(tl;dr i’m more proud of honorary degrees than the one real degree i have)
so, i was born and raised in a small Central Texas town, and up through the last half of my 8th grade year, i was an inmate of the Smithville ISD. starting in 4th grade, we were divided into “A”, “B”, & “C” classes. generally “A” was the above average students (although one year they reversed it as i remember), “B” was average students, “C” was below average.
I was always in the above average group. never had to study, didn’t understand those who did. “where you in class? did you read the book? what more do you need?” i was actually a bit of a dick about it.
then came puberty. and where before my mother and i had lived with her parents, come the hormone storm, my grandmother could not cope. she was only semi-joking when she claimed i’d become “demon-possessed”. she’d raised two daughters, and a teenage boy was a metric buttload more than she wanted to handle.
so mom and i moved to Del Valle. closer to Austin, where she worked, which helped make us living on our own viable.
and i got to learn a whole new set of rules and games, courtesy of the inmates of the Del Valle ISD.
rule 1: new kids are fags.
rule 2: smart kids are fags.
rule 3: (learned later) kids who don’t smoke are fags.
rule 4: (the Most Important Rule) fags get their asses beat like they’re pinatas.
i got used to eating my lunch sitting on a closed toilet in the bathroom.
and mom got used to seeing me with new injuries. and didn’t have any problem at all writing excuses for days i chose to stay home and avoid the gauntlet.
being my mom, she was ready to go down and visit fire and fury upon the school district, but i convinced her that was a Bad Idea.
every kid knew, you don’t rat out fellow inmates. it would end in nothing but more pain, and make things worse.
(folks who know me are already aware, but for those of you just tuning in – i can’t fight for shit. never knew how, never learned. my idea of tactics stop at the forward charge, and using my limbs (and body) as blunt objects)
so, i learned i wasn’t smart. smart got me hurt.
and eventually i wasn’t the new kid anymore.
and things got better.
until they found out i didn’t smoke. see rule #3 above. i started smoking at age 13 to remain a non-fag. smoked for 27 years.
(before Del Valle, walk up behind me without me knowing, smash cymbals together. i’d turn around and ask you why. after Del Valle, same situation, i’d be stuck to the ceiling like Sylvester in the Warner Brothers cartoons. my friends used to like to smash trash can lids together next to my bedroom window in the middle of the night to see how loud i screamed.)
we moved back to Smithville after a semester of misery and i was back where i belonged.
i’d just picked up a few issues.
while in subjects i was interested in, i still didn’t have to study. subjects i didn’t give a shit about, i failed. i simply didn’t care enough to learn, and didn’t know how to study if i had. if lack of interest and reading the book (and occasionally attending classes – more on that in a bit) weren’t enough, i failed. (and thus began my family’s obsession with my own personal most hated phrase in the English language – “you’re smart enough to do anything you want. why aren’t you (doing whatever we want you to)?”)
and i was living in a sort of cognitive dissonance – on the one hand, if i was interested in the subject, it was kind of hard to avoid noticing i was smart, although i passed it off as classes simply being “easy”, and my disdain for those who had to study grew to outright scorn. and on the other hand, if i failed, it reinforced my lack of smarts, because being smart gets you hurt.
(odd example of dissonance in action – algebra. freshman year, was failing halfway though, Ms. Baker put me on an introduction to algebra workbook so i’d at least get half credit for the year. breezed through it in three weeks, straight A’s, and spent the rest of the semester in study hall. sophmore year algebra. new teacher (and one of my favorite people ever), Ms. Smith. i failed. hung out over at her house a lot, a lot of kids did. she and her husband helped cultivate my interest in classical music and history. during the summer between sophmore and junior years, a discussion we were having became an argument, and she would not let me walk away, everywhere i turned there was a short, cute redhead in my face. without realizing it, i drew back a fist. she said, “You wanna hit me?” “Yeah!” “Fine, you pass algebra this next year, you can deck me!” “What about him?” (referring to her husband) “You don’t worry about him!” “Fine!” passed algebra, straight A’s. didn’t hit her.)
never cheated, was never tempted, even in subjects i was failing, except once (more on that later). so, junior year, chemistry. a semester on organic chem, a semester on inorganic chem. loved organic, breezed through, hated inorganic, with predictable results. (yet i never thought that in the same year, same basic course, one half of it was easy as hell, the other half so hard i confirmed my stupidity… cognitive dissonance, it’s not your friend)
now, all through high school, the lesson i’d learned at Del Valle – if you don’t want to go, don’t, and get that excused absence courtesy of Mom – kept escalating. and the truant officer couldn’t nail me, because i wasn’t playing hooky out in the wild, wide world – i was at home in my jammies, reading and watching PBS.
remember, this is before the days of “if you’re absent too many days, you don’t move on no way no how no matter what your grades are”. my junior year – the height of this behavior, i was absent more than i was there by three days. yes, skipped half the year and three days into the other half.
teachers and school officials knew i wasn’t sick all that often, but they couldn’t prove it because of my shameless blackmailing of my mom. “write the excuse or i don’t get to make up the tests i missed.”
and i was also running a moderately profitable business in selling stolen pink hall passes and, my specialty, exceedingly readable, and thorough, miniaturized cheatsheets, each carefully hand-crafted for the customer. extra-fine tipped pen, a very steady hand… it was artisanal cheating. and while my customers sometimes got caught, they never ratted out who’d provided their cheat sheet – ’cause after you catch two different students using identically hand-crafted miniaturized brilliance, you know there’s a third party involved.
so while i’m breezing through courses like advanced biology, and failing German and chemistry (among others) i start picking up correspondence course credits so i’d be able to graduate. they were easy, so very much like that “introduction to algebra” workbook.
comes senior year, according to school counselor, i’ve got enough extra credits, i should graduate, even if i fail a course.
and chemistry looms before me again.
they’d changed it to inorganic first semester, organic second semester, and i’m limping through inorganic. it’s all going to come down to the final. i wanted to pass, i really did. i could fail and still graduate, but it had become a bit of a steelcage deathmatch between me and the world of non-living chemical reactions.
so, for the first time in my life, i considered cheating. i created one of my best pieces of work, everything i might need to know, on a 4 inch by 3 inch sheet.
and right up until the exam, i was going to use it. but at the very last minute, i decided to maintain my clean record. i had maybe a minute before Mr. Albrecht started passing out the exams, and i did Not want the sheet on me, or i might be tempted, so i balled it up and tossed it onto a desk, three desks away from me. good shot, landed right out in plain sight. no way i could get up and get to it during the exam.
and Mr. Albrecht saw it as he came back to the back row, handing out the exams one by one.
yes, i made it. i was planning to cheat up to the last minute, but decided not to, and threw it far enough away so i couldn’t use it, even if i changed my mind.
quite noble of me, i thought.
he, and the principal, Mr. Stacy, who’d been wanting to nail my ass for four years, disagreed.
i automatically failed the exam, didn’t even get to take it to find out how i might have done. instead i was in the midst of an enchanting conversation with Mr. Stacy.
but it was okay, i could afford to fail a class and still graduate, and i was doing fine in everything else.
(until recently i didn’t realize that my admission of creating the sheet identified me as someone they’d wanted to nail for three-and-a-half years. funny ol’ world, innit?)
so, second semester begins. i’d forgone ordering a class ring ’cause really, jewelry commemorating my time as an inmate didn’t appeal to me, but i’d ordered my invitations to graduation.
and three weeks before graduation, the guidance counselor tells me he’d miscalculated. i didn’t have enough credits to graduate. and three weeks was far too short an amount of time to race through a correspondence course and get the credit for it.
he smiled when he told me. and i smiled back, because lunging over the desk and choking him wasn’t even a fantasy. i’d been fucking them for four years, now they were returning the favor.
mom wanted to interfere, i told her no. i deserved it. i’d bought the ass-fucking, it was time to lie forward and think of England.
getting my GED was one of the easiest things i’d ever done. really, if that was all that was required to get an equivalency degree, most kids probably could’ve taken the exam their freshman year and exited the system, should they choose.
so that’s why i wasn’t upset, but rather amused to find i’d stashed the only real degree i have behind my Bachelor of Arts in Medieval Metaphysics from Miskatonic University.
i may have bought that piece of paper from a gaming company, but years of being a part of a group of independent, if-it-works-use-it, self-styled magickal practitioners… i’d earned it. (okay, maybe not the ‘medieval’ part, we tended to qualify more as chaos practitioners than historically based) (and no, don’t ask me if what we did was real or not. depends on your view, and more importantly, on my view on any given day.)
and now i’ve added an ordination from the Universal Life Church, and a Doctor of Divinity degree from same, earned by years of studying religions and theology, even though i paid for the doctorate.
for me, my life earned me two degrees and an ordination. the GED? that was kindergarten shit.
listening to: “Copperhead Road”, Steve Earle