8/21/12

Mislabelled Creativity & Bullying

When I started Kindergarten, I was introduced to an English class. Then, Grade 1 was also in English. Grade 2, I was transferred to a French school - all French, all the time.

Grade 2 was nice actually. My Mother, Grandmother and family had spoken to me in French since I had been a baby. So, to be able to learn in French was really neat in my mind... plus Grade 2 wasn't so hard.

Grade 3 was a different story.

People think that bullying is primarily a school-aged issue; I encountered just as much bullying from my peers as I did from my teachers.

Grade three saw us move to an entirely different community. A community less diverse, less accepting of alternative learning methods, such as Montessori - for example. This community was made up of born, bred and die-together Francophones and Francophiles, who all had known each other since they were born.

My French, with an Acadian accent, and my new-ness left me open to bullying of a severe type. Even today, I see school mates from those three years (Grades 3-5, inclusive) and they either eye me nervously or apologize profusely for the treatment I received.

I won't go into the details of my bullying, but I look back now and those three years all have clouds of black suspended above them and I recognize now that I had a severe depression that wouldn't quit, until Grade 6 when I began studying via Correspondance.

My mother and I have talked about that time quite regularly my whole life, off and on at least twice a year ever since. I think now, especially since I'm a mother she wants to know what she did wrong. In the end though, there was a cumulative bad mojo over those years that couldn't have been undone and I thank her for her sympathy and her willingness to look back with me, even though it is a painful time to talk about.

Even now as I prepare to write this post, I'm on the verge of tears.

About two years ago, Mom finally told me that in Grade 3 or 4, the teacher couldn't stand to have me in her class. My comprehension of written French was not strong. I know this because even now it is not strong. I learned written fundamentals in English and then transferred to French, it made me a confused girl in Grade three when we were now expected to pick up French Novels and write whole paragraphs regularly, something I didn't have to do up until then.

In Grade 4, my teacher took my mother aside and told her that her and the principal had had me evaluated by a School District Specialist and they "found" that I had Attention Deficit Disorder.

Don't get me started on the topic of ADD, but needless to say, it was a new diagnosis in my age group and parents, teachers and doctors alike were handing out Ritalin like it was birdseed. My parents didn't believe in ADD or Ritalin (to put it mildly) and refused to medicate me. Then one day, my mother picked me up from the "Special" class, where they had transferred me so that I could learn at my own pace. Even at 9 years old, I knew I didn't belong there.

I didn't have a deficit. I knew English better than the majority of the teachers at the school - the majority of which lived in a Francophone bubble in BC or who came direct from Quebec where learning English is optional. Yet I was in the Special Ed class? Thank God it was only for one day, that one day was tragic enough.

My mother threw a bird, my father bellowed, and the principal was in deep.... They never had parental permission to do any of these things: a learning evaluation, a psych evaluation and transfer to Special Education? Wow.

Apparently that School District was in so much hot water due to the behaviours of that principal that the next and final year of my attendance at that school, they replaced the principal.

That year was easier but by no means easy.

The teachers were better, the students not much nicer but under better behaviour with our new teachers and I actually began to defend myself because I was in cadets and Kickboxing. My dad thought Kickboxing would teach me some self-worth and confidence. Cadets would teach me discipline and healthy independence. Kickboxing gave way to cadets, which was free but I excelled at it: I loved polishing my boots, I loved learning the history of the Canadian Armed Forces.

When I told the teachers about bullying they said "ignore it," or if I told bullies to shut up the teachers put me in detention for disturbing the class. I was called some horrible names. In grade three, for example I was called Homo, and in Grade four - one mean fellow made up a story that I must be an alien-so they called me "It." I was only called by name at home and by teachers.

So I handed out a few arm jabs, and Grade 5 saw a lot less name calling. I was still lonely but at least I knew I could defend myself. I gave my peers two years to stop being mean, I think a black eye after two years of bullying is pretty darn impressive. Perhaps Gandhi wouldn't agree, but I'm no Gandhi.

***

I've learned from these years that I was completely mislabelled. Not only by my teachers or parents, but also by myself.

My teachers told me I had a deficit, a learning disability. They told me I needed "too much" help.

My parents told me I was "over-reacting" to bullying, that I wasn't paying enough attention and that if I tried harder I would succeed. By definition, it seems I was lazy.

I told myself..."I've tried hard to fit in, and still I don't; I must be undesirable. My teachers tell me I can't learn what they want me to learn; I must be stupid. My parents won't believe me when I say that the treatment I get at school is unbearable; I must be weak or my word must mean nothing, or both. I'm unworthy and unlovable."

What else I have realized is that, not only was the language issues exacerbating the already tenuous "new kid" syndrome, but that my creativity was something that seemed to get in the way.

I would spend three hours doing simple writing tasks in French, but then I'd only have twenty minutes to read the myths of Egyptians which I desired to do more than anything. Why couldn't my writing exercises have centred around my interests instead of the geography of New Zealand? A beautiful country, but at the age of 8, who cares what the geography is doing? What about the people? What are the people like? Their myths, religion, history?

Often I've been caught with my mind elsewhere. In French my Grandmother would say "T'est dans la lune," which means "You're in the moon." I like the saying. It's exactly right. When a moment of creativity hits me I am elsewhere, I'm in the moon, I'm slaying dragons or being seduced by a vampire... it's true. Don't like vampires? Well, you can get seduced by Russel Crowe, but I'll keep my Brad Pitt.

Today, I've developed my own methods of dealing with the way my mind works. I keep a small notepad with me everywhere I go. When a moment of creativity hits me, I write down everything that will trigger the memory of it, then I get back to work.

When I first began writing, I was struck by how many times I had great ideas and forgot them just as quickly. I read The Writer Mag and there was an article about keeping a notepad with you wherever you go... It seemed like a good idea, so I tried it. I lost the first few books, but eventually I found a notepad I loved!

I carry it everywhere.

Not only did my thoughts distract me from what I was doing as a kid, they would sometimes distract me as an adult too but it went further than that. Not only did the idea distract me, trying to hold onto the idea distracted me. By the end of the school, university or work day I couldn't remember my idea any better than anything I was supposed to be learning.

In 2009, I found my notebook and I've kept it with me since.

Now it's easy to stay focused and keep all of my ideas in one place.

In addition, I know I'm not stupid, I'm desirable, I'm not weak and I AM worthy and loveable. Most of all as a writer I've learned... My Word Does Mean Something....

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