查结果显示:①有85%的被调查对象认为,课外阅读能提高语言复现率,可以促进对课文内容的学习和掌握,同时也可以培养学生的阅读理解能力。②有56%的被调查对象进行课外阅读的时间较少。③学生课外阅读材料的主要来源是报纸(英语周报或学英语报)。很多学生有目的地选择课外读物。课外阅读的首要目的要提高英语程度。④学生面临的主要问题是很难找到一些合适的阅读材料。⑤学生的英语成绩和在课外的阅读上所花费的时间呈正相关。⑥有60%的学生希望教师每周抽出一定的时间进行课外阅读指导或组织学生交流、讨论和展示。本文将介绍笔者所在学校开展课外阅读活动实践的一些思路和做法,以期与同行交流。

二、课外阅读材料的选择

1、课外阅读材料的选择原则

(1)发展性和拓展性

选择课外阅读材料要结合课内阅读内容,并作为其延伸,以弥补教材的不足,进而实现课内外知识的连接和扩展。在课外阅读过程中,学生可以将课内所学的知识迁移到课外阅读中。新颖且丰富的课外阅读材料可以激发生的兴趣和求知欲望,促使他们去探究和获取更多的新知识。所选择的课外阅读材料要有利于拓展思维和开阔其视野,要有利于培养学生的创新精神和阅读实践能力。

(2)趣味性

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有趣的课外阅读材料能让学生产生阅读的兴趣,并能促使其有效地获取知识和提高阅读能力。语言材料的难度应略高于学生的语言程度。阅读材料的篇幅不宜太长、否则会影响学生阅读的积极性。学生能在较短的时间内完成阅读容易获得成就感,这种成就感又可以强化其阅读的兴趣。

2、课外阅读材料的选择范围

(1)英语教辅材料

所选的材料的内容都是课文内容的延伸,符合学生的口味,一周为5篇(ABCDE)每天一篇,分易、中、难三层次,要求他们做读书笔记。这些材料题材丰富,富有时代感,符合学生的年龄和心理特征,并配有形式多样的测试题,有助于学生复习和巩固知识,具有较强的实用性。我所选的材料为活页黑马英语阅读理解。

(2)报纸

报纸具有时事性强的涉及内容广泛的特点,学生可以根据自己的兴趣和阅读需要从中选读有关政治、经济、文化、教育、科技或体育等方面的内容。

(3)杂志

英语期刊内容丰富,知识性和趣味性强,是学生了解世界的一个重要窗口。

(4)英文小说或其简写本

多数学生对英文小说有浓厚兴趣。简写后的英文小说文字难度降低,且附有注释,阅读这些书以使学生了解作品的文化背景知识和作者的写作风格,并能训练学生快速阅读的能力和丰富其英语表达。

(5)原版材料

教师也可以选择国外的一些英语资料,如美文赏析:Follow your drearns。这些教学资料语言丰富,用词规范,内容趣味盎然,且具有很强的知识性。

三.教师对课外阅读的指导

1、讲授阅读方法

教师在对学生进行课外阅读指导时,应讲授阅读方法,比如专项突破:如何识别主题句、如何识别关键词、如何分析长难句等等。促使学生形成良好的阅读习惯,并注意以下三个方面的结合:

(1)阅读与思考相结合:让学生学会在阅读阅读过程中进行思考、比较和总结,体会作者使用语言的方法和技巧,提高自身的语言修养。

(2)阅读与写作相结合:让学生通过阅读积累丰富的语言材料与范例,为语言的有效输出奠定基础。

(3)阅读与工具书使用相结合:在阅读中培养学生合理利用工具书扫清阅读障碍的习惯和意识,提高他们的自学能力。

(4)开展导读活动

(1)专栏介绍:在黑板报或墙报上开辟专栏,定期介绍佳作,帮助学生领会作品主 2

题、艺术特色和现实意义。例如:教学SEFC Book 3A Unit 7 A Christmas Carol和Unit 10 American Literaure 时,教师可以在专栏中介绍Charles Dickens和O Henry等英美著名作家及其作品,为学生下一步的课外阅读提供帮助。

(2)作品研讨:对社会上流行的作品及学生感兴趣的材料,教师可安排学生读后讨论,培养学生鉴赏作品能力。例如:在教学SEFC 2A Unir 7Living With Disease 后,笔者让学生阅读并讨论几篇关于艾滋病患者与疾病顽强抗争的文章,不仅使学生对艾滋病的危害有了更深刻的认识,还增强了他们的社会责任感,培养了学生关爱他们的意识。并在黑板报上开辟专栏“遏制爱滋、关爱弱势群体”。

(3)专题讲座:对于学生感到陌生的题材,教师可以采取专题讲座的形式,引导学生正确理解作品,为其顺利阅读作必要性的铺垫。例如:教学SEFC 1B Unit 19 Modern Agriculture 前,针对学生普遍缺乏农业知识的情况,笔者开设了现代化农业的专题讲座,运用多煤体手段向学生展示农业现状及现代农业技术的发展,并在些基础上引导学生正确认识现代农业的含义。这样,学生在阅读相关材料时就能抓住文章的精髓。

3、指导学生做读书笔记

做读书笔记可以提高学生课外阅读的质量,培养学生认真读书的习惯。针对我所选的活页材料,一天一篇,包括难度、字数、标准用时、实际用时、题材。读书笔记的形式主要有三种:

(1)摘抄:摘抄精彩的词句、片段、格言和警句等,并进行整理和归类,为后续的语言运用积累素材。

(2)列提纲:列出文章的主题、框架或故事梗概,培养学生的语篇分析能力。

(3)写读书体会:分析文章的思想内容、人物形象和语言特点,写阅读感想或心得,从而提高学生的认识能力和鉴赏能力。

4、组织多种形式的阅读交流活动

组织学生进行阅读交流既能激发学生的阅读兴趣,又能提高学生的口语和书面表达能力。

(1)问题讨论:对于阅读中遇到的难以理解或见解有分歧的问题,教师可以组织学生通过讨论或辨论的方式解决。

(2)知识竞赛:利用课余时间组织学生进行知识竞赛,采用抢答读物的作者、说出读物中精彩句段或格言警句、播放对话录音辨认作品人物以及分析作品主题等形式,巩固课外阅读的成果。

(3)短剧表演:学生把课外阅读材料改编成短剧表演,提高学生的创新能力和语言综合运用能力。我班学生在校第八届艺术节中表演了莫泊桑的《项链》短剧,提高了学习英语的兴趣。

(4)专栏展示:学生通过评论、漫画、感想和精彩句段摘抄等形式,在专栏中展示自己对课外阅读材料的理解和体会。

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5、建立课外阅读管理与评估机制

有效的课外阅读学习管理包括以下内容:

(1)分析并总结自己目前的阅读水平或状况,尤其是阅读速度的控制能力和对语篇的领悟能力。

(2)在总结的基础上进行自我评估,确定分阶段要达成的短期目标。

(3)根据评估结果制定阶段阅读计划,并设定各阶段阅读技巧训练的重点。

(4)安排课外阅读时间,如课内和课外训练时间的比例。

(5)确定课外阅读的组织形式,如个人阅读或小组阅读。

(6)反馈阅读训练效果,适时调整阅读训练策略。

四、高中英语课外阅读活动模式

1、自主式课外阅读活动模式

(1)设计原理

自主式课外阅读要求以学生为中心,通过课外阅读活动培养学生的自主学习能力,即让学生进行大量的自主阅读,教师不需要就阅读材料进行太多的导读活动,只需引导学生进入多维的研究空间,将阅读活动直接指向阅读材料的内容,让学生阅读时完全自主。

(2)活动流程

新课标下的高中英语课外阅读活动

新课标下的高中英语课外阅读活动

——→

新课标下的高中英语课外阅读活动

新课标下的高中英语课外阅读活动

——→(3)操作实例

以现行教材SEFC 1A Unit 12 Harry Potter 为例。学生对主人公Harry Potter及其经历产生了浓厚的兴趣。而本单元Reading部分对该小说的介绍满足不了学生的需要。教师可以引导学生通过购书或网上查阅的方式阅读原著Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone;教师也可以给学生提供相关网站,如, http://parenting-等。

课外阅读前,教师应先让学生明确阅读该篇小说的基本要求:

①找出小说中的重点人物,理清他们之间的关系;

②了解故事梗概。

学生可以自主选择阅读方式(个人阅读或小组阅读),并制定阅读进度表。该书共有 4

17个章节,多数学生安排每周读3-5篇。

其次,教师应要求学生在阅读过程中摘抄优美的词句;遇到生词时尽量根据上下文或构词法知识进行猜测。为了帮助学生理清小说的线索、了解人物的性格及其关系,教师还可以根据每个章节的具体内容设计问题,以启发学生思考。(如SEFC 3B unit13 Moonstone)

学生阅读整篇小说之后,教师可要求学生完成有关人物的性格描述或人物之间关系的简图,并简要写出小说的故事情节。

最后,学生可收集并整理相关资料(包括图片或动画等),就自己最感兴趣的部分写读后感,并作为自主性阅读作品参加全班举办的课外阅读成果展。

2、探究式课外阅读活动的模式

(1)设计原理

探究式课外阅读是指学生在教师的指导下选择和确定专题并进行探究。学生在探究过程中通过主动获取知识、运用知识和解决问题确立其学习的主体地位,而教师在探究式课外阅读中则成为学生阅读的组织者、协作者和伙伴。

(2)活动流程

新课标下的高中英语课外阅读活动

(3)操作实例 以SFFC 2A Unit 9 Saving the Earth 为例。本单元的中心话题是“拯救地球”。教师在进行该单元的教学时,可以组织相关的探究式课外阅读活动,使学生更具体地了解当前地球所面临的问题、原因及其解决方法,帮助他们树立良好的“地球公民”意识。具体操作如下:

①师生商议并确定探究性问题,如:

What are the problems facing the earth?

What bad effects have they brought to the earth?

What has been done , is being done and can be done to solve the problems?

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As a student ,how can we save the earth?

②学生自由组合成7个学习小组,每组从地球目前所面临的七大问题中选择一个问题进行探究性课外阅读。小组成员在图书馆或网上收集资料(小组中每人阅读并收集不少于1500词的资料);之后通过小组讨论,将所收集的资料进行筛选、分类和汇总,并在此基础上提出有价值的意见和观点;最后将其整理成文。

③各小组呈现各自的探究性成果(每人必须发言),并在全班交流,最后以手抄报的形式展示各组的学习成果。

3、创造性课外阅读活动的模式

(1)设计原理

创造性课外阅读活动是指教师在充分发挥学生的主体意识和充分尊重学生个性的前提下,诱发学生的创造性动机,使学生根据材料的文学思考和品味课文内涵,读出疑问,读出新意,提出独特的思想感悟,并通过一定的方式展现其创造的成果。

(2)操作实例

教学SEFC 2B The Merchant of venice后,笔者所在学校的教师感觉到学生具有创造戏剧的强烈愿望,并希望以各种方式展示自己的课外阅读成果,因此组织了创造性课外阅读活动。在校第九届艺术节中以话剧的形式展现。

参考文献

教育部.2001.全日制义务教育普通高级中学英语课程标准(实验稿)[M].北京:北京师范大学出版社。

张慧婷.2004.浅议英语课外阅读材料的选择

教师用书

关键词:活动的常见形式与内容及开展。内容摘要:英语课外活动的开展要注意形式,人员,场地,内容,宣传,评分等的工作,使活动有条不紊地开展起来。课外活动的形式是多样的,可以是游戏,自由对话,英语广播,手抄报,讲座等。英语课外活动的开展应结合英语教学的实际,使其为英语教学服务,充分发挥英语课外活动的辅助作用。生动活泼的各种课外活动是学生喜欢的活动。就连英语这一抽象的语言,经过老师的策划组织,也能摇身一变,披上生动形象的外衣,进入学生的课外活动之中。英语教学的任务是通过基本训练培养学生为交际运用英语的能力。由于课堂时间空间的限制,学生开口说英语的机会较少。课外活动能彌补课堂的不足,让学生主动大胆地说出英语来,让他们充满自信地学习英语。教师在指导学生开展英语课外活动时,应注意以下几点:1.活动前应制定详尽的计划。作好活动内容,形式,时间和人员等方面的计划和安排,以便活动能有组织,有计划地开展。在活动过程中必须让活动为教学内容服务,不要为活动而活动。因为活动毕竟是一种形式,如果没有明确的计划和内容,就达不到活动的最终目的。2.英语课外活动应适合不同学生的口味。教师要考虑到活动面向学生的广度和学生的水平,在内容的安排上应有所不同。配合初中,高中不同年级学生的水平。活动应坚持自愿参与的原则,不应 6

强迫。但是要进行有力的宣传工作,如出海报,广播宣传等,吸引更多的学生参与到活动中来。3.让学生成为英语课外活动的主人。让学生发挥主人公的精神,充分发挥学生的积极主动性。教师挑选出活动的负责人后,可让他们自由决定活动形式,布置场地。教师要做好指导工作,帮助他们及时解决困难,以确保活动的顺利开展。4.活动内容力求新鲜,有吸引力。根据不同学生的性格特点,可把活动分为游戏部分和自由交谈部分,以满足不同性格学生,初中,高中学生的喜好。游戏宜把培养智力,发展能力的目的有效结合起来,采取他们喜爱的形式,让学生在乐中学,学中乐。自由交谈是有效提高口语的途径。但开始时大部分学生往往羞于开口。为了创设良好的外语氛围。教师可安排轻松,真实的气氛,如咖啡馆式的小桌,邀请外国人参与指导等,便能吸引学生开口说英语。5.适当利用评分与奖励,鼓励学生的参与。为了使活动持续不断地进行下去,及时表扬鼓励活动中的积极分子和有创意的活动项目,教师可设立一个评分制度,让学生对本学期英语活动作出评分,选出他们心目中最难望最喜欢的一个活动和负责活动的班级。学校可适当对成绩突出的班级进行奖励。为了调动广大学生的积极参与性,可对参与英语活动并有较好表现,如大对游戏问题的同学进行小小的物质奖励。他们可凭活动组织班级印制的奖票到指定地点换领奖品。奖品可以是多种多样的,可以是可爱的小书签,糖果,文具等。由于是他们成功换来的,虽然“礼轻”却“情意”重。也调动起广大学生的参与性。6.其它课外活动的形式。除了以上介绍的英语角课外活动外,还有多种其它英语课外活动形式。如英语墙报或英语手抄报,向学生介绍应美国家的文化习俗,风土人情。课文背景知时,小故事,寓言,谜语等,既可开阔学生视野,又能训练学生的书写,组织能力。有条件的学校可以创设英语广播。在每天下午上课前或课间向全校学生播放英语录音,如对话,故事,英语歌曲等,也可安排播放学生的稿件。由学生报道新闻,天气等,由语音较好的学生报道。英语广播对于创设英语环境,提高学生听力,培养学生良好的语音语调是很有帮助的。也可举办一些大型的英语讲座,可邀请外籍教师,本校英语教师召开专题讲座,针对学生感兴趣的问题,如对西方习俗,西方音乐,外国学生的学习习惯等。讲座可采用较轻松的形式,让学生提问。讲座的内容要适合学生的英语水平,以大多数学生能听懂为准。讲座前要张贴海报或广播,吸引更多学生参与到活动中来。生动活泼的课外活动的蓬勃发展,对学生英语能力的提高将是很有帮助的。英语教师应在这方面下点功夫,搞好本校的课外活动。参考文献:《中学英语教学法》,《小学英语教学法》

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第二篇:高中英语课外阅读40篇-新人教[整理] 145600字

高中英语课外阅读40篇

After Divorce

My parents divorced when I was two, and the repercussions of their split lasted long after it was final. My mother was a parochial school teacher who earned just enough to stay off welfare, but not enough for us to live comfortably. Utilities in our home were shut off from time to time, and it seemed like we would never catch up. My mother also worked nights, so after school I would go to my grandparents' house. I spent little time with my mother because she worked during the week, and eventually on weekends, too.

My most painful memories of that time are not of being teased for my limited wardrobe, or the times we had no running water because my mother missed payments. The most difficult experience was watching my mother cry at night, while I hugged her and told her I loved her. Through all this, I learned so much. I came to value education, family and faith. I worked hard in school, and earned good grades. I learned from my mother's example (she went back to school after three children and a divorce) that it is important for a woman to go to college and not depend on a man. I came to value extended family support and developed a close relationship with my grandparents and cousins because I was with them so much while my mother worked.

Last, my faith became very strong. Although my mother was very busy, she made sure we all went to church together every Sunday. Most important, we did not blame God for our situation. Instead, we thanked Him for the good things in our lives. We were grateful for the people who cared about us, for not being on the streets, and for good health when we did not have health insurance. My parents' divorce caused hardships and pain, but it was also an experience that I would not change because of how much I learned.

The View from Down Under

Good things come in small packages. Trust me, I know. All towering four feet and eleven inches of me can attest to the truth of this well-known maxim. In my opinion, I am a 17-year-old mature, responsible girl who is about to embark on the tumultuous journey often referred to as college. While this is true, many people have a difficult time believing it. They perceive me as a cute little girl, perhaps about to embark on the tumultuous journey often referred to as high school. Yes, that's right, high school.

My world is full of remarks such as "Aren't you just the cutest little thing!" and an array of nicknames that employ clever spin-offs of the word "short." (It's surprising what people can come up with.) During head counts people often find it hilarious to count me as only half a person, and almost daily I witness the disbelieving face of someone who has learned my true age.

I would be lying if I said this never bothers me. Believe me, I've used my fair share of age-enhancing techniques: experimenting with make-up, hair styles and a short girl's best friend: big shoes. Yes, they get the job done temporarily, but when the make-up is washed off, the hair let down and the shoes put away, what am I left with? Me. And is that really such a bad thing? No! It's taken me most of my teenage life to recognize that short does not equal bad and that people aren't doing me any harm by thinking I look 12. These people can't help it - I do look young.

If I were given the opportunity to be tall, I would turn it down. It would change me. My shortness has given me character; it's a part of me. I've learned how to take jokes and reciprocate, but I also think twice before commenting on a person's appearance because I know it can hurt. I've been there.

After a period of doubt and discontentment, I've finally accepted the fact that I'll forever be telling people, "Yes, I really am 17 (or 21, or 30). I've learned to deal with the harsh reality that I'll be getting the kids' menu at restaurants (one of the more embarrassing hardships) even when I'm well into my twenties. Oh, and one more thing: my pants will always be just a little bit too long. But that's okay with me.

A Soaking Reverie

Today I took a bath for the first time in four months. Not a single tile, door or piece of furniture stood in my unfinished home. The echoes of the running water played scales up my spine. Drip, drip, drip, drip. This was the first time I ever felt fortunate to have a bath. A burden fell upon my family when my sister failed to turn off the curling iron and my house went up in flames. The fire refused to stop until it had gobbled up almost everything. I lost much, but I learned even more. Without a place to call home and warm weather coming, my parents made the decision to camp-out for the summer as our house was rebuilt. With nine people and three campers littering the backyard, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that this would take patience and understanding. We lost our cozy beds, our television, our refrigerator. We resorted to using camper cots, a melted radio and coolers. The showers were often cold, but not nearly as cold as some of the nights. Crammed together, my family survived in isolated pools of pity. Animosity poisoned our air. I began to forget how convenient air conditioning and home-cooked meals were. Our debt increased as we repurchased our lost possessions. Flashlights (not candles, due to our newborn fear of fire) were essential, and bug spray became the new family fragrance. However, I discovered that I wasn't alone in my suffering.

Needing points for National Honor Society, I agreed to go with my friend to a church to do volunteer work. In a muggy room we fed surplus food to families who had little. While pouring drinks, I listened to each family's story. The children were beyond hungry, and the scoops of instant mashed potatoes and slices of pork would be their first meal of the day. The lingering smell of mothballs convinced me that moths had not created the tiny but numerous holes in their clothes. The children nervously gnawed at their dirty fingernails. The parents avoided eye contact. The chatter was minimal and the deafening silence made my stomach churn. I left my sorrow behind and brought home a stomach full of guilt. I spent the rest of that day trying to salvage some of our belongings by scrubbing away the soot and stains.

After a dreary day's work, I filled the tub with nearly scalding water. I inched each toe in to get used to the temperature. It had been so long. It was as if time had paused. It was impossible for me to remember the last time I appreciated a simple tub of hot water. Never once did I think how privileged I was to have a home, a family and life.

Tears stained my cheeks. In my backyard, I felt so close to home, yet so faraway. I sulked and soaked for what seemed like ages. I peered into the water in search of my reflection. The cloudy substance smothered my floating image. My mind yelled, Why me, why me? My conscience responded, Why them, why anyone? That day I had met so many who would give their right arm to live my life, and all I could think about was my own insignificant troubles. Soon enough my agony would end and I would be living in my home again. Unfortunately, this isn't true for everyone.

Children starve, homes are bombed, guns are fired, and poverty ruins many lives. Most adolescents fortunate enough to have food, family and a home don't realize that these are gifts

from God. Life is a gift that we often take for granted. Losing so much forced me to look at life from a new angle.

The day tragedy made its unwanted visit to burn down my home, I realized my empty house is better than none, my distraught family is better than no family, and my life is better than so many others who have far less. It's ironic how such a tragedy (and a bath) taught me the greatest life lesson of all.

A Lesson Remembered

At first my fingers were awkward. They fumbled carelessly and sloppily like five uncooked french fries. I was in the fifth grade when I first dipped my fingers into the endless ocean of expression and allowed my hands to grow a voice.

It began simply with the American Sign Language alphabet when a short, round woman came to my class on Diversity Day to teach us a few basics. I remember watching her chubby fingers dance from word to word, and I left school that day fascinated. My interest, though, was buried under a mound of dance recitals and birthday parties, remaining untouched until my first day of high school.

I remember my palms being sweaty as I wandered anxiously into her classroom. From corner to corner, the walls were decorated with clippings and posters pertaining to Deafness and American Sign Language. Pictures of signing hands hung from the bulletin boards. I knew then that I had stepped into another world.

Once the rest of my classmates settled in their seats, she began. She did not speak. Her hands flew about gracefully as she signed, "Hello. My name Ms. Lewison. Your name what?" These signs did not make sense until later that week, but still I sat upright at my desk, unable to blink. My entire first impression of her was silent.

As months passed, my class transformed from 12 independent teenagers taking a course to an unusually large family. Ms. Lewison was like our mother. When we were feeling troubled, we just let our hands do the talking. We often had intense class discussions about world issues ... without our voices. It was on these days that the lesson became less about following the curriculum and more about life. It was also then that I grew into a more sensitive and accepting person.

Ms. Lewison performed a tough task. She successfully replaced all that was ignorant in me with curiosity and tolerance. Then she took my open mind and opened it even wider and still found time to turn me into a fluent signer. When she left our beloved classroom to earn her doctorate and open a school of her own, she taught me that there are no limits and my abilities are endless.

Today my fingers are stronger. They have learned to dance and tell secrets that would never have escaped through my timid lips. Ms. Lewison nudged me into the ocean of Deaf Culture. I stayed afloat and have become a strong swimmer in diverse waters.

That Teenager on TV

When I was little, I wanted to be the teenager I saw on TV. I wanted to be the typical teen suffering under the iron-fisted rule of his parents, forced to complete his daily chores. I was seven when my father bought my mother an upright piano, and I saw my opportunity to leap into that average world.

To be as cool as the kids I saw on TV, I had to find some chore to complain about. When I asked my mother if I could take piano lessons, she demanded commitment: I would either continue

playing until I left for college, or be thrown out of the house. She was half kidding, but I took her seriously. I was one of the few (if not the only) kids in the neighborhood who decided for himself to study the piano.

As the days passed, I was forced to turn down dates with friends. Why? With a roll of my eyes I'd explain, "I have to practice the piano." It felt great - almost like a teenager.

Then, I shocked myself by actually finding satisfaction in playing.

Progressing through Bach's two-part inventions, I found both a challenge and a means of relaxation. It reached the point that while most days I still practiced to keep the warden happy, some days I would just sit down for hours to perfect a piece. Other instruments - the recorder and the saxophone - came and went at the will of my school music teacher. They were forced on me, so I had no real interest in them and let them go. I continued with the piano as the years passed, and fewer friends continued their music lessons.

Years later, my musical interest grew to include the guitar, and eventually I started my own disk-jockey business. The satisfaction I get from creating and manipulating music is far greater than the sacrifices of time spent practicing and money invested in buying instruments and equipment. I'm sure that many people do not continue studying because of a bad experience. If you're forced, your only desire will be to stop. This is true with anything. Careers, for example, should reflect a love of the field and natural ability.

Ask a teacher why he or she teaches, and you will almost always hear: "I just love to teach." I have learned from my piano that if you make a willful decision to do something, and love doing it, you will succeed. Although my initial plan failed - I'm not that teenager on television - I have something I love doing, so I think I'll be able to live with myself.

Fitting Thin

I can only remember being thin once in my life - at age six. To be honest, I only "remember" because I've seen pictures. Never in my life have I felt proud of my body, but throughout elementary school it never mattered that I was big. I had the cutest boys as boyfriends despite the fact that I wore a junior size nine in the fifth grade and weighed 105 pounds. In those days, the boys didn't have sex on their minds and still appreciated personalities.

My situation didn't change much in middle school. Although I no longer was the one they wanted as a girlfriend, boys still liked me, and I was friends with almost everyone. High school changed everything, except my self-perception. Popular culture, expectations in my dance classes, and especially social situations continued to put pressure on me to change my body - to be thin.

I don't doubt that the media is partially responsible for the eight million people (male and female) in the United States who develop eating disorders each year. I see models in magazines and wonder why I can't manage to look like them, but it is when I walk into a clothing store that I feel most alienated. Not only do I get to see pictures of thin girls wearing midriff shirts and low-rise pants on the tags of size 13 pants, but all too often I try on pair after pair of pants that do not fit over my legs, beyond my butt, or around my waist.

If I gained weight, I would move up to a size 15. This means I would be a "plus size." No longer would I be able to find pants in teen-specific and department stores that were anywhere in the neighborhood of fitting. I would like to know - does "plus size" mean you're a proper size plus some? I continue to feel that stereotyping by size is society's way of showing me I don't fit in because I don't fit thin.

I have danced for 13 years, and for the first ten, I never witnessed the pressure to be thin they show in many movies and publications. When I joined a dance team sophomore year, my coach told me I was getting injured so much because "extra weight puts pressure on joints and muscles. That's why dancers are light." She suggested I try eating less. I nodded out of pure shock and waited until later to cry.

Since then, I have seen more than ever that thin is in. I see the smaller dancers leaping high in the air and the girls my size staying closer to the ground. While the thin girls revel in choosing skimpy, sexy outfits, the rest of us are uncomfortable and grumble that there is no way we'll fit into certain costumes. Again, my self-esteem takes a dive.

This time, it is not because the sizes are telling me that I'm larger than I should be. Rather, my fellow dancers are making me feel that I am too large to be a dancer, because dancers (apparently) wear costumes that barely cover their bodies. Though I know my team means no harm, the deed has been done. I cover my (fully-clothed) stomach during breaks while I try to avoid comparing myself to my best friend (who is wearing a sports bra and shorts, displaying perfectly toned abs and legs). Yes, in joining the dance team, I accepted that I would be exposed to flesh more often than most, and that I would have to be up-close and personal with my own body every day. I did not, however, agree to flaunt the fact that my metabolism doesn't provide for a body devoid of superfluous fat, or to be made to feel ashamed because I don't wear a "regular" size. Why can't I just fit thin?

I try to be confident, though my poor body image tends to inhibit me in certain situations. At parties or get-togethers, I feel as if I'm being compared to other girls (many of whom are my friends), and it makes me extremely uncomfortable. I rarely flirt with guys for fear that I will later be a joke - the "fat one" he talks about with friends. To put myself in the position of "friend," where chubby girls are not taboo, I'll chat about cars or other typically male topics with whomever is around to distract him from the idea that I should be "sized up" for dating.

Gone are elementary school days when the coolest girls were fun to hang out with. These days the "best" girls are those who would look the "best" naked. It seems many men (young and old) think that only women of a certain size are worthy of physical and emotional intimacy. It is sad that many intelligent and interesting women are neglected because they do not fit thin.

The teen years have enough stress with academic pressure from parents and teachers to go to college; socially from friends to stay away from or get involved with alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs; and athletically from coaches to eat, sleep and live for a sport.

Why must society also ask that all teenagers be labeled with a stereotypical tag - a size tag? Like millions of others, my tag has long been my master, but I won't let it be any longer. As an intelligent and capable young woman - size 13 - I will succeed in working to shatter the misconceptions surrounding "larger" people.

As a designer, I will produce clothing for teenagers to fit and flatter all shapes and sizes. As a successful executive, I will promote participation in the performing arts by all young men and women who are interested, regardless of size. As a woman, I intend to prove that "bigger" only means there is more to love.

Earth and Sky

When I was 15, life seemed easy. My parents, still happily married, sheltered me, and God blessed me with two sets of healthy grandparents. In my naive way, I believed terminal illness would

never affect my family. In the summer of 2000, though, my grandfather's doctor diagnosed him with brain cancer and gave him only ten months to live. Suddenly we all felt the presence of death. My grandfather passed away exactly ten months later in a nursing home. He hated nursing homes, but by then he didn't even know he was in one.

His calling hours were the first I had ever attended. My mother and I clasped hands tightly as I looked at the open casket surrounded with flowers. The baskets of flowers had ribbons, each inscribed for my grandfather: Bompa (his grandchildren's nickname for him), Dad, Husband, Friend. As we approached the casket, my stomach tightened and tears welled. My mother squeezed my hand tighter and kept me by her side. I hesitantly looked in the casket. Bompa appeared just as he had before illness struck. Even though his eyes were closed, I could still imagine their twinkle, his wide smile and the jokes that made everyone laugh. I remembered his big round belly and his double chin.

And I realized that he would never again make us laugh. Tears ran down my cheeks as my mother hugged me, rubbing my back as I sobbed into her shoulder.

The next day, I didn't want to go to the funeral. My throat was dry, my voice hoarse, but the time came to go to the funeral home and say my last good-bye to Bompa. As I approached his casket again, I bowed my head and more tears came. The world stopped as I searched the depths of my heart for the right words. I kissed his cheek and said, "I love you, Bompa, and always will." At that moment I knew I would have to bury my dead many times. The hurt, the disbelief and the terrible moment when it seems the world has stopped will happen again and again. In a flash, I grew up.

I looked at my family and friends and knew that I could always turn to them while they're on this earth. They are my guardians on earth, and Bompa is my guardian in the sky.

What I Meant to Say

I am going to tell you about a rather wonderful, yet fleeting experience I had the summer before senior year. From the outside looking in, it could have been the experience of any 17-year-old. That spring I had been accepted to the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, a prestigious program, and I was ecstatic. All my hard work had finally paid off, all the English classes, poetry contests, and writing workshops where I was the only one under 35, and then the only girl who didn't carve gnomes in her arm with a butter knife in her spare time while eating a box of doughnuts.

The best part, though, was that I'd be spending five weeks away from home. No parents and no smelly little brothers rolling all over my bed. I awaited those weeks in joyful anticipation. Sure, I'd be spending most of my summer writing and sleeping in some strange dorm room (I was new to this concept since I had never been the summer-camp kind of kid), but I had this gut feeling that it would be a very positive experience. And it was. Oh, how it was.

It wasn't just the fact that I had my first taste of college life - you know, sleeping in dorms, doing my own laundry, cleaning a toilet for the first time. And it wasn't just the fact that I was surrounded by talented, driven people who understood my feelings about wanting to leave South Carolina and return to New York. They knew that if you want to do certain things, you can't stay in your small town forever. And it just felt so good to have people understand that.

It was so much more than that.

During those five weeks something happened to me. I gained a whole new perspective on some

issues in my life. This may not have been apparent to others, but I felt it in every bone in my body. I have a twin sister, you see. We are very close, and similar in many ways. We love a good movie or a good book. We share a room. We spoil our little brother. But my sister is a little different. She has some problems. She takes three kinds of anti-depressants to control her behavior, and sometimes being with her is like having a stubborn three-year-old around.

We have gone to the same high school and I've shared too much with her. It wasn't enough that I was already the weird Yankee girl with the Brooklyn accent (it was assumed that I wanted to take away everyone's rifles and ban college football coverage). Whenever my sister couldn't make it through lunchtime without beating up one of the football players or standing on top of the lunch tables and screaming across a crowded cafeteria, it reverberated back at me. People were reluctant to be my friend. I was the sister of that girl. And as a result, I soon became that girl. Who wanted to take that girl to the movies? People didn't want to associate with the crazy girl's sister.

I can't say that I totally blamed them. I didn't want any part of it, either. But this was my twin sister. I was in a very bad, possibly dangerous, place for a teenager. I was letting my emotions get in the way of my life. I was angry at the kids in school and I was angry with my sister. But I didn't understand that there was a way to deal with it all. I was trying to deal with something beyond the control of a 15-year-old. At the time, I could not understand what I had done to deserve this. I could not understand why I could not stop hating myself, my sister, my family and the world.

I was very lonely. My high school experience had been like being locked in a dark, windowless room with the key thrown away before I realized there was a key. But like I said, I was not the type of girl who sat in her dark room carving up her arm. I picked up a pen one day, and from that moment on, I knew there was a point to all this. I realized that I could attack this virus in my life with nothing but my pencil and paper, maybe even cure it.

So let's fast-forward two years. I had paid my dues as a writer and student, and there I was at this prestigious arts school. I was incredibly happy. I was exuberant. I laughed so hard I thought I would never stop. I broke out into some stupid song for no reason. Of course, in the way of actors, dancers and singers, I was about as important as the custodial staff (we writers just never get to experience the standing ovations and red roses), but the feeling of just being able to be myself was indescribable. I felt so free.

There I was just Deb. Nobody was judging me on any pre-conceived notions. Nobody knew me until I opened my own mouth and spoke. I got a taste of what it should have been like for me. I should have been allowed to be that goofy, giggly girl living somewhere inside of me. I should not have had to carry around another 115 pounds of a crippled life on my shoulders.

I am a writer, and at times I have felt myself sympathizing with male dancers. I have been able to imagine what it must be like to have society judge you just from looking at the external package. But I am not a boy in tights, you know. I am just a girl who woke up one day and realized I had been given something that was way beyond my control. I quickly learned that I could do two things: stay in my dark room and become bitter, or use it to better myself and maybe even help others. I chose the latter. I realize that if all this "stuff" in my life had brought me this far, I could only keep going forward. I firmly believe that my writing chose me; I didn't choose it, I have to do this. I was destined to do this with my life. But I am the one who gets to choose what I do with it. And I realized this during those five weeks. It was a fleeting five weeks, but they had a profound effect on me.

As my summer ended and I returned home, it dawned on me that in a few short days I would be starting my senior year of high school. All I could think of was that, in a year, I would be heading to college. If my seventeenth summer was just a taste of what my life could be like pretty soon, then I cannot wait to eat the whole thing.

Kathy

When she smiled at me I felt my muscles begin to relax, and I let out a sigh as I smiled back. Kathy was one of the first waitresses I met when I started working at Luigi's, a small Italian restaurant. What was supposed to be a summer job turned into two of the most valuable years of my life.

Walking into Luigi's that first night, I was thrust into the real world. I didn't know anyone, and my co-workers gave me no special treatment when they saw I was a shy 15-year-old. My managers did not help me, they just told me what to do and I did it.

"Allison, these customers are impatient. You need to clear that table faster, set it up, and don't forget the menus this time." Those orders are still clear in my mind from that first night as a busgirl. I stumbled around the

restaurant and dropped some dishes within my first few hours. I was frustrated and tense - until I saw Kathy.

Kathy's warm expression instantly put me at ease. She smiled and shook my hand without hesitation. "So you're Allison. That's a pretty name. If you need anything, just ask me," she offered.

Eventually the night slowed. The last customers finished their meals, and I started cleaning. My legs hurt and my head was still spinning when Kathy quietly approached.

"You were fantastic, Allison. I know it is so hard at first, but you'll get used to it. You'll see," she reassured me. I smiled and nodded. Suddenly, she hugged me. I had just met my new best friend, and as odd as it seems, she is a 55-year-old woman.

Kathy is more than just a friend, though. She is my second mom. Kathy embodies everything that I want to be. She is kind and gentle, and, at the same time, strong and wise.

Kathy works two waitressing jobs. She serves others all day long, but at the end of every night, she never fails to offer a helping hand to those who are cleaning. Kathy is the best listener I know, and she doesn't leave until she has helped solve your problem.

During the past two years I have worked with Kathy, I have grown into a young woman. That time has been filled with heartbreaks and many fights with friends. The instant I feel tears coming, I drive down to Luigi's to see Kathy. She sits me down at a booth and we talk.

"I just don't understand why he doesn't like me; why can't he just give me a chance?" I spill all my feelings onto the table. Kathy takes my hand, reassures me that there will be other boys, and holds me until I stop crying.

Kathy shares in my happiness as well. She loves hearing about school, and over spaghetti and meatballs we chat about where I will go to college, how much money she made in tips that night, and how my friends are doing. The 38-year difference in our age does not come between the giggles and sympathetic hugs. I don't know if I would have gotten through that first summer without Kathy, nor do I know if I would be the young woman I am today without her. Kathy will always be my friend, my mentor, and my second mom.

Accepting Reality

"We're going to lose her!"

"Hurry up!"

"Not that tool!"

These were the phrases that came to mind when I thought of the emergency room, and I pictured serene patients never complaining to their nurses or asking for anything but a friend. Most especially, I pictured people being wheeled out of the emergency room feeling 100 percent better. "Daddy, may I give you a check-up?" I distinctly remember carrying my black Fisher-Price doctor's kit around with me everywhere when I was young. While all the other children played with Barbie dolls or dressed up their American Girl dolls, I played G.I. Joes and Ghostbusters, who would fight until an unfortunate Joe stepped into the line of fire. My trusty kit was always next to me so that I could bandage legs, give my Ghostbusters check-ups, and listen to the heartbeats of all my stuffed animals. And amazingly, my G.I. Joe patient (he was always the most injured) always survived.

When I decided to attend a leadership forum on medicine last summer, I figured I would get to see doctors helping their patients and, just like on television, no one would die. I imagined doctors with personal lives racy enough to fill pages of a journal, but in that week I learned how wrong my perceptions were.

Spending a day in the emergency room, I witnessed events I never thought I would see. I was on the helicopter pad when Life Star flew in with a girl only two years older than me. She had been riding a horse, and was trampled when she fell off. I watched her face, the pain intensifying with each moment, and realized that I was not in TV's "ER" and my little black Fisher-Price bag could not mend all the wounds as I had imagined when I was younger. Then, I had expected that my plastic syringe filled with fake liquid would take care of all the pain.

I watched the girl (who easily could have been me) as she was rushed to a private room. I heard the beeping of the heart monitor and her groans. But I did not see the frantic rushing and screaming of the doctors I'd always imagined. The surgeon and the nurses were quiet, intent on their work. There were no orders, only requests for instruments. On "ER" I remember two doctors fighting, one yelling at the other for using an outdated method. I expected that kind of chaos, not the composure I witnessed.

As they began operating, I was whisked away to another section of the emergency room where I saw a cancer patient yellow with illness. Her family, who did not want to respect her living will, wished to keep her on life support. I realized that as a doctor I would have to deal with these moral issues. As I walked by, I could not help remembering when I had envisioned my bunny ill with cancer. Not once in my imagination had he ever been so ill that he could not open his eyes. Not once could I see the burning pain on his face. And never did I picture Flopsy not surviving.

As the week progressed, I realized that my call to be a doctor, without the glamour I'd imagined, was growing stronger. I saw cadavers and got to look inside the human body with its intestines, ligaments and bones. But, despite all my altered views of the field of medicine, I felt blessed to have had the opportunity to learn. Now I realize that my days carrying around my doctor's bag and pretending to fix G.I. Joes were just the beginning of a new type of training: the training that involves the acceptance of reality.

I wanna tell you a story about mistakes - about growing up, screwing up and ending up unhappy, and it'd have tons of preachy tear-jerker scenes, endless regret and squalor, and the most bittersweet, contrived ending you've ever had the disservice of hearing. It'd have drugs, and depression, and deceit by the truckload, and every sentence would leave you angry, shocked or moved. The main character could be a kid my age, my height, my weight, who would always make the wrong decisions, just keep right on digging himself in deeper until his world collapsed on him and he was down for the count. And walking away from the story, you wouldn't know whether to love him or hate him, but you couldn't help but be affected, feel at least some small amount of empathy for the poor kid. And maybe, with a little bit of luck, it'd leave you a different person than it found you.

I wanna tell you a story about living on the edge - where the thrills are cheap and self-destructive, and not one character has a single moral bone in his body. A story where your sense of right and wrong is turned on its ear and you can't tell the good guys from the bad, so you just pick your pony and watch it run until it's carted off to jail on page 87, or ODs in chapter 10, or blows its brains out on the final page, and then you're left high, dry and deeply disturbed.

The worst part is, everybody starts off innocent having no idea what they're getting themselves into. Just a young kid and a few of his best buds from Anytown, USA, who let things get way out of hand and end up making reparations for the rest of their lives. And despite everything they do, every law they break, every choice you can't understand or agree with, your heart would go out to them, because you can't bring yourself to condemn anyone after all is said and done. It's really not their fault, and it could have happened to anybody.

I wanna tell you a story about the system - about everything that's wrong with society today. It'd point out every little problem we've got here in the Western World, with all our poverty, and big government, and greedy businesses, and an innocent young kid made victim of a world gone capitalistic and stupidly proud. Maybe it'd be about some real grass-roots type, a guy who just wants to disappear somewhere over the horizon and never look back at the world he left behind; a world where people lie, cheat and hurt one another just to get ahead. He'd toss away all his worldly possessions, piss all over every opportunity he was ever handed, and forsake the people who loved him all his life, sickened by all the phoniness, ready to live life simply and alone.

And in the end, you'd understand exactly why he did it, but couldn't bring yourself to feel much sympathy for him, because all he finally did was give up and run away, and that ain't the least bit heroic or righteous. But you'd feel sorry all the same, because everybody feels the way he does sometimes, and no-body's ever brave enough to take a stand.

But I don't have a story like those to tell.

What I can tell you is the story of a young man trying his hardest to get by without pissing anyone off too badly, a boy who's made some mistakes and is sorry for having hurt the ones who love him. And this boy may say he hates all the phoniness in the world, and complain about everything wrong with the people he deals with daily, but he's too weak and afraid to do anything about it. And no matter how bright and compassionate a kid he seems at times, he always manages to do something unconscionable every time you start to like and trust him again - hanging out with the wrong people, making all the wrong decisions, and never seeming to learn from his mistakes. But at the end of the story, however it turns out, you'd still feel sorry for him, and wanna see things turn around for him, 'cause you'd be left with the impression that he's basically a good kid who never meant anyone harm and would sooner chop off his right arm than cause a moment of

pain or trouble for anyone, but always manages to hurt the ones closest to him all the same.

And your heart would go out to the kid, because you'd know you've been there, that everybody's been there, and you're hoping and praying that he makes it through it all okay, because he's got a huge load on his shoulders - an unfair load - but it's the same load everybody's gotta carry. And you wish you could help out the poor kid, shelter him from it all, make his decisions for him, but you know you can't, and it pains you no end. But despite all the hardship and stupid decisions, you still somehow get the feeling that he's gonna make it okay, and that he's gonna eventually grow up and take charge, and that somewhere, years down the road, he's finally gonna find happiness. And maybe, just maybe, that kid will thank you for caring.

A Day in Court

I am watching what seems to be a strange trial. I see two figures, one clad in a white gown with sharply-edged, geometric trim (also in white), and the other draped in a flowing, gauzy rose gown standing before a judge. Then I hear the person in white speak.

Your Honor, I am the attorney representing Miss Jennifer Driver's left brain, the logical, analytical side, while my colleague represents her right brain, the aesthetic, feeling side. We are here to debate which side should be dominant in Miss Driver. Clearly, Your Honor, as we proceed, you will see that her left brain deserves to be in charge. Logic demands it. Consider the following: All her life, Miss Driver has delighted in math, a left-brain subject. From an early age, she loved to solve jigsaw puzzles and, in fact, completed several challenging 500-piece puzzles that her proud parents glued together and framed. And, Your Honor, please think about Miss Driver's propensity for driving to the heart of a calculus problem, and the ensuing rush she experiences on reaching her solution. Note her fascination as she observes a climactic "torque" physics lab. Then, watch her eyes light up as she plunks down a contending Scrabble word.

"Please do consider, Your Honor, the importance of Miss Driver's left brain in arenas outside those associated with academic learning. Take, for example, Christmas Day in the Driver home. The gifts have been opened, and the do-it-yourself assembly kits remain untouched on the living room floor. Mom, Dad, Sister and Brother become preoccupied with their new books, CDs and "Did You Know" fact calendars. Who do you suppose happily sits down with these kits, reads their cryptic directions, and figures out how to put together what is supposed to be a CD rack or a multi-purpose display case on wheels?

"The world today is one in which left-brain technology rules. There is no question that Miss Driver needs to have this part of her brain dominate if she is to be a key participant in the world of the twenty-first century. Thank you. I rest my case."

Next, I hear the judge request that the attorney representing my right brain present her position. I watch as the person in the flowing rose gown steps forward.

"Your Honor, I am sure that the views presented for left-brain dominance in Miss Jennifer Driver are valid - as far as they go - but unfortunately they miss the essence of Miss Driver - her joy in the creative process and in helping others. Art, both visual and performance, has always held a place in her heart. Her charcoal drawings and brick-colored pottery adorn her home. Then there is the framed black and white photograph of a windswept cornfield in Wisconsin that convinced her predominantly left-brained brother that even corn is beautiful. Miss Driver's passionate commitment to dance has also been a major focus in her life. Watch as she performs at a ballet recital a Vivaldi pas de deux finale, or how in her modern dance solo, accompanied by the music

of Natalie Imbruglia, she interprets a young woman's encounter with the city through turns, leaps and gestures.

"And, if you will, please hum or sing along with me: 'Put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in, and shake it all about ... Now do the Hokey Pokey ...' Let us not underestimate the significance of the 'Hokey Pokey' and 'Rock Around the Clock,' the tunes Miss Driver introduced to 17 four-year-olds she met through the Assistance League of Southern California. She developed a cognitive skills/dance program, taught it, and documented each child's progress in learning shape and directionality skills. Your Honor, this undertaking was the work of the right brain! Please consider that while her left brain may help her achieve her goals, it is her right brain that determines what goals she values. Thank you."

I feel the silence envelop the court. The minutes pass slowly. Finally, the judge reaches her verdict.

"It is understandable that the two of you are at odds. You are both right and wrong. Miss Driver's logical and analytical left brain not only helps her succeed, but also plays a role in planning the direction of her future. Her right brain's love of creativity and compassionate regard for others not only defines the values she places on her goals, but also empowers her. It is this court's opinion that both the left and right sides of the brain are of equal importance to Miss Driver. Neither the left nor the right brain shall dominate."

I hear the resounding crash of a gavel at the same time that my alarm clock blasts me out of bed. I sit back on my bed and gingerly rub my head; it is intact. Left-brain or right-brain dominance? Was that what I was dreaming about? My mind, I think to myself, is a place for both left- and right-brain thinking. And, if tallies were to be made, it would be a blessed tie. -

Editor's Note: Jennifer now attends Brown University, making this a successful essay!

Working With Dad

My alarm goes off at four in the morning and I literally roll out of bed and make my way to the bathroom. I throw on work clothes, an old t-shirt and jeans that have been washed way past their limit. Then it's down the stairs to the kitchen, where I throw the kettle on the stove to make a cup of coffee for the long ride ahead. I slump into a chair at the bare kitchen table. It won't be inhabited again for many hours. I plop my head on my arms, using them as a makeshift pillow while I impatiently wait for the whistle of the kettle. When it finally shrills, I get up and make my thermos of coffee.

This done, Ryan, a friend of my dad's and mine, comes down the driveway right on time. Ryan is my partner for the day and the summer. I notice he has his parking lights on. That's a sign that he's in a good mood. I grab my coffee, glance at my father and settle on the couch to make it look like I have been waiting for hours, but the exhaustion on my face gives me away.

My father is sitting in his recliner, coffee in hand, the news blaring on the TV. A surprised expression crosses his face when he sees me. He says good morning in a mocking tone because he knows I'm barely conscious. I sit and wait, trying to act awake as Ryan comes whistling through the door. He gives me a wink, says good morning, and gives Dad a chuckle.

This is about the time Dad looks up and says with a grand smile, "Are we ready?" With a groan and a stretch, I stand. We get into the cab of my dad's white Dodge Ram Sport that I love, and leave Bucks "Habah," spelled harbor but pronounced without R's. We turn on the country music, and ride.

Ryan and I sing for 45 minutes until we arrive at the shop. I'm always excited when I see the 18-wheeler parked in the side of the lot. I really do enjoy working with Dad. By now it's 5:15 and we're ready to go to work. I take my last sip of coffee and hop out of the truck. I grab the bag of tags with the harvest and shipping dates I stamped on them the night before. I run to the shop, give the door a hard shove, and walk in.

A sharp mixture of smells comes at us: clams, quahogs and water on cement. We hear the clunking of empty clam shells and shucking knives collide with a steel table, and the faint sound of an old tape player spitting out worn country tunes.

I give Ryan a playful shove and run into the room where the sounds come from. Four women are standing behind a long steel table shucking clams and putting them into clear containers. They look at Ryan and me with a grin and say good morning. In the middle of the room are four pallets of quahogs. I imagine the cooler in the other room that I know is full of pallets holding more and I get my staple gun and a handful of tags. Ryan follows me and we make our usual game of it. I place my first tag on one side of the pallet and he places his on the other. Crunch, crunch, crunch is all you hear as we staple a tag to each bag of quahogs. We race from pallet to pallet trying to beat each other.

We have finished when Dad comes in to ask who wants to go wake up Dave, the driver of the 18-wheeler. Ryan volunteers because he knows I am timid around this broadly built man with his New York accent. When Ryan leaves, I head to the back with Dad. Opening the cooler door, a chill runs through my body. I walk into the cold tomb and look at row upon row of green netted bags full of those golden hard-shelled clams, or that's what they call them in New York where they're headed. Quahog isn't a very appealing word, I suppose. I start tagging away with Dad until Ryan comes back. Then Dad leaves to talk to Dave to get the trip organized.

By this time we are both covered with quahog juice and smell like we just washed up on shore. We get the last pallet tagged, and check over the shipment, after which we call it a day. Ryan and I watch my dad and Dave take the electric pallet jack and load the quahogs onto the truck. When the job is finally done, I am barely tired anymore. My hands are sore from the heavy metal staple gun's pressure, but that's my only complaint. We hose down the cement floors, pick up any extra tags and make our way back out the door. I run to the truck while Ryan and Dad watch Dave maneuver the large truck. Finally, they join me in the cab and we head for home.

On the ride home we don't have any heavy conversations, we just listen to music and joke around a bit. We know when we get home Mom will have a big breakfast of pancakes, eggs, toast and bacon waiting, and by this time we definitely can eat. We pull into the driveway at 9 o'clock. Our workday is over, but the day has just begun.

What I Know

I stare at the "Hamlet" poster every morning in creative writing class, and it never changes. It is always the same poster, the same cast in alphabetical order, the same obscure message at the bottom in the same soft orange font: "At Theaters Soon." I guess the poster's constancy is what ropes in my eyes and ties them up like young hooves in a cattle king's ring. All else that is permanent and palpable in the room dissolves, leaving this one vivid window into a scene of another time, leaving me to rely on a freeze-frame of a modern adaptation of another's historic reverie and peerless genius.

Still, despite all these imaginings, I must , be careful. I must be careful not to make the boy in black (whose seat is under the spectacle) think I could be staring at him. I wouldn't want him to add my supposed incessant gaping to his "tragic freak" log. He doesn't want to believe that I am just like him. I am just like every one of those cloaked ultraists who mope around school in their dark resistance decor. With my clean white shirt and ironed corduroys, it is twisted discrimination. You couldn't be like us, they say, but I will always know we should have been great friends.

The time is over now - the three bells always sound like antecedents to department-store announcements ("Customer needs assistance in the shoe department, please ...") and it is time for psychology. I always think about my best friend in psychology because she has the same class at the same time in Michigan. I picture her bedroom the way it was when I went to visit her, the profoundly green walls and the bay window with flowing tails of white and gold gossamer that frame the forever flatness of central Michigan. It is a beautiful room. She hung the framed Degas poster I gave her for her sixteenth birthday, a sort of symbol of my indomitable knowledge of her pastimes. She is a wonderful dancer. There's a Degas poster in creative writing class, too, and sometimes when I'm not looking into "Hamlet," I let myself think about her.

Sometimes I feel I've begun to see how everything in this life becomes connected, even if only for a while; even if you still believe you can hear the fluttering recoil of things gone by. Maybe that's the way things stay undeniably allied, inside hopeful minds and the empty rooms of our hearts. In Spanish class I always think about my father. The way he died, the way he was before he died, the way every window of every building in this school district is exactly the same, but they look different now. I don't gaze through them as I used to. Now I ream the glass with pensive eyes, mysterious eyes, boring through to the outside world in a bitter, scared and untrusting trance. My father suffered a stroke in 1993 that left him with a bad leg, a cadenced walk to replace his robust stride, a cane, a stagnant arm, phantom pain, and five years of illness and anger that led to the eventual atrophy of my parents' marriage.

Three and a half years ago, I was the only one with my father when he died of a massive heart attack in the very house where I sit and write this. It's taken me a long time to be able to fall asleep here, not counting the times I've passed out from utter lack of rest. My sleep was perpetually wracked by the face of my dying father that only I witnessed and absorbed. He died just months before I entered high school. And I harbor such an inconceivable amount of guilt for all the times I had fought with him, all the times I had made him hang his head for the hurtful things he said. I was the dominant voice in my household because in my preteen irrationality, I couldn't understand his illness. I know that now.

I also know everything bears some purpose, whether obvious or not, and all things happen as they must, no matter how great the burden, or unbearable the pain. I am not sure if this personal statement draws any admiration from you, or leads you through my subjective paths in semi-certain terms. I have laid out all I can, and all that has any pertinence to the real world (as much of reality as a suburban Cincinnati teen can know). I know what I don't know, and that has been enough for me so far.

The Girl With the Green Suede Sneakers

The first person I noticed was the girl with the green suede sneakers. She was just a little different. Standing there alone, she had scraggly brown hair pulled taut in a florescent pink tie that clashed

miserably with her misshapen green- and blue-striped jacket. With stretched-out cotton blue pants that failed to extend past her ankles and glowing orange scrunch socks, she stood in silence, cleaning her frosted eyeglasses with her shirt.

It was a cold day in November and the start of the winter track season. I stood with my friends, carefully surveying the scene of prospective new teammates. It was all too obvious that a good number were not athletic, and we knew they would be gone within days. It was the same way every year. Yet, there was something about the girl with the green suede sneakers, as I listened to my friends gossip about her.

"Have you guys seen that girl over there?" I heard someone say, pointing in her direction.

"Does she honestly think that outfit looks good?" another giggled. Glancing at my new shiny spandex and brilliant white shoes, I admired my running apparel. Surely I must fit in. No one would dare talk about me. So the girl with the green suede sneakers stood alone, and I joined the giggles of my friends. I too began to wonder about what she was wearing, as if her clothes determined her personality. Sticking out like a sore thumb, she shivered in the wind as we began our workout.

Following us to the starting line, the girl with the green suede sneakers looked confused.

"What is a 400-meter repeat?" she asked with a slight accent unfamiliar to me. I pondered her origins for a moment, then quickly forgot about it as one of my teammates sarcastically yelled the answer. I rolled my eyes in disbelief along with the others.

Quickly, though, I remembered that just last year I would have asked the same question. I wondered if they had been that sarcastic with me. No, that wasn't possible, I looked like a runner. So I continued, showing off my speed and joking with my friends as the girl with the green suede shoes fell farther behind. Clearly out of shape, she huffed and puffed across the finish line as my friends stood, barely out of breath, and ready to push on. Walking to the bleachers where I had left my water, I took a sip and relaxed while my friends started to do cool down.

Deciding to wait and catch my breath, I started running by myself. Moments later, I heard the loud slap of tired feet close behind me. Thinking it was one of my friends, I turned around, only to see the girl with the green sneakers looking confused again.

"What is cool down?" she asked, and I explained, beginning to wonder how anyone could possibly be so clueless about what we were doing. Running in silence for a few steps, we rounded the track again as I gazed up at the sky.

"Isn't the sunset beautiful?" she remarked, her accent more obvious this time. Indeed it was, a swirl of pastel oranges and pinks intermingled with stripes of pale purple. "I just love sunsets, especially those at the lakes by my home," she added. Beginning to wonder about her accent, I asked, "Are you from this country?"

"No, I am from Germany, I'm an exchange student this year."

For the next lap, I found myself asking her about everything: her favorite foods, how she liked America, how to say different words in German. I was so engulfed in our conversation that even after we finished our run, we walked into the building, still talking, as I grew more fascinated with her culture and experiences.

When we got to the locker room, I said, "Nice meeting you," and continued on my way. Then I paused. Had I just been having that awesome conversation with the girl with the green suede sneakers? Was she the same awkward character whose mismatched clothes and slightly unkempt hair had attracted the attention of me and my friends?

Disappointed in myself, I realized how judgmental I had been. Her personality was not represented by the clothes she wore. I had made a great new friend from another country whose stories were fascinating. How could I have been so wrapped up in appearance? I had always prided myself on being accepting of other cultures. Narrow-minded, I was caught in what I thought would be acceptable to others and had almost missed out on making a new friend. After all, wasn't she more than a pair of green suede sneakers?

The Ballerina Bullfrog Catcher

I have had the great and unlikely honor of growing up the only girl in a family of five children.

Being the only girl has many good points. Clothes, toys, games, sports equipment and anything else I could possibly want piled up in my house Christmas after Christmas and birthday after birthday. I whined and cried until I got my way, throwing fits in stores and causing many embarrassing scenes which worked every time. Any organization or club I wanted to join, I was in, and those I didn't want to be in, I wasn't. Having to play sports with only girls was different for me but it didn't stop me from joining.

I was "Daddy's little girl," his obvious favorite. My brothers despised me for getting all the new toys and never being blamed when they got hurt or we did something wrong.

Never the girly type, I didn't sit home brushing my dolls' hair all day. If I wanted treats, my mother would make them - no need for an "Easy-Bake Oven" for this young female. The only girl among four brothers and all their friends every day, playing with a tea set and Barbie dolls? I don't think so. I did what any six-year-old who expected attention would do. I became a tomboy with no intention of ever being anything but one.

For the first 12 years of my life I thought of nothing but sports and the next time I would get outdoors. My brothers and I spent every day with the neighborhood boys. We played football during the day and caught bugs after sundown. Summer days were spent at creeks catching tadpoles and cooling off after a long game of home-run derby. I always enjoyed being one of the guys and couldn't imagine myself any other way. But, my mother could.

One crisp November morning my mother decided it was time I learned how to be a girl. This was the worst day of my life. I got in the car not knowing where we were going. After a while we stopped at a rest area where my mother did the most dreadful thing ever - she made me put on a dress. She knew I would never leave the house in one. After ruining dress after dress when I was younger, my mother decided it would be cheaper to allow me to wear pants every day, which left only special occasions for dresses, and then I would usually have a battle wound too unladylike to show. I used all the tricks I knew to fight off dresses.

This time my mother was prepared and in the end, she won. I whined and begged: couldn't I at least wear my sneakers? My mother gave me repeated denials and, except for yawning, my mouth was shut the rest of the trip. When we arrived at a big gray building, she walked me inside, signed me in, and left. Then the torture began. For the next eight weeks these women taught me, and a small group of other girls, "the necessities," as they called them. To me, it was two and a half hours I could have been on the basketball court or playing football. My first day of these classes was also my first day in dress shoes, and our first lesson was walking the runway. I gave new meaning to the term "catwalk" as I stumbled and turned my ankles with every step. At the end of

the runway, I turned to walk back, but I went a little too far and kerplunk - I fell off the edge. The other sessions went much the same, except for the falling - that was a one-time show. After our last session, I was more than ready to go home. When all was said and done, I had learned how to brush my hair to make it shine just right and how to place my fork on the table while I chewed my food. I knew exactly how to paint my nails oh-so-delicately. Of course, I never used any of these "skills," and soon forgot them. I was determined to stay a tomboy forever.

In high school, I realized that all the other girls' interests were beginning to be different from mine. I awoke freshman year and the reality of my gender struck me - all my friends were girly, and I wasn't. I painted my face with make-up every morning and got stares from my classmates when they saw me in a skirt - I had legs. Previously my legs had only been seen in basketball shorts, or when I tore a hole in my jeans.

When dating became a topic, I knew it wasn't for me. I knew all the things guys did; I knew what Monday night football was really like, and I knew the thoughts that went through a boy's mind. Considering how well I knew them, I wondered how any girl could hope to find romance in the middle of that smelly bunch. It all seemed like a waste of time, but I figured someday I might understand.

The only girl in a family is overprotected, and so my father controlled practically every aspect of my life. If I wanted to go anywhere or do anything, my father had to know the who, what, where, and when, especially if members of the opposite sex were involved.

The middle of freshman year I decided I would give dating a try. My first date proved quite an experience. My father is a hunter, and so it is normal for him to come into the house dressed in camouflage carrying a shotgun or bow. For my first date, however, this was one scary sight. When a 6'4" man filled the doorway, my date saw him as one who was hunting his prey. The glare my father was giving would have been enough to scare away my date if he'd had the courage to move. To my father this glare was not enough, the threatening "If-you-touch-my-daughter" speech was needed, too.

These experiences were only the beginning of the rest of my life. I have outgrown my tomboyishness and now see myself as the only daughter, not just one of the guys. I still often take advantage of my situation, using it to get my way. My tactics have changed, though, from throwing fits to talking calmly, but the results are identical. My childhood ways still shine on the basketball court or while playing field hockey, but I haven't caught a bug or bullfrog in years.

My unique place in my family as the one girl among four brothers has been an honor and a blessing. Growing up in this situation, I've had the best of both worlds.

Tea Snob

The winter of 2001 reared its mild, rain-drenched head in late October. For me winter is less about an exact day on the calendar and more about the state of mind that accompanies it. Each season invokes in me a new attitude. Spring has been historically a time of languor and laziness as the school year comes to a close; summer, a time of musical enrichment and self-searching; fall a season of death, as the days get shorter and trees turn to naked frames of their former selves. My inner reaction to winter has always been based on seclusion for a few reasons: the reduced daylight and the inclement weather that keeps me indoors; the forced gaiety and commercialization of Christmas that leaves me feeling morose.

My mother always kept a private stock of hot chocolate for our return from sledding, and little by

little I began to resent the young Swiss girl

for telling me that what I was drinking was "chocolate." When I voiced my grievances one snowy afternoon, my mother offered an alternative: "Well, fine then, have some tea." She said it with exaggerated hospitality, and I, calling her bluff but not in any way intending to drink it, agreed to a cup of generic orange pekoe.

I followed the instructions: "Brew one tea bag in one cup of boiling water. Steep five minutes, more for flavor." It smelled good. It probably tasted good, too. Still, there was a concern that if I took part in this cup of tea, I would become every British noble who ever turned his nose up at a half-burned crumpet. I took a sip and looked around, making sure that any witnesses would know I was just experimenting. My first reaction was cautious; I didn't take a follow-up sip until I was sure that the aftertaste of the first was pleasing. It was very pleasing, and before I knew it I was gulping it, disregarding temperature and dregs. When the cup was empty, I brewed a second, then a third and a fourth.

My guilty pleasure became an obsession, and soon I was doing everything in my power to get my tea fix. I would accompany my mother to the store on the premise that I was there to help, but instead I would set up camp in the cereal/tea aisle. With each visit, I would sneak a new box into the cart. After two months I had nearly three dozen boxes of tea bags and five bags of loose tea. I had already begun to appreciate the subtle flavor of the green teas, and I fell in love with the thin yet satisfying allure of the Indian Assam loose tea, and adored the sweet aftertaste of the lemon varieties.

With this newfound love of tea came a sobering realization - I had become the tea snob I had feared in the first place. The transformation was slow, but noticeable. I started to turn up my nose at restaurants' Lipton and Tetley teas, and instead would bring my own Green Ceylon, imported from Japan.

"Don't you have any imports? Even a Spanish Regale would suffice." My pleas were answered with an eye roll or a look of total confusion. Sometimes both.

"Coffee or tea, sir?" the attendant would ask.

"No, thanks, pal, I don't like coffee, and that's not real tea." I didn't even realize how I was acting, all I knew was that I found comfort in the actual and figurative warmth tea provided.

When summer rolled around, I found that my snobbiness was not seasonal. When my family started to buy iced tea, I took it as a personal insult and brewed my own batches of regular and sun tea. As my experience in brewing grew, my family members drank my teas, and commented on my progress. I still refuse to drink canned iced tea, even when it is the only beverage available. When my average hot and cold tea intake was up to about six cups a day, my mother warned me that too much tea could result in kidney stones. When I learned more about kidney stones and the pain involved, I curbed my tea habit sharply to one glass a day, iced or hot. This has taught me to relish and value the tea I allot myself. I still savor even the dregs when I indulge in a cup of loose Formosa Oolong, and with my daily intake reduced, I appreciate each swallow.

Now when winter approaches, I no longer despair in the quickening dark, nor the forced jolliness of the holiday season. When I find myself feeling glum with the colder months and all they represent, I drown my troubles in one warm cup of water at a time, steeping a bag of Oriental Mandarin Orchard for five minutes, or more for flavor.

Secrets in Isolation

An obscure town nests on the smallest of branches stretching out from Massachusetts, a great oak of our nation. The gulls and other birds of the sea seemingly overwhelm the human population of this miniscule peninsula. It is our feathered friends' hopeless devotion to the uninviting, bleak coastline of our town that remains constant with the arrival of winter. With the first great frost, all color is flushed from our withering hamlet, stripping trees of their dignity and chasing visitors back to their inland homes.

Never will they comprehend our secret - a whisper carried through the air at the mercy of the wind. They'll never know the beauty encompassed by the iced-over bay as each frozen crystal does its part to capture the morning's pastels, only to mirror them to an undeserving eye. Kept still within these bits of ice lives an anxious reminder of summer, showing through even stronger as winter melts away.

Most only know of our beautiful beach during the hot, bustling months of July and August, and have never witnessed the wonder of seasonal transition. For it is Hull's secret of spring magic which no visitor will ever understand - and it is this for which I will carry an undying pride for everything that dwells within all seven square miles of my small, isolated town of Hull.

Last Summer

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit"

- N. Henderson

On a stifling day last summer I sat under the shady branches of a large mesquite tree in a village in Guanajuato, Mexico, eating popsicles with nine-year-old Mariana. I looked at the people and the saplings we had just planted, and, at that moment, many pieces of my life came together. I felt fulfilled and focused.

I was born in Toluca, Mexico and have returned regularly to visit family and friends. I have seen poverty (in my extended family) in Mexico as well as here in the United States, making me aware of vast inequalities. My father was born into a poor family in Mexico City, and was the first in his family to go to college. I was raised in the U.S. in a middle-class family that provided support for my brother and me. My parents worked hard to move from our apartment into our own condominium. I feel especially responsible as one who has grown up in two cultures to promote the advancement of minorities and greater equality among people.

Sophomore year I volunteered at a center in Boston for inner-city youth from Somalia. The children complained about their teachers, who seemed to give them homework without sufficient explanation, and they had few resources. Why, I wondered, is every room at my high school equipped with new televisions and computers, while some kids just a few miles away can only dream of such resources?

In Mexico, a classroom like mine is an even more distant dream. I have discussed this dilemma in a group called Students of Color, and read relevant books, like Jonathan Kozol's Death At An Early Age. Talking and reading only does so much, however, and I decided I wanted to take action.

In my junior year many things came together with my involvement in the Amigos De Las Americas program, which sends high-school students to Latin American countries to do public health volunteer work. To finance my trip, I raised almost $4,000 selling fruit and collecting donations. I had to balance demanding courses with weekly Amigos training and fund-raising,

Samaritans, a part-time job, a social and family life, and even an occasional DJ gig. Only later would I understand how worthwhile this investment of time and energy had been.

In the village of San Gabriel I lived with a family of seven and was considered un hijo (son) by my host mother. I worked, laughed, ate and even cried with members of the community. We painted buildings, built latrines and stoves, planted trees, and, most important, built lasting relationships. I felt grateful for my Mexican identity, which helped me be accepted.

Toward the end of our stay, my two partners and I gathered about 60 people to plant trees around the town clinic on one of the summer's hottest afternoons. Everyone - even older women and children - came and worked enthusiastically for hours removing stumps, digging holes and planting trees. Our hands worked in unison and we accomplished our goal.

At the end of the day, tired and sweaty but smiling, I sat under a tree with Mariana. I knew I would probably not sit under the shade of the trees we had just planted, but that did not matter. Someone planted this tree for the villagers and me, and I will go on to plant many trees for others.

Is Obedience the Mother of All Virtue?

Saint Augustine said, "Obedience is in a way the mother of all virtue." The primary biological function of a female is to give birth. Does obedience give birth to virtues?

When I was six, I obediently emptied the dishwasher every night. I was bored. I hated it. I was furious at Mom and Dad. Are boredom, hatred and fury virtues?

When I was eight, I desperately wanted a Ballerina Barbie for Christmas. Uncle Jim was mean and rude and hated kids. Every night for a week before Christmas I obediently gave him an "affectionate" hug and kiss. I got my Ballerina Barbie. Are greed, manipulation and being a phony virtuous?

When I was 12, I had a wild crush on Jonathon Cook. We went out for three days. All my friends thought he was a dork, so I broke up with him even though I really liked him. Was it virtuous to deny my feelings for Jonathon and obediently give in to my friends?

When I was 15, my two older brothers and my sister moved out of the house and I found myself with lots of time to think. I realized that obedience for all the wrong reasons was not making me happy. I was in pain. Pain is associated with birth. They say adolescence is the time when you leave your childhood behind and a woman is born.

When I was 16, I hung out with the popular girls. Ashley got all her clothes from Express and drove a BMW. Jessica wore only Wet Seal and drove a Mercedes. They were cool. One day last spring, Mary came to school wearing purple spandex and cowboy boots. She was not cool. Jessica and Ashley made fun of her in front of our entire homeroom. I felt Mary's embarrassment. I told Jessica and Ashley to stop, not caring what they thought. I didn't care if they didn't like me anymore. I didn't care if they didn't want to be my friends. And I felt good.

Maybe obedience doesn't always give birth to virtue right away. Maybe obedience for all the wrong reasons gives birth to pain and pain gives birth to self-discovery and self-discovery gives birth to the right kind of obedience for the right reasons and the right kind of obedience gives birth to virtue.

Saint Augustine also said, "Love and do what you like."

As a woman, I understand that I have a free will and obedience is my choice.

As a woman, I understand that it is more important to obey my inner voice and my own sense of right and wrong than to obey someone else's list of rules or to conform to their ideas about who I

should be or how I should behave.

As a woman, I understand that the only motivation for obedience that will lead me to virtue is love.

T. S. Elliot once said, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know that place for the first time."

Last night, I emptied the dishwasher.

Even today I study Douglas's sleeping face. Eleven years old, sleeping late on Saturday mornings, he rarely sleeps in his own room with its crooked Snoopy decorations. A boy could live forever with the Peanuts gang. I've watched him sleep since he was six months old after his lengthy hospital stay for dehydration.

The way ghosts float around in hospital air, with its heavy and sanitary stench, has always amazed me. I have not always seen the phantoms: When Doug was admitted, my only frame of reference of hospitals had been visits for routine physicals. I thought the doctor's office was "pee in a cup and a finger pin-pricked." These illusions were swept away, and replaced with the notion that dreams are merely a function of something greater: sleep.

After three days in the hospital, Douglas was doing worse. The doctors had said he would be "in and out" of the hospital, but now he wouldn't accept food and had to be sedated and fed intravenously.

In his room, my brother lay still in a crib, mobile overhead. I stared at him from behind my parents. He looked like an albino imp, half-naked and sleeping. The IV dangled above his head, entering his arm. So that he would not remove the needle, his arm had been bound to the crib. In his sleep, he shook a bit, spasming as one does after a long time outside in the snow without mittens. Close to the door, a TV hung from the ceiling. Later that night, my father would watch CNN, and the night after my mom would watch the local news. They took turns staying to watch the baby sleep. After a week, the doctor finally released my brother. He had to rest for the first few days home, an order I found irritating: if he were truly better, shouldn't he be able to act his usual self?

Somehow, I loved him more after his rehabilitation. While he slept, I would peek at him. It must have been strange that my youngest brother was the focus of so much of my attention, but I hardly cared. When my brother sleeps, he always makes this face: His eyes are loosely shut, as to make the eyelids nearly translucent. His mouth invariably remains half-open with his top row of teeth pensively suspended millimeters above the bottom lip. It looks as if he is in heated conversation, waiting patiently for a break in the dialogue so he can explode the revelation that rocks nervously on his pursed lips. My brother goes to therapy for an auditory processing problem. I frequently become frustrated with his inability to articulate:

"Doug, where is Mom?" No response; he sits and stares as if in suspended animation, his head tilted slightly to the right.

"Doug, where is Mom? Where did she go?"

No response.

"Douglas!"

"What? I couldn't hear you!" he awakens.

"Have you been listening?"

Perhaps it is only when he is asleep that this impediment washes away, and he listens so well that

his discourse develops at the utterance of a syllable. One day, I want to feel that I live on the brink of explosion: I will be so involved in the dialogue of the world that I will be incapable of restraining myself.

I often fear that when Douglas grows up, no one will understand when he's having trouble listening. I wonder what he will be like, and what he'll be. The acuity and compass of his memory are so well developed, but where will that take him? He once memorized a book on dogs and could recite the average weight and life expectancy of any breed after only a moment's hesitation. "Douglas ... what's a French Bulldog?"

"Years or size?"

"Size."

"Um, 14 to 16 pounds"

Sometimes I wonder so much about my brother and his future that I want to throw up my hands and yield to destiny. I want to beg the fates to give me the answer, to please let me stop guessing. I know now how awesome and frightening uncertainty is, but I've learned so much from watching him sleep. I know now the importance of living in the moment and actively participating in the present. The rest of life's demands hardly matter. Right now I need only be patient, and watch Douglas sleep.

Bookworm

Nerd, brainiac, loser - I used to hear those words a lot, but they never bothered me as they might have hurt others, because I am a bookworm, and proud of it. Reading comes naturally to me, almost like breathing.

I remember all the books I've read since I was five, and how much I loved them. It used to be a great treat to wake up early Saturday mornings and go to garage sales with my mom. The only items I looked for were books - picture books, fairy-tale books, easy chapter books and hardcovers that I would have to wait a few years to read. They were all wonderful and special treasures, and I was extremely proud of my growing collection.

I'm proud because I am a bookworm.

Reading has always been a great way to escape everyday life without actually leaving. All it takes is a little imagination, and since I have plenty of that, reading has always been fun.

When I got to middle school with my large collection, maybe large enough to call my own library, my parents began fighting more frequently. I started devouring books even more. On the weekends I would check out three books from the library to keep me occupied.

My favorite author was R. L. Stine, especially his "Fear Street" series that I read and reread, and if it were a really good one, read again. For some reason, I never seemed to hear the fighting that was worsening each day or the names my parents called each other while I was reading, but as soon as I put down the book I was all too aware of what was happening.

Now that I am beyond some of the roughest of my teen years, I don't need reading as an escape anymore. Now I can read for sheer pleasure. Since I've learned so much from it, I feel really lucky, as though I have an advantage others don't.

I am lucky because I am a bookworm.

So what literature means to me is very simple - all the books I have read or will read bring me pleasure. Literature is the books that made me smile, laugh, cry, and the ones that made me angry. I remember not being able to finish Fahrenheit 451 because in it they burned all books. I found

this atrocious - destroying knowledge.

Literature is what got me through my parents' divorce and kept me somewhat sane. Without books I probably would have ripped my hair out. So I wholeheartedly give thanks to authors of the wonderful literature I enjoy every day. I know that whenever I need to escape, all I have to do is open a book and turn the page.

I will always proudly remember that I am a bookworm.

I Love My Mom

I love my mom. But it would hard to deny that I have been somewhat relieved to have 2,000 miles between us since she moved back to Mississippi.

My mother is the bipolar product of an anxious Japanese woman and a stereotypical Southern man. Raised in the South, she was a teenage hippie, minus the politics and plus a country-club membership. She and my dad (the product of a talented salesman and an immaculate housewife) moved from Mississippi to Hollywood in the '70s so he could become a professional musician. In sixth grade, my dad announced their separation and divorce. It wasn't especially surprising, but I cried, and then thought that living in two places might be fun. So, in seventh grade, every weekend I'd either pack to go to my mom's apartment, or pack to return to my dad's - "our," he'd insist - three-bedroom Craftsman.

In ninth grade, the sleep-overs at my mom's stopped because of one night that was an accumulation of the dysfunction she thought she might hide. My mom and her live-in "friend," Bobby, had taken me and my younger brother Scott out to eat on Valentine's Day, and my mother had one drink too many. Scott and I were embarrassed enough just walking home with my mom and Bobby, but the balloons and flowers (his gifts for her) we had to carry and her wanderings in front of cars added to our disgust.

We reached her apartment and my brother left to rollerblade with friends; he understandably didn't want to be around that night. I left my glasses in the bedroom I shared with him and went to the small living room. My mom was sitting on the black couch with red eyes. She was a big sobbing mess.

"Why don't you have your glasses on?" she questioned, trying but failing to steady her voice. "Um, I was going to take a shower," I said. I somehow felt I owed her an explanation.

"Oh. I'm so sorry," she said, tears streaming down her face.

"It's all right," I said, slightly uncomfortable. I put my arm around her shoulders gingerly. "No, no, I should be the one comforting you," she said, now completely weeping.

"No," I argued.

"I called Daddy and everything's gonna be fine now. Go take your shower, honey." I didn't argue. "I love you so much." Mom embraced me. I hugged her back, gently at first, then with more force. I wondered what it was like to be her, who loved and mothered us, and indulged almost all our greedy whims.

"I love you, too." My eyes were beginning to tear. Not wanting to push her further into self-pity, I held them back.

"I'm going to go take that shower now," I told her, glad to escape.

My face scrunched and I felt the need to cry. I thought about Mom telling me she should be comforting me. I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn't come.

Finally as I shampooed my hair, I cried, sitting with my back against the wall, my knees drawn to

my chest as the hot water slightly soothed me. And I prayed and thought about heaven, where I wouldn't see Mom drunk; no, I'd just see her happy and smiling like she should be.

A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. Mom was saying something.

"I can't hear you," I said, leveling my voice so as not to upset her.

"Daddy's coming over," she said. "So hurry up."

I walked into the living room again without my glasses and sat on the couch, braced for another "family talk." My dad's voice was gentler than usual. I was glad I hadn't worn my glasses, so I couldn't quite look in their eyes.

I watched as Mom gazed at Dad somewhat adoringly. I blamed that on the alcohol.

"It's just like Daddy's thyroids. He has to take medicine. I have to take medicine or I have mood swings. I haven't had my medicine in two weeks and it'll be a while before it gets back in my system. It's just like Daddy's thyroids," she explained, not too clearly.

"Yes. And we, as parents," my dad spoke slowly, "want what's best for you and everyone involved, and think that -"

"Whatever the kids want," Mom interrupted.

"As parents, we know what's best for them," Dad said calmly.

"Yeah, I know," my mom whined. "I'm being selfish right now."

"No, you're just responding to ... natural desires. You haven't seen the kids in a while, but they'll be able to visit you ..." He spoke a while longer, my mom adding her two cents wherever she saw fit, while I fought the tears now eager to spill out.

Soon Scott and I were restuffing clothes and books into suitcases.

"Bye, Mom," I said, hugging her tightly.

"Bye, honey. I love you."

"I love you, too."

"Bye," she repeated as I was almost out of the door.

"Janie, she'll only be three blocks away," Dad spoke.

"I know, I know."

But even though I might be three blocks away, the mother I had put on a pedestal as a small child would be much farther.

"Bye, Mom. I love you."

Through the years, my mom has taught me many things, not so much through her words, but through her actions. I remember watching her bake cheesecakes, hem skirts, efficiently manage departments at Macy's, and stand up for her children.

But I also remember my mother twisting words so she'd appear in a more favorable light, spending money she didn't have, choosing "friends" she correctly believed she was above, and investing in weak pride because she lacked confidence in her skills, talents and future.

I remember my mother doing all these things, and I remember my dad explaining her childhood and early adulthood: her emotional abuse, her drug abuse, her promiscuity and her avoidance of therapy and help. I remember my dad reassuring me that I wouldn't "be like my mother," but I knew that before he said it. I enjoy life, its blessings and challenges, I am thankful for my abilities, and for the people in life who help where I am weak.

And I realize that the most I share with my mom is a knack for making cheesecake, a talent for taking the wrong exits on freeways, gratitude for our time spent reading and playing together, and thankfulness for an always mutual love.

I love my mom; that's never been hard, though it's certainly been a struggle to respect the woman who made so many faulty decisions that led to a nearly hopeless life. It's still a struggle to think of my mother and not cry for her, and want her to enjoy life. And because of these things it's tempting to think life is unkind, but stronger than that temptation is the knowledge that my parents have always, and will always, love, cherish, support, and, in two very different ways, teach their children what they can. Because of this, I know I'm tremendously fortunate.

Recitations

Once upon a midday bleary, while I pondered quaint and cheery,

Over a fresh and witful essay to add to Yale lore

Still I pondered, nearly yapping, when suddenly there came a tapping

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my classroom door.

"'Tis the counselor," I muttered, "tapping at my classroom door.

Only her and no one more."

Ah, distinctly I conjecture, it was a person come to lecture,

And her topics' mere texture wrought a shock into my core.

Eagerly I wished admittance - vainly I had sought deliverance

For her books I saw a hindrance - with grades and scores, I needed more.

For those who want, with grades and scores, I needed more.

Oh, how I longed for a part of Yale lore.

And the gentle lush intrepid manner in her teaching method

Willed me - skilled me - in creative essays hoping that I'd outpour.

So that now, to still the breeding of my work, I heard her heeding,

"Now don't go overweening or you'll make those reading sore;

They don't need bleeding from a desperate student at their door."

One thought hit me then like none had hit before.

Quickly my plan grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

"Excuse me," said I, "but what of poetry by the score?"

Surely I will go for engineering, but it is by my rearing

That the admissions people are hearing, hearing of skills beyond mathematics' core.

"If that is your wish," she said, moved now a classroom down a door.

And so began my work of poetic lore.

Deep into my life then peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing

Doubting, but dreaming dreams of happiness walking out that door.

My ideal was unbroken, and in my mind there was a token,

Of the words my mom had spoken, "of my labor, what a chore."

This I whispered and my mind repeated, "what a chore"

As was how I began and now, some more.

Back into my home returning, two siblings aft my parent's spurning

Four years later in preschool, all life renewed at that learning's door.

In those years of learning first, I was with school completely immersed;

But still I felt nearly cursed when recess called and I not out that door.

On this I reflect and still wish out that recess door.

'Tis then as now forevermore.

On passed the years so quickly I could scarce keep track the days gone by,

Of sports and drama to math school, acceptance then based on score.

Too soon my interests carried me, onto hobbies that which married me,

To one whose interests although tarried be, expects much more

Who else sculpts Legos like one with clay, mixing choice pieces from the store?

Wanton to create, but always needing more.

I look into my future smiling, my embrace is now beguiling

Success done by hard work and virtue is that which I adore.

"When one by unique idea expresses and by its favor ends said duresses"

By Poe's rhyme scheme, this addresses my purpose as I now outpour

To convey a sense of who I am and add this thought to Yale lore.

Now said this, I will write no more.

Polly Want a Cracker?

It is true ... I am, or should I say was, a parrot. Yes, unknowingly, when I was a child, I became a parrot. I do not know the exact date, but it occurred during my elementary-school years. And I was one of the best parrots in the school. How did I become one? Well, through my education.

Between the ages of seven and ten I sprouted my first set of feathers. This was probably because there were no more toys in the classroom and we had only a half hour of playtime in a six-hour day. This made school boring. I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. The teachers did not care and the classes were so big that there was no individual attention. Often the class was held back because some could not keep up. The teachers had to make up tests that were a little challenging, but easy enough so everyone had a chance to pass. I was ahead of the rest of the class. When the test came, I knew I would get a good mark if I just knew the gist of what we were studying. In most of my classes the test came directly from the homework or notes, so why think? All I had to do was memorize. So, for example, if the homework problem was 1+1, the test question would be 1+1, not 1+2 or even 2+2.

My beak developed soon after elementary school. In junior high, thinking was definitely not necessary. My book reports were just summaries with nothing added. I remember one time the entire class handed in 10-page reports. The next morning they were returned with a letter grade and few comments.

The whistle after I speak developed shortly after my beak. This is when the parrot really shows his colors. One time in science class we were taking notes. I went to the bathroom and the teacher corrected some information he had given us. When I returned, no one told me. For the test, I answered a question exactly as I had "learned" in my notes, not realizing that the answer was contradictory and made no sense at all. So, of course, I got the question wrong, and failed. Still not realizing my condition, I went back to eating my crackers and honey nuggets.

I was a full parrot upon entering high school. And there, I learned how to fly. That made me realize I was stuck in a cage, but not until sophomore year when I took the PSAT. I scored an 1130. Now, this is not bad, but I had had a 98 average all my life and an 1130 just didn't match up. It was my chance to shine, and I did not. Rather, I could not, because that was the best I could do.

So even though my brain could fly, I was trapped in a little educational cage I had made for myself by taking the easy way out in school. Now I had to unlearn what I had been doing for my whole school career. I had to open the cage.

I started molting the middle of sophomore year. At first I did it manually, plucking off each feather of laziness and procrastination. Once those feathers were gone, the rest fell out naturally. Surprisingly, the process was not very hard. That summer I picked up my first book to read for pleasure, X-Men by Diane Duani. As soon as I opened it, my love for reading began. In junior year all my feathers had fallen out and I had started going back to what I was meant to be ... a human being with a fully functional brain.

But then I realized something: some of my classes required me to be a parrot. That was the only way I could pass. The teachers just wanted to hear what they told the class in their lectures. I complied, but also learned the material so that I could use it to open the cage. I listened to the advice of Mark Twain: "Never let schooling interfere with your education."

Whenever a teacher requires me to be a parrot, I do independent studies, and whenever I have a question, I look for the answer myself and don't stop until I am fully satisfied with the answer. It is a win-win situation.

It is a sad admission that I was a parrot, but I am not one now (only when I have to be). I am just glad that I am able to think outside the cage (whistle). College

Who's an Artist?

My sister was the Artist, given infinite amounts of paper, paints, markers and crayons. I was the Intellectual, receiving books. I had no objections, preferring private worlds to messy pastels. But one day, while cleaning my room, I discovered an empty pad of watercolor paper. Further searching uncovered watercolors and a paintbrush aching for use. My music was blaring, and some long-abandoned part of me twisting within the confines of the monotonous routine of school, books, and studying sprang free. Water was obtained and a picture drawn. It was nothing incredible, but the feeling that I had poured into it was. From then on, I couldn't create enough. I composed, drew, , painted - always with music that intensified and clarified the emotions I put on paper. Slowly, I improved. And as I did, sitting in my unsatisfactory green room, I began to yearn for something big, a masterpiece, an ongoing creation.

The transition was both sensible and unthinkable. Sensible because in my mind it was a natural progression, unthinkable because I knew of no one who painted murals on their bedroom walls. It began with a yellow moon set against a black night. If I had known how tiny the effort that moon took would be compared to my later creations, I might have given up then. That is the only time in my life that I am glad to have been ignorant of something.

My pictures grew around the moon. First the nature scenes, then the girl encircling them, then the comet. On and on went my masterpiece. I, the girl who would only wear blue, could not believe the colors bursting from my paintbrush. I slept facing my bright creation, the hues imprinting themselves on my previously monochromatic brain.

At times there seemed so little there, the amount of unpainted space enormous, and at times I

could not believe the amount of wall I had covered with color and feeling.

I knew I loved my walls, but I never grasped how much until the day I painted over them. My room was being re-decorated, and my pictures were not part of the plan. I had painted them with the knowledge that they wouldn't last, but when the last remnant of color disappeared beneath pale blue, I was surprised by the loss I felt.

I fall asleep now staring at the clean, cool blue blanketing the colors beneath. They may now be covered, but I have had a taste of them. I have had a taste of shattering my own preconceptions, as well as those of others, of pushing through the surface to see what lies beneath. What I found there changed me, and no longer will I be so quick to dismiss the ideas I hear, the people I meet, or, most importantly, myself at face value.

Swimming Lessons in November

The glowing bonfire flickered on the small piece of land, perfectly complementing the November night's sky. Wearing our hats and mittens, the four of us gathered around the fire to drink hot chocolate in celebration of the first clear night in weeks.

Joe, Greg, Matt and I frequently spent time together in Joe's backyard. It was the closest to nature most of us got: no streetlights, no highways ... just acres of trees, a pond, and a star-filled sky. Looking across the pond, I could see the sky reflecting on the water. Moved by this sight, I dashed onto the dock to dance between the twin firmaments. As I spun, the images of the fire, trees and Joe cavorting across the dock blurred together like an oil painting.

"Don't fall in!" Joe shouted playfully as he scoop-ed me into his arms. Though the spinning had stopp-ed, my head was still not processing my surroundings properly. Suddenly I felt my feet leaving the ground as Joe whipped me around, swinging my legs out over the water. Joe began slipping and we realized we were both falling in.

Though the memory of our descent escapes me, I remember the icy water feeling like knives. My body instantly went numb, and I couldn't figure out the whereabouts of my limbs. When most of the shock and confusion subsided, I could see the dock in front of me. A great force was pushing me up from below as I reached for Matt's outstretched hands. I managed to pull myself to my feet on the dock while Joe emerged from the water.

In my head, I kept hearing Mrs. Turner's only rule for the evening: "No one gets wet," as Joe and I nervously entered the house to take showers and change our clothes. Unfortunately, Mrs. Turner was on the phone in the living room, our only entrance. She cringed, revealing anger and concern. She hung up and rushed me into the bathroom, bringing towels and warm clothes.

As the hot water warmed my half-frozen body and feeling began returning to my toes, I had a sudden epiphany. Joe had held me up during our time of crisis. He had sacrificed breathing, obviously crucial to his own survival, to keep me from sinking deeper. Overcome by tears, I saw that this was clearly not the first, nor would it be the last time Joe would save me. Often when I was upset or troubled, Joe would come to my rescue, whether by helping me with chemistry, holding my hand while attending our friend's funeral or simply reminding me to smile when times were tough.

Friends in this life have been many; true friends have been few. But no matter where my life takes me, I know I will always have a special person pushing me to be something greater, reminding me of my worth. So many people refer to their best friends as their "lifesavers," and when I tell people Joe is mine, I smile because I know it's true in more ways than one.

Scenic Shadows and Loop-de-loops

Comment on an experience that helped you define a value you hold.

A peek into my life and the person I've become would reveal something between a mountain meadow and roller coaster. The mountain meadow would be my inborn ability to be at ease with whatever comes my way, and the amusement ride my sense of adventure. But life hasn't always been full of vistas and fun - it took a drastic turn sophomore year. Amidst the hormones and homework, it took a girl to change what I think about life and how much I value it.

From conception to freshman, I was by no means a Romeo or a Fabio; my personality was closer to a box of Cheerios (minus the beaming child on the front). Quiet and shy, I spent most of my time alone, closed off to others and their friendships. High school broadened my perceptions and I started opening up, but it took a trip to a third-world country to drive home the importance of having someone who is truly worth investing every ounce of myself into.

In the spring of sophomore year I went to Mexico with 14 other teens. Thirty hours in a packed van allows passengers to get to know each very well. In my case, I was squeezed in the back seat next to Melanie. Long blond hair, beautifully soft features, and a view of the world around her that excluded negativity, Melanie was not the type to put much thought into how others think she should act; she let her actions come naturally. She prodded me into conversation, and for the first time ever, a human of the female persuasion was talking to me and getting to know me. But as far as I was concerned, my fantasies would remain the stuff that daydreams are made of since she was two grades ahead of me.

When the trip was over we returned to our rival school districts (don't worry, no Shakespearean allusions here). In early summer I heard that Melanie had been in a car accident. She was in a coma and incredibly lucky to be alive, her car having been broadsided.

This was the first time anything like this had happened to anyone I knew, and I realized how fragile life really is. I was overcome by a need to visit her and help her in any way I could. Several phone calls later I learned that she was in the intensive care unit and no one but family could visit. I waited weeks before I could see her, all the time sitting in the waiting room next to the ICU for hours, thinking. During the next month all I could do was watch and talk to her with no response, for she was still in a coma.

In August I went on a two-week backpacking trip and returned with a teddy bear and high expectations for Melanie. Lo and behold, she spoke, not much at first, but enough to say that she had missed me.

In the following months, she slowly recovered. A bond formed between us during those hours in the hospital room, and listening to her and accompanying her to therapy sessions, have been invaluable for me.

During the last year I have transformed from computer geek to seminormal. Melanie's friendship was the match that lit the tinder. Now I have no trouble being myself in large group or talking with strangers. My passion for schoolwork and life itself has in-creased tenfold. I guess Melanie was what it took to get me to hurdle the walls between me and the outside world

Who She Is

She prefers to wake up to clouds, with heavy rain slamming against her windows, and the sky

forbidding any light to cascade through the blinds. The sound and the smell coming through the open windows give her a sense of life. Although sleep still drips from her eyes, the girl feels more awake than ever.

When she sleeps, she dreams, but when she is awake, her mind is exposed to daytime thoughts, where, unlike the night, she can't help but follow the lines she writes in the air. She ends up retiring to the necessary rationalization that everything will be fine and turns on the radio. She smiles as the rhythms filter energy into her subconscious.

She's not one to sit by the phone, or check her email more than once a day, if at all. There is no television in this girl's room, only a radio and 1,200 CDs, expanding from the laid-back vocals of Frank Sinatra and smooth licks of Duke Ellington, through the era of '70s rock, to '90s punk, ska, and emo. Music feeds her soul. It's like oxygen; she couldn't live without it.

She is constantly around people who infect her with good influence. Learning from their experiences helps her walk her own path. They show her what the important things in life are, and how just the simple, little things can hold the greatest happinesses.

The girl is a trophy case of diversity. She is a rebel who follows the rules. She dresses to suit the most conservative of preps, but covers her back pack with patches and pins. She can be a girlie cheerleader and giggle with the best of them, yet retains an alto voice and has a laid-back, genuine laugh. She wears makeup, but is never caught with one speck of glitter.

The thousands of teen suicides every year outrage her, believing they could have been prevented if friends and family had been more observant, yet is silenced with the tears of her friends, as well as her own, when her 17-year-old friend falls victim. She advocates peace in a time of hostility, for her father served in Vietnam. She has been to the Vietnam Memorial and read The Things They Carried, but still cannot bring herself to watch "Saving Private Ryan."

She is proud to be an American girl, as well as a first-generation Austrian who visits Europe. She was taught to play classical piano, but can swing eighths in every time signature. She is the drum major of her high-school marching band, and frequents the underground music scene. This girl was once told she projects beauty and bleeds punk rock. This was the best compliment of her life. She has been told there is magic about her. Her ability to be as outspoken as she wants to show she has no fear. When the opportunity arises where she can express how strongly she feels about current issues, words are water and flow from her mind in a steady stream of well-controlled judgment.

Her independence at first creates an intimidating air to most, but they soon realize she is just as good a listener as she is a speaker when the tables are turned. If something new is proposed, she is always difficult, never the first to give in, and questions everything, believing that skepticism is the first step to truth, and truth fears no questions. She is not one to be misled.

The girl never counts the yellow lines on the road of life, but keeps focused on what it may bring. She won't stand being second, so when life hands her a tough situation, she strives to conquer it. She knows she can't fly. She's not that naive, but she's more than a bird, more than a plane. She has a strong will and can break an enemy's resistance without fighting.

When the sun begins to creep high and she readies herself for the day, she never lets her personality falter. She enjoys herself and who she is, and if someone doesn't like it, they are just going to have to deal. This girl changes for no one.

My Birthday

Just like any morning, on September 11 2001, I woke up and headed to school. Unlike every other day, however, there was an air of excitement - it was my eighteenth birthday. I was anticipating a happy, memorable day I would remember. Little did I know that in three hours the United States would face one of the worst tragedies ever to transpire on American soil.

I was in health class when my principal came on the intercom. I noticed a certain tone in his voice, one I hadn't heard before. He explained that the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon had been struck by passenger planes hijacked by terrorists.

My first response was that of alarm; I was overwhelmed with feelings of confusion and disbelief. The situation seemed unreal. I had always been thankful to live in this country, and have the freedom that so many others in this world can only dream about. The entire disastrous event was like a bad dream. The destruction our nation faced on September 11, 2001 was more than I could ever fathom.

When I returned home that afternoon, I immediately turned on the news so I could finally see what everyone had been talking about. As I watched the footage of the World Trade Center being struck by a plane, and then another, my heart sank. As I watched people leaping from the buildings, I started to cry. It was then that I realized the reality of the situation. Thousands of innocent people had died, and millions would be affected by the repercussions. The terrorists had attacked our symbols of capitalism, democracy, financial power, safety and freedom.

The date September 11th will hold a new meaning for everyone. The day that was supposed to be so special, turned out to be one of the worst in history. For the people of our nation, it is a date that will go down in infamy, representing everything we take for granted. It is also, however, a date that will remind us of unity. That morning, the United States of America was thrown an obstacle, an obstacle intended to tear our proud nation apart. It was meant to evoke fear and cause pain. Although it did cause pain, it did not evoke fear.

The act of terrorism against our country has brought about a realization that we are penetrable, and that we should always be grateful for what we have. As I look out my window, I can see our country's flag displayed on virtually every car antenna and in every doorway. To me, our flag has never held so much meaning, nor has the date September 11th.

I hate cows.

I had a dream once. A large plastic cow with huge, benevolent eyes - the cheesy squared-off figure of a child's toy with a tail that didn't move, turned silhouette by the setting sun - stood drinking from a wooden trough full of scarabs. They skittered and crawled all over each other, dripping from her loose, plastic lips. She blinked at me. There was something sinister and macabre about the whole thing. Even jerking awake couldn't erase the picture of horror from my mind.

Cows are nasty animals, let me tell you. No, they are nothing like the sleek male creatures that whirl so powerfully through the red cloth bravely held by the ridiculously festooned and rakishly mustached Spaniards.

They stink, for one thing. Oh, boy, do they stink. It's that manure-plus-hay smell that gets all over your clothes and won't ever come out. I abhor that smell. It turns my guts like nothing else, and makes me want to burn any clothes, favorite t-shirt or no, that carry even its slightest hint.

And let me tell you something else: milk will never taste the same after you've spent substantial amounts of time around the bovines it comes from. Every time I pick up a glass, it's like Pépé le

Pew walked by: I can almost see the smell floating past my nose in wavy green lines.

It's unnerving the way they look at you, like they can't quite figure out how you got there and don't know what to make of you, since you don't smell like food. The damn cow just wants to be milked.

But you know what I hate most about cows?

They grow on you.

When the old ones aren't giving enough milk or birthing enough calves, you've got to do something with them. And then you realize that cow's been around longer than you have and you remember all the times she snuffled at your skirt and made you smile or laugh at her innocent, pushy displays of unquestioning affection.

But what do the memories change? You've still got to do something with her, 'cause profit is the name of the game, and you haven't got a choice but to play.

Hack her up, put a meat hook in her backside and tan her hide into somebody's purse. You see that leather jacket? It's got that little tag with the gold "Genuine Leather" written on it. Do you know the cow it came from? Perhaps. And isn't it nice to know that her hide is so sought after. Posthumous appreciation is the best kind.

CATS

I was aware instantly that I had been changed. My body was paralyzed with excitement and my eyes frozen with amazement as I focused on the objects in front of me.

It is rare that an experience so powerful occurs at age three, but my path in life was chosen before I could tie my own shoes. My first jaunt to the theater is something that has affected my views and life in general profoundly.

Even at three I was a fan of performing, albeit only in front of my fireplace. By this time I was a seasoned musical aficionado, having worn out my "Annie" videotape. After approximately the nine-hundredth viewing of the lovable orphan's story, it seemed time for a new show. The theater gods obviously agreed, as they sent the musical "CATS" to Boston at just the right time.

Dressed in bright white tights and shiny black shoes, I remember anxiously walking up the crowded stairs to the mezzanine. As my family and I filed into our first-row seats, I could feel the excitement building. I recall leaning over the banister so far I nearly fell onto the unsuspecting patrons below. The atmosphere captivated me. I was in love.

The orchestra started playing and the lights dimmed until we sat in darkness. I watched attentively as one by one the cats came out and froze in uncomfortable looking positions. I was utterly amazed at how still they were. When all the actors had assembled on stage, the singing began, and for the next two hours I was in a daze. I marveled over Jenny Anydots and her team of tap-dancing beetles. I oohed and ahhhed at Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer's acrobatic antics, and I thoroughly enjoyed the inventive train the cats made during "Skimbleshanks." In three-year-old fashion, however, I longed for Old Deuteronomy's ballad to cease, and the more entertaining songs to recommence.

As the actors took their bows, I cheered and clapped until the last cat had left the stage. As the theater became illuminated and people began to exit, I started to cry. I was entirely willing to stay for the next show, but my family did not share my enthusiasm.

After that there was no turning back. My first instinct was to join the cast of "CATS." I would sit in front of my mirror in odd positions for what seemed hours in order to prepare for my stage

debut.

I outgrew my desire to be a cat, but never my desire to be in that world of cats, ballerinas and make-believe. Now that the curtain is coming down on Scene One of my life, I can see how important theater has been. That first experience opened my eyes to the reality that this world is made up of smaller worlds, including my favorite, the world of theater. I will be forever grateful to "CATS" for being my introduction to the arts, and I anticipate greatness as I search for a room to rent in that world of theater I know I am destined to be a part of.

A Name Not Associated With the Herd

As I sit in the front seat of a fast-moving school van, I take a deep breath and ask myself, What is truly unique about me? How does that individuality affect the world? With a full bladder, I stew over this soul-searching I was aware instantly that I had been changed. My body was paralyzed with excitement and my eyes frozen with amazement as I focused on the objects in front of me. It is rare that an experience so powerful occurs at age three, but my path in life was chosen before I could tie my own shoes. My first jaunt to the theater is something that has affected my views and life in general profoundly.

Even at three I was a fan of performing, albeit only in front of my fireplace. By this time I was a seasoned musical aficionado, having worn out my "Annie" videotape. After approximately the nine-hundredth viewing of the lovable orphan's story, it seemed time for a new show. The theater gods obviously agreed, as they sent the musical "CATS" to Boston at just the right time.

Dressed in bright white tights and shiny black shoes, I remember anxiously walking up the crowded stairs to the mezzanine. As my family and I filed into our first-row seats, I could feel the excitement building. I recall leaning over the banister so far I nearly fell onto the unsuspecting patrons below. The atmosphere captivated me. I was in love.

The orchestra started playing and the lights dimmed until we sat in darkness. I watched attentively as one by one the cats came out and froze in uncomfortable looking positions. I was utterly amazed at how still they were. When all the actors had assembled on stage, the singing began, and for the next two hours I was in a daze. I marveled over Jenny Anydots and her team of tap-dancing beetles. I oohed and ahhhed at Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer's acrobatic antics, and I thoroughly enjoyed the inventive train the cats made during "Skimbleshanks." In three-year-old fashion, however, I longed for Old Deuteronomy's ballad to cease, and the more entertaining songs to recommence.

As the actors took their bows, I cheered and clapped until the last cat had left the stage. As the theater became illuminated and people began to exit, I started to cry. I was entirely willing to stay for the next show, but my family did not share my enthusiasm.

After that there was no turning back. My first instinct was to join the cast of "CATS." I would sit in front of my mirror in odd positions for what seemed hours in order to prepare for my stage debut.

I outgrew my desire to be a cat, but never my desire to be in that world of cats, ballerinas and make-believe. Now that the curtain is coming down on Scene One of my life, I can see how important theater has been. That first experience opened my eyes to the reality that this world is made up of smaller worlds, including my favorite, the world of theater. I will be forever grateful to "CATS" for being my introduction to the arts, and I anticipate greatness as I search for a room to

rent in that world of theater I know I am destined to be a part of. - question. Well, hablo espa?ol and spriche sie Deutsch. Then again, so do others in search of an International Business Degree. Umm, I vociferously abide by the statement, "Community service fills the soul." Yes, but thousands of other college-bound students also put a high value on that platitude. Unique? I envision myself as ambitious, yet social. Others see me as responsible, but overloaded. Teachers view me as political, though "artsy." Perhaps I am comparable to a Shredded Mini Wheat - sweet, rebellious on one side, and adult, whole-grain goodness on the other. My list of activities is not necessarily what defines me as an individual. The memories, lessons and interests from my involvements are, I believe, what define me as one of a kind. Besides, who answers the question of Why am I unique? on a full bladder?

It is a well-developed ability of mine to swim in the River of Activity. Student Council, National Forensic League, and National Honor Society require the Butterfly stroke. Creative juices flow as I swim the Freestyle in One-Act Play and Speech Team. Math Team and Golf Team - definitely the Backstroke. This metaphor may make obvious the fact that I was once a competitive swimmer, as well as the fact that I have a diverse range of interests. I love swimming with new and interesting fish. Sometimes, I join an activity or attend a convention simply because I want to expand my horizons. It may sound trite, but my curiosity is the most genuine part of my personality.

Tenth grade was my first year as Student Council Representative, and Stephanie (long-time friend and council member) and I share a great memory as Salvation Army bell-ringers during the holiday season. As spirited sophomores, we stood in the entrance of K-Mart and serenaded the customers. Our song list was pretty extensive; whatever jingle we didn't know the words to, we remedied with an abundance of humming, Santa hats and smiles. Without any shame, I admit my singing voice is terrible. In fact, when I signed up for chorus this year, I was politely advised to take an art class. When I think back, I remember a few people who looked at us like we were off our sleigh. Maybe we were. However, the majority of shoppers enjoyed our gratis concert and made generous contributions.

Our nation's capitalistic agenda sometimes conceals the true meaning of the holidays. Instead of friendship and family, we get wrapped up in this season's Ticklish Thomas or Potty Polly. If ever I get materialistically concerned, I can't let myself forget that there are families who can't afford to buy a turkey for their holiday. Maybe my out-of-tune singing won't bring enough money to feed the world, but my hometown is a good start.

It is always a compliment when my friends remind me, "Nicole, you are a nerd." I plead guilty; a great deal of my life is consumed by academic institutions - class, homework, class, extracurricular activities, class, thinking time, class, breathing time - you get the idea. The presence of social skills may not make me the number-one nerd candidate; still, I strive to keep up my studious reputation. In the summer, I extend my nerd network by making new friends at leadership seminars and business camp. When I miss a day of school, it is not to play hooky, but to play "Senator Soboleski" or a delegate at Model United Nations. Yes, I do sometimes live a life of rebellion.

My busy, yet structured, lifestyle has paved the way to my goals and future plans. Thankfully, gifts of spontaneity and zany friends have helped retain my sanity that has allowed for my dedication to projects for the benefit of my peers. Last year, I wrote a speech about teenage suicide. It was my means to reach the public about the dangers of depression. With startling statistics, actual stories

and methods of prevention, more teens are now aware of youth suicide. Through my time of trial, and in times of smooth sailing, I must always remember my role as a youth ambassador.

In between all my future goals, I would also like to publish a book. I already have specific plans. During a summer break, I will join a carnival. The plan gets more complex. It will be my mission to infiltrate the world of kiddy rides and dart games to understand, at a personal level, what it is like to be on the other side of the ticket booth. Despite the fact that people can be quick to judge carnival workers, I have respect for them, and an interest in their lifestyle. I can visualize myself touring the country and learning the secret language of the carnival. My goal is that this best-selling novel, titled Tilt-A-Whirl Toils: An In-Depth Look At the World of the Carnival, will awaken people to the realization that we are all human beings. Not one person has the prerogative to talk down to anyone else.

The memories I will carry through my life, my personality and my bizarre combination of future plans make me the individual I am. Even if my resume looks similar to other applicants, at the top is the name of a girl unique from the herd, "Nicole Breanne S."

Windemere Road

Thirty-two Windemere Road, Upper Montclair, New Jersey, 07043. It was the yellow house with red shutters at the end of the cul-de-sac. There was a giant oak tree on one side of the walkway and a small dogwood surrounded by blue vinca on the other. In the spring, there were more than 50 daffodils blooming around the dogwood to let us know winter was officially over. My mom always said that daffodils were the trumpeters of spring.

We moved when I was eleven. I had just finished fifth grade with the best friends I thought I would ever find. Since I couldn't help too much with the packing, I just watched as my childhood was stuffed into huge brown boxes. I cried a lot during the two weeks it took for us to move. A new house meant losing everything that made us the Bakums. Where would we store the holiday decorations if they weren't in their designated basement closet? Where were we going to hang the bulletin boards of photographs if they didn't fit in the new kitchen? How could I run, unharmed by witches at the bottom of the stairs, to my parents' room at night if their room was farther away? Moving seemed impossible to me. We fit so perfectly into this house; there was no way we could live comfortably if we weren't living in 32 Windemere Road.

Since we moved to Connecticut, I have lived in three houses. My dad's new job turned out to be a disappointment ending in unemployment. As a result, we had to move out of our first house and into two rentals, while Dad went back to work in New York. We haven't lived together as a family in seven years. Since our belongings have been in storage for the past three years, I haven't seen many of my things for a long time. On the surface, it seemed that everything I thought had made my life happy - the house, the decorations, the material possessions - were gone.

Sometimes at night, I close my eyes and picture myself in my old room with my old furniture, living my old life. I miss that time when my family didn't worry where we were going to live or how we were going to eat. I miss my dad coming home at night. I miss playing with my sister in our own yard under the oak tree. I miss the blooming daffodils in April. Sometimes I feel sad when I think of that time in my life, and other times I feel grateful that I have those memories. Thirty-two Windemere Road will always represent the peaceful life I know my family will find again someday. In the meantime, though, I have learned to find happiness in other places. I cherish every Friday night when my dad comes home from the city and every moment I spend with him,

because they are so few. I cherish my parents, who love each other and who love me. Most important, I cherish my mom's amazing ability to make every house feel like the one in Montclair. I open my eyes and see that while I have left my "Montclair life" behind, what really made my life wonderful have simply moved to a new location.

So My Brother is Gay

My middle name is Sindac. I hate it. It is my mother's maiden name, which is the Filipino custom. It means "scary feeling," which makes me loathe it even more. But I accept it, nevertheless, just as I accept the fact that I have a fat dog named Princess, strict parents and a gay brother.

My brother doesn't know it, but he has affected my life tremendously. It's not because he is "always there for me," since there are days I don't see him because our schedules don't allow it. He works the hours I am home, and it isn't until the weekend that I see him, and he usually hibernates until he has to get up and go to work again.

We used to think our physical similarities brought us closer - the gap between our front teeth, the moles on the left side of our necks, the same eyebrows (pre-plucking) and curly hair. People say he is the male version of me. Reluctantly, I see it.

I never saw it coming that he would "come out of the closet," though. It was the kind of thing where it just struck me, "Hi, there! I'm your new brother. I enjoy drawing, billiards, back scratches, volleyball, and oh, yeah ... I'm gay."

"Wow! That's so cool! Come here and give your little sister a hug!"

Of course, I was numb for two minutes, absorbing this new concept. But then it hit me: no wonder I kept finding my fire-engine red lipstick under his bed!

My parents have yet to accept his sexual preference. Dad refuses to step foot into his room where rainbow flags wave and Ricky Martin emanates his Latin spice. Mom constantly asks me if he's really gay. I tell her he's bisexual, and she crosses herself and mumbles, "Ay! Jesus, Mary, y Josef!" She knows.

Since then, my life has been different. There is never a day that all five of us are home together eating dinner or watching "Jeopardy!" With mere months until I go off to college, I have a new perspective on family, especially after this last holiday season. Mom refused to go Christmas shopping, Dad was somewhere playing golf, my sister was discovering her beauty and talent, my brother was always working, and I was left battling the most horrendous calculus problems imaginable. Between school, work, flute lessons, and boyfriends, my brother and I managed to scrounge together enough to buy the tree a beautiful angel.

His middle name is Sindac, too. Right now, my parents think he really is scary. But I know better. I know that my brother is the unifying force of my family. I know that he creates a true sense of togetherness despite his differences and my parents' lack of acceptance. I know that I will always accept him. Scary, huh?

Questioning Giants

To learn to think is to learn to question. Those who don't question never truly think for themselves. These are simple rules that have governed the advancement of science and human thought since the beginning of time. Advancements are made when thinkers question theories and introduce new ones. Unfortunately, it is often the great and respected thinkers who end up slowing the progress

of human thought. Aristotle was a brilliant philosopher whose theories explained much of the natural world, often incorrectly. He was so esteemed by the scientific community that even 1,200 years after his death, scientists were still trying to build upon his mistakes rather than correct them!

Brilliant minds can intimidate up-and-coming thinkers who are not confident of their abilities. They often believe they are inferior to the minds of giants such as Aristotle, leading many to accept current paradigms instead of questioning them. Science leaps a major hurdle every time people think for themselves and realize that even respected thinkers are human too, and their thoughts are not law.

I, like many thinkers of the past, once believed in my mental inferiority. I was certain that my parents, my teachers - adults in general - were always right. They were like a textbook to me; I didn't question what was written on those pages. I respected them, and accepted whatever they told me. But that attitude soon changed. My mind's independence was first stimulated in the classroom.

A stern, 65-year-old elementary-school science teacher once told me that light is a type of wave. She said visible light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and it behaves like a wave, nothing else. I confidently went through years of school believing that light is a wave. In fact, each new science teacher verified this for me. One day, however, I heard the German exchange student, with his crazily styled hair, mention that light could be made up of particles. As the others laughed at his statement, I started to question my beliefs.

Maybe the teachers and textbooks hadn't given me the whole story. I went to the library, did some research and learned of the light-as-a-wave versus light-as-a-particle debate. I read about Einstein's discovery of the dual nature of light and learned the facts of a paradox that puzzles the world's greatest thinkers to this day. Light behaves as both a particle and a wave, it is both at once. I realized I had gone through life accepting only half of the story as the whole truth. I knew I could never let that happen again. When I confronted one of my teachers with what I had discovered about the nature of light, he simply glanced at the lamp on his desk and said, "Really, I wasn't aware of that."

Each new year brought more new facts, and I formulated even more questions. I found myself in the library after school, trying to find my own answers to gain a more complete understanding of what I thought I already knew. I discovered that my parents and teachers are incredible tools in my quest for knowledge, but they are never the final word. Even textbooks can be challenged. I learned to question my sources, I learned to be a thinker. I once believed that everything I learned at home and at school was certain, but I have now discovered to re-examine when necessary.

Questions are said to be the path to knowledge and truth, and I plan to continue questioning. How many things do we know for sure today that we will question in the future? At this moment, I am certain man can never reach the speed of light. I know that our sun will burn for another five billion years, and I know nothing can escape the gravity of a black hole. This knowledge, however, may change in the next 20 years - maybe even in the next two. The one thing we can control now is our openness to discovery. Questions are the tools of open minds, and open minds are the key to intellectual advancement.

The Last Letter

It's been almost a year, and we are still sent mail with his address. I have grown so used to this that

I can tell which they are before I even look. There are letters and magazines of all shapes and sizes advertising cars, credit cards and various household products. There are impersonal letters, too, sent by his bank or creditors, with big red stamps notifying the world that the address given no longer has anyone living there. But now, when there is a "Send to Forwarding Address" letter in the pile of mail, it is usually from his lawyer. That is the hardest part about walking down the driveway to the mailbox: I don't know what I will find.

My granddad died last February. It happened on the last day of vacation, the fastest, yet slowest, vacation I ever had. My sister and I stayed home while my parents flew to New York to go to the hospital where my granddad lay and where he would eventually pass away. My granddad didn't want his granddaughters to see him like that so we were left at home, jumping every time the phone rang.

How was I supposed to say good-bye to him? My parents told me to write a note telling him what I had been doing and how school was; he had always been interested in my academics. So that was what I did. I wrote as if everything were normal, as if he were not lying in a hospital bed. I couldn't just send an ordinary letter! This was going to be the last time I would communicate with him. There were so many things I had always wanted to tell him but never did. I wanted him to know how much I respected him for emigrating with my dad and aunts from England and working so many jobs so they could live comfortably and get a good education. I wanted him to know how amazing it was that he was offered a fellowship at Princeton, and how admirable it was when he turned it down because he put his family first.

I wanted him to know how special it was that he was a bombardier in World War II and had survived being shot down into the ocean, drifting for days until he was rescued. I could go on listing all the extraordinary things my granddad did, and it was hard not to in that letter.

Once I was done, I sent it overnight to the hospital. The rest of the day, and into that night, I worried that it would arrive too late. Then I got a phone call from my dad. He had gotten the letter and read it to my granddad. According to my father, the letter had had a great effect on him and everyone who overheard it. My granddad's eyes had filled with tears, and he had clearly been moved by what I had written.

I am so glad that I finally told him how I felt.

A few days later the phone rang, but this time I didn't jump. It was over. My granddad had lost his battle.

The "Send to Forwarded Address" letters started appearing a few weeks after my parents returned home. And they still come; every few days or so, a letter will stick out with that telltale stamp. That is the hardest part of walking down the driveway to the mailbox: I don't know what to expect. I hate sifting through the piles and seeing the letters with my granddad's name. But at the same time, I dread the day those letters stop coming.

Green Eyes, Blond Hair

As a majestic sunset commenced, I was held captive in the necromancy of existence. The profound meaning of life entered my consciousness - custard-filled doughnut. I shall never be the same ...

I realize that many high school seniors struggle to portray themselves as graduate students in their writing assignments. That is why, in my analysis of myself, I will be honest and straightforward:

no clichés, no profound revelations, no uses of "stauropegian" out of context. In this profile, you will meet the true Nicole Soboleski - strengths, weaknesses, life transformations and personality quirks - all the factors for a green-eyed, blond-haired girl with a distinctly silly laugh.

Although some may find it demeaning, I take great pride in calling myself "a nerd." I watch C-Span in my spare time. I listen to books on tape in my car. I attend leadership camps during my summers. Last Christmas, I asked for a TI-86 calculator. My friends found it amusing, to say the least. I say this because I consider my nerdish qualities to be my greatest strengths. Knowledge is an eternal marathon; my desire to learn is insatiable. To place a price tag on new information and experiences would be impossible. I want to know, I ask, I search, I read, I listen.

Along with my inherent curiosity comes my greatest weakness - my inability to set time aside for myself. When it is one in the morning, and I am diligently running my capped pen over the two hundred and fifty third page of A Brief History of Spanish Literature, I need to pause and ask, Nicole, what are you doing? Although I try to limit these situations to rare occasions, it was my sophomore year that taught me the greatest of life's lessons. My list of activities was emotionally overbearing, homework was a chore, and math class was a burden. I had changed from a resilient, spirited girl to a depressed, unhappy chump. What did I learn?

From that point onward, I would dedicate myself to my priorities and make better use of my time. Since then, I have made great improvements in schedule strategy - I take only the classes I have interest in and time for, but most important, I am very happy.

Beyond the bookish lassie lives a mini diablo. When I get together with friends, or even strangers, my "wild side" surfaces. This side participates in such exciting activities as honking at unknown boys, roller-blading sessions after midnight, and dancing while riding in a Barcelona taxi cab. Harmless, but fulfilling. Who said a nerd doesn't know how to have fun?

Also, I love to travel - that passion accounts for my persistence with learning Spanish and German, and will lead to several new languages. I would be remiss, however, not to mention what the English language has done for me. Through debates in student congress and speech competitions, I have uncovered a more concerned and artistic side.

I could ramble on forever, and dictate my life's story, but that would be inconsequential now. Hopefully, you have been able to get a glimpse of who I am through what I find significant about myself - my strengths, weaknesses, transformations and personality quirks - all the makings of a green-eyed, blond-haired girl who dreams of running for President.

Circle Game

I sat on a stump by the sparking birch-bark fire, strumming a guitar to the tune of "The Circle Game." I sang the lyrics so ingrained in my mind after hearing them for six years: "The seasons, they go 'round and 'round, and the painted ponies go up and down. We're captive in the carousel of time." Another summer at Camp Kenwood had ended, and I was playing guitar during the annual closing campfire.

Looking at the glowing faces of the children who watched me sing, the memories of my years as a camper flooded my mind. I remembered my first bus ride to camp, a strange new place with strange new people, and how I had stared, teary-eyed out the tinted bus window and wondered, What did I get myself into? But even with a horrible counselor, tears of homesickness every night, and impetigo (a skin infection caused by unfounded fears of showering), I managed to survive that

first summer.

Four summers later, with a 50-pound backpack laden with food, cooking utensils, a Bunsen burner and tent, I learned to be responsible for others by leading a group up Mount Washington. A year later I faced an even bigger challenge: I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis a week before camp was to start. With the support of my parents, the decision to return to camp was easy, and that summer I learned to manage my illness. That was my fifth and final summer as a camper.

The following year I returned to Camp Kenwood as a counselor and my life there came full circle. I helped a group of eight-year-olds survive their first summer. I comforted them at bedtime while they silently cried tears of homesickness into their pillows. I walked them to the infirmary at midnight after they had thrown up all over the bunk. Some mornings, I secretly took their wet sheets to the laundry so the other kids wouldn't laugh at them.

During that summer, I also tried to pass on my love of camp to my campers, and through them I experienced the joys of camp all over again. I vividly relived all the early mornings as a camper, waking up to find the ball fields laced in morning dew, the lake masked in mist, and the air scented with spruce. I reminisced as they enjoyed capture-the-flag in the hollow, pig's eye on rainy days, snipe hunt, rackit smackit, hollowpalooza, and Jell-O wrestling: all the events that had made me love camp. Watching my campers fall in love with camp was as rewarding as enjoying it myself.

If just one of my campers returned year after year until he became a counselor, I'd be happy. Then together we'd look out across a new group of glowing faces and together we'd sing "The Circle Game" at the closing campfire. "We can't return, we can only look back from where we came. And go 'round and 'round and 'round in the circle game."

Some Day

Some days I say I'm going to be a writer. Not the kind who wears sloppy buns with hairsticks and a beaded eyeglass chain around her neck, and sits and types all day with a cat on her lap. I want to be the writer who travels to Namibia, West Africa, and lives in a village for a few months and writes about life there so the rest of the world can glimpse this hidden place. I want to be the writer who listens to the grief of Afghani women who wonder why no one ever asks them what they want. I want to hear beautiful and tragic stories and tell the world what we are doing right and what needs to change. I want to write words that impact people; make them cry or laugh or shudder.

Some days, though, I just want to curl up under a blanket with a bowl of popcorn and watch the latest Brad Pitt movie.

Some days I want to be an artist. Maybe the kind who lives in a studio on the fourth floor in a Manhattan apartment building with only, a mattress and a refrigerator with pears and peanut butter. Or maybe one who sits on a sunny porch filled with exotic plants, listening to New Age music and dirtying her hands at a pottery wheel. I want to lay canvases out on the floor and splatter blues and reds and yellows across it, but not before meticulously planning where each splatter should go and its size and shape and color. I want to draw bitter women and fearful men, and let my portraits tell their stories. I want people to look at what I create and remember it for an hour, a week, or forever.

Most days I want to be the lead singer in a rock band, wear halter-tops and baggy pants, and dye

my hair pink. But then I remember I can't sing.

And then I want to be a writer again, because by using my own words I can become an artist or a rock 'n' roll chick, or anything else I wish to be. And in my own words I can leave this world for a moment if it becomes too noisy or crowded or scary. I can fall in love when I'm lonely or be loved when I'm forgotten. I can talk to that someone I miss or change a part of the past I regret.

I think maybe it's freedom I want above all else. And I think that writing is a good place to start.

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