I always wanted to be a prodigy. I easily took to things, and if I liked it, I practiced it obsessively. My phases were rife with flares of thwarted, perfectionistic fury–until I achieved proficiency, at least. I wanted to be the youngest, the reliable, the extraordinary. Not the best, necessarily, but undeniably impressive.
Yet I always seemed to come late to things. Gymnastics, for example. I cared little for the sport until the 2004 summer Olympics. After a single night, something arose from within me, and I knew this was going to become a key passion. Something that would mark the rest of my childhood, perhaps even my entire life.
But I couldn’t enroll in classes right away. My friend did, though, and whatever she taught me, I practiced constantly, relentlessly. Finally, at 12, I was able to start recreational classes. In a fortuitous string of events, I was admitted onto the level 4 team. The typical profile of level 4 gymnasts was 8-10 years old, and under 5 feet tall. I was 15 and 5’5″. I can only imagine what my coaches must have been thinking when they decided to give me a shot. I struggled and fought my way through conditioning. I had such a long way to go to build the muscle necessary to support my adolescent frame, while the younger kids were downright feathers. But despite any pain, frustration, and countless ripped blisters, back problems, and aching muscles, I loved it. And I progressed quickly. In two and a half years, I was training to compete level 8–though the demands of my senior year of high school and college preparation drove me to step out of the sport earlier than I had planned.
Gymnastics wasn’t the only late-manifesting obsession. My interest in drawing became preoccupation when I was a sophomore in college. It not only rose to prominence as a main hobby, but completely changed my career focus. I spent the summer after that year drawing from noon to 5am every day, with the exception of the month I studied abroad in Costa Rica. Sometimes I look back on that time and think to myself. I’m insane.
Science and writing are the two exceptions to this trend. I’ve always been a science nerd, and I’ve been writing fiction since I could piece together words.
Essentially, I need a forte, something to be really good at, along with a network of subsidiary proficiencies. I need to have something constructive available to constantly channel this persistent, nagging drive to pursue and create–a drive which has led me to writing, drawing, crocheting, unicycling, gymnastics, book-binding, biology, Spanish…among other things. My overarching journey of self-betterment and spirituality interfaces with and informs this need as well, but it seems to have its own distinct category.
And sometimes–these days especially–I wonder if my life would be less stressful if I wasn’t trying to pursue so much. In fact, I know it would be.
But my key pursuits are like ram ventilation: I have to keep moving to breathe. Like a shark. (Maybe I’m a shark.) And school has always imposed itself as an appreciated/hated mandatory reality, so it doesn’t quite count for me.
This need to find something to work toward and live for is not uncommon. Perhaps this is something sharks and the human spirit itself have in common. We can’t stay still. Except, with humans, our ram ventilation can get misdirected and land us into very deep trouble, or we run into trouble trying to quell the feelings of suffocation of having stopped. Some humans never learned the necessity of continual movement. Some came to a deliberate halt.
Some, like me, can feel the pace accelerating to a speed far beyond what we are perhaps capable of handling. But we try anyway. We angle ourselves directly into the flow and let the current buffet us. And it’s too much–so much that, interestingly enough, we can’t even breathe sometimes. Moving forward in such a torrent can strain and weaken us until we start to break under the pressure and pain of holding on.
We know we can technically step out of it, find out what it actually feels like to have everything stop. Sometimes suffocating in the cessation looks more appealing than continuing forward.
But we don’t remove ourselves. We stay in the current. In the pain. In the overwhelming hydroelectricity.
Because, despite the pain, it’s still worth it.
Because this is breathing, dangit, and we feel alive.
We feel alive.