Moving in Stereo, Noblesse Oblige and the Double Standard


It’s so easy to blow up your problems
It’s so easy to play up your breakdown
It’s so easy to fly through a window
It’s so easy to fool with the sound

It’s so tough to get up
It’s so tough
It’s so tough to live up
It’s so tough on you-

“Moving in Stereo”- The Cars

If I had to guess, I’m not the lone ranger as far as anxiety issues go.  In the middle of the shit storm there is nowhere so alone, especially when I’m surrounded by people and I have to maintain a professional, cool façade no matter what.  I am one of those people who is never more alone than when I’m in a crowd.  Dealing with people is twice as difficult when all I want to do is run and get away from them.

I think that was a good part of the reason why my health went south so quickly about 10 years ago.  I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, and the façade couldn’t hold.

Thankfully I don’t get the panic attacks and what I call extreme anxiety spells terribly often anymore, but here in the past few weeks I have discovered that I am just as vulnerable to them as I ever have been.  Part of the solution, or at least a way to cope with anxiety in a healthier manner, seems counterintuitive: I have to admit to my vulnerability.  I have to realize when I’m trying to move too fast, do too much, or when I’m shouldering blame that doesn’t belong to me, and I’m not good at it.  My idea of boundaries is to be completely open or completely shut down, which I know isn’t healthy.   I’m one of those people who always feels as if I owe other people something, even when I don’t.


When I was growing up I had the concept of noblesse oblige drilled into my head.  Because I was sickly and my medical costs were outrageous, I was made to feel guilty about that.  I was also made to feel as if my medical issues were my fault and that I had no right to complain if I didn’t have clothing that fit right, or if I didn’t have glasses when I needed them.  Because my medical issues were expensive, and I was painfully aware of it, I was the one who helped Dad out at his shop, and I was the one who did all the household chores when Mom had her back injury and was bedridden- while my sisters played sports (which I couldn’t do because of my health issues) and had actual social lives (which I didn’t have anyway.)

Because I had certain abilities, my parents and even (some) teachers held me to a higher standard than the rest of the kids.  I was expected to do without, to tolerate more, to do more, to be more, to accomplish more, and not just in my areas of strength.  I still remember my 9th grade algebra teacher almost throwing a fit at me because I truly struggled to get through that stuff.  Higher math did not make a lick of sense to me then, and it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me now.  I can get through basic math, and I can understand percentages and ratios, but that’s about it.   He accused me of “slacking” in his class (as in why could I get straight As in every other subject but his.)  The truth was that I spent a lot more time and effort trying to get a B or C in that class than I did getting straight As in everything else.

I got grounded for any grade lower than a B, regardless of the subject, while it was perfectly fine for either of my sisters to maintain a C average- across the board- without inviting scrutiny.  To her credit (even though she was a ruthless and sadistic bitch) my oldest sister, in spite of her average IQ, did manage to be an honor student (didn’t take much then, and takes even less now) and wormed her way into Miami University (one of the most expensive colleges in Ohio.)  Eventually she did graduate and get a degree, and a submissive husband from a wealthy family, but Dad pretty much ended up paying for a 7 year long bacchanalia.  Few women have ever had the tolerance for alcohol as Butterface.  Even when she ended up in jail for DUI (which she got out of, thanks to her future husband’s family’s connections) Dad put up bail money for her so she wouldn’t have to spend the night in jail.  He also made sure to point out to me that he would not do the same for me, as according to him, I “know better,” and she doesn’t.


Granted, I was very clandestine with my high school/ college drinking.  Since I could only afford to go to a local technical college (all Dad’s money was going toward Butterface’s beer, and anything else she couldn’t get financial aid or her boyfriends to pay for) if I wanted to enjoy a fifth of MD20/20, I’d simply to go to a friend’s house, get blitzed, and crash where I partied.  Oh, and I did.  Frequently.

I don’t know why so many years later I get bitter about my past.  A lot of the things that happened to me weren’t fair, and I was held to a number of double standards, but it could have been a lot worse.

I can’t balance out the inequities of life, but I do need to end the guilt trips.  I’m tired of being made to feel guilty for taking up valuable oxygen, and I’m tired of believing that the only time I’m worth anything is when I’m overextended and burned out.  I’m also tired of taking the blame for others’ ineptitude, and feeling as if I always have to take up their slack.

I’m only human, and the gifts that I’ve been given have always been balanced with gaping holes.  I have some wiring that other people don’t have, but I’m missing a lot of wiring too.

What I gleaned from the double standards imposed on me was that it was perfectly OK for me to give and do to the end of my strength and ability, and not to expect anything in return.  To a point that’s OK, but perhaps my recent forays into the wonderful world of anxiety are sending a message.  I can only do so much, and beyond that, tough titty.


The Case for Year-Round School, Irreverence and Impudence, and Stealth Education

Here I sit, the ugly kid with the thick glasses and bad clothes, waiting on an ass kicking…

I absolutely loathed first grade (because I could read on the same level as a college freshman at age 5, the powers that be in the school system thought that sleeping on a mat in kindergarten might be a tad bit unnecessary for the likes of me) through high school, with the exception of my junior and senior years when I was permitted to go to college classes at OSU in the afternoons.  I think the only reason I was accorded that privilege is that by then the guidance counselors hated my guts and really didn’t want me hanging around.  What I didn’t realize back then is that I intimidated a good portion of the school faculty.  I really wasn’t an overt wise ass, but I was a little bit too good at pointing out areas that could use some improvement, and I was a rather impudent youth.  Tact is a skill that one learns with age and experience, and I didn’t have any back then.  I don’t have much now, but age brings its own gravitas, and I’ll gladly be a wise ass now, thanks.

I loathed school for two very good reasons.  First, I got the living daylights beat out of me virtually every day from ages 5 to 13.  Granted, when I wasn’t at school my sisters and their friends were administering the beatings, but school was no respite from them, and at school the dynamic of verbal abuse was added to the physical beatings.  Hell, I knew I was ugly and uncoordinated and my clothes were a disaster.  I didn’t need any reminders.  In my clothes’ defense, they were dirt cheap to begin with, and had also been through my two older sisters, so there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of any of that stuff actually fitting properly even if it wasn’t threadbare and worn out.  As to me being a particularly ugly, geeky sort, there really wasn’t much helping that.

I spent way too many mornings waiting on the bell at school just like this.

Worse than landing in bushes and being dumped headfirst into trash cans on a consistent basis was the boredom.  Most of the time my classmates couldn’t get away with beating on me in class (the one exception being Mr. Titty-Titty-Titty back in 8th grade who came very close to getting his greasy paws on my chest area, but ended up breaking my best friend’s leg instead.) I had some very good teachers- most notably my 8th grade history teacher, my music theory teacher, my AP English teacher and my government teacher- but I had some abysmal ones as well, such as the biology teacher who fessed up to the entire class that he only majored in education so he could get out of Vietnam.  One of the abysmal teachers unfortunately taught American history- sort of- as in he read each chapter’s lesson out loud to the class in the same sort of monotone as Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Thankfully I already had an interest in history (no thanks to this guy reading a very dry 20 year old textbook) so I was pretty well versed in American history before I’d ever hit this joker’s class.


The bad part about this dude having his nose buried in a book droning on ad nauseam is that’s where his eyes were focused too.  Everyone was seated in reverse alphabetical order in that class (so he didn’t have to remember names- he just looked at his seating chart) so I sat directly in front of the same girl every day.  She happened to be a black girl who for some reason was obsessed with blonde hair.  At that time I was doing the big 8o’s hair that was so horrible to maintain.  The monthly uniperms (spiral perms with heat, which is an archaic process that went out of vogue in about 1989) not only burned up my hair and gave it the texture of straw, they also lightened it several shades, turning mousy brown to dirty blonde.  Acck, on many levels, because any blonde is not a good color for me, but this girl absolutely loved my hair for some bizarre reason and wanted hair just like mine.

One day when I’d gone back to the salon for yet another $60 uniperm, my stylist noticed that a chunk of hair had been burned off the back.  Apparently the girl in history class was not just obsessed with having straw textured blonde hair.  I thought she had tried to set my hair on fire. I found out later she did.  The sad irony is I had so much hair that I really didn’t notice.

It wasn’t a weave though.  It was my actual hair.

A couple of days after the visit to the stylist, I sat down in that class, at the same desk with the same graffiti (the further back you sat the more elaborate the artwork, and my desk was only one forward from the last in the row) only to observe my friend sitting in the desk behind me with a bright red bandanna wrapped around her head like Aunt Jemima or something.  I simply asked, “Hey, Angie,*(not her real name) What happened to your hair?”

“Angie” replied, “I straightened it.  Then I blonded it.  Then it all fell out.”  The lye relaxer products the black girls used back then were some noxious stuff, and apparently they did not react well with peroxide either.  The coloring products of the 80’s were some killer harsh stuff- without preceding them with lye.

The same stuff that unclogs your drain- these girls put it on their heads.

It took six months for her hair to grow back to where she had just a slight covering of nappy fuzz on her head, but we ended up becoming good friends, even after she fessed up to burning off a chunk of my hair.  I think she was bored in that class too, although I think I did some of my best artwork ever in that class.  On that desk.  Shame on me.

I learned more about art than I did history in that class.

Suffice to say that I don’t put much stock in traditional education.  I do believe that kids need to learn certain “boring” basics such as how to read, how to spell, basic grammar, and at least what I call basic accounting math- how to add, subtract, divide and multiply and have some understanding of percentages and ratios.   But beyond that, there is a world of information and exploration that kids generally don’t get to touch.  History is one heavily neglected area of education that can be one of the most edifying, intriguing and downright fun to explore.  Science is another, and so is the vast world of literature.  I educated myself when I was bored.  I had no problem with year-round learning.  Summer gave me plenty of time as a kid to hide out in the library and to learn on my own without having to worry about “staying behind with the rest of the class” or having to worry about what was going on behind my back.

I think if I could have done some things differently and could have spent more time with my son as he was growing up, instead of being constantly frustrated with the school systems’ bureaucracies and inefficiencies, I’d have seriously considered home-schooling, at least for awhile.  I know the isolation might not have been terribly good for his social development, but I think he would have had more fun learning.  I did quite a few stealth learning projects with him anyway.  I showed him that museums are generally quite cool and are great places to learn.  Though he does not share my passion for voracious reading, he does know how to research subjects that interest him and where to find resources he needs.

You can learn anything you want to if you know where to find it.

I don’t have a problem with kids having fun while they learn.  In fact, I think the lesson just might stick better if it’s fun.  Just a thought.  I also don’t think kids necessarily need to take a break from learning- though they do need to take a break from the formalities from time to time.