The Acid Test
Life's best lessons may come by surprise
by Mary Terzian
barely saw a yard away as I drove in the pouring rain to a writing class
at UCLA, half a century late. The tapes engraved on my left brain were
turned on full blast.
“What are you doing? Who do you think you are to write memoirs? At your
age you should be sitting by the fire, knitting.”
By the time I found parking, the building, and the room I was half an
hour late. I walked in, drenched to the bones, parading my defeat all
the way to the front corner of the class, the only seat available under
the professor's nose. No, she didn't have a big nose, nor was she the
literary giant I expected. She had a cute face and a tiny frame lost underneath
a jungle of hair. She was like a spring ready to pop loose from her high
chair any minute, nothing like your run-of-the-mill, be-spectacled, age-old,
erudite professors who sport their white beards as proof of their wisdom.
She had a sharp wit though.
“What's your name?” she asked and
made a point to account for my presence.
I looked around. What was I doing among these kids? The bright 20-year
old on the first row particularly unnerved me. I could be her grandma!
The professor rambled on for a while. All I could hear was what
to put in, what to leave out. Easy to say. These young adults had
not lived yet. I had a whole lifetime to squeeze into 300 pages. The recount
of any five-year period in my life span would be longer than that.
Before I put you to sleep let's have some fun, she roared
to the class. Get your pens and paper ready.
Everybody's interest was piqued.
We're going to have a fun exercise for ten minutes. She
held up a brown bag for all of us to see. I will pass this bag around.
Don't look in it but grab an item and write about it from your stream
of consciousness, whatever it reminds you of. This is just a warm-up exercise
to stretch your memory. Don't expect a masterpiece and don't edit please,
let it flow. Nobody is going to read it except you. Wait till everybody
has picked an item.
One by one we drew something: a comb, a logo, a key
. a lemon!
Does everybody have an item? OK! Start!
What could be exciting about my item? I pondered for a while. As time
went by, under the teacher's raised eyebrows, I became nervous. Was she
considering me a failure already? A senior! What is she doing
here occupying valuable space? If she starts her memoirs now when will
she finish? I banned those negative thoughts from my mind for
a more productive exercise:
I picked out a lemon, I wrote, What else! This is
the story of my life. I always end up with lemons.
When I was young I loved sucking on lemons. I dipped them in salt to further
enjoy their acidity. I wish I had not. Those lemons predicted the future
course of my life.