I shared this personal essay as a model when my juniors wrote personal essays this year. Twelve BHS students compiled their essays into this ebook: This I Believe: Bengal Writers on Life
I used to think education was being told the answers by an expert teacher, memorizing the answers, regurgitating the answers, and then forgetting the answers. But that isn’t an education at all. It’s a game, and I’m sad to say I was good at it for many years. I learned how to truly learn outside of school, and it wasn’t until much later that I began to connect the dots between frustration, failure, and learning. The first time I remember sustaining frustration long enough to experience success was when I was thirteen, and my grandmother had another one of her crazy ideas.
My sister and I spent a couple weeks at my grandparents’ house each summer, and my Granny Helen always planned projects for us. We learned to sew, crochet, cross-stitch, dry flowers, and play the piano. When I was thirteen, my grandmother decided that she and I would sew a quilt, while my sister crocheted rugs from RIT-dyed gym socks. Granny Helen had an issue of Woman’s Day, and the title of the magazine article for her inspiration was “The Eight-Hour Quilt.” While I am sure an experienced quilter could have made the quilt in a day, it took us two weeks.
The quilt pattern was for a round-the-world quilt, using blocks in different colors that create diamonds from the center out—a pattern where the placement of colors makes errors glaringly obvious. We gathered material, read the directions, and cut our pieces. I vaguely remember sewing strips of fabric together in mostly straight lines. Next, we began to assemble the strips to make the pattern. That is when the trouble began. The blocks had jumped out of order. There were black blocks where the blue ones should have been, and pink in the green’s place. Nothing was working.
“Is this right?” I asked, standing at the ironing board, pressing the seams and frowning at the miscreant blocks.
“Hm? No, no, that can’t be right. How did that get there? Here’s the seam ripper,” Granny said. I hated sewing it wrong, and often felt like I had failed. Granny wasn’t condemning or angry; she just handed me the seam-ripper and shrugged her shoulders. Do-over.
I sat down and pulled out the thread, releasing the blocks. Then I realigned the blocks correctly, and sewed another straight line. Do-over. After the tenth time or so, I realized where I had gone wrong, why the pattern was off. By shifting one block, the rest of the pattern fell into line.
example block from bloomerie fabrics via flikr
I’m pretty sure the cutting alone took eight hours. The piecing (putting together the blocks) took most of a week. Then the border and backing took a few days, and Granny and I crouched on the hard living room floor together tying off the corners with embroidery thread.
When we finished, the quilt was beautiful. It had taken two weeks and more do-overs than I could count.
I believe frustration and failure are the path to learning. I believe in second chances and do-overs. And I believe long-lasting success and fulfillment comes from learning to live in the space that lies on the edge of frustration, always pushing myself. If I am not willing to learn, no one can help me. If I am determined to learn, no one can stop me.
~ Mrs. Weems, winter 2017
The junior English classes of Weems, Pederson, and Liggett wrote This I Believe essays as a part of our writing curriculum. Twelve brave students submitted their essays in our ebook collection: This I Believe: Bengal Writers on Life, Winter 2017. Take a look at their terrific work!