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