So, the other day I stumbled upon this tweet, and it got me thinking. Specifically, about high school.
See, as a kid, I was fawned over by my English teachers. I was hailed as a reading and writing prodigy. I was told by my mother that I was deserving of awards. When you tell a child things like that, they will believe it, because they have yet to meet the people of the world that will tell them otherwise. Then, one day…they do.
Now, high school was no highlight of my lifetime. I was an unmedicated mentally ill diabetic and I did not have control over my own mind or body by the time I was 16 and a Junior. It was the worst year of my young life and I don’t like to talk about it much but I am today because something good did come out of that year, and that is spite, as a motivator.
It started on parent-teacher night when my mother, a kind woman who finds the good in everyone, almost went apeshit on my 11th grade English teacher. Said teacher pretty much told my mother that I had no talent and that my writing was weak. She said my work was subpar and she didn’t think me capable of better and was curious why she had heard such good reviews from previous teachers. Mind you, I had a blood sugar level of maybe 400 at the time, so no, I wasn’t turning out my best work…but as my mother rationalized, if you heard I did well before, wouldn’t you assume something was wrong? All my other teachers were telling them something was wrong. This teacher was just telling them I sucked. My mother will probably go to her grave not liking my 11th grade English teacher and that’s just fine. But that’s not the whole story.
Adding insult to injury, this teacher was also the drama club moderator, the only other thing I cared about in high school. I tried out for the school play that year and she called my acting “flat.” Here’s another thing everyone has always told me I was good at except for the person whose actual approval mattered at the time, who thought I was trash. Ok. Let’s regroup.
Teacher told us in the springtime that there would be a one-act play festival, and that anyone could submit a play for it. So…I wrote a GD play. It was called For My Mother but it should have been called For My 11th Grade English Teacher because that’s what it was really about, now that I’m grown and confident and no longer being graded on American Lit.
And reader…she picked my play. I cast it and directed it and it was performed for the festival. And I did it while directing another professional show, and pulling up my abysmal Junior year grades. I then took my little play, marched my C+ butt over the 12th grade English teacher, and begged to be let into her elective classes for the following year. No, I didn’t have the grades, but I had my play, and I had improvement, and I was going to get into those classes, damnit! Creative Writing and Drama! I mean…c’mon!
And I did it. She was impressed. I’m sure she spoke to my other teacher and lord knows what she had to say about me, but in the end I got into the classes I wanted to and I passed the classes I was failing and so help me god I would never be weak or flat again.
Many years later I was at the Artie Awards, which is like the Tony’s but for Buffalo theater. We’d just won something or other and we’re getting our drink on when they announced the “newcomers” to the stage, people who had performed in their first professional role that year. I, of course, did a spit take with my red bull and vodka when they announced “11th Grade English Teacher.” She wasn’t there, I don’t think, but it was enough to call my evening to a close. It’s not like I hold any ill will towards her; she was just doing her job. Do I think she could have done it a little better? Maybe, but whatever. The end result was pretty decent. I got good English grades Senior year, enjoyed my electives…she even cast me in the Senior play. She was a lot better to work with as a director than a teacher, I feel, and I’m glad she found a spot in theater because I kind of sensed her heart was more in performance. Of course, I could be wrong and you should never make assumptions, but that’s not too bad of one to make.
Truth is, I was at a terrible point in my life back then and if this teacher hadn’t of slapped me upside the head, maybe I would have given up. Instead, I got mad, and I got motivated, and I wrote my heart out and have been doing so ever since.
So, there you have it. Spite as a motivator.