a note from the sub

the things i forgot to tell you today, because i was too busy botching all of your quiz scores.

I don’t know

Dear girl,

I heard you talking. I didn’t say anything because you know what? In the end, I’m not a real teacher and I don’t know how to fucking handle the fact that you’re still just a kid and you told your friend she could have your brownie because you didn’t want to get fat. I told the other teacher on the yard, and she shrugged it off. She said you guys were trying things on for size, you hear your moms talk, it happens all the time.

I don’t know.

My last semester at college, I dropped from a healthy 140 pounds to 108. I had gone from receiving praise at how great I looked, to as long as you’re doing it in a healthy way and you’re not planning on losing any more, are you? I lost my friends, most of them drifting away gradually, having spent too many uncomfortable moments having to watch me spiral down my own little rabbit hole, others abandoning me Intervention-style, threatening me with the loss of their friendship unless I admitted to having a problem. People became my enemy, their concern I interpreted as jealousy, they were angry that I had stopped being one of them, that I wanted something extraordinary and didn’t mind making sacrifices to get it. I became a slave to my routines; my first priority became the ability to eat what little I had metered out for myself, and have adequate time to work out, so I avoided social gatherings, dinners out, anything where I might be forced to eat something for which I hadn’t previously accounted. I became accustomed to being regarded with suspicion, the lies flowed out of my mouth with terrifying ease, I quit drinking, that’s when I lost all the weight, I’m trying to cut down on my sugarOh, I can’t… I had food poisoning from pizza a few weeks ago and still can’t even look at it. And then, eventually, even my body turned on me. My reproductive system shut down, like a bankrupt economy. I walked out of the first doctor’s office when she told me flatly that I was severely underweight and needed to address my eating disorder. The second doctor prescribed me drugs to trick my body into functioning again.

Years later, I have recovered. I’m no longer a size 2 and I am okay with it. I eat a cupcake when I want a fucking cupcake (and that’s a lot of times.) I have friends again, supportive, wonderful friends with whom I go to dinner, drink wine, and eat chocolate when the occasion calls for it. I see a therapist, and am finally successfully managing my anxiety and depression. I look back on those years the way that I should, with horror and sadness at what I did to myself.

But there is still a modeling portfolio at the bottom of my closet that I studiously avoid. I am afraid of the pictures, I am afraid of the bony shoulders, the protruding hipbones, how unrecognizable that lost, wan girl is, and I am afraid of the tiny voice inside me that still says, damn, we looked so good. I am afraid of the knowledge that, if I could somehow get there again, without losing all of my friends and perhaps rending permanent damage to my body, I probably would. This is no joke. This is a sickness, this is a societal blood curse we are passing from generation to generation of women. It has to stop, but I don’t know what it’s going to take, and I don’t know how I can help when that person that I was, that poor sick girl, is still a part of me, is always going to be a part of me– and she hears what you’re saying and she still gets it.

Later that day, at the pizza party, when all of the other teachers were urging you to eat a piece of pizza, and you asked me if I was going to have some, I shook my head sadly and told you that I’d had a nasty bout of food poisoning from pizza a few weeks ago, and still couldn’t even look at it.

I’m sorry.

 

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i survived middle school, and all i got was this shitty t-shirt

Dear Spitballer,

We’ve had so many technological advances over the past few decades; when I was your age I was waiting for AOL to boot so I could find my pals in a chat room… now with a couple of clicks, you can take an unflattering photo of me from across the room and snapchat it to twenty of your nearest and dearest. And yet, you chose to shove a tiny wad of paper in your mouth and then lob it unceremoniously at the back of my head while I struggled to get the projector to work to teach you the middle school math I wasn’t sure I remembered. That’s just gross, dude.

But what I’ve learned because I’m so much older and less gross than you, is that you can’t be held accountable for the insane choices you make in the dark ages known as middle school. Middle school is much what I would envision prison to be like, and not just because mine had bars on the windows. Middle school is a collection of individuals at their absolute worst, trapped together in a smelly, pubescent purgatory where the cruelest are on top, and humanity takes a backseat in order to survive.  You have to be hard, shelve your morals and your guilt, betray the things that you love just to make it beyond lunch. It is for these reasons that, whenever someone tells me they enjoyed middle school, I inherently distrust them.

When I was in seventh grade I had a wonderful science teacher who shall remain nameless to protect her and also because I can’t remember it. She was so pretty and so nice and extremely well-liked by everyone, a feat extremely difficult to pull off when you’re teaching a demographic categorized by Extreme Resentment of Every Known Thing in The World. But that’s the trick in middle school, that no one is safe; you can be well-liked and still be a target. And one day, a bunch of the cool kids, much in the same as yourself, decided to play a trick on her: at designated intervals of time, our class would collectively drop various objects on the floor. To pull it off, however, they needed to enlist everyone, including members of the lower social castes (including myself,) and we all leapt at the chance to prove our worth.

Fifteen minutes into class, we dropped our pencils. She laughingly scolded us. Thirty minutes passed, we dropped something else I can’t recall at the moment. She was annoyed, but what can she do? At the forty-five minute mark, we took those old, crappy, heavy as fuck textbooks and dropped them all at the same time, scaring the shit out of our sweet science teacher. And then, to my fascination mixed with abject horror, she cried.

I remember being stunned; the shock of such a raw display of emotion temporarily snapping me out of the mob mentality. It made me feel unmoored and unsafe, the idea that, not only was a figure of authority vulnerable, but that I had the ability to wound her. It clearly affected everyone; it sucked the air out of the room. The truth that teachers are just fragile people like the rest of us was a palpable, heavy thing, now sitting amongst us like a big, fat crazy guy, drinking a slurpee and laughing at all of us for getting what we thought we wanted.

 At lunch our class ate together, cool kids and less-fortunate alike, in a rare display of solidarity after the fallout. I remember recounting the events to a friend like a war hero, not allowing my discomfort to sully the fact that I had been included in a cool kids’ scheme. I remember throwing in a curse word, feeling unwieldy and clumsy coming out of my mouth … and then she started fucking crying! And then one of the popular girls, a Latina girl with wide-leg jeans and lip-liner who looked about thirty, turned and snapped at me, You don’t say “fucking” when you made someone cry; what’s wrong with you?

As a reluctant grownup and educator myself now, I’m not sure I can justify my sweet science teacher’s emotional outburst. I’ve taught through the death of my father and dissolution of my engagement. I’ve been yelled at by a principal for missing a lunch duty I didn’t know I had, and when I went back to grab my sunglasses she slammed the door and told me I could stand in the shade if it was too bright. I have sat behind a desk at a transitional school for female ex-cons with a pair of scissors in my hand because I was told a girl I wrote up has a violent past and might try to hurt me. I’ve had a spitball lobbed at my head, and believe me, you weren’t the first, hasn’t anyone ever told you to think outside the box? I have run to my car after school, as fast as my sensible shoes could carry me, and burst out crying as I dialed my mother. I have cried in bathrooms, underneath my desk, into closets, but I have never cried in front of my students. You don’t need to understand that responsibility yet, not in that way. It is my job to help you to do what is right, not to saddle you with the emotional burden when you don’t. I have chosen to forgive myself for that day, as I forgive you, because you’re just a fucking kid, and God help us if we must be held responsible for every shitty thing we did when we were children.

A few years later, that really sweet and pretty science teacher had a baby girl. She named her Mikayla. I guess she forgave me, too.

what floats your boat or 10 Ways to be a Happier Person and a Better Significant Other Even if You Might Just be an Introvert Who Just Happens to Like to Talk A Lot

Dear Kids,

Happy winter vacation! I, for one, can’t say I’m sorry to see you go, because you were a fucking nightmare ever since you got back from Thanksgiving. You may have seen me around school these past few weeks looking tired and sad, slumping around gloomily or, alternately, running as fast as my silly little loafers will allow because I’d forgotten once again when I was supposed to pick you up from music… maybe I’ve been a little bit of a nightmare myself. I feel like I should say something to you poetic and super wow grand about the end of another year, but honestly, I got nothing. Truth be told, and how can I put this in the gentlest and most appropriate way possible, 2014 was a fucking cunt, and I feel defeated and hollowed out and ready to spend the next two weeks (or the rest of all eternity) under the covers, in the safety of my poorly-heated apartment with the comfort of the Food Network and my electric blanket.

There is something to be said about having a bad year. And, typically, I’m going to say it using too many words and rather heavy-handed analogies. What I have learned, I think, is that, on any given day, we are sailing our little freighter ship-selves on a web of tiny, intricate little mantras and contingencies and itty-bitty little white lies, like Everything happens for a reason and Everyone gets theirs in the end and Tomorrow will be better and If it’s meant to be it’s meant to be and The right answer will present itself and Someday I will Not Take The La Cienega Exit The Wrong Way Off The Eastbound 10. And they seem small, and silly, and often downright stupid… but they all connect in just the right way, kind of like how Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again couldn’t manage to do with those fucking circuits in science, and it keeps hope (which, in this analogy, is that goddamn lightbulb) alight in our little hearts. But it is when we begin to let those little strands fall, Everything will not be okay, I will never have the answer, I should just give up driving because I’m part Asian and it’s a stereotype because it’s true, you realize how easy it is to uncurl your fingers and let them all slip away. And I’m the first person to scowl at overly-positive, life-affirming Instagram memes, and Upworthy links, and Elite Daily posts like 10 Ways to be a Happier Person and a Better Significant Other, Even Though You Might be an Introvert Who Just Happens to Like to Talk A Lot, but I don’t know guys, we have to be careful. You have to hold onto the words that keep you going, that lift you up, that heal you. Screenshot those motherfuckers, save them in your FOR WHEN SHIT GETS REAL folder because, without anything keeping you afloat in the tougher, longer days, well, you sink, kiddos. You just fucking sink.

I think, as a lifelong lover of stories, I always hoped my life would be measured in giant, cataclysmic, super wow moments, the big gestures, the giant public failures followed by the meteoric comebacks. I’m not sure about anyone else’s life, but mine doesn’t really seem to be constructed like that so far. My ship capsized in a very small, painful, private way, gradually, over the span of a year, and I can only imagine that coming back up will be much in the same. I can, however, tell you that, on the way home from Santa Monica today, I took the La Cienega exit off of the 10-E and proceeded to get on the southbound ramp, which is the wrong direction to go to my apartment, which is precisely what I have done every single time I have taken this exit in the seven years I have lived in the same godforsaken neighborhood in this godforsaken city, and, in what could almost be described as a giant, cataclysmic, super wow moment, my brain suddenly shouted YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG FUCKING WAY, YOU DUMB BITCH, YOU DO THIS EVERY SINGLE TIME! … and I, white-knuckled, triumphant tears in my eyes, switched lanes and got off, for the very first time, going the right direction home.

I don’t know what 2015 holds. I don’t know shit. But I know that I still have the capacity to learn from my mistakes. It’s not enough to float my boat, but it’s a start.

Happy New Year,

Miss Park

super wow mean

Dear Children of the Candy Corn,

As you may have noticed, something sort of strange happened to Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again halfway through school yesterday. Before you left for PE, I was my usual sassy, if somewhat generally confused and tired-looking, self, gamely remembering to refer to you by your new, adopted nickname, “Vanilla M&M” (or “Vanilla Eminem,” it was never entirely clear,) sitting attentively through the baby animal photos that WILL JUST MAKE YOU DIE!!!!!!!, and calling you out when you ganged up on that poor girl who tossed the wayward ball to the wrong person in your CRAZY FUCKING FOOTBALL GAME. I called you over and reminded you of the unfairness in yelling at someone who neither has any understanding of the rules of your game nor the division of the teams (not to mention the fact that none of you did, either.) I did what I believed to be a fairly respectable job of handling the situation until I realized that Joe or Kyle or whatever his name is was behind me almost the entire time, waving the arms of my coat that I had draped over my shoulders to emphasize my more salient points. So you all had a real good laugh at my expense, and I yelled at you to go away and maybe try to play something that has rules in the two minutes of recess you had left.

… It was somewhere in those few moments that a parent walked by, and interpreted my conduct towards you as super wow mean, and went to report that there was a super wow mean teacher yelling at kids outside. And after recess, when you guys went to PE, Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again was called into the Principal’s office.

I tell you this in the hopes that it will help you understand why, when I was trying to walk you to art and you were tackling each other on the field, instead of barking your last names and ordering you back in line, I called in my best Julie Andrews, Oh boys! Please join us back in line! (which you ignored because… well, I’m sure you thought I had just lost my goddamn mind.) In between attempts to Mary-Poppins you back into line, I was forced to intervene between two of your classmates, one of which had apparently forbidden the other to refer to herself as “Doodoo Face” (Honey, if she wants to call herself Doodoo Face, she can… I’m sure you were just trying to be a good friend by recommending she not do so, and I celebrate you for that, but it’s her right as an American to call herself Doodoo Face and we must honor that.) Another student was presenting me a balloon with MISS PRACK smeared across it in washable marker, for which I thanked her profusely, tucking it under my arm while I continued to explain the first amendment to What’s-Her-Name. The balloon then exploded, scaring the everloving shit out of all of you, and I just looked at your muddy, crazed, tear-streaked faces, blinked back the tears in my own eyes, clapped my hands and cried, Well my goodness wasn’t that fun!

So, I just wanted you to know why Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again acted so wack yesterday afternoon. We don’t need to talk about how I got called mean; we really don’t. We don’t need to talk about how I cried in the Principal’s office. We also don’t need to talk about how I’m obviously not a super wow mean teacher, because that’s pretty much the opposite of what I am. I am so super duper nice, and so widely known specifically for my niceness, that it’s almost laughable that someone would look at me and say, wow what a mean, yelly teacher. It would be silly of me to let something so absurdly off-base bother me, worm its way into my little shriveled heart and poison every nice thing anyone has ever said about me. If I did let it, which of course I haven’t— at all— one single tiny bit, I could just flip through some of the very sweet notes I’ve been gifted by students over the years, which would remind me that I am

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extremely loved,

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(as a teacher.)

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and that I am RILLY NICE.

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RELE NICE!!!!

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she means Best. I think. I am the best.

I wouldn’t need to remind myself that the VERY SAME KID I was “yelling at” chose to give his feedback at the end of the day to me, and that it was that he was very happy that I was his sub, and that I’m the nicest sub ever. I wouldn’t do any of that, because, I mean, wow, how ridiculous would that be, so we don’t need to talk about it OKAY? OKAY??<!>>!>@>!>!>!!@@!!

Did you deserve to be called out? Yeah. Was I super wow yelly and mean to you? You all left laughing, so it couldn’t have been that bad. All I was trying to convey to you was that when someone’s just walking by your game, she really has no idea what’s going on.

Love,

Julie Andrews

if you can’t beat ’em

Hi Kid.

I’m sorry I made you cry today. It isn’t the first time I’ve made a kid cry, and certainly won’t be the last… and, no matter how many times it happens, it is this odd mix of devastation and horror and stifled laughter and more horror at the fact that, for whatever reason, I feel compelled to laugh at your crying. But what was I supposed to do? Everyone was playing your dumb fucking game of football just fine, and then there you are, standing right in the middle of the field, yelling your little kid-brains out over who fucking knows what. So I called you over in the manner I felt most appropriate, which means I channeled my inner high school football coach and yelled at you to YOU! GET OFF THE FIELD! (since I finished Friday Night Lights I feel I have a very good grip on how to communicate effectively with young men.)

You stomped over to me with a kind of excess pageantry that already had me a little concerned. Before I could get a word out, you then proceeded to do the most bizarre, tantrumy, (and wildly entertaining) sort of pagan dance of anger in defense of your actions, physically accenting the important words, like, I am just (punch) trying to play the game (kick) BUT NO ONE (karate chop) IS (punch) PLAYING (kick) BY (karate chop) THE (karate chop) RULES (kick)! And I know you wanted me to go over there and micromanage your game for you, and I had some good reasons for refusing to do so other than the fact that the grass was wet and I didn’t want to walk across it just to get yelled at by some more angry kids. But hoo boy were you mad, and, as we are all well enough aware, often what follows a mad tantrum is mad-crying. And then you were just a giant fucking mess, all sweat and dirt and snot and tears and… well, you were there, you get it.

So here’s where I feel compelled to tell you just how little fairness exists in grownup land, how the only reason you don’t see more grownups angry-dancing all over the place is that, when you grow up, you decide that it’s probably better to shove those feelings of anger and frustration deep down inside you so that they may instead manifest in stress-related medical issues. I would warn you to guard your little justice-seeking heart; I want to weep for your little snotty face, for my own snotty face. I want to properly convey to you how agonizing it is to think about every drop of water you use (because we are in the middle of a fucking horrible drought that no one seems to have heard about) and then try and sidestep the water pouring out of the hose the neighbor has left lying on the sidewalk as she stops watering her grass to answer a text.  How it feels to lean over your sink one morning to inspect how shitty you are looking today only to have your shitty sink collapse beneath you, and then end up paying for it to be replaced because of a loophole in your lease agreement. Or the unique aggravation it is to drive your car behind people going 20 mph in the left lane in the middle of rush hour, who cut you off, or refuse to let you in, who never, ever, fucking use their goddamn turn signal, is the turn signal not a thing that we use anymore, why the FUCK DOES NO ONE EVER USE A TURN SIGNAL IN THIS GODFORSAKEN CITY? But I realize that Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again has become somewhat of a downer these days. So, instead, I’m going to tell you that, in the midst of all the unfairness and the uncoolness, in the dark, shabbier days when it seems like you might never end up on the awesome end of things, there are small ways of making it more okay than… it might be otherwise. And one way I make it more okay is: I don’t use my turn signal anymore now, either.

It takes a lot of focus not to, after so many years of fastidiously indicating my automotive movements (even when I’m pulling out of a parking spot, which my mother still reminds me isn’t all that necessary,) but it truly does makes me feel better to weave in and out of traffic with nary a turn signal in sight. I will catch some old lady’s stank eye as I drive past her and I give her the stank eye right back, silently saying, welcome to the jungle, bitch. It just feels like a tiny little piece of power that I am taking back, a way of reminding myself that there are still a few things in my crummy life I can control. And that’s what I meant to pass on to you when I leaned over, put my hand on your shoulder, and said, Listen, if no one is playing by the rules, why should you? Typically, you looked at me like I was a moron and ran back out to shout at your friends some more… which you couldn’t, because, also typically, I took too much time talking to you and recess was over. Which has pretty much become my patented method of problem solving, if you hadn’t already figured it out.

School should be fair. Playtime should be fair. You should enjoy these days of insular righteousness, where justice is always just a tattle-tale away. But life is not and, every once in a while, you ought to practice a little survival of the fittest. When sometimes, the only way to make things right when no one’s playing by the rules is to turn off your turn signal, put on your best stank eye, and enter the jungle. …Or at least, that’s what you should do tomorrow, since you have no more recess.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wash my car in an attempt to render it unrecognizable because, on the drive home, I cut someone off and then accidentally flipped him the bird because, I don’t know, I got confused. It may be fair, but it’s not a perfect science.

Texas Forever,

Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again?

scientific method

Dear kid,

1. Name of experiment

2. Hypothesis

3. How you will test your hypothesis

4. Materials needed

5. Conclusion

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#nailedit.

Hugs,

Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again?

lost in translation

Dear Korean Kids,

Thank you, for treating me like the Pied Piper of Korean kids. For following me around, once you figured out I was Korean too, or at least half Korean, even if I don’t really look like it, which in turn makes me sort of a secret Korean which in and of itself is kind of a novelty, I guess. For asking me all sorts of questions, like everything I did and said was both marvelous and infinitely fascinating. For teaching me Korean words you were appalled I didn’t know. For showing concern that I was older than your other teacher from last year, Miss-Whatever-Her-Name-Is, and not yet married. Basically, for giving a shit and, hilariously, giving a shit because I’m Korean… something no one has either given a shit about, or really even known, for many, many years.

When my father died, in a way, I ceased to be Korean. I lost my connection to that half of me. We never met most of our Korean family; they all live in Korea and don’t speak English and they are now lost to us. His Korean friends and colleagues were nothing more to my family than my father’s friends and colleagues, and while some of them occasionally called or visited, after the fact, to tearfully bring us boxes of asian pears and the occasional weird cake from the Korean bakery, after about a year we were forgotten entirely. No one recognized us anymore; we were strangers in Korean restaurants, at the market. Without our dad with us, my brothers and I were something other to them; we were no longer welcomed with open arms like prodigal children, Grandmaster Park’s adorable half-Korean kids, everyone pinching our cheeks and telling us how handsome/pretty and smart we were. We permanently lost our pass to the Korean community. And the thing is, I never have culturally identified myself as Korean; it doesn’t matter to me at all. I understand that I don’t look Korean, mostly people just speak Spanish to me and I have to cringe and shake my head and say, no (the only thing I learned in four years of high school spanish) but I think sometimes I just miss my dad so much, and I see him in the faces of the old Korean man walking down the street, and the nice Korean lady who runs my favorite dry cleaners (what?  She does, what can I say?) And I just so desperately want them to look at me and see him, I want so badly to be recognized, for them to hold my face between their hands like they did when I was little, and to tell me that I’m such a pretty girl, and such a good girl, and my father would be so proud.

He was a giant of a man, my dad, shrewd and charismatic, a gifted athlete and a brilliant mind. His reputation was larger-than-life and occasionally skewed towards the bizarre; stories we were told about him as kids often ended up sounding like Chuck Norris one-liners and he gladly confirmed every last one of them, true or not. It was largely due to this uncontainable reputation that so many of his friends and colleagues refused to believe he had died; I actually had to listen to my mother repeatedly say on the phone to stunned people …yes, really. People were obsessed with him; they traveled from across the globe, slept on the mat of his studio just to get a chance to train with him.  Someone once made a bunch of tshirts with his picture on it, one of which I wore in a photo in college, as I drunkenly broke a board at my friend’s request (I later showed him the picture; he was sufficiently mortified.) But mostly, he was just my dad. For such a handsome, imposing man, at home with us he was so weird, just such a giant weirdo, always making up songs about poop and dancing crazy dances, driving to Home Depot in his bucket hat and the bottoms of his Otomix American flag pants tucked into his white athletic socks and sandals. He was quirky to the point of infinite quotability, a never-ending source of quips and non-sequiturs in broken English. He was generous and kind, and loved and accepted me for the neurotic, sensitive artist I was, even if he would have greatly preferred if I had shown a propensity for numbers, or medical/legal jargon.

I don’t know how it would be different, if we might feel the hole he left in our lives any less if there were anyone around from when he was still alive, as I imagine some people who lose a parent might have, who could sit down and bring my father back to life through their stories. Those people disappeared or can’t speak English, don’t know what to say or can’t find us to say it. So, instead, I sat down during snack and I told a bunch of Korean kids about my Korean dad, my extraordinary dad. I guess I just wanted to thank you, for temporarily giving me back a little of something I lost a long time ago. It was nice, for a brief moment, to be welcomed back into my lost tribe. To be fondly reminded of the years I spent in Korean restaurants and supermarkets and video stores. To hold your darling little faces in my hands as I tell you, that you are so smart and so lovely and so kind, and I bet your parents are so proud of you.

Annyeong,

Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again?

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walk it off

Dear girl,

I’m sorry those other girls said whatever thing that they said to you to make you so upset. I think they said you lied about something, but honestly I can’t remember and I’m sorry for that, too. I was using half of my brain to listen to you, and the other half trying to decide between two horrendously bad ideas for how to spend my afternoon, because I was in a self-destructive mood (that happens occasionally when you’re a grownup.) However, you got my full attention, and the attention of a passing teacher, when you suddenly burst into tears and, shout-crying, explained to me that, two years ago, they had a joint birthday party and invited every single person in your grade except you and it was so embarrassing and hurt your feelings so much. Ah. And there it really was, wasn’t it? The other teacher was not having any of this and told you that was something you needed to get over, but that she would help you resolve your more immediate complaint with your frenemies (apparently she deemed me absolutely incapable of handing it… which means my master plan to appear absolutely incapable of handling peer mediation continues to work… masterfully.)

I’m not sure I agreed with her though, muffin. I get that perhaps using this minor incident as a springboard to address your previous and very long-held grudge did not necessarily play well with my fellow teacher, who was using her lunch break to address this, but I understand that getting over something isn’t exactly as easy as, well, getting over it. Especially if something is embarrassing and horrible; these things have a tendency to stick with us. I have my own little flashcard set of humiliating moments tucked away inside, and every now and then, my subconscious will just flip one over and show it to me, often completely without warning or cause, and stop me cold. For example, when I was stuck at the copier today, and thumbing through Facebook (this is why we should all quit Facebook) just seeing a face from my past flipped one of my cards over. The memory rushed back at me of sixth grade, when some awful girl told literally everyone about the major crush I had harbored on a boy in our grade since elementary school. When what became the longest, most humiliating day of my entire life ended, and I was getting off the bus, this boy, who I had been friends with and secretly loved for years, reached out to give me a sheepish high-five, which I returned quickly, and just in time to exit the bus and dissolve into tears. I’m not going to tell you how long ago it was that I was in sixth grade, mostly because if I do the math I might try and throw myself out of my second-story window, suffice to say it was a long fucking time ago. But, when I remember that high five, it is real, and it is so bright and fresh and so, so very painful.

When that other teacher did her thing and left the three of you to hug it out, the other two girls skulked off in the opposite direction and you looked to me, like, “What the fuck?”  I shrugged my shoulders and told you that, sometimes, the only thing left to do is try to walk it off. You looked to me, again, like, “What the fuck,” so I’m sorry that was apparently really awful and vague advice. But what else the fuck is there to do? Maybe, sometimes, that’s all there is. You walk. It just sucks. But it is an immutable fact that, every time you step, you do get one step farther away from whatever it is that you’re walking away from. That’s math.  And I know, lovie, I know there are some things that seem so big, and so loud that there is literally nowhere you could ever go where it won’t be able to hurt you anymore. And sometimes you will think you’re a million miles away, and you’ll take one wrong turn and end up face-to-face with it again, in all its hugeness and ugliness and realness. Best we can hope for is that the roads continue to be infinite, and that, just maybe, we have overestimated our ability to hold onto things, and underestimated the amount of distance we can cover when we just keep our eyes facing the horizon, and walk.

I can’t tell you how far we need to go to silence the voices and maybe even keep that masochistic little deck of flashcards of mine in check. All I can do is welcome you the fuck to life, and remind you that we’re all walking together.

Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again?

 

 

 

rebellion pt. III

Okay kids,

There was a word stuck in my head the other day. Just a word that I didn’t know, that I clearly either read somewhere or heard somewhere at some point, that floated back up to the top of my brain when I was digging around for some other piece of information like, where my keys are, and if they’re locked inside my car again (they were.) The word was pyrrhic.  I googled it.

Pyrrhic (adj): (of a victory) won at too high a cost to have been worthwhile for the victor.

For the record, this is what I was reading when I inexplicably burst out laughing during that rather dry Nat Geo documentary on photography. If you haven’t made the connection already, this word is very relevant in school. Perhaps I thought of it the other day when I told one of you that snack was over, and you would have to save your delicious-looking chocolate muffin for lunchtime, and you looked me right in the eye and smushed that entire giant fucking muffin into your mouth, dribbling half of it down your shirt, and choking on the rest (apparently it was also rather dry) as I stared at you in wonder and said, “I hope that was worth it.”

Rebellion is a funny thing, because when you’re a kid, it truly is, quite often, a series of pyrrhic victories fought against grownups telling you to do something that is, at the heart of it, in your own best interest. And it doesn’t matter, I know, you’re right, it truly doesn’t matter one tiny bit if it’s best for you or not… sometimes it feels like we are not in control of who we have to become, and it’s just too much to be told what to do by someone else. I get it, we all get it, because it doesn’t change when you grow up. And, when you’re a grownup, no one’s really telling you what to do anymore, so it’s extra ridiculous. When someone tells you what to do as a grownup, it is usually a suggestion of a way in which to improve upon your life; it is a kindness, it’s advice. And occasionally, when you receive this friendly advice, for whatever reason you will feel your underutilized rebellious spirit rise up in you big and angry, and you will find yourself wanting to say, “GUESS WHAT I think of your advice to SWITCH TO VERIZON?!  I think it’s WHY DON’T YOU JUST LAY THE FUCK OFF ME, HUH?

The other day, I received a compliment, something I had improved upon in my work, and my utterly insane inner reaction was, “Oh yeah?  I wish I HADN’T done better so that I could make it clear that I DON’T CARE ABOUT IMPRESSING YOU.” Recently, it was suggested to me, in the mildest and kindest way possible, that I consider trying meditation as a way of helping my troubled sleep. And, my inner rebel once again reared up in totally misguided umbrage, “DON’T TELL ME TO MEDITATE!  YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! I think you should take your meditation and WHY DON’T YOU JUST LAY THE FUCK OFF ME, HUH?

When I was in high school, I was always dragging myself outside to run, in an attempt to stay in peak physical form so that I could wear my cute little field hockey uniform and sit on the bench cheering on my faster and more coordinated teammates. My father, having been a professional athlete his entire life, decided that this was an area in which he could finally truly mentor me, and insisted on accompanying me on his bicycle, so that he may proceed to run me off the road if I ran too slow for his liking. I’m not sure how tied into rebelling against my father running became for me… but I fucking HATED TO RUN. There was not a single thing I enjoyed about running. It was tiring and long and boring as shit; I was bad at it, and my dad wanted me to be good at it, so that was reason enough to have no desire to do it. Our little joint runs became so torturous to me that my mother began forbidding him to leave the house while I was on one. But my father was exceedingly clever, and one day as I was walking leisurely in my neighborhood, jamming to my minidisk player, his big, black suburban with the tinted windows slowly turned the corner and drove up level with me. The window rolled down and my father’s incredulous face appeared, as he yelled in his broken English, “WHY YOU WALK?!!”

I run all the time now. I run every day. And, somewhere between high school and now, I came not only to love it, but to need it, my own time, carved out just for me and my music and the simple joy of moving in a powerful and instinctive way. It has become, I realized, as my friend was endeavoring to sell me on meditation, my own personal kind of meditation. I run to clear my thoughts, I run to organize my thoughts, I run to celebrate, I run to grieve. I run when I’m unduly furious over being told what to do, and when I’m afraid I’m not becoming who I want to be. I think, though, I run mostly because, when I am running, I feel closest to my dad.

I have to say that having blue hair hasn’t been the transformative experience I thought it might be.  I wanted to be like the kind of person who would dye her hair blue, but I did it, so I guess I was that kind of person all along. And maybe rebelling isn’t always so much fighting what you don’t want to become as it is running, as fast as our little, misguided legs can carry us, to who we’ve always been.

Love,

Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again?

 

rebellion pt. II

Dear you guys,

My second missive on rebellion is dedicated to you. First I want to tell you that I am so bummed your awesome game was banned from the yard last week. I, for one, was just so impressed that you’re three and can’t wipe your own asses, yet managed somehow to invent and execute a game in which you could all participate peaceably and collectively. My interest was piqued from the moment I stepped outside and saw you. You were in a very large circle, walking clockwise around one child lying face-up in the middle, his eyes closed. You chanted, and this is where you really sold me, “Dead body, dead body, dead body!” On the third of which the boy in the middle rose from the pavement, arms outstretched, like a motherfucking zombie, and chased the shit out of the rest of you. I did try to protect your creepy little game; when that other teacher came over to ask me what you were doing, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I can never understand anything they’re saying.” Unfortunately, while you are really shit for communicating anything else, when you’re chanting “DEAD BODY” in what appears to be a cross between Duck-Duck-Goose and some bizarre pagan ritual… it is rather hard to mistake for anything else.

But I was most impressed when your game was banned and you were told to disperse, and a small group of you remained in your circle to play what was, you later explained, to that same teacher, a new and entirely unrelated game entitled “Dead Body” (what you lack in creativity, you make up for in cojones.) In a brief and entirely uncharacteristic moment of ambition, I asked the other teacher to let you play. Because it was a game that you had invented, and you should be encouraged to invent things, even if they’re creepy, plus you weren’t hitting each other (or myself, mostly) with those fucking golf balls so, really, wasn’t it a win-win? And I felt the adrenaline rush of being a rebel again, fighting on your behalf for your creative freedom to play whatever fucked up game you want.

When I was in elementary school, in my spare time I authored a series of short stories starring the kids in my grade, embroiled in a bitter and often violent battle of the sexes, entitled REVENGE. In typical fashion, it generally served as a vehicle in which I could verbally eviscerate the boy with whom I was currently in love. It was filled with booby traps and snowball fights, with clandestine plans and lots of pathos. I would read the stories to my brothers while they were in the bath, often the only opportunity I got to road test my work with a (physically) captive audience. When we were given a journal in school and told that we could write whatever we wanted in it, I jumped at the opportunity to immortalize my stories in number two pencil. And, afterwards, when we were asked if anyone would like to share what they had written, my hand was the first one up.

My brothers are an okay audience. They were better before they could talk. Much better before the ability to leave snide comments on every single one of my Facebook posts. But I had never known a reaction to my work quite like my classmates’ reaction to REVENGE PART ONE. They hooted and hollered, cheered and booed appropriately. I had been performing my own work my entire life, but had not known, until that moment, what an unparalleled joy it was to slay an audience.

It was official: REVENGE was a sensation. In the weeks that followed, it sparked a number of spinoffs which were, in keeping with true literary tradition, often cruder, more violent, and far less structurally complex than my original. They eventually grew so widespread, and the content so inappropriate, that my teacher finally proclaimed that REVENGE stories were banned from school, permanently. For some reason, I took this as pertaining only to my peers’ spinoff stories, but when I offered to share the latest installment of my saga the next day, I got a point crossed off my fucking star and was asked to tear those pages out and take them home.

My mother continued to surprise me by not being upset, but rather seeming quite proud to be the mom of North Springfield Elementary School’s literary Che Guevara. With her encouragement, I began to no longer mourn the loss of my stories and instead appreciate the gift my teacher gave me. My peers looked to me now in a way they had never before; I, Mikayla Park, nice, responsible, straight A kid, was suddenly a vanguard, purveyor of incendiary content, enemy of the state. The REVENGE stories would have died out on their own; it was elementary school, we had the attention span of a number two pencil. In banishing them, my teacher only ensured their continued duration, because something worth banning is certainly something worth holding onto. By striking them down, she only made them stronger. Like in Star Wars, guys. And, as a teacher, the minute you make yourself comparable to a bad guy in Star Wars, you’ve seriously blown it.

So for the small, three-year-old “Dead Body” cadre, for the kid who made a gun out of legos and then qualified it as “a… blaster that shoots… candy,” for the artist who clearly drew a vampire cat with blood dripping out of his mouth, who then scribbled a jelly donut into his hand as a safety afterthought; this one’s for you. Get on with your bad selves. Creativity is a right and a precious gift, but so is being revolutionary, and everyone should know what it is to be one, at least once.

Vive Le Revenge,

Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again?