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This Square Peg.

Happily Not Fitting In Since 1978.

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school

nope. can’t do it.

When I was a senior in high school, I did something that defied all the parameters of shy girl status: I auditioned for a musical in my high school.

*cue shock*

Yes, your Square Peg, who enjoyed life behind the shadows, who always volunteered to be the narrator (and when she wrote her own stuff made herself the narrator, thank you very much), decided very much on an adolescent whim that she would audition for the spring musical that her high school was putting on, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the ForumLots of innuendo, lots of farce. I knew nothing about the musical prior to auditioning. There was no Wikipedia back then. Anyway, I loved the title, I loved musicals, I loved theater, I loved my school’s drama teacher (who was also my beloved Film Studies teacher when I was a sophomore and introduced me to the wonder of Citizen Kane, among other things), and I was high on this adolescent whim. I knew I could sing. So why not?

How to Audition for a Musical (Or How Not to, Depending on your Perspective)

  1. If you’re 17 (or 35 or 59 or whatever) and a veteran of several chorus classes, it would be nice to know how to read music. Because guess what? I didn’t know how to read music. (Still don’t.) When I was handed the music for the songs I would be singing that afternoon, Comedy Tonight and Lovely, I might as well have been handed stacks of hieroglyphics. And I probably had a better chance of deciphering those than the music I was given…
  2. …but because I was learn music by ear, I waited until dead last night to audition for each song. This gave me time to listen carefully to the notes, the melody, the arrangement, and allowed me to actually stand on stage and sing. Not too shabby, either.
  3. It might be a good idea to remember that even though you’re one of dozens that are auditioning, you can’t go up on stage with those people. You actually have to stand at the front of the stage and sing. Alone. And yet, moments before cardiac arrest took over as I approached the stage…
  4. …I found a way to position myself by the piano and not really at the front of the stage and I focused on my drama teacher, who was awesome and encouraging and likely CPR-certified in case I did keel over from the fright and butterflies.

I got through it, you guys. And I had fun.

But remember when I said I knew nothing about the musical? Well, although I didn’t score the lead roles of Philia or Pseudolus (and this was really no surprise; other than pretending like I don’t want to strangle rude people, your Square Peg is hardly an actress), I still got a role in the musical.

The role? A courtesan.

If you check out the link to the musical, you’ll see see that the story takes place in ancient Rome, where a slave (Pseudolus) tries to win his freedom by helping his master woo a courtesan named Philia. Well, there would be a house filled with other courtesans along with Philia, and I got a role as one of them. I think her name was Vibrata.

Except, even though your Square Peg is a wordsmith, she wasn’t quite sure what a courtesan was. So, while overcome with excitement at landing her first role in a musical, she went home and went to her trusty dictionary, where she looked up the word.

courtesan (noun): a prostitute with a courtly, wealthy, or upper-class clientele

Yep, I went right to my beloved drama teacher and told him that there was no way I could be in the musical. Excuses about my parents not really feeling the amount of time I would spend outside of school were given. And no, they wouldn’t have cared for that, but you know the bigger issue, don’t you? My mother would have somehow learned that I was playing a hooker. And she would have killed me dead. I mean, as sneaky as I was in getting away with staying out late or hanging out with people she didn’t really know, the heavens would have revealed it to her in a dream. No doubt. Just like she knew that her oldest daughter was making funny faces behind her back one day (without turning around), my mother would have discovered the truth. And your Square Peg would be no Square Peg at all, because, again, I would have been killed dead.

My drama teacher was very understanding. Maybe he knew the real truth, that an African girl playing a hooker–no matter how tame it would be for a high school production–would have been shipped back to the Motherland in a pine box.

I was in the audience on opening night, cheering on my friends in the show, cheering on the director, cheering on the brave girl who replaced me. And in the back of my mind, imagining the death that would have been unleashed by my mother’s hands. So along with all that cheering was massive, massive relief.

I still love the theater, of course. Musicals, plays: the stage continues to thrill and amaze me. And it’s even sweeter from the comfort of my seat. Haaaaaa.

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On Smart Cookies.

Let’s celebrate this Throwback Thursday with a ‘lil story/psychoanalysis/discussion/boatloadof unanswerable questions, shall we?

I’ll start by saying this: I’m a smart cookie. No shade or ego. I simply own my intelligence. And if you haven’t done the same thing, please do. You’re not walking around telling perfect strangers that you know it all. You’re just acknowledging what you know to be true for yourself: you’ve got a working brain. Woo hoo. And it’s all relative, by the way. I may not still understand binomials, but I know plenty of other things. In other words, no one is 100 percent amazing brain-wise, perhaps with the exception of the Mensa ladies and Einstein. And there are plenty of folks who side eye a pile of books but know plenty of things about life and how to navigate it. But own it, either way.

However, back in the day, this chocolate bookworm who enjoyed many days reading encyclopedias in her parent’s basement and devouring facts and information entered high school and almost immediately buried her brain. And there was only one group of people I hid this fact from: boys. Don’t ask me how or why. I was 14 years old. (Actually, with the way my birth month is set up, when I started high school, I was 13 years old. A little girl. Le sigh.) In looking back, there was no rhyme or reason to it. One day in 9th grade, a boy in my class asked me if I understood the assignment our teacher had just given us. I described it in detail, interpreting it for him, after which he said, “wow, you’re really smart.” What was my response? “No, I’m not,” I replied, laughing nervously. This happened often: denying, above all, that I had any abilities whatsoever when it came learning, analytical thinking, etc., especially when a boy acknowledged me. There was a bizarre level of panic when this happened–I didn’t want to be mocked or seen as knowing more than the guy standing in front of me. Was it innate? A weird biological response to the age-old adage of girls only needing to look pretty? After all, my mother, one of the most intelligent women I know, never uttered those words to me. I was never told to “dumb it down.” So where did the desire to downplay any kind of smarts even come from? Oh, and there were girls who uttered that “wow, you’re smart” comment to me, too, and although I still downplayed it, I don’t recall that almost manic need to dismiss their words like I would with boys.

Maybe it goes back to what I said above. No wants to seem like an arrogant jerk while acknowledging what they can do. But for women, it’s almost as if we carry 100 pounds of guilt when it comes to acknowledging what we can do, particularly when it comes to intelligence. The archaic, ridiculous notions of women’s abilities being limited to cooking meals and birthing babies have been around since time began; maybe I was carrying that on me, in me, without even fully realizing it. Maybe I was also deathly shy and didn’t want, even for a second, any attention being given to me. Which is also true. Maybe it’s all the above. I don’t know. When I entered college and realized that my education was actually up to me (in other words, school ain’t free; tuition is involved; you get what  you pay for), this need to hide my brain still took a while to go away. I remember being a college freshman in English 101. The assignment was to write about a memory. Our professor chose to highlight my essay and read portions of it aloud to the class. She was full of praise and encouragement. I wanted to fall through the ground. By senior year, when my strengths and confidence as a writer had grown, another professor did the exact same thing. I handled it differently. I thanked him and told him how his encouragement helped me. Was it age? Growing older? 18 vs.22? Or did it have something to do with a female professor vs. a male professor giving the praise and encouragement, the male approval making it seem more acceptable? Insert thinking emoji here.

(Told you there’d be unanswerable questions.)

I do know one thing: “dumb it down” has been said to me in my adult life more than once. Not at 14 and not at 22. While adulting. And although I don’t necessarily understand when I turned the corner from terror of smartness to finally feeling confident in my abilities, I do know that each time I heard that silly, objectionable phrase, I laughed in the speaker’s face. So there you go. 

These days, my abilities are only important to one person: me. Sometimes I’d love to revisit that 13/14 year-old and help her to stop choosing fear and pretense. But we’ll wait for another smart cookie to build that time machine. 

breathe deeply.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

Why I walk through the stacks and inhale. 

Why I meander through libraries and bookstores, often with no intention of reading or buying, just trailing my fingers down endless rows of spines and consuming the sweet aroma of books. 

Why books can be desserts, too.

(I dedicate this post to my beloved Ms. Lindquist, who let me escape the battleground of recess (when you’re shy and slow and new to the area, recess becomes a battleground) by letting me make a home in the library while the other kids played. In there, I discovered stories about girls like me, about faraway places, about adventures and pesky little sisters, and everything in between. Ms. L., You opened up my world.)

The Spray of Water.

Let’s just get into it.

When I was 15 years old, I was washing dishes in my 10th grade Home Economics class one day. Since I was barely passable during the cooking part, but bomb when it came to suds and plates, I was very comfortable at the sink. A boy in my class, Mario, approached the other side of the sink, adjacent to me, and started to “play” around with me while I washed the dishes. Trying to touch me, attempting to tickle me. I told him to stop, to leave me alone. He certainly didn’t listen, ignoring my protests and continuing with the touching and “playing” around. I repeated that I wanted him to stop. He continued. So I sprayed him in the face with the water gun. He smacked me across the face.

Growing up, my sister and I got into some physical altercations. Being sisters close in age who shared a room, every pair of socks looked the same and therefore had been stolen by the other and deserved some kind of retribution, every eye roll needed to be avenged, so on and so forth. The few times my brother and I got into it officially ended when my mother reminded me that he was no longer a five year-old. “Quit it,” she said sharply, focusing on me as the eldest sibling. “He’s a growing boy and you’re a young woman.” I got her drift. Here’s the point: we were family and therefore not actively trying to hurt each other. We succumbed to physical displays of anger and irritation, trying to prove our respective (largely juvenile) points when words failed us. After a few years, we grew up and dealt solely with words. Mario wasn’t my brother. He wasn’t my sibling. We weren’t family. Looking back, I specifically recall how inexplicably calm everything was, how calm I was. As the right side of my face burned with shock, as tiny stars floated around before my eyes, I continued to wash the dishes. I remained there, glued to that spot, my hands repeatedly drowning in warm, soapy water. After hitting me and demanding what was wrong with me, Mario eventually walked away. I finished my task, wiped down the counters, and returned to my seat. No teacher was summoned, I didn’t run screaming to a friend with tears in my eyes. (In case you’re wondering, apparently none of the students or our teacher saw this. If they had, no one said anything or intervened.) Prior to this, we had been somewhat friendly in class, sitting at the same table at times. After that day, I never spoke to him again.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m so sensitive to tales of domestic violence, why the thought of one person violently attacking another joined to them by marriage or relationship leaves me disturbed and shaken. Eureka. I’ve never forgotten the feel of his hand against my face, the way my cheek stung, how it hurt. I can’t imagine the thousands, millions, of women and men who have dealt with more than that and beyond in their relationships. Might be why I whisper “leave, please leave” when I hear about this happening, especially to women. It’s never justified. Mario’s actions weren’t justifiable. I don’t care about the spray of water dripping from his face.

As with other things that happened during those tenuous teen and adolescent years, I told no one about what happened and suppressed all the emotions that came with it. (I literally just told my sister about it a few weeks ago, when the memory randomly made itself known.) I don’t think I even wrote about it in my diary. I shoved it away as I was prone to do, youthfully unaware of all the little explosions that these events were causing inside of me. But those are the benefits of getting older and working on yourself: I’m talking about it now. I acknowledge the pain, anger, confusion, sadness, and shock I felt in that moment. I acknowledge that I did begin to hate him. And yet I can also say that hate is not an emotion I will presently allow. Wherever he is, I simply hope he’s no longer responding to situations the way he did when we were 15.

It constantly and honestly amazes me that I made it through those strange, long years, dear reader. But with healing comes memories, revelations, conversations. And we shall have them.

The History Test: Random Memory #3

Let’s just get into it, folks. (See other random memories here and here, if you’re wondering what this random memory thing is about.)

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was in a pretty interesting History class. Interesting because my teacher, Mrs. G., was probably one of the more quirkier teachers I’d had in a long time. She was excited about almost everything, pretty corny, and fairly melodramatic. It didn’t take long realize that I loved her to pieces. Why? Because, overall, she was firm when she needed to be, an open lover of learning (especially History, naturally), and just fun. And guess what? That was me as a student: I loved the discipline of school, I loved learning, and I loved fun in a classroom. There you go. But this random memory isn’t a love-fest about my old teacher. It’s about something significant that happened in Mrs. G.’s class.

It was test day. When it came to any class that wasn’t Math, I studied hard. No, seriously, hard. Not only did I want to do well, but I had a deep love (still do) for History. So I wanted my A. Anyway, I took my test and felt pretty confident about it. The next day, Mrs. G. asked me to stay after class. I remember gazing at her in confusion, like, stay for what? To be praised for my A? Like, did nerds stay after class? Because I was a nerd and an obedient one, at that. Further compounding my confusion, she asked another student to stay, as well. We’ll call him N.B. So N.B. and I were sitting there, waiting, wondering. At least I was. Once class was dismissed, Mrs. G. stood before us and, in hushed tones, announced that she felt that one of us had cheated on our tests.

I almost laughed.

I regarded her, half-smiling, waiting for her to pronounce judgment on N.B. After all, everyone knew that he didn’t even try to be a good student. He was more famous for starting fights in hallways than studying. When she remained silent, I felt my oxygen depleting. She was waiting for one of us to admit to it. But did Mrs. G. seriously believe that I had cheated? Me, who took rabid notes during class? Me, who laughed at her silly jokes? Me, who did my homework faithfully?

Even worse: N.B. then says, at the top of his lungs, that it wasn’t him that cheated. My heart racing, visions of my intense studying running through my mind, I also inform Mrs. G that I didn’t cheat on the test.

Mrs. G: Well, someone cheated.
Me: It wasn’t me.
N.B.: It wasn’t me.

Eventually, to settle the issue, she requested that we each re-take the test. Notably, she sat us far, far away from one another. (In case you haven’t guessed, N.B. sat next to me in class.) I nearly pounced on the paper when she handed it to me. Minutes later, I handed the completed test to her and almost near tears, walked out of class. If you guessed that I told the story at length to my friends, decrying the injustice of it all, you would be right. I was incredulous that one of my favorite teachers would believe this about me.

Later, I received my test back. I got my A. We never spoke about it again–until the last day of school. A bunch of friends and I went back to her class to say goodbye at the end of the school year. Needless to say, I certainly didn’t plan on joining the chorus of goodbyes and we loved your class; I intending on merely standing there and giving her the stink eye for not believing in me. But that plan didn’t work. Perhaps it was the bravado that came with almost being a junior. Perhaps it was because I was still pretty hurt and angry and confused. Whatever it was, I waited for a lull in conversation and came out with it. “Mrs. G, why did you make me re-take that test?” I questioned. She smiled. I’ll never forget her reply. “I knew N.B. cheated off your paper. Only you would give me the full answer for a question and give me more information in parentheses. His answers were identical to yours, so it was clear he had copied off you. But the matter needed to be settled.”

A million years later, today, I finally get it. I truly didn’t get it back then, but I accepted her reply and we made up. Now, however, it’s quite clear: it was important not to openly accuse this young man of cheating. It was important to give both of us the benefit of the doubt. And that’s the bottom line. In the end, it didn’t feel great at the time, but looking back, I realize that she did believe in me. Means a lot, even now.

the pleasure is all mine, September.

Gone are the days when I would disdainfully glance at the clock on Labor Day, watching the morning and afternoon slowly wane into evening, into nighttime, into the last few hours before the following, dreaded day. Gone is the queasy feeling that would consume the entirety of my belly as soon as I opened my eyes on September 2, my mind immediately riddled with anxiety of the coming day/school schedules/lockers/teachers/what I would wear/etc.

September

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can I tell you how happy I am that I’m no longer school-aged? Can I tell you?? As much as I loved learning and education and all that, there was something indescribably vomitous about that first day of school, that second day of September. Even when I finally reached college, I would greet the first day of school with the typical queasiness and abundance of nerves, wondering just what the ensuing day would bring. It was anxiety at its worst. (Is there anxiety at its best?) That said, you can imagine my fists-in-air glee at the fact that I don’t have to deal with that madness anymore. Join me in a yay and an extended sigh of relief, won’t you?

leogif

 

 

 

Gratitude Friday: A Thank You.

On this much belated Gratitude Friday, I was inspired by the words of actress Gabourey Sidibe during the Gloria Awards (honoring Gloria Steinem), as tweeted by the awesome Awesomely Luvvie:

“I’m grateful to…my 5th grade class because if they hadn’t made me cry, I wouldn’t be able to cry on cue now.”

I was moved by that profound and powerful statement for various reasons. Mostly, however, what stood out for me was that she was able to look back at that moment in her adolescence and communicate both the pain of the past and the fact that it hadn’t wrecked her. And this made her grateful. But I wasn’t just moved by her words. Those words also incited a memory for me. An indelible, powerful memory of what my 6th, not 5th, grade class gave me one afternoon.

We were in the chorus room, sitting cross-legged on that nubby brown carpet as we waited for our chorus teacher to come back. The next thing I knew, I heard the following chant: “Fish lips, fish lips, look at those fish lips.” I looked up, wondering who the voice belonged to and what in the world they were talking about. There, laughing, was the boy who had bullied me since I joined this new school. And he was pointing at me. The other kids soon followed suit, repeating the sing-songy chant and pointing and laughing. Those who weren’t part of it simply looked away uncomfortably. I remember feeling confusion (I look like a fish?), pain, embarrassment, even laughing a little to lessen the blow. That didn’t work though–the chanting and laughter continued until our teacher returned to the classroom.

It’s amazing, the blueprints that are created in seconds, in tiny moments. That moment in time created quite a few. For one thing, an interesting habit reared its head as I got older: covering my mouth when I laughed. Later, it became disdain when I looked at myself, my lips, in the mirror. Later still, it transformed into wondering if people were looking at them when I spoke. It wasn’t until I reached 30 (we will discuss the wonder of 30 in another post) that I looked in the mirror one day and was fully, exhale-y, and absolutely satisfied with these lips, this face, and everything in between.

daily-gratitude

 

 

 

 

 

So, like Gabby, I’m grateful to my 6th grade class because:

  • I wouldn’t appreciate these lips that look like my grandmother’s and my father’s if you hadn’t put them on blast.
  • I wouldn’t decorate them in the rubiest of Ruby Woo lipstick by MAC if I hadn’t come to appreciate the fullness of the shape you felt the need to highlight.
  • I wouldn’t be as grateful for this soul-searching journey that I was forced to go on if you hadn’t forced me to take that ride in the first place on that painful afternoon.
  • I don’t blame my old bully or those other kids for what happened anymore. I don’t blame the ones who looked away in discomfort. From what I could tell through those words and other statements she made, Gabourey Sidibe has reached the peak of her self-acceptance journey. And she’s not the only one.

Fake Limps and 5Ks.

So, quite randomly this morning, I made a mental note to do a search for 5Ks in the area and sign up for one as soon as possible. Moments later, I found myself marveling a bit. We’ve come a looong way, baby. Follow me, won’t you?5K

  1. This is the girl who chose to take zeroes for the day rather than dress up for gym class in high school.
  2. This is the girl who forged her mother’s signature (I wish I was kidding) to excuse her from gym class in high school.
  3. This is the girl who faked a limp in order to get out of participating in the mile run for gym class in high school. (And my gym teacher let me hold the stopwatch, too.)

 

This 5K will be my fourth one. I marvel. I really do. Obviously, back in the day, not being one of the fast or the coordinated meant I had no desire to do anything related to phys. ed. Add to the humilation of dressing out in the proximity of a personal bully who loved to highlight the many imperfections of my adolescent physique and there was no way I was going to voluntarily ever enjoy something like exercise. (The treadmill in my parents’ home was used to hang clothes. You get my drift.)

But we grow. Bullies go away, school ends, and doctors give you the side eye when they look at those adult lbs on your medical chart. As such, I began voluntarily exercising when I moved into my first apartment many moons ago, which had a gym on the bottom floor. The treadmill was my equipment of choice, and it still is. Nothing like walking and listening to music and sweating. Post high school horrors, I’ve always enjoyed walking, whether leisurely or for a 5K. The best part is that I move to the beat of my own drum, at my speed, and at my level.

No fake limps necessary.

walking3 walking2 walking1

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