October 01, 2020
That’s somehow how I like to think about myself, other than I don’t think I’m a genius. So, talentless-not-genius.
More than once in life I’ve got some proof of some skill I incredibly mastered for a very short period of time, maximum sublimity reached for the span of an oral exam or a piece of text. However, I was never really able to constantly reproduce that purity of virtue; for all my life I’ve constantly felt like a genuine failure for not being able to score top of the class, to be the best of the bests.
Don’t ask me why, but for a long time I felt entitled to be the best. That’s probably part of my cultural background as in Feeling Special, But. I never really worked hard toward something in school or writing - until I was 20 - and I nevertheless still expected to be the one.
All in all, a small piece of advice to young readers, writers and, more in general, people:
You’re not the one, you’re a sack full of shit until you prove otherwise. Some get offended by my manner of speech. Being called shits is not pleasant. However, I have to make a generalization and I chose to hurt someone’s feelings over risking someone experience what I had to experience.
There are people who are not shit, or to put it better, less shit than others. Human life is the constant struggle of trying not to be a huge pile of shit. The best you can achieve alone is being a small pile of shit, for all humans are lost without society and other humans. With others, we can deliver gold; otherwise, only shit.
It’s probably around 10.20 AM when I realize I didn’t write anything for the assignment. I’ve around 25 minutes before the bell will sentence my death.
This is my third year of high school and I’m not studying, not putting any effort into translation of Latin and Ancient Greek. God, my life is alcohol, cigarettes and boasting with friends for now. There’s no much else to it, like it or not.
I always liked to write and since I’m a dumbass I obviously skipped the first and only creative writing assignment. You had a story about a guy bringing his cat to be killed by the veterinary and you had to write the same story from the point of view of the cat.
Good God, I hate this shit.
I look towards the girl by my side, my best friend Giorgia. In Italy, desks are paired by twos, so we’re sitting side by side. I start shitting myself and I don’t really know what to do. I’ve to write around a page and a half in 25-30 minutes before the professor - old bitchy woman - roasts me alive.
She was not that bad, trust me, but I despised her because she treated me like shit. She liked to joke with other people, but whenever I tried to take part to the conversations, she would say something like: “You should avoid laughing at everything, only fools do that.” She liked to remark how I was too careless in my approach to life, too shallow.
I don’t know. I really did not like her. She generalized me as a bad person, without taking into account what a pain are teenage years. Even now, I take much pleasure when thinking of their faces when I told them I scored 153/68.000 people in the country at the medicine entrance exam. That’s probably the only thing I like about medicine, the bile that put into many mouths of people around me. The gut-wrenching feeling of redemption and revenge for every single human being that was thinking “well, you can’t fit”. In retrospect, I’d be happy if I didn’t fit and went off to do something better than slaving away years on books. For all I care, I could be a dry cleaner employee and feel better about my life than what I’d do if I got back and continued on the same path.
30 minutes, alright. Maybe I’ve thirty minutes. It’s quite a long time, right?
No, it’s not.
I wholeheartedly, literally panic.
I am now shitting myself.
I am closer to be my metaphorical pile of shit than what you would think.
So, what now?
I start writing like a madman on my fucking notebook. Jesus Christ c’mon pen go faster. I’m a fast writer and typist, but words weren’t coming out quickly enough. I start sweating and swearing loudly while people consume their snacks during the mid-morning break.
God, she’s going to kill me this time. If I do not have a good assignment, she’s going to kill me. Oh God, I’m going to fail this year. OhgodohGodohGod.
After 30 minutes of panicking, I finally finish writing. The words are barely readable and she hates bad hand-writing.
She gets into the classroom and asks a few people to read aloud.
“Oh my fucking God.”
I almost crumple on myself, I don’t know what to do.
I mean, I think I tried and I’m egocentric enough at this time to think that maybe it’s not so bad.
You know what, I should propose to read out loud. Let’s cut to the chase. I don’t want to be waiting for her response on the assignment. Let’s fucking do it.
LET’S FUCKING DO IT.
I raise my hand to be the last person reading. Come on, the previous ones were praised endlessly. Even the guy who stinks like 2 weeks-old sweat has gathered many smiles around him.
Yes, here we go. I’m so tired from speed-writing that I’m feeling really down. My own voice goes quite low, without the usual high pitch. I start reading as if I were the cat, first person because good God this has to be somewhat decent and who the hell would have used third person for a this specific assignment. The sweaty guy did the same, maybe I’ll get a handshake?
I put down the fucking notebook. God my stomach is hurting. I don’t even remember my name. My lips are parched, my back is aching and I just want to die.
So, let’s raise our head and see what’s the response.
I look at my classmate Giorgia, by my side, for a first impression. I don’t really want to look at the professor.
Her eyes are watery and her mouth is still open.
In that single moment, I knew that something had gone far beyond my best prediction.
“Who wrote this?” she whispers.
She shakes her head, even though she had seen me write it in front of her, with my characteristic terrible hand-writing.
The professor starts clapping. Three times she clapped among a silence so intense you couldn’t hear anything else.
Holy shit, holy fucking shit.
I DID IT!
Before I even register the others congratulating or, most likely, being skeptical about me being the author, even though a couple of them are crying, I wonder.
I wonder why only now.
I always liked to write, but I never really got around doing it seriously. I always thought I had talent, but no-one could really prove it, not me at least.
Now people are whispering and the professor is still silent, probably deciding if I wrote it or not.
I am a great writer. Or am I?
I start thinking about that. I’m already drunk on glory and greatness. Fucking Umberto Eco can suck my dick. Virgil can bow before me.
If you’re wondering if I like to exaggerate, no, I do not. That was exactly my line of thought.
Mind me, I managed to float my grades above 6/10 only thanks to my writing, but even then, I never managed to get a full 10/10 score. I usually got around 8.5/10, even when I tried hard.
I knew I was something else, I knew I could be, but I never really managed to replicate that before turning twenty.
That moment of sublimity, where I defied all the odds and stakes never reappeared in writing. Someone showed me what I could be, but instead of working my way up to it, I just tried to replicate the trick. I wasn’t interested in being good I wanted to be the greatest without much effort, the show-off who everyone looks up to because no-one can understand how he made it.
That was 2011 and before 2016 I never managed to have someone cry over something I wrote. I was probably the one to start crying over what I wrote but I had to sweat blood to do it. As I mentioned in previous articles, writing to me was hard. I got a sneak peak at what mighty writer I could be, that’s true, but that was it. I was decent, nothing more. In a sea of mediocrity, you start thinking you’re a genius.
Today, I reckon that many people can have a stroke of luck. I’ve my own theories about writing and how every work is detached from its authors, having its own will. That was a stark example, but it showed me something I could pursue and what I really wanted to achieve. In that moment, for 30 minutes, I was unknowingly part of the greats, of those who I one day want to overcome with my own pen - keyboard, really. It’s hard to believe you can be something if you never touched it with your hands, but it can be equally frustrating to create a miracle and never be able to reproduce it.
Now it’s around 2009-2010. It was summer of my first year of high school.
Guess who had to re-take his exams in September?
In Italy, when you have failing grades, but not too many of them, you retake exams in September. So, Ancient Greek and English are on the table.
I don’t even remember how I somehow passed English, but that’s not what we care about. We’ve another miracle coming - spoiler alert - and that’s what we’re going to talk about.
So, I’ve paid around 800-1200 euros of private lessons in Ancient Greek because I’m an ass. My mother had to pay them from her own pocket, even tough it wasn’t the best moment for her, financially speaking. My father didn’t really want to contribute to his son asking to be taught when I myself wasn’t intentioned to study.
I was basically paying a person to get me studying. That’s how much I loathed myself, school and my parents.
So, we’re waiting for the grade of the translation. After taking all those lessons, I think I did quite well. If the grade’s above or 6, you don’t have to go to the oral exam. Thank God, honestly. I did not study shit for the oral exam. The only grammar I knew was the one finely written by me with a pencil on my own Ancient Greek vocabulary.
Memorizing grammar was for loser, amirite?
You fucking slut of a giraffe teacher.
Are you fucking kidding me.
Okay, what now? English kinda went to shit. If I fail Ancient Greek too, these motherfuckers are going to fail me, aren’t they?
What the fuck? What the fuck?
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
It’s 11 AM and the exam is at 15.30
Me and my mother are in the car. I don’t even remember if I was already smoking or not. If I did, I was smoking in front of my mother without giving a shit. I’d drop that bad habit only years later.
I look at her and tell her: “Bring me home, I’m not coming for lunch at grandpa’s.”
I go home, open the grammar book and start looking at it. Looking.
I subvocalize every word, praying God that at least a couple will get stuck in my head.
I’m extremely fucked. It’s like 200 pages of grammar and I didn’t manage to learn them in a year… what can I do in few hours?
You probably know how the story goes.
I am now in front of the professor.
Words are coming out of my mouth at every single question. I do not hesitate, there’s not a thing I don’t know.
She is almost scared by the details I can recite in front of her. It’s 200 pages of grammar, let me say it again. 200 pages.
I’m 15 and I just somehow memorized 200 pages, even though I usually suffer from lack of focus.
What the fuck is happening?
She starts asking hard questions. Verbs I wasn’t even sure I read about I know. There’s not a single question going unanswered.
My mother - for all she’s been not your typical mother most of my life - is there looking at me, the only person present, my not so skinny cheerleader.
Photographic memory is something, apparently. And, for a few hours, I am now the master of it.
The interrogation lasts for almost an hour, I think. I lost any conception of time. She asked me stuff I was not even sure I read on the grammar book, stuff she gave us during the year on other different papers.
No-one, and I want to highlight, no-fucking-one gets good grades from the September exams. It’s policy. They do not want screw-ups like me improving their grades just because they decided to study during the summer - yes, that’s how screwed up school is. So, 6 is the usual if you’re good. 7 can appear when someone has a very distinct performance.
I got 8.
I had never seen any 8 during reparation exams. That’s how good I was.
Man, I’ve so many stories about my reparation exams. I’ll write more in the future, but this episode is what made me think I really was somewhat special.
I felt like I had a great talent and that somehow I could memorize anything. I just had to find the right way to do it. I started studying mnemonics later with years, looking for weird techniques that could fulfill what I believed was my infinite potential.
Long story short, it obviously never happened again. For all my mother was flabbergasted, I think she pretty much forgot by now. Only I am still wondering how it was possible.
I got friends who told me “you know, the same thing happened to me too, I knew basically everything even though I did not study that well.”
If you’re thinking something like this, let me phrase better what happened.
I never touched the grammar book in all summer. The grammar I knew was sneakily written on my vocabulary to check during the translation exam. I never, and repeat, never studied grammar that summer or during the year. I got around 4 as my average grade. In few hours, I managed to learn an entire book cover by cover to memory. I quickly forgot it after, but I knew every single detail and page written on it.
Some people do not believe me when I tell them what happened. I mean, it sounds insane and not being able to reproduce it, it gets belittled and made fun of.
However, that was the first moment of sublimity that I experienced. For a few hours I was perfect and then I got robbed of that.
I experienced both photographic memory and greatness in writing and I lost both soon after I acquired them. To this day I think about those two episodes frequently and fondly.
They helped me shape my confidence. My family was quite shit. Not like shit-shit, but still quite shit.
I wish I were Christian, because I would have instantly believed that God had a plan for me. It’s sad knowing the truth, but still inspiring. I still want to irrationally believe that there was a meaning to what happened, that maybe a part of me knew that I needed a few wins to go down the right path. Maybe future Jacopo went back to the past and drugged me both times, or swapped the text I wrote. We’ll never know, but I will always be grateful to future Jacopo for his intervention, because it made me, a talentless not-genius, believe I could do something more following what I really loved and that maybe I had the capacity to tackle big hurdles, even if I didn’t. It helped me being more optimistic, which helps in the face of an ever-changing and - at least for many - sad world.
See you in the next article!
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