What was outside your bedroom window?
Snow was outside the window. We talk about the extremes of weather that have happened in the world lately and it’s definitely true — the storms we have now are more violent, more brutal, faster and stronger than they’ve ever been. But there used to be more snow. I have lived in many places in my life but for awhile as a child, I lived in a town called Paradise, just outside Canada’s eastern-most capital city, St John’s. It’s out on a narrow strip of land in the North Atlantic and it’s still surprising to me that anyone thought it was a sensible place to inhabit given that it’s a land of ice, snow and ten-month winters. Of course, that’s before I spent time in the UK where the wind is more painful, the climate more inhospitable and the people generally enough of a motivation to inhabit any rock in the middle of the ocean just to escape.
I hated school. Not like you hated it. Not because it was hard or because there was work. Not because I had to sit still. Because it was hell. Being around the other children was an exercise in contemplated torture. I didn’t understand them at all — not what they wanted, not how they thought, not what they were talking about at all. I understood adults to some degree, although their complex emotions eluded me just as much then as they do now. I am a simple person. That’s not because I’m stupid. It’s because I don’t see any reason to make life complex. They don’t have a reason for it. They just give in to momentary desires and urges and don’t seem to be able to stop themselves.
On top of that, the teachers didn’t understand at all. Not only did they simply not really have a grasp of the topics they were supposed to teach (how a grown adult completely misunderstands the point of the multiplication tables I will never know but it’s absolutely true) but they ridiculed me and felt threatened by the fact that I didn’t need them. I already knew what they were trying to teach and I wanted one of two things — either they would give me something to do or read that would be academically stimulating, which they seemed to think meant a couple of grade levels higher when what I meant was graduate-level work, or they would, and this is incredibly easy and what I thought they’d go for if I kept telling them it was an option, just leave me alone. They didn’t.
But there was a way out. It was snow. I abhor broadcast media, especially the radio. If I wanted to hear people whining about day to day problems, I could just call pretty much anyone. It’s what humans do. But I don’t want that. Not ever. So the radio is just that plus a collection of music. Often not-quite-music, in all honesty. News that isn’t news for the most part, just stuff about sports and celebrities that implies that those things are important, intermingled with democratic things like politics, which I was against even from a young age, knowing that elected government is just mob rule by proxy, anyway. I love music. I am perfectly happy to listen to music all day. But I don’t need the talking and I want to choose the music I hear. If you aren’t that picky, fine. But I am. I’d be ok with them choosing the music, though, if they’d just shut up and play it. Unless it’s country. Or rap. Then I’m out.
But amid all the twangy strings and voices that sound like they were recorded while unspeakable parts of the singers’ bodies were being mangled then blended with a chorus of migrating geese, there was salvation. Some mornings, there would be an announcement saying there had been sufficient snow to close the schools. It isn’t safe to get there. It isn’t safe to open them. Of course, I knew school wasn’t safe any day at all. I was definitely going to get hurt, whether emotionally tortured by the teachers or physically tortured by students who saw me as other simply because I had no interest in them and was perfectly happy to ignore them. Their parents were definitely training them to be the next generation of angry, self-interested morons, for the most part. They really did think they deserved to be noticed and paid attention to. I just wanted to be left alone. They were systemically incapable of leaving someone alone. I don’t blame them. I do blame their parents. But more than that I blame the teachers, who were also incapable of doing it and they were supposed to be role models for peace in the school. Instead, they encouraged the violence and dismissiveness as if it were my fault for being quiet and staying apart.
Sometimes, though, the schools made a sensible decision about the weather and told us to stay home. Everyone rejoiced. The teachers got a holiday and the students got to go out and play in a white wonderland. Me? I got to read. I got to finally be safe. And I got to spend time with my parents — they were both teachers so if the schools were closed, I got a bonus. Not only did I get to finally escape the hell that was other people and the hell that was other people at school, I got to spend the day with my parents. Much of the day, of course, would be relegated to clearing the snow from the driveway, although I’m not really sure why anyone cared that much about making sure the snow was gone. I’d have been perfectly happy to hibernate until the sun came out and melted it. But there was usually plenty of time during the day for me to sit in bed and consume book after book. After dinner, though, came the best part — board games and cribbage with my parents and, if I was really lucky, my grandparents would be visiting and they’d be included in such a thing.
Snow is a terrifying thing to drive in and I highly recommend avoiding it. When you don’t have to leave the house, though, and you can spend time lost in the pages of something that lends itself well to escape, it’s a dream come true. When I was eleven, I got my hands on a newly-translated book called Sophie’s World, which was later to become my favorite work of literature, on one such day when school was missing from the necessary component of my life. I read the whole thing that afternoon. I actually went back and read the thing again a couple of weeks later, I enjoyed it so much, along with everything he had written that had yet been translated into English — in 1994, that wasn’t all that much, sadly, but I can certainly tell you it’s all worth your time. The point wasn’t which book I was reading, though. It was that I could be left alone to do it. Sure, there were video games (on the revolutionary NES, no less) and using the computer (my first was the Commodore 64, which was a fantastically easy thing to learn to program on, first in BASIC, then in machine language). But there was nothing better than being warm and cozy under blankets turning pages.
Looking out my bedroom window on those days, I could usually see plenty of the neighborhood kids making snowmen, throwing balls at each other, hitting each other with hockey sticks (sometimes actually playing hockey, too) and generally doing the things that kids do in snow. I’m not sure I ever understood why they enjoyed doing them. I tried, not just understanding but getting out there and doing them, too. I ended up cold beyond belief, in pain and just as confused. My parents stopped telling me I had to go out and play, eventually, when they realized just how mindlessly stupid I found the whole notion and didn’t get anything out of it except pain.
I was truly happy to see what was going on out there, though, as long as I didn’t have to participate. I could finally look through a protective window at what was happening in the world, observe their interactions and try to figure them out. But (and here’s the best part) if I got it wrong, I was still safe. Nobody would know I hadn’t figured out how to communicate. Nobody would hurt me.
And not a single teacher could make me look weird in front of the class for knowing the answer.
Once someone told me nobody likes the smartest kid in the class. I always thought they meant the stupid students didn’t. But they were being far more insightful. I think they meant the average and even the other intelligent people in the room don’t because they felt less smart by comparison. But they hit the nail explicitly on the head. The teacher doesn’t generally like the smartest kid in the class. It’s not always true, of course. I love the smartest kid in the classes I teach and I think all good, intelligent teachers do, too. But those teachers are few and far between — almost as proportionally lacking as good parents, one might accurately suggest. I eventually did find a few teachers who didn’t resent me and some of those I have met later in life and been truly thankful for. It took some time, though, and none of those appeared in my primary experience.
Snow was my savior. Snow, that epitome of mother nature’s cold and angry voice settling on the ground around us, something that I can’t stand to have to deal with. For me who has no desire for seasonal change and would be perfectly happy in equatorial climates of constant warmth and absent precipitation, not to mention a general hatred of all things culturally white, snow is a curious thing to long for. And I certainly no longer do. But it was the only thing that would save me from the fires of eternal classrooms. Thanks be to cloud. Amen.