Thursday, June 9, 2011

go ahead, pick up the pencil

Your Personal Message by Eric Handler

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is burning deep inside of you? If you could spread your personal message RIGHT NOW to 1 million people, what would you say?

i prefer pencils. for my calendar (yes, i'm one of those people), for my shopping lists, for chewing on when i need to think. i remember as a kid nothing was prettier to me than a spelling list complete with definitions, all written out on a piece of clean notebook paper. i'm weird like that.

my papers weren't so clean when it came to math class though. there was lots to erase. i think i stopped understanding math along about 9th grade algebra, all those letters and parenthetical numbers scrambled my brain in such a way that i sometimes felt like i'd dropped it into a spin art machine.

then came 10th grade and basic geometry, which for some strange reason i could actually do.  i think it was the fact that i loved all the angles and lines and rays — the arrows pointing off the page assuring me that there was something beyond that page where it lay on my desk in mrs. anderson's math class, something out there, beyond the cinderblock walls of my school, beyond the edge of my back yard, just waiting for me to step my foot outside and figure out what. this may come as a surprise to my mother, whose memory of me is that i wanted nothing more than to build a house in the back yard and live there all of my life. but that didn't mean i didn't want to be something, and to go somewhere to seek what i would be.

i actually loved the triangles, too, how no matter how you drew them, those angles were always pointing somewhere out.

by the next year, i felt pretty confident about the whole math thing, that is until i took a seat in mrs. winfree's trig class. now mrs. winfree was a excellent teacher, who 40 years ago was just out of school and excited to share how much she loved trig with us. but staring at the images on the board i felt fairly confident that there was no way i would be able to take a math i loved and combine it with one i had taken two years before and forgotten already whatever right i knew, and somehow come out with an answer. well, mrs. winfree should have known i could almost never do that.

and then of course there is that moment in college when (i think i have written about this before) — i left my calculus exam in the middle of it — now there's a foreign language for us right brained folks — finding the TA in his office and pleading with him to let me pass. (i did purely on my math skills, though i don't know how.)

through the years there have been many things i wish i could take my pencil to, and even more i wish i could erase. but even what might fall victim to the eraser's rub is something that when i really think about it, taught me something valuable.

something about this magnet struck me when i saw it a few weeks ago. the bluebird with a glint in her eye, the cutout words, the whole math thing. that's me all over. but there's that word "risk", too. plain and simple, there is just no way to figure out how to be anything without risking some of what you already are.

sure, you might find out that though your diagrammed sentence may indeed look like a work of art, you can't draw a stick figure. or though you can pull together thousands of words into a story, you still have to use the e-z-tip calculator on your phone to figure out how much to pay for lunch.

here is the certainty: there is not one single way to find out if you are good or bad at any of it without picking up the pencil. risking failure can be instead a chance to shine.

so that's what i want to say to those 1 million people who are not (yet) reading my blog (mainly, i want to say it to my children) — don't be afraid to pick up the pencil, whatever form that pencil may take. i mean, how in the world can you know whether you are destined to solve pythagorean's theorem or to discover your own if you don't scribble a little first? how will you ever get to the ending of a story if you don't write the first word?

you may not always choose the right words — and if you're like me, you rarely choose the perfect number — but that's when you can put that trusty ol' eraser to good use.