How I See Things

How I See Things
Cartoon-like drawing in shades of dark to medium purple. Eyes with beautiful eyelashes, looking through a pair of glasses.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Tragedy of Learning Shakespeare


I don’t know about you, but there are too many times in my life when I go back to old memories and rehash them over and over. I am learning, as I get older, that this can mean to my brain that it “hasn’t learned what it’s supposed to from an instance, so it’s examining it to figure out what it can learn from it, so that it can rest after figuring it out.” 

I have other things to say about this particular phenomenon - ruminating endlessly on things. But this isn’t the blog post for that. 

I find myself lately going back to a memory from 8th grade. I went to a very small, private school at the end of 7th grade and for all of 8th grade. My 8th grade class had 6 kids in it. The 7th grade class just behind us had a very big class - somewhere between 25-30 students. 

Our Latin & English teacher (imported from England - with her very thick British accent) decided we should all do the Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet” as our annual tradition. (Note - the school did this every year. The seventh and eighth grade classes always put on a Shakespeare play at the end of every year together.) 

Before she announced who would get what part, I remember her quizzing us, but I didn’t put this together

 

—— A break. ——- Sorry to do this, but with my concussions, I struggle so hard to write the way I used to write. I used to be able to sit down and write seamlessly. Thoughts from my brain to my typing hands flowed so easily. I struggle VERY hard now to say things as eloquently as I used to. I have other things to say about this too, but again, not the blog post for it.

—— I want to try saying all of this again so I am going to start over a bit. I need an editor for my blog. Maybe some day when I am rich. ——

—— End of break. ——


One day, our English teacher had us look at some obscure poem. She had all 6 of us “try to memorize as much as you can.” It was maybe 20 stanzas. (I am not even sure what a stanza is.) It was about a page long, with paragraph breaks. The lines rhymed in an ABAB pattern. She gave us 20 minutes to “memorize” this poem. She said there wouldn’t be a test, don’t stress, she was just trying to see something, as if she was doing a little experiment. 

I got about 1 1/2 lines of the poem “memorized,” and barely that. I learned maybe 1 word in the 3rd line. And that was that for me. I worked so hard at that, and felt pretty good that I had done okay.

The teacher then had us all sit in a group of 6 (3 tall boys in the back, 3 short gals in the front) and just “say the poem.” I dropped out pretty quickly, tried to mouth a few of the words as I heard others say it, then I just gave up and sat there. 

Two of the kids had memorized the entire poem. The. Entire. Poem.

Fast forward to learning about Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” assignment. The one gal who had memorized the entire thing was cast as Juliet. The one guy who had memorized almost the entire thing was cast as another major character. (A tall gal from seventh grade was cast as Romeo - she undoubtedly memorized that entire poem when her class was quizzed, too.) 

I was cast as the Apothecary (which I thought was really funny, seeing as I was being raised as a Christian Scientist and wasn’t allowed to go to doctors or take medicine, and I wasn’t even allowed “material remedies” like mixing lemon juice and honey for my nightly coughing I endured a few times per year). I was also cast as “The Prologue.” The Prologue is the first one to come on stage and set the scene for the entire play. I still remember a few lines of it:  

        Two households, both alike in dignity

        In fair Verona, where we lay our scene … 

Well, she assigned the parts. Gave everyone a copy of the book. And sent us home to go learn our lines. I remember being completely alone in the house. I don’t know where my parents or brother were. But I was alone for hours and hours, all afternoon. 

I sat there, for 4-6 hours, trying to memorize the lines from The Prologue. I knew about different learning styles, and so I tape-recorded myself reading the lines and I sat there, reading along with myself, for hours. I tried and tried. I tried putting paper over the lines to learn 1 line at a time. I tried reading it to understand what the heck Shakespeare was saying, because I know I memorize better when I understand the story it’s conveying ….

I probably got about 2-3 lines memorized. Not very much. 

The next day, I was in the kitchen in the private school (it’s where I had my Spanish classes and science classes, and where PE started out every session), and that was considered “back stage.” The larger seventh grade classroom was where we were having it be “the stage.” 

I remember standing there, having a perfectly fine time standing back stage with a few of the kids in the small kitchen. The teacher said we were going to rehearse the play. 

She called me out there, and I thought, “we will do a walk through, and I will learn where to stand, and I will memorize as I am able to, and it won’t be a big deal.” 

Being The Prologue, I was the first to come out from the kitchen and stand there. I stood there. The teacher looked at me, probably exasperated to begin with. She told me to say my lines. 

I think I was so out of it, I couldn’t even remember the first word. I wasn’t in that head space. I don’t know why, but I just wasn’t. I had never rehearsed a play before. Every other kid there had done the previous Shakespeare play, but I had transferred in too late to be a part of that experience (thank goodness). And here I was, first on the “stage” and I had no clue of what to do. I had no guidance, nothing.

The teacher prompted me for the first word, I said maybe the first line. Let’s just say she probably prompted me once or twice more, and I just couldn’t come up with more. 

She then BELLOWED at the top of her lungs (I swear, the only time I have ever heard anyone speak that loudly is a Marine drill sergeant) “Didn’t you study AT ALL?” 

She was FURIOUS at me. Completely furious. I couldn’t believe a teacher could holler so loud, let alone this one. I had actually liked her before this. We ate lunch together every day in our small 8th grade classroom - just her and the 6 of us 8th graders. Everyday she ate a yoghurt. Only, she pronounced it “Yoh-gurt.” Like “Yaw” or “Saw.” My son now calls it yaw-gurt too. It’s funny. This teacher had made a good impression on me and I had some fun memories of her until this very moment - a moment of what should have been supreme humiliation.

I have mentioned here before that I dissociate. I wonder if I dissociated what happened after that. I do remember walking away being unable to speak. I couldn’t speak at all. I wanted to say, “I worked at this yesterday for 6 hours! I worked HARD at this! And you’re hollering at me saying I didn’t try at all!” 

I guess at this moment, as I type this, I feel devasted for younger me who couldn’t express her dismay and pain and complete shock at being hollered at by the loudest bellow I had ever heard, from a British teacher that I revered and honored. 

I want to go back in time and tell her how hard I worked. I want to tell her that her horrendous yelling was the least helpful thing ever. I want to tell her what I appreciated about her and I want to tell her how she bowled me over with that furious thundering yell at me in front of my peers. 

I have no concept of whether any of them felt bad for me. None of them ever came to console me or check in on me. I mean, they were seventh and eighth graders.

By the way, I had taken an IQ test to get into that school. I wouldn’t have been admitted if I wasn’t above average. It had been shown that I was smart. So how come I couldn’t memorize? 

As I have been ruminating over this (I remember it every time my son says “yaw-gurt,” and we ate some peach yogurt yesterday) yesterday, it suddenly occured to me what lesson I needed to learn from this experience, so I can stop ruminating on it. 

Thanks to going to Vision Therapy, I have now learned that I have no visual memory. I cannot look at something and remember what I have looked at. The moment I look away, it’s gone. Completely gone. My ADHD doesn’t help, either, I am sure. 

Imagine looking at the number 17. You need to write that number on the paper in front of you. You go to look up the number, “17.” Okay. Turn to the paper to write it down, and you cannot for the life of you remember what the number was. I don’t know where I was supposed to write it, so I have to go find that space again, re-interpret what it is I am writing, realize it’s a number, oh yes, a number, what was the number again? It’s gone. I have to go through this routine several times to write down a number. It’s a time suck. It’s my normal, so I get mildly frustrated. Mildly. I can’t get hyper irritated about it or I would spend my whole life in that black hole. 

Well, I had tried so hard to learn this Shakespeare Prologue of Romeo and Juliet, and even tried to learn it audibly. And I couldn’t. Hours and hours, and I couldn’t do it. I also had no help, remember, because I was in the house alone for whatever reason that was. Where the heck were my parents? how come they never helped me with homework? It took me hours and hours - an unreasonable amount of time - to do my homework. I spent hours and hours and hours at all my homework. It was always way too hard. Being a parent now, I heard all the time from the school, “if your child’s homework takes more than 20 minutes, then let us know.” Teachers want to help kids who are struggling. I was struggling in SPADES and no one ever helped me. 

My dad quizzed me on vocabulary and got me through English. I remember my step-mom trying to teach me math facts and punishing me by taking away my stuffed animals (I didn’t get the majority of them back until I was a mom of two boys. They weren’t even toddlers or babies anymore - they were boys) And this is a story for another day too, not worth expounding on this blog post. 

I have a learning disability. And I have finally learned, as an adult, that it’s my broken eyesight that keeps me from learning. 

The pain I could have been saved if this sort of thing could have been diagnosed when I was a child. I need strategies. I have said for decades, “everything for me is so much harder than it needs to be. School was so much harder. I studied for hours and hours and my classmates could watch TV and play games and go outside, and I was stuck at my desk, struggling with school work.” 

I still cannot wrap my head around this teacher hollering at me that day. I would like to stop ruminating about this and yet I can’t seem to stop. Maybe now that I have written this blog post, some people will kindly come forward and express concern, sympathy, kindness, anything. 

Thank you for reading this. Sorry I don’t have a better conclusion for this post. I think I just needed to ponder it, write it, share it, and realizing the conclusion that this was all pain from my past due to having no visual memory. Life sure is “fun” isn’t it? Too challenging for some, way too easy for others, if you ask me. 

I am so glad my own boys don’t seem to have to deal with this crap that I had to and have to deal with on a every day / every moment basis. 


10 comments:

  1. I'm so glad that you finally found out what is happening, but it truly is frustrating for the entire family when doctors and others blame the child, andcwhen the child grows up and get a resolution... it makes everyone feel terrible that they didn't know... I have struggled with this with my children, that have been told they have autism.. but autism wasn't even a disability or diagnosed when they were children

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  2. Thank you so much for your compassionate reply! Yes! I agree. I don’t want to place blame on the people who didn’t know better. But it sure made things super hard for me growing up. I look forward to the day when tools can be put in place to help people sooner. <3

    Autism. Yes. That sure wasn’t diagnosed as a thing until very recently, it seems to me. And it’s much more widespread than it was first shown to be. A few folks have thought I am on the autism spectrum, also. And I may very well be. But I also have a slew of other things I am dealing with and what’s another diagnosis?

    my vision, Complex PTSD, ADHD, learning disabilities, ability to hyperfixate on something, ability to ruminate, disability to communicate well, multiple concussions …. Why not throw another thing on there while we’re at it (or not). Laugh or Cry. (Is that like the drama 🎭 masks? Or is that something different?)

    Drama … Shakespeare. …. Circling round back to the blog post and amusing myself. PS: I didn’t sleep well last night at all due to a nightmare and my thoughts are so disorganized.

    also, I am so excited to see a comment on my blog! Thank you for commenting!!!!

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  3. A teacher should never YELL at their students. And she should not have criticized without first talking with you about the situation, and LISTENING to your response. Very bad form. I’m sorry you went through that.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much,Diana! It never occurred to me that a teacher shouldn't yell. Wow. You're totally right! And you're right again- she didn't even ask me what happened. She just judged me so harshly. Thank you.

      Sometimes we don't know how bad things really were until we hear our compassionate friends reply.

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  4. I’m so sorry, Jodi. That teacher obviously did not know how to teach drama.

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  5. Oh wow, yes! Thank you! She didn't know how to teach drama! She was a Latin and English teacher. She was definitely NOT a drama teacher. Wow. What a different story this would have been if it had been a drama teacher. I am positive.

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  6. Jodi, Glad to get to know you and your struggles. It is difficult to share harsh experiences. They key to life's success and happiness is not how high you can jump, how fast you can run, how many pages you can memorize, how much money you make or any of the other yardsticks we humans use. The value of our lives is how we treat others, how much we love, how we bring joy to those around us and how we make the world a better place. It is often when we reach out to help others that we mend ourselves. Glad you are sharing. Hope you find happiness!

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    1. Thank you so much, Sherry!! πŸ’™
      I try to love big. And I am finally starting to figure out what makes me happy. (Spent 40+ years trying to make others happy - trying to figure out what makes me happy now.!)

      Thank you so much for commenting on my blog!!

      Delete
    2. Thank you so much, Sherry!! πŸ’™
      I try to love big. And I am finally starting to figure out what makes me happy. (Spent 40+ years trying to make others happy - trying to figure out what makes me happy now.!)

      Thank you so much for commenting on my blog!!

      Delete
  7. Thank you for sharing this Jodi. I think a lot of us had events like these which left a mark on our self worth. I feel the humiliation and horror of this event with you. I’m right there. I’m sorry this happened to you. She obviously showed zero sensitivity or compassion in this incident. I too have a memory of a teacher who said something embarrassing and unkind to me- never forgot it.
    Dissociation way back then..... what comes to mind is what was happening on your life that your body needed to learn this coping strategy by the time you were 13?
    Whatever it was, it wasn’t your fault!

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