1. Surviving (Read: Thriving)
When I was younger, my parents always told me to “find a job that makes enough money that allows you to do what you love.” As poor immigrants from foreign countries, my parents spent their childhoods looking forward to their annual trip to Disney World and picking up crumbs from the floor with their hands because they couldn’t afford vacuums. My mom dreamed of a career in journalism, my dad a career in finance. Both ended up in medicine. “You will never be out of a job because people will never stop getting sick,” their parents told them. My grandparents carried an underlying fear that their children would somehow slip into the poverty that had plagued their own lives in America. They wanted to ensure that my parents would never be financially insecure, so they frontloaded them with busy thoughts of success. A generation later, my parents, having experienced what it felt like to have their dreams dashed and to go to bed hungry, wanted my brother and me to avoid both. Their children could be artists, yes, but artists with stable degrees from reputable schools that would act as a failsafe. So much of my parents’ lives were spent working to survive instead of working to live. I entered my academic life feeling like I had to prove to my parents that I’d grow up okay, that I’d find a vocation that left me stable and comfortable. I signed up for every club imaginable, played every sport, and tried my hand at countless instruments (albeit failing miserably). I kept up activities that would make me successful instead of happy. It was hard to balance doing what I wanted to do and what I needed to do. Somewhere along the way they started to blur. Perhaps every single good grade would bring me one step closer to a secure life. If I got good enough at surviving, maybe I would allow myself to start living. Maybe my children would get to do a little more thriving, spend a little more time looking forward instead of over their shoulders. Each generation brings us closer and closer to achieving that perfect, delicate balance of following our dreams without having to worry about the effects of failure.
2. Ho, B.J. (2019). Parasite. Neon.
In Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar winning film Parasite, the Kim family infiltrates the wealthy Park family under the guise of being highly skilled individuals. To the Parks, the Kims are a godsend: how lucky of them to find such competent, proficient workers! Unbeknownst to them, the Kims secretly leech off of them when they are away, making themselves at home in the Parks’ lavish abode.
It is fascinating how many parasitic relationships have festered in the microcosm of The Lawrenceville School. What begins as an equal relationship, Ki-woo offering his tutoring services in exchange for money he desperately needs, starts to fester into something more sinister. The allure of an emotionally available friend, of a place to make oneself at home, is tantalizing. The Parks find it hard to say no. When your friend asks for a favor here or there, or just needs someone to talk with, of course you eagerly comply. A good friend is there to talk their friends through the stress you know gets everyone down now and then. A good prefect helps their prefectees when they have drama or friend issues or are overwhelmed with their feelings. They talk to their friends or their II Formers for hours on end until their anxieties float away into the back of their mind, leaving them feeling oddly unsettled when they go to bed, like something is lurking in their basement. It is so easy to get caught up in helping others; your friends, your housemates. “When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags,” says Wanda the Owl from Bojack Horseman, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tear yourself away from someone you have come to love so much. A good balance is necessary so the floodwaters don’t come pouring in, submerging everything until you can’t discern your stresses from theirs. Help others, but make sure to take care of yourself concurrently. Remember: most parasites lead to bloodbaths.
3. The Perfect Wok
After you’ve drizzled in some sesame oil, sprinkled in the garlic and the chili flakes, and sautéed your mixture until it’s slightly browned but not burned; after you’ve thrown in the protein (and broccoli if you have it) and added soy sauce and honey so the whole mixture is a delicious golden brown, right after you’ve added in the vegetables and cooked them for approximately thirty seconds, comes the trickiest part. It’s the part I always mess up even though I’m meticulously following directions. You add your noodles and then you add your primary sauce, whether that be General Tso’s or sesame-garlic. You dribble in a little bit at a time, careful not to drown the noodles. You mix it around with your spatula, then, eyeing the whole thing suspiciously, dribble in a little more. And then a little more. At this point your dish may be a little salty, but you think you can handle it. What’s a little more flavor anyway? You move the chicken around the pan and think you spot a piece of noodle that hasn’t been properly dunked in sauce. You add in a little more when someone suddenly bumps your elbow, and General Tso’s careens into the pan, drowning your wok. Your food is literally lost in the sauce. The noodles are now too overwhelmed in sauce to serve their function, and, with a sigh, you dump your concoction in the trash. Next time, you’ll be sure to get the balance right.