2 days ago I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep when I suddenly thought about what I would do differently if I had my teenage days to do over, knowing what I know now. The first thing to cross my mind was girls. I probably hold the record for spending the most time talking and thinking about dating girls and not actually doing so. Waste of time. The other, complimentary thought, was to buy a motorcycle and waste my time and money thinking about that instead. The thought that hit me hard out of the thought cloud and surprised me with its intensity was that I should have worked hard and where I didn't work hard, the consequence was actually my own damn fault.
I was one of those annoying kids who didn't have to do much of anything to succeed in school. When one is in school and you can't succeed in physical activities, making money, or getting girls doing well in school seems like a pretty crappy super power. It is, I see now, a pretty rocking superpower second only to the pig's ability to turn vegetables into bacon. But I digress. Every superhero has their weakness. Their kryptonite. Their instant kill. For the easy-schoolers, as I will call them, it tends to be work. I was not the only easy-schooler to have this problem. When you don't have to do the basic work day in and day out that those around you are doing, noticeably school work, you get a very weak work muscle. I am not saying that easy-schoolers get the best grades. I don't think they generally do. I also am not saying that I am brilliant. Even in my limited classic-rock/hackisack peer group I would say I was in the middle of the pack in terms of shear intelligence & brilliance. Some of my friends were genuinely bright dudes. I don't think that the easy-schoolers tend to get the best grades primarily due to the fact that their work ethic is about as strong as twisty-tie holding up the golden gate bridge. As long as no work is required, easy-schoolers excel. As soon as something needs to be done that takes some work, it doesn't happen and grades drop as a result. They often still tend to be in the upper percentiles but I am convinced that easy-schoolers make up very few of the valedictions, especially at the high school level. Intelligence does not equal wisdom and a lot of easy-schoolers, myself included, didn't do the work necessary to be at the top of our class, though it would have taken a lot less work than it would have taken other folks. The people that did the work, spent the hours studying and completing assignments, they were the valedictions. Gumption and hard work blew natural intelligence out of the water. The unscientific fact that a lot of the brightest high-school kids question the shallow system, see no value in it, and tend to smoke a lot of pot instead only serves to bolster my hypothesis.
Unfortunately I was stuck in the middle with you. Not quite bright enough to realize the weaknesses in modern society and watch it all go up in smoke; coupled with my real fear that if I ever touched a joint to my lips Mr. Vogeley would immediately walk into the room and give me a disappointed look and crush my dreams of being a man forever; I didn't quite make it that far. On the other hand my crippling lack of work ethic prevented me from truly succeeding in the scholastic realm. One particular experience marked this enigma with the kind of memory-force that I have never been able to shake. With the kind of lasting consequences that weren't enough to really alter my life path but seriously altered the way I thought about myself and would handle situations in the future.
The year was Nineteen Hundred and Ninety Seven. The Grade was 7th. The teacher: Mrs. Thayer. I saw a re-run episode of 7 Rules the other day which has a teacher saying, "I don't make the rules, I just enforce them to the letter." That was Mrs. Thayer. It was in the 7th grade at my particular educational establishment that the students take a test to see if they were prepared to enter into algebra in the 8th grade or if they were to pass onto pre-algebra and take algebra in the 9th grade, their first year of High School. The educational establishment in question divided the students of each grade into "teams" of about 60 - 80 students. I was called up to Mrs. Thayer's desk one day to be informed that although I had the 2nd highest algebra readiness score in my team I would not be entering into algebra the next year because I had a grade of a C and I needed a B, maybe an A, to get into algebra. I remember saying, "But I got the 2nd highest score in the team." And she replied, "But you have a C."
By the time I had returned to my desk I had written off math. It was really a shame because I enjoyed math, I still to this day am one of those strange people that stand in awe of math. 10 X 10 = 100. Have you ever thought of that? Amazing. I'm mystified by civilizations that had a base 7 number system and how they did calculations that way. I am bowled over by formulas that work every time. There is a wonderful trustworthiness in normal math. I also understand math. I understand how the numbers work and interact with each other. But by the time I had awkwardly squeezed my pubescent bulk into the desk I was a devoted English/History guy. That was it. It was an easy transition. I had already tested with a post college reading level and I loved history. From that day forward I averaged C's in math because it wasn't my thing. The only year I earned an A was in Geometry during 10th grade when my teacher allowed me to do the homework while she lectured. In the 11th grade I actually cheated on homework to not fail, sorry mom. I was caught and never cheated again but my repugnant behaviour just shows the level to which I had given up on my own success and integrity. Cheating is a horrible mixture of deceit, laziness, and theft. But I remember standing there at the desk of one of the greatest teachers that I decided to not grow under, sweating profusely on the verge of creating vomit being told that I would fail his class if this ever happened again. So after 3 days of reformed homework completion I simply stopped turning in the assignments.
I was a year behind all of my friends in math and therefore science. I missed out some of the great fun I had with them in English & History, the great discussions & learning. I missed out on that because I had a flawed view of work as well as a weak will to fight. Homework, up until college, was merely practice so you could pass the tests. I didn't understand getting graded down for not doing homework if you aced the tests, which I was doing in 7th grade. I could finish the multiplication tables fastest, I knew the concepts, homework was (and I still believe for the most part is today) a waste of time. Mrs. Thayer apparently did not espouse this theory of education. I didn't fight for it. I felt like I had earned it, I felt like I had deserved it but instead of fighting for it, instead of arguing that if I raise my grade by the end of the year could I attend, instead of making a case and bring it to the top of the educational hierarchy I turned around and said fuck it. Sorry mom.
My family culture at the time was also very victim based. When things happened they always happened to us. When things happened to us we would get angry, grumble in defiance at the injustice, say fuck it, and walk away. I gloried in this mindset because I had enough responsibility and guilt that weighed upon me at the time and I wasn't going to be at fault for the system. It has been almost 2 decades since this event and I think about it on a monthly basis. 18 years and me sitting down and being robbed of math has haunted me. It comes up in conversations where it doesn't really apply, it haunts me in the midst of my depressive slumps, it has been a major defining moment. And I kid you not, in 18 years only the past 6 months have I begun to stop blaming Mrs. Thayer for my failure in math. For 18 years I had the audacity to blame someone who was following policy for my failure to keep my grades up and do the work expected of me. For 18 years I held an old shrivelled lady responsible for my failure to not fight for something that I wanted and deserved. For my entire adult life I have failed to acknowledge my own shortfall and that has haunted me, tainted me, and I'm ready to exercise the ghost and be done with it.