I Am Bad At School

If we include my two years of first grade, I have been in school for, roughly, seventeen years. Doing anything for nearly two decades is sufficient time for anyone to be able to tell if they are successful at it, or not. I am the latter in the realm of academics. Perhaps the fact that I had to repeat a grade had something to do with it or maybe it was the bevy of issues that can be summed up as ‘girl trouble’.

One common blame is the instructors, but I have had excellent relationships with (nearly) every teacher I have had from Kindergarten to college. In fact, I owe my former teachers for a great deal of things. They gave me perspectives that I never dreamed of needing and helped guide me into becoming the young man I am today. It is nowhere near the fault of anyone but myself.

What is to blame though? What even possesses me to say that I am ‘bad at school’? Well, before I break it down subject by subject, let me hit on something that plagued me in every year of schooling I have ever had. Attendance. I used to get sick very often. There were times in eighth grade where  I was absent for so long that I returned to the surprise of my fellow classmates. Apparently, a rumor circulated that I was now deceased. This actually led me to creating a short story out of a dream and that event which will, God willing, never see the light of day.

Later on in high school and college, my then undiagnosed mental health issues liked to chain me to my bed and really give me a rough go around. THEN, when they were diagnosed and I was being medicated for them, I still had extreme difficulty budging from my springy black mattress. This has led to more failures than I would like to admit.

Unfortunately, my daydreaming (a vital weapon to combat the Enemy) can lead to me missing vital chunks of lessons and becoming too embarrassed to ask what I had missed. Embarrassment is certainly a big part of why I am bad at school.

I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what formulas to use in Chemistry and Pre-Calculus, so on tests I would just leave swaths of questions blank. In college French, I was too embarrassed to actually speak and eventually just dropped it as my minor altogether. In fact, the only place I feel that I thrived was class discussion. There was never a right or wrong answer that could entangle ever syllable that slid out my my mouth, so I roamed free.

I certainly cite my attention span and lack of motivation as the two main causes of my consistent failures. So much so that I stopped writing this particular post in the middle of the last sentence and took a 24 hour break.

Do I let this stop me though? Just because I am bad at school should mean that I hate it, right?

Nope.

You see, I love learning and will always love it. I will always get better at studying and attending class if I enjoy myself. The real hurdle to get over is to allow myself to enjoy learning again. I am so focused on not doing things that I consistently forget that I still have so much to learn. I will never stop learning.

So, I am bad at school. But I am good at learning. And really, isn’t that the important thing?

College Story Time #1

Last night I went out with my friend Brian to get some of my favorite things ever, Taco Bell hard shell tacos.

It was late, or early depending of your frame of reference, and the line was long. I let my thoughts drift to other things. Brian asked me what I wanted to order, since he drove, and I told him a regular Taco 12 Pack, might as well share what I love. So, we pull up to the speaker.

Speaker Voice #1: “Welcome to Taco Bell, may I please take your order.”

Brian: “Yeah, I’d like a Taco 12 Pack, please.”

Speaker Voice #1: “Okay th-”

Speaker Voice #2: “OH MY GOD!”

Speaker Voice #1: “That’ll be (insert arbitrary dollar amount here). Please pull to the first window.”

Brian and I begin to discuss what could have happened to cause such an outburst. I jokingly suggest that they ran out of tacos. We get to the window and here the cashier say, “I don’t want to tell him, you tell him.” So a guy leans out the window.

They had run out of tacos.

Beef anyway. Immediately I think, well I wouldn’t mind a substitute. Chicken or steak would do. Before I can even get the words out of my mouth I here him say, “And I know this sounds fuckin’ crazy, but we’ve run out of chicken and steak too. There are five tacos left, just give us a minute and you can have them for free.”

The window closes and Brian and I are flabbergasted. Suddenly, what I can only assume is a discontented customer, whips around us and crosses the street quickly to the McDonald’s drive thru. I get my tacos and get back to Brian’s place.

They were delicious.

Alone in the Theater

I am a part of a generation that sees going to the movies as a very social event. One night out with friends or a significant other to see a movie is the most basic way to spend a night with people my age.

 

I love movies. I love seeing movies. I love hanging out too, so I have traditionally delayed seeing something in theaters until I had at least one other person to go see it with. In my Freshman year of college, when I was in a relationship and all my friends had the same schedule as me I saw a new movie every week. I saw everything I wanted to see in theaters during that time. The good, the bad, and the ugly (Looking at you The Identical) were all seen by me and my gaggle of pals.

Then things changed. The relationship ended, some friendships faded, and schedules changed. Suddenly going to see movies with my friends went from a weekly thing to maybe once every few months. A part of my life basically disintegrated and I didn’t realize until recently.

Now, I have always been a big proponent of doing things by yourself.  It is very easy for someone who has a girlfriend and sees their friends everyday to say things like, “You can always do things by yourself”, “Being alone doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun”, or “You don’t need friends/a significant other to treat yourself”. When all of that stopped I felt like I had to eat my own words.

I didn’t do things by myself. I couldn’t do things by myself. Isolation put chains around me and the idea of having fun with no one else around became myth. Something I could entertain in my thoughts, but could never aspire to reach.

Then the story, as a tragic number of stories do, took a darker turn. My depression got worse, my anxiety attacks became more frequent, and my bipolar disorder swung harder. It became difficult to even go to bed without suffering from some sort of attack. And I continued to do nothing different in my life. I kept the same habits, I kept the same everything. So, I kept the same conditions.

Then something in me, as many things have, broke. Guardians of the Galaxy VOL. 2 came out. It wasn’t like I was counting down the days to this movie. I’d only seen the original in theaters once and haven’t seen it since. I asked the usual group of people and they had plans with other people to see it, I asked another group and they had already seen it, I finally asked people I had never seen a movie with and I was met with either no response or something that the first two groups had given me. I went to see it by myself. I bought my ticket and drink. Sat my lonely ass down in a theater seat and watched Chris Pratt fight Kurt Russell.

Then, a week later, I saw it again with one of my closest friends.

Last night, I asked less people if they wanted to see Wonder Woman and all of them had their reasons not to. So I went to see it alone. Earlier that day I asked my friend and former film teacher how often he sees movies by himself and it gave me a resolve not to make myself wait so much anymore. I don’t need other people to do what I want and seeing movies by myself is the first step to doing many other things.

I Miss Acting

I am an actor. I have no current evidence to present that can substantiate that claim, but I believe truly an empirically that I am an actor. Like many artists, I am afflicted with a terrifying variety of mental health issues that make functioning even in the simplest of ways difficult. Actors must be able to function in ways far less simple than those that reality pushes onto us. I have always refused to use these diseases as an excuse however.

I have a great deal of friends who are actors as well. A few of them have even seen me act and continue to push me towards what I ultimately miss. I have the support of friends and family. Most importantly, I have the desire to continue. It is a burning desire that, when properly recognized, makes any and all anxieties paltry piles of ash and soot.

When I see a show, I let my mind wonder how I could have fit into it if I had auditioned. Even when I force myself to audition, I let the disease outweigh the desire and become a nervous wreck. I have self-sabotaged so many attempts at participating within shows around my community because of my lack of belief in myself.

I have let this disease take root and create cavities in my talent. I have let is gnaw at the very infrastructure of my dreams. The disease has maintained me where it wants me.

No more.

No more stopping myself. No more ruining my chances before I can even take a shot. I am starved of the adrenaline. I crave acting like I crave moonlight. I love acting like I love the stars. It surrounds me. It drives me.  It focuses me.

I will miss it no longer. I will join it again.

Spring Broke: Why I Can’t Drink

It has been awhile hasn’t it, dear reader? Today I am going to discuss something that I have only intimated at with other posts and discussion in my regular life.

Why I can’t get drunk is something that I am not particularly ashamed of, but never openly share because part of me sees it as a social weakness. I have been around the inebriated, the intoxicated, the buzzed, and the sloshed countless times. I did not have my first drink until well after my 21st birthday. My intake is slow and metered. I drink water with every alcoholic drink I have. I over prepare to prevent anything from altering my state of being.

I am part of a family where alcohol is a major issue. I have relatives who have drank themselves to death, become abusive alcoholics, borderline abusive alcoholics, and dry alcoholics. The genetic lottery points in every direction that once I throw myself into the watery depths of drunkenness, I could very well be there for the rest of my life.

My mental state now is one of dangerous clarity so I can make this statement without hesitation even though, when I read back on it in a moment of crisis, I will disagree with it: I am worth more than any drink on this damn planet. I am too important and unique to allow any kind of alcohol to put me at risk.

I have avoided certain parties and Spring Break trips because I knew that, at one point or another, I would be the only sober one in a group of friends. I do not say this out of animosity towards them, they were never told the two reasons I refuse to get drunk.

Number one being the slippery slope of the genetic lottery that is addiction. Number two being a simpler reason, but still more concrete than the first.

It is known to many that I suffer from Bipolar Disorder, Severe Anxiety, and Major Depression. I have to take medicine daily to make sure the chemicals in my brain are in a semi-controlled state. If I drink too much, all of that goes out the window. I have a very high likelihood of being a dangerous drunk to others or too myself. In my experience there are four types of drunk. There are the people who get violent, there are the people who get sad, there are the people who get funny, and there are the people who get stupid. They are not mutually exclusive to one another.

I have been bullied, chided, and made fun of for not choosing to drink. I have been pressured to drink by people who just want to see Jeffrey shit faced. I have even been pressured to drink by people who just want to see me falter, as if I live such a perfect life anyway.

These are the choices I make, not only for your safety, but for mine.

This is not meant to be a derision on those who choose to drink. This is meant as a general explanation why I choose not to.

Finals Week at MTSU

This week at my college, Middle Tennessee State University, everyone is going through the personal anguish and self-torment that is Finals Week. The stress is so common and dangerous that the school provides different services to help encourage students. One group hands out plastic bags filled with tea bags, tealight candles, bubble wrap, and Hershey’s Kisses as a relaxation method. The school brings in a therapy dog, named Canyon, and he stays in the James E Waker Library lobby. The school (should I be saying university?) evens sends out the occasional encouraging email.

Why does everyone stress to the point of sickness though?

It is an unfortunate byproduct of how the rigid system of semesteral  education is not challenged by professors. Instead of the grading being a consistent pattern, instructors choose to make the final exam an unreoverable part of the class’ total grade. This isn’t totally the fault of the professors. The university (Yeah, that does sound better) pushes to have certain criteria for every class and some instrusctors don’t want to push back. I’ve had several courses that go against the norm. My Astronomy class did not have a cumulative final exam, but one that covered the untested material in the class. That exam was also worth the same amount of points as the others.

I am fortunate that my major and minor at MTSU are primarily entertainment centric. Sure, there are very testable materials (laws, studies, patterns, techniques, etc), but the main goal is for content creation. This means that the final exam is centered around a project that must be presented instead of the standard sit-down exam. Personally, I prefer public speaking and creative processes instead of multiple choice or written exams (I’ve never had trouble with written exams, but I am not a good test taker).

The same issue remains for these courses. In fact, it can cause even more stress. Some students are completely frozen with fear at the idea of creating a project that is original, presenting it in a clear and concise way, and showing in a limited period of time that they have collected sufficient cumulative knowledge to advance to a course at a higher level.

This creates a paradoxical relationship between the student and the learning. The course being taken should not only inform the student of new information, but cement that information to a point of confidence. Many students feel, at least at some point, that they have a firm grasp on the taught materials. When the final exam comes, the unbridled fear of failing overwhelms the students to a point of panic. This test-trigggered frenzy practically makes the student question everything they’ve been taught and worry that they will fail the class.

That is the stress for one class. The average MTSU student, every semester, takes five.

That is, on average, five final exams. Five separate episodes of stress that can make any student inoperable. The inabality to function on a basic level without a breakdown will impair the students test-taking and presentation ability. There’s no question about it. I’ve seen it happen to my friends. I’ve seen it happen to people I don’t spend any time caring about. It has happened to me.

Should these reasons create a drive on the universtiy’s part to change the system? From the inside, such a change would be an overhaul of the education system that may cause traditional students and professors to consider making another school their choice. That could potentially cost the school enough money to raise tuition. A raise in tuition could turn away even more students. The university may not see this as any sort of viable option.

From the outside, as a student, I would love for my school to create some sort of alternative option to final exams. This could put additional stress on professors though. The professors and instructors are the cogs in the machine that no one accounts for. The students expect the professors to give each one of them a certain level of attention (not entirely unreasonable, but everyone has their limits. Especially when instructors teach multiple courses at different levels) and have all assignments graded promptly. The university can change policy or require instructors to make a change to a curriculum that throws a wrench into everything.

The most versatile instructors, the ones that gain the favor of the university and the students, or the most successful ones. They allow students to alter their assignments to allow an easier environment for students to learn in. They ease the univeristy requirements in at a non-disruptive pace. They have clear office hours and can be easily reached by anyone even tangentially related to them professionally. These reasons create the sort of instructor that helps fight the dreaed of finals week. Our instructors are our last line of defense against the anxiety that invades every student at MTSU.

It is a thankless job, but where would we be without them?