School feels like a long time ago, but some memories are still very fresh. Geography was an Aran jumper, chunky and reassuring: we coloured in volcanoes and went to the beach to count rocks. History smelled of cigars and rotting flesh: Robespierre, Henry VIII and the Aztecs, ripping out humans hearts and biting into them with blood-drenched fingers. In Home Economics we were shown how to put a condom on a cucumber and then used the remains in a Waldorf salad. But English was best of all – each book a portal into someone elses’ brain.
Maths however, was an entirely different story. Even when you guessed rightly, they still got you for not showing the workings. No room for manoeuvre: just you and those cold, dead-eyed numbers.
As a result, my school report card was a pretty mixed bag. At times, it seemed to describe two completely different people: one a bright, even gifted student and the other a partially-evolved amoeba, trailing its fingers along the ground and scratching its armpits. (Yes, I struggled with biology too).
I’d laugh about it, but it’s a little close to the bone. You see, I’ve left school behind, but I’m still getting report cards.
From family and friends.
From readers and publishers.
From strangers, meeting me for the first time. Supermarkets, coaxing me to try a new brand of cheese . Advertisers: telling me what I need and what I’m worth.
Report cards. They’re there and I can’t ignore them. But if I listen to them, I’ll go crazy. I’ll never know who I am or what I’m worth. And I’ll spend my life chasing or running from the grades I can’t control.
So maybe I need to step away from the paperwork.
Maybe I need to give it to someone else. Someone who can make sense of it and sort out the junk from the gold. Who looks at me and loves me. Who lifts me clean out of the classroom and takes me home. No more exams. No more score-cards. Just ‘well done, good and faithful servant’.