Common Sense and the Paper Cutter

I haven’t always been common sense smart.

I don’t remember how old I was at the time but I think it was somewhere around 6th grade that I overheard my mom make fun of me…. something along the lines of “such a smart kid but absolutely no common sense.”  I have no idea if those were the exact words, and I have no idea what I’d blundered moments before to make her say it.  All I know is I was reaching for something on the top shelf in my closet and the words made me freeze.

I don’t know if we are born with some of our hang ups or if we learn them throughout life but I’ve always had a fear of looking dumb.  I made a decision that day to be mindful of moments when common sense could come into play, moments when I could think about the situation and figure out what I should be doing.

Enter the paper cutter.


As a teacher I come into contact with one of these fairly often – in fact I came into contact with one today and was reminded of my first encounter with one…. in college.

I had this Botany professor who hated me, who loved to make fun of me in front of everyone (and not for anything to do with content) and we had pressed plants and were mounting them complete with labels on acid-free paper.  The labels all needed to be cut out and he generously offered to let us use the paper cutter in his office.

Honestly, I’d never seen one before although I decided it wasn’t hart to get the gist of what they do.  You lift up the blade thingy and line up your paper and bring the blade thingy down and it cuts the paper.  Right?  Simple… yes?

So I took a sheet of paper with a label on it and proceeded to gingerly stick it into the paper cutter and then cut around the edges…. and I was feeling pretty proud of myself, too… until I heard laughter.  I knew it was about me, I just couldn’t figure out what I’d done that was worth laughing over.  Under the guise of inspecting my label I paused and started to think…. what on Earth was I doing wrong?

I glanced around out of the corner of my eyes and nearly died of humiliation when I saw the girl next to me readying a STACK of paper with labels on it for cutting.


I see.

You should cut more than one piece of paper at a time.

Yeahhhh, that should have been obvious, I guess.

At the time, I shrugged off the laughter, inspected my label as though I were trying to ensure I’d done something just the way I’d wanted and then put a stack of my labels into the cutter and butchered the hell out of them as I tried to just get the job done and get out of there.  I don’t remember how long I beat myself up over that one, but I assure you, I did.

And so today it struck me as a bit funny; the object which I once just didn’t quite understand has become a part of my weekly life.  And, while the memory isn’t one of my favorites, time has certainly taken the sting out of the remembered laughter.  Instead, all I’m left with is a vague feeling I’ve learned more common sense as I’ve aged and an annoyed eye roll at the professor who so loved to torment me for reasons unknown.