By: Staci Stallings
As I live, I learn how critical being real is. As I write, I learn that lesson ever-deeper as well.
When I was younger (teens and college years), I don’t think I was very real. I was mostly image. I was too scared to be real. I was too scared to let anyone know who I really was, what I was really thinking. So I kept most of that hidden in an emotional lockbox.
I was frustrated a lot because I never felt like what I did was good enough. For whom, or what I needed to feel that way, I don’t know. I just know I didn’t. If I got a 96 on a test, I should have gotten a 100. If I got a 100, I needed to do extra credit.
I’ll never forget in college when I took my first journalism writing class. Now, in my defense, I had heard the teacher in there very rarely passed anyone with more than a C, and I wasn’t going to get a C. Nope. Not gonna happen. Then I went to the first lab where we had to write something–on old, worn-out typewriters (computers were just coming in… yes, Victoria, I’m THAT old!). So mistakes were par for the course on those things.
The TA hadn’t “taught” us anything–about how she wanted the style, about journalistic style. Nothing. I had luckily had journalism writing in high school, and I was good at it. I could hand-write a 400-word story in 30 minutes. But typing it was another story (and I was even good at typing–but not on those things!). So we “wrote” our first story, and edited it, and turned it in.
I got a 60 on it and PANICKED! Of course, I didn’t share this panic with anyone. Nor did I tell them about the 60. Instead, when the TA mention “extra credit,” I latched onto that with both hands and my teeth too. I did extra credit until my eyeballs about fell out.
Now in there, you did not know where you stood on anything. There was no talk of a grading curve or even of your average. They just kept saying, “Keep working at it.” So I did. Extra credit and more extra credit as my grades steadily improved despite the old typewriters. At the end of the semester, they posted grades, and I was terrified to go see what mine was.
See, I was a straight-A student, save for a B in algebra and a B in history (one class each). Otherwise, all A’s. And that was who I was (or so I thought). If I didn’t have good grades, what did I have?
I couldn’t bear to look so I took my roommate with me who started laughing hysterically when she saw my grade. A 120!
No kidding. That’s a true story.
I’m writing now about a couple of high school kids. Both of them are caught up in this trap of trying to live up to an image rather than being themselves, being real. And it’s a real struggle to write this thing because neither of them want to just let go. They are afraid for themselves and their own reputations, they are afraid for each other because they are partners and therefore, their actions affect the other, they afraid for their parents and the schools they will be applying to. And you never know if what’s coming out of their mouths is real or just words meant to cover something else up.
I’m learning that being real makes life so much easier. You’re not trying to prop up a lie that is going to collapse everything. You can just live.
I highly recommend it.