That’s the first word that popped into my head when I woke up this morning at 4am. I went to bed hoping to sleep like the dead until at least 10, but my dog started scratching himself and woke me up, dammit.
I was in the middle of a vivid dream about two friends who have cancer, and then one of them died…My husband and I threw a large party at a restaurant where I showed off my new series of nudes (which I don’t have, by the way)…Our waiter stole my purse and hid it in a parking lot full of semis…While I was searching for my purse, my daughter showed up hugely pregnant (she’s not pregnant at all)…She then gave birth to several large, clear plastic baby bottles…I woke up as my son and I were sliding down Lombard Street on our asses.
I’m sure you’ve had this dream before, too, right?
I’m guessing my unconscious had a lot to work through last night. I wish it would have left me out of it because it was a busy weekend of back-to-back 12-hour shifts, that included—among many other things—three deliveries in four hours, and I’m tired. Let’s just get it out here in the open right now—being a labor and delivery nurse isn’t as glamorous as it sounds, okay?
On top of that, thanks to reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I’ve been revisiting Regretsville.
You know, I could have been—should have been—was supposed to be—an Outlier, but I’ve ended up only being an Outsider. Off and on over the years, I’ve felt bad about this, but, as Gladwell points out so clearly, it never mattered how smart I was because I never had a snowball’s chance.
My teachers were right: I don’t live up to my potential, and I talk too much.
My parents—with the school’s blessing—put me in 1st grade when I was 4 years old. The only thing I remember about the 1st grade was getting rapped once on the knuckles with a ruler for my bad hand-writing. Physical violence didn’t help. My hand-writing is still indecipherable, even by me.
When I seven years old, I was tested for the gifted program with an eye towards skipping me from the 3rd to the 4th grade. I failed the test. Not only did I fail the test, but my mother was told that I failed it so spectacularly that the teacher wondered if I’d failed it on purpose. I really don’t remember. The only question I recall from the test had to do with the word “ochre”.
Hell, maybe I did fail it on purpose. I have no idea who thought that it would be a good idea to put a seven-year-old in the 4th grade. Did none of the adults in my life not see that this was a bad idea? Why did I have to do the work for them? Shouldn’t they have been looking out for me?
I’m saddened to think that maybe I did sacrifice myself intellectually to save myself emotionally. I’ll never know. And now I’m too dumb to figure it out.
The Forest through the Trees
One of the things I really like about Gladwell is his sociological approach to understanding human phenomena. He’s a forest-through-the-trees sort of guy, which I appreciate. He realizes that things don’t happen in a vacuum. People, even very successful people, are the way they are for reasons, and if we only understand the reasons then we’ll understand the person and the process. Most of us—including me—are too busy trying to make ourselves feel better about our own smallness to really look to see what other people’s reasons are.
Why are some people Democrats and some people Republicans? Why is one person pro-choice and another pro-life? Does it really just boil down to morality? Are we self-made? Do we make our own choices? Or is something deeper—hidden—going on? Are the people who think differently and act differently than you and me really that different? Are there other forces at play here? I think so, and I like that Gladwell is willing to look in unique places to find those other forces.
In Outliers, Gladwell looks at the forces at work among the exceptionally successful. For instance, your birthday matters in systems that use arbitrary age cut-offs to determine eligibility. He goes into a lot of detail about Canadian ice hockey and why the vast majority of the best players are born in January, February and March.
Reading the 10,000 hour rule, I understand exactly why The Pioneer Woman is The Pioneer Woman. Ree Drummond did exactly what other outliers like Bill Gates and The Beatles did. She spent 10,000 hours perfecting her art in a field that didn’t even exist while no one was looking. If Gladwell were writing his book today, maybe he’d even include her story.
It makes me wonder who is out there right now spending hours and hours doing something obscure that nobody is paying any attention to. What will be the next big thing and who will be its Outlier?
Worse than my own pathetic failures, I read this book and now feel like a totally shitty parent. Like everybody else, I tried to raise outliers, but I think I’ve only accomplished raising two more outsiders. I feel really bad about that.
I homeschooled my kids to give them different advantages; to give them the opportunity to live outside the box, and to learn to think for themselves. I probably should have spent the time instead ferrying them around to team sports, forcing them to practice the piano (a la Tiger Mother), and teaching them how to get along better with others. I spent my precious parenting time pointing out the naked emperors all around us, and showing them how to pull back the curtain to see that there aren’t any real Wizards in Oz.
Gladwell says I did this because of my family background of poverty and because I come from the lower class. He says I can’t help but feel adversarial towards authority because that’s what comes from growing up poor.
Little Boxes Made of Ticky Tacky
I apologized to my daughter today. Again. I seem to spend a lot of my time apologizing to my kids these days. I really feel like I’ve fucked it all up. She keeps trying to reassure me, which isn’t right either. Reassuring me is not her job.
I watched all of my friends drag their children around from one activity to the next, and I thought it was bullshit. I didn’t want that life for my kids. I never wanted them to end up being made out of ticky tacky.
What I didn’t realize is that I’d end up with two kids who would reject my emperor. I didn’t realize that I’d end up with two kids who would take such large gambles with their lives. And I sure as hell didn’t realize that I would raise two kids who would both refuse to step into their little boxes, even if this time it would make me a lot happier.