Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the tag “bullies”

A deeper look at bullying

Reading over the last post on bullying, I agree that it was a very personal piece without a lot of interest for others not in that situation. To that end, I would like to just flesh out the concepts behind the specifics. My daughter is in Year Eight and that is a time fraught with emotional outbursts and changing loyalties and differing levels of growth and therefore tensions are rife. Not to mention the fact that boys and girls start buying into the “us versus them” mentality.

Bored teenager at Yellowstone.

I look back at me and I can see that I was arrogant. I was top of the class without trying. I liked and was liked by most of my teachers. And the ones I didn’t like I gave a hard time. I was volatile, partly because of the
Roaccutane I was taking for horrible acne. I wasn’t good at sport and I was one of the original computer nerds. And debating nerd. And theatre geek. On coming back from Canada to Year 10, I was furthermore a world travelled teenager in an insular tiny country town.

I read everything, especially horror. I fell in love easily. I stayed up late and got up early.

As a teacher I look at some kids that just scream “target”. I am sure that some of my teachers thought the same way. I am soooo glad I didn’t grow up with the Internet.

I don’t remember feeling lonely, although I am sure I did.

 I remember being scared of some of the people who threatened me. I have mentioned the moron who told me in class that he wanted to push my head through a wall. I remember going all the way around the school and hiding by the bins so that I didn’t have to confront him.

I kind of wish that I had just confronted him. Let him hit me. Gotten that fear out of my mind and out into the real world where I could deal with it. Surely it wouldn’t have been that bad. Maybe it would have. I don’t know.

I have been in exactly one fight. The boys in the class pitted me against someone else that they didn’t like. We snarked at each other for a couple of days and then agreed to fight up by the cricket nets. A group surrounded us. He hit me in the stomach. I fell over. That was the end of it. It was incredibly humiliating, but neither of us could be bothered keeping up the animosity after that.

 I remember feeling incredibly betrayed by people I thought were my friends. We went to parties together in primary school. We played in the yard. Our parents were friends. And then they weren’t friends. They ostracised me. They laughed at me. They held Year level parties that I wasn’t invited to. Funnily enough, they invited me to a party at the end of year 8 as a going away. There was some snarking but on the whole it was an ok evening. They were happy to be nice knowing that I was leaving?

It wasn’t as bad in Year 10 – they just couldn’t keep it up. There were pockets of idiots, and I didn’t get along with most of the year level, but I had friends, and wasn’t being actively bullied, except by a couple. Shereen and I broke up over something that was absolutely my fault and then the friendship group disappeared again. I spent most of the year in the library. A weeklong camp in the city was hellish. I repaired a lot of that damage over the year and in year 11 and 12 I had some good friends. VCE still sucked. Our year level was mainly terrible – the worst group to go through the school in eight years. VCE was new and we all hated it. My design for our year 12 jumper was: VCE – in line for the dole queue. But I survived.

God, how depressing… having to say that you survived high school.

18th birthday party
By 18 I had a few good friends

 My wife and I tell our daughter, and I tell kids at school, that high school is fleeting. At University, you find people accepting of your differences. Those people who are popular in high school, rather than nice (you can absolutely be nice and popular – hi Cate) will find that that popularity goes away outside of the artificial construct that is the school system.

But it absolutely doesn’t help while you are in high school. It doesn’t help when your entire life is immediate and the future is a concept that means nothing compared to girlfriends and grades and being part of a group.

My diary from years 10-12 was mainly concerned with girls. I didn’t focus on the bullying; I have always been good at hiding from my problems. I read through it again last night and this is ALL I could find that even came close to referencing bullying. Lyndon is the guy that I thought was Shannon (sorry Shannon).

A page from my diary in Year 11.

I remember being ruled by my emotions. I was not a rational being. I look around at my students – at twenty different facial expressions while they write a test – and have to remember how I felt in those days. It’s hard to do when you’re forty-four.

Mum and Dad offered to move me to another school when I was in Year 11. I refused. I think I refused because I was 1) scared I would be forced to do more work and 2) terrified that it wouldn’t be any better and all the tiny supports I had built up would be gone.

Every little thing that I have done in my life has led me to here. I like here. There are so many mistakes I would prefer not to have made, but they all got me to this place. As a teacher, I am hyper-vigilant for bullying. My experiences got me to this point where I can help others.

Silver lining, eh?

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School is Hell?

First up: WordPress got annoyed at me because I haven’t logged on in 180 days. I have no excuse. This year has been one of extreme lack of creativity. I’ve still achieved a great deal, but I’ve actively avoided anything involving writing. This is the first year since I learned to write that I haven’t written any number of stories. And I think my brain needed the break.

But now my brain is itching to create again. I’ve already started extending some chapters of Finding Damo and outlined a few short stories and plays. Come the summer (if Melbourne experiences summer at all this year) I’ll be up to my eyeballs in creative juices and spitting out new stuff left right and centre.

Can you believe that I just taught a class on not using clichés?

The overt reason that I stopped writing was the below entry. I wrote it. I planned on using a heap of pictures I drew over my high school years. I wanted to discuss it with a couple of people who had joined me in the hell that was Kyabram Secondary College.

And then I left it. I’d thrown out the pictures. The responses from my friends confused me.

And now 180 days have passed.

At about 90 days, I wanted to just post something. But by that time, anything that I wrote would have to be spectacular to justify the delay. A number of what could have been very interesting blog entries have died because they didn’t match up to the gap.

But now I’m done with school for the year. My brain itch is forcing me to write. I have a dozen topics I want to discuss. So I’m going to post this entry, fantastic or not, pictures missing, and then get on with my life.

So, here goes:

School is Hell.

I wonder if anybody actually enjoyed going to high school. Primary school, for the most part, is fun. There’s a heap to learn, and the teachers usually present it in a way that involves making posters and dioramas. Even the bullies don’t hit as hard.

I’ve been thinking almost constantly about my feelings towards high school. If anyone asks me how my high school years were, I instantly respond with “Oh God. I hated them. Worst years of my life. I was bullied constantly from year 8 onwards. It was Hell.”

In Year 8, a knob called Stewart decided to draw on my pencil case with a permanent texta. I didn’t want him to and knocked the texta away, causing it to draw a line across his shirt.

“You bastard. Don’t you know that our family is poor and I can’t afford to buy a new shirt?”

And that, to me, was the catalyst. His friends jumped on his side. And suddenly school was a horrible place to be.

And to be sure, that statement is a bit reductive. Is reductive a word? I’m sure that there were a number of reasons, slowly building, that would have had me excommunicated from my social circle around that time. But at the time, it seemed like a pretty slim excuse to get me thrown out of my friendship group.

They jumped on my “attack” on this kid as an excuse to ditch me, and it spread through the year level.

The best thing that could have happened to me was my trip to Canada in 1989. Dad worked out an exchange and we were going with him. A year’s break from Kyabram was just what I needed. The students even had a (grudging) going away party for me when I left at the end of Year 8.

I’m getting to a point, but hear me out.

When I was in Year 10, my issues were more with a couple of absolute tools than with the school in general. One moron who promised me that he would “push your head through the wall and watch your brains leak out.” His name is Joel and I’m really hoping he’s in prison being stabbed with a shiv. He’d lay in wait for me, so that I had to take the long way around the school buildings to get out without him seeing me.

The other was a dropkick whose name I really should remember. He would casually push me around for the hell of it. He was… Shannon*? He was a burly lad with a good following of hangers-on and a desire to make my life difficult. Issues with him came to a head when I was on the Central Australia camp. He pushed me to the ground because the concept of me was annoying to him.

* 2018 edit:  You can see in the comments the one I received from Shannon. I honestly remember being friendly with Shannon. I know I have a couple of friends who he wasn’t friendly to. I remember being pushed to the ground. The guy was a year older than me, was an arrogant sod. Apparently not Shannon. So, sorry Shannon, for slandering you in my blog. I need to find my drawings and Central Australia placemat to find out who was on the trip. No more random namedropping without proof.

Hamish was a good friend of mine in Primary School and Year 7. Seeing as I’d come from a catholic school and moved into the state system, he was my link into the group of friends I had in high school. His turning on me was one of the more hurtful things that happened to me. Honestly though, he turned out to be an absolute dick, so I’m probably better off without him. I caught up with him at a night club when I was in university with Scott something-or-other, another “good” friend from those early years. They were belligerent and bullying, something I thought I’d left behind from school. But neither of them actually accomplished anything with their lives, so I’m not overly fussed by their opinions.

So, the point: I have some incredibly strong negative associations with school. But if I list all of my memories of school in two columns, I’m pretty sure my positive associations will be stronger than the negative.

Let’s give it a shot, remembering the fact that these are all pretty specific, and you might be lost. Bear with me. I’m unburdening.

Damo’s list of school memories, separated by positive/negative bias:

 Negative

  •  Bullied by Joel. of course, this went on for most of a year, so it’s up there.
  • Bullied by Shannon someone.Not a major memory. just that one incident on camp that sticks in my mind.
  • Ostracised by friends in year 8.
  • Calculus
  • Zoe Kennedy – always looking to pick on a kid for something.
  • Mr Ryall, who I annoyed on a Biology camp and who took it out on my brother. He’s a lot nicer now, btw.
  • That evil cow… what was her name? She was doing the production instead of Lance Twentyman (he’s another blog completely!). And we just bumped heads from the beginning and it ramped up as  the production went on. And I’m sure, through a teacher’s eyes, that I was a difficult prima-donna, but she was evil.
  • The Year 10 city camp. A couple of kids got done for shoplifting. One girl got pregnant while her friend watched from the bottom bunk. And my friends weren’t talking to me after my breakup with Shereen.
  • All the zits and the medication for the zits. And the mood changes caused by the medication for the zits.
  • Fighting Jason – the only fight I’ve ever been in in my life. It lasted less than 10 seconds. I didn’t win.
  • Attempting to sing Time Warp at a school social and the DJ turning off the music and kicking me off the stage.
  • Being put into a remedial PE class.
  • PE class in general.

And that’s pretty much it. There is probably a lot more, hidden away and popping up as I remember, but considering my dislike of the institution, that’s a pretty short list.

 Positives.

  •  The Year 7 Pram Drag – we always ended up being completely covered in mud.
  • School productions. Again, this is probably a different blog. A happier blog. But highlights included:
    • Bats – dressing up as Dracula
    • Pippin – King Charles
    • Roll Over Beethoven and being a member of Kiss and the Beatles.
  • Vanessa Walker, who I’ve never been able to find through cyber-stalking, but who was a vibrant, happy personality, and who left at the end of … Year 7?
  • Shereen and Nat and that group. Happy, cheerful, fun-loving people.
  • Amanda and Grant and that group.
  • Justin Thompson, Jason Morris, Jason D and Lyle, who were my main social group in Year 11 and 12.
  • Craig Grummit, who introduced me to Queen and showed me what you could do with computer programming.
  • Debating
  • Georga Evans in Year 8 and Year 10. And linked to that:
  • Being asked to be a deb partner, but better still:
  • Not having to actually be a deb partner (she had to have an operation on her foot).
  • English class.
  • Literature. With Julienne Sinclair – an absolutely marvellous individual.
  • Biology and our two male Guinea Pigs that were meant to breed.
  • Photography class – for the week I did it.
  • Getting copies of Wired World of sport on copied cassette tape.
  •  The computers – the first IBMs I’d worked on. I hacked the password and replaced all of the software links with games.
  • Maths tutoring with Mick Walsh.
  • Graphic design and my In Line for the Dole Queue VCE top design (which wasn’t taken up).
  • Going out in Shepparton.
  • A VCE Info Tech weeklong camp looking at Technology and my first taste of the Internet.
  • The school library, which was a haven and a constant source of books.
  • Playing foursquare.
  • Chatting with Nick, who was weird but very knowledgeable.
  • Piano lessons with Sharon Leppard.
  • Home economics. Learning to cook is something I will never regret.

The positive list is way longer than the negative list. I had some very positive experiences at high school. Being bullied is hell for anybody. And it coloured my perception of high school for years. But now I can look at the experience as the growth experience that it was. I’ll never forgive the idiots who felt the need to torture me through high school. But I can now realise that it wasn’t all bad.

Epiphany!

Post epiphany:

I emailed this to a couple of people I went to high school with to see if they had the same perception of what I was going through. This led to a very interesting conversation. Part of that was “You realise that nobody’s going to get anything out of this, because it’s all incredibly specific?”

The rest of it is below. Names removed to protect the innocent.

Friend 1: I asked him what he remembered of my experiences in High School, as I might have blocked out some of the worst stuff.

“We went to high school?” he said. His experience was as traumatic as mine. He was surprised and upset to find out that I’d had this experience in high school. He told me about his own experiences – beatings and pranks and humiliation throughout primary school that still upsets him. He went to a school reunion hoping that things had changed to find that these people were just as ignorant and juvenile as they had been in primary school.

He has good memories of high school as well, but they are also overshadowed by the crap that happened alongside them.

I went to a reunion. I think it may have been 10 years. I enjoyed myself immensely. Most of the people I didn’t want to see didn’t show up and the people that were there were all very nice. It was a pleasant evening. The people at the reunion were people who didn’t get involved in the bullying. Of course, they didn’t actively stop it, but that’s pretty standard for high school.

The other comment from my friends was that it was good to know that even though we were in our own bubbles, not knowing what was happening to the others, that there was someone else out there who knew how we felt.

And finally, that it was sad that we travelled together through this journey, but also completely alone.

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