What's on my Plate

Over the years, I’ve heard many writers say they just knew. Before they could even hold a pencil, they knew they would grow up to write books. Not me. I never had that. Never felt that deep, unshakeable awareness that I was meant to be a writer.

And, truth be told, I was not a voracious reader either. If there was a chance to skulk around outside with neighbourhood kids, I’d take that over reading. Any day. On a sunny afternoon, we might raid a damson tree or ‘borrow’ someone’s clothesline to expand our backyard pulley-system. Snowy days saw us tunnelling through drifts and having snowball wars. Heavy rain, and the lot of us would be out there in yellow coats and boots, blocking up gutters with muck and leaves and sticks, hoping to see the road flood.

Even though every room in our house had a full bookshelf, for me, quiet reading was often a last resort. During thunder and lightening, maybe.

One book I do remember, though, was a child’s biography of Louis Pasteur. I stared at the pictures of him in his long lab coat, surrounded by beakers and test tubes and Bunsen burners. Early on, when I wasn’t participating in questionable activities around my neighbourhood, I dreamed about being a scientist. I loved math, chemistry, and biology. Physics, too, though not so much.

I also loved language arts. Had some fantastic teachers who were smart and funny. But when I think about high school English, for some reason, one memory sticks its knobby head out. Above the rest. Funny how shame can cling to a young person much more swiftly than encouragement.

I remember this particular teacher reading a poem to the class, and then explaining the poet’s intent. I raised my hand, pushed past my shyness, and offered an alternative perspective. When I look back on it now, I assume my suggestion was taken as belligerence. Questioning his authority on the poet and the poem. He lowered his chin, stared at me. “Who are you,” he scoffed, “to think you have anything valuable to contribute to this conversation?” Who was I, indeed. I sunk into my plastic chair, feeling utterly stupid, wondering how I could have thought conversations were multi-directional.

I entered university believing science was open, engaging, full of discovery. And English… well, I had the niggling sense you didn’t question what was on your plate. You just ate it.