As a child, I didn’t know what to answer to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. I knew one thing for sure, though: at a very early age, somewhere between 4 and 7, I set up my mind to becoming an intellectual. My first serious attempt to write dates back to elementary school. One day during lunch break my friend and I sat in an empty classroom and started typing the first chapter of what was going to be a novel. I can’t remember what the story was about, but it had to be something adventurous. The teacher saw us from the transparent door, stepped in and, instead of being delighted to witness our spontaneous committment to creativity, scolded us, hinting that any writing that wasn’t included in mandatory homework was only a waste of time. Why did she react that way?
Since the beginning she had been told I was a child with a high IQ. And I probably wasn’t the only one in our class. It was questioned if I should skip the first year, but I said no. I didn’t want to be different from the other kids, and lose my friends from kindergarten, so I chose to do what everybody else was doing. I embraced mediocrity, but my curious mind strived to come out. When the assignment consisted in writing down numbers for 1 to 10, I would go on to 100. Then the teacher would tear the page off my notebook. Whenever she asked a question to the class, it was always me or two other pupils answering, so she sealed our mouths with her hands so that we wouldn’t speak, giving the other kids the time to reply. Did she see our precocity as a challenge to her authority? Did she lack training in dealing with gifted children? I guess so. However, I don’t blame her too much. After all, she was the one to teach me flawless grammar and spelling (in my mother tongue), and the value of history.
At about he same age, I took up music. The maestro said I was talented at it, but soon my mother started saying my practice was subtracting time to my homework. So that was the end of the music school. I started playing again in my mid-twenties, but it didn’t work. This time I really didn’t have the time. I don’t want to dwell too much on my parents’ attitude to every extracurricular activity I’ve ever undertaken, be it sport, or even my first serious job, telling me to give up whenever the first difficulties arose instead of encouraging me to hold on, and how this has probably made me an inconclusive adult and basically a quitter. Getting good grades was the only important thing, all the rest had to move to the background because school was the one thing that would make me find a Good Job.
At the end of 2008 I realized I had not found the Good Job. I held a position that could be covered by anyone with a basic literacy. It wasn’t related to my degree in any way and I had no hopes of a career whatsoever. I was stuck. Looking for something else was, and still is, a mirage in this country’s paralysed job market where employers don’t take education in any consideration – when it’s not seen as a shortcoming. The economic crisis crushed what was left of my expectations. I had not perfected the things I liked to do and it was too late to start again. I had sacrificed everything to school and what did I gain? I had bet on education, but education had let me down.
Then I decided I no longer cared about being an intellectual. Culture had forsaken me, so I would turn to nature. I spent the following years spending as much time as I could in the outdoors. I stopped reading books, something I had been doing all the time since when I learned to read by age three. I considered becoming a qualified hiking guide, but the course had logistic problems and it turned out it’s very difficult to earn a living by it. However, I spit on culture, and moved over it.
It wasn’t until lately that I went back to enjoying books, following the discovery of a well-known fantasy saga and receiving an e-reader for Christmas. Literature is second nature to me, I just can’t get rid of it. After years wasted in a place that is not letting me evolve professionally, I am starting to wonder whether there is anything at all that I’m good at. I’m not specializing in any particular task, and I don’t have any expertise outside work either. There must be something I’m better than doing than other people, or else I’m failing. This job is eating away at my time and physical health, and I’ve reached an age at which you start asking yourself: “Am I doing what I want?”, and the answer is: “Certainly not”.
It is now official: I didn’t have success in life. Being gifted as a child obviously didn’t mean anything and served only to inflate my parents’ expectations, and enforcing their naive assumption that education makes you rich. I wasn’t going to go further than the others: I would only get there faster. I was not more intelligent: just more curious. They all catched up later on, and with better social skills than me.
Work is dull, but I have to pay the bills. I’m sitting bored at my office desk, just as I used to sit bored in class during lessons targeted to slow pupils who were still learning their ABC when I was reading the encyclopedia because I had run out of books. What do I need to do in order to be fulfilled? Something I enjoy doing, and I’m also good at doing. Is it too late for catching up?
Somewhere, in an empty classroom, there is a typewriter; it has been waiting for us for thirty years. In a reasonable time I want to go to my childhood friend and show her the manuscript. She has no idea. Then I am going to that teacher, now old and retired, throw the manuscript to her and tell her: “Do you remember that novel? I’ve finished it, so there!”. That would be priceless.