Last night I caught a glimpse of one of the frames that the Comcast X1 platform goes into whenever it’s in screensaver mode. Most of them are just picturesque seasonal photos, but this one was explaining that if you forget the channel number you can just type the channel name on the remote and get to it that way. I know this feature well — when it comes to remembering numbers, I’m terrible! Even when I was little I often got 6’s and 8’s switched around, and in middle school social studies classes I became aware of a limited capacity to remember the specific years of events.
It’s funny, because when I was a kid I really liked math. In fourth grade I sometimes stayed after school or during recess to learn really basic algebra. Over the summer between fifth and sixth grade, my parents got me a computer program so I could take sixth grade math and when the school year started I could take the seventh grade class. In high school I didn’t enjoy Geometry at all but I hung in there through another year (Algebra 2/Trig) and didn’t burn out until Pre-Calc and AP Calc AB.
So today I was idly thinking of myself as numerically impaired, and then I caught myself and thought about something for the first time… What if I just never liked math as much as I thought I did? What if I just wanted to, because I wanted to be like and/or please my parents?
I was raised by two computer engineers in the Silicon Valley. Every now and then in high school, my mother would hear about an extra credit math test I could have taken before school and seem genuinely baffled by my disinterest in waking up early to do that. They’ve worked for companies you’d recognize the name of, and there was always a Polish calculator in the side table in our living room. For those of you who have never seen a Polish calculator, it looks like some sort of Star Trek tricorder. (For those of you who have never seen a Star Trek tricorder, you were not raised by this kind of nerds.)
Was my sudden loss of interest in math just the parental training wheels starting to come off? They wanted me to be good at the subject and I can’t really blame them for that, considering all the practical applications. If I’d gone on to become an engineer myself, maybe I’d be working at Google by now and living in one of those nice apartment complexes with a community garden that allows pet chickens. (I am not kidding, Google people have everything.) Instead, I have a liberal arts degree, a few years of social media marketing experience, and a bunch of unfinished writing projects that I hope to publish someday. Seeing as how I’m underemployed at the moment, I’m basically the Millennial version of a starving artist.
My younger brother and only sibling did not become an engineer, being more disinclined to like math than I was, but he did go into the natural sciences and currently has a job with the Forrest Service. That leaves me as the only creative type in my immediate family — and the nearest relative that I had much in common with was my aunt, who was an engineer as well but also studied child psychology as an undergrad. Naturally, when I first started thinking about colleges I thought about psychology programs.
Despite all that, I met very little resistance to focusing on creative writing after high school. Give my parents a kid with good grades and they’re pretty much happy… and I think winning Honorable Mention in a writing contest with cash prizes once helped.
I’ve thought about all of this a lot, but never before while wondering just how close I came to being passively pressured into a completely different career path and life. What if in my junior year I’d gotten a Pre-Calc teacher who was less of a hardass, or if I hadn’t missed those few points on the math placement test when I switched middle schools and been forced to take seventh grade math again with a teacher who mistook my boredom for slacking? What if I’d been a little more serious about finding a good psychology program? Though a combination of random events and growing up just enough just in time, I ended up doing what I knew I wanted instead of trying to imitate my role models.
I also find it interesting that I have a character in my WIP who is definitely under the passive influence of her parents, and part of the story is about how she realizes that and finally starts to make her own way. Before I’d even thought about myself in that way, I was already exploring it in my stories.
This is a very rambling post, but I guess that’s what Monday Musings are for. Have you ever realized something about a character before noticing it’s something you drew from your own life?