I wish I could tell you some romantic story about how or why I started writing, but the truth is that my affinity for the subject was merely born from my not being good at anything else, academically or otherwise.
Math was particularly traumatic for me when, in 3rd grade, Mrs. Waddell introduced us to long division. Up until that point I’d actually quite enjoyed math. I was in 3rd grade, what was not to like? Adding and subtracting made perfect, logical, sense. Multiplication could get tricky at times, but the puzzle, and how to solve it, was clear. Linear. And of course, long division and its messy, ugly, ambiguous remainders had not yet come to ruin my 8-year-old life. That is, until that fateful afternoon.
The day I learned how to do long division (and I’m using the word “learn” rather liberally here…), Mrs. Waddell put a problem on the board and told us that we were to solve it independently and then raise our hand to have her check our work for accuracy. Then, and only then, would we be dismissed and allowed to go home.
I stared at the numbers on the projector utterly confused and quietly humiliated. I hadn’t the slightest clue where to begin, and even less of an idea as to what the answer was.
I watched with urgent despair as classmate after classmate raised their hand and inevitably left and went home. I began to panic and eventually, I just accepted that I would never see my family again.
I was the very last student out of that classroom. And I didn’t even solve the fucking problem.
Mrs. Waddell had to walk me through every step of the process until we (read: she) arrived at the correct answer. I left the room mortified and demoralized.
Fuck long division.
That was when my disdain for math truly began, and it has never ceased since that day.
My aversion continued in middle school, when my 7th grade teacher Mrs. Namey insisted on looking over my shoulder to watch me unsuccessfully work out a problem and became irritated when I couldn’t solve it.
It remained when I meekly asked Brittany Johnson if I had correctly ordered the fractions from least to greatest.
“...least to greatest,” she said, looking at my paper before turning back to her own work without further explanation. (A simple “no” would have sufficed, bitch.)
It persisted in high school, and my sophomore year I paid a classmate $5.00 to copy her homework so I could pass geometry.
And it lingered in college. I failed quiz after quiz as a lowly freshman in College Algebra 101, forced to hold back tears of frustration as I walked, full of shame, back to my moldy, cold, microscopic dorm.
Math has always been a constant battle throughout my life, and a subject that will forever induce immediate panic. Unfortunately, I just didn’t get my engineer father’s knack for numbers. That much, I can tell you, is for damn sure.
*For the record, I did eventually learn long division. And I'm still traumatized.
I’ve always felt the desire to create things, but I never actually know what to create. Nor have I ever had the natural talent (or intrinsic passion) for any specific medium. I’m aware that creativity / art / success doesn’t just “happen.” Obviously it takes painstaking dedication to hone a skill and twice as much dedication to continue improving, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about that undeniable, tangible, raw talent that some people just, have, and have always had since birth.
“Well what’s the one thing you can’t not do?” Everyone asks. For people like Andy Warhol or Patrick Stump or Marina Keegan it’s creating art or making music or writing an insanely good body of work, respectively.
For me it’s more like, sleeping, you know? Eating, breathing. The thing and things I cannot do are not compulsions that possess and drive me to greatness. It’s just stuff my body does involuntarily in order to keep me alive and afloat in my sea of average.
That, and complaining. I can’t not complain. Seriously. I am a world class complainer.
A previous therapist (ew) called it being “passionately annoyed.” I’ll take it.
“What’s the one thing you can’t not do?”
A few years ago I was talking to my sister, probably complaining about how lost I felt, how I couldn’t seem to find my way. And she told me that she didn’t really find a groove / clarity / feeling of being at peace and settled until she was about 27 or 28. That gave me some hope.
“Only five more years to go,” I thought to myself.
Well, today I stand here, 27, and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I still don’t feel like an adult or a woman who pays taxes and emails HR asking about 401k plans. But I am, even though I still feel like a little kid on the inside. I go through the necessary, socially acceptable motions of being an adult, but I’m kind of just improvising. I think we all are.
When I was in first grade I wanted to be an author, Juilliard-trained dancer, and Oscar-winning actress. I think now I just want to be happy.
I’m sure that sounds depressing. Maybe it is, but maybe that’s just life. Wanting and striving to be happy does not mean I am un-happy, it just means I know that I have to work for it. I have to earn it. It means that, rather than being a thing, I’d rather be a person, who happens to do a thing.
I mean, when we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, they never just say “happy.” Isn’t that weird? They always, always provide an answer. They tell us what they want to be, what they want to do. But what if we’re asking the wrong questions? Perhaps we should be asking them who and how they want to be? What kind of person they want to become? What they want out of life?
Thinking that happiness is achievable or achieved only when we reach these arbitrary statuses or begin working in specific professions is just a recipe for inevitable disappointment.
“So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”
- Matthew McConaughey, 86th Academy Awards ceremony
As children we have these preconceived notions that happiness is a guaranteed destination. That once we get there, we’re there for good, and that getting to this coveted destination is a byproduct of merely being alive. But we’re wrong. Because here’s the big, ugly, secret:
Happiness is conditional as we get older.
Happiness takes work as we get older.
When we were young and we did things, it was easy to have a blast. If you were lucky like me, the adults thought about everything / all the boring stuff for you, i.e. “I need to bring a change of clothes to the water park for the kids. Don’t forget to pack Band-Aids in case someone gets a water blister. I should probably carry cash in case they don’t take American Express.”
And all we needed to do, as a wee human, was get in the car, excited and blissfully ignorant.
I think the reason why a lot of us don’t want to do certain things we used to deem as “fun” anymore is because the fun that used to be served to us on a silver platter now comes with conditions. A fucking essay of fine print, if you will.
Think about it.
Going to a birthday party as a child, you just automatically assume it’s going to be a gas. Ice skating, pool parties, sleepovers, who cares? It’s going to be a blast!
When you hear about a birthday party as a teenager, you start to ask questions. Is it drunk ice skating? Will there be beer at the pool? Can I get laid at the sleepover?
And as an adult? Ha.
"I don’t want to pay for ice skating, that’s boring."
"You want to go at 6 PM? But that’s in the middle of rush hour!"
"They’re serving Bud Light at the pool party? Bud Light is terrible. Don’t they have IPAs? $11.00 a beer?! Fuck that party!"
"A sleepover. Are you kidding me…"
Conditions. A million "It'll-be-fun-IF"s.
It never occurs to us when we’re young that happiness is a thing we’ll ever have to earn. But it is. No one is entitled to this elusive, subjective, emotion just, because. You gotta want it. As the old cliche goes, “You gotta work hard for what you want, and twice as hard to keep it.”
But what if we don’t know what we want?
What if we’re someone who knows we want to create, but doesn’t know what or how to create?
What if we just know that we want to do something? Something bigger, different. Something that has meaning.
I think that’s okay. Because I don’t think any of us ever truly know what it is that we want to be. And that forever just-out-of-arm's-reach, ambiguous, goal keeps us hungry, alive, motivated.
I think all we know for certain in life is that candy is sweet, cumming feels great, and explosions in action movies are epic. And sometimes, jaded as we may be, that's enough.