The Girls!

Zai Deriu

WriterSan Francisco, CAStory & Photos by Lauri Levenfeld
What strikes me about Zai Deriu is her awareness and dedication to authenticity and to being herself. As a teenager, it can be difficult to stay on the path in terms of what you want and what truly defines you. But by staying the course, you provide yourself the gift of true happiness and inner peace. A self-proclaimed weirdo, Zai is paving a path for herself unlike anyone else; one where she is exploring her next story plot in life as an individual and a writer. With a new blog Witchy with AB., Zai celebrates her individuality, creativity, and passion for life’s questions and curiosities. All while sprinkling unicorns and rainbows wherever she goes. 

1. Who are you? What were you like as a child?

I would describe myself as a weirdo, now and as a young child. I remember reading during recess as the other kids ran around playing soccer and whatnot, or as everyone else brought their favorite stuffed animal or some legos they built for show and tell, I scared my second grade class with my tarantula’s discarded skin and my old baby teeth, and at the time, I didn’t see what was so abnormal about that. I think that really helped me to grow into the person I am now, just being myself and seeing that people would still accept me for it, even if I didn’t think about it at the time. Now, I’ve definitely changed a bit, but not too much. I’m on the quiet side, but I wouldn’t describe myself as shy. I love spending time in nature or just hanging out with my friends, or admittedly, just watching Youtube videos. Basically, I’m an introverted oddball.


2.What are you biggest passions? What makes you tick?

I’ve always loved reading, even as a little kid. Time would seem to slow down as I absorbed the intricate stories being fed to me. However, I was always frustrated when authors made some sort of plot twist that made the characters unhappy, therefore making me unhappy. I thought of the characters as my friends in a way, and no one wants their friends to be sad.

I think that’s in part why writing started interesting me, so I could make the characters joyful and everyone could dance on rainbows with unicorns and sprinkles would be everywhere! I now realize that if everyone in a book is happy, it’s going to be an especially boring story, but I was in roughly the second grade when I first started wanting to write, so I think I get a free pass.

3. You grew up celebrating nature and hugging trees, what have those experiences meant or taught you?

I think it taught me that the natural world is not our space to take. Although I love living in the city, there’s a sort of, peace that comes with nature that can’t be replicated anywhere else. In nature, I get the feeling that you couldn’t have made it any more beautiful, even though (or probably because) humans didn’t play a role in it’s creation and perpetual growing. It makes me sad to think that some people never get the chance to enjoy nature, yet at the same time, that’s kind of the beauty of it, that it’s a place where humans are not.


4. You are an avid reader, what are your five favorite reads?

One favorite of mine is Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. The characters are impossible not to love, and there’s a kind of eerie vibe that is shown through the story itself and enforced in the old pictures that are shown throughout the book. Another favorite is of course, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I have not met a single person who has read the series and not liked it. Harry Potter is the sort of book that you become obsessed with to the point that you own an entire outfit themed after it and you doodle deathly hallows all over your homework (and arms, and jacket, and maybe face). The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, which I like to think of as the embodiment of the words “plot twist”, is also one of my favorite reads. There is absolutely no way that you know what’s going to happen next, and when it’s finally revealed, it just makes you love the books even more. Two other favorites of mine are the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and The Magicians by Lev Grossman. 

5. You are currently writing a personal blog, what is your writing process and what inspires you to write?

When I was younger, I would make up stories in my head to entertain myself. I always wanted to write the stories down, but at the time, I didn’t really have the attention span or skill to do so. Now, I think I’m kind of coming back to that dream and realizing that writing is something I can do, turning what I used to think of as a fantasy into a reality, which is extremely exciting and definitely makes me want to write more. It’s really just a matter of putting my pencil down on the paper, after I begin, it’s smooth sailing from there. I created my website, Witchy with AB., as a way to showcase my writing, and hopefully make some people smile in doing so. I’m hoping to add more aspects to the site in the future, but for now it’s simply going to be stories. It’s always been very clear to me that I should do what makes me happy in whatever profession I choose, because it’s how  I’m going to spend a significant amount of my time as an adult. Fortunately, writing happens to be something I’m good at, enjoy, and is a profession, so not only does it make sense to improve my skills, I also love writing, which is encouragement enough.


6. Who are your role models/ people you admire?

I have always been troubled by this question. I remember in the third grade, we were asked who our biggest role model was, and being so confused, it didn’t make any sense to me that someone would model their actions after someone else’s, instead of considering what they thought, as if they didn’t trust themselves to make the correct decision. I don’t think I aspire to be anyone that isn’t me, although there are plenty of people that are, yes, good people, but I don’t want to be them, I want to be me. Once you get to know almost anyone, you can find something about them that is admirable. Everyone has something special about them if you look a little, it’s just a little more on the surface for some.

7. How important is it for you to have a circle of women / girls around you?

I think that it’s especially important to have women and girls who you trust to talk to and just to be friends with in general. Women and girls can relate to each other because we’ve all gone through the same things. We should relate, in fact, despite what society tells us about covering up what we can’t help because we’re human. For example, when I started menstruating, my moms planned a gathering with different women who had been important in my life to celebrate and just talk about womanhood in general. We wore red and ate red food, and then we sat in a circle and everyone shared one thing they had learned from being a woman, and one thing they saw in me that they love and/or respect. That was really powerful for me and is something I think every girl should experience, total acceptance for exactly who and what they are.


8. If you could travel to one place in the next year, where would it be and why?

I would love to visit Italy. I visited three years ago, and it was great. We visited Sardinia, where my father grew up, as well as Milan. Having grown up in San Francisco myself, it’s still rather bizarre to me that oceans can be a temperature that isn’t frigid, and I remember having a lot of fun in the, amazingly, not freezing cold water. However it was kind of a blur, and I think I was really overwhelmed with being in such a different place than what I’m used to, so I would also love to go back and try to appreciate and take in what I see a little bit more.


9. What was your biggest challenge? Achievement?

Life in general is like a constant challenge all the time, if only a minimal one. It’s hard to get up in the morning, to go to school or work every day. Everything has some aspect of challenge. Some things are less difficult than others, granted, and sometimes everything just feels terrible, and it seems like nothing could ever get better, but, rather like in a book, you have a climax, where everything is at it’s most exciting. Well, you could think in terms of that with life’s challenges. Once you get through the most difficult of your troubles, everything else seems a little easier by comparison, and what was once a challenge can now be considered an achievement, because you got through it.One of my biggest accomplishments would be sticking with a musical instrument from age six till today. I play the mandolin, and am incredibly happy that I never quit and that my parents pushed me to continue and be my best. Of course sometimes I don’t want to practice and my parents have to tell me to practice, repeatedly. However,  in the end, I love music and I love the mandolin, so everything seems to be working out pretty well. I suppose one challenge that I

went through and still am going through, would be figuring out who I am and not just following what everybody else is doing. When you think about it, in the future, I’m not going to be looking back on my teenage years thinking, “I wish I had been more normal back then”.  For better or for worse, I’m still a teenager, so although I want to be myself, there’s still a little voice in the back of my head telling me to just be like everyone else, but I try to ignore it.


10. Where do you see Zai in five years?

I think it’s really tempting to ask kids this sort of question. “ What do you want to be when you grow up?”, “ What college do you want to go to?”, “ Where do you want to live when you’re older?”. The truth is, I don’t really know where I’ll be in one year, let alone five. My hope is that I’ll be like a more evolved version of myself now. Like, Zai 2.0. Keeping everything that makes me, me, and wiping away what isn’t. I hope. But who knows what my future is. The only thing I know for sure is I’ll be eating lots of chocolate, because there are some things that never change.

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