Monday, December 29, 2008


It's so very strange, the things that imprint themselves on our brain and swim to the surface cued by some small event.

I was in a particularly boring meeting, doodling across my agenda. My preferred doodles are freeform swirly things, especially since I don't draw very well. For whatever reason, though, I started doodling stars in a little row all along the edge of the paper, and found my inner voice chanting "down, up, across, down, up".

As a small child, I had a lot of trouble with fine motor skills. Tying my shoelaces or folding a piece of paper in equal, even halves were insurmountable problems for me, and the adults around me didn't seem to understand that, especially since I picked up other things-- reading, composition, understanding fractions-- so much more easily than most of my classmates. I can vividly remember crying because the art teacher told me that I was folding my paper sloppily because I was lazy-- there was simply no way that someone in the gifted program could not understand her instructions, and there had better be an improvement in my attitude, or else.

By the time second grade rolled around, I was still struggling with writing. My ability to form words on paper lagged far behind all of the things that I wanted to say, and my frustration levels were rapidly getting out of control. For some reason, I became especially obsessed with my inability to draw a star.

My teacher, Mrs. Peters, picked up on this. I imagine that my body language must have been broadcasting the sheer anger over my inability to do these things that everyone else did so easily. One day, she crouched down next to my desk while we were all supposed to be practicing our cursive writing and slowly drew star after star, narrating her actions as she went: "Down, up, across, down, up". Over and over again, I tried to imitate the way her pencil glided across the green-lined paper until suddenly the words matched the motion and much to my own surprise, I produced a series of wobbly stars. I can still remember the thrill of that moment.

To this very day, every time I make a little star next to something on my to do list or, say, doodle a line of stars across some paper during a particularly boring meeting, I hear Mrs. Peters chanting "Down, up, across, down, up" in my head.



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