Silencing the “shushers”
My brother and I were each bussed in our 6th grade years to a “gifted” program at another elementary school. We both have reminisced about how it may have been a cover for moving our off-center personalities out of the regular classroom.
Even at a young age, though, I remember having my doubts as I watched fellow “gifted” student, Marvin, crawl around the room on his stomach during class nearly every day making strange animal noises.
Perhaps we were a different kind of “special” than our parents had been led to believe.
Whatever the true story, this placement sent us on a different track after our two years at the mostly Hispanic middle school of our youth. This was Steinbeck territory, mind you, and that middle school was filled with intriguing characters that could have easily populated his novels. We were all the children of braceros, Okies and military parents with all of the baggage that came with the territory of growing up in the Salinas Valley.
For example, a routine lice check at our middle school turned up an actual spider’s nest in a ratted and sprayed updo. Being “called out” to fight was a daily occurrence among the tough skinned girls who sported deadly fingernails as weapons to draw first blood. Marvin’s older sister Patches, who could beat up anybody in school, regaled us with tales of being born with rubber bones and being folded up in a suitcase and shipped from New York.
This was a nutrient rich fodder for a budding creative, and when sent to continue in the honors program at the “upscale” mostly white high school, I could not escape my addiction to stories of the people around me, thus condemning my honors career to swift conclusion.
Because the girl who sat next to me my freshman year in Honors English dated soldiers from the local military base. Her hair was Natalie Wood dark and ratted high with colored bows protruding at odd angles. And she wore tight miniskirts under which black fishnet stockings with rips in them traveled down to her knee high black vinyl go-go boots.
Her ample white thigh flesh often crept out of those tattered tights, and she would lean in to regale me with tantalizing tidbits of her amorous adventures as a thick fragrance emanated from her body and enveloped mine. My removal from the honors program that year had its birth in my fascination with the flesh escaping from those tights. Her stories were so much more engaging than The Iliad.
Needless to say, the shushing of my spirit began in earnest in that freshman year…that critical-spirited, sharp-edged shush that began to populate my experiences in any organized activity where I felt joy. Having been asked to leave choir in elementary school due to my inability to control my exuberance for music, I seemed to be not welcome in a variety of activities where I did not seem to be communicating my “seriousness”.
I had thought that all of that was behind me, since I am seven decades into this life, but in this retirement community in which I now reside, I am once again encountering a shusher. And I have noticed that no matter how many others are experiencing their own kind of hilarity, the laser focus seems to be directed at me.
When targeted, I often think of my nature-loving college friend who once stood naked at the bottom of the Grand Canyon celebrating the sunrise from a private camping spot. He told us that someone from a passing tourist raft yelled, “Put your clothes on.” To which he yelled, “Take yours off!”
Here’s the thing about shushers. Any hint of not taking some activity “seriously enough” and out comes the proverbial finger to the lips. Fun is not allowed. Spontaneity is not allowed. Everything. Is. Serious. Business.
I used to get so sad as a child when someone sat on my spirit. But now my sadness is directed back to the source. How exhausting it must be to be the policeman of the universe, the keeper of proper behavior, the captain of putting people in their rightful place.
I know myself well enough to know that in spite of my many faults, I know how to read a room and be respectful. I know where fun ends and work begins. I am not a saboteur of excellence. I may have an active little kid inside of me, but that little kid appreciates the value of hard work and focus when necessary.
But I also happen to live in a landscape of joy in all circumstance.
Somewhere deep inside the shusher, I think, is a joyless little kid struggling with perfectionism and always feeling like the mark is being missed. Somewhere inside is a kid who had to play by the rules and color in the lines and never have a hair out of place. Somewhere inside is a kid who never got to run in the woods and experience freedom from the tyranny of perfectionism.
And perhaps they are too old to change.
so am I.