Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Procrastination and the Fear of Failure

              So it’s clear that I’ve made little effort to keep up with this blog. I started doing this because I hate how hard it is for me to actually write. I figured that it might be easier for me if I wasn’t trying to create a new fiction and just had a forum to, for lack of a better phrase, just talk. I thought if I could get myself used to writing on a regular basis I would have an easier time changing my focus to fiction writing. Sadly, my mental block when it comes to writing seems to be even thicker than I thought, and forcing myself to do any kind of writing it extremely difficult.  The truly sad part is that I know exactly where my mental block comes from and what form it takes, and yet I’m still hard-pressed to do anything about it. I’ve spent almost four hours trying to get myself to write this post, with a ton of unnecessary interruptions along the way. All of them seemed like good ideas at the time, but looking back it’s amazing how much time I’ve wasted, for no good reason, trying to avoid doing something that I very much want to do. When I found myself starting to rearrange my DVD collection, something I haven’t done in years and have never had an active interest in doing, I knew that my problems were bigger than I thought they were. Even after that, it took some time to force myself into my chair and start up Word. Now that I’m here, and I have a good chunk of text on my screen, I’m hoping that talking about my block will help me break through it.

            While I’ve always listed my hometown as Somers Connecticut, the truth is that the first house I actually remember was in Enfield. I attended Nathan Hale Elementary from Kindergarten through Second Grade and from what I can remember I had a good time there. I still remember some of my friends, even if I’ve never kept in contact with any of them. I still remember some of my teachers, even if I hated them at the time. And I still remember the day my parents told me and my sister that we were moving to Stafford. We were in the car, on the way home from…somewhere. My father had recently been laid off, and they told us that we couldn’t afford to live in our house anymore. I remember being upset, but other than the exact moment my parents told us we were moving I have no recollection of anything surrounding that time period. Sadly, there are a lot of holes in my memory from this point until I actually moved to Somers ten years later. Or maybe it’s a blessing, considering how much I hated my time in Stafford, and how negatively it seems to have influenced the rest of my life.

            As I said, I only have snapshots of memory from my time in Stafford, but the general theme from my time there is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget. From third to sixth grade, I had zero real friends. I say “real friends”, because there was one kid whose house I went over from time to time, but who refused to acknowledge me when we were around other people. For three years I felt, almost exclusively, lonely and ashamed about myself. Even my teachers seemed to pass me over when I raised my hand in class. Looking back on it now, it likely had nothing to do with me on a personal level. When I raised my hand in class to give an answer I tended to have the correct one, and I’m convinced now that the reason I wasn’t called on more was to give kids who had more trouble learning than I did a chance to work out the ideas for themselves. At the time, however, it simply felt to me that I was again being ignored and only reinforced my thoughts of seclusion. I know from my parents that, before this time, I had never been a shy child. I always seemed to enjoy talking to new people, and never had any fear of doing so. Today I’ve been able to banish almost all of my shyness and fear of social interactions, but it still creeps up on me if I find myself in a large group full of people I don’t know.

            Things changed significantly for me once I reached Seventh Grade, in a number of ways. The first, and, in some ways, most important change was in my social life. I had been playing Little League for a number of years up to this point, and two of my teammates, Josh and Seth, moved to Stafford that year. They came from the next town over, Union, and while we had been friendly while we played on the same team, we really became friends once we started to attend the same school. Once I began hanging out with them, it got easier to ignore any kind of negative attitude that came from other members of our class. I stopped caring so much what other people thought, and it got much easier for me to interact with other people once I knew that I had people who liked me simply for being me, and not because they had to, like my family. I made a number of friends that year, and both Josh and Seth are still among my best friends (and both will be in my wedding party in 2012). Unfortunately, while this was the point in time that the dark cloud of my social life started to lighten, it was also the same point in time that, due to what was happening in my academic life, my mental block on writing really began to solidify.

            Sixth Grade was the first year I was forced to take remedial classes. As I said before, I tended to not get called on in class very often when the teacher would ask a question. I honestly believe, now, that it had nothing to do with the teachers ignoring me, at least until Fifth Grade. That year I had a teacher, whose name has, unfortunately, fallen into one of the holes in my memory. Not only did she and I get along very well, she could see that I needed some kind of outlet for myself, and she sent aside fifteen minuets ever week for me to get up in front of the class and pose word problems to the rest of the students from a book I had found in the library. I remember looking forward to this every week, and for the first time in a long time I was excited about something I was doing in school. Then, one day after a long weekend, I came in to school to find that our teacher had a heart attack two days prior and died in the hospital. The woman who replaced her had been a substitute for us a few times that year, and I didn’t like her at all. She had gone to school to be an Art teacher, a subject that I never had any interest or talent in, and insisted on doing art projects at every opportunity. When the day came for me to get in front of the class to do the word problem that day, she told me that it was a stupid exercise, and that we wouldn’t be doing it again. Then we spent the rest of the day making little dolls made of out stockings and stuffing that, in the end, looked a hell of a lot like a potato. For the rest of the year I was nothing short of miserable when I was in school, and I started to resent having to go.

            Middle school started in Sixth Grade, and, in Stafford at least, this meant that we stopped having just one teacher and started having a different teacher for each class. I had already stopped raising my hand in class by this point, and it was around this time that I also stopped doing homework. The way I saw things, the only reason for homework was to help you learn the material that was presented in class. Since I tended to grasp the material as it was presented, I felt that this meant I didn’t need to do the homework. Unfortunately, and, perhaps, unsurprisingly, my teachers didn’t hold to the same views and started failing me in classes. Never mind that I would get nearly all A’s on any test or quiz I was given on the material. So they started placing me in remedial classes because I was “having difficulties learning”. It didn’t help that I was extremely bored in class and spent most of my time in class reading or with my head down. And getting A’s on any test or quiz put in front of me. But they still put me in the remedial classes and in the guided study program. Shockingly, putting me with students who actually did have a hard time grasping the subject matter, and with classes presented at a slower pace, did nothing to help the boredom I felt in the normal classes, and caused me to care even less about school. Everyone who was placed in remedial English had to have their reading comprehension tested by a third party group assigned by the school board. I not only scored higher than anyone else who took the test, but according to the tests administrator, I scored higher than anyone he had seen in his fifteen years doing it. So that’s how I, in Sixth Grade, managed to have the reading comprehension of someone who had finished their second year of college and still managed to fail English.

            At home, my parents were growing more and more frustrated with the increasing disparity of how smart I was and how poor my grades were. I got a lot of, “You’re so smart, if you’d just apply yourself…”, and, “If you spent half the time on your schoolwork as you do with your video games…” I lacked the perspective and the self-reflection to explain to them that there was no sense of accomplishment in doing work that was so easy for me. There was no challenge for me at school, and without a challenge there was nothing I could work towards. The only goal I could set myself was to not fail. At the time I was attending school there, Stafford didn’t have it in the budget to have an accelerated program. They only had the money for one other track besides the normal one, and they made the decision to fund the remedial program instead. I can’t fault them for the decision either, because there were far more kids who needed the remedial program than kids who needed the accelerated one. Unfortunately for me I was one of the latter, and because the program I needed didn’t exist, and because of the fact that I needed a challenge in order to take an interest, I was forced to endure the former.

            School only got worse for me over the next few years. In Seventh Grade I had a guided study teacher who would offer her kids rewards for completing tasks. For example, I was told that if I could do all of my homework for a full week I would be treated to a lunch at McDonalds by one of the teachers aids. For the first time in a while, I actually had a goal, apart from simply not failing. I completed my task with little difficulty, and when the day came for my reward I was told that I wouldn’t be going to McDonalds for lunch, because all I did was show that my lack of work in school was something I could control and because of this, I didn’t deserve a reward. I remember this incident very specifically as the point in my life where I completely gave up on school.

            In Eighth Grade, everyone in the remedial classes had to take Reading along with English. My sister, two years older than me and already in High School, was taking a Psychology class at the time. One of her exercises was to measure the reading speed of her family members. As I remember it, this consisted of timing me while I read a three page document that had a specific number of words in it. I clocked in at over three hundred words per minute. I think the actual number is 327 wpm, but I’m not a hundred percent sure about that. But it’s important to know, because of the Reading class I was talking about. The structure of the class was this; one student would read aloud as everyone else followed along in their book. That was the entire class. Every couple chapters, we would have a small quiz, but for the most part, the entire class was just reading. Now, as you might expect, the rest of the class couldn’t read over three hundred words a minuet, and as such I was always far ahead of the rest of the class as they were reading. Whenever the teacher would call on me, I would always have to tell him that I had no idea where the rest of the class was in the book, and that I was six or seven chapters ahead. Almost every time this would get me detention for “being disrespectful to the rest of the class”.

            The curriculum for Ninth Grade English consisted almost entirely of writing assignments. To make things more interesting for myself, I would always set myself little challenges to amuse myself. For example, when we were asked to write a six page piece of fiction, I decided that I would see how many times I could use the word “meandering” correctly. The Meandering Takes of the Meandering Meanderers got me an “F”, but I considered it a success because I managed to use the word “meandering” over four hundred times in the piece. Not long after this my English teacher told my parents that I had the writing level of a Second Grader.

            But the last straw came the summer before my Junior year, when, because I was in the remedial programs, I was forced to take an IQ test. Once I had finished with the testing, the school called me and my mother in to a meeting with the principle, my guided study teacher, and the person who had conducted the test so we could all go over the results. When it was revealed that my IQ was “In the 135-140” range, the principle looked directly at my mother and said, “Well, he obviously cheated”. I think that was the first time my mother realized that the school system actually was working against me, not for me, and before the start of my Junior year we moved out of Stafford and into Somers.

            Before I started at Somers, we had a meeting with the school guidance councilor. I was able to convince her not to put me in guided study, but I couldn’t avoid being placed in the remedial English class. At least at first. Within a week the teacher, Mrs. Jeffers, asked me, “What the hell are you doing in remedial English?” When I told her that I had the writing level of a Second Grader she laughed and told me that was ridiculous. I was moved to the normal English class shortly after, but as it turned out that was too little too late. I was never able to bring myself to care about school again after being told for so long that I was stupid. Thankfully my little sister, who is ten years younger than me and is every bit as smart as I am, was able to get in to the Somers school system early enough that she didn’t have any of the problems I did. She was quickly placed in the accelerated classes, and is currently attending High Point College.

            And now I come to the point. I’m sorry it’s been such a long and, dare I say, meandering tale. I was told for almost my entire school career, that I was stupid and had no discernable skills when it came to writing. But ever since I left Stafford, I’ve been told that I’m actually a good writer. I was told once, in Community College, that one of my pieces of fiction was extremely hard to grade because the teacher kept forgetting that what she was reading wasn’t actually a published work. Yet every time I go to write something, all I can think about are the years I was told that I wasn’t good enough, that no matter what I do they were right about me. And it’s that fear of failure that causes my block. I’m terrified that, even if I put my best effort into it, I’m going to find out that I really am a failure, just like I was always told. As much as I don’t want to prove them wrong, I’m even more afraid that I’ll prove them right…

            But something happened recently that convinced me I have to try. A few days ago I was laid off from my job, and I’m currently unemployed for the first time in over eight years. I’ve done a lot of thinking and soul-searching since then, and I’ve come to the realization that letting myself go through life scared of what might happen if I try also proves them right. The only way that I can be happy is if I fix the problem myself. So I’ve decided that, for as long as I’m unemployed, I’m going to write as much as I can. This piece I’m writing now is already the most I’ve written at one time since I was in High School. For now, I can only hope that talking about it has started the process of breaking my block. I suppose only time will tell...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome to my Blog!

Creative Outlit. Outlit. Like literature? Get it? Yes, I know, I'm very clever. Of course, I couldn't actually spell "literature", so maybe I'm not that clever...

Let's try this again, shall we? Welcome to the first post of my blog. As you have no doubt guessed by this point, this is the first time I've ever done this. I suppose it would be to my greatest advantage to tell anyone who might be reading this a little about myself, and why I feel that I'm qualified to write a blog. (Spoiler Alert: It's not because I'm good at spelling). Well, while I have no doubt that you'll get to know me very well over the course of my writing, the truth is that I'm probably not qualified to write a blog. I know the basic rules of the English language (okay, maybe a little more than the basics), but I'm no English major. Nor am I positive that I have anything interesting to say. But that's sort of why I started this blog in the first place. Because I've come to a point in my life where I need to know what I'm made of. I need to know what I have inside me, hidden from my family, my friends, and even myself. I've blamed other people for my failings almost all my life, and, truth be told, sometimes I was right. But I've recently decided that it doesn't matter what parts of me are the product of other people, and what parts are my own doing. Because the only way things are going to change for me is if I decide to change them.

And so we come to my blog. I don't know where my life is going from here. I know where I'd like it to go. I know that I would love to become an author, a husband, and a father. This blog is probably going to have no effect on the second two items on that list, but the first...well, we'll see. I can't tell you what the content of this blog is going to be, because I honestly have no idea. I like to write, watch sports, read comic books, play video games, and pen & paper RPGs. What I can say is that this blog will, first and foremost, be an attempt at figuring out who I am. You might say that I'm discovery writing my life. Will it be pulp, or literature? I fancy myself an optimist, so I'd like to the latter. Maybe I am a little clever after all...