Crayons, books, and pencil lead; the distinct musky smell of elementary school welcomed me as I entered the classroom. Bright primary colors plastered the walls, chatter and sounds of activity from elsewhere in the school filtered faintly into the room, and our teacher seemed especially pleasant. Mrs. O’Neal’s room was outfitted in all of the modern conveniences a classroom could ask for, but with a slight deviation from the cookie cutter model to which I had become accustomed. I had never been exposed to this kind of layout, but the open U-shaped arrangement was new and inviting, breaking the pace from the usual rowed construction.
The setup was promising, but the ease of the material and the grating and repetitive method of instruction was the same. Learning times tables by rote and excessive reviewing made it far too easy for my mind to wander. My boredom led to either a superfluous nap, or a desperate and manic episode of distraction.Leaning back in my chair, letting my muscles relax. All of the tension flowed out of my body as I reached the apex, the balancing point of my chair’s curve. My fingers released the edge of the table and my eyes closed, but this perfect black sanctuary was always interrupted by the terrible sensation of falling. After the falling hiccup I buried my head in my arms and secluded myself from learning in a less successful but more permanent fashion.
When I wasn’t uncomfortably sleepy I was active and restless. Directly and vocally disturbing the class was often too involved for me, my extreme distraction chose to manifest itself in more introspective, self-contained ways. The motions of my hand were entirely instinctual, the products of my doodling were as abstract and convoluted as my understanding of the lesson.
I began with concrete stick figures and attempts at landscape, architecture and pursued a level of realism that was impossible for me to achieve. My lack of technique however did not discourage me from this fascinating and natural outlet. Doodling quickly became the customary response to boredom. Squares, circles and seemingly incoherent clusters of lines overflowed from the margins of my papers. These experiments in abstraction and design were saviors from the everyday monotony of the classroom.
Paper was my main source of distraction in 4th grade, not only doodling, but I also discovered that the words written on paper were sometimes worth reading. School books and worksheets were inscribed with words and meaning, but not in the same way as a novel. Reading a story was a true escape for me. Creating and doodling was thoughtful and nice, but by reading a story and experiencing the thoughts of an author I was discovering new ways to present an idea, and new ways to experience the world.
Every time I read I was absorbed into the image that the writer had constructed; each situation was enthralling on it’s own, but chapter by chapter and book by book a larger and more complete picture unfolded. As the tapestry of a plot unrolled I expanded with it. All the time I was sealed in the frame of the authors universe, not sitting in a desk, not in a classroom ignoring the teacher.
Unfortunately, 4th grade initiated an onset of extreme boredom in me at around the same time as the formal institution of grades. A, B, C, D, F, at first these letters were just that, letters. Gradually however my boredom took it’s toll and the system of distraction planted a seed of anxiety that began to radiate and percolate into my character as a whole. In the beginning I completed every assignment and aced every test, the transition to “average” performance was gradual, but being sucked into the vacuum of “inadequate” and “failure” was all too sudden.
This cycle, the oscillation between good and bad was something to which I would become well acquainted. But despite the tribulations of my new found anxiety and struggles against expectation, the spark of discover and exploration of art and language was pure and is remembered fondly.