Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Which brings up another thing...

Having escaped from GTC, the geniuses at Stout Elementary School thought they'd take another shot at me. I was in the throes of sixth grade when I was called out of class with a group of other students. Mind you, some, but not all of the same students who had managed to hold on to their extra special GTC notebooks for the last two years. They looked at me, the defector, as I came into the very classroom where I'd first learned that I was in GTC two years ago. It was still the fourth grade classroom, but they were in P.E., so it was available for our top-secret meeting. I braced for the news that I was being put back into GTC. They weren't going to take me alive.

Since my break from GTC, I'd done that report on UFOs. It was in the fifth grade, and I even designed the folder to look like a top-secret government file, using a stencil so it looked super official. When we all handed in our reports, the other kids looked at mine nervously because it trumped their folders. This included the GTC students who had witnessed my decline and downfall with the Glass Report.

GTC Kid: God, Anne.

Me: (silent, knowing.)

Kid I had crush on: That's really cool, Hefley.

Me: (silent, blushing)

Girl: (jealously) Did your parents help you with that?

Me: (angry, advancing) No you asshole, I did it all myself.

Girl: (shrinks away before she gets punched.)

And, I had done it all myself. Not only was the cover cool, but the report was a good one. I'd hit all the major sightings, famous cases, the unexplained and tied them up neatly into a fifth grade report. I even touched on the skepticism regarding the encounters. It was all there. I'd never been so excited to receive an assignment back, and when Mrs. Daniels walked into class each morning, I'd crane my neck to see if she was bringing in what looked like 25 or so graded reports.

The day that she did, I could barely contain myself. It was torture, seeing them there and waiting for her to hand them out, knowing the answer was within that pile. Everything I had fought for, stood for, was there. Was I going to be vindicated, or was Mrs. Brown, that miserable cow, right all along? Mrs. Daniels announced that she'd hand the reports back after lunch recess and I deflated. To a fifth grader, three hours was a lifetime. I contemplated sneaking in during recess and peeking, but then involved myself in a game of kickball to pass the time.

When the bell rang, I left kids in my wake to get to the door. I was first in line, and we filed back into the school. I sat in my desk, along with the other kids who were waiting to see what they got on their big reports, and Mrs. Daniels was writing on the chalkboard. I stifled a primal scream.

Finally, she stopped writing, scooped the up reports and handed them back. I opened mine, and the first thing I saw was "nice cover!" written on a note inside the report. I scanned down some comments, then saw it. A big red circled "A". I stifled another primal scream.

Sort of.

It kind of came out like, "Unnggggghhhmmm." A couple kids turned around. I ignored them. I was having my own personal victory. I'd gotten an A on a huge report. Mrs. Brown could kiss my E.T. loving ass. And ass, as it turns out, begins with A. The rest of the day, I left my report on my desk, open, so everyone who passed by could see that big fat "A."

But back to sixth grade, standing in the fourth grade classroom, arms crossed, wondering. That's when Mrs. Daniels, who was teaching sixth grade now, along with the principal came in to the room. I uncrossed my arms, the other kids straightened. He told us to take a seat, and I sat in one that looked like it had the least chance of having dried boogers underneath it.

As Mrs. Daniels stood quietly, the principal explained that our aptitude test scores had come back, and that all of us had scored exceptionally high in the math portion.

Me: (raising hand)

Principal: Yes, Anne?

Me: Are you sure I'm on the list and not the other Ann?

Principal: (looking at Daniels, who looks at paper and nods) Yes, Anne.

Me: (floored)

The principal went on to explain that we'd all scored so high that we were to skip seventh grade math next year and go right into eighth grade math.

Math Whizzes: (communal gasp)

He also said that we were to keep this quiet so as not to upset the other kids who didn't do as well on this test, and that it was the responsibility of extra intelligent kids like us to handle this in a mature matter. We promised we would, but as soon as we got back to class, we celebrated, especially yours truly who jumped over a couple desks saying, "Alright!" with each leap. We were sixth graders. We'd just been told to keep it secret that we'd aced the IQ test. The rest of the class was instantly curious.

Class: What? What was it?

Mrs. Daniels: (sternly) Anne, sit down and be quiet.

Anne: (sits and shuts up)

By the end of the day, it got out that there was a group of us that were skipping seventh grade math next year. Mrs. Daniels pulled me and a few of the other loud revelers aside and scolded us for leaking the classified information. She told us, me in particular, that she could pull us out of the program as fast as we got in if we showed we couldn't handle it. Looking back, I don't think that was true, that she could write a letter to the school system that said Anne Hefley suffered from "public excessive happiness" at the news so she must be taken out of the program. However, the threat worked at the time. I didn't want the humiliation of being pulled out of the extra special class. Besides, I fired the advanced classes, they didn't fire me. That was just how it was done.

I was happy about the news because in my sixth grade mind it meant fewer classes for me to take. It was also another validation, of what, I don't know, but my parents were in the middle of a divorce and to a kid you think maybe something like this will make everything ok again.

It didn't, for me nor my parents. That was the last time that I'd show anything exceptional when it came to math. The thing was, I was a good test taker. I was a horrible homework doer and classroom participant. When seventh grade rolled around, I found the eighth graders resented having a few smart ass "little seventh graders" in their class. Our presence there was like we were holding a big banner calling them stupid. We were a constant target for ridicule, spit balls, chair kicks, hostile glares, walk-bys, (a walk-by is where someone drifts by your desk and does one of the following; punches your arm just enough to hurt, pinches you, thumps or shoves your head, or steps on your foot.) We had moved to a new neighborhood, therefore I was at a new school where I didn't know a soul. I fell behind in the work, and eventually, it came to this.

Me: I want to be in seventh grade math.

Principal: Ok.

And that was that. Once the pressure was off to be exceptional, I improved. Only a little it, but I was with my peers. No one knew that I'd been a chosen one again, they just saw a new face in their class and asked where I'd been since I was in their other classes.

Me: Another class.

Them: Oh.

As for the other seventh graders still in the eighth grade class, they asked me what happened.

Me: I wanted out.

Them: Oh.

In a way I'd betrayed them by diminishing the ranks of seventh graders, therefore increasing the amount of attacks per week on each of them. But hey, it's a tough world out there. I was simply doing what was best for me.

Because despite what a test or calculation of percentages said, only I knew what that was.

Monday, March 13, 2006

I forgot to mention something in my last post, where I lamented my lack of success in school, and that was that I was put into the gifted, talented and creative class at my grade school.

I remember it well, sitting there in Mrs. Kelley's class as the secretary came in and handed out folded papers with playful hand drawn lettering on them, replete with flowers, butterflies and humanoid figures that I think were supposed to represent gifted, talented and creative children. The figures were dancing and frolicking, celebrating their superiority above others. All of us chosen ones received invites into a class that set us apart from the other students who failed to qualify as gifted, talented, and creative. They looked at me with envy, and I looked at them with confusion.

Gifted, Talented Creative Kid: Look. Anne got one too. Anne, you're in.

Me: In what?

Gifted, Talented Creative Kid: You're gifted, talented, and creative.

Me: I am?

Eventually, we were shepherded into another classroom and told that twice a week, we would participate in a class that would challenge us to bring out the best of our abilities. And, twice a week we went, armed with our extra special notebooks that only kids in the GTC program got to carry. The class was held in the kindergarten class that was empty in the afternoons and looking at the colorful walls, toys, and open space, I thought that surely it was all for our benefit. The teacher, Mrs. Brown, told us how special we were and what a privilege it was to be asked to participate in the GTC program. At first, I bought the hype. I was elated at this get out of class free card and the recognition of my talents. I had entered an elite class of fourth graders who were considered more gifted, talented, and creative than the rest of the Stout Elementary School population. This was it. I was on the path to become a Jedi Knight.

However, the elation at being a chosen one soon came to the realization that all the class consisted of was extra homework. Mrs. Brown, the GTC teacher, gave us an assignment to do a report on a subject of our choosing that represented our interests. One girl did super trains, another kid did the pyramids. I wanted to do UFOs, but Mrs. Brown said that our reports must deal in reality.

Me: But UFOs are real.

Mrs. Brown: This assignment isn't science fiction.

Me: But UFOs are real. There are books in the library about them.

Mrs. Brown: Pick something else.

I was at a loss. If UFOs weren't real enough for Mrs. Brown, what was? I looked for subjects that were of interest to me, but nothing compared. As a fourth grader in Kansas, my world was limited. Finally, I chose the very thing I stared through for a majority of the time to escape the classroom.


Riveting, I know. The whole time I was preparing this snooze fest, I was thinking about my UFO report and how I could have made that a hit. For glass, I used a flip chart, and crude marker drawings. It was the most boring report that I'd given in my life. I discussed how glass was made, what it was used for. Sounds like it could be interesting, but left up to a fourth grader it was a series of bad drawings and a rambling subject matter. I didn't know where to stop. Glass was everywhere. I was in fourth grade. It was too much to handle and I had a meltdown in front of Mrs. Brown and the GTC class. I knew I was losing them, all these gifted and talented students. So I just stopped. Right in the middle, in front of my flip chart with a badly drawn grain of sand and drinking glass on it. I just stopped talking. And for a minute, there was nothing but silence.

Mrs. Brown: You obviously weren't prepared for this report.

Me: No, I wasn't.

Mrs. Brown: Why not?

Me: Because it's boring.

GTC Class: (gasp. snicker.)

Mrs. Brown: But you chose the subject matter.

Me: No, I chose UFOs.

Mrs. Brown: (staring daggers at me) I can't give you credit for this as it's unfinished.

GTC Class: (silence)

Me: (turning crimson) Okay.

The class was silent as I closed my flip chart, took it off the easel and carried it to one of the desks marked in crayon by kindergarten graffiti artists. I sat down, near tears. The kid who had chosen the pyramids stood up and gave his report like a groomed politician. He didn't miss a beat. When it came to question and answer time, I raised my hand.

He called on me.

Me: Some people think the Egyptians got help from UFOs to build the pyramids.

Kid: Um...

Mrs. Brown: Anne, why don't you spend the rest of the class sitting in the desk over there.

She pointed to a desk by the window. I carried my flip chart "over there" and sat by glass, lots of it. I looked out through it, then at it, trying to see if I could locate any errant grains of sand in the window. I couldn't. So I sat, ostracized from the other GTC students.

I soon learned that GTC wasn't a bunch of frolicking, dancing, smiling kids. It was boring, uncreative, and stiff. It was additional work that I wasn't willing to do. Extra special notebook or not, I delivered my worst grades ever in my grade school career. When they came, I heard from more than one adult that this is the first time anyone in the GTC program had received such poor standing. I felt like a colossal failure at the time, and was confused. Did this mean that I wasn't gifted, talented, and creative anymore? Then I thought that maybe my name had been mixed up with someone else's and I got the notebook. Or, maybe I was as not ok with people calling me smart as I was them grading me based on a one fits all system. When I'd had enough, and so had Mrs. Brown, I asked to be taken out of the GTC Program and even offered to turn in my extra special notebook. I just wanted to be a fourth grader, no strings attached.

When I approached my teacher, it was as if I'd asked to defect to communist Russia. She got the assistant principal.

Them: You want out of the GTC class?

Me: Yes.

Them: No one's ever asked to be out of the class before, we'll have to see.

Me: I know. Here's my notebook. I don't want to go anymore. I just want to be in the regular talent class.

Them: But you can't just get out of the class.

Me: What if I just don't go? When all the other kids get up with their extra special notebooks and leave the dolts (I said kids, but might as well have said dolts) behind, I'll just stay with them.

Them: (silence)

Me: I just don't feel very gifted, talented, or creative while I'm in there.

Them: (silence)

Me: So I can stop going, right?

Them: No. No. Not until we talk to the GTC teacher.

Me: I don't think she'll mind.

Them: Well, we'll have to hear that from her.

Me: Okay, well I'm going to talk to my mom, and she'll make sure I'm out. You can't force me to go, right?

Them: (silence)

The next time that the class time came for all the gifted, talented and creative students to exit class with their noses in the air, I sat still. The chosen ones looked at me as if I should be following, but I sat firm as my heart beat in my chest.

Teacher: (silence. staring at me.)

Me: (silence. staring back, then at desk. Then out the window.)

The next week, it got around that I'd wanted out of GTC. GTC wannabees didn't understand how I could throw such an opportunity away. Didn't I know my future was at stake? Didn't I know what I was giving up?

A few weeks passed, and my extra special notebook eventually found its way to the back of my desk under my glue, notebooks, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpener, markers, books, crumpled notes about boys I had crushes on, and a pack of contraband Starburst that I'd snuck into class. Life went on, my grades got a little better, but most of all I was out of the GTC. Every time those kids got up with their extra special notebooks and walked out of the classroom, I'd smile a little to myself. I'd been on the inside, and knew there was nothing special about GTC. I'd been invited into the program, but had asked to get out, giving me the prestige without the extra work.

Perhaps that made me the most gifted, talented, and creative of them all.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

It's such a selfish way to lose
The way you lose these wasted blues
These wasted blues
Tell me that it's nobody's fault
Nobody's fault
But my own
-- Beck

Last night, during Hollywood's self congratulatory event, my mom sent me home with a folder that summed up my academic history from grade school through college. I had only asked for my birth certificate, but instead got my life in school. Luckily, since opening that folder and perusing the contents, I walked away from the computer and cooled down since I started this entry.

When I started to type, the matches were standing by and I'd moved anything that could have caught fire away from the fireplace. I'd muted the Oscars, but wasn't ready to burn just yet.

As I looked through the report cards, it underscored my discomfort and failure within the school system to be anything but a below average student. I've said before that I was always smart, but was never a good student. Still, I got into a top art school since my artwork and awards that I'd won made up for the barely admissible academic scores. It was only later when maturity and life experience were able to intervene that my grades caught up to my ability. Also, I was taking the classes by choice and welcoming education.

Even knowing my turbulent history with school, I didn't expect the jolt that I got when looking at those report cards, with the "needs improvement," "satisfactory," and the so rare "exceeds expectations" marks. Seeing it so permanent just got to me.

Since opening that folder, I've now burned an essay that I did in high school, a letter I sent to my mom about my life in New York that so illustrated my youth, not in a good way. I'd mention what it said but since I just burned it, I'm not about to make it a permanent fixture in cyberspace to be dug up on long after this blog is gone. It is now floating above Baltimore in a million tiny sooty pieces and may it find itself in obscurity forever. Also cremated are my inquiries into FIT and my scant amount of other college choices. All would have ended up with the same ending. It's hard looking at it now, knowing the outcome. No longer is there excitement, but regret and some shame. I was so young then, and because of my school track record I was not prepared for the rigors and pressures of college. Also, I'd finally gotten to New York, and felt that I had lost time to make up for in my social life. That always took precedence, and while I got into the W Magazine society pages, I couldn't break the barrier of a decent grade point average.

Before it was more regularly diagnosed in people my age, I had clear signs of clinical depression. I couldn't concentrate worth a damn, dark spells would have me wandering the streets of New York at hours that only junkies, homeless, prostitutes, cops, and club kids dare roamed. People left me alone, perplexed at why a teenager would be out at that hour. Certainly I was carrying. Certainly I was something other than what I was.

Restless. Looking. Trying to walk off the darkness by walking in darkness.

A week ago, I heard a piece on NPR about a woman who had amnesia and lost a substantial part of her life and found myself envying her. A lot of positive things had happened to her since. A better relationship with her family, a sense of freedom, and a drive and fearlessness that she didn't have before. How nice in a way, it would be to start from scratch without the memories of the times that I struggled and failed to cope. Or, without the issues that surface when I want to move forward or be brave. I wonder who I would be, and what I would accomplish. I wonder what memories I would want gone. Could I start tomorrow, no memory of who I was? To be honest, I wouldn't mind. Who would that make me, set free from that frustration and anger that is so close to the surface.

And, it left me wondering if I should burn the other transcripts, which are the only copies that I have. They serve no purpose to me except to extract pain. Is this a way to erase those memories? It was seeing the names of the classes, the teachers, the everything, that brought back the dread. The knowing that I'd held those report cards in my eight-year-old, ten-year-old, fourteen-year-old, seventeen-year-old hands. The silent rides home in the car or waiting up in my room as I knew that my mom was reading the report card that I'd put on the kitchen table for her to see when she got home from work. The frustration that both parents must have felt. My own frustration. The letters that I got from my mom at home while in college, not understanding why I couldn't do better. Me not understanding, and at the time so angry. I had potential, but during school that's all I ever had. And potential isn't a good thing to have, permanently.

To top it off, after fighting hard to keep myself in school and refusing to give in to the demons, some asshole's clerical error kept my name off the graduation program and almost cost me getting called up at all during graduation. Imagine that, sitting there in my cap and gown, underneath that, a darling Miss Selfridge dress that I'd bought in London, while the person to my right was called, and then the person to my left, and my family wondering why I wasn't walking up to accept a diploma. Me thinking I'd just sat out of order, while name after name was called until the "I's" were reached, then the "J's." And yes, that program was in that folder as well. I looked at all the names, mine absent, and the anger burned again. I have no idea if there is even a record of me going to Parsons. I decided, while looking at that program in my shaking hand as Ang Lee accepted his Oscar for Best Director, that I was going to make damn sure that there was. I wasn't the best student at Parsons, in fact I was below average, but I was there and completed my degree. I did some damn good work, even though I couldn't maintain that level consistently, but most important; I hung in there. And though there is a record that would demonstrate the opposite, I learned.