I have a confession to make. When you start talking to me about numbers, my mind shudders to a grinding halt. Even in the most innocent and simple of conversations, the minute you throw in a fraction, i.e.- “Oh my gosh, that frigging pie was SO good , I tried not to eat more than half a slice, but I couldn’t help it, I ate more than three quarters of the whole thing!” Well, rest assured, you lost me at half a slice.
I don’t know why this is, or what is wrong with me. I suspect it has something to do with years and years of humiliating failure in my math classes- it’s kind of like that stupid riddle, what came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, here’s the answer- I don’t KNOW, and I’m tired of trying to figure it out! I’m just no good at math, that’s all. (by the way, that is a terrible answer to that joke, so don’t try it. People will just look at you funny and walk slowly away.) What I mean is, I don’t know if my classes sucked because I was bad at math, or if I’m bad at math just because that part of my brain is atrophied or something.
I remember being in my early twenties and taking some entrance exams to the local college-one of the counselors was looking over my scores, shaking his head. As usual, my testing in everything was really, really great…except for math, which was dismally low. He said to me, and I will never forget this- “Someone, sometime in your life told you you weren’t good at math, and you believed it. There is no way someone can score this high in everything else, and score this poorly in math.”
I have a different theory. I think I’m bad at math because it is harder for me. I have to try ten times as hard at math to do half as well as I do in anything involving words. (Hey, that had multiplication AND fractions in it. What do you know?) I even do better in word problems than I do in straight number problems. I think maybe there’s a little part of me that gave up when I realized I couldn’t be a superstar in math the way I could with all the other subjects.
But reading…ah, reading. Those sweet, beautiful, wonderful, flowing words that grace the pages of books. The amazing trick of stringing them together, one after the other, to tell a story. A story that can take you places you have never been, places you could never otherwise go. Books with beautiful covers and wild, improbable tales inside- tales of imaginary places that are so clear in your minds eye, you can revisit them years later simply by thinking of the story you read. Books are the only time machine that truly exists- you can go backwards, forwards, sideways to another dimension. You can go anywhere you want to go, anytime you want to go there- if you only have the pages in your hand and an imagination.
I learned to read at a very young age, and at first it was a neat party trick. It became a source of great pride for me as I grew older, always keeping several grades ahead in ability of where I actually was. But when life grew rough at home, I discovered the greatest thing of all about my love of words- the escape hatch. All I had to do to be somewhere else, somewhere more beautiful than where I was, was pick up a book and start reading. When we would have book fairs at school, I would go on a feverish mission, hell bent on getting money from my mom so that I cold buy a book. When they would pass out those little scholastic newspaper thingy’s where you could order books, I would lose my mind- how the hell could anyone pick just one?
The library was, and still is, one of my favorite places in the world. I love the smell of all those thousands of weathered, handled books, the quiet and the anticipation of roaming the aisles, finding some new adventure right in front of you, behind some quiet cover. I still, to this day, miss Borders and B.Dalton and all the other bookstores that have disappeared. The nearest (affordable) bookstore to me is a thirty minute drive from me, and it embarrasses me to have to say that. I mean, what the hell is wrong with this world when the bookstores are dying off?
The most beautiful development of all for me was when I realized that all of those words and stories I had soaked up over countless hours and days, they wanted to come back out, to fill up pages and hard drives and notebooks with words of my own, stories that I created. There are books and notebooks and magazines in literally every room of my home, the hallway included. There are poems scratched on napkins and legal pads with story ideas, and even a full length novel stored in my computer. Nothing in this world makes me happier than words. If you didn’t read as a child, I highly encourage you to try again now. You never know, it may be different now…unlike algebra, which will still totally suck.
Have a great day!