Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A little thoughtlessness goes a long way...

Personification of Thought (Greek Εννοια)
Could there be a personification of non-thought?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I recommend for all who like to read memories of a quirky childhood to go to Herr Richter's blog, The Burrow of Bucephalus and read his posts, "A la recherche du quiz diabolique" and "From one memory another springs."

The latter story, which is hugely hilarious yet somehow sad, reminded me of an incident from my first-grade year.

Minus the hilarity.

In my early childhood years, I sometimes found myself -- if I found myself at all -- lost in non-thought. This was a bit like being lost in thought, and to external appearances probably gave that very impression, yet I had no thoughts. I was just being, I suppose. Perhaps I was achieving some Zen state of total enlightenment. More likely, I was merely shutting down, zoning out, even going autistic (if that's possible).

This wasn't my choice nor exactly pleasant, but neither was it unpleasant, for it put me in a timeless place and kept the world very far away.

I was sitting in my first-grade classroom and had entered into this strange state, lost in my non-thoughts while the teacher was talking about something. She must have begun calling on students to answer questions, and she must have called on me, even calling out my name several times.

I don't know.

I know only that I had received a sudden, utterly unanticipated hard slap across my cheek. Astonished, I looked up to find my teacher furious and telling me in a very angry voice to "Answer me when I speak to you!"

My punishment -- the slap being merely a reaction -- was to be banished from the Bluebird reading group, which was the highest, to the Redbird reading group ... the lowest.

I sat through those words wordless, then bowed my head in shame, cupped my face in my hands to hide slow tears, and sniffed as quietly as I could.

I didn't want more trouble.

The slap had hurt, but the embarassment at being slapped hurt more, and my shame in being brought so low hurt the worst of all.

I found myself lost in the single thought of my banishment and stuck in a lingering moment of shame that stretched on and on.

From the back of the classroom, I could hear the Bluebird group members meeting and reading in their clear, confident, advanced and chirpy Bluebird tones their Bluebird tomes.

I grew sadder in the knowledge that I had been banished forever from their community, that I would now be forced to read simple Redbird dialogue in halting, painful Redbird tempo:
"Look. Mary. See. Bill. See. Bill. run. Run. Bill. run."
Yes, run Bill. Run away forever.

When the Redbird's session started, I joined them, still ashamed, but my teacher's fury had passed, replaced by regret ... perhaps ... for she spoke to me very kindly, praising my reading skills, which probably shamed the poor Redbirds but made me feel better.

Yet, that evening and on into the next day, I could think only about the shame of my banishment from the Bluebirds, my eternal exile among the Redbirds...

Until the Bluebirds rushed joyfully to the back of the room, and my teacher called, "Jeff, aren't you going to join us?"

I suppose that I should have borne a grudge at this teacher. She was also the one who insisted that my name must be spelled "J-e-f-f-r-e-y" and that the word "Shan" did not rhyme with "man" because "Shan" did not exist ... though he was one of my younger brothers.

I was an odd child, however, and bore no grudge.


At 9:37 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Poor Jeffery. That was a sad tale.

Do you still have the zoning out episodes? They almost sound like an extremely mild epilepsy. But I prefer your theory of Zen enlightenment.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, no, I haven't zoned out since the second grade. Most of my second grade year, I sat in class zoned out. I had good grades despite my mental absence, but that might have been grade inflation.

Whatever the zoning out was, I grew out of it.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:22 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I have a similar transition, as does my younger daughter. Both of us have had problems with teachers. One large woman teacher almost killed me by shaking me in the fourth grade.

I really don't believe it's epilepsy or anything abnormal at all. I think it is a moment of subconscious thought. I am often struck by a thought and "go away" for a while, sometimes in the middle of a meeting, but this is something else -- more of a "going into". It can be frustrating to people on the outside, but I think it is a mark of creativity. Teachers should be forewarned not to take it personally. Kids are all different. It is easy to assume that every anomaly is an affront to authority, but the correct understanding, IMO, is that diversity is real and often beneficial.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JJ, I guess that I still "zone out" in some lectures and while reading some books.

This has a double effect. It interferes with gaining new information but heightens thinking creatively about what I already know.

But I suppose that this 'zoning out' differs from the zoning out that I recall from my childhood. It's now more of a "going into," as you put it.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Jeffery-Thanks for the link! So we both had tumultuous first grades.. What a fall from grace! The Redbirds? Is that even a real bird? Who knows though, this could have been what motivated you to become a man of letters..Good stuff! -DR

At 6:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome, and I hope that you get many visitors to your fine blog.

As for the slap, I remember it clearly, but I don't know if it knocked any literary sense into my head...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 2:31 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Yes, slapping a kid in the face is pretty uncalled for. I wasn't so much talking about the slap as I was about you being taken out of the Bluebirds and put with the Redbirds.

At 3:40 AM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

Poor Jeffery. Poor teacher. I'd bet she agonized over her own actions for many years to come.

Your wisdome was present even then, Jeffery!

Your reflective posts are always both thought-provoking and entertaining. Thanks for them.

At 4:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Herr Richter, yes, the slap was uncalled for -- though from my own experience as a teacher I can understand her frustration.

Being put in with the Redbirds, however briefly, might have jolted me more than the slap, but I don't think that I really woke up until the 5th grade, when my older brother was the 6th-grade valedictorian -- and I probably only woke up to the realization that I'd have to work a lot harder if I wanted to do well in school.

My literary interests, though, might have developed from that point -- or taken a more rigorous turn, for I'd always enjoyed reading.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio, thanks for the compliments, but when I reflect upon my life, I'm more chagrined at my consistent foolishness than cognizant of any special wisdom.

I can be entertaining, though, and that's not nothing.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

In a couple of post, I mentioned some thoughts and feelings I had as a child. I did wonder if those reading would think, how could I as a child, have such thoughts or feelings.

I think some adults don't remember their childhood and do not think what they do has any effect on the child. The teacher seem to respond to your zoning out as if you had done some evil act. The shame could had lasted a lifetime.

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, were you referring to the post about your mother?

As for the slap, while it doesn't seem to have damaged me, I have thought about it a lot over my life. Or, rather, relived it in memory.

I think the slap would have done far more damage if the teacher had been rigid in punishing me, e.g., never letting me again into the Bluebirds ... but she wasn't like that. And she was very nice to me after she had gotten over her initial anger.

Jeffey Hodges

* * *

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

That and the post about the revolt in Hungary in 1956. I was 11 when it happened. Didn't know if readers would think I was really effected by the events at that time.

Some people I have known, would not have been as resilient. It would have been, as it had happen yesterday.

I imagine you weren't reading when you zoned out. I think zoning out is a response to boredom and its serves the purpose of opening a window and looking at something new.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I don't know if I was bored. Maybe I was and didn't realize it.

As for 1956, I had not yet been delivered from my mother's womb.

Hmmm ... in my previous comment, I seem to have signed off as "Jeffey" despite my concern with getting my name spelled right.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can not imagine you getting slapped in school by your first grade teacher. How degrading that must have been for you. Thankfully, physical abuse is no longer tolerated in schools.


At 10:40 PM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

"I can not imagine you getting slapped in school by your first grade teacher. How degrading that must have been for you. Thankfully, physical abuse is no longer tolerated in schools.


I don't know about "physical abuse", but it woould do a lot of kids good to have their faces slapped in today's educational environment.

At 10:41 PM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

"...but it woould do a lot of kids good to have their faces slapped in today's educational environment."

Or to have one of those massive paddles perforated with 3/8 inch holes applied to thier backsides!

At 6:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tim, the slap was shocking to me, but I was more shamed by being sent down to a lower reading group. Or perhaps it was the combination of slap and demotion.

If our Grandma had heard of the slap, I think that she would have been angry. While she wasn't against corporal punishment with the paddle, she probably would have felt that slapping was out of line.

I'm glad that it didn't occur to me to complain, though, because the teacher never did anything remotely like that to me again, and she was so nice later that I think that she must have regretted her angry reaction.

Also, I liked her husband, the Colonel, who had a pet monkey and great stories about WWII and driving Winston Churchill around in a jeep at the end of the war -- even receiving a cigar from him (and always regretting that he had smoked it).

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't realize that the colonel's wife taught you in the first grade. I spent many hours at the city pool with the colonel sharing stories (well mostly I just listened). He was an interesting fellow and a first rate storyteller.


At 9:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio, one of my uncles used to say, "A little violence never hurt anybody."

He had a smile when he said it, but he was half-serious.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


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