At 12 years old, I was fully invested in frilly skirts, Broadway musicals, and iCarly. It's safe to say that shop class didn't top the list of things I was most passionate about. In fact, I dreaded going to that class. I hated the idea of working with any sort of sharp object — especially under the eyes of my crush, who was also my classmate. But one assignment in particular will stay with me forever.
We were tasked with making boxes out of wood, which included perfectly cutting the wood with saws and nailing the sides together with a hammer. One day, a boy in my class — let’s call him "Alex" — was assigned to hand out the boxes we had been working on that week. He handed a few perfectly shaped boxes to several classmates before picking up a box unlike any of the others (in fact, I don’t know if it’s fair to call it a “box” at all). The sides were poorly cut and nothing aligned.
Alex examined the "box," so different from the flawlessly precise boxes he had distributed before it, and looked for a name on the bottom.
"Who the hell made this one?" he asked. (Loudly.)
Everyone turned to me as I slowly raised my hand.
"Oh," muttered Alex. "No wonder it’s so retarded."
My crush, who sat next to me, laughed pretty hard at that. So did the entire class. I couldn't believe he would use that word so cavalierly, let alone directed at me; my face turned red. I immediately threw out the box.
That wasn’t the first time I was called out for my perceived stupidity and, unfortunately, wasn’t even close to being the last. Even though I have always tried hard in school, my learning disability and major ADD have caused me to receive a lot of C's, particularly in math and science — sometimes even D's and F's.
Yet I have always valued intelligence. I have always wanted to be just like my twin sister, who was in all honors classes and easily got near-perfect scores on each of her ACT tests. I dressed up as Hermione Granger for at least five Halloweens in a row, as she is a character I have always admired for being so shamelessly smart. Just like her, I wanted to awe everyone in my classes by how quickly my brain worked. I wanted to prove everybody wrong.
But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't achieve those kinds of grades. I started to believe that maybe I just wasn't passionate enough about the subjects that I struggled with. No matter how much my mother attempted to convince me otherwise, I told myself I would never be considered brilliant — I would always be the "spacey" girl whose head is in the clouds. A dreamy airhead. Slow.
I thought this, that is, until a friend made a simple remark that made all the difference. My friend told me I reminded her of Luna Lovegood, the offbeat Harry Potter character who wears charm necklaces to "keep away the nargles" — a creature she made up and that no one else (besides her dad) believes exists — and reads newspapers upside down. She's the character whom all the others see as the spacey, odd one out because she marches to her own beat.
"I remind you of Luna?" I asked my friend. I was partially offended, but more intrigued than anything. "But she’s so spacey and ... odd."
"Maybe that’s how she comes off to the others," my friend said. "But in actuality, she’s brilliant. She’s the most creative character of the bunch. She doesn’t follow their social structure. She thinks way outside the box and sees the world so differently than the others. If that isn’t brilliance, then I’m not sure what is."
This seemingly offhand comment prompted a personal epiphany. It helped me realize that there is more than one type of "brilliant." Some of us aren't Hermione-level book smart, but are Luna Lovegood–type creative souls who are told over and over again that we "live in our own worlds" — and that's not a bad thing. The next Halloween, I proved this to myself: I exchanged my Hermione costume for a Luna Lovegood one.
Looking back, I wish I hadn't thrown out that “box” I made in shop class. I wish I had it today and could leave it on my nightstand. I would love to be able to confidently look at it and be reminded that I'm the type of person who thinks outside of the box, who has the ability to make something structured into something totally different. After all, that's what Luna Lovegood would do.
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