Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My single resolution for 2010 - Lindquist

It’s pretty simple. My resolution for this year is that I’m going to ask for help. At least once a week, if possible. From people who aren’t married to me and didn’t come into this world because of me, and therefore don’t owe me anything.

I’ve never really liked asking for help. Don’t actually like asking people for anything, if it comes to that.

I grew up as an only child who spent an inordinate amount of time around older people, as well as an adopted child who very likely had some trust issues. So I became self-sufficient at a pretty early age. If I wanted to know something, I tried to find the answer by myself, usually through books.

I still tend to be that way. Of course, now that we have the internet, it’s even easier to find things out. For example, chances are 100% that if I go to my doctor to get his opinion on something, I’ve already got a list of all the possibilities from my own research.

But there are some things you can’t find in books. And some kinds of help where you need another person.

I also firmly believe that we were created to be in community, which implies needing each other, and that implies helping one another, which involves asking for help…

Earlier this week, I blogged about the fact that most people actually want to help others, but that we’re often too embarrassed to confess our need. But that’s not why I don’t like to ask for help. I don't at all mind acknowledging that I have needs. The reason I don’t like to ask is because I’ve had people say no. Well, a bit more than no….

One day when I was in junior high, I was having trouble with the math problems we were supposed to be doing in class. I’d missed a couple of days of school, and although I’d read the directions in my math textbook, my computations simply weren’t working.

Let me preface this by saying I was a good student, usually second or third in my class, quiet to the point where people assumed I was shy, never making waves. However, I did tend to miss a day or two of school each month, due to a vague kind of not feeling well, involving nausea and stomach aches. Now, I know it was likely a lactose-related problem. As a baby, I was put on buttermilk because I couldn’t drink milk. But that connection was never made, so no one, including our doctor, had any idea why I frequently didn’t feel well.

Back to the math class. Realizing I couldn't solve the math problems on my own, I put my hand up. The teacher walked over and asked me what I wanted. I said, “I missed a couple of classes and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. Could you please help me?”

And right in front of the entire class, my teacher exploded. “You think you can just miss school whenever you want and all you have to do is ask for help, don't you? You don't care what you missed. You think you’re special because your dad owns a store…” and on and on for several minutes, in a very bitter, very cold voice.

I sat there, numb, wondering what on earth I’d done wrong. I hadn’t skipped school; I’d been sick. I didn’t feel I was better than anyone else. I was completely stunned. And all I wanted to do was melt into the floor of the room.

In truth, I’d never liked the teacher, but that was more because I was a little afraid of her than for any other reason. Okay, the actual truth is that, for some reason, I was terrified of all my teachers throughout school, though I really don’t know why. But I still liked most of them well enough, and some I liked a lot. But not her.

While we all sat in shock, trying to pretend nothing had happened, the bell rang to end the class. Since the rest of the kids were as surprised as I was, nobody said anything to me, other than, “What on earth was that all about?”

But I had learned an important lesson. Asking for help can be dangerous. Not everyone wants to help you.

We lived in a very small prairie town, so after school that day, I walked downtown, as I often did. One of my friends lived on Main Street above the post office, so we’d go for a soft drink and then she’d go up to her place, and I’d walk down the rest of the street to our store, and say “Hi” to my dad, and then usually walk the five or six blocks to our house.

After school that day, for some reason I can't recall, I was alone on Main Street near the restaurant we congregated in when I saw my teacher walking toward me. Short of ducking inside the nearest store, I couldn’t avoid her. I did, however, move as close to the street edge of the sidewalk as I could. I would have passed by without looking at her, but she addressed me, and I stopped, keeping my distance. She apologized for what she’d said in class. Said she didn’t really know why she had said it. I said it was okay, and got away from her as fast as I could. And neither of us ever referred to that episode again.

Years later, thinking about that day, I realize there’s every possibility it wasn’t me, but my parents, that my teacher was angry with. She was a single parent who had to work to support her family. My dad owned a clothing store, and while we weren’t well-off, both of my parents dressed well, they hung around with the doctors and bankers in our town, and they gave an impression of success. My mother stayed at home and looked after the house and my dad and me. And had a nervous breakdown when I left for university. But that’s another story.

I expect my teacher saw me as a pampered, only child, and it was very likely a case of the "grass looking greener" combined with my teacher's having a really bad day. None of us know what’s actually going on in anyone else’s life. We just assume we do, and invariably we think “they” have it better or easier than we do.

The memory of that moment when my teacher berated me in front of my classmates for asking for help has stayed with me over the years, and I’m sure it enforced everything I’d already learned about not asking for help. Not exactly a good lesson for someone who wanted to become a writer, since writers are told "No" by editors and other people with regularity.

Of course, I've been told "No" after asking for help by other people too. But never quite so forcefully. However, each time, I've come away feeling as though it was wrong of me to ask.

And I realize that this feeling of my being at fault because I was bothering people by asking for help has to be a lingering effect from that unexpected encounter with my teacher. And I simply have to get over it.

So, in 2010, I’m going to ask for help. And if I get a "No," that’s okay. I’ll just ask someone else. I can do this. I’m not in junior high any more.

N. J. Lindquist

N. J. blogs on life at BlueCollarWriter.com

N. J.'s tips for writers at WriteExcellence.com

N. J. directs Write! Canada

N. J.'s latest book hotapplecider.ca


Peter Black said...

N.J., I'm sure this article will cause many a chord to vibrate in those of us who find resonance in your teacher and class episode. Such early impressions can leave deep and lasting impressions.
Well, you are very much a helper; and I wonder whether perhaps this experience has contributed in some way to that.
I for one, am grateful!

Violet N. said...

Gulp! What a story! These early experiences carve the wax of our psyches so deeply. I think it speaks too of another era, when the attitude toward kids was different. It sure makes me want to guard my own reactions - and say 'no,' when I must, ever so gently.

Marilyn Yocum said...

Again, I think this is a very good goal. I hope you think the story was worth telling because I suspect all your readers think it was worth reading, whether they are led to comment or not.

I look forward to reading future posts about how the 'asking' goes!

Nikki (Sarah) said...

the impact of our earlier years always amazes me. And good for you for realizing what that teacher said doesn't have power over you anymore. Nikki

N. J. Lindquist said...

Thanks for the comments. Yes, we too often gloss over things from our childhood that have actually affected us deeply. One never knows what will stick in a child's mind. This is one of the stories that will be in the memoir I'm currently writing.

Glynis said...

Nancy, I sure do feel for you and then I thank you for making me take a look back at some of the childhood things that have gone with me and affected me to this day. Like my aunt who told me (when I was 9 years old) that I would never look slim because I was big boned. And the boy in Scotland who spat in my face and told me to go home to England because I was worthless. But then there was that lovely wonderful, compassionate Grade 6 teacher who took told me that I was not stupid or ugly and that those boys who were picking on me were just being cruel and had sad lives. Addy McCloud was my first teacher in Canada. Many of the students told me she was mean and tough. I was privy to a heart of gold and a deep compassion.
Thanks for making me think about Mrs. McCloud today. She made a big difference in a positive way in my life. Isn't it amazing how a teacher can impact a person? I am thinking that you were able to rise above your bad experience, though Nancy. Or at least learn from it. I am thinking that teaching is your heart. I know I have learned much from you over the years. Blessings.

N. J. Lindquist said...

Glynis, thank you for your comments.

I'm sure we all have had good and bad experiences, and it's good to recall both and celebrate the good, and deal with the bad, if we haven't before.

I expect the bad experiences have also played a big part in making us who we are. Although sometimes I marvel that any of us come out strong and healthy! But we do! :)

Tauseef said...

good luck.

Donna Mann said...

Thanks for your blog, Nancy. It made me think of the one room school house I attended. Two of us went through seven years together: he came in first and I came in second. He went on to be a lawyer immediately and I went into ministry later. My dad always said, "Not many kids can say that they were second in their class for their public school years.

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