The Aftermath of Bullying – Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short blog post about my youthful days. It had a lot of pageviews and a lot of people commented to me personally about my stories. As tough or as hard as those stories may have seen, it isn’t the events themselves that hurt. It’s what follows. The bruises heal. But the inner monologue doesn’t dissipate.

Though I may have been teased before, my memories of not wanting to go to school started in fifth grade. I had a few friends, but over time, as what happens to kids, many of them drifted away. I had a decent core of friends still nonetheless. The hardest part was that many of the people that I thought were my friends became my worst bullies. In middle school, it didn’t get easier. I tried joining things to meet people and make friends. I was in the musical in sixth and eighth grade, I ran cross country and track, I joined the wrestling team, I tried out for the basketball team, I did some sort of reading tournament. I did the whole outgoing thing. But it seemed that there were things that never got better.

I recently read the book I Never Liked You by Chester Brown. He details his junior high days and high school days in short comics. Generally, I thought there was something wrong with me, but reading books like this one makes me realize that there are just memes that kids have. There is a continuing storyline in the book where people are trying to get him to swear because he never did. I had the same thing. There is a scene were a group of girls surround him and start flirting with him until he realizes that they are just messing with him. He walks away. I didn’t realize that soon enough. I just let people say whatever they wanted. In the end, my top priority was school work. I am not sure where I was prior to this picture, but I am all decked out with Wrinkles (my stuffed dog) next to me as I laid on the floor doing math homework. If you knew me in junior high, you knew about Wrinkles.

It’s important to remember that I was not alone. In middle school, I had two or three really close friends, but everyone else that I knew drifted away as time goes by. By high school though, one friend moved and the others stayed around, but due to circumstances, we didn’t see each other often as we started our days at Prospect High School. None of this was anyone’s fault. But due to my lack of self-esteem and feelings of disapproval, I had a rough time creating new relationships. As my friends grew, I stagnated. I feared putting myself out there. And when I did, I was mocked for being too innocent or nice or some other thing that I was always told was a good thing but it turns out isn’t a nice thing for a thirteen year old boy to be.

But the lasting damage was that the minute I left high school, I left high school. I went to graduation because my mom wanted me to and I got out of that building as fast as possible. I don’t have pictures with many friends. I don’t have memories of that day. I fled. And there were good people who I got to know and who got to know me. But my memories of those halls were bad. I didn’t see the good people. I just saw the dread and the loneliness – the feeling I had every Saturday night when I sat at home when my younger brother and even younger sister would go out with their friends and I would sit reading a book next to my dog. On many a night, I would take him for a walk and cry. And I would ask myself the same question every night, “Why me? What did I do wrong?” I would look in the mirror and see myself as a cover of a recent Alex Ross comic. I saw myself as a freak. I have a similar hairline and would do the same look with my eyes

This carried through college where times didn’t get easier. I hid. And to this day, I still hide.

And because of this, I lost real friends or at least potential friends. People that could truly have been my friends for a long time, I just ditched. I did my best to stay in touch, but I didn’t try hard and distance grew and I basically became that island that John Donne said that no man is and that rock that Paul Simon was. Over time, I learned that most people weren’t being mean. I just assumed they were due to a few bad apples – that they would turn around and harass me like the friends before. But as the saying goes, Fool Me Once, Shame on Me. Fool Me Twice, Shame on You. I didn’t give people the chance to fool me that second time. And as time passed and people stopped returning instant messages or e-mails, I stopped sending the messages. I took it as a personal reaction. So, when I came home for the summer, I filled my days with work. One job was 16 hours a day. The second was not as much, but the schedule was erratic, so I used it as an excuse. The third, I didn’t even come home. And the fourth just led me to sit on the couch. It’s not like I was fielding phone calls to hang out very often, but I made no effort, and therefore, no effort was afforded me.

In the end, I took my Joker grin and just kept to myself. But as I matured in college, I found that not to be always the case. I found good friends over time. They aren’t numerous, but I learned that wasn’t important. Quality over quantity. And in law school, I found a few more. And in work, even more. I’m to the point that I look in the mirror and I don’t see that Joker grin anymore. I don’t wonder if I am like the Joker – a chaotic entity destined to destroy, but to laugh and seem happy along the way. The feelings that developed in me around the age of ten finally were starting to unwind. I did not see myself as the problem. Twenty years later, I see the same kid I was before I was called name. I see the smile and the joy. It’s not a constant, but it’s at least normal.

Nonetheless, there are at least ten people who got me through high school that I have rarely spoken to. I may have gotten back in touch with some of them due to the magic of Facebook, but the last time I actually spent any time with someone from high school was when a childhood friend dropped by my house at 6:30 and I was already in my pajamas. I’m still not the most welcoming person in the world. I also like flannel pants.

The lasting effect of bullying is exactly that though. I saw my world as hopeless and chopped it off. It would be like falling asleep on your arm, feeling numb, and deciding the correct course would be to remove it. But I was numb for a long time. It didn’t seem like it could be fixed.

It would be great to reconnect with many of those people that I lost. I’m not one of those people who wants to show off and prove his bullies wrong (I used to be, but I outgrew that revenge scenario), but I wonder quite often how those people who would bring a smile to my face are doing. Those people who signed my yearbook over the years not with insults but with honest mentions of my likes, dreams, and wishes. To those people – I hope all is well. As I sit in the same bedroom that I used to cry in, I realize that I’m not the same kid I was in junior high or high school. I’m not completely different either, but I realize what’s important and what isn’t.

The hardest part of writing this or the last post isn’t the pain of remembering the “dark days”. It’s remembering the people who I honestly cherished. And how I could not honestly build a relationship with them due to my past. I’m not sure where I wanted to take this. But I think I got all of the thoughts out of my head. In the end, I suppose that’s all that matters.

Book 7 of 52: Revelation by Elaine Pagels

When I was growing up, I spent a decent amount of time at church. From 4th grade to 8th grade, I was an altar server at Saint Raymond’s in Mt. Prospect. I read the Bible on a bet with my friend Louis. We decided to read it from cover to cover and see who could do it fastest. I don’t remember if we came to a decision. I know I finished it after he moved away. Around this time, I seriously considered becoming a priest. And this was true into law school when I walked down to St. Peter’s in the Loop to ask if they would take me and my student loan debt. They didn’t, but I continue to have a thirst for religious texts.

Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation by Elaine Pagels details to story of the possibly writing of the book, how the book got added to the final edition of the New Testament, and its legacy. It was a quick read with some interesting details. The stories of its trek through Egypt in the early days of the Church are fascinating. The story of the book probably is more interesting than the apocalyptic tale that John was weaving. I thought these stories were far more interesting than the anecdotes regarding exactly how people interpret and misinterpret it today.

The story Pagels tells discusses the politics of the Book of Revelation from its inception to today. It is an allegory that lives on due to its very general depictions of governmental power, evil, and the hope of a murderous cleanse. Each generation has taken the book as its own. We have preachers today who are readying their flocks for the coming end of days. Millions of copies of books in the Left Behind series. All of this due to the writings of a man(?) who saw the early days of the Church that were surrounded by death, despair, corruption, power, and uncertainty.

I have never believed in this book. I think it tells a story. It means a lot to certain people, but there is not a reason in the world that I would believe that the end times would read like this. Mainly, I don’t believe in an end times, so the point is moot. But the second coming of Christ cannot (if it truly would happen) consist of such blood lost. This books is counter-intuitive to what I believe the rest of the book to be telling me. But it is a good way to scare people into following along. Revelations by Elaine Pagels didn’t really strengthen my thoughts on this book, but it did give me an idea of what the early Church leaders cared about the the inner political struggles that defined the largest organization to truly exist on this globe.

What I Want My Hair To Look Like

How do I make my hair look like that? How does one style hair? I have no idea. Any tips would be great.

I have basically had the same hairstyle and haircut since I grew hair. I don’t always want to look like a frazzled teenager.

Basically, I’m looking for advice, assistance, and pointers on how to look better.

I subscribe to GQ and Details and all I gleaned from those is that I need to have nice abs and a lot of money. I have neither, so I want to fix my hair up a little.

Game Theory – Coursera.org

I turned in a final exam for the first time since 2007. However, this final exam came without a student loan bill. In collaboration with Stanford University, Coursera.org provides free online classes with a promise of a certificate at the end if you pass. I have no idea what the value of this will be when all is said and done, but it whets my appetite for learning and that is what I need right now.

The site states that “We offer high quality courses from the top universities, for free to everyone. We currently host courses from Princeton University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Pennsylvania. We are changing the face of education globally, and we invite you to join us.”

Each day, I worry that I am losing my edge. I have a law degree but I don’t want to practice law and I’m getting farther and farther away from my math background. I have also lost that educational distaste that I had after and even durian law school. With coursera.org, I have an opportunity to study things I always wanted to study. Additionally, other online resources are available through other universities and individuals. Like TED talks, learning isn’t confined to schools anymore. I have the degrees and I have experience now, but I need to stay informed and ready to learn.

Now, I am taking two more classes (computer science 101 and introduction to logic), have signed up for about ten more, and I am investigating other free online schooling. I have also started another computer science course at udacity.com. Will this lead to new degrees or a new job n the short term? Probably not, but it will provide me with trainings. And maybe options going forward.

Book 6 of 52: Everything Happens Today by Jesse Browner

I check a lot of books out of the Mount Prospect Public Library. Generally, I also choose a book by its cover. But I also read the inside cover to see if the story will be interesting to me. Everything Happens Today by Jesse Browner had a great cover that grabbed my attention. Wes seemed like an interesting kid and I wanted to see what his big day was all about.

One of my favorite books of the last few years was Saturday by Ian McEwan. I loved the format so much that I have tried to ape it in so many short stories that are laying around at my feet as I type this. To tell the story of one single day from a single perspective fascinates me because it is exactly how I think. I focus so much on the same details and interesting moments of every single day. Everything Happens Today plays in this same arena. The story begins with Wes walking home after a high school party with all of the inner monologue of a over-thinking teenage boy. He has imagined a certain life ahead of him in the short term that will lead to long term happiness and in a moment of passion, everything changes.

Wes suffers from the same conundrum of many teenage protagonists: he seems to smart for a teenager. Yes, he has doubts, but he reads of an older kid. He also is the child of a failed writer (another concept that appears in far too many books). He is in Greenwich Village. Yes, I know. All of these things don’t really sell this book outside of a hipster fascination, but Browner’s prose flows so easily off the page and I really fall for Wes.

Below is quote from near the end of the book. It doesn’t spoil the story, but I think this is the fundamental point of the story.

“You know when you’re writing a paper, and you run it through the spell-checker? You’d think, right, that you’d catch every typo? But you don’t, there’s always typos left, because sometimes when you misspell a word it becomes another word, and the spell-checker misses it. A mistake like that is a lot harder to detect. There’s nothing wrong with the new word, except that it’s in the wrong place. It’s out of context. That’s me. There’s nothing wrong with me, at least I don’t think there is, but even so I appear to be some sort of a mistake. I don’t fit in with the rest of the sentence, with the way everyone around me seems to think, or live their lives. Whatever it is that makes me out of place may be a tiny thing, one little letter transposed, but it makes all of the difference. Maybe I’m not even a spelling mistake, just the product of poor punctuation. I’m a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence. From now on, you can tell everybody that my new nickname is ‘Typo.’ Call me Typo.”

This is definitely a feeling that I think every young man feels at some point. I felt it later than 17, but it’s not my story.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a comic take on a Saturday. Nothing happens. Yet everything. If you remember how long a lonely Saturday after a mistake can be, this book will make you relive it.

Romney’s Bullying Past

Is it surprising that Mitt Romney bullied kids in high school? No. Kids are cruel. Especially male kids.

I was bullied. A lot. Junior high was probably the worst three years of my life. I was “sick” a lot, so I didn’t have to go to school. I didn’t talk about it because it didn’t matter. But it hurt. And it still hurts. I remember all of the people who bullied me. I remember all of the things they said. I remember the people who would stand up for me. And I remember the day I decided to not let them or their statements control my life anymore (even if that was when I was in my mid-twenties).

I wouldn’t withhold my vote from Romney due to his actions in high school, even though I wouldn’t vote for him ever, like other people have written. I understand their points and think that it is a noble stand to say no to any bully.

The problem I have with Romney’s account is that he doesn’t remember it. He said on the radio that “Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that.” He also said, according to the Washington Post, “‘I don’t remember that incident,’ Romney said, laughing.”

I will give him the first point. Lots of people, including myself, probably have moments of cruelty and moments of dumbness in high school. Though I never cut someone else’s hair, I know I said mean things to people. We all do. But it’s that he laughs off the memory of that incident.

When I was in junior high, I would have lunch with a few friends and one kid came and sat next to me. And he proceeded to punch me in the shoulder for the entire period. My shoulder was all black and blue and there were a lot of broken blood vessels. No one stopped him, including myself. I always believed it was better to not fight back. That was my choice. This kid’s choice was to punch me. I remember it as clear as day. He probably doesn’t.

In high school, my freshman year was not a lot of fun. I was a bit on my own. And gym class was the worst. I got picked on every day. I remember a childhood friend asking them to just leave me alone, even though we had grown apart. But it didn’t really change things. During a line dancing class, the guys around me began a mosh pit to basically just hit me and we were all thrown in the hall as punishment for disrupting the class, where they continued to make fun or me and push me around. The same year, during a fitness day that included jump ropes, I was hog-tied in the corner and laughed at by students and teachers a like, until someone came over to untie me.

I will never forget those moments. But, again, the bullies probably did. And that is the underlying difference. When you do something mean, you most likely forget it. But when someone does something horrible to you, you never forget it.

Gov. Romney should not have laughed off the incident. He should have had more courage to apologize directly to the individual and note that although he may not remember this incident, he is incredibly regretful for conducting himself in a manner that lead this man to never forget what happened to him. He should stand up and say that what he did was wrong and recognize that there are many individuals out in the world that have been affected by similar incidents and try to make amends.

Each morning, I have to fight to believe in myself because of what people did to me for many years. I have to tell myself that I am a good person and that all of those tears in school created someone great. I have had almost a a decade’s worth of therapy to get past something that I am sure that my bullies don’t even remember. To just write it off as youthful indiscretions is unfair and not something I want in a leader. And any of his supporters who just write it off obviously don’t understand the pain that can be caused by such incidents.

Avengers Penance

To alleviate the guilt I will have when I see The Avengers, I will follow David Brother’s post and donate to The Hero Initiative.

Here is the idea: So how about this: You’re probably going to go see The Avengers and, judging by the early reviews, you’ll probably enjoy it. How about – as a thank you to the creators who brought you these characters in the first place, who gave you something to enjoy so much – you match your ticket price as a donation to The Hero Initiative?

As creators who did not get their fair share get sick or need help, The Hero Initiative provides them with assistance.

See the movie! Help out!

UPDATED 5/16/2012: I saw The Avengers last week and just donated $10 to the Hero’s Initiative. The movie was alright. Nothing more to say.