“I Don’t Get It:” What I Learned From My Middle School Math Teacher

2003. Middle school. Frosted lip gloss and Cleopatra bangs.

I remember this day in particular because it was the first time I felt wholly and genuinely stupid.

I’ve never been stellar at math. It doesn’t leave room to ask “why?” which is a problem since this is my favourite question. It burns holes, and I can’t seem to ignore the smoke.

Mathematics don’t offer any grey areas, no half-truths, no “sometimes y.” It was a taxing gig, spinning my brain to sponge in order to absorb the steady stream of numbers. For years it had come like honey from a jar; slowly and sweetly, as things have a way of coming when our spirits are being nurtured. I struggled with scribbled equations, but this was the first time they had ever held me back.

“CAN YOU ADD, MISS KRAUSE?!’

In this moment I am pretty sure that even my toenails are sweating, and thinking about this isn’t helping the situation. He is wearing a sharp, straight line where a smile should be.

I didn’t do my homework, and the reason was equal parts “don’t get it.” and “don’t wanna.” As you can probably guess, neither of these are considered an acceptable response when called upon. The two of us are standing in front of the whiteboard, and the eyes are like pins in my back. He wants a definitive answer. I am terrified. Somewhere in the stormy silence, I pull a 2.

“THERE IT IS, MISS KRAUSE!”

I am so relieved that I could pee. The thing is, I don’t hate the guy. Later he tells me that I am smart and that it won’t be hard forever. He reminds me that ensuring my homework is done means ensuring that things like this won’t happen. “Have a great day, Miss Krause. See you tomorrow.” He’s my favourite teacher again.

I adapted to his intense environment, and I could do this because he grinned twice as much as he snarled, he told pretty good jokes, and, let’s face it: I wasn’t the only moron in the room. The humiliation was distributed pretty evenly.

June came, and brought with it moving boxes and report cards. I got a 46% and a note that said “Miss Krause is very polite and makes a great effort.”

I don’t know what became of him, and for a long time I didn’t see this experience for the transformative encounter that it was. I’m not saying that I lose sleep over this, but it absolutely had a hand in shaping my mindset.

It had never really occurred to me that this kind of behaviour was manipulative and inappropriate, because I was under the impression that it was a consequence I had created. It didn’t register as psychological abuse since it was only really directed toward the morons. I didn’t realize that we weren’t the morons in the equation.

I don’t remember how to cross multiply and I don’t know shit about fuck when it comes to geometry, but my time there was not wasted. Some of these lessons came much, much later, but he taught me a useful thing or two that stuck.

For one, I recognize that life is far too fleeting to spend it under the thumb of people who allow us to believe that we are stupid. Though there are multiple intelligences (8, count ’em, 8!) some of us still believe in a single route to success. We spend our lives placing ourselves into tiny boxes with pretty bows in order to distract the people we wish to impress from our blisteringly true, raw nature.

For another, as I’ve mentioned before, there is nothing wrong with being wrong. What I understand today is that it’s the lengths that we go to in order to appear as if we’ve always got it right that are the most destructive. We lie and we cheat and we hurt and we run from the life we want, all because we’ve got this idea that we shouldn’t want it. One minute we’re supposed to be striving for more, and the next we’re told to expect less.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I know that the things we love doing are not hobbies; the term is far too simple. They are an escape from the pointed fingers of expectation. They are an expression of all that is felt, spoken and silent. They are the bright side and they are the bandage covering the wound. If you ask me, there’s no glory in giving up the good for someone else’s “should.”

I’m not saying that we should run from struggle; it’s inevitable. I just think that if we’re going to bite back, we should be fuelled by the force of what it is that we long for; for whatever it is that we love.

P.S. Mr. Math was always up in my grill about showing my work. I like to think I came through.

Questions, Answers and the Spaces In Between: What Not To Say When Meeting Someone

Over the last three years I’ve been continuously rubbing up against my own reflection.

It’s been a productive, albeit hellish experience. I’ve been able to identify and talk about what hurts, and I’ve learned a great deal about the message I want to leave with other people. In learning this, I’ve noticed that there are some questions that are better left burning holes in brains than spoken like swords. If you were following me when I wrote “What To Expect,” you’ll know we’ve been down this block a time or two. There’s a question that sucks, and I’ve only just learned that it sucks. If I could reach into your chest cavity and pinch your heart, I imagine that it would feel a lot like it does when you ask

“So, what do you do?”

I know. Karlee, you sensitive Susan! But look, it’s like this: You ask said question and I awkwardly clarify by asking “Like, for work?” With the answer almost always being “Yes,” I am left feeling like a frozen turkey thawing right there in front of everybody. (I know it’s weird but try to let yourself imagine this one. How humiliating.) I come back with “Oh, nothing. I don’t do anything,” because the space between us is too crowded to say that I take my meds and write some words and pluck some strings and go to the grocery store on a good day, and that on a bad day I just don’t get out of bed. This shame is misplaced, but it lingers there anyway, a silent suggestion that my means of earning an income are what make me interesting.

I know that this isn’t the case. I know that it’s a staple phrase in introductory conversation. It’s so normal that it blooms on my tongue on occasion.

But what if it didn’t have to be?

What if you asked me if I believed in ghosts? What if I asked you about the weird, useless talent that only you seem to possess? I think I might tell you that there is nothing I can’t imagine, and maybe you would say that you’re double jointed while demonstrating some creeptastic hand gesture. Maybe we’d laugh and decide that we were very fond of one another.

I’ve come to the realization that the way you make a living holds such a small fraction of my interest in knowing you. (Unless of course you are a professional taste tester OR you spend your 9-5 beating on the craft that lights fireworks in your chest.) I am sure you are this brilliant in all settings, but I’d rather hear your easy laughter than get to know only your furrowed brow and busy mind. I want our souls to kiss as much as our egos.

So, since you asked:

I wake up every morning and I dance madly to “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine. I’m learning to play guitar because I have an irrational fear of my brain turning to mush. I have a therapist who tells me not to should all over myself. I’m relentlessly ringing my own bell with messages that say “I love you.” Sometimes I cry and type. I’m sick and I’m not sorry. I want to write music and cultivate my character.

And, if you’re into that kind of thing, knowing you would be another tick on my ever-growing tally of bright sides.

Love Has Paws

Sometimes I just don’t feel real.

It’s like I’m outside of myself, suspended in the air, taking in the scenery. When people speak to me, I feel their words entirely. I feel them and I want to say “Congratulations. I’m sorry. I love you.” I receive the signal and yet, my response doesn’t get through. Message failed. Return to sender. Blinking lights and wasted stamps.

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Please believe me when I say that I want more than anything to talk. I love your voice. It’s a tiny, persistent stream of light seeping through the cracks of my closed blinds. I know you don’t believe it, because your phone never rings. When I tell you that my phone is broken, you will glance at it and tell me that it looks just fine, certainly fine enough to give you a fucking call once in a while, and I will cradle that phone between my shoulder and my ear waiting for a dial tone that will not come.

Every so often, I lose control. It happens quickly, taking me under and spitting me out like a clumsy tourist meeting the ocean for the first time. But it happens slowly enough that I can see the change occur, wishing always that it could just stop here. It’s a rollercoaster climbing the tracks and it’s me knowing that no amount of fearful shouting will stop the descent. Every so often, I forget what it is like to move my mouth without asking my disorder for permission. It is in these moments that I am not certain I was meant for this life.

People often ask me what saves me, what makes it worth it to stay anyway. It’s not my ambition or potential driving me to pave a successful path. It’s not the need to prove anybody wrong. It is not what I would miss. It is always the small things that keep me rooted here, feeding me purpose.

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It’s small things like the slap of a tail on the floor when I make it past my door frame and into the living room, only to rest again. It’s a warm body on cold feet, and somehow, the only silver lining that stands out. It’s a wet nose meeting my temple, a joyous greeting to dissolve every goodbye I’ve ever heard.

Though there are always many more reasons to stick around than can be seen in moments such as these, this is often all I can cling to, and I do so with tenacity, because it is enough. There are 2 furry, strange beings who literally depend on me for survival. I am responsible for them in a way that I am not responsible for anyone else on this vast and mysterious Earth, and for me, that’s magic. It’s 4 cups of food twice a day and a serious dose of tenderness. In moments when words are heavy, there’s none to carry. All that is left is their pulse and mine whispering of our fondness of one another. In between breaths I can think clearly, and I remember that my phone is broken, so it’s probably time I got a new one.

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As I watch them frolick and tumble through drifts of snow, I wonder what a happy dog looks like. I decide that it would look a lot like mine. A warmth comes over me then, contentedness wrapping itself around a heart that I thought was expired. I silently mull it over, and I smile knowing that I have helped more than I have hurt. I have made another being so ecstatic that they are rolling in their own shit. In this moment, I am here, I am real, and more present than ever.