This one’s not about writing. Not exactly anyway. But it is about me. And a lesson I learned a long time ago.
I was sixteen and in Pre-Calc. My junior year of high school. Math was never my best subject and I hated it. It was like a strange language and I did whatever I could to not do it. The year before our math teacher made everyone leave who hadn’t done their homework. I didn’t get up. But then he collected the homework and when mine wasn’t there, I did a long walk to the door under his rigid glare and pointed finger.
I usually survived math by working to be invisible. Come to think of it, that’s a technique I used for a large number of challenging things in my teens and twenties. If I make myself small enough, quiet enough, nothing enough, maybe then it will all go away.
I ran into a problem. I got a D+.
I was a scholarship kid at a fancy private school. People didn’t get D+’s. Especially people like me who really needed to be grateful for all the sacrifices of their parents to send them to a school like that. Add to that pressure – two academic parents who were appalled at the idea of anything lower than a B-.
My teacher, Anne Marie Shimkus, cornered me. I came after school or during lunch every day for weeks – I think it was for the rest of the year. I might be exaggerating. I did my homework under her supervision. I practiced. I solved equations. Over and over and over again.
One day she said “Look at me.”
I looked at her ear. She had blue eyes that terrified me.
“The only reason why you don’t like math is you actually have to work to learn it. Everything else comes so easy to you. Here is where you actually have to try. Fundamentally, you’re lazy.”
Whether or not those were her exact words, I don’t know anymore. That’s the words though that shine bright in my memory.
Not because it was harsh – but because it was the truth. Sometimes I tried to see how long I could go without reading the history textbook or whatever book was assigned in English.
This is a lesson that has lodged in my brain and refused to leave.
I think of this truth from Anne Marie Shimkus again and again as I practice my writing craft. Sometimes poems are really hard. The words sound stupid or sound like they still belong in the notebook of my sixteen-year-old self. Or I can’t figure out why my plot in the middle grade fantasy still doesn’t work. (Spoiler, the adults are still doing the fixing). Or I discover I really don’t like whatever story I’ve decided to work on. Or I’m incapable of rhyming.
Or so I think.
I am capable. I’m quite capable.
But I also have to work. To exercise my skills. To think about craft problems. To work hard at writing even when it’s hard.
I want to actually try.
I want more than easy.
I want to work – even when it might feel hard.
That’s the difference between writing and everything else I’ve ever done in my life (except mothering).
I want to work – and to work hard.