I remember peeling down past the wave on a brand new purple Crayola® crayon. Wax was caught under my fingernail that would distract me even more from the fact that I did not know what I had wanted to draw and only took the purple crayon so that no one else could have it. The wrapper did not need to be pealed yet. The tip was still that polished shiny new point full of possibilities. I was stalling.
I used to color with abandon. I could draw fields of flowers with beautiful skies. I could draw people and animals in great detail that actually looked like what they were intended to look like. Then it stopped. I stopped. Indecision and insecurity set in.
When I was in second grade one day on the way home from school, Deana Case was sitting with me on the bus. This was in a time when the seats were a simple molded plastic with no padding. When the driver rounded a corner too fast, we would all slide in the opposite direction if we weren’t holding on in anticipation of the sway. It was exciting and fun and lent adventure to my imagination. The bus was always loud with chatter and laughter and the noise from the engine, wheels and breaks that would squeak and squeal as the bus came to a stop at the end of someone’s drive way.
Now that I think of that bus, big yellow orange container of so many different children. It was like a rolling box of crayons itself full of so many different personalities and potentials. On that one particular day, Deana pulled a drawing out of her bag. We had a rare free time period that day and could draw and color anything we wanted. I had mine too. I loved what I had drawn and then I saw hers.
Wow. The sight of her drawing froze me with awe.
Comparing her drawing to mine was like comparing the Sistine Chapel to the Sunday funnies. I did like the Sunday funnies and to be honest, that may have been partly where I learned to draw so well. I noticed the lines and how a simple curve or swirl could make all the difference in the emotion or humor of a piece. What she had done was foreign to me. It covered the entire piece of paper from edge to edge and was an amazing scene with flowers, a house and a beautiful night sky. She had blended her colors in a way that I had never imagined doing. I did not even know you could do that with the box of broken and stubby crayons we passed around the classroom. Her drawing had a depth and perspective I was only on the verge of understanding in the simplest of terms.
It was so beautiful. I told her how beautiful it was. Then I was embarrassed for the very first time to show my drawing to someone. I did. She liked it. She complimented it as well. I believed her because I knew Deana didn’t lie, but I still felt at a loss to understand how suddenly I was not as good as I had thought. Had people been telling me I was good when I wasn’t?
I believe this might have been the start of my long-held inner belief that I was simple not really better at anything than anyone else. Nothing I could do was any different, any more special or even good enough to compare from that point forward. I got excellent grades moving through high school, graduating in the top 10% of my class and earning a scholarship. I got excellent grades in college and was on the dean’s list several times during my freshman year. My assumption, however, was that everyone was getting excellent or ever better grades.
There were some areas of curriculum that required I worked harder than others. I loved geometry but could not wrap my head around advanced algebra. I loved English and all the stories and books we read – but could not embrace the ancient stuff. Beowulf for example. I knew I had strengths and weaknesses, but again, my assumption was that everyone else only had strengths. Even when I was called upon to tutor someone older than myself in middle school, I did not realize that this meant anything other than I was a good reader and could help this person with words just as I had helped my older brother with his math at home.
It did not mean I had any special knowledge or skill, right? I was nothing special.
While I think parents today often over-whelm their children to the point of delusion with how special, wonderful and talented they are, forever losing in them a sense of what it is like to really accomplish something from hard work, I do wish someone had noticed this in me earlier and helped me realize the truth. It’s a fine line parents need to tread. I was as special as anyone else. I was extremely resourceful and had talents in many areas that often outshone others and that was important and should have built confidence. It didn’t.
No one had noticed.
On a job I had at Borders Books & More (I miss that store so much!) after college, my manager, a new manager not much older than myself, came out and asked me very pointedly:
“Do you know how smart you are?”
I shrugged it off. It had to be some silly trick to get me to do more work. I was prone to respond that way to a compliment. I would work hard to please the person even more and people seemed to know this about me.
“Really,” she said, “Look at this.” She pointed to the floor in front of my section – Reference and Foreign Languages, at that time, where hundreds of newly arrived books were stacked in front of their respective shelves waiting to be inserted into their proper places among the floor stock. I didn’t really get what she was trying to say, which was that I was a monster when it came to getting the new stock out on the floor in the shortest amount of time. Most staff would bring out one v-cart at a time, without putting it into order first and shelf the books one book at a time, here, there, wherever until their shift was over. I organized my entire task putting two or more v-carts into action, then broke it down into small steps by placing the books near their final destinations first. Lots of easy little successes in shelving that lead to getting done quickly and efficiently so that I could move on. I also neatened and shifted and “frontalized” while I was putting out the new stock instead of going back and doing this later as a separate step. I didn’t realize I had put any more thought into the task than anyone else. It was just the way I felt it needed to be done so that I could browse in other areas.
Admittedly, it was efficient, but it also could only be done this way during times when the store was slow. This system had to be revamped during those times when people were rampantly shopping, were laying on the floor reading, stalking some pretty girl in the art section next to reference or wandering around with a no-foam, half-caf, mocha latte espousing brilliant philosophical thoughts to no one in particular. I guess that was something else she was trying to point out to me. I not only could organize a vast amount of materials so that they took up the least amount of time, but I could be flexible and perceptive enough to realize this had to be adjusted based on the store’s foot-traffic. And all this time I had believed the guys on staff when they told me I shelved faster because I had large hands.
It was nice of her to have pointed this out. This was the first time anyone had complimented something my brain did that seemed automatic to me. I wanted to get done so that I could go look at new books in the Anthropology or Sociology or fiction sections. This was the first time I was given an inkling that my brain worked differently than others and that this was actually a good thing. I knew my brain was different. I knew I was different, but my assumption had been from childhood that this was not a good-different. And here was this person, a person in authority, putting an idea in my mind that my form of different could actually be a potentially useful and wonderful thing.
It took many years after that to actually flesh out that idea to a fully formed image in my mind. Her words would come back to me in different situations where I had done the same things – automatically. This was a new perspective that no one else had ever given me. And it isn’t at all about parenting. Everyone needs to re-parent themselves as they grow up and learn about the world and who they are in it. I had set myself in a picture of my world early as the underachiever. I need to pick up crayons or markers or pens and start drawing again and keep filling out the pages until I have properly redrawn a more honest representation of who I really was.
I suspect this is drawing that will continue on. It seems the more I learn, the more I change, the more there is to draw.
#keepcoloring #keeplearning #crayons