I have a deep-seeded fear of being unprepared. Unfortunately, I’m also quite fond of procrastinating. These two character traits often collide in my dreams as I stumble into my high school math class only to realize it’s the final exam and I haven’t bothered to attend, let alone study all semester. I have vivid nightmares where I’m waiting in the wings of a theatre stage, desperately reading my lines, attempting to commit them to memory as co-actors rattle off their respective parts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the ease and grace of a seasoned pro. My stomach jumps into my throat as I stand there, exposed as an unprepared, forgetting-my-lines, terrible-at-math procrastinator.
It was an unfortunate experience, as you can imagine, when all of those fears left the realm of dreams and descended into my waking life this summer. A new camera will do that to you. While operating my previous camera was like second nature, my upgrade left me fumbling, incompetent and unsure. My fingers desperately searched for the place I knew the button to be, only to find I was reaching into a void. It was the math test all over again. My ineptitude brought about the unfortunate realization that summer was drawing to a close and it was time to head back to the classroom.
I have a fondness for the first day of school. There is a promise held in freshly sharpened pencils and an unused notebook, a frantic anticipation of who you’ll sit next to in class and whether or not anyone will notice your brand new kicks. But the fondness walks hand-in-hand with that old fear. What if I raise my hand to a question I don’t know the answer to? It’s one thing to experience those back-to-school jitters at the age of 9; it’s a different experience entirely at 33. In fourth grade the world is forgiving of your foibles, your mistakes and your incomplete homework. In your mid-30’s the expectations tend to be slightly different, especially your expectations of self.
And so I returned to the classroom…or the adult version thereof, which involved my couch, my laptop, an internet connection and a quick Google search of “Canon 101.” I held my camera tentatively like I held a microscope in science class, slowly turning buttons to find my focus on the slides resting beneath. I immersed myself in the language of f-stops and ISO, the mathematics of aperture and shutter speed. I humbly resigned myself to the beginning again, realizing just how little I knew, and suddenly found comfort and possibility in a fresh start. I turned my camera over and over in my hands until, once again, the tiny adjustments of light and speed felt as intuitive as breathing.
You see, sometimes my fear of not knowing the answer eclipses my profound love of learning, and I often forget that those two things run along the same spectrum. That, held within a lack of knowledge, is so much possibility: to learn something new, to understand something new, and, in the case of a camera, to quite literally see the world through a new lens. There is value and growth in not knowing. There is opportunity in our return to school, even into adulthood…perhaps even more so. It is my hope that my fear of not knowing the answer or looking a fool never overshadows my love of freshly sharpened pencils and the smell of an unused notebook. Make no mistake about it friends, I’m still very much in school. Every day. Every time I pick up my camera I am humbled by how much I have to learn. But instead of fear and embarrassment lurking around the corner, I have found possibility and joy and wonder in my continuous return to the classroom.