I learned how to read thanks to a Windows ’94 computer game called Reader Rabbit. With the help of a little bunny and lots of practice, I got pretty good. I’ll never forget the first time I read a whole Dr. Seuss book cover-to-cover in front of my kindergarten class. It was at that moment I realized how much I loved words.
It wasn’t long before I graduated from Hop On Pop to The Babysitters Club. In first grade, there was a contest— the student who read the most books would win a free book of their choice. Not only did I blow the competition out of the water, but I had gone so far past my teacher’s expectations that she awarded me with not one, but two books. I still have those paperbacks somewhere in my parents’ house in St. Louis, and they always remind me of my “scholarly” ways as a seven-year-old.
Besides reading, I loved art. In second grade, we were assigned an exciting challenge: Building a “Diorama.” I spent hours on the floor of my mom’s art studio, slaving away to build a miniature urban scene. There were hanging toy airplanes, a yarn-laced bridge, and construction paper boats glued to blue cellophane; I had squeezed the entire isle of Manhattan perfectly into an old shoe box.
My creation was so elaborate that my teacher raised an eyebrow. When she asked whether I was getting a parent’s help, I was flattered. Not only did I complete the project on my own, but I did so without getting caught using all my mom’s expensive art supplies. Being born into a very creative family had the added perk of tons of resources that were laying around just within reach
My efforts in grade school didn’t go unnoticed. Just before I hit double digits, I was tested for an accelerated students program called Gifted & Talented: an elite learning experience that explored the arts, math, science and language. The club met once a week, and from what I could tell, “gifted” kids were getting a Magic School Bus-esque education that I would’ve done just about anything to be a part of.
I took the qualification test in a classroom that looked like it was straight out of Bill Nye the Science Guy. There, one-on-one with the teacher, I was told that the goal wasn’t to answer everything right, just enough for her to see where I was at. As she proceeded with the exam, she quizzed me on vocabulary, geometry, and geography, using flashcards and “If, Then” scenarios. The test also explored my understanding of multiplication, geometry, and geography. Things seemed like they were going pretty well— until she asked me something that I will never forget:
“Name the seven seas.”
My mind began to race as I scanned the room, desperate for clues. I had absolutely no idea what to say. So, I told her the names of all the oceans. Somehow I figured listing any large bodies of saltwater was better than nothing. That’s when it hit me— being gifted wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to take a lot more than making things out of cardboard or reading books about babysitters. My hopes stayed high as I prayed that my error would be overlooked, or that I still had a chance.
A few weeks later, my dad took me on a drive. Over some candy he had bought me ahead of time— probably to help numb the pain— he broke the news that I didn’t make the cut.
As time went on, I watched the chosen ones get plucked from class, week after week. While they were on adventures to visit the St. Louis Art Museum or the Science Center, I began to feel a bit lackluster over my schoolwork. I did less and less, until it was just enough to get by. If I wasn’t going to be one of the smart kids, I wasn’t going to waste any extra energy trying to convince anyone otherwise.
Then, at the end of fourth grade, my grades bottomed out. Suddenly, I was pulled out of class. This time it was to test for “Special Reading,” or the exact opposite of Gifted, I thought. How did I go from Miss Smartypants to possibly learning-disabled in such a short timespan? I decided to shape up my act and quit slacking off. I may not have been “gifted,” but I surely wasn’t the school administration’s definition of “needs extra teaching resources.”
Lost as to who I was at school, the most valuable lessons growing up were at home. I spent long summer days watching my mom execute endless artistic endeavors. She sewed elaborate costumes, illustrated children’s books, and painted a larger-than-life mural in the hallways of our house. No one was telling her what to do; she naturally possessed a real enthusiasm for making cool stuff.
Similarly, I observed my dad’s strong work ethic as a professional writer. He wrote a column about food for the newspaper and contributed to various magazines, which meant accompanying him every weekend to investigate the latest restaurants and test new recipes as he jotted down his thoughts into notepads. I watched those notes magically turn into complete articles, delivered to our front door. Seeing our family name in the paper’s byline always filled me with the hope that I too could find a voice as a writer someday.
Dad being interviewed by ZAGAT.
Since both of my parents are self-taught in their fields, they showed me that the best way to learn how to do something is to do it. Dad didn’t go to school for writing, and mom failed Home Ec— But both of them are all-stars at what they do.
Find your knack and chase it down. I stay driven by constantly keeping myself engaged in topics that fascinate me. I have to be going after an ambitious goal or else I get bored and don’t have a spark. Nothing is worse than sitting around, waiting for someone else to tell you what you’re supposed to do. As I’ve been making a living for over a decade here in NYC I realize I’d be nowhere without the undying need to be constantly learning or improving at something, always.
And while I don’t have a college degree, I believe I’ve acquired the sort of higher education that Mark Twain himself would approve. Especially because I used my own devices to make the earth-shattering discovery that the quote in the title has never actually proven to be his.
Lucie Beatrix is a Brooklyn-and-plant-based athlete obsessed with exotic fruit and telling quirky stories about her very unordinary life.