19 May 2024

in which I brag about myself

Effort has never been my forte. In school, I was lazy. I did the bare minimum and basically sailed through it with equal portions of luck, bullshitting and because at age 10 I was deemed to be clever. For example, based on a lengthy story I wrote as a homework assignment, it was decided that eventually, I would be writer. Also, a small enamel pendant I had hastily manufactured in art class was proof that I was a budding jewellery designer. And when I correctly used an oversized protractor on the blackboard in my first week of geometry, I was considered a budding maths nerd. Whatever I did, it was enough to be placed one year ahead of my peers. That was my stroke of luck as it happened at that brief period before teenage arrogance when I was still amazed by what school and learning and the teachers had to offer. Soon enough, I found school confusing, there was much that was over my head and which could only be tackled if I invested time and effort, something that soon interfered with my other interests (I forget what they were) and in response, I decided that school was mostly boring. But whatever I did, I was still supposedly clever and so I sailed through school on the strength of that. It did not matter that I knew deep down that I wasn't clever at all. It was enough to just act as if. In hindsight, it was my first brush with politics because once you were deemed to be a clever kid, the teachers could hardly go back on their judgement, couldn't they and so I was carried along year after year, collecting dreadful results mostly, performing poorly in most subjects apart from German and Latin. I won't deny that there were times when indeed I was clever and that maybe I could have been clever all those years but basically, I couldn't be arsed to do a thing and I had figured out early enough that my shortfalls in science and maths could be nicely covered by my moderate skills in essay writing and showing off my love for reading. Plus learning Latin verbs and regurgitating translations of Tacitus and Cicero was simply down to working out the appropriate techniques and applying the stuff when required.
Modern languages were my worst subject. I failed three attempts of voluntary French and I barely made it to the end of the compulsory years of English, despite a lengthy and very boring time as an exchange student in Grimsby, one of the duller places on earth in what was then south Lincolnshire. What got me through English without complete failure was the American Forces Network radio. When I finally was allowed to drop English after year 10, I was looking forward to a life without ever having to bother myself with it again.

This morning, on the radio, I listened to a person interviewing a world famous writer. A long time ago, I knew this person - the interviewer, not the world famous writer - quite well, we were part of a crowd, young people who wanted to change the world the way you do when you are young. This set me off on one of the internet tunnel searches for the others who were part of the crowd. The ones I found, of course, are those who for reasons of their accomplishments, skills, and obvious cleverness have made their way, won awards, published poetry, lead important campaigns and so on. In all this pleasant discovery, these are good people and I am amazed that long ago, we shared a path, I felt humble. Me and my failed degrees, my zig zag course of a career, my meagre pension, my ill health, I could go on. But then R pointed out that if, for example and simply to brag about myself, I was to put my name into the Google Scholar search bar, there will be over one hundred results. That includes many double mentions and all of it is someone else's original work just edited and/or translated by me, but for a brief moment, I felt that yes, I have achieved stuff. I know my stuff, I work with language and while I was never on radio interviewing a Nobel laureate, I have left a mark, a small hidden one.

Sometimes, I regret not putting in the effort, I regret dropping too many subjects much too soon because they were not instantly appealing and obviously required time and mental struggle. I see this girl and this woman who was out looking for the short cut, the sweet and easy, the fun side of things first of all. Of this I am certain and I admit as much. Of course, life caught up with me, motherhood caught up with me, finances and lack thereof caught up with me. I managed, my life has been good, and yet I know that in terms of what people at the time - and they were no fools, they did see potential - predicted and expected, I failed to deliver. Too late. Although I just enrolled in an online course on human physiology of all things.


Good Bones

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Maggie Smith



am said...

I'm remembering how you learned English. It's a love story that continues to this day. And then I'm thinking of the daughter you and R raised together. And the grandchild she and her husband are raising in this world that has so much potential.

Steve Reed said...

Well, I can certainly identify with all of this. I was a pretty lazy student and made straight B's and C's without ever really trying. I was dubbed "gifted" in elementary school and I was always well-behaved, which probably carried me a long way, but I was not a motivated student! I just didn't see the point. Why exert all that effort when I could skate along for a slightly lower grade?

I have no regrets, though. I feel like my life has been good, and I don't see that people who stress and strive and beat their wings against the windows really wind up much better off.

Ms. Moon said...

Do you remember IQ tests? I had one in school when I was in the first or second grade and scored off the charts. I remember my mother was more baffled than proud. But I feel like because of that one stupid test I was always treated as if I was intelligent and I guess I was but I was also a "good girl" and I did study.
Until I got very, very ill in my Jr. year, I think, and almost died. After that, I just did not care as much. Also, I discovered boys and they discovered me. I quit college after a year and a half at my first go and had to grow up and become a mother before I managed to return and then I did well. There are so many factors in intelligence and in what one accomplishes, aren't there?

Pixie said...

Nobody ever encouraged me that I can think of. I always did well in school, with little effort. When I hit college, I met truly smart people. I was in premed classes and those people blew me away. I could have done the work but never even thought I could be a doctor. No confidence.

And so my life has been small, like most people's. We work, we raise children, we love our friends and walk the dog. If I had to do it over again, I don't know what I would do. I would have loved to have gone into scientific research but I lack the focus required I think, too easily distracted. You should see me clean the house, everything, everywhere, all at once:)

That poem, I've read it before and it is so heartbreakingly true.

Roderick Robinson said...

I suppose I just about qualify as "a writer" as opposed to someone who writes - intermittently. Four novels, a collection of short stories, a booklet about learning to sing, some 30-plus sonnets and one oddity - a vers libre account of The Annunciation. Odd in that I'm a self-proclaimed atheist, odder still in that someone other than me wanted to see it in print. All achieved in thirty years of retirement.

One might have thought that forty-four years in various forms of journalism would have contributed significantly to this modest list of achievements. But hardly so. Journalism taught me what can only be described as facility (at its peak: 1000 words in one hour straight on to the typewriter). An early discovery when I started to write fiction was that I needed to shed "facility" and to find a way of mobilising my imagination, a skill I wasn't entirely sure I possessed. Doing so slowed me down considerably. The first draft of a 90,000-word novel took about a year; revising the MS took roughly the same amount of time.

So far, so fairly predictable. These concerns were more or less learnable. What was far more important and much more difficult to nourish was the slow-growing desire - perhaps "obsession" is more appropriate - of the need to write. I should be writing I tell myself when I'm forced into some sort of horticultural drudgery or a visit to the supermarket. Far, far worse is the dilemma I face, following my wife's stroke, regarding the time I feel I should devote to "cooking meals" as opposed to "preparing food". Fortunately my wife, the most omniverous reader I'm familiar with (230 novels a year) is sympathetic.

No doubt about it, writing is a horribly selfish occupation. Fortunately it's rare. If writing is what you thought you wanted to do - even as a side effect of some other activity - the chances are you were better enriched by the things you did instead. Also you can thank Providence that "not writing" may well have saved you from the ultimate snake-eating-its-own-tail punishment of lacking any real form of hinterland and thus ending up in that most arid of alley-ways: a novel about a writer writing.

John Going Gently said...

I love your honesty
You write so well too

37paddington said...

That poem is one of my absolute favorties. But Sabine, you didn't brag, you sold yourself short, you HAVE delivered, as much as your peers, and you continue to deliver here, sharing your wisdom about the world, with such humanity, and I learn from you every time I come here. Your husband was right, over 100 hits is not nothing.