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« In Which It Seemed Eventual But Then It Also Happened All At Once »

Youth And Discipline


In elementary school I was often in trouble. I could never tell whether I was being singled out to scare the other girls into submission, or if I was just genuinely worse than they were. I wasn't violent. My badness came out as a lack of respect for authority. I asked questions. I rejected being treated like a child. The administration wasn't fond of this approach. I developed a reputation as a troublemaker. I felt I was being unfairly stereotyped due to being ginger. I refused to sing the national anthem. 

Homeroom teachers liked me every other year. The ones who liked me loved me but the ones who didn't like me really, really didn't like me. Why would they? I read books inside my desk when I was bored, and I was almost always bored, except for when I felt like being interested, and then I would insist on dominating the discussion.

I told my kindergarten teacher that I wanted to be an ichthyologist. She asked me how to spell it and I said "I don't know, I'm a fucking kid." I probably didn't say "fucking."

I left the classroom constantly without any real reason and went to the library down the hall, then showed no remorse whenever I got caught because I felt none. I was stubborn and arrogant and nine. I talked to the librarian more than probably any other person at school. She suggested young adult books to me and I bristled at reading anything that far below my advanced reading level. I can't remember her name or even the honorific, but I have a vague recollection of what she looked like (a librarian).

There was a contest to stump her with any question that could be solved with information from the library. I continually tried to win and failed. I found some remote scientific information and then hid the book way back behind some other books on the wrong shelf. She figured me out immediately. The shame I felt was mostly that I hadn't gotten away with it and beaten her. It was a good warmup for the internet.

As a child I was most afraid of men with beards and other people's dads. At some point my position on bearded men reversed, in a psychologically transparent turn towards fetishization. I am still pretty fucking scared of other people's dads. 

There was a mock election in 4th grade and we all gave speeches. I wrote something about helping the homeless that I thought would go over well. I read it out loud to the class and felt like a fraud, as all politicians must feel. I was chosen as the class candidate for the democratic party, to compete against room 8's republican, my friend Jessie. I had never felt any natural calling towards politics, but I didn't want to lose.

I picked the nerdiest kid in my class to be my VP, since he had written the only other speech I considered to be remotely in the same league as mine. Jessie picked a kid who was really dumb and mean and had a growth hormone deficiency but was somehow considered popular, possibly because he was rich. They won in a landslide. 

After I lost, I contemplated the pointlessness of the election, which was after all fake and yet had proven some things I already suspected to be true. I sat on the swingset alone with whatever big important novel I was reading that week, Steinbeck or Melville or something else that I didn't really have any life experience to relate to yet but deeply enjoyed the idea of relating to. I always hoped somebody would ask me about what I was reading but nobody ever did. Later as a teenager I was always hoping somebody would ask me what album I was listening to on my discman. They didn't. 

The PE coach, a youngish blonde lady that we referred to only as Coach, developed an intense enmity towards me when I refused to spend my valuable recess time playing house or sports with the other kids in my class. I was often caught inside the library and forced back outside, where I would read a book alone in silent dickish protest. 

In a meeting Coach told my parents that I made the other kids feel stupid by using such big words, and that sometimes I used words even she couldn't understand. My parents only told me about it much later, confirming all my suspicions that Coach had been kind of an idiot, and that people in positions of power over you usually were. 

A kid in my class told me I was sarcastic, and I told him that I didn't know what that meant. I am sure he thought I was just being sarcastic. I went and looked it up and felt satisfied that there was a term for the thing that I was. Whenever I was accused of cynicism, I would say "I'm not cynical, I'm just sarcastic. I'm an optimist." I am still not convinced that I am really an optimist. It would be optimistic to think that I am.

At the neighborhood playground I talked to all the kids, and when that became dull, I would talk to their parents. "Oh hey what's up? You here with your kids? That's tight, I'm a kid. So, what do you do?" When I got bored of that I would talk to the ice cream truck guy. "You sell ice cream? That's rad. In the future I'll write for the internet."

Sometimes I went to the park with a weird girl I was friends with whose family lived next to it. Once she brought a box of condoms she said she had found in her parents' closet and we walked around putting condoms on all the metal fenceposts. In high school I would write a hit one act play based off of my playground experiences that was seventy percent a ripoff of The Zoo Story and thirty percent a ripoff of True West.

My music teacher selected me to sing a solo of "Where Is Love" from Oliver. I was flattered and embarrassed to be singled out. As a kid the desire to be exceptional competes with the desire not to establish yourself as different, for fear it will be turned against you. I was accused of reading the dictionary for fun. It was not very far off.

When I got up to perform the song during the recital I suddenly felt horrified that I was about to sing something so earnest and corny. Afraid that people would somehow be able to see into me too deeply. Halfway through the first verse I blew in the microphone accidentally, and laughed. Then I sang less, and blew in the microphone some more. This cemented my bad reputation. I am still struggling with sincerity. 

I joined the Girl Scouts because all my friends joined. When I learned that the Boy Scouts would be getting pocket swiss army knives I became furious, then sad when I found out that nobody else cared but me. The most hated girl in our class's mom became the troop leader. Our meetings were held in the auditorium after school.

Once I excused myself to go to the water fountain and when I got into the hallway sprinted at the playground exit, towards night and freedom. When the kindergarten teacher's son opened a door the doorknob made direct contact with my face and I had to go get stitches. I can't remember whether the kindergarten teacher's son was attractive, or if all men in their twenties just seemed desirable to me at that age.

My interest in ichthyology turned to marine biology when I decided that I couldn't possibly exclude mammals. My budding ocean sciences career eventually wound down after the realization that I was way too claustrophobic for Alvin. I had an art teacher whose obsession with Ancient Egypt became mine. I was initially terrified of him because of his beard. I did a drawing of the sun and the real sun glinted off it so intensely, for a week I was secretly convinced I had magical powers related to art.  

I was cashiering at a grocery store and my old art teacher came in. I didn't recognize him since he was clean-shaven and I hadn't seen him in twenty years. He remembered me immediately, since I look basically the same and had a nametag on. He seemed surprised to find me working in retail. I took his wife's business card and promised to call them and have dinner but then never did. It's strange to see the adults from your childhood. What do you say to someone who changed the course of your life forever?

I wrote a poem and was chosen to read it during graduation. I felt completely confident that my poem had been the best but also vindicated that it had been chosen. The administration took credit for my love of reading, which they had tried to squash at every possible turn. I wore a mint green dress. I decided I was going to be a writer, even if I had to take credit for it occasionally. I didn't blow in the mic.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She authors the This Recording twitter here and tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about incepting the internet. You can find an archive of her work here.

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Reader Comments (7)

When I was at camp, a boy sang "Where is Love" at a talent show - his name was Zac Posen. Years later, I wondered what would have happened if I had sung "All Apologies" that night rather than just play back up guitar.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGideon

I saw Bruce Willis in True West one time:

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRutherford

The MIA video was based on this blog post.

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

powerful. as powerful as my shark costume,

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLambo

'What do you say to a person that may have changed the course of your life?' I spend a lot of time thinking about this.

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHC Carr

An optimist? Really?

December 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhilippe

Cool! Author the best! Thank you!

April 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdissertation

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