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Davis, California

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The peril of loving

The boy loves words. He reads books constantly. He labors for hours over a creative writing assignment. He reads for the sake of reading, and he writes for the sake of writing because he enjoys these things for themselves, not for any rewards they bring.

This boy has a twin sister who loves science. She learns about the periodic table of elements during class while the boy holds a novel open under his desk. She labors for hours over a cell diorama. She learns science for the sake of learning, because she enjoys it, not for any rewards it brings.

The siblings approach high school graduation. They come home to the same parents, who are looking over college applications. On the table is a school newsletter encouraging graduating seniors to pursue their passions in college. The parents read this and tell their children to “do what you love.”

When the sister says she wants to declare a biology major, maybe become a doctor, the parents are delighted. They clap. The relatives tell the sister over the phone, “It’s wonderful that you’ve found a subject to be passionate about.”

When the brother says he wants to declare English, maybe become a writer, the parents nod their heads. The relatives ask him over the phone, “What do you want to do after college?” and when the boy doesn’t have an answer ready, they say, “You should probably think about that.”

The siblings end up at the same university. Both excel. Both enjoy their classes. Both pursue their passions in their free time – he by reading and writing, she by studying and learning.

Then junior year comes around. The parents call both siblings. To the sister they say, “What are you doing over the summer?” and when she says, “I found an internship in a really interesting lab,” they are delighted. They clap into the phone. They say, “Keep following your interests,” before they hang up.

To the brother they say, “What are you doing over the summer?” and when he says, “I don’t know,” because he hasn’t found any internships where they let him apply his creative interests, the parents stay quiet on the other end. They do not clap. They say, “We’re worried about your future, before they hang up.

And so the boy finds an internship writing articles for a newspaper, where the rules say, in so many words, “No creativity, please.” He is unable to write the way he does at home, where he writes stories with complex sentence constructions, with colorful language, with paragraphs which do more than dully inform.

Meanwhile, his sister is happier. The internship’s not perfect,” she says to him, “but the project is really interesting.” The boy nods, wishing he could say the same.

After college graduation, the sister goes to medical school while the brother remains uncertain of where he’s headed.

Say that he gets a job teaching English. He pays the rent and enjoys the work somewhat, but the concepts and skills which he loves are absent in his workplace. What he loves to do he must do alone, after class, when other people relax or socialize or sleep. He writes and reads in a corner somewhere, a café maybe, or a desk, and this is how he continues to practice his passion. If he gives up, no one will know. If he fails, no one will know. He is alone, and yet he writes, and perhaps this is close to the definition of love.

Say that, years later, the boy publishes a novel. He doesn’t receive much money, but that doesn’t matter, not to him, because for once he is sustaining himself on something he loves to do. But when he asks his family what they thought of his book, they shake their heads, saying, “It was hard to read. They use the word “pretentious.”

And it is then that the boy realizes why the newspaper lacks creativity because most people can’t read beyond a 12th grade level. Comprehending literature requires a higher level than that, a level which most people never reach.

The boy must realize that not everyone has the capacity to comprehend his passion. He must realize that people will grow frustrated with his complex sentences and their inability to read them, and that in their frustration they will call him “pretentious.” He must realize that this is the reality he has been born into. The boy must realize that this is the cost of his love.

 

KOJI FRAHM’s reign is nearly over. Fire arrows at kcfrahm@ucdavis.edu.

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