How in the Heck Did I Get Here? Part 1… The MisAdventure Series

I’ve always enjoyed writing. Here, some of my fellow journalism students are conducting a practice interview with me at El Dorado Union High School where I wrote a column for the newspaper. I have often wondered what my life would have been like had I pursued a career in writing. It’s never too late, right.

Many things determine who we become in life. Sometimes it seems like destiny, but I am more convinced that it is predilection and happenstance. I am a great believer in Joseph Campbell’s ‘follow your bliss.’ Do what makes you happy. Do what you are good at. Genetics can play a big role here, and circumstances even more. It’s much easier to become a billionaire if your parents are. But mentors, the times you are born in, situations you experience, luck, and hard work all have a role to play. I’ve already explored some of the factors that led me down the path I have followed. In today’s and next week’s MisAdventure posts, I continue the exploration.

 

In the fourth grade, I discovered that long division was nasty. I got beyond that but word problems gave me a real complex. Two trains are hurtling at each other on the same track with Train A going 90 miles an hour and Train B going 70. They are 252.5296 miles apart. How long will it be before the Train A conductor says, “Ooooh shit!”  Not nearly as soon as I did. My own expletive arrived on my lips .0000001 seconds after seeing the problem. There was no waving of hands and saying “me, me.” I concentrated intently on sending vibes at the teacher. “Curt is not here today. You do not see Curt. You will not call on Curt.”

Spelling was another personal bugaboo in early elementary school. I inherited my spelling genes from my father who fervently believed that words should be spelled exactly as they sounded. “The hors cant come in the hows becaws he is to big to fit in the dor.” It drove Mother, whose grandfather had been a newspaper publisher, crazy. I learned in the third grade that I could compensate for my handicap by writing the really tough words in the palm of my hand just before spelling tests. After I aced several quizzes, my success became a little too much for my main competition.

“Miss Jones, Miss Jones, Curtis is cheating!” my nemesis announced loudly to the teacher, class and world. Boy, I was beginning to dislike her. Miss Jones solemnly checked my hand before a fast tongue and pants wipe move could destroy the evidence. She was not happy with her Godchild. Apparently, Moses had come down off the mountain with an Eleventh Commandment: Thou shall not cheat on your spelling test.

“Curtis I am giving you an ‘F’ on this test and you are to stay in class during recess the rest of the week,” she announced to me while the competition smirked. It was more than embarrassing; it was devastating. And what valuable lesson did I learn: no amount of effort is too much for revenge.  I spent an exorbitant amount of time on my spelling assignments after that with the sole purpose of beating the obnoxious little fiend. Unfortunately, she was equally inspired. I don’t think either one of us missed a word the whole rest of the year.

There’s an old adage that we are supposed to work hard at those things we find difficult, that it gives us character. My belief is that I already have plenty of character. If I had any more, little men in white coats would be chasing me with nets. I prefer to spend my energies on things I enjoy, like reading a good book or hiking in the wilderness. I have little tolerance for doing things that I don’t do well or fail to interest me. In other words, the Protestant Ethic and I have serious compatibility problems. But I can be stubborn. Math is a good example. I continued plugging away up to my junior year in high school. I even managed to get As in Algebra 1 and Geometry. That’s when I ran head on into Miss Caste, or Nasty Casty as she was known. It was definitely a character building experience.

Miss Caste taught Algebra II and, according to those who were seriously into math, was very good at what she did. Students leaving her class were reputed to have a solid foundation in the basics and be well prepared to move on to the ethereal worlds of calculus and trigonometry. Basics, I quickly learned, meant that there was one way of coming up with answers and that way was chiseled in stone. One did not diverge from accepted formulas or leave out steps; right answers obtained the wrong way were wrong answers. Wrong, wrong, wrong! This created a problem. I had a talent for coming up with right answers the wrong way— and this brought me unwanted attention. I could have lived with the extra attention except for another problem, Miss Caste’s teaching technique. She oozed sarcasm. My response was to freeze up. I started dreading her classes and developed the proverbial ‘bad attitude.’ I received my first C in high school and vowed never to take another math course. Life is short and then you die.

Of course, it was my loss. It was one of those life-altering decisions that speak to the power of teachers to turn students on, or off, to various subjects. I wasn’t a total dunce at math; in fact, I scored in the 98th percentile on the Iowa Test in math the same year. But I certainly wasn’t a genius. I was not going to make a career out of mathematics or jobs that were primarily math based. Unfortunately, I eliminated a number of options, particularly in the fields of higher education, almost all of which required further math.

Next Tuesday’s Post: Hopefully, I will have glowing things to say about Peggy and my 40-mile-hike down the Rogue River: Things like ‘piece of cake,’ ‘no problemo,’ and ‘let me at the PCT!’

FRIDAY’S POST: Bleeding like a speared mammoth, I decide to skip chemistry in the future. The MisAdventure Series

31 comments on “How in the Heck Did I Get Here? Part 1… The MisAdventure Series

  1. Hey Curt, I know what you mean. I I was editor of our high school magazine, and it was quite a disappointment to the faculty advisor when, unlike my three predecessors, I did not pursue journalism in college. Also, I think spell check is one of the greatest inventions in the world.

  2. “I have little tolerance for doing things that I don’t do well or fail to interest me. In other words, the Protestant Ethic and I have serious compatibility problems.” This! I’m with you. And Joseph Campbell.
    Alison

  3. Looking forward to the report from the Rogue Trail. This was another fun blast from the past. You truly are a great writer. You spin some great yarns. 😀

      • Good to hear the trip was wonderful. Waiting to see the full report… except we’re headed north and will likely have no internet until we head home to avoid the holiday madness. 😀 Will catch up later.

  4. Ugh. I hate those speeding trains. I thought I had a better handle on all of that now that I’m all grown up,until an 8th grader asked me a math question the other day. I stared for a while, then had to fall back on something graceful like “Ummmmmm, just circle it, kid, and ask Mr. B tomorrow.” Oooh, does the Rogue River lead to the Rogue Brewery perchance? We stopped there a few years back…anyway, Here’s hoping the hike is fantastic!

    • Fortunately, there was a Mr. B to refer to. 🙂
      Don’t I wish that the trail led to the Rogue Brewery. The trail was quite hot at times! A cold beer would have gone down ever so easily! Of course, that might have limited hiking for the rest of the day. (Grin) Thanks, Anne. My post on the trip should go up tomorrow. Maybe… –Curt

  5. Enjoyed reading this, Curtis.
    This may interest you. At Iron Hill, Delaware, at recognition of archaeology …met some Revolutionary War reinactors. Got talking about the floating batteries & Ft. Miflin. Learned that they have a reinactment of that battle every fall, at the present site of Ft Miflin.

    • First, Ann, thanks for commenting.
      Boy, I would love to jump back into the family genealogy. That was so much fun. Just not time, now. But yes, I’ve read about the reenactments, before. That would be fascinating. Doing the ghost tour there, that Peggy and I did on Halloween was also a lot of fun. 🙂 –Curt

  6. Hey Curt,
    I just came back from my 50th HS Reunion and several of my buddies from those days recalled an old irritable Spanish teacher, Ms Shmurzler, who scared the bejesus out many of us who struggled with this language and her teaching method. A cross between interrogation and the evil eye stare were tools of her trade. Needless to say I still shiver when I hear Spanish spoken in a nasal high pitched tone.

    • Amazing how those things stick with us, Dave. Back in the day, maybe it was expected that kids might be hazed and traumatized by teachers. Still, I hold administrators responsible for allowing such behavior. Now, more than ever. It always makes good fodder for reunions, however, and occasionally for story-telling. 🙂 Thanks for commenting. –Curt

  7. I’ve always thought there was a certain irony that I have a blog these days, when writing was my worst subject back in high school. I stil kant spel worth a dam tho.

    • Thank goodness for spell-checker, eh, Dave. 🙂 That, and in my case, a wife with editing skills! Then ,of course, we have these ‘smart’ programs that are happy to guess at and mis-spell words for us. As if we needed help! –Curt

  8. Your post made me pause. As an adult, I truly believe that we don’t need to spend any extra time trying to overcome weaknesses. I think we are much better off playing to our strengths. But until we are adults, I do think we need to be well-rounded, if only to discover what our strengths are. Mine always were math, spelling and writing. My science and reading comprehension skills were more lacking. But I ended up as an English Lit major who works with Scientists and Engineers. There’s a nice complement in there somewhere.

    • A very nice complement, Juliann. I, too, believe in a broad based education that includes the humanities as well as science and more practical skills, with a healthy portion of play thrown in. Being able to translate science in a way that both educates and excites lay-people is a very important skill. –Curt

  9. No surprising that you enjoyed writing and journalism. Your blog is an illustration of your taste and skills.
    Oh, man the nasty long divisions! A nightmare that still haunts me 🙂
    Spelling came easily to me, though. I might have told you already, but one of my classmates who was a math wizz but a terrible speller made a deal with me. We basically cheated on each other. It worked beautifully. We ended being the top best students of our fifth grade class. Too good to be true since our teacher separated us.
    I wish I had been better at math since I loved science, but was not able to go on with more scientific studies due to my poor math skills. But I could write short stories and poems 🙂
    Great post, as always, Curt.

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