Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tears of a Clown

DISCLAIMER: This post stops being political two paragraphs in, I promise.

My relief at Barack Obama winning a second term as president is only slightly less than my relief that election season is over. The spiting, the sniping, the punditry, and the political ads - GOOD LORD, the political ads - it can all cool down for a little while. I'm also happy it's over because my tolerance for people saying inane and stupid things is low. Especially because the people saying dumb things will never understand how incorrect they are, so you can't even have the satisfaction of shoving their face in how wrong they are.  

For example: my sister is in eighth grade, and a kid in her class told her Obama was a "baby-killer". This is insane on several levels - first of all, calling abortion "baby-killing" is a gross oversimplification of a very complicated issue. But even if it was "baby-killing", Obama didn't invent abortion. He also didn't make it legal - the supreme court did. And if Obama is a baby-killer for being president in a country where abortion is legal, then Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush were all baby-killers too.

But kids don't understand, they don't know any better, and they say things without thinking or understanding. I've already discussed this. And when my sister told me this exchange, I remembered the way middle schoolers have this sense of privilege and unearned bravado to say whatever the hell they want. 

And how I was totally one of them.

Yeah, upon greater reflection I think I was in middle school what teachers would professionally refer to as a little shit class clown. I relished cracking the perfect joke - and the sound of the whole class laughing.* Combine that with the fact that I loved talking to just about everyone - a regular chatter bug - and this made me somewhat of a nightmare for middle school teachers. 

*I honestly remember once that after the class laughed particularly hard at something I'd said I kept replaying the sound in my head so that I wouldn't forget how awesome it was. Since I don't seem to be able to recall the sound it would appear I failed.

It was just odd to me that they felt they could interrupt my social time. School is where I saw all my friends every day, and if I needed to discuss weekend plans, the drama going on with Stacy and Brent, how annoying the gym teacher was today, or last night's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the classroom was where I was going to do it. And I remember feeling pretty confident that what I had to say was infinitely more interesting than anything my teacher was going to say.

My talking got me sent out to the hall very frequently. There were some classes where it was second nature - just a look from the teacher, and I'd say, "I got it, I'm going..." and make my way outside. I've had only one detention ever in my life, and it was for talking in class. But let me just say this - from my memory of my middle-school aged perspective, my problems were only with teachers who were mean and joyless. There were teachers who found my incredible volume charming and funny with an occasional need to be reigned in or tapered. The ones who had problems with me I remember as being complete jerks. I remember one exasperated teacher pulling sixth-grade me out into the hall and saying, "you're just really desperate for attention, aren't you?" "Um, I don't know." I said. At the end of class, I was walking out with my friends and was not even out the door as I told them, "she says I'm desperate for attention - god, she's so annoying!"

My favorite instance was in health class. Remember how in middle school, we all had to buy insanely expensive graphing calculators? And remember how those graphing calculators had really cool games on them? Well, I was playing them in class because class was not interesting. The teacher - again, not a cool guy, a very dreary sort - told me to turn it off. I kept playing. A couple minutes later, he came over, asking me why I was still playing it. I told him (with that sense of entitlement middle schoolers have that makes them right all the time) that he told me to turn it off, so how could I turn it off without hitting buttons? I was just doing what he said! "Give me the calculator", he said. "No." I replied. "Give it to me". "No, it's really expensive, and you can't have it", I snarled. "Wow, you've really got a chip on your shoulder, don't you?" he said. Now I had no idea what that expression meant at the time, so I just shrugged non-commitally in a way that could have been saying yes or no.

The craziest thing about that story is that I ever had the balls to speak to a teacher that way. High school me, college me - they would never dare to do so. So where did that little firecracker go? He vanished without a trace - honestly, I don't recognize that wiseass as me. How did he molt away into a people-pleaser who never wanted to get in trouble, who always wanted to be liked? Does that come with age? Because I'm pretty sure there are people who stay that way as grown-ups.

Let's compare with the way I dealt with teachers in high school, shall we? I think maybe a major difference was that in high school I was so worried about all my grades - sure if they weren't good enough that I wouldn't get into college - that I didn't have the time to be snarky. Physics was particularly hard for me... it never quite clicked. So on my tests, I would write PAGES of notes to my teacher, thinking that if I could explain my line of thinking, how I got to my answer, that it couldn't be so wrong, or that if she could see how hard I was trying I'd get the points anyway. My teacher told me that she cried grading/reading my tests. Yikes. My anxiety was pouring through my writing into other people.*

*Although I did learn later that she was going through a divorce at the time. So maybe it wasn't all my fault. Also apparently teachers have outside lives. And first names. 

Though now that I think about it, maybe my ballsy self is still in there somewhere. In my junior year of high school, my friend and I wrote and directed a play that was produced by the school. The theatre teacher/department director hated it. The show was our sort of oddball, quirky sense of humor, and he didn't get it because he was sixty years old and the show wasn't written by Neil Simon. Most people can understand that when something is not to their particular taste, it doesn't mean that other people can't enjoy it. The director did not. He assumed that because he didn't like it, the play was inherently bad. He came in to sit in on rehearsals during the final week, and he tore the show a new asshole - in front of the entire cast. In a comedy, it's all about committing to the absurd, so if the actors are doubtful - if they half-ass it - it isn't going to work. So the director was driving the show into the ground by freaking out the cast. Not to mention the simple fact that having your work blithely insulted doesn't feel super great. Finally, in one of our last rehearsals, a joke that he didn't find funny - a joke that, by the way, killed with every audience - came up. "I don't get it - it's not funny." He said. It had been a very long week dealing with him. I was very stressed. I had had enough.

Me: "Yes, it is."
D: "No, it isn't,"
Me: "Yes, it is."
D, with incredible condescension: "No, it really isn't."
Me: "Yes, it is."
D: "It doesn't make any sense."
Me: "It doesn't have to make sense, OKAY? Some things are JUST FUNNY BECAUSE THEY ARE, you don't have to explain them."

And he shrugged with the tone of, "it's your funeral." But it's true - little ol' me yelled at the big bad teacher. And that was that. 

Maybe I've still got balls after all. But that was five or so years ago - we need to test me out again. Quick, somebody bring me someone with authority over me to yell at!

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