Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sweet, sweet adolescence

As a fairly confident, generally happy thirty year old, few things make me feel like an insecure, unbalanced seventeen year old - thankfully. Sadly, however, this past week, I re-discovered my inner, unbalanced seventeen year old and had a complete confidence meltdown. What could make me feel this way? The GREs and young adult fiction. I read quite a few young adult books, but in conjunction with the more adult aspects of my life, such books of teenage angst and insecurity do not adversely affect me. Certainly I feel great amounts of sympathy with the pimply, awkward protagonists, but their high school dramas do not get me down. I know that they too will outgrow that horrid era of high school and move on to better things. But, in combination with my agonizing preparation for the GREs, reading young adult fiction reignited a part of me I thought had disappeared long ago. As a result, I have grown a large pimple on my chin, lashed out at the people I love for no apparent reason (at least to them), and stressed out about things that only a week ago would have slid off my back.

See, taking standardized tests has always been one of my most hated activities, second only to throwing up and maybe hitting my shins. They make us sit in a small, usually windowless room, in an even smaller cubicle with a computer in front of us. We sit here to be judged on our intelligence, or at least, our test taking abilities. The computer provides a tutorial informing us of how the test will proceed. Then, we are on our own. In the upper left corner, a vicious clock counts down the minutes until our time to answer questions is through. In the center of the screen, just barely to the right of the ticking clock, are the tortuous questions with trick answers. The trick answer always standing out a bit brighter from all the rest. And down in the left hand corner are the evil options, telling us we can quit the test or leave the section. What those options do not tell us is that we essentially become a complete failure when we click on them. So, our eyes gravitate back to the center of the screen, with a quick peek at the ever descending numbers of the clock. For some, like my brother, this experience might be exhilerrating, challenging him to beat the system, the man. For others, for me, such a set up breeds sheer panic and a complete evacuation of the brain. All the words, geometric formulas, and reading comprehension skills I learned through years of schooling and weeks of hard core cramming are gone. My brain is a blank. Empty. And then the trick answer glares brighter on the screen. I know it is a trick, but panic tinged with a moth-like fascination take over and suddenly I am compelled to click. And click, and click, until suddenly time runs out. At the end of the computerized test, our scores flip on the screen. For some, elation and/or pride might overwhelm them. For others, for me, a true sense of mediocrity and failure fills my gut. We know we have yet again let the ETS and standardized tests get us down. Even at thirty, such an event is painful, reminding me of the very insecurities I felt thirteen years before taking a similar exam. Always wondering if my grades and hard work would be enough, or if this three hour test would break me.

Add these feelings with a little teenage vampire sexual tension, and I reconnect with that seventeen year old self - the one I so proudly thought I had outgrown. Hubris. Tonight I reacquaint myself with thirty through a French film, red wine and Jane Austen. I'll just have to ignore the pimple.

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