When I was in the 7th grade, I was one of a handful of students selected to move to the big regional junior high to take advanced classes the following year. This was a big step: it meant leaving my cozy group of 150 classmates, most of whom I had known since kindergarten, for a class of over 500, all of whom would be strangers. I was at turns excited and anxious and proud and terrified. I was excited to have the opportunity to take more classes, uncertain how I would make new friends, and scared that I wouldn't fit in.
During that summer, a routine trip to the mall found me perusing the Young Adult section of Waldenbooks. Amidst the Sweet Valley High books that I collected and the Nancy Drew books I had loved, there was a small paper back titled The Teen Girl's Guide to Social Success. The cover had a a photo of a beautiful blonde glowing in amber light. She seemed sophisticated and popular and grown-up, exactly how I wanted to be.
I cautiously picked up and thumbed through the book, furtively glancing around to make sure no one saw me looking at it. The last thing I wanted anyone to see me reading was a book on how to be popular. It would be a neon light advertising my adolescent insecurity, social awkwardness, and lack of popularity. What twelve year old is willing to admit that?
The more I thought about it, the more I believed that book would be my salvation. I had some babysitting money and thought that $3.95 seemed a miniscule amount to pay for my ticket to popularity, and indeed, my guide to social success. But first I had to make it to the check out.
There were two people working at Waldenbooks that day: an older woman who seemed kindly and a high school student who seemed confident and worldly. I was torn. I wanted to buy the book, but from my perspective, buying it would be an admission of failure. Buying the book would be me telling the world that "I don't know how to be popular. I don't know how to achieve social success." I would rather melt into the beige carpet of the book store than admit to that.
I kept an eye on the register, waiting for a moment when the kindly woman was there by herself. I found my moment and with my heart pounding and cheeks flushing, I walked over and placed the book on the counter. I kept my eyes down while I carefully counted out the cash to pay. The transaction was mercifully brief and I escaped, clutching the bag closely to my side.
At home, I retreated to my room and began reading. Very shortly I realized the book was written for teen girls from a different decade. It answered such pressing questions as what to wear when invited to another school's football game, whether you should bring a hostess gift when invited to a garden tea party, and what fork to use for the fish course. I couldn't bring myself to put it on my bookshelf--again, what if someone saw it?--so I hid it in my sock drawer.
I don't regularly revisit my adolescent angst. That's the great thing about growing up--those things that seemed so important at one point just fade away. And seriously, who would want to go there again? (Which is what I just don't understand about the Twilight series. You are a vampire. Immortal. Over 100 years old. And yet happy to attend high school year after year? Maybe that is what is meant by purgatory.)
While I don't often replay my most awkward moments, I was reminded of it this weekend. Kevin and I took a jaunt to Lewisburg and spent part of the afternoon in the Starbucks at Barnes & Noble. I browsed through the craft books and spent time perusing the drawing books.
Since I have started painting, I realize that learning how to draw would be beneficial. I've taken a drawing class before and know that really, it's a matter of practice and learning how to see. There was a drawing book I hadn't seen before with the encouraging title Learn to Draw in 30 Days. It was written in a friendly style, with fun exercises. It seemed promising. As I sipped my tea, I talked with Kevin and decided to buy it.
I walked back to the art section. (I bet you can see where this is going.) As I picked it up, the briefest thought flashed, "if I buy this book then I am admitting that I don't know how to draw," and I was reminded of that awkward trip to Waldenbooks many years ago.
The coolest thing about growing up is that, instead of quavering under the weight of my own insecurity, I could laugh that thought away. I asked myself, "Seriously, I'm afraid to admit that I don't know how to draw?" And I realized that was ridiculous. As though anyone would care that I couldn't draw. As though anyone would expect me to be able to draw. And as though what anyone else would think even matters.
And so buying that book was merely a routine retail transaction for a grown woman, and not a challenge requiring incredible reserves of bravery from an adolescent girl.
But what I did realize is that learning to draw and becoming a better painter is very important to me. How important? It's as important as learning how to fit in was to my twelve-year-old self. So that's pretty dang important. I better pay attention and put the time in to learn.