Tag Archives: grade school

Photo Friday: This is What Perfectionism Looks Like

On the surface, it may seem counter-intuitive for a perfectionist’s office to look like a cyclone hit it. But those of you who have the perfectionism affliction, or love someone who does, see the truth.

Am I comfortable with this picture? No. Do I enjoy working in this environment? No. While a normal person might think, “just spend a few minutes cleaning this up,” I know it would take hours or even days (hours and days I don’t have at work) to clean and organize it the right way. To do anything less is not comfortable, so it will just have to wait until I can do it right.

I’m a perfectionist; I’m hardwired to do shit the tediously inefficient but right way.

I think I would have skewed this way no matter what, but my first grade teacher didn’t help. She split my classroom into the “good side” and the “bad side” and placed me on the bad side because I’d forgotten to turn in a permission slip. Mistakes, no matter how small, would be noticed, would be punished. Got it, thanks!

This experience lodged itself into my amygdala, where it still drives me toward a goal I can’t reach. When I was little, my thoughts on perfection were simple, “if I stop making mistakes, people will like me more.” I even had a code word, “NOW,” that I’d say to myself as a pep talk to be perfect from that point forward. Until the next time I made a mistake, of course. These days, “NOW” has been replaced by exhausting post mortems on what I could have done differently to avoid a mistake and often an internal berating for not knowing this already.

I’m sick of it and I’m trying to recover from perfectionism. I’ve realized there’s so much I want to do. I just don’t have time to do everything I’m interested in doing as well as my brain tells me I have to do it.

But letting the perfectionism go has been hard, for at least two reasons:

1. My brain doesn’t seem to have the capacity for the kind of flexible thinking needed to create shortcuts.

2. Even if by some miracle, I think of a shortcut or someone offers me a different solution to a task, I don’t feel comfortable implementing it. It feels half-assed to me.

I didn’t even realize how crazy my methods seemed until the running shoes conversation. You see, a few weeks ago my knees started feeling wonky and I wondered if it might be time to buy new running shoes. I thought nothing of my process until I talked to a normal person about it. I mentioned how I needed to add up the mileage I’d run on my current pair of shoes, but before I could do the calculation I had to enter the back log of data from my Garmin GPS watch into my workout log spreadsheet.

I’ll never forget the look that passed across the normal person’s face.

Her: “How long will entering all that data take you?”

Me: “I’m not sure…probably two to three hours at least.”

Her: “Uh, what would be the harm in just buying new shoes without doing all that data entry?”

This suggestion blew my mind.

Today I reached two personal milestones. I achieved a goal I’ve had for over two years; to get my work email inbox of almost 1,600 emails back to zero. And, perhaps more importantly, I did it by implementing a shortcut that my perfectionist brain had previously convinced me was “cheating. ”

I moved everything older than 2012 into a separate archive folder labeled “unsorted.” If I get around to culling that great, if not, c’est la vie. I had told myself I needed to wait until I had time to cull 1,600 emails. But that was going to be never. After removing the old emails, I culled the 404 emails left in my inbox to zero in a few hours. Yea!


Why It is Important to Know Your Family Tree

When I answered our rotary phone, the voice on the other end of the line was unfamiliar. I didn’t want to tell him I was alone in the house.

But this guy was persistent. He peppered me with questions about my parents’ whereabouts, when I expected them back.

“Wait, who are you again?”

“I’m your cousin Joe.”

Yeah right, buddy.

My Mom was an only child. My Dad’s brother never married. I don’t have any cousins.

But Mom did. I quickly checked my mental list of Gram’s siblings and their children. And came up empty. Nope, no idea who this guy on the phone was. All I knew is he was creeping me out.

I can’t remember if I bothered to apologize first or if I just hung up. But I definitely hung up on “cousin” Joe. Then I checked the locks on all the doors and huddled up in a corner of the couch looking around in paranoia waiting for my parents to get home. At which time I told them the story about how a strange guy claiming to be cousin Joe called.

My Mom didn’t miss a beat, “Yeah, Joe…did he say why he was calling?”

Oh crap.

My grandfather died before I was born. I wasn’t very familiar with that side of Mom’s family. But there was most certainly a cousin Joe.

So Mom had to call her cousin Joe to explain that her daughter was a moron. She made me get on the phone to apologize. I muttered an apology, but Joe took care of most of the talking. He looked forward to meeting me…at his father’s funeral.

Shit, shit, shit.

He mentioned a spanking might be in order for hanging up on him. I would find out soon enough he was only kidding, but not knowing Joe at all (obviously), I worried about the possibility anyway. At best, I knew I would be teased mercilessly. I would be introduced to each and every long-lost family member as the girl who hung up on Joe. As I wrote in my diary, “UGH!!!!!!!!!!”

As if this funeral would not be special enough, my Dad was nowhere to be found that morning. As much as we wished he had just skipped town, we all knew that wasn’t likely. We sat on the couch all dressed up and ready to go and worried he would make us late. Until he finally used his one phone call to let us know he was indisposed. “Say hi to Mom, from JAIL.”

We went to the funeral without Dad. Cousin Joe did not spank me. He did tell the story of my hanging up on him to anyone who would listen. I did shrink in horror, which of course triggered the obligatory game of “let’s tease the shy preteen girl for being shy” that well-meaning but overbearing family members inexplicably like to play.

But the day wasn’t about me and soon the teasing was over. Now I mostly remember this day as a glorious break from Dad. “Minus one,” Mom, my brother, and I felt a little lighter. We might have looked just a bit too happy to be at a funeral.

This post is in response to this week’s memoir prompt at the Red Dress Club.

Take us back to an embarrassing moment in your life.

Did someone embarrass you, your parents perhaps? Or did you bring it upon yourself?

Are you still embarrassed or can you laugh at it now?

Way Past My Bedtime

I have written about my sleep issues before, but I haven’t fully explained I have always been a night owl.

This has never been a convenient trait, and it drove my parents crazy. They would put me to bed and we all knew this was a silly game we were playing, that I was not going to sleep.

Whatever I did, I couldn’t make much noise and I couldn’t use much light or they would notice and yell at me to go to sleep. I would usually read with a flashlight or strain to see the words by the light from the hallway. When I heard my parents coming upstairs for bed after local news and Carson’s monologue, I’d quickly close the book and pretend to be asleep.

Then at 12:30am, I would quietly switch on my tiny 5 inch black and white TV and tune in Late Night with David Letterman. All I had to eliminate the sound was a cheap plastic earphone, yes, earphone in the singular. As often as I could get away with, I would huddle up in my bed and watch Letterman, which I could only hear through one ear, and try to stifle my laughter. I was nine. I was so sleep deprived at school, it’s a miracle I passed fourth grade. Luckily for my academic career, we got a VCR when I was in fifth grade.

I loved Dave’s quirky and irreverent sense of humor. He did silly things. He made fun of his employers mercilessly. He didn’t pander to his famous guests. He would often run a joke into the ground, yet somehow it would continue to be funny in spite of, or perhaps because of, the repetition.

When I started high school, I guessed my homeroom teacher was a Letterman fan before we ever talked about it. The first day, he had us go around the room and introduce ourselves and say something we enjoyed doing. I can’t remember what I said, but so many of the other girls said they liked to ski it started to become almost creepy. He started joking about this and would not let it go. At one point, he broke in and called out for a show of hands: “OK, who skies?” Some of the others groaned, but I just laughed. He was funny, like Dave.

I still have some of my favorite episodes of Late Night on tape in my basement. There was the crazy suit series, like when Dave dressed up in a suit of magnets and attached himself to a giant (GE!) refrigerator, the episode where Dave got Sonny and Cher to sing “I Got You Babe,” and my personal favorite segment ever, when Dave tried to take a fruit basket to General Electric as a gesture of goodwill after they bought NBC and basically got told to talk to the hand.

This very blog owes its title to David Letterman. Dave would try to start new catch phrases (“I can’t stand the itching, but I don’t mind the swelling.”), and he introduced me to the word logy.  Logy refers to feeling sluggish and Dave would often say he felt a little logy. Perhaps because watching his show made me so sleep deprived, the concept of logyness resonated with me. It became one of my signature words.


This post is in response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club. This week, the prompt was “to think about a TV show from your past. What feelings does the show evoke? What memories does it trigger?”


“Hankie, keys. Comb, wallet-ey…”

God, seriously?

“Dad, I’m going to be late for school.”

But my complaint doesn’t have the desired effect of stopping my Dad. He is compelled to start his ritual over again. Depending on how late we were and whether my brother was around to join in with me in interrupting him and making fun, I’d either be slightly amused by this compulsion or slightly annoyed. But I was always resigned, because Dad would not leave the house without doing the whole thing no matter how many interruptions he faced.

“Hankie, keys. Comb, wallet-ey,” starting over, he checks two of his pockets.

“Ring, watch,” while he checks to make sure his wedding band is where it always is, on his left ring finger, and watch, well I never know why he says this, since he doesn’t wear one.

“Nuttin’, nuttin’,” as he clarifies that his two always-empty pockets are indeed empty. I always wondered what would happen if he found something in one of his “nuttin’, nuttin'” pockets.

“Barn door’s locked,” as he makes sure his fly isn’t open.

And finally, “O-F-F, O-F-F, O-F-F, O-F-F, O-F-F,” as he individually checks each knob on the stove. I learn never to interrupt him this late in the ritual, because he would still have to start over and then you essentially have to wait for him to go through it twice.

Even though I don’t remember any instance of Dad uncovering something forgotten through this routine (maybe the occasional unzipped fly?), he had to do it anyway. Dad drove me to school every morning for years. I estimate I heard this at least a thousand times.

I haven’t heard Dad say this in almost 24 years, but I can still hear it. And picture myself, school-uniformed, arms crossed, tapping my foot by the back door in the kitchen waiting for the last “O-F-F.”


This week’s writing prompt was: “We want to know what, from your childhood, do you still know by heart?”

Lode Runner

Late at night, I would sit next to my older brother and watch him play Lode Runner on our Apple IIe. The room was dark except for the bluish glow cast by the monitor. The room was quiet except for the sharp, but hollow-sounding game noises and our whispering about strategy and barely stifled laughter as we kidded each other. We didn’t want to wake our parents.

Mike was nine years older than me and after he got his driver’s license, he went out every chance he got. With college classes, work and his social life, he was hardly ever home.

I missed him.

In the summer, when Mom wasn’t strict about my bedtime, I would stay up late into the night watching MTV and waiting up for Mike, hoping that he might feel like hanging out awhile when he got home. The hanging out often revolved around Lode Runner.

Lode Runner had 150 levels and started out easy, which was good since it took awhile to get used to the two-handed keyboard skills needed to play without a joystick. It took six different keys to control the white stick figure in his quest to gather all of the gold nuggets while avoiding the orange and white stick figures who guarded the gold. The stick figure could run, climb up and down ladders, go hand over hand across suspended bars, and dig holes in the two-dimensional blue brick to temporarily trap the guards and also to make them give up the gold they sometimes carried.

The levels got progressively more difficult and started to require more strategy. Luckily, we earned an additional man for each level we completed, so when we were stumped we could experiment with our backlog of men. In a time when computers couldn’t multitask, Lode Runner monopolized our computer for weeks. We’d leave the game on in between sessions, the white stick figure constantly blinking his readiness for one of us to press a button to start the next level.

Eventually we hit a level with gold that appeared impossible to retrieve. None of the tricks we’d learned in previous levels worked. Mike was obstinate and blew through a lot of men trying the same ideas over and over again without success. We were both getting frustrated. We were worried that we would lose all our men and have to start over.

Finally I had a new idea and though Mike thought it was crazy, he tried it. His timing was off and he ran the white stick figure right into a guard. He was pissed and muttered something colorful. But I convinced him to try again. I don’t remember how many attempts it took, but I remember how amazed and excited he was when it finally worked. My idea had finally solved the level we’d been stuck on for days.

I often came up with the creative solution necessary to complete a level and Mike was better at executing the plan, with the extra years of arcade practice under his belt. We were a team.

It was just a game, and a pretty simple one, but I finally felt like something more than a pesky baby sister. I would play Lode Runner by myself after these times with my brother, but it was never as much fun without him.


This week’s RemembeRED prompt:
“We want you to recall the games you played when you were young…Write a piece that explores one of your memories.”

The videos I found on You Tube make me sick with longing to play this damn game again.

Rock The Vote

“My family and I saw your Dad with his campaign signs the other day,” one of my friends from school said to me one day.

And what a sight he must have been, I thought.

Embarrassment quickly flushed my face with a ruddy warmth.

“Oh my God,” I muttered. What else could I say?


My Dad spiraled down into a deep depression during his long unemployment. I remembered a time when I rushed to him when he got home from work asking him if he’d brought me anything. I loved office supplies and he would usually come through with some sort of fabulous-to-me gift, like a 4-color Bic pen or a regift of something one of his clients had given him.

I can understand better now the despair he must have felt to go from being the bread-winner and delighting his daughter with office trinkets every day to being unemployed. But Dad had let himself go, literally and figuratively, and at the time I only cared how it felt to me. Humiliating.

The unemployment rate was high, the job search was not fruitful. His resentment burned to a fiery anger. He started passing his time trying to cause trouble for those who had fired him, but that did not work out well.

Eventually he replaced these activities, as well as looking for work, with complaining about not having work and making our lives miserable. And the drinking, there was always the drinking.


Inexplicably, he became hopeful that life would improve…if only the incumbent were defeated in the upcoming election. He had bountiful free time to campaign. That poor, poor challenger…

Luckily, Dad’s favorite outfit matched his candidate’s campaign signs. This outfit also matched the color of my hot, flushed cheeks when my friend said she’d seen him.

You could not miss him.

He spent his days driving around the city with an enormous campaign sign mounted to the roof of our car. His campaign uniform was no different from the outfit he’d been wearing every day for God knows how long. He wore sweatpants, Converse sneakers, and a tee shirt that accentuated his beer belly so well that he probably looked like a tomato to my friend and her family.

Dad even created a campaign song for his candidate, which made me regret watching so much MTV in front of him. He changed the lyrics to the Cars “You Might Think,” which was a huge hit at the time.

You might think I’m loony, but all I want is (insert candidate’s name here).

To make this rhyme, Dad had to mispronounce the name. Dad sang this pretty much non-stop, whether out campaigning or at home. Even now, hearing this song makes me want to stab myself in the eardrums.

Annoying and embarrassing, but until my friend mentioned seeing Dad, I thought maybe I’d get through the election unscathed.

Fortunately, my friend wasn’t judging or teasing me. She thought my Dad was funny. All my friends did. When they came over, it was still early enough in the afternoon for the happy drunkenness, which they mistook (I hope) for simply happy.

There was never any doubt that the incumbent would crush Dad’s candidate, with or without Dad’s special brand of campaigning. At the time, I had trouble distinguishing whether these events were comedy or tragedy. Probably still a mixture of both, but at least I look back on it with laughter now.


This week’s RemembeRED prompt:

“Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word ‘red’ but use words that engender the color red when you hear them.”

I have never been a big fan of the color red, so I could only come up with two memories in which red played any significant role. Neither seemed worth writing about. But when I heard “You Might Think” Sunday night in the car for the first time in years, I took it as a sign.

The Bad Side

Imagine a classroom of first graders, a group of six-year-olds in their first formal school experience.

Now imagine the teacher openly labeling some of these children as “good” and the others as “bad.”

Sounds ridiculous, right?

My Mom did her best to prepare me for the start of first grade since past experience indicated I would need some encouragement, perhaps even a shove. Mom took me to the school for a visit before the first day. We got to see my classroom and meet my teacher, Miss Griswold. I was still very nervous, but I hoped it would be OK, just like Mom said.

Unfortunately, Miss Griswold had other plans.

One day, Miss Griswold announced she would rearrange the room. She wanted to split the class into the “good side” and the “bad side” of the room. I felt panicked. I didn’t yet know what it meant to be on the bad side, but it couldn’t be good. I didn’t think I was bad, but I couldn’t know for sure I was safe until she finished calling out the assignments. I held my breath. She assigned me to the bad side of the room. My heart sank. I felt very confused. What could I have done? I never got into any trouble.

She drew very clear distinctions between the good side and the bad side. She reorganized our desks and created a boundary between the desks on the good side of the room and the bad side.

When she crossed the boundary, she changed her tone of voice. She spoke in a cheerful sing-song while on the good side. She switched to a threatening tone whenever she moved over to the bad side. While the bad side of the room worked on extra math problems at our desks, the good side of the room moved to the back of the room to lounge on pillows and listen to extra stories.

I was painfully shy, but I had to know why she thought I was bad. I could not think of anything I had done. Asking her why she assigned me to the bad side of the room provoked enormous anxiety. But I could not think of anything else. I worked up my courage, walked over to her, got her attention, and managed to ask her why.

She said I forgot to hand in a permission slip for a field trip before she had to ask me for it. She actually said this in more condescending a manner than that, as if it should have been obvious. “Remember the other day, when you forgot to hand in the permission slip…” After I nodded, she said “Well, that’s why.”

If there was a way out of the bad side of the room, she didn’t offer any tips. I felt sick to my stomach. Going to school everyday made me miserable.

I have no idea how long this went on before my Mom’s complaints eventually put an end to it, but long enough for my panic and embarrassment to turn into dread. I stayed home “sick” a lot. I couldn’t even relax at home, because I worried about what would happen the next day if I couldn’t convince Mom to let me stay home again. Finally, Mom said if I missed one more day, they would hold me back. I stopped staying home.

Eventually Miss Griswold introduced a new system to reinforce good behavior, a token-earning system. The tokens were small chips, round and Crayola red. I don’t remember earning any. I absolutely did not want to call any attention to myself, good or bad. I didn’t need any tokens or prizes, I just needed to be safe.

While I don’t remember how long I sat on the bad side of the room, I do remember why, and I do remember coming to understand that no mistake would go unpunished.


This week’s RemembeRED prompt was to “mine your memories and write about the earliest grade you can recall.” I’m really hoping that someday one of these prompts will elicit an unambiguously happy memory because I swear I do have some!

For those of you who might wonder, Miss Griswold was my teacher’s real name. I suppose it’s possible that someone could identify her based on this post, and I have three things to say to that:  1.) Fuck her, 2.) She got married and changed her name, and 3.) Fuck her.