I have a fear of never thriving. The other day, I saw a man looking at his reflection in the window of a closed ice cream shop. Temperatures had fallen to far below freezing and the snowbanks which lined the streets were now stale, pocked from the fleeting heat of sunbeams, and stained grey like a smoker’s lung. Above the man was a black oval, which in the summertime, glowed red and blue, and read open. The man’s breath trailed away as his reflection faded from the storefront.
This scene is what I imagine never thriving to feel like.
Last week, I was in the car with my mother as she recounted my fourth grade Christmas recital. “You didn’t spin at the right time,” she said, “you were always looking elsewhere.” After the show, my teacher had asked her if she had thought of having me tested. “My heart sunk. I’d never thought of it before.” The two of us laughed, it seemed funny now.
As we pulled into the driveway, I remembered the first time I’d thought about it. I remembered looking at my stubby little toes pressed against the wall of my 80s-chic turquoise bathtub and listening to the muffled sounds of my parents arguing through the checkered linoleum floor. They were arguing about the possibility that the test would reveal something wrong -some clinical explanation for why I wasn’t succeeding in school.
Over a decade later, I would be sitting in my future employer’s office with my hands clasped on my lap and my legs crossed at the ankles over a pair of heeled shoes which always gave me the illusion of power and the certainty of confidence, when I’m asked, “Any accolades?”
“I’m sorry?” I reply, in a quick effort to re-center my thoughts from the sea of office buildings, each dressed in cubes of light, some with shadows shuffling through them like humanity’s zoo exhibit, to the man in the chair in front of me.
“Any academic accomplishments you’d like to list?” He asked, looking over my resume.
“No.” I say, wishing it would be followed by a vocalised but; a but to explain that my value didn’t lay in my schooling, because what I had was an unrequited love for academia. Instead I bit my tongue and moved on.
When I was in elementary school, they put a three-panelled divider around my desk, like horse-blinders. Why am I the only one who’s separated? “So that you focus and don’t bother your classmates,” my teacher explained. Like any child, I had a spectacularly acute sense of justice, and this, to me, felt plainly unjust.
“A-D-H-D,” I repeated carefully. “What is that?” I asked my parents. It took some time before I retained the answer. Attention Disorder – Active Deficit- What is a deficit? For a while, I understood it to be a curse. The reason why my mind wandered to the tick of the fluorescent lights or the smell of the freshly-cut grass streaming in through the classroom windows, rather than focusing on my teacher.
What if you could take that smell of freshly-cut grass with you?
This was the promise that literature made to me as a child. And I was infatuated. At the time, I probably wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint the auditory bliss derived from rhyming words, strung together in rhythmic harmony like perfect white pearls on a necklace, but I loved the way they made me feel. I loved story-telling and learning new words like in-fa-tu-a-tion -now I could grasp that meaning and hold it firmly in my fist. I started to understand the complexity of language. Now, take that freshly-cut grass and give it meaning. Writing was reflection and the writer selects the mirror. This was all too exciting; wet, as the smell of sobbing grass, baking in the noonday sun. I could attach new meaning to the world around me. Further still, I could make it sound beautiful. Have you, dear reader, read William Carlos Williams’ poem “ This is Just to Say”? I do hope you have. If not, consider this an intermission and grace your mind with its deliciousness. The first time I heard it, it was being read to me by my grade twelve English teacher. I remember the classroom washing over in awe. “What makes this poem so good?” Asked Ms. Daly. There was silence. “Read it again, but take out the second so.” And there it was! The heart of the poem was a tiny, often overlooked, over-colloquialised, disregarded, little adverb. From then on, I had decided that I wanted to write second-so novels. So, I started to write as much as I could and the ADHD meant that I could fall into feverish hyper-focused trances… I’m saddened by the smell of freshly-cut grass, tractors shave the earth of its unbound shagginess, because human eyes are only satiated by the sight of the soldier’s scalp in green.
When I was in elementary school, they gave me horse-blinders. With my head tucked into the divider, resentment oozed from my little-kid brain like pus. I scratched the ridged divider wall until it flaked and bits of it had gathered deep beneath my fingernails. The summer before, I had been to Alcatraz. If only I had a spoon, I thought. What I did have, was a pen. So, I started passing letters. In this, the divider was my ally. I could pass letters to my classmates, sneakily, stealthily, beneath the divider.
“What do you aspire to be?” I was asked during that interview years later. A novelist, I told him surely. He leaned closer to me with a little smile and repeated, “Yeah, but what do you really want to do?” This was that just-between-you-and-me whisper, I’m sure you know the one, a that’s-not-a-real-job whisper. His smirking eyes peered at me as though I was the audience in a Sophoclean play, we all know how this is going to turn out.
Perhaps it’s moments like these that have formed my experience of Good Will Hunting. Watching it now is like being on a camping trip and falling asleep with a pinecone beneath my sleeping bag. I watch with persistent discomfort, wondering; what would’ve happened to Will if he didn’t possess that mathematical genius? Perhaps even worse still, what if he had average mathematical skill? Chuckie would’ve knocked at his door to find Will there like every other morning. This is my fear. Perhaps, at some point in his life, Will would have succeeded, but would he have ever thrived? That’s a different question altogether.
I’ve since imagined myself giving that interview, sitting across the tidy desk, where laid a couple of mismatched pens, a framed picture of the family and a sense of professional wisdom attained by the corner office spot and the title on the plaque next to the door. I ask myself, “Does the fear of never thriving change anything?” Absolutely not. “How do you know you’ll succeed as a novelist?” I don’t. But I know that this isn’t what I want. I think back on my job there; I think about being tucked into a cubicle, with my eyes seared by my computer screen, no passion, no windows to be opened, signing birthday cards for people I’d never met, responding to lifeless emails, cheers, kind regards, sincerely. Someone, hand me a spoon.
I never spun at the right time at my fourth grade Christmas recital. I thought about the fear that my mother had for me and smiled. It seemed funny now.
Shit, I just wrote this instead of completing my paper on Kafka’s philosophy on the aims of effective literature.
Noémie Boucher is 20 years old and an aspiring novelist. Born in Richmond, British Columbia, she fell in love with literature at a young age. She is currently putting the finishing touches on an adventure manuscript that she started writing when she was 15. Noémie hopes to someday write novels to transport, inspire and touch readers, the same way literature has done for her.