niche: a bit of wisdom from me to you

 

If afforded the opportunity, I would roundhouse kick my past self in the head. I’m hoping it would succeed in knocking some sense into her. It’s not her fault that she was so young and naive, but for her sake, I wish she would snap out of it. Truly, past Maria was insufferable. She thought that the question, “Who are you?” was the easiest question in the world, which I suppose it is if you’ve convinced yourself that you have the emotional depth of a Sim. Perfectionist, Goofball, Loner. Simple as that. Everything fit cleanly into the same I’m-Not-Like-Other-Girls blueprint. She didn’t care about the way she looked, would rather spend that time studying. She would rather spend just about all of her time studying – time with friends, time to relax, all of it took a backseat. Perfection is key if your worth can be boiled down to your biology mark. She followed every rule because that is just what you do. A consistent narrative emerged, and every new endeavour, every action, every choice was sculpted to fit it. My past self had found her niche and shoved herself into it, severing anything that spilled out.

 

As much as it terrifies me to consider, this Maria would still be in the driver’s seat if it weren’t for July. In July, I entered an alternate dimension more commonly known as British Columbia. My bags were packed for two weeks of a mock-university program, complete with a dorm room, opportunities to go off-campus, and more freedom than I knew what to do with. No one I knew was there – I could barely find another Albertan, let alone someone I had met before. After 17 years in a school system where everyone knew my name, I was unknown and untethered. It made me absolutely ecstatic. For two glorious weeks, I was a new person. The friends I made were the girls who would have made me avert my eyes in fear back home. I acted on impulse instead of on intellect, drank Redbull and danced in public to music I didn’t know. No longer a firm introvert, I sought out new connections everywhere I went – and always found them. I pushed curfew, walked Robson Street alone, broke the rules because sometimes you just have to to stay sane. For the first time in my life, I introduced myself with my name and my story, not my report card. Somehow, miraculously, I went those whole two weeks without telling a single soul my average.

This new Maria thrived in BC, but eventually, she had to return to Reality, Alberta, and the life she had created there. Parts of her got left behind in the dorm closet or lost in the baggage claim, but the majority of new Maria held fast. My parents said I’d changed, but I know that a part of this Maria had been within me since birth. There was a reason why the songs in my playlists were all about rebellion and rock n’ roll and giving authority the finger.  The little pang that came every time a day with friends was discarded in favour of optional homework was not a fluke. This new human I had become was no stranger, but an old friend I had shut out. She was the fat that kept getting trimmed in the name of consistency. July released me from the confines of my niche, and awoke a part of me that had been dormant for far too long.

 

In Bio 20, I was introduced to the idea of niches. Mr. Andrews asked us what we had been taught, and we all responded with the grade three answer we were used to: an animal’s niche is the thing it does for the ecosystem. Shocking no one, this answer was not even remotely correct. An organism’s niche within an ecosystem is all-encompassing, representing anything and everything it does that impacts its environment. For instance, consider the humble woodlouse (pictured above in the featured image). It is a decomposer, and a surface-level consideration could stop there. If one delves deeper into the life and times of the pillbug, however, its variety of roles in its environment becomes clear. Woodlice are natural aerators, assistants in the nitrogen cycle, contributors to soil’s nutrients with their decomposing moults, and so, so much more than the tiny compost bins they get boiled down to. If an isopod can be so multi-faceted (no pun intended), then why can’t I? Am I really about to impose more limits on myself than the limits imposed on a crustacean? A person, unlike a novel or a well-written critical, is not meant to have a unifying theme. Biology 20 taught me that if the niche you have found is consistent and coherent, it is likely incomplete.

 

In light of all that I have learned and all the time that I have wasted, I would like to offer some advice. I don’t have a lot of wisdom to impart, but this is something I believe all of humanity needs to hear.

To the person who believes they know precisely who they are, please reconsider. I was once had your confidence, your conviction in who you are, and I know how satisfying it feels to think your self-discovery is over. I don’t doubt that you know yourself well, but you do not know yourself completely. Even those of you who are still whispering in the back of your mind about how you are The Exception are not exempt from this universal truth. For you, my overconfident family, I have a request. Listen to the little voice that you dismiss as stupid. It has something of dire importance to tell you. What book-smart Maria could not learn alone, 80s-movie-rebel Maria taught her.

To the person who is stumbling blind, who has no idea who they are or where they are going, congratulations. You already have a head start on poor overconfident saps like me. We have to erase the lines we drew for ourselves, but you have a blank sheet. My request for you is simple: go nuts. Do everything. Seek out new experiences wherever you can find them. If what you discover is a jumbled and inconsistent mess, then good. That means it’s working. You are not flawed for not knowing who you are. In fact, you are leaps and bounds above the rest of our heads for realizing that you have room to grow. Sketches that believe they are paintings never get the pleasure of colour.

To everyone, all the Homo sapiens who have stumbled upon this message, I implore you to change your paradigm. Your niche in the world is not a MacGuffin to locate. It is a vast wilderness for you to explore. It is constantly changing and revealing something new. Go forth: survey, spelunk, and snorkel in your niche. Dig up the muddy and the magnificent within it. Trust me when I say, your future self will thank you.

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6 thoughts on “niche: a bit of wisdom from me to you

  1. Dear Maria,

    This was a truly special showcase of your writing. I’ve often said that free choices are my favourite pieces to read because as a writer, I truly believe that what you write when you have no restrictions is a huge indicator of who you are and who you want to be. Your work here captures your identity as a writer so beautifully that it seems as though this is such a deeply and personally rooted piece for you. We often talk about how every writer has their piece that needs to be written, and the sanctity with which this writing has graced my eyes literally causes me to have chills. However, you did not let your passion for your writing be overexposed and tarnish the piece. This is something I know I definitely struggle with: getting too passionate that you eventually drift away from your original intention and start to speak in lines of irrelevance. I interpreted your intended writing style to be personal and intimate, while also maiintaining your composure and maturity. An example of this is the first line “If afforded the opportunity, I would roundhouse kick my past self in the head.” This sentence starts off with “if”, which is a word that typically raises a question and frames a more mature statement; we could be talking about piecewice functions in math, but instead you throw us off by stating how you would physically assault your past self. I remained in the throws of your beautiful writing for the rest of the piece, and another one of my favourite lines was the following: “This new human I had become was no stranger, but an old friend I had shut out. She was the fat that kept getting trimmed in the name of consistency.” Your description of your newfound self as a friend is incredibly beautiful, and the analogy explained it perfectly as well.
    Your explanation of framing this under a biological topic is enlightening and genius, and also completely relevant to the situation. Initially, I found myself questioning what your piece had to do with something from one of my least favourite subjects, but you expanded and explained in a way that wasn’t too technical and yet still showed off your ability as a structural writer. Speaking of which, the structure and framing of this piece was perfectly done. Each paragraph had a distinct tone and topic, and didn’t stretch on for too long. However, you still kept the whole piece cohesive and together. The music was a wildcard – initially the idea annoyed me, but somehow it invoked within me something that allowed me to read the piece with even more attentiveness.

    To critique this piece would be sacrilege to your art; however, I sincerely don’t give a shit. That said, even after looking at this from my most evil and stingy eye, I was unable to find anything that I would personally change, except for capitalizing the title correctly. I know I do have a bit of a personal bias towards this as well, but I also feel like it didn’t fit the writing style of the actual piece because you followed grammar correctly (thank you) for the actual writing.

    In short, Maria, I have been blown away once more by your writing. Within the confines of 1168 words, you managed to enlighten my on something that most people cannot realize in their entire life. Writing like this is why I am proud to call myself a reader, and your writing is definitely at a level that many professionals strive towards. I thank you with all my heart; an organ fruitless in the pursuit of love, yet vital in maintaining my status as alive. I also have to thank your writing for that as well, as your words have caused countless epiphanies within my own soul, and within everyone else who reads your words.

    Yours in admiration,

    Zaid

    1. Zaid, the man of the hour:

      I am always filled with pride when you comment on my pieces. You’ve already heard my informal response to this, so here are my thoughts (hopefully) a bit more polished.
      The fact that you described the piece as “what needed to be written” is almost frighteningly accurate. I often used that phrase in reference to this piece in planning, so I am so glad that my deep connection to this topic was communicated effectively. I am also very relieved that my flowery language and passion did not detract from my message, as I do honestly want my little wisdom to reach as many people as humanly possible. Despite your disdain for bio, I am glad that my science metaphors worked well. As I have said a million times in my posts, I desperately want ELA and science to be friends again, and I wanted to maintain a through-line that would help with my coherence and flow.
      I am aware that my music choice was a little bit offbeat, but I am pleased that you came around to it. It is not only a perfect illustration of why something unexpected and seemingly contradictory can be beautiful, but also a good song (and I will stand by that statement).
      In regards to your criticism, you can take lower case titles from my cold, dead hands. Love you!
      Hearing that this piece has inspired you makes me swell with happiness; your writing always has the exact same effect on me.

      Thank you again for your words,
      Mariah

  2. Dear Maria,

    I can’t tell you how much I loved reading this piece. It was really nice getting to know a little about about you through your writing. The constant analogies and other forms of figurative language really kept this piece flowing and made it quite inspirational. Your message and your experience really makes me ponder and reflect upon my own future and what I really want from it.
    That mock-university program experience really caught my attention. It seems like an experience that would definitely change someone and I would love to know more about for myself.
    It is true. People are constantly changing no matter how old they get so it is impossible to completely know precisely who you are. The only way to grow one’s conscious of who they are is through experiencing new things and I love how you implemented that into your advice.
    It was quite difficult trying to find something to critique in a piece that was close to perfect in my opinion. Your structure and order of experiences flowed and made the blog much more enticing to read. However, (theres always a however) although your advice was clear and well understood, I felt it might have been too simple in comparison to the rest of your blog, considering that the title of the poem is about your message. That is, after all a writers choice and I respect that.
    Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and offering well thought out advice. My main response to this piece is gratitude. I look forward to reading more of your incredible writing.

    Your’s Truly,

    Naomi

    1. Naomi,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post! It’s nice to have a fresh perspective every once in a while.
      I’m so glad that my experiences and weathered-grade-twelve wisdom have been able to reach you and inspire some self-reflection. I’m a big proponent of a little crisis to keep things running smoothly. Believe me, the uncertainty is uncomfortable, but it is always, always worth it.
      I recognize that my advice may seem a little bit simplistic and a tad cliche, but I feel like the deepest human truths are often less complex than we make them. Plus, I am willing to sacrifice complexity and nuance for a message that is more accessible (though the balance is quite difficult to strike).

      Thank you again for commenting! I look forward to hopefully working with you before my time at FFCA comes to a close.
      Love,
      Maria 🙂

  3. Dear Maria,

    I was intrigued by your piece the minute I saw the title. I am someone who has no idea who they are going to be and constantly craved consistency and confidence in my future. You can imagine how shocked I was to see the perspective of someone who once was on the opposite spectrum of me. Your writing inspired me to embrace the fact that my life is a confusing mess and I have no idea what I’m going to do about it. It is this type of writing that not only allowed me to learn more about myself, but it probably allowed you to learn more about yourself as well. Your writing has an undeniable, piercing truth about it. You had my full attention for the entirety of this piece. I felt like I was listening to your voice saying these words the entire time, which is something that can be difficult to do so good job 🙂

    A line that specifically hit me hard was “Perfection is key if your worth can be boiled down to your biology mark.” I often feel so pressured to do well in school, that I found that statement very true.

    I have looked over this piece three times now and still can’t seem to find criticism. I mean, how can I criticize your life story and/or feelings and advice? I loved the song and I found that it adds more “you” to this.
    I said this earlier to Juleanna but I think that whenever you write about something personal to your life, you should always store those in the back of your mind in case you have the opportunity to write more about it in potential personal responses and/or writing in general.

    Sincerely,
    Petrina

    1. Petrina,

      Thank you so much for reading my musings!! I am glad that it made you feel a bit more comfortable in uncertainty…it is definitely the best place to be. I did my best to really make this piece something to remember, so I’m glad you found it held your attention so well! I will absolutely be storing my hot takes from here in my brain for future personals…thank you again for your lovely words!

      Love,
      Maria 🙂

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