In the mind of a 14 year old who was just starting to have a positive outlook on life, boron was a liquid.
When I was in 6th grade, my school’s Science lessons were, for the first time, split in 3. Every day, I returned home and listened to my sister rant passionately about how her new Biology teachers in college were a big zero when compared to the angels who drove her into making her career choices. And I often found myself wondering what that subject would be for me. So when my Chemistry teacher introduced herself to my classmates and me, I thought just for a fleeting moment, maybe Chemistry would be to me what Biology was to my sister. Boy, was I wrong.
With every passing lesson in the three Sciences – Gravity, Mendeleev’s Periodic Table, Newton’s Laws – each little piece of me that hoped I’d pass my Science exams broke off and fell into an abyss whose base I still haven’t managed to find. Then in 9th grade, I painstakingly sat through an entire Physics lesson about Archimedes’ Principle. The teacher was talking to us about liquids and their densities and how each liquid would behave given the principle. In the sheer excitement that came from merely having understood what she was saying, I wondered aloud, “what about boron?”. You see, the element I had in mind was bromine, a liquid. For two weeks since that day, there wasn’t a thing I heard about apart from that incident. You’d think for the kind of reputation bullies have all over the world, victims would get mocked at for something a little more serious. I specifically remember this one person who just could not let go of his stomach as he guffawed at my error to similar geeks from other classes.
It was that day – maybe some other day similar, I’ve lost count of the number of such incidents during my school years – that I shut down all qualms of taking up science for a living. Because to me, the terror of feeling lost amongst a group of people who seem to know everything you don’t is unbeatable.
Fast forward to 5 years later, when I decided to dig into the world of films and find something I liked. No part of me thought I’d ever feel the same way again. But in a class of 55, at least 50 had held a camera before, one or two had been on set before, and several knew things I was only just going to learn – from them. And yet again, I was lost. This is probably a good time for me to remind you that the boron incident had also driven me to volunteer less, talk only when I definitely know what I’m saying and ask a couple of trusted friends when I have questions (better yet, just Google it). So in a crossfire between a 30-something year old Paris-taught cinematographer and 18-year-old amateurs whose 11th birthday gifts were probably cameras, I sank myself into Steven Pinker’s theories of irregular verbs because there was literally nothing else that would make me feel better.
An existential crisis of that magnitude made me wonder if I’d made the biggest mistake of my life choosing this for a living. What if all these numbers and configurations and setups were what determined the proceedings of the rest of my life? What if I never manage to get these things imprinted into my head the way these other people have? And if that turns out to be the case, would it be too late when I realise I just cannot continue to do this for a living?
I spoke to a few people about my mental turmoil, and the things they had to say to me fell on a continuum ranging between helpful and completely useless. I can’t really point out what helped me get over this paralysing fear of failure. Maybe it was that friend who told me my language-related advice always etched itself into his brain, or the other friend who chose the tough-love route – ‘suck it up and learn what you don’t know’. But I certainly feel better now. All stories don’t end with a sudden epiphany that makes everything better in a moment. I might relapse into the same fear 10 days from now when I have to face the same kind of incomprehensible debates again, but there is a piece of me that believes in my choice. And it’s the same piece of me that fails to give a damn about boron. Wait, bromine.
Title Credits: COLDPLAY