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well, whaddaya know?

September 1, 2011

Please tell me I’m not alone here.

Have you spent a near-lifetime believing something — pleasantly, unquestioningly — only to later learn that it was wrong?  To be clear, I’m not necessarily referring to a worldview-altering belief, as in a deity or a mentor or, say, human kindness.  I’m talking about a fact which can be proven incontrovertibly wrong.  Black, not white.

I’m talking about the fact that, in spite of having fancied myself an excellent speller from an early age, I misspelled the word “definitely” until I was twenty-four years old.  I remember the exact email I received from a friend, shattering my long-held confidence in both “definately” and in my self-perception as a spelling bee champion (sixth grade, I think). “By the way,” he wrote, “you need to learn how to spell ‘definitely’.”  It kind of rocked my world a little.

Heh.

And there’s more.  I’ve written before about the magical summers I spent as a kid at a camp for girls in the Texas Hill Country.  There, I found the God I believe in.  I learned to ride horses and swim and build a campfire, and I was baptized in the virtues of aiming high, reaching for a star, and losing gracefully.  The kids at my camp were divided into teams, called tribes, which sported uniforms in distinct colors and shared a secret language of words and symbols.  The tribes competed against one another for the duration of the month-long term, culminating in both a final winner and a thorough introduction to the concept of sportsmanship.  One of my tribe’s symbols was the star, which I was taught signified the star Andromeda, most distant from earth.  I soaked in countless summer skies, aspiring to that faraway pinprick, the mythical Andromeda, brave beauty and star glistening beyond my reach.

In my recent study of astronomy for this Chasing Maybes project, I uncovered a startling truth: not only is Andromeda not the most distant star from earth, it is not a star at all.  As most of you reading this probably already know, Andromeda is a constellation, a galaxy, and a princess in distress from Greek mythology… but not a star.

The Andromeda galaxy, photo from astronomy.com

This news alters the ethos of my camp experience not at all, although “aim for a galaxy” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “aim for a star.”  It left me with a furrowed brow because it uncovered the same kind of uncomfortable realization as the “definitely” incident.  It made me ask, “What else do I think I know that I don’t know?”

I think I know that practice, that the daily slog of muscle on bone, results in progress.  I think I know that inherent worthiness has little to do with success, that putting in Gladwell’s 10,000 hours (stirred up with a bit of luck and a pinch of charisma) will result in positive change.

I think I know all of this, and then earlier today I recalled a piece of advice my friend’s father gave her when she was experiencing a particularly challenging patch in graduate school:  “Honey, sometimes your best just isn’t good enough.”  She counts this among the best advice she has ever received, and I think I understand why.  It says, “Aim for a star, practice, and recognize when it is time to try something else.”

I write all of this to say I still totally suck at handstands.

True, I’ve had no professional guidance in my endeavor (unless you count my giggling family, and I don’t).  I also haven’t put in anywhere close to 10,000 hours of practice.  But I’ve tried, and I’ve engaged the laws of physics, and I just don’t think my best will ever be good enough.  At camp, we learned this poem by Douglas Malloch, the final lines of which are:

If you can’t be a highway then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or you fail–
Be the best of whatever you are!

So, if I can’t be a handstander, I’ll be the best little headstander I can be.  As is this little guy, clearly inspired by my efforts:

I don't usually share pictures of my kids, but this is a rare exception. Not too shabby for a wee person.

In many ways, this month’s Science and Nature category has felt like one big fat failure.  I’ve kept Frida alive, yes, but I had lofty plans for this category which I never executed.  I’ll make no excuses for myself.  This month, and the category of Science and Nature, are over, so onward and upward I must go.

September means a new Trivial Pursuit category, and a new opportunity for me to dare myself to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do.  This month’s category is Sports and Leisure, the orange pie piece .  As I consider this fact, I’m forced to ask myself one age-old question:

Am I ready for some football?

Today, I hope you question what’s definate and aim for a galaxy.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2011 10:09 pm

    Good luck with Sport and Leisure! Orange is the color I most avoid when playing trivial pursuit, but perhaps your September journey will inspire me to dive into that gaping chasm of avoidance? Or maybe I’ll consider your experiences as exploration enough by simply reading them… if I’m honest, that’s more likely… but I look forward to Sports and Leisure month either way!

    • September 8, 2011 7:30 am

      i always avoid orange, too! it is going to be interesting, to say the least. steve is looking forward to having a semi-sports literate wife, though :). hope you all are doing well!

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