As we come closer to the end of our high school career, it comes time to look back on our adolescent lives and reflect on how we have grown as people. It comes time for you to define who you truly are. In the form of a personal statement for a college application, self definition seems daunting, and often you don’t even end up writing about your true self, but rather the person that colleges are most likely to accept. Through the reflections unit in Freestyle, we went through the same process of self reflection but in an environment where nothing was holding our true selfs back. In English, we wrote a personal statement as a testament to our growth throughout the years, and in Film we got to make a unique part of ourselves come to life.
We have been writing reflection pieces in since the beginning of high school whether we realized it or not. Every narrative essay we have written in English has been a reflection of one specific moment in our lives and how we’ve changed because of it. One of the first that I remember writing was about my time zip-lining in Costa Rica.
Click! Zip! I finally finished buckling the old, heavy harness around my waist. I glanced at my surroundings. Fifty feet away from us stood a rickety, wooden ladder, tasked with nothing more than holding its own when we step all over it to reach the deck. Bright, colorful birds chirped at each other from behind the small Cocobolo trees on the outskirts of a towering forest. The sky was a strong, stunning blue adorned with the light fluffiness of the few clouds.
For the first time, I thought about how different my life would be if I lived in a place like this I could feel the call of nature, enticing me to run into their eternal green blanket. I thought of how soon, we would be zip-lining over the luscious canopies, experiencing nature at its fullest.
I was the first one on deck after enduring the harrowing experience of climbing high up into the air on a ladder that was no more than a fragile piece of wood. What was coming next would definitely be worth it. Or at least I hoped it would be.
As soon as my foot hit the top of the platform, I got hit with a wave of altitude sickness. I clenched my palms into fists, but my fingers slipped on the sweat that stained my palms. I tried to wipe my sticky hands on my shorts, but I couldn’t move. I looked off to my left at the vast forest next to me. I was standing on the edge of the platform with nothing more than another old wooden plank next to me to keep me from falling to my death. My eyes fluttered back and forth from the ledge. Every nerve in my body was screaming at me, telling me not to look down.
I looked down.
My vision blurred as I stared at the vast forest, looking down at branch after branch after branch. I tried to find the ground, but there was nothing more than the green and brown blurs of trees as far as the eye could see.
My hands, still clammy, grasped onto the rails as I tried to steady my breathing. I made the mistake of glancing down again, only to feel another wave of sickness wrack my body. I stumbled away from the ledge, grasping my stomach. The sheer panic caused my senses to go into overdrive. I could feel my heart hammering in my throat. My blood thickening. My arms shaking. My legs ready to collapse. Then, I felt something big and heavy fall onto my shoulder.
I spun around in shock to find my dad towering before me, quickly withdrawing his hand.
“Is the scenery really that breathtaking that you didn’t notice me coming up behind you?” he laughed. I gave him a weak smile and stared straight ahead, determined not to look over the edge again.
“Amma, I’m scared,” my little brother Krish whined at my mom. As he ran over and hugged my mother’s legs, I wished I could express my fears that easily. But I was the one that pressured my parents into taking us here in the first place. I couldn’t complain.
“Alright, alright!” bellowed a new voice coming from below us. A second later, two heads popped out from below the platform.
“¡Hola familia!” the first guy exclaimed, holding his arms out like a bear asking for a hug. “So, this is your first time zip-lining, eh? Well soon enough you’ll become just another part of the Costa Rican wildlife family! I am Carlos and this is Juan,” he said, gesturing to the other guy that came up the ladder with him. “We’ll be your tour guides for this trip.” I took a deep breath and slowly let out all the air, not realizing how much tension had built up in my chest. I tried to remind myself of why I wanted to zip-line in the first place.
Because it would be the closest I would get to actually flying.
Because I would be able to view the world from a different perspective.
Because I would be able to see nature as if I was its creator.
It didn’t work.
Those once exciting thoughts melted through my brain and pierced my lungs, once again making it hard for me to breathe. I took another deep breath, but the air made a funny noise coming out. My mom glanced my way.
“You okay?” she asked, looking slightly nervous herself. “Need some water?”
“No thanks,” I mumbled, trying to get a grip on myself. Juan and Carlos didn’t seem to notice the high tensions on the platform.
“All right!” Juan proclaimed as he walked over to Krish. “Since you are too short, you are going to have to ride with me.” My brother glanced at him blankly. Juan laughed as he hooked his and Krish’s harnesses to the line and then together. It took me a while to register this was all happening in the moment.
“W-wait. We’re starting now?” I gasped, desperately in need of more time.
“Sí, señorita,” Carlos replied. “We’ve got a lot to see not a lotta time to see it.” He offered me his hand. “Would you like to go next?” I stumbled backwards, trying to move as quickly as possible without seeming rude.
“Um, uh c-can I get some more time?” I chattered, suddenly feeling very cold. He recoiled his hand and nodded, now focused on sending Juan and Krish on their way.
“There will be another guide at the other side,” Juan said. “She will help detach you from the line and make sure you land safely.” He went on to explain all the other rules with Carlos interjecting from time to time. My parents listened attentively, but the only sound I could hear was the roar of my blood pulsing through my ears.
Juan and Krish were finally sent off, speeding down the line Carlos then led my mom to the front of the platform and started prepping for her take-off.
“These things are 100% safe, right?” she asked, tugging on her harness.
“Yes, ma’am. Completely. Don’t worry,” Carlos assured her. She took a deep breath and readjusted the straps. I found myself playing around with the harness too, nervous of what was about to come.
The next sequence of events happened in a blur. Carlos had already sent my mom speeding down the line and was just about to release my dad.
As he let go of my dad’s harness, I realized that was my last defense. I had nothing else to hide behind now. The rest of my family had already been reunited on the other side. I was the only one left. I desperately looked around me wishing I could be something else, anything else, as long as I could escape my fears. I glanced behind me and stared the old, rugged ladder, thinking that it looked exactly how I felt. I felt rugged. Defeated.
Right now, I was no better than that ladder. Pieces of me chipping away as I let the heavy boots of fear step on me, tear through me like I’m nothing. I stood there for what felt like hours, staring down at the ground which now seemed unreachable. Part of me wanted to stand there forever. Give into the fear. Let it engulf me. Let it take over.
I could feel it now, the emptiness of the forest beneath me, luring me into its trap. I took a step forward, and before I realized where I was going I took another, and another until I was right at the edge of the ledge.
“Ma’am?” called out a voice, snapping me back into reality. It was time. I closed my eyes and thought to myself,
You are stronger than fear.
I was the one who had wanted to go ziplining in the first place. I was the one who begged my parents to take me from the minute we set foot in Costa Rica.
How could I flake now? How could I let fear take over and miss the opportunity I’ve been waiting for?
I took a deep breath and slowly turned around. I found Carlos watching me, analyzing me, waiting to see my reaction.
“So… are you ready?” he asked. I took a deep breath, ready to say the single word that would force the fear to leave my body. “Yes,” I whispered. Carlos looked at me for a second. Then, he let out a hearty roar.
“That’s the spirit!” he bellowed as he attached me to the wire. I shut my eyes tight and thought to myself, Calm down. Calm down. Calm down.
“Off you go!” Carlos yelled. Before I could even think about changing my mind, he gave me the final push, sending me spiraling down the wire above the luscious forests.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream until my throat became wrinkled and bloody and my lungs shriveled into tissue from the lack of air.
I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. I held onto the rope so tightly I was sure my hands would be bleeding when I let go. Only about two seconds had passed, but it felt like an eternity.
Slowly, I started to calm down. Once I was able to breathe normally again, I remembered why I wanted to zipline in the first place. It felt amazing. Exhilarating.
It felt like freedom.
I opened my eyes and time stopped. I was above a monstrous cliff, home to a beautiful, cascading waterfall. The cold, sharp wind whipped through my hair, but left me with a feeling of warmth. As I soared over the tops of the trees, I caught a whiff of wet leaves and pine, the smell of nature’s perfume overwhelming me.
This is what it’s like to fly.
My grip on the harness loosened, and I was overwhelmed with the desire to reach out and try to touch those trees–– but I ended up almost punching someone in the face instead.
“Whoa there,” she said as she pulled my harness onto the platform. This must be the other guide Juan and Carlos were talking about, I thought to myself. “Got a little carried away by the nature huh?” she smiled. I smiled back. But it was not the same weak, trembling smile from before but a good, strong one, full of happiness. That smile quickly turned into a laugh, and the laugh spread to the guide who helped me up, to Juan, to Carlos, to my mom, dad, and brother. It sparked a new kind of fire in me that chased away the shadows that were forcing me to hide in the dark. I laughed, knowing I could continue on this adventure, fearless.
This past year for English, I wrote a personal statement that I’m also using as part of my college application. Writing this essay forced me to dive into my past and beliefs, and piece together all the key events that made me who I am today.
Through a Kaleidoscope
Growing up, I identified as Indian and Hindu. While my family was never very religious, we celebrated the festivals and honored the gods. Our family values were very reflective of the Indian culture my parents grew up in, which put stress on the importance of academics over anything else. I spent every bit of my free time when I was little going over science worksheets and being quizzed on mental math.
Over time my beliefs began to change. I moved away from polytheistic Hinduism and started to identify as agnostic. I started believing in predestination: the idea that God has already written your fate for you. I believed that as long as I kept studying and did well in school, everything else would fall into place because that is what God intended. I still identified as Indian, but no longer Hindu.
In high school, my values started to change. I started to branch out and become more social, and met a lot of new people. I stopped caring so much about math and started focusing more on my English assignments. But because of the emphasis my family placed on academics, I wasn’t allowed to go out when I could be doing something much more useful for my education. Once they realized I was never able to hang out, my friends moved on. I found solace in predestination, believing this was all meant to be, that my fate was just playing out.
But it wasn’t long before that didn’t comfort me anymore. As I sat in my room, math textbook flipped open to complex equations, I couldn’t focus on anything but how my complacency with the life I was handed was just making me unhappy. I refused to believe that my fate was to be unhappy for the rest of my life, or at least for the rest of high school. So I started to fight against it, clashing with my parents’ traditional values. I realized that the values they raised me with wereas what they thought would be best for me. They released me from the tight grip of our tradition, and for the first time I felt in control of my life.
But it wasn’t long before I became drunk on that freedom. By rejecting our family values, it felt as if I had rejected the Indian side of me. And without predestination, the path to my future became foggy. I didn’t know how to balance different aspects of my life because I didn’t know what I wanted. Unsure of who I was, I frantically searched for something to believe in. I turned to methods of self realization like Buddhism, and when that didn’t work I dove into the world of philosophy and started connecting with the idea of existentialism. I started to believe that God was dead, and that life on Earth was truly without purpose. I stopped being able to motivate myself to do anything, and started living in a constant existential crisis.
Then I joined Freestyle Academy. As part of the English Honors program, we read Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and through Gregor’s metamorphosis and the discussions we had in class, my eyes were opened to a whole new definition of existentialism: your purpose in life is the purpose you create for yourself. You get to choose how you impact the world.
After reading this novella, I started grasping onto literature as a lifeline to lead me through the haziness and uncertainties I had about myself. I started defining myself and my beliefs through a compilation of quotes from various philosophers and scientists. I especially started living by Descartes’ quote, “In order to determine whether we can know anything with certainty, we first have to doubt everything we know.” Living by Descartes’ words forced me to look at everything from different perspectives, like through a kaleidoscope.
Through philosophical and creative writing, I found a purpose in this world. I want to reach others and help them feel the power of literature and help positively impact their lives, just as it had for me.
Another assignment we had was to write a perspective piece on a topic we felt strongly about, almost like a controlled rant. This was to explore yet another side of ourselves and dive deeper into our own thoughts and emotions.
I used the Adobe application AfterEffects to create this video. Below is a screenshot from my workspace that shows my process.
UnchartedARVE Error: Mode: lazyload not available (ARVE Pro not active?), switching to normal mode
Freedom. The most basic human right. A virtue valued by the human race. By law, we the people of the united states are granted life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So as a society, why do we insist on remaining in chains, shackled by our fear of the unknown? Terrified not of taking the path less traveled by, but of making one for yourself? We are slaves to our own ignorance, choosing to stay within the limits of what has been done in the past, sacrificing wants for needs to fit into a category rather than creating your own. You grow up hearing that you can’t get everything you want. You have to choose and sacrifice, compromise. But what’s stopping you? Maybe it’s naive to believe you can make all your dreams come true, but what are we worth to ourselves if we don’t even try? I have never found a category in which I fit in. On official forms I check Asian as my race even though many don’t consider India a part of Asia, even though I’ve become more American than Indian. When choosing an essay topic in class I’m always the first at the teacher’s desk proposing a new idea, one that doesn’t fit within the restrictive categories of their rubric because I felt a connection to a different topic entirely. I question why literature has such hard and fast rules, discriminating genres forcing pieces of the human soul into a pre-existing category when it is clear it doesn’t belong anywhere. But like most others, I am scared of not belonging. So we shove away our deepest desires, the qualities that make us unique, and find a clear cut path to follow. Because who knows what lies in the brambles and untamed wildlife not more than one step away from you? By law we have our freedom. But what is that freedom worth if we don’t use it? You must brave the unknowns of an untamed wilderness before you can find what lies for you on the other side.
As a part of film, we had to produce a reflections video essay about something important in our lives and how that has affected us as we grew up.ARVE Error: Mode: lazyload not available (ARVE Pro not active?), switching to normal mode
Being Indian, religion is a big part of our culture. Some of my fondest memories from when I was little included taking off my shoes and walking up the hot concrete steps to the temple. From the time I was little, my parents would tell me stories of the Hindu myths. Brahma was the creator of the universe, Vishnu was the preserver, and Shiva was the destroyer. They taught me how to pray, to get on your hands and knees and bow down to the higher power before you. They introduced me to layers upon layers of rich cultural history, and despite not having grown up in the country, I felt truly Indian. I carried my culture with me while I was growing up. It gave me a deeper connection with my family. But eventually, things changed. We started going to the temple less and less until we stopped going entirely. We stopped celebrating the major Indian festivals and adhering to the traditions. We even began neglecting the little shrine we had hidden away. And the culture that once gave me a strong family bond began tearing at my sense of self. As my family started drifting away from their Indian roots, I started questioning my faith. A religion I was born into but didn’t resonate with. So I slipped away from Indian culture and quickly became lost. I grew sick of a world of predestination, the belief that your fate is already written for you, and set out to clear my own path. None of the values I grew up with seemed to stick, all remnants of a previously Hindu household. So I dove into the world of psychology and philosophy, looking to Freud or Nietzsche to give my life a purpose. But without Hinduism, I didn’t feel Indian anymore. And if I’m not Indian, who am I?I started finding solace in the world of literature. I started piecing together philosophers differing opinions on religion in my own writing, and the more I wrote, the more it became clear that I didn’t need to believe in Brahma or Shiva or Vishnu to be Indian. Writing gave me a new sense of purpose, to impact people’s lives with the power of prose, just as it had impacted mine.
The hardest part about this project was figuring out what to write. In English, we were taught that the best personal essays displayed great vulnerability, but I wasn’t sure how much of myself I was willing to reveal to my classmates and ultimately, the community. But nothing I was writing seemed to be of any significance until I came to the topic of religion.
Once I had my script finalized, everything fell into place. I created a shot list of every shot I needed and planned a day when I could go shoot at the temple near my house. I edited together the footage using Adobe Premiere Pro and recorded my voice using an audio recorder.
Through this project, I got back in touch with a part of me I haven’t recognized in a long time. Doing this project made me feel more in touch with my Indian roots and made me want to be more a part of that culture again.