Did you ever see the horror movie "The Tingler"? It's one of those William Castle movies from the 50's, the kind known for gimmicks like securing an insurance policy with Lloyd's of London should any audience member die of fright during the screening. Another trick was to have a nurse standing by in the lobby, should a viewer be stricken with terror or worse. In "The Tingler", Vincent Price plays a coroner who discovers that every vertebrate has an organism called a tingler living in its spine. Yep, you, me, we've all got one, according to Vinny, and fear is what causes it to grow. Half-lobster, half-louse, the only way to get rid of the thing is to scream at the top of your lungs. At one point near the end of the movie, he comes on the screen to appeal directly to the audience with a warning, something like, " The Tingler is loose somewhere in this theater! The only way to save yourselves is to scream! Scream, ladies and gentlemen! Scream as loud as you can!!!"
That's when they'd fire off the buzzers rigged to the theater seats.
The reason I mention it is, well, I've got one. Most people call it Perfectionism, but hell, call it a Tingler, call it a bug up my ass, call it Judy if you like, it's been growing in me since I was a kid. And now the damn thing's about to eat me up from the inside.
I sat down with Amy this afternoon to help her with her homework and for some reason I just could not let her write down a wrong answer. We're trying to get her to understand letter combinations at the beginnings of words like "flag" and "grow" and "frog". But sometimes her mind just wanders away, or she guesses without thinking or trying, and it frustrates the friggin' daylights out of me.
Granted, she has some disabilities, but she can learn. And just when I think we're making progress, she starts wandering again and I start to fill up with this combination of anger and sadness at her cerebral palsy and fear that her future is doomed. The fear of failure I carried throughout my own schooling starts to creep in, the Tingler starts its tickle, I hear my own father's voice in me, and if I keep this up Amy's going to grow a big fat half-lobster half-louse of her own, one so big it'll have a collar and a leash.
Okay, maybe it's me...
I know it's a popular sport these days to rage against the machine that was secondary school, but in my case I think I've got some legitimate complaints. First of all, it took place during the latter half of the Vietnam War, when the USA was fragmenting all over the place. My little fragment, deepest Orange County, CA, was so beside itself with paranoia that it started building schools with no windows. These schools were ringed with fences that were designed to cut the hands of anyone trying to climb them. All very anti-Molotov cocktail. We were not allowed to walk on the grass. Kids who misbehaved were beaten. They called it "swatting", but hey, when you make a naked kid bend over in front of all his classmates and then hit him in the ass with a huge chunk of wood with holes in it, what would you call it? Of course, they had parental permission, but if, in the note they sent home explaining the discipline practice, they'd said, "...and we'd like to have your permission to make your child take off all his clothes, put him in a room where all his classmates can ogle and cheer from the other side of some glass, and then slam into his backside a few times with a couple of pounds of solid maple" they might not have gotten as many favorable responses. Or would they? The academic climate was no less rigid, and the pressure to perform was inflated by winds of doom from all quarters - a bad economy, social decay, the Cold War. The message was, hey kiddies, be good or else it will hurt, your ass, your hopes for success, and your country.
So, yeah, I guess I've got some left over feelings about what went on in school when I was a kid.
Meanwhile, back in present day Stevieland, our middle-aged hero fights his never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, blah blah blah...
All I want is for my kid to grow up able to hold a job, have healthy relationships, know how to laugh that deep deep laugh that cleans out the insides and offers some serenity on this odd and difficult planet.
From now on, just before the Tingler comes blasting out from between my shoulder blades, spilling frustration and spinal fluid all over the kitchen floor, I'll try to remember to take a deep breath, close my eyes and think of England. This child of mine is an amazing being to begin with. The future is never as knowable as we'd like it to be, and if it were knowable, we'd hate that even more. It's easy to forget that when life gives a fright it's really very healthy for me to take a little intermission, go off into a quieter room, maybe have some popcorn, and take the time to stop and smell the nurses.
"Genius" -- Julia Fordham -- PORCELAIN
"False notes [at a piano concert] are human. Why does everything have to be perfect? You know, perfection itself is imperfection."
- Vladimir Horowitz