education, music, musings

Repost: There’s life beyond your senior year… confessions of a C student

Here’s a repost from the original blog, written March 28, 2018. It appears as/is. I know it’s not currently college application season, but I think this post could be useful for some people.

Yesterday, my alma mater did a fundraising drive called #LoveYourLongwood.  This is apparently a new development.  For many years after my graduation in 1994, Longwood University was rather relaxed about fundraising efforts.  I’d say in the past ten years or so, they have become much more assertive about pushing alums to donate money.  I usually ignore the pleas, although I did donate during the holiday season.

I probably would have made a donation yesterday, had I not looked at our rather paltry bank balance.  March still has three days left in it.  Still, as I get older and our finances have improved, I have given some thought to donating more money to my college.  The truth is, I owe a lot to Longwood.  Maybe my time there didn’t lead to a smashing career, but it did leave me with a lot of intangible gifts like wonderful friends, some excellent experiences, and the opportunity to study music simply because I love it.  It was a warm, nurturing place to go to college.  Today, almost 24 years after I graduated, I still reap the benefits of my four years there.

I have written about my college admissions experiences before, but I’m going to briefly repeat the tale for anyone out there in Internet land who is currently experiencing the pain of rejection from college.  I’m inspired to write about this after reading an article in the Boston Globe about the immense pressure high school seniors are dealing with at this time of year.  It takes me back to the spring of 1990, when I was myself trying to find a place to go to school.

I may call myself “The Overeducated Housewife”, but the simple truth is, I was a very ordinary student.  I didn’t earn great grades in high school and didn’t have super high SAT scores.  I did do well on standardized tests, particularly in writing.  However, I was a singularly unimpressive student in high school, even in English class.  I would get praises for my writing, but I didn’t care enough about the books we were reading to put a lot of effort into my papers.  Consequently, I earned average grades.

My parents, who had already raised my three sisters, didn’t really care too much about my performance.  I got through high school pretty much on my own efforts, with lots of Bs and Cs and the occasional D.  I remember working hard in school, particularly in my math and science classes, but not as hard as I probably should have.  I didn’t have any extra help, nor did I have anyone pushing me to excel.  I was also completely unmedicated, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think if I had grown up ten years later, I probably would have taken meds for depression or perhaps ADD.  I was encouraged to get good grades, but it was entirely up to me to accomplish that.  I didn’t really know how. 

In high school, I spent most of my free time riding horses.  I did do well in that activity, although I wasn’t particularly talented.  My success in riding was mainly due to my fabulous pony, Rusty, a dedicated riding coach, and a lot of dogged hard work.  I was definitely not “born in the saddle”.

When it came time to decide on a college, I had sort of a beer budget and champagne tastes on every level.  I didn’t have the money to consider attending private schools.  I didn’t have the grades or impressive resume to consider trying to get scholarships or applying to super competitive schools.  My mother, ever the pragmatist, told me I shouldn’t bother applying to the one school I really wanted to attend.  She didn’t think I’d get in there.  She was right.  In fact, Longwood was the ONLY school out of the four I applied to that accepted me.

Looking back on it, I think I would have had more choices if I had applied to a couple more schools.  The other three that I’d applied to, besides Longwood, were in a slightly higher league– too high for me at the time.  I do think I would have ultimately succeeded if I had gotten into any of the other three schools, but they were very popular choices among my peers.  My crummy grades and mediocre test scores were simply not competitive enough and I got the dreaded rejection letters.  Even Longwood accepted me conditionally, mainly because I was struggling in math.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful math teacher my senior year who made sure I got through with the required C.

My trend of mediocre academic performances mostly continued at Longwood.  I never once made the Dean’s List; however, I did blossom in other ways.  It was at Longwood that I finally started doing what I was probably born to do.

People who knew me when I was growing up didn’t know that I could sing.  My mom knew that I had absolute (perfect) pitch, because I took piano lessons when I was very young.  My piano teacher noticed I could name pitches without a reference note.  But I would never sing in front of anyone because I was (and still am) very sensitive to bad singing.  I knew I could sing on key, but didn’t think I sounded particularly good.  So I wouldn’t sing in front of other people, and was never encouraged to try.  My parents were both musicians, though, so it makes sense that I’d have a knack for music. 

To earn a bachelor of arts degree at Longwood, I needed to take a course in one of the fine arts.  I chose music appreciation and a one credit voice class.  I ended up excelling in the voice class and my teacher invited me to study privately.  Before I knew it, I had joined Longwood’s Camerata Singers, which required an audition.  I was soon singing with people who had been in choirs all through high school.  That experience was truly life changing for me.  Making music is now something I do most days, even if not many people hear my efforts.  It’s made me a much happier person.

It may seem like a minor thing now, but that one voice class opened up a whole new world to me.  I only wish I had taken it sooner.  I might have majored in music instead of English.  I both excelled in and loved my music classes.  I got straight As in them, with the lone exception of that one music appreciation class I took.  By contrast, I was a mediocre English major, except when I took writing classes.  In my writing classes, I excelled like I did in music.

It was an adjunct music professor at Longwood who cared enough about me to encourage me to study music, even if she couldn’t persuade me to change my major. I can’t help but wonder if I would have gotten the same attention at any of the other schools I had considered.  Looking back on it, it seems as if I was destined to go to Longwood.  Maybe I wasn’t a superstar student, but I think I flourished there.  Even today, I communicate with professors who knew me in the 90s.  My husband, Bill, attended much more prestigious American University and he hasn’t seen or spoken to any of his former professors since the 80s.  Sometimes, the less famous college offers a better value.  I know I’ve often mused about how much more I got out of my time at Longwood than I did the University of South Carolina.

After Longwood, I joined the Peace Corps kind of on a whim.  I was soon exposed to people from other parts of the country and then the Republic of Armenia, a place that had been mostly off limits to Americans only four years prior to my arrival. I used my music skills a lot in Armenia.  Then I went to graduate school and earned those two master’s degrees that I don’t use… which became the reason I call myself “overeducated”.  Still, I recognize that I was able to compete with people who went to “better” schools, both as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student.  I don’t regret any of those experiences now, but sometimes I wonder how in the world I ended up here.  In some ways, I have been extraordinarily lucky.  I often feel kind of like a fraud, but I know deep down that I’m not one.   

I empathize with high school seniors who are now dealing with the hell of trying to get into college.  I don’t envy them at all.  They’re dealing with so many things that I didn’t have to deal with.  Life has gotten super competitive on many levels.  I thought it was bad in 1990, but my generation had nothing on their generation. 

It’s harder and more expensive to go to college these days.  So many young people are racking up huge debts, and competition for well-paid work is stiff.  Young people are having to worry about gun toting lunatics invading their schools and killing random people.  We have a total buffoon in the White House who doesn’t care about anything but making rich people even richer (ETA: Remember, I am writing about Trump, not Biden). 

I don’t envy you young folks at all, although I am very impressed by how young people are standing up and making their voices heard.  And young people today are doing such incredible things… things that perfectly average, mediocre people can’t conceive of doing.  I would imagine that the pressure to stand out must be insane… and yet it gets harder and harder every year.

I’m impressed by that insane drive to succeed that some young people have, but I have a heart for those who were perfectly average folks like me.  It’s true that life is not a dress rehearsal, but most people end up okay, even if they aren’t stars.  These years on the brink of adulthood can be tough going, but eventually, most people come to a place where grades and test scores no longer matter.  So take heart.  There’s life beyond the spring of your senior year.  You just have to get through it and keep your eyes on the prize.

A musical project I completed at the time I wrote this piece. Lately, I’ve focused more on playing guitar than singing. I’m better at singing than guitar playing, though.
Standard
psychology, rants

For shame!

As Germany is about to enter yet another partial lockdown, I’ve been looking for more ways to occupy my time. I decided to hang out in a Facebook group devoted to fellow graduates of Longwood College. I specify Longwood College because that was the name of the school when I attended. It is now known as Longwood University, and it’s changed quite a lot since my day. Those of us who were Longwood students before all of the insane building projects like to hang out there and reminisce about the old days.

Things have been pretty slow in that group lately, save for the frequent posts by one guy who has managed to sell Longwood College swag. Someone complained about the frequent sales posts. She said the group wasn’t intended to be a sales site. I have to admit, she’s right. But it’s not entirely the seller’s fault, since people did want him to start selling the Longwood College branded merchandise. He supposedly went through a lengthy licensing procedure in order to get permission to sell the stuff.

Now… I don’t actually care too much about the sales postings. It’s easy for me to scroll past them. But I did agree that things in the group had gotten kind of dull. A couple of months ago, I started a thread about Erin McCay George, a woman who used to be the editor of the college’s newspaper, The Rotunda. She ended up murdering her husband for insurance money and is now in prison. She also wrote a book about what it’s like to be in prison. For several days, that was a hot thread. No one seemed to take any issue with it.

Yesterday, I started a more innocuous thread about the State Theater’s roof collapsing during the spring semester of 1994. But then I remembered another “true crime” case involving a fellow alum. The trouble was, the case was about a man who is in prison for viewing child pornography. Although no one seemed to have a problem with chatting about a female murderer who is in prison, it somehow felt potentially icky to bring up the case about the guy who’s in prison for viewing kiddie porn.

People asked me to “spill the tea” about the case, so before I posted the details, I wrote that the crime was pretty yucky. I didn’t mind sharing what I know about it, but I advised anyone who had an issue with it to say so. No one did. In fact, I got more pleas to “spill the tea”, so I did. Bear in mind that this case is over ten years old and was all over the news in Texas back in 2009, 2010, and in 2016. In fact, one can even read very interesting legal documents about the case online. They are readily available to everyone. I also wrote about the case on my old blog.

So, without naming the guy explicitly, I wrote about the case in this group. Then I provided a link to a FindLaw article about his case. Sure enough, I got a shaming comment from someone who was “disgusted” that I would open that can of worms. I wrote that was why I posted a warning as the initial post. The story of the crime was in the comments. She could have scrolled past. She chose not to.

She pressed on that I shouldn’t have shared the story and implied that I should be ashamed of myself. My response was, “Why? No one had a problem with my post about Erin George, who MURDERED someone.” At least in this case, no one died.

Then someone else joked that no one should tell me anything “personal”. And I wrote that this was a news story that was covered extensively in Texas. It wasn’t confidential information. Moreover, I didn’t even write the guy’s name, although I did share a link about the case. It would be one thing if this was something secret, rather than just taboo. But it wasn’t a secret, nor was it even new news. Some people are interested in true crime. I certainly am.

Even if this case was not about someone I knew of in college, I would have found it very interesting, mainly due to the way he got caught. Basically, he hired someone to house/dog sit and did not lock down his computer. She helped herself to the computer, claiming that she was trying to rip music from one of his CDs (which investigators later found no evidence of her doing). She found his stash of child pornography and then went to the police. Granted, this happened in 2009, but it’s still amazing to me that someone with a habit like that one wouldn’t be more careful.

Some people in the group were grateful that I shared the story, salacious as it was. The one woman who “shamed” me eventually got swept up in trading insults with one of the more vociferous posters– the one who had complained about the many sales posts. Meanwhile, I was left perplexed that she’d tried to make me feel small for sharing a story about a ten year old news item. Yes, it was a negative story about an alum, but I did take the time to warn those who didn’t want to read it. And why should the shamer feel she has the right to dictate what people post about if something is not explicitly against the group’s rules? Just like I have explained in response to complaints about my blog, I can’t know what will or won’t offend individual people. I suspect more people were interested in the story– again well reported in the news– than upset by it.

I ended up explaining once again that I knew that some might not think the story about the pedophile was an appropriate post, but if someone who only wants to read positive posts doesn’t heed an explicit warning that a topic might be icky, that’s kind of on them. Even on this blog, I post explicit warnings when I’m about to get raw, raunchy, or inappropriate. Those who were offended by the post after reading the warning need to take responsibility for themselves. Moreover, I don’t understand why it’s okay to post about a murderer, but not a pedophile. No, it’s not a happy topic, but I explained that it wouldn’t be. She had a choice to avoid the topic entirely, but instead decided to call me out.

I have a problem with “shamers”. I’ve found that, so often, people who shame other people have an agenda. They have a momentary spark of self-righteous pleasure. It makes them feel better about themselves for being “above” another person. But the problem with that mindset is that as you point fingers at someone, chances are, a few fingers are pointing right back at you.

Take, for instance, last year, when a certain person sent me a private message “begging” me not to drag a mutual acquaintance through the mud on the Internet. She tried to appeal to my sense of shame in an attempt to silence me, even though Bill and I were victimized by the person she was protecting. The “certain person” who tried to shame me was very vocal about her desire to be “private” in her own life, yet she disclosed to me that she was sharing, and probably gleefully discussing, my personal business with the person she didn’t want me to “trash”. She’d write “supportive” comments to me on my blog, deleting them after she knew I’d seen them, although she didn’t delete all of them, and yes, they were used as evidence against the person whose honor she was defending. All the while, they were sitting around having a fine time reading my blog. Granted, it was a public blog, but I think she knew perfectly well that she was stirring the shit pot and being massively hypocritical. I think she was hoping that Bill and I would take the heat for shit she did and never took any responsibility for doing. And yet I’M the one who should be ashamed? I don’t think so.

In the back of my head, I knew what she was doing. But when she actually came right out and admitted it, and then tried to make ME out to be the asshole, that was just too much disrespect. I’m definitely not the one who should be ashamed about what happened. All I did was write the truth. It wasn’t a flattering look, sure, but abusive behavior rarely is. The person who was being protected tried to take advantage of us and ripped us off. We suspect she’s done it to other people who didn’t hold her accountable. We took legal action and prevailed, and we’re about to put the last nail in the coffin. Shit’s going to get even more real, as well it should. It would be a bigger shame not to address what happened and do our part to protect other people from someone else’s abusive, predatory behaviors.

Should I be ashamed for pointing out that things aren’t always rosy? Should I suffer in silence when someone treats me badly? Asking someone to be silent when they’re being abused is in itself abusive behavior. Shaming someone for being open and honest is shady behavior. I’ve had enough of that kind of treatment. I’m not going to take it anymore, especially from liars and cheats.

As for the woman in the alumni group, I have no idea what motivated her to try to shame me. She probably should know that I have no shame. I’m the same woman who made up a song called “Big Pink Dildo” to the tune of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”. I’m not sure what her goal was… did she expect me to delete the thread? Apologize? I explicitly gave her warning. She could have practiced some self-control and accountability. Not everyone is a docile, genteel, “class act” like she is. What gives her the right to try to dictate what other people say and do? What gives her the right to speak for others when she chastises people for communicating things she thinks are “inappropriate”? She’s one of over 1860 people in that group. She should only speak for herself.

As for the “certain person” who tried to shame me into being silent and has stalked my blogs for years, KINDLY GO FUCK YOURSELF. Your efforts at advocacy for our mutual acquaintance made things a hell of a lot worse than they needed to be. If you had simply minded your own business and not done your level best to try to help your “friend” screw us, your “friend” would probably not be in the situation she’s in. Moreover, your intel gathering skills need lots of work. You obviously misjudged us.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes it is appropriate to call people out. But nine times out of ten, shaming is not about righting a wrong. It’s about one person temporarily feeling better about themselves for humiliating another person. Was the woman who called me out really upset with me for posting about a pedophile? Would she defend the pedophile’s actions? My guess is that I actually have more empathy for him than she does. The fact is, as awesome as Longwood is, there have been some pretty bad and, dare I say, fucked up things that have happened there over the years. I have never seen anyone have a problem with those topics– Erin George the murderer, the fire at Dr. Sprague’s house that killed her, the murder of Dr. Debra Kelley, her estranged husband, their daughter and her friend, and the murder of a local antiques dealer, just to name a few. We’ve discussed these things at length with no shaming. Why is a pedophile different?

Standard