Storytelling Assignment: Envy
*Includes changes by hand night of performance.
Because I had decided I was stupid: I now had this tight, heavy, iron ball of NOBODY-CAN- KNOW sitting in my lungs. We all remember how cruel fellow teens can be, especially if you’re an easy target. I would have to fake like I was at least average in order to survive high school.
Because I had decided I was stupid, and that I had to hide it: Whenever possible I would decline the due date extensions, and the options to take untimed tests offered by my teachers. It was imperative that no one see me getting special treatment. And on top of that, I didn’t want it, because it just reminded me that I’m inadequate. That I was not normal.
But something I didn’t expect started happening. Because I had decided I was stupid and that I had to hide it by declining special treatment: I worked harder in order to understand the material as well as a normal student would in order to make the regular deadlines, in order to finish the exams on time--and then finish under time--and then with so much time to spare that I had time to go back over and proof all my answers? Holy shit! By my junior year, I had acquired some heavy metal studying skills! Sure, it took me hours longer than the average student to lock in new information, but I would concoct my own exams based on class material, stash them out of sight for a day or two--long enough for my short-term memory issues to kick in--then take them all to see if I could pass. My homemade exams were so difficult that I’d routinely fail them BUT I WOULD PASS THE CLASS EXAMS. I was way harder on myself than any of my teachers were.
This evolution of study skills was not a triumph for me at the time, it was a perceived requirement for continued survival. Even as my grades picked up and I was recommended for honors classes, I refused to dislodge that tight, heavy, iron ball of YOU-ARE-STUPID-AND-NO-ONE-CAN-KNOW. I continued as a faker, pretending I belonged in those classes when I knew I didn’t, and I knew at any second someone would yank me out and tell everyone I didn’t deserve to be there.
But in those honors classes, I was surrounded by all these wonderful students who were waaaay smarter than I was--and I wanted everything they had. I wanted their effortless recall, their turn-on-a dime wittiness, their flowing short essays and their abilities to painlessly grasp and instantly internalize any new material presented in class. I wanted THAT so badly. Then I’d go home and accomplish in five or six hours what it took them to do in only two.
I didn’t see my studying as “good ol’ hard work”. I saw it as surviving by lying, and doing whatever it took to perpetuate that lie. Those honors students I was in class with? They were superhuman to me. They had obviously been born with special powers that I didn’t have. All I had were a couple tools and tricks under my belt to get by.
By the time I hit college I realized too late that I was overdoing it. I pushed myself to a point where my idea of B- work was actually enough to break the curve in some classes*. Which was UNFATHOMABLE to me. All you had to do was see the look of sheer confusion I wore on a constant basis all through college to know that--at any given moment--I was flailing around ignorantly in a pool of information I couldn't make sense of. I sat through years of lectures that just sounded like noise to me, watching my classmates nod with instant understanding at concepts that were basically a foreign language--I couldn't learn by sitting still in a lecture hall, just listening. I could only learn that kind of material if I was holed up in a library or at home, reading and rereading and rereading the text, drawing pictures, making my own visual aids, flash cards, mnemonic devices, acronyms, ANYTHING. Anything to help me understand and remember the material.
The kicker is I LOVE LEARNING, and I spent so many years thinking I was terrible at it. If I’d just listened to my Mom, I would have saved myself a lot of grief--but would I have fought as hard and gained such a great set of tools?
I’m not a student anymore, but I am still learning lots of things. Sometimes I do feel smart. Most of the time I don’t--but I’ve come a long way. I've built a completely personalized suite of skills to help me balance out the places where I am lacking.
I would hope that when I see those people from school--the ones with what I considered superhuman intelligence--my hope is that what I hold for them instead of envy now is admiration. I want to be content enough with who I am, that I no longer feel a jealous desire to possess something that is impossible for me...that I can instead be happy for them and their accomplishments, and then happy for all the craziness I’ve gotten through, too.
*N.B.: I unintentionally made myself sound like a pretty great collegiate scholar here. I should be clear that there were not enough hours in the day for me learn ALL the material for ALL my classes as a full time student. There was always at least one class each semester that was somewhat sacrificed, where I slid by with a barely passing grade in order to have enough time to do well in the others.