The Identity in My Pen

One day in March 2013, I looked up the winners of the 2013 Scholastic Writing and Arts contest. Flabbergasted, I saw that I had won an award for every poem I had entered: one gold key, one silver key, and three honorable mentions. I didn’t believe it then, but becoming the editor-in-chief of Exit 33 made me realize that I have gotten this far. After numerous years developing my writing, I had finally learned how to express myself eloquently and effectively.

However, before these achievements, my writing was a mess, riddled with mechanical errors. I was known for being a quick learner, but I never knew being one would end up working against me. The problems may have arisen from my home environment. Even though we did not speak much Cantonese at home, my English-speaking habits – stuttering and mispronouncing –  reflected those of my native Chinese mother and my Chinese-American “Mr. Broken English” father. The problem got worse because I wrote the way I spoke, and since my speaking was already sub-par, you can imagine what my writing would be: disastrous. While my elementary school classmates were doing worksheets, I was sitting at the back of the classroom for special “writing lessons.” Nevertheless, what really helped me improve happened in the summer of fifth grade. I read books.

Watching the movie The Princess Diaries that summer became the pivotal moment because I then read the book series the movie was based on. The books were so engaging that I began to read more and more books to keep a hold of the thrill of reading. I was the girl that held many binders and carried many more books to class; I was also the girl who read in class, got the book confiscated, took out a second book, and got that book confiscated. The cycle went on and on – daily. Book after book and day after day, my writing and my speaking dramatically improved from the new writing skills I have attained.

But it had no voice. Before junior year, my essays were soulless and bare, but it was my eleventh grade English teacher, Mr. Weinstein, that helped me discover the voice I lacked. Before Mr. Weinstein, I thought I could express myself only through poems and not in anything else. As a high school underclassman, I had been conscious only of my grades. I walked in thinking “I must do well on this essay.” After having Mr. Weinstein, that mindset changed; it became “I have the skills, the ideas, and the experience. I will do well my way and my way only.” It was then when I would proceed to write with my voice, not with a strained and phony voice of “high esteem.” Now, the grades are not my main concern. Prior to the eleventh grade, I would get my essay back and stash it in my English binder forever, but it was different in his class. I looked at my essays, and three questions would pop up. How am I improving? Did I do the best I could do? What do I need to do to improve? They were all about the writing and self-improvement, not the grade.

Mr. Weinstein also taught me to “bleed on paper.” After doing just that, I was able to be free – to be me. I was able to be me and to thoroughly enjoy writing in-class essays instead of focusing more on the grades. Yes, there is always that anxiety of having our in-class essays inevitably determining the grade for the quarter, but in the end, only I can be the best at being me, so I proved it – through my writing.

Writing helped me discover who I am. It helped me acknowledge my beginnings, recognize my capabilities, redirect my energies, and express my thoughts and feelings. Because of writing, I have come this far…

…and I’m so damn proud of it.

NOTE: This is my college essay for the Common Application and Gold Recipient of Scholastic Art and Writing Competition Northeast Region.

(10.1.13)