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What is My Story?

  When I examine my memory bank, images of challenges that I have faced compose the memories that surface most often.  I remember the times that I have failed, the times when I have fallen just short of success, the times when I have missed completely.  But I also remember the times when I succeeded, when, seemingly against all odds, I accomplished something that I thought I couldn't do.  These two kinds of memories have helped almost to create me, to lead me down my own path through life.

  Take, for example, my first audition to the Junior Districts music festival.  This music festival is where the best middle-school musicians from the southeast corner of Massachusetts come together for one weekend into a band, an orchestra, and a chorus; at the end of the weekend, the three groups put on a concert.  I play the trumpet; I auditioned for the band.  We were given a piece of music ahead of time that we were to be judged on in the audition; I worked hard on this audition piece, and I could play it well, but it wasn't quite good enough; when the results from the audition came in, I was three points, out of a total of fifty-some at least, short of the cutoff for getting in.  I generally consider this to be a memory of failure, for obvious reasons: I didn't get in.  I had put months of effort towards practicing, towards trying to get in, but in the end, I failed.  I wasn't too surprised by this, somehow; after all, to be one of the thirty-some people to get in out of the hundreds if not thousands that audition, especially on my first try, would have been amazing.  Still, though, no matter how you look at it, I tried and I failed.

  This memory is now always accompanied by another one, the memory of my next audition the year later.  I knew this time what to do to get in, and as soon as I could, I got to work.  I practiced longer and harder than I had ever thought necessary the time before, and by the time the audition came around, I knew the audition piece backwards and forwards, down to the least little accent or crescendo.  And when the results came back, I was in.

  I remember these contrasting situations as really part of each other.  My failure in the first audition is what led me to succeed in the next.  This is what the images in my memory do for me; they do not define me so much as they help me to set and to achieve my goals.  Sometimes, however, these images lead me to re-define myself, in search of a particularly elusive goal.  A strong example of this occurred last year, in my chemistry class.

  Last year, as I have mentioned before, I was in a different school; I was, as you might guess, a sophomore that year, but this school only offered chemistry to juniors.  The school there had a fairly liberal policy towards skipping grades in individual classes, so in the interest of not completely messing up my course sequence, I took honors junior chemistry.  This was not a smart choice.  That was at the time easily the hardest course I had ever taken, and I had no clue how to handle it.  I stumbled and fell flat on my face several times at the beginning of that year; things were really not working at all for me.

  At one point, I realized the situation wasn't going to get any better if I didn't stand up and do something about it.  I had, as I saw it, two choices: quit, drop down to the CP-equivalent level like a third of the class had before me (yes, the class really was that hard), or stick with it and figure out how to succeed.  I have never been one to give up on any challenge that I take on, so quitting was not an option for me.  I took the only choice left and stuck with it, trying as hard as possible to figure out how to do well in the class.  I had to change my entire perspective on learning; my study habits, my level of attention in class, my entire outlook on why I was there in the first place, but in the end it was worth it; I aced the course and came out asking for more.  Had I not redefined my role as a student in that class, I would have gained nothing from the class, and I would likely have come out of it angry at the world for being so unfair to me, for giving me all the hard experiences and hard luck.

  A fear of failure, then, is at least part of what these memories and images stand for.  This fear is responsible in part for my unwillingness to quit; I equate quitting with failing, and I'm reluctant to get anywhere near either one.  A part of my story is the belief that I must not only avoid failure, but that I must work away from it, always trying to outdo myself in some way or another.  This belief has driven me to some of my greatest successes, but at no small cost; I'm working so hard on improving a few small areas of my life that I have no time for anything else.  This is an emerging theme in my life; I'm trying to figure out how to balance this need for self-improvement with a desire to try new things, to have fun.

  I believe that it is simply impossible to truly and fully capture anyone's story in writing.  Anything written down is inherently one-sided, biased, limited by the very nature of language itself, as we have discussed in class and in previous writings.  But if I were to try to capture as much as possible of my story, the resulting narrative would be an attempt to echo the realities that I feel to be an integral part of my life.  My story must therefore be subject to constant variance; each time I refocus my attention on another aspect of my life, these central realities change.  My story right now follows the line so far presented in this essay; it illustrates a constant effort towards self-improvement stretching years into the past and years more into the future.  It also speaks of a growing disillusionment with this effort, a feeling that it is too much, that it is not worthwhile, and of a growing will to discover a way out of this almost destructive need for perfection.

  Part of the assignment for this essay is to reflect on the process of bringing these images to life.  However, it's not clear to me that I do bring them to life in the first place.  My images serve as signposts on the path of my life; they do not decide for me which path to take.  My 'essence', the part of me that does decide which path to take, is entirely separate from these images; I don't honestly know what it is (An intricate electrochemical reaction?  A gift from an all-powerful, benevolent god?), but I do know what it is not.  It can't be an image from my past because such images are static, unchanging; dead, if you will.  My essence, on the other hand, is clearly a dynamic force, constantly changing, working towards self-improvement, trying to fit down the path that makes the most out of my life.  My essence is the author of my story, but my most-recurring images are not the authors of my essence.

  I'm not like Tim O'Brien, "trying to save Timmy's life with a story" (246).  I have no need to reminisce, to try to bring back my younger self, because I am 'Timmy'; I can't bring back my younger self because I am that younger self.  I am too busy figuring out where I'm going to stop and feel nostalgic about what I once was.

  The images that surface most often in my mind are images of moments that represent, to me, great success and painful failure.  They exist to highlight these moments, to frame them so that I don't forget the lessons held within them.  The images framed in my mind are there because I want them there; they are the best way that I have to learn from my mistakes; by learning from my mistakes, I can rejoice more often in success.