Friday, April 25, 2014

Nation of scofflaws: or, Teacher's petitude redux

Walhydra has been carrying this title around in her head for at least a dozen years, crafting and reciting sentences to herself, adding examples, grumbling. 

At first she was too angry to actually write anything down. Then, for several years, she was too much in grief Now she feels again the temptation to be publicly snarky—followed, of course, by having Goddess put her in her place once again. It's sort of a spiritual S&M ritual.

The obvious place to start looking for examples would be with driving.

Road rage imageWalhydra used to play this game on the way to work each day. She would count the number of “strikes” against her, a strike meaning that she lost her temper and cursed another driver. She always struck out before she ever got downtown.

Over the years she has tried various remedies.

With  speeders, for example, she turns herself into the sort of pokey old coot who used to piss her off so much—staying in the right lane with the cruise control set at the speed limit.  It's actually rather relaxing. Everyone on the road passes her.

The closer you get, the slower I goWith tailgaters, she recalls the advice of the defensive driving course the City requires all employees to take: "Slow down and invite them to pass."

(Walhydra imagines all sorts of questionable nuances for that word "invite.")

Despite these tactics, though, the truth is that Walhydra is too often terrorized by those manic stock car drivers who ride her bumper and race around her on both sides if she happens not to be in the outside lane.

"Are they crazy?!!" she shouts.

Stock car race

Then there are the in-town incidents with people who seem not to know the width and turning radius of their own vehicles. They swoop into oncoming lanes to turn right, to pull into diagonal parking or to pass parked cars.  They back out into oncoming lanes.

And they don’t know what that secret little stick on the steering wheel is for.

When she's honest with herself, Walhydra admits she feels disrespected and resentful over these incidents.

Jerry Mathers 1960She remembers growing up in a June-and-Ward-Cleaver America. Young people were taught to respect their elders, and it was just assumed that people would watch out for each other and practice common civility, rules of the road, etc.

This wasn't a matter of authoritarian imposition of order—contrary to what her peers believed during the "Sixties Revolution." It was simply a social contract, a courteous way of dealing with people in public to ease daily life.

Now it seems like people scoff at or totally ignore the contract.  Or deliberately violate it. Or...maybe...were never even told about or expected to obey it as kids.

Walhydra is constantly feeling offended and unsafe, because she cannot count on anyone to "abide by the code."

"Tomato juice."

"Wha—?"  Walhydra looks around.

Crippled Wolf glances up from the Stephen Jay Gould book he is chewing on.

"Tomato juice. Age five. Kindergarten."

"Oh." Walhydra doesn't really want to go there...but Crippled Wolf was there, too, so she can't very well avoid the issue.  The story was told back in 2006.
Tomato juice.
More exactly, spilled tomato juice. On her favorite flannel shirt. In front of other kindergarten five-year-olds, her first months in public school. Right after her family moved from the only home she had ever known.

They laughed, of course. For whatever reasons, Walhydra experienced it as laughing at her. Her peers had unknowingly introduced her to shame. In her personal mythology, that was the moment when Walhydra became self-conscious—in all the blesséd and cursed senses of that term....

It happens to everyone, of course. That disorienting schism between “I’m unique” and “I’m one of you.” Walhydra figures most of the crimes and sufferings of the human race can be traced to that schism.

What startled her awake, meditating on this, was that she had identified her own particular version of this turn on the path....
In her childhood, Walhydra’s line of defense was to become invincible.
Hermione Grander
She recognized quickly that “those in authority” were teachers. She was an utter failure on the playing field, due partly to non-paralytic polio at age four, and partly to having been shamed by the tomato juice incident....
However, she was gifted with being brilliant, creative and a quick study. The obvious survival strategy was to become a “teacher’s pet.”

This path had the advantage of making her immediately liked and protected by “those in authority.” It had the disadvantage of underscoring the message to her peers: “I’m
not one of you."
"We're not still five, you know," Crippled Wolf said patiently.

"Well obviously not!" Walhydra grouses, stomping and stretching to get the kinks out of her back. "What's your point?!"

"You're still feel bullied, and you hate it."


"Those are aggressive drivers. Bullies.

"But also the teenagers...even the grade school kids you feel intimidated by. The people who don't watch out for anyone but themselves. The one's who take your seat or talk too loudly on their cell phones or expect you do whatever they want at the library services desk.

"They all seem like bullies."

Walhydra sat down. "And...?"

" don't feel safe. Don't know how to protect yourself. It doesn't feel like anyone's in authority anymore, does it?"

Walhydra frowned. It was never fun to find out that underneath whatever she disliked about other people was something she disliked about herself.

"Well.... There isn't anyone in authority anymore! Everyone does what he wants, regardless of how it affects other people."


"Yes? Is that all you can say? You're just like my fa...."
“It’s not fair,” she hears herself whining. Starting in first grade, she would frequently come home from some round of teasing by peers or unappreciative discipline by adults to voice that complaint to her father, the Lutheran pastor.

“You’re right,” he would reply. “It’s not fair.”

For years—at least thirty, she figures—Walhydra thought this meant he wasn’t a “good Dad,” because he didn’t go and fix it. Then one day she woke up and realized he had just been confirming her observation of reality.
"I listened to him," Crippled Wolf says gently. "You didn't want to."

"Yeah, well.... So what do I do?"

"Keep yelling at them (silently) as bullies, or be the sixty-four year old crone you are."


"Haha! Almost sixty-four. Come on. Let's go get a double waffle cone of double chocolate ice cream."

Walhydra smiles.

Chocolate cone

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael Bright Crow