To Run or To Endure

In my last post I promised to expand on what it is like to be an outlier and how that plays into my constant fears and anxieties. I previously discussed my need to set proper boundaries for myself and avoid people and situations which were likely to increase my already high sense of anxiety. Triggering my fears sets off a whole host of problems with my post-traumatic stress disorder and my fibromyalgia. The fact that I am an outlier, someone who doesn’t fit within the norms of society, means that my very presence can and does cause some people to react negatively. I have always been an outlier, even when I tried in my younger days to fit in, to be part of the group, to blend. It isn’t just the fact that I’m left-handed, lesbian, tattooed, a vegan, a pacifist, an animal rights activist, an atheist, a non-patriot, etc. It is much more than that. At my very core, I see the world differently from most people. And many people (thankfully not all) react angrily to differences. I now find myself once again in a position where I have somehow triggered someone and I really have no idea why or how.

I am taking an online beginning poetry class because I would like to learn to write longer poems. The ten-week class is in its fourth week, and from the beginning I have had difficulties with the instructor. His comments on my first assignment were, from my perspective, extremely harsh with nothing positive in them. I reacted badly to the comments and more than that, as a teacher, I realize all too well the importance of making positive and upbeat suggestions when critiquing a student’s work. This teacher obviously lacks those skills, at least with me. My second assignment was treated similarly, at which point I took both my poems and the comments to my therapist for her view on them, since obviously I am too close to my own work to evaluate the situation.

My therapist agreed that the instructor lacks the skills to critique beginners, and she reminded me that we know nothing about this man. He might not be happy teaching; he might be doing this only to make some money; he might really like my work and think that this is the way to push me to greater heights; or there might be many other reasons for his approach. She said that she could make a very strong case for sticking it out to see if eventually I received some small nugget that might have made the class worthwhile and at the same time take this as an opportunity for aversion therapy, to help me with my own agenda. But she went on to say that she could make an equally strong case for dropping out of this class and getting away from the obviously horrible teacher. It was my choice, and whatever I decided would be fine.

I decided to try the class for a bit longer. I submitted my third assignment and I also submitted my revised version of the first assignment to what is called “The Booth,” a place where the entire class can comment. The instructor was no more positive in his comments on the third assignment, but he also wasn’t quite as harsh, so I thought that I was making progress. However, this morning I woke up to find his comments on my Booth posting and he ripped into me in ways he has definitely not done with other students. He started out by praising one of my classmates for the time and effort she took in critiquing my poem. Then he went on to say that he’d seen this poem in the first assignment and since I hadn’t taken any of his suggestions he had nothing further to add to his original critique. Then he went on at great length to explain what I hadn’t done. Finally, he said he would copy his comments from the first round of this poem so that everyone could see what he’d said. He has not done anything like this with any of the other students, and in fact I was encouraged by how gentle and kind his comments were to all the other Booth postings. I have no idea why he attacked me, maybe because I didn’t take his suggestions, but it was the last straw. What I found even more bewildering is that my classmate who had given the feedback he praised had said that she loved my poem and wouldn’t change a word or add a thing. She only suggested re-arranging the lines and she re-typed my poem with the lines in an order that she felt was stronger (and I agreed and have so revised it).

How can he rip my poem apart and at the same time praise another student for her very positive comments on it? I have no idea, and I am totally at a loss to understand his reactions, but he seems to demand that students accept his suggestions without question. Anyway, I’ve pretty well decided that I won’t submit any more assignments to him. There doesn’t seem to be much point to it and I don’t need to set myself up for further attacks. I will continue to read the lectures, to do the assignments for my own learning experience, and to make comments on my fellow students’ works in the Booth. I have four weeks to decide if I wish to make my second Booth submission, but for now, I think it is in my best interest not to show my writing to this instructor.

Being different is never easy and as my poem (which I will share at the end) says, I never know when my differences will trigger something in someone else. I have no control over that. And it is also true that any of us can trigger someone inadvertently. This happens all the time. But for the outlier, the probabilities are much higher that just being present will cause others to be uncomfortable, and that triggering can be expressed in anger (as well as other ways). My anxiety and fear issues are merely compounded by the fact that I am an outlier. My life would be easier if I weren’t an outlier (or if I didn’t have such anxieties). But it is who I am and I need to be aware of what is happening around me and then set my boundaries for my own personal health.

The other thing this experience has given me is even more empathy for my students, who are also outliers and who have been, in all too many cases, brutalized by the traditional school system. I have experienced (again) first hand, the effect of a bad teacher and this will help me work with my students, showing them how to overcome the adversities which have been thrown in their faces. With any luck, both my students and I will be stronger for this experience.

Ever Present

As an outlier, I trigger people
without even knowing why.
When I leave my door
braving the outside world,
you come ever closer,
always on guard,
warning me of dangers,
whether real or imagined.
You, my constant companion,
rule my life,
ruin my life,
all under the guise
of keeping me safe.
Ever vigilant, making me
ready to flee,
you watch and wait
for the slightest attack.
Even when it doesn’t come,
you warn me that
next time it will.
Once we are home, you step
a little further back,
giving me a bit of space–
until the next time.

4 responses

  1. My heart goes out to you. Here you are, doing something to better yourself but met with such hurtful remarks and , what seems to me, unwarranted negativity! As a teacher, we both recognize the importance of our words in producing a positive change and encouragement. You ars a much bigger person than I am for giving it more time. Most of my life I allowed others to walk on me, until I came to the realization that I mattered. Sounds like you are carefully walking this out. I hope something productive and good comes from it and you find the good comments you are getting helpful and productive! Your poem is great!

    1. Thank you so much, Teresa! I really appreciate your comment. I too have let people walk over me and/or figured that I deserved their treatment, but I’m trying to learn to speak my truth and do what is best for me and my health. And thanks for liking my poem. Glad you stopped by! Have a lovely day!

  2. I think all, ALL, I say, of us are what you call outliers in one way or another. It is interesting, you said, you were taking the online course to learn to write longer poems. I have been trying to write shorter poems. Perhaps just by posting your poems online, you will get more supportive comments. Perhaps that is what you need….now. Later you could take a class, but you are right, teachers are important. Thank you so much for your comment about my poem, it gives me the courage to try again. I write, and one day I realized I had been writing for over twenty years….and someone kind, like you, finds something interesting in it. Again thank you….drop the bastard, like a bad date.

    1. Thank you so much, Annell, and yes, I am hoping that I will learn from posting my poems online. I write haiku and so for me, the shorter poems seem more natural, but I want to expand. And yes, I did drop the bad teacher. I am a teacher and I feel strongly about the importance of treating students with respect and kindness. Thanks so much for stopping by and for your wonderful comment!

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