“She’s so messy. If you open up her desk, it’ll swallow you whole.”
That is what the girl next to me in Year 4 once said, and she was right. My desk was a maelstrom of snapped pencils, drawings, lots of bad handwriting, and dried up pieces of glue.
A few years earlier, my Year 1 teacher pulled my mother into the classroom after school just to watch me try to organise my things from afar. I would become so overwhelmed by all of it, that I would kind of just step back and forth in a dance.
“See? She can’t organise herself.”
In Year 12, I sat an English test. I had to write a monologue for a specific character in a book. I knew exactly what I wanted my character to say, and my fingers couldn’t spew the words out as fast as my mind wanted them to.
At the end, my teacher was splitting hairs about marks that she “could have” given me, pointing out to me smugly that, “If there weren’t three gaps in between the parts of this word, I would have known you meant ‘educated.’ Can you see now why I marked you down?”
Yes, lady. I can see now why you marked me down and I don’t care.
Now that I’m nearing 30, you only ever see small glimpses of this past-self in my current life. For instance, I have this process where I need to leave my laptop and school bag out on the bench so I know to take them in the morning. If I don’t, I will get halfway to work before realising that I don’t have my belongings.
It drives my wife mad because it’s mess and clutter.
But – my Tupperware is perfectly organised, my handwriting is neat, my bench is clean, and my books are organised. I work to perfect to-do lists.
Why is it that I struggled so much to do those things in the past, yet I am now a neat perfectionist?
I guess the difference is that back then, I felt like it didn’t count. It was easy enough to coast through primary school without a care in the world, and once I got to high school, the divide I felt between scribbling out the fictitious monologues and the exams and the actual real world where you turned up for work, ate your vegetables, and paid taxes just seemed so far.
Put simply, I felt that there was no ‘buy in’.
I had spoken at length with the careers counsellor and I had no idea what I wanted, beyond wanting to be educated, but the longer I sat in the four walls of my high school, the less educated I felt, the messier I became, and the more I failed.
It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Now I have one and a half university degrees with distinction (I’m sure that means something to someone, somewhere), a minimalistic, organised apartment, and a crisper full of vegetables.
I am neat. I am successful.
I got all of those things because they became things I wanted, so I figured out how to strive towards them. I tidied the handwriting. I learned to study. I became ruthless with clutter. I watched hours of YouTube videos that taught me how to cook.
Yet, I see adults scowling at the messiness of today’s youth, hanging them by the threads of their inattention, the untied laces of their dress style, their schoolwork, or even their handwriting, and I cannot help but wonder….
Maybe they want it all, but just not now.
Maybe a lot of us are artworks in motion and the best is yet to come.