Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflection and Perspective

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't know how to read. If you ask my mother, she will probably tell you that as soon as the umbilical cord was severed, I read the hospital chart to learn my last name. Mothers are prone to exaggeration.

Exaggerations and proud parents aside, one of my earliest memories is before I began Kindergarten. The details of my memory are somewhat unreliable, but I believe it was an assessment before I started school. A young woman sat across from me and said, "When I say a word, I want you to repeat after me, okay?" I consented, eager to please. She began, "Okay, repeat after me. DOG." I quickly responded, "D-O-G." For whatever reason, I spelled the word instead of repeating it. As I remember it, it was an automatic reaction to her ridiculously easy exercise, but memory being unreliable I will not count out that this younger version of me was simply trying to show off. It is entirely possible that my aim was to impress the lady.

Whatever my intentions, the thing I remember next is her getting up immediately after I spelled the word and going over to talk to someone else. I was certain that I was in trouble. I hadn't followed directions. I was paralyzed in fear. I had screwed up and not followed directions and now they weren't going to let me into school. Oh how excited I was to finally begin school and right then I had just ruined it with the word dog. (or was it cat? Perhaps I spelled out a dog-cat-house trifecta and sent this woman off in a flurry.) As it turns out, I was not in trouble at all. I had impressed her with my superior spelling skills and the resulting discussion amongst grown ups was to discuss my accelerated reading skills. I was allowed to go to school after all. Kindergarten was a half day, beginning at noon. I spent the following years unable to understand why I couldn't begin every day at noon and revolting against anything that began before 11 a.m. This is something I still struggle with today.

There is a reason I have been reflecting upon my literary beginnings. I have to give credit (or blame?) to my good friend Paul on this one. Paul is an extremely talented writer and he has always encouraged me to continue to write and complimented my abilities to put words together - whether it be on a blog, in a million letters written back and forth, or (ideally) somewhere that people would actually pay money to read what I have written. The latter being unlikely without a great deal of work, I appreciate Paul's nudges to continue to keep my writing skills sharp in whatever way possible. Recently after reading my blog and learning of my financial shortcomings, he sent me words of encouragement. He reminded me to keep writing, and assured me that one day I would look back and see this period of my life as "character building."

I say this with full confidence that anyone who knows me will agree: If I had any more character, I would need to be described as "A character." I have gotten myself into more "character building" situations than I care to admit. But I can't deny that the difficult times have taught me a lot about myself, and those lessons are invaluable. So, considering Paul's advice and encouragement, I began to reflect upon my favorite books throughout my life.

When I consider the most influential books throughout my life, one theme is constantly repeated. Without question, the most inspiring book of my youth was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. As I read the story of Francie Nolan escaping the realities of her difficult young life through her imagination and love of reading, I escaped my own challenges and awkwardness. I was very young when I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and immediately felt a connection to Jo March as she read to her little sisters and felt a passion for writing. In my adult life, I was moved by Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes. Again, I felt an emotional connection to the story about someone who survived unimaginable circumstances and poverty by relying on imagination and his natural storytelling ability. All of these books have such a special place in my heart, and each of them tells the story of someone who survives poverty by relying upon the strength of family, and the power of imagination.

As desperate as my financial situation feels, my life is privileged when compared to my literary heroes. To compare my challenges to theirs (and their respective authors) even in my current situation would be to celebrate my own prosperity. I may whine about my well-being, but I am far from tearing down the ceilings in my apartment to keep the fire going for heat. I face challenges, but I can not describe myself as suffering. For this, I gain strength from the perseverance shown by the characters in these books. And like them, I gain strength from the people around me.

I would never have had the courage to move to Washington, D.C. on my own and pursue a career if I did not have the strength of my friends and family back home. Sometimes the word "friends" is not strong enough, and the people in my life can only be described as family. Now that I am here, it is the new friendships I have made that encourages me to stay and find fulfillment in D.C. Even if it means working seven days a week, trying to climb a ladder that often doesn't appear to have steps, and to do whatever it takes to keep afloat in difficult financial times. It has been difficult, nearly impossible, to live within my means in my current situation. It is difficult when you don't have enough money to make ends meet. But I would not trade the people in my life for all the money in the world. My financial situation is coming together and will eventually be in order. I can live with these months of sacrifices and I can even stay positive if I keep reminding myself to rely on those two important things. The support of the people around me, and the power of the imagination. As long as I have my friends and family, I will never be alone. As long as I have my imagination, I will never be bored. Sometimes I just need to remind myself never to take either of those things for granted. And sometimes I need Paul to remind me. Thanks, Paul. And thanks to all of the people I am incredibly blessed to have in my life: My friends, my family, and my books.

No comments: