Add a dash of genius

Michele Savaunah Zirkle Marcum

Traversing life’s highway is like applying liquid eyeliner. The harder you push, the more smudged the center line becomes, but too light a touch and you can’t see the line at all.

There wasn’t a morning during my high school years that I wasn’t in the school bathroom, squinting one eye as I rolled eyeliner onto my bare eyelids. Even as the tardy bell rang, I’d have quite an audience. I’d look into the water-spotted mirror and watch them gawking at me. “I don’t know how you put that on so smoothly,” one would say. “I always look like a raccoon with that stuff,” another would chime in. I’d hop off the sink, grab my bag and suggest they practice and adjust the pressure till they find that sweet spot.

Although I encouraged them, I felt smug in knowing I was skilled at something other girls struggled with—even if it was as simple as applying eyeliner. I was thankful when others acknowledged my talents—talents that I innately believed I possessed, but others seldom appreciated; or perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophesy—I’d not permitted others to see my talents for fear of appearing egocentric.

A self-starter I definitely was not. Any homework assignment was always completed just in the nick of time. I skimmed by with the least amount of effort possible on practically every project in college and carried this habit with me into the workplace.

Maybe I had given up on being taken seriously—on others actually considering my suggestions. Maybe I was afraid to push too hard and have my ideas rejected. So, I eased up. I released my grip so much that my mark on the world was barely noticeable, and I felt as invisible as that ghost impression—until I realized that within me was the master painter.

Contained within me was the entire palette of possibilities. I could sketch a rocky cliff or a cobblestone path with my brush. I could press so hard that I soaked the canvas and punched a hole clear through or I could delicately stroke the genius inside of me and bask in the light of my creation. The choice was mine.

A high school principal I used to work with always recited his favorite poem at graduation, “The Dash.” The author refers to the “dash,” as the area between two dates on a tombstone and challenges the reader to consider how he wishes to spend that dash.

Several years ago, I concluded that there was no one else to blame for any part of my dash being invisible or damaged. I started adjusting the way I handled my brush. I held it firmly, but not enough to blur the lines. Once in a while I’d stand back and study the picture I was developing. I’d adjust my approach accordingly. I became motivated to complete projects inspired solely by my desires to enhance my life and make my dash count.

Now I enjoy the activities I paint whether I excel at them or not. I bowl a 73, but I get more laughs out of the event than the score shows. I write, often receiving positive feedback and sometimes not, but the joy from doing it outnumbers the pages by far.

The genius inside us all shines through our masterpiece when we apply the correct amount of pressure—when we don’t sell ourselves short. It is within this delicate tension we create our most dazzling dash.

Michele Savaunah Zirkle Marcum

Michele can be reached at or Access more at\lifespeaks.

Michele can be reached at or Access more at\lifespeaks.