What I really Learned in Grade School

As young ones, tots, and teenagers make their way through their first week of school, I wanted to take a moment to reassure them and their parents that their public grade-school education is worth every tax-payer dollar. The truth is, I learned more about life traveling through grades k-12 than in college, grad school, and “the real world” combined. Here are a few highlights of my suburban, middle-class primary education, wherein I learned…

fallout
Thanks to middle school, I learned where to go in the event of a nuclear attack — our choral room. #Glee

The choral room of my junior high school was in a subterranean, double concrete enforced room. At the entrance to the stairwell was not only a sign that said “Chorus,” but a yellow configuration of triangles signalling that the room was a remnant of the building’s Cold War construction.

2. Gym Class isn’t long enough and should be every day.

3. Nap time isn’t long enough and should be every day.

4. How to right a capsized canoe.

We had a pool. It was fancy and indoors and you could paddle around it in a canoe. During the swimming rotation of gym class, we had one day dedicated to water safety and water rescue. As a member of the swim team, I was made “captain” of a rescue team. 4 of us got in a canoe. Flipped it. Righted it. Then rescued the one idiot who got smacked in the head with the paddle when we capsized. This is a skill set that has come in handy more than once, I hate to admit.

5. Sumac that points down is poisonous. Sumac berry clusters that point up make great lemonade.

My 7th grade science teacher used to build bow & arrows and hunt deer with spears. He was the original Bear Grylls. As a result, our class curriculum was less NY State mandated and more wild-life survival.

6. Homemade cards for mom always trump something from Hallmark… even if they make absolutely no sense and look like something your dog painted.

westside-story
If I ever find myself in a rumble, I’ll be more than a little prepared.

I had an old school Bronx Italian English teacher for 2 back to back years. It was Romeo and Juliette year, so we watched West Side Story in class. He wanted to make sure we’d be prepared if we were ever in a rumble.

8. It’s not about what you’re selling. It’s all about how it’s marketed.

As part of a social studies project, I had to set up a company with a team of classmates. We made “organic, all-natural, handmade soap.” By handmade I meant we purchased bars of pre-made glycerin soap, melted it down and poured it into molds, with hand-selected trinkets scattered within the forms. Technically, we didn’t make the soap, but we did do 2/3 of the work by hand. Including the branded paper-bags I created by rolling brown lunch bags through my printer. We made a killing — at the end of the assignment, we had the highest profits. As CEO and Creative Director, I was pretty well convinced I’d end up with an MBA from Wharton before my 18th birthday.

9.  Frozen pizza on Fridays is delicious, if not horrendously lazy.

10. Nothing holds more potential than the first page of a new notebook (let’s just say, I consider this a metaphor for life in general)

Becoming a Horse of a Different Color

Sometimes when you’re expecting bad news, the best thing to do is run away.

That’s exactly what I did in March of 2009 when I was in the thick of writing my masters thesis and awaiting responses from a handful of PhD programs. Given that the recent economic downturn had significantly reduced university endowments, I wasn’t optimistic that I’d be a paid student come September. I thought bad news would sound much better when received on a beach with a margarita in my hand. Inspired, I threw a polka-dot bikini and flip-flops into my car and drove 1,200 miles from New York to South Beach, FL for an early spring break.

sometimes bad news sounds much better when you hear it on a beach, with a margarita in your hand

It was a good thing I had such foresight.

While I was in South Beach, every PhD program I applied to sent me a rejection letter. Needless to say, I consumed a lot of margaritas that week.

Spending 7 days in the Florida sun, replenishing my vitamin D stores while getting to know the bartenders at my hotel may have temporarily raised the spirits and enlivened the soul, but once I was back home in a gray and slushy city, holed up in my smaller-than-a-dollhouse studio, the debilitating sting of the rejections set in.

100 pages of writing sat between me and my MA and for the first time in my life, I faced an uncertain future. I felt useless. I had no power to go back and change anything — not the topic I had spent 18 months researching, not the character of my fellow applicants, not the shape economy — yet I felt the need to change or exert power over something.

transforming into a horse of a different color is one way of asserting we're in control of our life... maybe

And so, in an attempt to gain temporary control in my life, I booked an appointment with my hairstylist.

Ladies, we’ve all done it before — broken up with a guy or had some traumatic experience that compelled us to bee-line to the salon for a makeover. Redefining our appearance is a way of asserting a new take on life and exercising power over our future. Sometimes we add bangs, sometimes we go platinum, sometimes we get botox, sometimes we get bangs, go platinum AND get botox.

I went orange.

I walked into a salon on Madison Avenue with long brown locks and hoped to walk out with spunky curls spiked with scarlet. Instead, I hit the pavement with short tendrils the color of pumpkin pie.

I walked into the salon with long brown locks and walked out with short pumpkin-colored tendrils. So much for taking control...

Under the warm lights of the salon, I thought this was exactly what I wanted — a total overhaul, a brand-new, “in your face, future!” me. It wasn’t until I met a friend for lunch that I realized the irony: at the end of the day, my little act of self-empowerment didn’t empower me at all — I asked for red highlights and got a florescent carrot top.

“Your hair is orange!” she cried, knocking over her iced tea in a visible state of shock.

“I know. I thought I needed a change.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little… err…. extreme?”

“It was only supposed to have highlights.”

“It’s a lot more than highlights… and it’s orange. And you’re orange. Where have you been all week?”

“Florida.”

As I sat there, munching on a biscotti, recounting the reasons behind this sudden transformation into a horse of a different color, reality set it. I may have mitigated the rejections by running away for a week. I may have tried, in vein, to assert a sense of control by changing my appearance. But at the end of the day, I stood at a cross roads, and orange hair and a margarita-spiked tan wasn’t going to make it go away.

It was time to go back to my apartment and get writing…

And maybe, en route, pick up a box of Clariol Nice n’ Easy in Chestnut.