High School Should Be Abolished

The Boardwalk Trail in Trail of Cedars Glacier Natl Park by Janson Jones
Trail of the Cedars, Glacier National Park, Montana by Janson Jones of Floridana Alaskiana

“The Long and Winding Road . . . ” ~ Paul McCartney, The Beatles

“Will Never Disappear. . .”

pathwayI picked up my son Brett from school today. When he got in the truck, I could tell that it had been another bad day for him. My heart aches so much for him as he is certain that the rest of his life is going to be as bad as it is right now.

Even though most of his teachers and his counselor have been extremely understanding and have agreed to work with him, he is still suffering the pains of the anxiety and depression, and I have little doubt that almost all of it is caused by school.

When he asked me if his life is always going to be so bad, I just wanted to cradle him in my arms and hold him and never let go. That’s the mom in me talking, but it is also the person in me talking who has been and continues to be terribly unsure of herself, even after all of these years. I know how it feels to believe that life just sucks and that it is never going to get better. I know how it feels to believe that you are worthless. I know how it feels to bear the burden of putting on a good face just to make it through the day.

And because I know these things, it makes me wish that he could just skip these years and arrive at a better point in his life.

“I’ve Seen That Road Before . . .”

stone stepsI mean, I actually didn’t have a horrible time in high school. I did pretty much whatever I wanted, managed to still get good grades, cheered, and belonged to every club I could join. But the truth is that it was all a big act: my attempts to fit in, to belong. And I always wore this façade, one that reflected someone who knew what she wanted and wouldn’t let anyone stand in her way.

I have to tell you that maintaining that kind of façade really takes its toll. I would move through school at this frenetic pace for weeks and weeks at a time. I would go to all-night study sessions, take my advanced courses, work part time four or five times a week. The pace I set for myself was insane now that I look back on it. But then the inevitable crash would come, and I would get sick and be out of school.

At the time I suspected that I was manic/depressive, as it was called then, but only from the little bit of research that I had done on the subject. Of course, information was not a mouse click away at the time, and research meant pulling books and articles from shelves and reading them on the library’s time. I just knew that I had these extreme highs that would shift on a dime.

My mother, of course, would say things like “snap out of it,” and “you’re just making yourself sad.” Or the best one: “You have your period.” To be fair, though, even though I cast my mother as uncaring, it was not that so much as uninformed. My mother came from a very small town in North Carolina and had no formal education. What she knew about depression was only what she might see in movies. And in her generation, mental illness was a big stigma: People did not talk about such things as it would end up on their permanent record.

Permanent record. You won’t believe how many times I used to hear that. I asked my mom one time where this permanent record was kept. She told me not to be a smartass.

But I digress . . .

“The Wild and Windy Night . . .”

Dark-stormy-cloudsMy main point is that high school is an unendurable test of strength, will, character, and emotion. Think back to your high school days: Did you love them? Do you look back on them fondly? Bigger question: Would you go back?

No. Absolutely not. No way. Never. Fry some chicken and call me for dinner but N-O.

I was telling Brett that there are some people who never leave high school because it was the best time of their lives. We all know those people, and we usually feel sorry for them.

But in retrospect, there are only a handful of people from my high school days that I still care about. One of them is dead; he died much too young of cancer. One I was married to (no, we were not high school sweethearts, ugh). One is his best friend and was my best friend. One reads my blog regularly and has come in and out of my life for years and has always been in my life because we have known each other much longer than high school. And one is a gay man who lives with his partner up north.

There are other people who I remember fondly, There are moments that I remember fondly. There are incredible adventures that I will never forget. But that was then. I’ve moved on, matured, grown, aged, changed and changed again.

“That the Rain Washed Away . . .”

silver-birch-forestWhat I was trying to tell Brett was that all of those popular people in high school, the ones who everyone knew and envied, or wanted to be like or hated just a little because they were too popular or too handsome or too privileged—those people are not who they were in high school.

For example, one of the really sad stories from my high school concerns the football star, the quarterback. He was actually a quiet, troubled soul, but few people knew that. Everyone just knew that he could throw a ball. A few years after high school, he killed himself. I won’t even try to surmise why he might have done such a thing. No one can ever know another person’s demons.

Or take some of the beautiful people in high school, the pretty blondes, the handsome jocks: Some of them are on their third marriages. Some are with spouses who they thought would treat them like queens only to find out that their husband is a monster who beats them behind the privacy of their closed door.

Some never made it to 20. They died from drug overdoses, suicide, homicide, illnesses. The ones other people looked down on, the brains, are working for GE, fortune 500 companies as engineers, NASA.

“Why Leave Me Standing Here? Let Me Know the Way . . . “

Standing AloneWe can never know where life will take us. Most of us would never have guessed that we would be in the places we find ourselves today. Some of us have done much better than we ever hoped. Some of us have done much worse. Fate is fickle, and life is hard.

When we are in high school, everything seems possible at some point. Then nothing seems possible the next day. We go from highs to lows in the blink of an eye. Maybe it’s because of a rejection letter from the college we really wanted. Maybe it’s because we lost a parent or a sibling or a best friend. Maybe it’s because our family’s circumstances changed, and what we once had was taken away. Maybe it’s because we have no support system at home. Maybe it’s because we have no home. Who knows?

All of the petty grievances we had with people in high school seem so small once we move on and have to deal with real world issues: paying the mortgage, working with a boss who is sexist, finding out our spouse is cheating, losing a job because of circumstances beyond our control.

How can breaking up with your one true love at 16 prepare you for such things? It can help you to understand loss, but without a broader context, that loss will seem overwhelming at the time.

How can failing English or Trigonometry not make you feel like a failure? It can’t at the moment, but in a broader context, it can help you to learn how to overcome failure, and as long as no one rubs your nose in that failure, you may be able to deal with it in a way that does not tear at your sense of self.

“Many Times I’ve Been Alone and Many Times I’ve Cried”

Wild and Windy NightI’m not trying to diminish all of the emotions, feelings and flailing that a young person in high school endures. It is precisely because of the constant bombardment of things that so many young people take their own lives. As I wrote about in a previous post, being bullied when you are 13 and unable to sort through all of the emotions can cause a young person to snap. And how sad and utterly wasted.

If only there were some way to go inside the heads of these young men and women and let them know that in one year or two or three, their lives will be different. They won’t have to endure humiliation, verbal abuse, or whatever obstacles they face now because they will have the power to get away from that source of pain. If only they can hang on long enough.

I’m not naive. I know that not everyone escapes. I know that for some, the abuse continues. I know that because of economic circumstances, some will never be able to touch even the periphery of their dreams. And some will continue patterns begun in high school that prevent them from ever really maturing emotionally.

Many an alcoholic and drug addict are born in high school. Those bullies grow up to be spouse and child abusers. Some of those who endured constant ridicule grow into people who survive by belittling others because that is all that they know. Others who had to lie and live in secret grow into adults who always keep their true selves hidden. And some who were never able to overcome their childhood fears grow into individuals who continue to be victimized their entire lives.

But there is always hope, and with luck, maybe the sorrows that they endure during this emotional, hormonal, confusing time will help them to become stronger people, or at least give them insight into how they don’t want to raise their own children, the things they should never say or do to their own children because they have the emotional and physical scars to remind them of how much words can hurt.

“. . . You Will Never Know the Many Ways I’ve Tried”

Solitary Walk on BeachIf high school was the apex of your life, and you still look on it fondly, then good for you. Cherish your memories. But for most of the rest of us, it’s a period that we are glad is in the past. We might go to a reunion to see a few familiar faces and say hello, and probably, we want to gloat a little inwardly at the beauties who have gained weight and the arrogant young men who are now balding and pot-bellied.

Sometimes, revenge is sweet when it is never served at all, when we just let life take care of things. When we just allow fate to dip into the well and present its own version of just rewards.

I wish with all of my heart that the high school years could somehow be avoided, jumped over, or abolished altogether. But that is not reality. As much as I might want to cosset my son and keep him from pain, I know that I have to step back and allow him to finish this particular journey in his life. I can be there to support him, but I cannot bear this burden for him, nor would I want to if I could.

“Don’t Leave Me Waiting Here/Lead Me to Your Door”

sunrise through treesThere is an old Spanish proverb that says “The journey is more important than the inn.”  Only when we are a little older and a little wiser and a few years removed from the hardest legs of our journey—only then do we begin to understand that life truly is a winding road, filled with twists and turns and hillocks and vales.

Until then, we must endure all of the more arduous legs of our individual journeys and bide our time for the smoother paths. And if we can be patient, sometimes along the way the light will shine through the trees to help us along our paths.

Let me leave you with this beautiful memory of Paul, George and Ringo together live with John in video. More later. Peace.

 

 

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“It was a dark and stormy nightmare.” ~ Neil Gaiman

take-on-edvard-munchs-scream

My Take on Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”

Nightmare: Vivid, distressing dream that lasts until I wake up or my head explodes . . .

” . . . it is sitting on your chest torturing you, giving you nightmares.” ~ Bhagwan Shree Raineesh

the-scream-maskI awoke again this morning from another nightmare. This state of affairs is becoming increasingly intolerable, especially since this time my awakening was accompanied by a migraine that felt as if someone was trying to rip out my right eyeball.

The fact that I am even writing about ripping out eyeballs should be indicative of my state of distress: I hate anything to do with eyeballs. I refuse to watch any part of a movie that has any kind of object within range of the eyes. I don’t even think that I could get laser surgery on my eyes because I am so timid about eyeballs. It’s amazing that I can wear contacts.

But that is exactly what this pain felt like. I was whimpering so much that the dogs became distressed, and Shakes crawled up my chest, with all of his Polar Bear bulk, and began to lick my chin. Tillie started whining, and Alfie jumped off the bed.

Need I say that this was not a pretty sight?

“I couldn’t awake from the nightmare/That sucked me in and pulled me under/ Pulled me under.” ~ Jeff Buckley

pink-floyd-screamIn this particular nightmare, I was working for the realty firm again, the one for which I was marketing director.  Almost all of my nightmares or anxiety dreams involve something about work or going to work or leaving work. (Could be that I still have unresolved feelings about being on disability, especially since I’ve worked almost my whole life?)

So in this nightmare, I was at some boring realtors’ dinner, and I needed to leave in time to pick up my daughter. Now this scenario does not seem to be the standard material for a nightmare. Seems pretty lame, in fact.

I won’t go into all of the details because they continue in the same vein. Nevertheless, turn into a nightmare it did, along with the accompanying feelings of helplessness, distress, and heightened senses. This particular nightmare would be classified as a perceived assault on my self-esteem as opposed to an assault on my person. Okay, whatever.

I just know that when I awoke, my heart was pounding, and I was breathing in short, shallow gasps. The bonus was the throbbing, pulsating pain in my head and the rotating spots in my eyes.

But the most awful part is that after I woke up and Corey shoved an axert down my throat, the nightmare continued once I was able to go back to sleep. Tell me this isn’t weird.

“Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” ~ John Lennon

humancerebralcortex10xsmall1
Human Cerebral Cortex: My Brain in Overdrive

I did a little reading on nightmares, and apparently, they are most common in children, but adults do have them. The causes range from stress, real-life trauma, fevers, anxiety, bereavement, heredity, and reactions to medicine.

Since this onset of nightmares began when I changed medicine, I think that I can deduce the cause of these nightly forays into fright land. But I also think that the more that I have them, the more that they are going to occur—sort of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They are breeding and multiplying in my subconscious like some amoeba on Viagra.

I want to send a cease and desist signal to my cerebral cortex: Stop with the creative nocturnal psychosis, please. I don’t mind if my cerebral cortex goes into overdrive when I want to be creative, but this is too much.

“This has got to be a nightmare . . . I haven’t woken up yet.” ~ Curtis Sliwa

zachary-goodson-scream
"Scream" by Zachary Goodson

There is actually something called “Nightmare Disorder” (of course there is). The criteria are the following:  

  • Repeatedly wakes up with detailed recollection of long, frightening dreams centering around threats to survival, security or self-esteem, usually occurring in the second half of sleep or nap period.
  • Becomes oriented and alert instantly upon awakening.
  • Results in distress or impairment of occupational, social or other important areas of functioning.
  • Symptoms are not caused by general medical condition or by use of medications or other substances.

  • I have the first three, but am not sure about number four. According to the Psychology Today Diagnosis Dictionary, a tendency towards nightmares can be inherited (http://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/nightmare.html). I remember when I was a child, my father used to have these screaming nightmares. He would thrash about and wake up wild-eyed. Unfortunately, sleep apnea can also be a cause for nightmares, and my father, being a Filipino, had a predisposition to sleep apnea.

    Sleep apnea is a very common occurrence in Filipino males; very often they stop breathing, and then gasp and begin breathing again. My father used to do this, and it was scary as hell to see when it happened. A few times, my mother would pound him on the chest to make sure he started breathing again. But being a stubborn man, he never saw a physician for his condition.

    The syndrome actually has a name: Sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome, and it occurs predominantly in Southeast Asian males. Filipinos call it bangungut, which is Tagalog for “to arise and moan,” the word for nightmare.

    Another symptom of sleep apnea is loud snoring. My father’s snoring was incredible. Sometimes I would lie in my bed at night and just listen. The snoring wasn’t  just an inhale/exhale normal kind of snoring. It had tonal variations, and one inhalation seemed to go on forever. Apparently, well not apparently but decidedly, I too have an incredible ability to snore. It wasn’t always like this, but in recent years, I have begun to wake myself up with my snoring. The only being in the house who snores louder than I is Tillie (this according to Corey who must sleep next to my noisy self—now that’s love).

    “Dreams are often most profound when they seem most crazy.” ~ Sigmund Freud

    the-simpsons-homer-scream
    Homer's Simpson's "Scream"

    The number of theories about dreams abound. Freud believed that our dreams were a reflection of our unconscious desires. I don’t agree with that one. Some researchers say that dreams are the cortex’s way of  finding meaning from random signals that are sent out during REM sleep and then creating a story from these signals. Others say that dreams are the mind’s way of sifting through the detritus of everyday life and getting rid of the things that we don’t want to warehouse in long-term storage.

    Personally, I believe the third explanation more than the other two. When I try to interpret my normal dreams, often the randomness has a pattern formed from insignificant events that occurred during the day or the previous day.  For example if I dream about my mother driving a bus, I may have had a telephone conversation with my mother about nothing, and a bus may have nearly sideswiped me on my way to the store.

    “Everything in a dream is more deep and strong and sharp and real than is ever its pale imitation in the unreal life . . .” ~ Mark Twain 

    the-scream-by-dwayne-jensen
    "The Scream" by Dwayne Jensen

    But one thing is certain about my dreams and nightmares: I can recall most of them vividly upon waking, which can be very disturbing if the dream was particularly unsettling. The feelings aroused by the dream/nightmare carry over into my day, coloring my mood and attitude. For example, haven’t you ever dreamed that you had an argument with someone, and then when you awoke, you actually felt mad at that person?

    So you can imagine my state of mind when I have a nightmare: I am mad at the world or whatever part of it inhabited my mind during REM. Luckily for the other members of the family, my nightmares rarely involve them in a negative light.

    I told Corey this morning that I thought that one of the reasons I had a migraine was that I must have been clenching my jaw during my nightmare. My jaw has hurt all day, just like it did when I had TMJ and used to clench my way into a migraine either from anxiety or anger. Luckily, I managed to teach myself not to clench, especially after two jaw surgeries, and I have no desire to reacquire that painful habit . . .

     “Those with the greatest awareness have the greatest nightmares.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

    dreaming-big-by-steve-roberts
    "Dreaming Big" by Steve Roberts*

    I don’t know that I necessarily have more awareness than most people, but I definitely have more nightmares than anyone I know. Maybe I have nightmares because I can’t deal with reality. Who knows?

    But one thing is certain: If these nightmares, vivid dreams, whatever, don’t lessen, I may never be able to look forward again to a good night’s sleep as I once did.

    “To sleep, perchance to dream” has taken on a whole new meaning, and that connotation is not particularly welcoming.

    There will be more later. Peace.

    *http://www.steverobertsart.com/images/dreaming_big–small1_a7sz.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.steverobertsart.com/Announcements.html&usg=__AmTOf15OSxc_AU1OLXoSe70hE50=&h=336&w=448&sz=16&hl=en&start=38&tbnid=EFoz060Yka4ePM:&tbnh=95&tbnw=127&prev=/images%3Fq%3Ddreaming%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26start%3D20

    “Be The Difference You Want To See In The World” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

    peace-activist-poster

     

    “All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance”

    peace-quote-john-lennonOh, those were good times. John Lennon. Yoko Ono, declaring to the world in nine words the simplest of mantras.

    If only it could be so simple again. If only people could set aside all of their agendas and just give it a chance. What is it you ask? Why peace of course, peace and maybe just a little more: equality possibly?

    Equalityin the workplace, equality in the tax rolls, the right to own a home without paying exorbitant interest rates, the right to go to college using a GI Bill, or a student loan, the ability to retire comfortably without having to worry about half of your retirement funds disappearing because of fiscal mismanagement by unknown suits on Wall Street, access to good health care without worrying about how you will pay for it.  All of these rights just because you are an American, no matter where you live, or how much you make, or what you last name is, or who your parents are. It could be that simple. If only . . .peace-quote-lincoln

    If only the color of a man’s skin really and truly did not matter any more in social or political settings.. If only all that mattered were his ideas and his plans for making this nation better for all Americans. If only he could be judged solely for his intelligence, his political savvy, his keen insights. Over 50 percent of Americans said in November that the color of his skin did not matter. Perhaps it is finally true.

    If only there were the possibility that those who are already decrying actions before the act itself has the chance to be accomplished, would pause long enough to see if it works. Just tarry a moment to discern if the covenant that this man has made with the nation might have a chance of coming to fruition if given enough support.

    If only so many things had not gone wrong once upon a time. If only we had not lost our most preeminent visionaries half a century ago: First, the man who brazenly declaredpeace-quote-hope that we “ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” And people walked away ready to volunteer, ready to commit to their country.  And then a few years later, another man, bolstered by the younger man, declared that he “had a dream,” and countless people followed him to Washington, D.C.

    If only he had had the chance to see his dreams through. And then one more man, a younger brother, tried to pick up the torch and carry it for both men, but he, too was shot down. If only . . . 

    And now, fifty years later, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace sign, we also celebrate the dream, and we laud the speeches, and a man of colpeace-quote-inherit-earthor stands before us and pledges to reflect on their dreams, to remember the dreams of his grandparents, his father. And he pledges to contemplate the generations to come, considering his own young daughters, and it is because of them that we know that it is not a matter of if only, but a matter of when.

    So this time, when we sing “give peace a chance,” perhaps more people will hearken, more people will acknowledge, more people will heed the call, and maybe this time, perhaps peace will actually have the chance it needs.

    Inaugural Poem 

    Praise Song for the Day

    A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

    by Elizabeth Alexander

    Each day we go about our business,

    walking past each other, catching each other’s

    eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. 

    All about us is noise. All about us is

    noise and bramble, thorn and din, each

    one of our ancestors on our tongues. 

    Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

    a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

    repairing the things in need of repair. 

    Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

    with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

    with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice. 

    A woman and her son wait for the bus.

    A farmer considers the changing sky.

    A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin. 

    We encounter each other in words, words

    spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

    words to consider, reconsider. 

    We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

    the will of some one and then others, who said

    I need to see what’s on the other side. 

    I know there’s something better down the road.

    We need to find a place where we are safe.

    We walk into that which we cannot yet see. 

    Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

    Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

    who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, 

    picked the cotton and the lettuce, built

    brick by brick the glittering edifices

    they would then keep clean and work inside of. 

    Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

    Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,

    the figuring-it- out at kitchen tables. 

    Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

    others by first do no harm or take no more

    than you need. What if the mightiest word is love? 

    Love beyond marital, filial, national,

    love that casts a widening pool of light,

    love with no need to pre-empt grievance. 

    In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

    any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

    On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

     

    praise song for walking forward in that light.

    Copyright (c) 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved.
    Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul,
    Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be
    published on February 6, 2009.

    four-peace-signs     

     

     

          PEACE—Fifty years ago the Peace symbol was designed by Gerald Holtom, a British designer and artist. 

         There will be more later. Peace.