I used to be the kind of person who never started a book without finishing it, as if the act of quitting would somehow impugn my intelligence or prove I wasn’t committed to my education, or that it would somehow be an act of disloyalty to the author or the academic world or myself–I’m not sure. This wasn’t just books for school–I was equally hard on myself when I’d picked up a book for personal enrichment or even for fun. I was not a rule breaker in general. I did my homework and I showed up for class, always on time. I liked rules: they gave me a sense of confidence in myself and the world around me. I did not question them, or life in general. I simply wanted to be (and be perceived as) good.
Perhaps this is common in children and tends to break early in adolescence. I, however, have always been a late bloomer, especially in the social/emotional realm. I was seventeen and a senior in high school when I first realized the thrill of flaking out. If memory serves, it all started with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I had a full load at school, taking AP classes in every subject and maintaining a GPA in the top 3% at my school, as well as being involved in theatrical productions at the local community college. I had presented on Much Ado About Nothing the previous week and was always an active participant in my English class (clearly, my favorite subject) but Heart of Darkness just wasn’t speaking to me and I had a lot of other work to get done. For the first time in my academic career, I didn’t finish reading the assigned text. I’d gotten a couple chapters in and figured, if pressed, I could come up with something to say in class discussion. But here’s the thing–when you’re the kid who usually leads class discussions (that is, in your heart you’re Hermione Granger), the teacher is almost relieved when you shut up for once. I got through class without anyone asking me anything, and when we had our next essay assignment we got to choose which of the semester’s texts we wanted to discuss, so I skated. Still haven’t finished it to this day. I hear it’s pretty good.
It’s hard to describe the emotion that ensued. It was like stepping out of a hot, stuffy room into a rush of cool wind. Everything felt different. I still did most of my work, but I began cutting corners where I needed to. I skipped classes a few times to catch up on sleep. I started to see the benefit of being lazy. A new part of my personality had been unleashed.
I’m not going to claim that this is entirely a good thing–the laziness, anyway. It turns out there was a big old well of it hiding deep inside me, and I haven’t seen the bottom of it yet. But I also learned, that year, to look at my life more critically and evaluate what elements were worth pursuing and working for and which elements could be cast aside. I started to care more about my own well being.
Just a few years before, as a freshman, I’d been on my living room floor sobbing while trying to finish a biology lab. I’d enrolled in earth science and found it to be more akin to an elementary school classroom than I’d expected, so I transferred to a pre-IB bio class one week into the year and already, I had an immense amount of work to catch up on. My dad tried to get me to stop, to go back to the regular class, to just take a break and go to sleep, but I wouldn’t. I had to finish. I could not go back to drawing dolphins on butcher paper and calling it science. Plus, the teacher had expressed the opinion that I couldn’t do it. I had to prove her wrong. I could not, would not quit.
Now, I’m not saying I should have quit pre-IB bio. It was good for me to push through and I have rarely felt smarter or more accomplished than I did when my report card came that semester and I had received an A. But neither do I regret the classes I skipped or the books I didn’t finish (there have still only been a few over the years, including Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and that horrible collection of stories by BJ Novak).
Bringing this around to the present day, I don’t regret the play dates I’ve canceled because I was too exhausted to host. There was a time when being known as a flake would have mortified me–now I sort of embrace it. That’s Laura, she’s a bit of a flake. She gave up on NaNoWriMo this year when she realized she had to change a major plot problem before moving on. She sometimes forgets what day it is. Oh well. That’s Laura for you. She’s still usually on time. She often brings homemade treats. Or, if she has a headache, she might buy some instead.