January 29, 2009

Sixth grade was not a good year for me on the school bus. Every year, Loveland City Schools shuffled its bus routes around, with the intent of keeping us students on our feet. That year, my stop wound up first on the route. The long ride each morning – usually half an hour to school – exacerbated my motion sickness, keeping me under the menacing eye of the bus driver.

One day, a classic winter storm passes through Cincinnati. You know: snow, sleet, slush, ice, slice. I can’t remember quite how much snow accumulated that day, but it can’t’ve been more than five inches. Regardless, the weather forecasters went hysterical about the sheer severity of the storm. Loveland, on the other hand, kept their cool. At the time, the district was hard core about staying open despite inclement weather. (I believe these days we call it “flinty Chicago toughness”.) Nothing like those Northern Kentucky schools that’d shut down whenever it felt chilly outside.

Still hoping for a chance snow day, I monitor all the TV stations’ scrolling tickers that morning. There’s an art to channel surfing on snow days: you switch to each channel as its ticker nears “L”. Little Miami, Live Oaks, Lockland – wait for it – Lynchburg. Fooey.

My bus meanders along its usual route, but at normal walking speed. Due to the thick layer of ice on the roads, the driver never makes stops; instead, she coasts a bit, swings open the doors, and waves us in. One by one, we jump aboard the oversized toboggan. While the driver carefully manages the slick hills, time is ticking on my motion sickness. We’re already plenty late for school. A few more minutes, or a couple more speed bumps, and I’ll have to pull out the Kroger bag the driver required me to carry, just in case.

Just as we slide past the final stop and start across town to school, the dispatcher comes across the radio, unusually loud and clear:

Base to all drivers, pull over. Repeat: pull over. We are determining whether to cancel school for today.

The freezing, exhausted passengers on the bus erupt in celebration, followed by arguments about who gets dropped off first once school is called off. Surely following the route in reverse would be unjust: some of us had been riding almost an hour already!

During the next ten minutes, we search for ways to stay warm as the district deliberates (in their cozy office, no doubt). Finally, a relieved-sounding dispatcher gives the all-clear over the radio. There will be school after all. Defeated silence. The eighth-graders at the back of the bus resume their daily routine of furiously scribbling down homework answers just before arriving at school. The kids across the aisle kick themselves for not flushing at 7:00 the night before. And I just want some fresh air.

Although St. Columban School is located within the Loveland school district boundaries, students come from several surrounding districts as well. That morning, the school appeared conspicuously empty. Of course, with Little Miami, Milford, and Goshen all closed, everyone but us Lovelanders had an excuse to stay home.

Readers from the West Coast will probably want to know what a Kroger bag is. They’re your ordinary plastic grocery bags, but tan-colored, so they make for good barf bags and great dresses (apparently).

May 30, 2005

Sometime last year, the school Counseling Dept. asked me to write out a tedious profile of myself, including things like accomplishments I’m proud of, activities I’m involved in, and the like. Naturally, I procrastinated the assignment until the night before it was due. So at around 11:30 at night, after laboring through the Biology workbook, I get to the section where I have to list ten words that would describe me. The first word that my pen could come up with for me was, of all things, maverick.

If you’ve ever met me in person, I don’t seem like a very nonconformist person. I’m not a goth, not emo, not punk, not a hippie, not “gangsta,” and not quite geeky. Between the olive green polo shirt, light tan khakis, and black tennis shoes, you’d think that I work after school as a caddy at an exclusive golf club. But I don’t.

See, the way I look at it, the typical nonconformist just wants to break rules – they want to go against the status quo. And they do it so well that they end up conforming to a counterculture (sorry Nick). That’s not the way I “deconform.” I do things my own way when I can find a good reason to.

I can only get away with calling myself a maverick because I try my best not to fall right into a stereotype, without falling right into the stereotype of a nonconformist. As an Asian-American, I suppose I’m expected to get unnaturally high grades at school, excel at math and piano, and have no life whatsoever. Although some of that may be the case with me – I claim that I have a life, but some people just won’t believe me – I have my own identity, and it’s a source of pride for me.

Part of that is in my opinions. I don’t blindly follow anyone when it comes to agreeing or disagreeing with something. I’m proud that I resisted the urge to chant “Four more years!” and wear all the Bush paraphernalia at school, and actually discussed the issues before the elections instead of complaining afterwards; proud that I’m quite possibly the only senior not to get his name in the Blueprint at least once – my name appears to be infamous in some parts.

Another part of that is in my preferences. I’m proud that I used Mozilla Firefox back when it was still called m/b and Phoenix, before anyone had even heard of it around here; that I never got into money-wasting fads like Pogs, Furbys, Jelly-Roll pens, or Pokémon, which I never would’ve enjoyed anyways. It’s the little things, too: I’m quite satisfied knowing that I have yet to eat Thai Chicken of my own volition. And since the Fourth Grade, I’ve abandoned half of the cursive script that my teachers forced upon me – namely, the capital letters.

To the left, the standard capital letter Q. To the right, my version. Ramona Quimby would be proud.

But it’s not all about pride. Really, it isn’t, and I don’t want to turn this into a bragging contest between me, myself, and I. There’s always another reason behind my desire to go the other way. For example, my intense disdain for the cliché.

If someone were to ask me what I’d like most for the world, I would not parrot the “world peace and an end to world hunger” mantra. Not that I don’t believe in an end to needless death – I do – but why repeat what ten thousand others have said, if one more mention by me, of all people, won’t help? I have to say something more meaningful to the person asking me the question. And that’s what makes retreats so hard for me, especially when we go in small groups and start going around the circle with our responses.

Hold on, let me come up with something!

In writing this essay, I’m not trying to find out what the meaning of my life is. There’s not use in asking that. I give my life a little more meaning each time I stray from the easy path of conformity, because each time I do something novel, whether it’s writing a Q the right way or writing a program in Python instead of Java, there’s a reason behind that.

So, come graduation this Wednesday, you won’t be seeing me in a pink cap and sunglasses, “just because.” Instead, you’ll be glad to know that I haven’t stopped giving purpose to my life. It’s just, I’m still thinking of something to say when I break the rules.

[Correction] Justin Lorenz dutifully points out that my name has appeared in the Blueprint – not once, but twice in the same issue. The Blueprint’s last-last-last-last issue, a little leaflet passed around on MusicFest. It mentioned me in the comprehensive list of seniors going to college (so there’s no escaping for me), and in a list of “most likely” futures for us: I was “most likely to become a gym teacher.” Can you imagine me becoming a Mr. Rasso when I grow up? Oh, I can just see it now…

May 5, 2005

Just a friendly notice to the St. Columban Class of 2005: we’re having some kind of reunion at the 11:30 AM Mass on Sunday, June 5th. You should’ve gotten an invitation in the mail by now. It’s not exactly a SMILE thing – SMILE is basically a biweekly reunion, if you’re willing to attend. Then again, the mailing was from Leslie Caulfield, the Youth Group Minister for St. Columban and SMILE’s organizer.

There’s a little postcard that asks you where you’re going now and where you’re planning to go next year. Leslie wants you to return it by Tuesday, May 31st. Hope to see you all there.

  1. Almost a snow day
  2. Going Out: Breaking the rules
  3. Reunion