It was 1989. I was a hot mess of hormones and apathy. After my English teacher publicly humiliated me and used my end-of-year term paper to tell students what not to do with theirs, I vowed not to put effort into anything. Ever.
That year, my tenth-grade year, I had chosen a topic for my term paper that I was passionate about — Lady Jane Grey. My poor mother must have thought I’d completely lost my ever-loving mind when I begged her to buy me index cards and schlep me to the library. I spent hours researching the legendary Nine-Day Queen. She and I became pretty tight; I even wrote to her in my journal.
When I had exhausted every last resource I could find on Jane and amassed an impressive collection of facts about her life, I sat down at my dad’s basement desk and began to write. I felt like Ralphie composing his “What I Want for Christmas” theme. Instead of furiously scribbling with my penny pencil, I used an electric typewriter. Instead of extolling the virtues of the Red Ryder single-shot air rifle with the compass and the stock and this thing which tells time, I extolled the virtues of a life well lived and extinguished much too soon.
The final product ended up being twenty-one pages. The only thing my teacher liked about it was the fact that Jane grew up in Chelsea Manor, and the only reason she liked this tidbit was because her soon-to-be-born daughter’s name was going to be Chelsea. She even drew a smiley face above the name. This wasn’t enough to redeem my paper, though; I ended up with a C-. Not failing, but not the shining A+ and ensuing accolades I’d envisioned. Hindsight is definitely twenty-twenty; if only I’d handed in my term paper along with a well-stocked tropical fruit basket.
“Hey Lisa, Mrs. E showed us your term paper,” I was told more times than I care to remember. “Yeah, she told us not to make the same mistakes you did.”
My complete disinterest in all things school-related grew by leaps and bounds that day. I took my apathy to new, untold levels. It only began to abate when my art class was told to stipple an object.
An object. An apple, a sandwich, a book.
I chose Postcard Row.
I found a picture of the beloved row of San Franciscan Victorian homes in an old calendar and tore it out. I showed my teacher. “It’s ambitious,” she told me. “But I know you can do it.”
About a million and eighty-three hours and a dozen stippling pens later (not to mention my brother’s selfless eleventh-hour devotion to helping me finish when my hand hurt too badly and my eyes burned too intensely to continue), Postcard Row was represented in countless tiny dots.
I got an A.
For once, I had gone above and beyond, and it had paid off. I had fought the relentless current of apathy, and I had not been pulled under. My masterpiece, complete with the blob that was supposed to be a tree, is now matted, framed, and hanging in my parents’ house.
Apathy took a backseat to shyness as time went on. All of the sudden, I cared, but I was too backwards to do anything about it. In many ways, my introverted nature has been much more difficult to shake than my apathy ever was. I’m the wallflower. I stand back while the spotlight shines on others much more deserving. Besides, it’s comfortable there in the shadows. No one can see my knees knock together or my hands sweat.
For a chronic introvert like me, writing for an audience other than myself often seems too much. What if my words aren’t well received? What if the only thing my readers like is the picture I included in the post? What if the words look like blobs on a page — meaningless, purposeless? What if someone uses my words to tell others what not to do?
And then, I step back, and the dots cease being blobs on a page. They become distinct.
Separate. Purposeful. Without even one, the composite picture would not be complete. My knees are knocking and my hands are sweating, but I am creating.
And that is all that matters.