Written and illustrated by Evelyn Hsy

Dear autopilot me: here’s what you’re missing.   

As the school year takes off, I feel myself dragged unwillingly back towards autopilot. In willful defiance of routine, I’ve set out in search of small bits of wonder. So for readers looking, as I am, for the tiny things that make M-A students happy…

Happy things that are just too good to ignore. 

One: Fried Rice

In my quest for all things good, I stumbled upon a stranger by the name of Colin Smith who championed “the greatest thing ever:” fried rice. Smith, a junior at M-A,  said “my mom thinks I’m really weird for liking it because it’s literally just made of leftovers, but I think fried rice is the greatest thing ever. It’s economical, it’s delicious, it’s the first thing I learned to cook, and can maybe still cook—it just gives me that sense of home.” First day on the lookout for joy, and I’ve already found someone who’s unknowingly stolen my favorite food.

Smith’s favorite part of the dish, rightfully, is all the “crispy bits you find at the bottom of the pan” and how “fried rice helps me connect with my Chinese culture.” Smith adds green onions, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and whatever leftover meat his family has at home, whether spam, pork, or beef, to his base of eggs and rice. Leftovers are truly a joy, and I agree wholeheartedly with Smith: fried rice is the best way to use them. 

Two: Late Night Escapes

There’s something special about nighttime that amplifies quiet joy. The same day I interviewed Smith, I met two freshman students, JJ Balderes and Jazzy Perdomo, whose delights centered on the night. Balderes, sitting beside fellow freshman Joy Short—whose name is brilliantly appropriate—said, “A small thing that makes me happy is late night walks with my friends, both from M-A and other schools.” Short said that they “will go anywhere,” although they usually walk around East Palo Alto. 

Perdomo, whom I interrupted by the Green after school, said “I like to go to the beach—it’s really relaxing and I can free my mind. If I’m with friends I like the daytime, but if I want to be more alone, I’d say the nighttime because it’s quiet.” As a night owl constantly struggling with weekday mornings, I fully support their love of the night, and will mourn the death of quiet predawn now that the school year has begun. 

Three: Mini Compliments

I found junior Jesus Chavez outside the PAC theater with his earbuds in, the universal signal for “do not disturb,” so, like any good journalist, I interrupted him to ask what makes him happy. I’m glad I did, because Chavez said, “A small thing that makes me happy is a small compliment, like ‘oh, your clothes look nice today, or ‘you have great shoes.’” 

Recently a friend had told him, ‘you have really nice hands,’ and Chavez said, “I know it might sound weird, but it made my day.” I think it’s the specificity that makes an impactful compliment for me; it means the giver really means it. Cheers to friends and sudden, sweet compliments. 

Four: “The Shade” by Rex Orange County

Sophomore Leslie Mandujano, sitting by a friend that was casually eating ice cubes, shared her joy and, as a bonus, gave me a song to add to my playlist. Mandujano said, “Something that really makes my day is to listen to music, like what I have in my Spanish playlist. If I listen to something with an upbeat tempo during passing period, I think it really motivates me to get through classes with a good attitude, in a good mood.” 

Her favorite song right now is “The Shade” by Rex Orange County, whose title, unexpectedly, refers to a shade of paint, of color, a reflection of light rather than a lack of it, which for some reason makes me really happy. 

Finally, because I can’t resist (and because not resisting is also a small joy), here’s a bonus:

My Current Favorite Thing: Cats

When the temperature outdoors drops below that inside our house, my family opens our front door to welcome the cool air in. Through that door, on a cool evening early June, sauntered our neighbor’s black cat, who I privately dubbed Merlin Ambrosius. Merlin was my summer love, visiting us in the early mornings and keeping us company as we watched Ghibli films and ate frozen strawberries. So cats, who I’d previously liked but hadn’t adored, are my new biggest joy. 

Sometimes from my seat in C-wing classrooms, I’ll look up at the stripe of window at the top of the room as an M-A campus cat strolls by on the roof, casting a perfect, cat-shaped silhouette, and it never fails to make my class period more delightful. 

So cheers to cats, good food, late nights, sweet friends, music, and light: joys too often missed when I put my life on auto. And here’s to hoping this plane doesn’t crash. 

Yours sincerely,

Your friendly neighborhood joy seeker

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