Tag Archives: middle school

Still Mad

29 Jul

In 6th grade, I placed into the gifted program.

The gifted class necessitated a couple of us leaving the regular Social Studies class halfway through*, which was its own special brand of hell for me: I placed in midway through the year, and was never convinced that everyone else knew I was supposed to be going with those kids now. I lived in abject terror that I was going to get up one day and people were going to ask me what the hell I thought I was doing. I missed a couple of classes because I was paralyzed with this fear.  When I finally managed to get there it was fine, mostly. I liked the regular teacher of the gifted class. She was tough but fair, she loved history as much as I did, she kept a handle on the other kids. Unfortunately she got sick, and we had a long-term substitute for a while. I don’t remember much about her–middle school was a goddamned chaotic time, all bullies and raging anxiety and terrible decisions, and my memories are not clear–except for two things.

The first is that she did nothing to stop the other kids from harassing me. Kids are mean. Kids who have been told they are smart are brutal. I was probably a pretty weird kid–I have no real frame of reference because everything seemed normal to me, but I was the third tallest person in the whole school, I carried my D&D Player’s Handbook around and tried to get people to read it so we could learn to play, I had a bad perm, I talked to myself**, I read all the time, I daydreamed constantly, I still sometimes chewed on pencil erasers when I got nervous. I was probably pretty weird. At the very least I was pretty visible. Because I had not yet learned that my size and strength give me power, they made me a target. This had been a problem for many years, and some teachers handled it better than others. The normal teacher in the gifted class handled it well. The long-term substitute teacher in the gifted class did not handle it at all. There were only like 8 or 9 students in the class. I don’t know if she didn’t realize or just didn’t care.

The second is that she made me read my story out loud.

For some reason we were assigned to write short stories, potentially as part of a unit on epic storytelling. I being, 10 or 11, crafted a wish-fulfilment first person fantasy tale wherein I had a talking dragon, a magic sword (with a name!), a handsome boyfriend, and an important quest. Was it good? Hell no. I was 10 or 11 and had attention problems. Stylistically it was a pastiche of the books I valued most at the time: Pern***, The Hero and the Crown, and the Sweet Valley/Girl Talk/Babysitters Club genre of Cool Older Girl Does Stuff books. It switched from 1st to 3rd person by the end, which I realized but was too lazy to fix. It opened with the main character yelling “MOM! WHERE IS MY MAGIC SWORD?^” I’m sure I tried to rip off Gone with the Wind at some point. It was a hot mess. But it was ambitious, and it was an assignment I completed on time, which put it well ahead of most things I did, and it made me happy.

I was nervous, because I wasn’t sure it was an OK story to write, but I was ready to turn it in anyway. Well, the long-term substitute did not want us to turn the stories in. She made us read our stories out loud, standing in front of the class. I don’t remember what this was supposed to teach us. I remember standing in front of peers who hated me trying to read a story with character names I couldn’t pronounce, I remember stammering and stumbling and paraphrasing so much the sub told me to sit down, I remember people staring at me with naked hatred on their faces, or openly laughing. I remember that two other kids had made me the bumbling antagonist in their stories. I thought one of them was my friend, but in her story I was not only a monster, I was half a monster and the other half was one of my biggest tormentors, a guy nobody liked. I remember the long-term substitute didn’t say a goddamed word about any of this. I remember she made me get up and read my story out loud again after everyone had read theirs. And I remember people laughed.

I didn’t even turn it in. I think I threw it away, but I was pretty dramatic; I might have flushed it down the toilet.

Everyone gets nervous when someone reads something they’re written, right? Right. It’s not a secret. I’m old enough and have practiced enough that by now it only makes me want to die a little bit. Maybe I could lapse into a coma until they’re finished and have come up with something good to say about it? That sounds perfect. Of course, I have to actually show someone what I’ve written first, and that doesn’t happen often^^. I don’t trace all my Writerly Insecurities back to this moment–don’t be ridiculous, they began much earlier–but I can tell you that It Did Not Help, and Yes, I Am Still Mad.

I remembered this today when reading a Facebook thread about school-age humiliations, and realized halfway through typing an abridged version that I was shaking with rage. Healthy? Probably not, but healthier than crying in the corner, I think. I just wanted to be the hero for once, rather than the butt of the joke. Yes I’m still mad. I’m mad as hell.

I’ve been reading a lot of old stories today, and writing a lot of fiction in the last several weeks^^^, and finding most of it good. I even revisited a WIP I’ve been struggling with for years, found it good, and found a lot of new energy for it. I get paid to write nowadays. It’s my job. I have a lot of hobbies and pastimes that let me be the hero AND the butt of the joke, because it’s not a bad thing to be both. I wish I could go back and tell that poor little kid who was me in 6th grade that it’s going to be ok.

Mostly though, I’d have a few words for that long-term substitute.

 

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