Nov 5th, 2011

You Don’t Know How It Feels

The great Mark Twain once said "I am prepared to meet anyone, whether anyone is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

One of the earliest memories I have is of sitting in my red metal booster chair in the breakfast room in the old house, and my mother is feeding me. My mother is left handed, and although I am too young to explain what I perceive, what I perceive is that my mother's angle of approach with that spoon is not right. I take the spoon from her hand, dump out the applesauce, announce "self", and proceed to do just that: feed myself.

My next defining memory is of refusing to eat off a plate or drink out of a glass of the wrong color. I am unable to explain just what the wrong color is in advance. Only when there is food or drink in place can I tell my mother if the color palette is to my satisfaction. If it is aesthetically unappealing, nothing can persuade me to partake. I am maybe six.

Let us fast forward through my early childhood, which was idyllic, to my school years. On the first day of first grade, I come home and announce that as Mrs. Smith has told us we will learn to read the next day, I will agree to go back. My school years grew more unpleasant annually. I was very small for my age and bullied. Small and very bad at sports, which made me the object of ridicule on the field or in the gym. A favorite pastime for the bigger girls was to force me to play tether ball with them, where they would bash the ball around the pole in a tight spiral, two feet above my head. Fun times.

In high school, I swanned into my guidance counsellor's office and convinced her that I wanted to join the French foreign legion. I lectured a substitute on the cast of characters in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and for punishment was sent to the principal's office to be assigned sentences. I had to write 500 times "I will not talk in class and I will do as I am told." I wrote that at the top of every page, but the rest of the time I was writing "I will say what I want and I will think what I want." I planned to become a marine zoologist until my marine science teacher told me that girls could never do research and the best I could expect would be a career as a teacher. I walked out of his class and never went back.

At a time when people cared about these sort of things, my IQ test came back with a score that brushed 200 and I was labeled an underachiever. That beleaguered guidance counsellor would cry that they knew my IQ, why wouldn't I just apply myself? Weren't they paying attention? That lecture about Shakespeare? I was right, the old man and the soothsayer are different characters. If that substitute would just have read the passage I'd pointed out, she would have seen that the two were having a dialog. Hadn't I been sent to the principal on another occasion for reading Time magazine in class because I'd already read the assignment (the entire text book, not just the lesson in question) twice? If you think being small makes you a target, you have obviously never been a geek.

In my thirties, I went to see an industrial psychologist to take an aptitude test to see what I should be when I grew up. Everyone falls into one or more of the following seven categories said the results letter. Your strengths are...and then MY letter listed three things that were't any of the seven. The psychologist explained that my particular combination was so rare as to be statistically insignificant and hence left out of the standard form letter. Communication. Authority. Something else that meant I had no problem figuring out what needed to be done and then directing other people to do it. I'd make a good lawyer, wedding planner, or art director. So, basically, said the psychologist, I should just keep doing that art thing I'd been doing.

This week I have been told I face disciplinary action for something I did in a sales meeting where I had been sent ("from corporate" seems to have been an important aspect, the solemnity of which I failed to fully apprehend) to observe the training process. Even though my mind was fully engaged and I was participating in every segment of the program, and even though i took notes and came back with a list of projects I wanted to develop based on what I'd heard and seen, the take away that some anonymous others had gotten from me was that I was knitting in the meeting and that therefore and somehow this action made me so heinously disrespectful to them and everybody else in the room that they felt compelled to call my boss and complain. This became my boss's truth, even though he let slip in passing that an equal number of not-to-be-named others had called him to say they enjoyed my participation. The remaining three quarters of the attendees have not voted on my popularity.

I learn better when my hands are busy. Other people doodle, I knit. Had anyone asked me to stop because it was distracting, I would have been happy to, but nobody said anything other than to ask to see the yarn, as it was some I'd spun myself (agrarian, crunchy-granola, hippie freak that I am.)

My mind is always going. Always. If there is one thing that my friends all agree on, it is that while I have never changed, I have mellowed out. People who haven't known me since college, however, find me too intense, too passionate in my opinions and feelings. You think it's scary on your side of that? Try living inside my head. My mother used to tell the story that people often said to her that they couldn't imagine what it was like for her to be "that child's" mother. She was my mother, she was proud of me. She taught me to be strong and true to myself. She loved me.

Once more, even though I am forty years out of high school, people with more power than I have decided that because I am different, I am to be punished. Just as gender, skin color, chemical or physical make-up are genetic and not a matter of whim, so is the way I think. You can punish me and lecture me, torment me on the playground, put it in my permanent record, dislike me, demote me, find me intimidating or find me peculiar, give me lousy performance reviews, judge me or discriminate against me, but I can never be anything other than what, or who, I am. Believe me, after 57 years, if there was some way I could pass myself off as a normal person (or at least what the majority of you people have agreed a normal person is) I would.

Another great man once wrote "I believe that i am a molecular swerve, not to be put off by the zippy diversions of the cheap minded." maybe that should be my next tattoo.