Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rage and imprisonment


I've mentioned The Evergreen School before.

I don't recall the details of why I started going there, but I remember liking the environment on my first visit. I remember all of the student books around the library. I remember the copy of Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella that I looked at often over my time there, but never got around to reading.

I mention this, because most of the things, positive and negative, that makes the things I read by Peter Gray resonate so thoroughly for me. I try to explain some to Kim and tend to say she should read his blog or his book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, when we get it. Last night she expressed the concern that I was merely parroting back someone else's philosophy and I had to explain that the issue isn't me parroting back what he said, but that he so perfectly expresses the things I've felt for so long, and backs them up with such great evidence and examples.

I don't remember much about my days there. I couldn't tell you any which way what I studied. As adults, we joke merrily how we don't remember what we "learned" in school as if that was either our failing or an amusing piece of happenstance, rather a core flaw in how our schools work.

My parents paid a lot of money that they couldn't easily afford to send me to these schools.  I'm not certain I can find the same casual amusement in that as everyone else does.

I remember one teacher, Ron Cohen, who taught me about musical theater.  He also had a mock trial of Harry Truman for war crimes and crimes against humanity for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I don't know that I gained what I was supposed to from it.

I did watch Give 'em Hell, Harry! in there and still think of Truman and the movie fondly.

I remember being frustrated that I didn't think that the jury fully understood their job and took too much of their initial beliefs into the jury box rather than what was argued.  I also don't recall there being clear definitions of the crimes for them to work from, just their loose understandings, same as when they came in.

His class was also where I wrote "The Case of the Playground Monitor", which I think was kind of the Quentin Tarantino of early '80s short stories by eleven-year-olds.  It was popular but divisive, excessively violent, featured stretches of profanity and jumped around through storytelling styles.

I might have oversold it, but luckily I don't have a copy around to disappoint you...  nor does the school.  The first time in the school time in the school's history they didn't maintain a copy to show off to new parents and students.  I took a fair amount of pride in that at the time.

Now, I just feel angry.

I was kind of off to go with the writing thing.  I was pretty proud of myself.

Now, I'd always been a socially awkward kid, or considered myself so.  I don't remember ever feeling comfortable around other people - being a confusing character like The Loud Extrovert and 30 years from beginning to understand it was a factor - and I'd long felt picked on and never took well to it.

But I'd become friends, for a time, with my one-time rival, and easily the coolest kid I knew in the whole 12 years I was confined to be educated.  His name was Quentin.

I don't remember the details of us moving from rivals to friends.  I know it happened on the playground, though.

We played Four Square and a team version of "Smear the Queer" that, as best I remember, we largely made up.

(I'll briefly jump in to say that Wikipedia article on Tag provides a variety of alternate names for this game, starting with the decidedly British "muckle" and the incredibly awkward "kill-the-guy-with-the-ball". It was the '80s and we were of the right pre-teen age that homophobic slurs did occur, but I can't remember any suggestion of the game's name being one of them.)

We weren't allowed to play the game.  Not because of the name, but because it involved tackling.  If someone was watching, we had to switch to two-hand touch, which frankly ruined the game completely.

We read Savage Sword of Conan and tried to draw like the artists in it.  We read the Robert E. Howard Conan stories and wrote our own pastiches, but both agreed that we avoided the ones by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter that were shoehorned into our beloved paperback books.

He was better at drawing than I was, although I couldn't trust my memory well enough to say it was good by a standard other than what an eleven-year-old does.  I also feel like I was better at writing, but I could be being kind to myself, as I hate to be so far behind Quentin on everything, but it is possible, as I suggested, he was really, really cool.

I had other issues going on in my life, including some turmoil and major changes in my home that had probably left me unsettled.

But there were some kids a year or two older than me who liked to flip me crap.

As when Quentin had flipped me crap a year or two previous, I tended to respond by getting into physical fights.  This had been a recurring issue in my life.

Somewhere between the increasing concerns about my fighting and the "disturbing" trends in my writing, I was made into the problem.  I'm sure no one involved told me that, and perhaps no one even really thought that, but that was the "lesson" I took away.

People fucking with you is something you're just supposed to expect and "ignore" when you're a kid.  As noted, here, that's because it's a prison.  In a prison that's a normal expected factor and you need to man-up and deal with it.

In all of this it was my anger that was considered a problem.

At least that's how I took all of it.

If I took action on my anger then I was misbehaving.  "In trouble", as the saying goes.  "Bad", as all kids inevitably when they are "in trouble".

No, I'm not really defending fighting as an expression of anger, however coming up with a way to express my anger productively was decidedly not on the table.  I was told to "ignore" it all, which is a load of horseshit.


When I tried to work it out, express it creatively, that, of course, added fuel to the fire of me being a "concern".

I learned, for a long time, not to express my anger at all...  or barely.  It all turned inward.  I've never really gotten past the tendency to turn all the anger I have, whether personal or toward the great injustices of the world, on myself eventually.  Nothing does more to set me into a bleak depression than getting mad, even if justifiably.

That's that legacy.

Somewhere in there I became scared of my voice as a writer and stopped writing with any regularity, despite always thinking of myself as a "writer" and "writing" being the thing I was going to do.  And occasionally I do.  I write all the crazy, bloody, fucked-up shit that got me "in trouble".  I've never seriously considered writing anything else.  Was that just who I was already by then or is that another legacy?

I've been reading Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence, which an incredibly insightful book by Gerard Jones.  Jones has incredible insights on children dealing with violence through violent play and media, and I'd love to just be celebrating that someone is just saying these things, but I'm not.

I'm angry.  I'm angry at people for not saying these things more.  I'm angry at people for not saying these things all along.

And, of course, I'm angry at myself, because that's what happens to me when I get angry.

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