This prompt was posted on Poets & Writers the 8th, but I only just saw it and would like to tackle it.
It’s been said that the difference between a master and a beginner is that, “the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” Whether it’s brewing coffee exactly the way you like it, or earning your black belt in a martial art, learning something new takes focus and dedication. Think about something you have mastered and write about the process you underwent to add this new skill to your repertoire.
Sometimes I feel as though my life is just a series of scattered non-events. Ideas that seemed great in theory but never even made it past the second or third attempt, let alone in practice. Hobbies and talents that never came to fruition–a messy room filled with collage materials, ukuleles, roller skates, unfilled notebooks and piles upon piles of unread books and comics. I get discouraged when I look at the mess, but it’s much easier to throw something else on top of it then to stab away at it, like a team of cleaning specialists on an episode of Hoarders. Like those, my mess of unfinished work means something to me, too, all hobbies and ideas I swear I’ll one day make a reality, before the mice settle in and the cats eat away at my bones.
I don’t like to consider myself someone who gives up easily. I’d rather not think of myself as lazy, but sometimes when our brains work in hyper-speed it’s hard for our bodies to catch up. I think of all the projects I’d like to begin, and my mind begins to race just looking forward to all the possibilities–then the anxiety and paranoia sets in, making the fantasies seem much more worthwhile than the actual projects. This isn’t to say I don’t care about these tasks I’ve laid before myself–perhaps it’s instead the extreme opposite.
When I stare at the wonderful array of greens, blues, pinks and purples of yarn, all tangled up around two needles that were angrily thrown to the floor after what seemed like my millionth attempt at learning a basic continental stitch, I find it hard to believe I’ve ever had the ability to teach myself a new skill. I was one of the last in my Kindergarten class to learn how to tie my shoes, I couldn’t go in a pool over two feet deep without swimmies until I was 9, I couldn’t blow a bubble or whistle until I was 10 years old. And, the one that still stings the most… I never learned how to ride a bike,
Sure, I could ride a bike with training wheels, but the minute I was left to balance on the lone two wheels the fear of tipping over was so crippling I wouldn’t dare move more than a few inches. After a few failed tries and the growing impatience of my mother and grandmother, I ditched the notion of ever mastering a two-wheeler and just prayed that none of my friends would ever invite me out on any bike riding play dates. Eventually, scooters became more popular and I was able to deftly tackle that new trend in hopes that the want or need for bikes would be long gone. While that was obviously not the case, I still managed to evade ever needing to sit atop the hard, uncomfortable seat of a bicycle for the next 15 years, save for gym equipment.
Between the ages of 16 and 25 I discovered myself falling victim again to those feelings of mobile inadequacy I faced in my younger years. While almost everyone around me got their licenses before college, I was still trailing behind, hitching rides whenever I could or waiting out in the damp, cold weather for the train or bus. “You need to get your license, it’s incredibly important for a woman to know how to drive,” well-meaning adults would tell me, making me feel incompetent not only in my driving abilities, but also as a member of the female sex. (Later, upon finding out that Tina Fey does not drive, conversations in media and society would shift, making the choice to not drive an empowering one instead of playing into a subservient role.) It wasn’t that I didn’t want to drive, I just was scared to. Not scared to drive or even to try, just scared to fail again.
My senior year of high school I took my first road test on a blistery, snowy day after the first large snowfall of the season–a few months after successfully completing school-provided Driver’s Ed. I failed, fairly miserably, and my mood was in conjunction with that miserableness for the rest of the day. Having to admit to everyone I knew–especially all my already-driving friends–about my failure was almost worse than not having a license. I took some time before starting up some more driving lessons (another round of payments from my mother), before embarking on my second road test a year later at the same driving test area. Again, a day just after a mighty snowfall. Again, a miserable failure. This time, I didn’t tell anyone and just let my inadequacy eat away at myself from within, being constantly reminded of how I couldn’t pass not once, but twice, every time someone would remind me of how hapless I was that I couldn’t drive or that I couldn’t afford to live away from my family (of whom I also tried to be an active member of in terms of helping out with things people outside our four walls wouldn’t know about). And so I continued the role of the fiercely co-dependent, incompetent damsel in distress that everyone assumed of me–though that wasn’t my ideal situation.
Finally, a few months after my 25th birthday, while working full time and feeling like too much of a burden on family and those close to me, I decided to face my demons and try–just once more–for that elusive laminated card. I sat through the excruciatingly painful 5+ hours of DMV hell to retake my permit exam, and later, on a spring day, signed myself up for driving lessons (all paid for on my own), and then, for the next 5+ months I went for weekly driving lessons. I never mentioned my past failures to my teacher and just hoped he’d never have to know (he never did), and endured his lessons which were extremely helpful and, without his tutelage, I would not have had the confidence to even think about taking the much-maligned road test again, but were also extremely uncomfortable and unsettling, as with every lesson his remarks would be come more and more intrusive and offensive and his hand would slide higher and higher up my thigh and I felt stuck as a woman who was treated as less than such for not driving, but also having to endure being made into an object of unwanted desire, a patriarchal wet dream of which I wanted to be no part.
And then–on a cool fall late afternoon, same spot as the two times before, I took my driver’s test for what I already deemed would be my final time.
Part of it was confidence, part of it was fear of being stuck taking more classes with said teacher, afraid of what liberties he would take next. In embarking on this journey again I got what I had worked hard for, but also lost a sense of self in my inability to speak out about situation. Two months later I bought my own car (and months later another car after an unfortunate hit-and-run) and got my own insurance (without the help the teacher kept promising me, yet putting off in favor of more “lessons”) and just got out on my own. The freedom of having a car was twofold–the usual sense it brings and freedom from having a near panic attack on a weekly basis trying to prep myself for whatever disgusting thing the person who held the key to my freedom would try next.
But I did it. I mastered what I thought would be impossible for me and he–nor anyone with their sly comments or suggestions about my life–could take that away from me. Third time was a charm, and in succeeding it reminded me that just sticking with something until the end can be worth it–but it also taught me that keeping my mouth shut and just accepting typical authoritative structures is no way of life. And now I feel as though I have the ability to smash any of those ideals instead of being subservient to them–or mow them over with my car that I purchased on my own.
Now, looking back to those piles of unconquered dreams and ideas, I realize that if I could weather the storm of the dreaded road test and all of the unforeseen roadblocks that came with it, I can too conquer these–once I acknowledge that the biggest bump in the road is myself. Only I hold the key to my own destiny and, even if I fail, trying again is always an option. Who knows? Maybe now that I’ve conquered an automobile, maybe the ever-dreaded bicycle will be next.
From the Vault is a series of posts from my personal blog that I've liked enough to share here. This post was originally written on this day last year.