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Katzenhaus Books

Where We Tell the Stories behind the History


How I Came To Love Being a Misfit

Posted on June 3, 2014 at 4:44 PM
Growing up, I always had trouble fitting in with those around me.  I was too near-sighted to play ball, and too uncoordinated to ride a bike. I even got kicked out of a tap-dancing class at the age of five. The teacher pulled my mother aside and suggested, “Take her to the library on Saturday afternoons instead of bringing her here. We’ll all be happier.” Without effort, I got the highest grades in my grade school class and the highest scores on all those standardized tests.  What an irritating kid I must have been!

I started teaching high school English  when Iwas barely twenty-one, but the job aged me rapidly. Not that it was hard—the kids were great. But other people? Not so great. I was shocked the first few times I received a strange reaction when my husband introduced me to his friends and colleagues. The conversations would go something like this:

  • “Hello, I understand you’re Lt. Schriber’s wife.”
  • “Yes, hi, I’m Carolyn.” (big smile, hand extended, eager to please).
  • “How are you settling in?”
  • “Just fine, thanks, although we may face some minor bumps when I start work next week.” (a little shrug)
  • “Oh, you work? What do you do?”
  • “I’m going to be teaching English at (local) High School.” (proud and excited to have found a job)
  • “Oh.” (new person makes rapid escape, leaving me standing there feeling abandoned.)

The “Oh” was often followed by one of several responses:
  • “Excuse me, I’m needed in the kitchen.”
  • “I always hated English.”
  • “You don’t look old enough to be an English teacher.”
  • “I thought they were all elderly ladies with warts on their chins."
  • “Oh, dear, now I’ll be afraid to talk to you.”
  • “You’re going to correct my grammar, aren’t you?”

You get the idea. People shied away from me if they were self-conscious about a lack of education, or they shunned me if they had had a bad school experience. I even considered lying about it and saying I was a home economics teacher, until I realized that then no one would ever invite me to dinner. In the 60s, many people feared teachers or actively disliked them. I’d have been much more popular if I had been a shoe clerk.

Still, I have been a misfit for most of my life, and it took me a long time to realize that those who don't fit into their society are often the most interesting people around. It amuses me now to find that strangers react with interest and curiosity when they hear that I’m a writer.  Actually, they should be even more afraid.  As an English teacher, I don’t think I ever corrected someone’s grammar outside of the classroom.  But as a writer? I’m constantly on the lookout for people with funny quirks, odd mannerisms,  or interesting stories. And the danger of ending up in one of my books is much greater than that of getting your fingers slapped for misusing a verb tense.

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