May 15, 2012

strange, and a little bit left of center


sunni's post on improving the angle of her chin got me thinking about my school years today.  (just to be clear, this isn't a response to her post.  this is my completely separate tangent.)  if those hallowed halls of my youth were divided in half between good and bad, i was a part of what you'd call the bad kids.  i wasn't bad (i don't think any kids are), but i always felt strange and a little bit left of center--and for me it was the best thing i could have felt.  much of my label, well, maybe all of my label, was due to my wardrobe.  not handmade, but much like it is now, only with stars and lightning bolts painted on my face, and teeny skirts with technicolor heels and lace scarves.

that might be pretty much exactly as it is now.

my mom used to say she couldn't wait to see what i'd come downstairs in every morning.  you really never could tell what i'd come up with.  it afforded me my sub-definition label, given me by the popular crew in my school: Weird Slut.  this was a constant source of humor to me, as i was one of the only Virgins in that very large school, but i stood my lace clad ground and wore what i liked.  my parents instilled in me a confidence and a respect for others that allowed me to be secure in who i was without bending to peer pressure, at the same time letting others be who they were.

my parents rock, y'all.

that's not to say the cliques weren't, as they always have been, overbearing.  but i'd walk around the halls knowing i had an air of other around me, feeling like that fox with moss surrounding it (the fox, by the way, is the work of kate innamorato, and is part of the rogue taxidermy 2012 biennial exhibit at la luz de jesus gallery, also know as wacko in silverlake.  go if you're close, it's wild and wonderful).  i liked that air.  it was a protective shield. a peer pressure force field.  i lived happily in that ecosystem for years, and was completely shocked when, in my senior year, i was nominated for homecoming queen.  in a weird way, i had become popular.  or maybe the male population was hoping to get in my pants?    in hindsight, that was probably it-- a popular boy (sub label; Jock) had asked me for a date which quickly ended when the answer was Hell No.  (and also Hell No, i didn't win. outcome having nothing to do with the date.)

my teachers rocked too.  maybe it was because i was secure in myself in the first place (though i was quite shy at first meeting), or maybe that had zero to do with it (there were plenty adults that dismissed my presence due to dress or race).  but i can think of at least ten teachers, one or more of whom i think of almost daily, their words sticking with me to this day, who propped me up in big and little ways they probably didn't even realize.    

i knew a lot of kids (quite personally) who didn't have enough of those words.  they had their labels, though, and without words of encouragement, for some it was easier to give in and be that label.  those necessary words are small advantages with big payoffs.  they can be easily given gifts, or easily thrusted daggers.  don't get me wrong, i think the role of Teacher is right in line with Brain Surgeon in terms of Difficult Frigging Jobs On This Planet.  but many of those kids were definitely smarter than me, and infinitely creative.  with some extra words, a little propping up, a little You Are The Best Thing Ever or even Always Remember To Replace The Marker Cap

i can't finish that sentence.  because every kid should be as lucky as i was, and i don't want that sentence to exist.

whatever your school year words were, whatever your label was, everyone had a teacher that affected them in some way.  i was lucky to have many, and i want to give a huge thank you to all of them.  Thank.  You.

who (edit: and what) were yours?  

60 comments:

  1. wonderful post, oona. i love how you describe your "peer pressure force field." i almost had one, myself, a halo created by my outlandish denim capris and red sneakers, only i didn't recognize it until recently and in hindsight.

    reading your post i am also remembering my favorite teachers, who indulged me when i was bratty or helped me when i was feeling creative or were just interested and exciting and happy to pass along the things that made them interesting and exciting. even (especially?) the calculus teacher who pitied me for having to take her class, because she knew i hated it and was bad at it, never stopped being a great teacher. and i did eventually forgive the 4th grade english teacher who forever altered my ability to sleep with the closet door open when he read us "the boogeyman" on friday afternoons, because he was so awesome.

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  2. ah, math. one of my favorite teachers would give me a passing grade for "trying"... because he could see i REALLY was trying. i wish my 4th grade english teacher was that cool! i was stuck with a guy who very obviously hated children of all ages.

    i suspect your red denim capris are a present day magical force, since they marry your halo oufit.

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  3. I had teachers that I like more so than others, but I can't say anyone particular stood out.
    I tried to blend-in in high school, but since I did not hang out with the kids that looked like me, I ended up standing out a bit. I was generally a good kid unless crossed. Oddly enough I only got in a fight with a boy. I was told it was not nice to hit girls.

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    1. i love that the implication is that it was totally fine to hit boys.

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  4. My peer pressure force field was terrible, especially as I was designated a 'geek' and was poor. I wore what I thought would help me fit in and what my conservative mother wanted to see me in. Ugh. Took me a bit to realized that in conforming, I lost my sense of self.

    Your parents are stellar!! We are raising our little miss to be confident and true to herself. I've shown her your blog because she has a great appreciation for unique people. <3

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    1. girl, you have DEFINITELY grown out of conservative! and i can't tell you how happy that makes me to have your little miss as a guest in kalkatroona. i hope i don't teach her to swear.

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  5. Did you really paint lightnings on your face? Wow.

    Great post; and because it makes me think, this is mostly about me.

    Mine? Hm... the 3rd to 5th grade (is that it?) teacher who tried hard to make our class into more than a bunch of kids thrown together by chance, taking us on trips and everything. It did not quite work out; but it did work out in that she first showed me what a teacher could be. So I was prepared to accept the ones that came after her.
    And she always gave me more than a passing grade for trying in sports. If it weren't for her, I doubt I would have gone on trying in sports, and never would have discovered I could beat the other kids in pole climbing (by pure strength of will, seriously) and long distance running (because I did not exhaust myself out running too fast at the beginning), and never would have gone to play basketball (which I still suck at, but I always enjoyed it). In general, I would have been stuck with the "sucks at sports" label - the kid no one wants on their team. I went on to being the kid no one wanted on their team at school, and scoring a homerun in softball at a summer camp, and enjoying the sports I enjoyed, and not really caring. Ha!

    There were others at grammar school. The best, up to this day, are a couple, my art teacher at the local art school, who's more of a crafter and it's pretty much thanks to her that I'm not a full-blown artist now (which is both a good and a bad thing, but mostly good, I think), and her husband, our philosophy/math teacher at grammar school, who's mostly made an impression on me as a person who cares about such old-fashioned concepts like truth and freedom and suchlike...

    I don't remember many words. The best came in the last grade of grammar school, when I got back my history paper - the teacher said something along the lines of it being excellent, and that he did not know anything more the school could give me. As in, "You're on your own now," in a good way. I mostly remember the approaches. The feeling that a person approaches me as a person, not a subject. THAT's what rocks.

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    1. those teachers that give you confidence in something you're "bad" at, man, they're the best. it sounds like you had a lot of gems. i love picturing you climbing that rope.

      (and yes, lightning bolts! it was a little kit i found in a drugstore. sort of like a makeup stamp. loved it.)

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    2. Pole. Not rope. I never mastered the rope...

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    3. we had a rope in ours and my mind jumped to it! i never mastered either.

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  6. Bless your feel-good post for starting my cold morning! Teachers are one of the most important roles (I think) in our society. I'm particularly inspired by educationalist Sir Ken Robinson and poet / teacher Taylor Mali. More personally it was my high-school art teacher. What a dude.

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    1. um, sir ken. thank you for that, i adore him totally and completely. i think i might have a crush on his brilliant brain. the taylor mali link didn't work...

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    2. I'll totally fight you for him Oona! Silly link.... Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpog1_NFd2Q

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    3. oh god. slam poetry. i have a fear of slam poetry (kind of like some have with clowns), i couldn't watch!!!!

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  7. Ah, school. I am grateful that it's over. For a long time I was the picked-on kid, the weird animal-loving, goody-two shoes, buck teeth and glasses and huge fringe kid. While it was awful, it taught me to take some people with a pinch of salt in life now. It was only once I turned 17 and met a girl a few years older than I was that I started being me. She studied fashion design and was really comfortable in her own skin, and she taught me how to be comfortable in mine. I went a bit wild and used to wear old, grandad knitted-jersey sleeves as leg warmers with miniskirts. In a small town, this was very outlandish.

    I may not wear the sleeve-leg warmers any more (why, I do not know, they were awesome), but I credit her as being my non-school teacher. I had a few great teachers in school and endlessly supportive parents, but having a role model like Hannah show me the ropes to being creative and being yourself was wonderful.

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    1. absolutely lovely that one of your teachers was one of your fellow students. perhaps you need to bring the leg warmers back into rotation?

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  8. For me it was my high-school band teacher Mr. Allen. And then multiple science and literature teachers. My favorite teacher for English (whose name I sadly cant remember) was fired for being gay. That made me mad cause he made Shakespeare fun.

    In retrospect I was made fun of because I had my own style from the very beginning. Mom made most of my clothes, too. Though I never had that protective bubble as I could count the number of friends I had on one hand. But all the amazing friends I've found since then have been worth it. Also, if you had told me that people would consider me "stylish" and a "fashionista" when I grew up I would have laughed you out of the room.

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    1. ugh, things like that (firing awesome teachers for STUPID reasons) make me so mad i can't even watch fictional movies about it.

      i think my bubble was my clothing... can't imagine how cool it must have been to walk around knowing your mom MADE that.

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  9. This post made me super happy. I've been thinking back to Youthtimes a lot lately as well and reached some similar conclusions about my social status and my dress sense and--especially--the role of the adults in my life.

    What you've said about that resonates for me in two ways--first, with the part of me that was the kid and teenager who needed--and sometimes got--that support, and secondly, with the part of me that spent years as a summer camp counselor, Sunday School teacher, and tutor/nanny and basically viewed my roles in swim instruction, catechism and homework help as in some senses secondary to being a purveyor of that attitude. It's important stuff, and not as universal as it should be.

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    1. yes, that support is just as important as learning the backstroke!

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  10. Lovely post! It's so nice to remember the people who influenced us and encouraged us in our half-pint years. I was the New Kid in 9th grade, and I was a total weirdo. I marched to the beat of my own drum, and eventually I became really well-liked, but definitely not popular, if that makes sense (like, people thought I was funny, but only super weird boys wanted to go out with me... ha). I went to a school on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, so many kids weren't planning to go to college and virtually none of our parents had gone, so I am so grateful for my 11th-grade English teacher, Mr. Mitchell, who was really dedicated to preparing us for college and endlessly encouraged us to apply to schools and take our futures seriously. I had him again for English in 12th grade, and when he started a film lit class my senior year, I was hooked! I decided to go to California and study film, and Mr. Mitchell was so excited and supportive (even when my parents weren't!). I'm so thankful for that! My art teacher, Mrs. Boys, taught me the lesson that, cheesy as it may be, in creative endeavors, there are no mistakes-- only happy mistakes! That was hard for me to swallow as a total perfectionist, but I think of her words all. the. time.

    ALSO-- I used to work with Rob, the Rogue Taxidermy guy (HA-- what a title!) at the Union Square farmer's market! Small world! He's super crazy and cool.

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    1. umm-- HA! so cool that you worked with Rogue ROb!

      your story made me realize that i literally lived on the wrong side of the tracks too! i mean really, it was like a lightbulb went off, i yelled it to ruggy.

      and your mr mitchell should be sainted. he sounds so passionate. what great teachers you had.

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  11. This was a lovely to post to read! I was so fortunate that I had like-minded friends in high school who were equally geeky and odd, and we were so insulated and weird in our little group that all of us look back at our high school times and wonder how we missed that there were crazy cliques and stuff going on.

    I had so many wonderful teachers who were also a haven for us geeky kids, which heavily influenced my decision to let kids hang out in my classroom during lunch and prep period, instead of keeping the time/space to myself.

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    1. your kids must LOVE you. my art teacher used to let me hang out in his classroom during lunch to work on projects, and i just adored him. i never though of the rare little bit of alone time he was giving up.

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  12. Hmm, I blocked out a lot of High School. If you were part of the private Catholic school circuit as I was, we wore uniforms from kindergarten to senior year of high school. So, our clothes were not the thing that separated us from one another. Although all of my uniform shirts and skirts were too large for me in HS since they were all hand-me-downs from a graduated girl whose mom was friends with my mom. There were a lot of status symbols that I still don't buy into like the car you drove (or didn't in my case) or the book-bag or purse or etc. etc. etc...

    My best teachers were the ones that enjoyed my unintentional smart-ass quips, and who understood that my verbal filter was a little off kilter. I still do that sometimes; say something that others find shocking or insulting without meaning to. I was such an intense kid with such a fierce curiosity that I know I scared a lot of my teachers. Then I was a fifth grade teacher for two years. I was really conscientious and tried to be a really human teacher. My goal was to create a welcoming environment, and I think I succeeded. I think my classroom was a place where everyone felt safe enough to love learning.

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    1. This is off your subject (though my response to your subject is: WORD), but I am completely delighted with the phrase "verbal filter was a little off kilter," so, uh, thank you for making me smile :)

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    2. oh man, i used to feel so sorry for the catholic school girls in their bleak uniforms. how great that you had the sense of your intensity, and wanted to create that embracing environment when the tables were turned. bravo, girl.

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  13. I love this post! Thanks so much for telling us about your experience, good to know I wasn't the only one doing my own thing. I was a weird artsy type who wore thrift store clothes and had a small close group of friends (I was very shy). I was getting teased a bit, and wanted to drop out my senior year.. but I had an amazing art history teacher, Mr. Litton, who to told be to rise above it and be part of the solution. So I did, I became a volunteer aid in an art class and got so much acceptance from helping the freshmen with their art projects. yay happy ending :)

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    1. i'm sure we would've run in the same circle. all these amazing teachers everyone's talking about, there ought to be awards. what a great and powerful thing he did for you.

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  14. It's nice to hear someone with a positive outlook on their school years. I'm sure many less fortunate kids admired your confidence and style from afar, wishing they could be so brave :)

    Unfortunately, my memories of school years are quite the opposite. I had lots of friends, but was never 'cool' and was constantly in fear of the teasing and the emotional torture that was the 'norm' back then if you weren't lucky enough to be part of the 'popular' crowd. I was smart, and artistic, creative and quiet, and I was also younger than everyone else, so I was a prime target.

    I had some good teachers, but life and experience and time have been what has taught me to rise above that kind of stuff, and see beyond to what motivates people to treat one another so badly. I try to pass some of that on to others whenever I can - if I can help make their trials more bearable, it's worth having been through my own :)

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    1. that's what i mean, every kid should have some support in there... i had many friends who were in the same situation as you. i'm glad you took that experience and became your creative funky self!!!

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  15. Wow, you may never know how nice it was for me to read this tonight. I am a teacher and a fellow off-center student due to my me-made wardrobe. Your kind words about your teachers really encouraged me. I often have to defend myself for being in this profession. Comments like yours remind me that I shouldn't care about the opinions of others when I have been given the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a student everyday.
    Thanks for always making me smile.

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    1. it was just as nice for me to read this. and i can't imagine having to defend yourself for doing one of the toughest jobs in the world. hi, i'm a Life Changer, what do you do for a living? :)
      keep rocking it girl, and thank you for doing it!

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  16. This post was good reading, Oona! Teachers marked my life in lots of way (both good and bad). Now that I am one (albeit, not a high school teacher), it's pretty goddamn ace when a student lets you know that you've somehow made an impact - even if it's just a tiny one. I ran into an ex-student the other night at a restaurant. She left her bad date at the table to come and tell me (in front of my date) how interesting and awesome my classes were. That was pretty freakin' awesome. x

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    1. i love that story!!!! i can totally imagine how much i'd love walking into your classroom every day.

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  17. I am in total agreement with the other commenters: Excellent post! It made me nostalgic for my own peer pressure force field. My peers were convinced I was a drug addicted satan worshiper, though I considered myself straight-edge, virginal, and went to church every Sunday quite contentedly. My teachers were all very nice to me, and never seemed to be fazed by my face-paint, chains, cape, what-have-you. Bless them all for that. And my parents may not have understood my fashion decisions but they never thought to stop me. I always attributed my choices to my dad's logic that I should just celebrate what I was given: straight, dark hair, short stature, a heritage to be proud of. And, I'm pretty sure my big sister was out there defending my rights to be me, even though she was slightly embarrassed about it. Thank you!

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  18. Great post! A teacher's attitude towards the students can be all it takes to totally ruin a class, or make it a joy.
    I had somewhat the opposite problem with wardrobe labeling in high school. While I dressed the way I wanted, I would wear long skirts and peasant blouses. It was always assumed I was a member of some strict religious sect.

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    1. ha! reverse, i love it! someone ought to do a movie about the Secret Lives Of High School Students.

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  19. That's an awesome post! I had no such shield in my middle school grades. I slunk around the edges. I discovered in grade four that I could *fit in* and hang with the popular kids if I tried really hard to be normal. At my best, I could manage being "the weird one" who was still accepted---and this was if I policed my words and dressed with as much boring conformity as possible. By the time I was twelve, the mask was more exhausting than it was worth, and I retreated into my natural nerdiness. The kids I had "dropped" were not pleased, and I paid dearly for that over the next two years.

    The odd thing is that there was another girl who arrived in our class around the same time I was retreating into my shell, who *was* more like you---different, proudly individual (interracial, too, actually, now that I think about it ;)...). And she held her own, and eventually that same restrictive, judgmental class accepted her and respected her for it. I wish I'd had the strength to do that.

    High school was so much better. And yes, I remember being buoyed and supported by so many teachers---the faith and optimism they had (in a lot of us!) was amazing.

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    1. these stories are so great. i mean, i don't like to picture anyone teasing little tanit isis, but it's so interesting to see a little movie in my head of all my favorite bloggers going through whatever school was for them, and turning out to be amazing. if i'd been the new girl we would've been buddies:)

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  20. Lovely post, Oona, and I loved your comment on Sunni's post, as well. I heard my own drummer for sure, wearing thrifted, wacky clothing that I'd slice into. And short skirts. Man, I can't believe this one skirt I wore with red patent leather shoes or combat boots! But, like you, I was one of the few virgins. Whatever, labels. And when I got voted "most creative dresser", I totally smiled on the inside, but I kinda knew it was meant as an insult because I wasn't wearing GAP (prep) or Carhartt (hick). I kind of floated in & out of different crowds, which is possible in a tiny school... there's lots of overlap. Hang out at the river, get good grades. I think a lot of who I was then (HS) and am (now) had a lot to do with losing a step-brother & BIL in middle school, during those hormonal years. It was rough, and I retreated inward, because what other kid was going to understand me. But the random kind words of transient people passing in and out of my life, a few good teachers, and my awesome Mom let me know that it's okay to be different. Hang your freak flag high!

    Though there is one comment I'm on a mission to prove false. My ski coach (our nordic team was the best in the state, ignored over basketball, and I was far from the best on our team... it was the non-jock sport) once said, when I was in a state of frustration/lack of self-esteem, "you're in the best shape of your life, just get out there and race." He was a wise, present, knowing man. But I'm going to make him eat his words. Or share a post-run beer with him.

    Guidance counselor, on the other hand... What GC tells a student with good grades not to bother to apply for a summer program because her family lacks money? What a doofus.

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    1. thanks, girl.

      that must have been tough (understatement much?) as a teen. makes carhartt chic stupendously trivial.

      i think you ought to prove your ski coach wrong AND share a post run beer... and then you ought to find that GC and... i don't know. do something mean. what an idiot, seriously.

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  21. Can barely remember my own teachers -- except for Our Miss Brooks, the middle-school home ec teacher. Not one of my favorites, alas. My own child's high school teachers were mostly marvelous. Mr. A, the English teacher, for instance, would stand in the hallway and call out to his students by name, and tell them that he loved them. Each one of them would smile and wave and call back, "We love you, too, Mr. A!" Some of the principals didn't like the disturbance, but they are gone to other assignments, and Mr. A is still teaching and spreading goodness and light ... great post, great comments.

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    1. i love mr a!!! and i'm glad miss brooks didn't kill your love for craft :)

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  22. I was pretty much a non-entity until about second semester of freshman year when THE "bad boy" of the school noticed me. We got together and everyone was wondering who the hell I was. That started about 5 years of completely wasting my life. I was with him all through highschool. I probably could have done so much more in school. I was in honors my first year. I might have been a doctor or something. But instead he introduced me to drugs and alcohol. Because I was so glad to finally fit in somewhere and not walk around invisible I pretty much threw away those 5 years of my life. What a cliche. But that's life right? At least I'm in a good place now. Who knows if I had been a doctor I might have killed myself. I hear they have a high suicide rate. haha

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    1. oh my god this made me laugh. i'm glad you came out the way you did!

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  23. I was teased pretty mercilessly in elementary school. For my big eyes and skinny body. Back then, it was still possible to be friendly with both the pretty girls and the bullies and still get teased. As I got older, my skin toughened (externally, inside I was still a squishy mess), and most of the teasing stopped. I was still thin and awkward with big eyes, but it didn't seem to matter as much. I was never one of the pretty or much desired girls. That this wasn't important was never really told to me. I never felt pretty and certainly not beautiful. But, the collection of people "raising" me never put much focus on reassuring me that I was to them. C'est la vie.

    I remember my HS English teacher, John LaBonne, with GREAT fondness. I hated him when he first started (because he was demanding and expected much from us, how dare he) but came to love him fiercely by senior year. He taught a film class that year and I stayed after to talk with him most days because I had read so far ahead in the assigned books I couldn't talk with my classmates. He was the first person to dub me talented at screenwriting and I often think about what he would think of how I have turned out so far. I know where he's teaching now, but I haven't tried to reach out for some time. He was in Paris the last time I tried to contact him through the school.....I should probably try again.

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    1. well, i hope you hear it quite often that you're ravishing now. and let's not get started on your booty.

      and i hope you do try to get in touch with your labonne (great name!). i bet it would mean the world to him.

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    2. Thanks to my hubby, sister, kiddies and the fabulous knitting and sewing blog community, I hear it much more often now!!

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  24. I was so weird that in grade school I made my mom buy me the black wingtip oxford Buster Browns that the local stores stocked for the Hutterite Colony in our little town. I thought they were cool, but as you can imagine, they sort of stood out for kids not living in an anabaptist religious commune. Still, I wish I could find them again. The amazing thing is that I was so completely unaware of fashion, or the right way to dress, that I had all the confidence to wear them with the wardrobe I assembled from the dresses I got as hand-me-downs.

    It was quite a shock when I hit junior high and realized I was just a geek. Some things never change: I'm still not sure what is fashionable and I like clunky shoes.

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    1. girl, i wore the same shoes. my mom called them clodhoppers and i used chiffon ribbon for laces.

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  25. (Oh man, I've been on internet withdrawal for almost a week and it's taking me ages to catch up on all the cool.)

    OK, I think I got exactly the opposite label to yours: labelled a "good girl" because I got good grades and didn't talk back to teachers, but I was certainly NOT the school virgin and totally flew under the radar (I cut classes more than anybody, but the teachers didn't care because I submitted the work on time and got straight As). It was always amazing to me what you could get away with if you had the right label. Shocking.

    Fashion-wise, I used to wear old thrift store dresses and angora sweaters from the '50s that you used to be able to find soooo easily back then (sigh), but never really got any flack at my small minded, semi-rural high school unless I wore black. Black = weird. So I wore more black ;)

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    1. you and ruggy had similar school theories: why do all the homework when you can cut to the chase and get the A anyway.

      i'm picturing you smoking in the bathroom. please tell me you smoked in the bathroom.

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  26. Oh, my favourite teacher ever was Mr I. He let us call him that. I got him for grade 3 and 4 and he was just such a lovely man. The year before at another school I'd had a truly terrible grade two teacher- and my little best friend, who was the TEACHERS PET, ended up with stress-related stomach cramps and missed quite a few days of school, so you can imagine how this horror treated the rest of us! She was so mean she was suspended from teaching the year after I left. Lovely Mr I encouraged our creative writing and drawing and used to read us lots of Roald Dahl books. He used to bring in his train sets and demonstrate them.
    High school.... eugh. Its a long time ago now, and my memories aren't all bad by any means, but I wasn't at my best in my teen years. I was less the weirdo secure in her own quirk and more your unsuccessful wannabe-conformer. Making up for it now and letting my freak flag fly ;o)

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    1. you are TOTALLY making up for it, you rebellious hanger of crafty yarned items in trees.

      i love your Mr I. he sounds like a teacher from a tim burton movie.

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  27. If you replace "lace scarves" with "feather boas", and "homecoming queen" with "valedictorian" (which was an election in my school, wtf?), this is exactly my high school experience as well.

    My special teacher was Dr. Messer, a very sweet and rather stereotypically scatterbrained math genius. He taught my math 11 and 12 classes (and physics, come to think of it), and during work blocks would show me how to use more advanced methods to solve the same problems, just because he knew I shared his enthusiasm. I've always appreciated that he, and my other teachers, chose to judge me on my actions instead of my rather alarming mode of dress.

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i thankya truly for taking the time to comment, i love a good conversation-- and hope you know my thanks are always implied if not always written!