Happy Flaw

I wasn’t a good reader as a kid. I didn’t read as fast as my classmates, and I didn’t understand what I was reading.

In first grade, my teachers decided to do something about it. While the rest of the class had Reading, I sat by myself in the school library. Stories were projected onto the wall in front of me, one line at a time. After each story ended, I took a comprehension test. If I did well, the next story was projected faster. If I didn’t, the projector stayed at the same speed.

After a few months, I had surpassed my classmates in both reading speed and understanding. By the time I made it to fourth grade, I was once again exempted from Reading, and I found myself back in the library. Instead of class, I got to read as many Newbery books as I wanted.

I became fascinated by the tesseracts in L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and longed to adventure with Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle. Du Bois’s The Twenty-One Balloons, O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and of course Raskin’s The Westing Game (which I re-read every year) became my best friends. I felt like a character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon: I said “open sesame” and a cave full of glittering treasure was “mine, all mine.”

But would I ever have discovered that treasure if I’d been an average reader in first grade? I don’t think so. I ended up with a love of reading primarily because I started out so bad at it.

How about you? Have you ever had a flaw that became a strength? Has being bad at something ever changed your life for the better?

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  1. 1. Karen Wester Newton

    I went from being a librarian to a systems support manager because I couldn’t touch type. I had to produce a 4-page document every month and it took we hours and hours to do on a typewriter, so I learned word processing. Then I taught my staff word processing, and the next thing I knew I was in systems support.

    Word processing sure came in handy when I decided I wanted to be a writer.

  2. 2. Laura E. Goodin

    Martial arts. I was incredibly uncoordinated and had lousy lungs. But the fact that I struggled over so many mountains to finally achieve competence made me the best karate teacher you will ever have: I know how to fix all your mistakes, because I’ve made ‘em! AND had to fix ‘em! And yes, this mindset (including the thirst for detail it instilled, which I had lacked before) comes in very, very handy as a writer.

  3. 3. Marie Brennan

    Not as a writer — not that I can think of — but to this day, I still have “good feet” in the ballet sense, because my feet were *crap* when I came to my third studio. I rolled my ankles and sickled when I pointed, and then when a teacher pointed that out to me for the first time I went on a two-year crusade to fix it. Never became that great of a ballet dancer, but man, in coupe I can still wrap my foot around my ankle.

    . . . that probably made NO sense to most people.

  4. 4. Barry Holmes

    I was introduced to video games at a young age to assist my appalling hand-eye coordination. That experience probably sparked my interest in computers and today I’m a computer programmer.

  5. 5. Deb

    Dogs (yes, I know people who know me will be so surprised).

    My first Rottweiler was too much dog for me. And th training methods people used at the time Did Not Work. I felt as if I had made this huge moral commitment to this dog and I had to train her and she had to somehow not be a danger to me or other people or other dogs and if I failed it was her life on the line. I ended up learning massive amounts about not just animal behavior but people and how we learn and what differences there are between people and animals and how to teach (both people and animals) and what a punishment culture we live in and why that isn’t effective or useful.

    It has also made me more patient, more physically confident, and more chaos-tolerant.

  6. 6. Timmy Mac

    Funny story. When I was in 4th grade, my teacher sent a note home saying that I was falling far behind in multiplication. My mother, being my mother, took it upon herself to drill me on my times tables every morning before school. It was a knock-down, drag-out brawl every time, but pretty soon, I was blowing through the daily timed tests in class and leaving my schoolmates in the dust.

    At the end of the year, my teacher mentioned something about how good I was at math. My mom said, “Well, after you sent that note home about him doing poorly, we really started to work on it.” The teacher had no idea what she was talking about. Turns out, the note was supposed to go home with the girl who sat behind me and who never DID get any better at math.

  7. 7. Bruce

    My father made me wrestle in grade school even though I hated it. I was the worst wrestler in the program. But despite how bad I was he wouldn’t let me quit. I don’t recommend that a parent use these exact tactics (though if it works…?), but over about a 8 year span of wrestling through grade school and junior high, I became one of the best wrestlers. I learned then that no matter how abysmally bad at something I am, with practice, I will get better. This is a lesson I’ve applied to many things in my life because I start out really bad at each new thing I try–no natural talent at all to draw upon. But I do trust that if I keep at it, I’ll improve. Thanks Dad.

  8. 8. Samantha Ling

    I was in ESL from first to third grade and I had special tutoring sessions with older kids for spelling. You’d think that I’d become some spelling bee champion or something. But no, I just ended up reading a lot. =D

  9. 9. D. Moonfire

    Actually, I have one really good flaw that turns into an advantage. I got in trouble. A lot. Now, as a child, I would get the timeout but being thrown into a room filled with books and things to do really wasn’t that much of a punishment, so my mother came up with a good idea. Make me write an essay. Just a little 200 word essay of why I was in trouble and what I did wrong.

    As I got in more trouble, it turned into 300, 400, 1000, or even a 2000 word essay as part of my punishment. As I said, I got in trouble a lot.

    So, now I can write a 2000 page chapter in about an hour and do 50k word short novels in 16 days… all because I got in trouble. :)

  10. 10. Jim Harris

    I didn’t become a bookworm until I was sent to summer school between the third and fourth grade for poor reading skills. My report cards all had comments about me not wanting to pay attention.

    All that happened in summer school was the teacher gave me some interesting books to read – Up Periscope, a WWII submarine book, books about dinosaurs, WWI, etc. I got no instruction. He also taught me about the library and how to find books.

    All it took with me was something better to read than what they were reading in class.

    Jim

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Author Information

Jenn Reese

Jenn Reese is the author of JADE TIGER (Juno Books, 2007), an action-adventure kung fu romance, with tigers. Her short stories have appeared online at Strange Horizons and Lone Star Stories, and in various print anthologies like Japanese Dreams, Sword & Sorceress, and Polyphony 4. When she's not writing, Jenn is practicing martial arts, playing World of Warcraft, or dreaming of rain. Visit site.

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