The most difficult thing to accept is your own truth. The further that truth is from what you envisioned, the greater the difficulty . In my case, I wanted to be a physicist. I worked very, very hard to be good at the math underpinning physics. In Calculus III, my Professor said, “I hope you are better at physics than you are at math, because you are very bad at math.” Then she gave me a piece of raw broccoli to help me think. I still associate broccoli with exhaustion, struggle and triple integrals.
Although I was bad at math, I was very good at tenacity and I graduated with a degree in physics. I took what I thought would be a short break from academia and got a Job. I moved to another city, got another Job, got married. Years passed and I decided I was ready to go back to school, but only part time. I took one semester of Classical Mechanics at the university closest to my Job, then applied to a school with a more rigorous program and… they accepted me!!!
I signed up for two classes. I found a good spot in the library near the physics section and took up residence. I got to my Job before 7 so that I could sit in traffic for an hour after work to get to school so I could spend another two hours listening to a professor so that I could even begin to attempt the assignments.
I was miserable.
One night after class, I sat in the library with stacks of math and physics books opened on the table. I had pages of half-finished problems spread out around me in accusation of ineptitude. What I understood, I could not put into math. What I understood was very little. I wandered away from my desk and ended up in the fiction section. I spent the rest of that evening looking at the books, wanting to read all of them. The next afternoon, I returned to school, but did not go to Quantum Mechanics. Instead, I went to the library, checked out a novel, and sat in a garden to read until it was time to go home.
The novel was Iris Murdoch’s FLIGHT FROM THE ENCHANTER. The first line? “It was about three o’clock in the afternoon when Annette decided to leave school.” Simple as that, I realized I wanted to read more than I wanted to solve equations. The next day, I dropped both of my classes.
The realization and the act of following through was terribly frightening. A fundamental piece of how I defined myself to myself was simply gone. Months passed with me in some limbo of non-self; all I remember is gray, and the feeling that I was behind a thick pane of glass that blunted everything and kept me from the world.
Then I wrote my first short story.
It had all the grace of a dingy paperweight, but it was mine in a way that physics never was. I shared it with a friend and he saw something in it. He saw me, a writer.