I confess. I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” but I get the gist. I did view her successful Ted Talk that inspired her to write the book. In that talk she made a point of saying to women, “Don’t leave until you leave,” suggesting that women pull back from workplace opportunities long before they have children, simply because they plan to have a family — some day. That’s a valid point. No use preparing to leave the workplace for your family years before you even have one. But I’m taking it even farther back. I’m taking it to school. I’m suggesting that women and girls should not let others do all the talking and just freaking raise their hands in class . . . and say something. It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure if you ever want to run a Fortune 500 company or even whether you like the class. If you’re in school, raise your freaking hand. The corporate world is tough. In many ways it is not an even playing field. In some professions you’re not even allowed to speak if there is someone more senior in the room. So while you’re in school? Before you get out there in the real world? Dang it — if you’ve paid your tuition and you’re going to sit your butt down at the desk for the next two hours, you might as well say something.
As a child I remember accidentally seeing the movie The Paper Chase on television. The Paper Chase is a 70’s flick about a first year student at Harvard Law School. I was a kid. I had no dreams of going to law school. I’d never met a lawyer, to my knowledge. I guess in my ultimate laziness I didn’t feel like changing the channel, so I watched the movie. It stuck with me. In the film, the main character noticed that everyday in class only a few students raised their hands, only a few volunteered answers to questions posed by the imposing professor. Of course, the professor called on unwilling participants via the Socratic method, but only a few dared volunteer. They were the Upper Echelon.
At this point, I think it’s important to note that law school exams in the first year are usually anonymous and not given until the end of the semester. There are no extra points for prior class participation.
So why bother speaking in class, then?
First, because it helps to learn and analyze the material.
Second, it establishes the student as being in the Upper Echelon, and
Third, it makes the student think of herself in the Upper Echelon.
Fourth, being in the Upper Echelon might get a student noticed, and some perks.
In The Paper Chase, the main character made a conscious decision to “jump in” and raise his hand, to join Upper Echelon. Once he did, he was viewed — and viewed himself, differently. Other students sought him out for assistance during the study period for finals. He eventually got an “A” in the course, if I recall.
I’m not sure why seeing this movie about Harvard Law students had such an impact on me whilst I was in the 6th or 7th grade or so, but it did. There was something about the guy deciding to jump in with the other students who had the bravura to do it from day one.
Fast forward a decade and then some. I found myself in Law School (not Harvard).
Like the main character in The Paper Chase, I noticed that there were only a few people who volunteered answers in class. And it was always the same people. The Upper Echelon. Most of Upper Echelon were men. I think there was one woman. She, no surprise, was not well liked.
The second tier was comprised of those students who spoke when called on and would speak voluntarily on occasion — on very rare occasions. These students were sitting ducks, waiting to get called on. If the professor was not teaching the Socratic method they were quiet, relaxed ducks, passively letting the material wash over them. (Well, wash over us. I was with them, with my highlighters and colored pencils and markers.)
And then there were The Quiet Ones — the ones who never volunteered to speak, and would even “pass” when called upon.
In law school, there was a saying, “Beware of The Quiet Ones” as they were often the ones who, when grades came out, seemed to have pulled a 4.0 out of their asses. With that 4.0 they could get on Law Review, and continue to collect academic credentials that would yield many, many opportunities in the legal profession or other any chosen professional career. When grades came out, suddenly The Quiet Ones were the cream of the crop, yet no one had ever heard them speak or even noticed they were there. In my years at my school, The Quiet Ones were women. Reluctant geniuses. Secret weapons, possessed of powers unknown to man (literally). Statistically, however, there are only a couple of those kinds of Quiet Ones. Most silent students were left crying or shaking their heads when grades come out. The straight-A Quiet Ones were an enigma. There’s only one Batman . . . but I digress . . .
I’m not really talking about grades, anyway, I’m talking about perception and learning and opportunities. We learn by engaging. We are perceived to be knowledgeable by engaging. We show what we’ve learned and how we think — by engaging.
So I decided. I would jump in. I would raise my hand. I would talk. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a conscious decision. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a decision that would take me out of my comfort zone. The thing about it was, I was there anyway. I was doing the reading anyway. We were all students. No one had any grades yet. Might as well jump in. If those guys (and one woman) could throw themselves into the Upper Echelon from day one, why not me? I would be just like that guy in that movie I saw when I was an impressionable youth.
I admit, in the night before I decided to jump in I was a little more attentive to my reading. My array of notes was a colorful masterpiece. (It was the markers and colored pencils, you see.) I didn’t know in what direction the professor would be taking the discussion, so I simply vowed to say something about . . . something.
And, the next day, just like in the movie — I raised my hand. I don’t believe I had ever spoken voluntarily in class before.
Heads turned. I was no longer invisible.
After I spoke that first time, I raised my hand again. I argued. I answered. I wasn’t always right, and since it was law school, there wasn’t always a right answer, but my words were heard, my point of view considered, and even when I had no real point of view, I practiced taking a side anyway. I became one of the Upper Echelon, just like in The Paper Chase. I’m guessing that I also joined the ranks of students other students disliked, but whatevs. I walked a little taller.
One day after class a Professor asked to see me. Admittedly, this dude scared the crap out of me. He was not the Professor I had a crush on. See Another Embarrassingly Moment, Another Crush. No, this professor was a classic unapproachable (or so I thought) academic whose pearls of wisdom often seemed to float out of reach above my head. This was the professor who made me nervous, and though I spoke in his class with an unsteady voice, I was always convinced that what I said — or what anyone said, for that matter, was just — not quite right. I didn’t know why this professor wanted to see me, but I dutifully went to his office.
To my surprise (utter shock, actually), the professor asked me to be his research assistant.
Not one of the original Upper Echelon members.
Little old me.
The music student who was really just acting out a scene in a movie she’d seen by accident as a kid.
I accepted his offer, and my research (for which I got paid work-study money) contributed to his book, in which he gave me credit by name when the book was published. He also became a mentor and a professional reference, and my work with this professor, who was a former clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, certainly didn’t hurt me in securing my own Federal Clerkship, a position coveted by many.
All because I raised my hand. All because I decided to raise my hand.
If I hadn’t starting talking in class, he wouldn’t have known who the hell I was, and the research position, along with the opportunities and experience that flowed from it, would have gone to someone else.
But it didn’t. It went to me, because I raised my freaking hand.
I’ve tried to explain all of this to my kids, especially my girls, but they don’t get it.
I’m all, “Did you raise your hand?” And they’re all, “No way, I don’t talk in class.”
And I want to kill myself.
Time to break out the old movies, methinks. One of my daughters has seen The Paper Chase (thanks, Netflix), but I don’t think she got it. I must try again — on her — and the other kids.
One of these days somebody will listen to me.
Just Me With . . . my hands in the air, waving like I just don’t care . . .
I just had a horrifying thought. Much of this was triggered because I happened to see the movie The Paper Chase on television when I was a kid.
Think of the things kids “happen” to see on TV these days. I shudder at the thought.
Related: Tales From The Bar Exam
For a couple of years my husband and I rented an apartment in the city. (Ironically, just blocks away from where he lives now with his new wife, but I digress . . . ) It was in a semi-circular stone post-war building that in its hey day was probably luxury living but had since come to disrepair. If I had a few million dollars sitting around I would have bought and refurbished the whole thing, it had great bones and was located near a golf course, it just needed an overhaul. All the units were attached around a shared courtyard with the “A” apartments downstairs and the “B” apartments upstairs. We all had separate entrances but “A” and “B” apartments shared a back door. The complex had an absentee owner but it was managed by one of the tenants who lived in the “B” apartment above me.
At the time, my husband and I were child-free and I was a student, so although he had regular day-time work hours and nighttime sleep hours, I was out a good portion of the day and up a good portion of the night.
The manager/neighbor upstairs was a nice enough guy, at first. I’ll call him Kenny. Kenny’s day job was managing the complex. I soon realized that Kenny’s other day job was selling drugs. There were too many short visits, too many exchanges of small items. Yet Kenny was a “family” man. He was married to, let’s call her, Laura. They had a son, little Kenny, who at the time was about four years old. He was a really cute kid, an unusually cute kid, actually — and a real sweetheart.
A neighbor next to me used to come out and practice Tai Chi and little Kenny would just sit down and stare at her, but he was very quiet and respectful. When I sat outside with or without my dog he would visit and talk with me about life the way only a four-year-old could. His mother knew where he was and that I was cool — meaning safe. I really liked that kid, and I admit I don’t warm up to every child.
I started to cool on Big Kenny, though. I soon realized that big Kenny had another dark side, other than the illegal drug activity. My husband and I would hear he and Laura arguing, yelling, screaming. It wasn’t pretty. Actually, we would hear him yelling at Laura. The building was old and the walls were very thick and we couldn’t always make out words, but there is an unmistakable tone of voice — that sound that means somebody has lost control. Some couples are screamers, that’s the way they argue. My husband and I were no strangers to the occasional loud argument, but we could sometimes hear Laura crying and as I said, there was something about Big Kenny’s tone. Laura worked during the day so these “situations” usually happened at night.
Occasionally, I would see Laura come and go. She was a small woman, probably in her early twenties, but looked like she’d lived a century. Her hair was usually just pulled back in a short ponytail, no make-up, her eyes were sunken with dark circles. I could tell she was brought up with manners, because she always spoke nicely but she avoided eye contact and small talk and almost scurried away. Maybe she was embarrassed by the thought that I could hear how her husband treated her? I don’t know. Maybe Kenny didn’t want her making friends with the neighbors.
During the summer months big Kenny spent more time outside, not working on the apartments, of course. No, he was working on his car, listening to gangsta rap, meeting “visitors” and, as I could tell when I had to pass him, sampling some of his product.
Drug dealing is a dangerous vocation. People get angry, people get ripped off, people get paranoid. I wasn’t going to live there forever, but in the meantime, I’d keep an eye on this guy.
Kenny started to get even meaner. The late night fights with his wife escalated in intensity and frequency. My husband and I would lay in bed and hear muffled yelling. Soon we heard crashes — things got broken.
My husband and I discovered that if we made noise, it would stop. I guess once Kenny realized there might be a witness he would calm down. So my husband and I got into a habit of making noise whenever heard them fighting upstairs. We would start talking really loudly, knocking on furniture, making our dog bark, turning up the television, etc. It would usually stop. One night it got so bad I sent my husband to actually knock on their door. Of course, they didn’t answer. Still, our noise making temporarily stopped whatever was going on up there. It became a semi-regular routine.
I would see Laura from time to time. I admit I didn’t know what to say. I was much younger then, and I was a different person, up to my eyeballs in a co-dependent yet not physically abusive relationship with a man. I wish I had known how to help her better back then. The Roxanne now would have been blunt in offering help, talked about shelters, asked to drive her somewhere, anywhere. But back then I took a more passive approach by making my presence known during the fights and when I saw Laura, hoping she would just know that I cared, that I knew, though I didn’t say the words out loud. I didn’t realize that perhaps Laura might have needed a more direct approach.
I handled many things passively back then . . . .
Big Kenny was a big asshole, but he was also a drug dealer who managed my building and I was alone in my apartment a lot. I didn’t know what else to do.
One night it got really bad. There was yelling, screaming, crying, crashing and then — it sounded as if Kenny threw his wife down the stairs.
“I’m calling the police,” I said. And I did, while making a whole lot of noise. Things got quiet, suddenly, as was usually the case when we became the noisy neighbors. Whatever was happening up there had stopped, again. I just hoped Laura wasn’t badly injured.
The police came. Kenny and Laura refused to even answer the door. Laura came to the window and told the police she was fine. The police said there was nothing they could do if the woman doesn’t complain since they didn’t witness the abuse. So all we had accomplished was stopping the fight that night — and I guess we created a record. Small victory. Now I was afraid of what big Kenny would do to her when I wasn’t around.
Big Kenny needed to have his butt kicked, big time. His very presence was pissing me off, and he had this adorable son who he didn’t deserve, and a wife who did not deserve to be treated like that.
My purposeful noise making increased, not just during the fights — but when Kenny had his visitors, whenever Kenny went in or out of the house, whenever I was home. I would go outside for no reason to let him know when I was there. I just wanted him to know I was watching him. Jerk.
Then one day, Laura was gone.
Little Kenny was gone, too. At first, I thought they were just gone for a day, a weekend, but then big Kenny seemed to be on his own. I’m suspicious by nature, I’ve been known to often suspect foul-play, it’s just where my mind usually goes, see “What Happened In My House?” but not this time, somehow I felt that Laura finally just left. At least that’s what I hoped.
Fast forward over a year later. My husband and I had since bought a house and moved out of that apartment complex. I was downtown, making my way to the train out to the suburbs. As I was walking some woman stepped right up to me and said,
“Hi, Roxanne!” She was all smiles and seemed to know me.
I had no idea who she was. I put my mind through some mental gymnastics trying to figure out how I knew this woman, since she clearly knew me — Was it law school? Had I worked with her? Was she some sort of family friend I can’t place?
I guess I hadn’t hid my confusion very well because she finally said,
“Roxanne, it’s Laura. You know, with little Kenny.”
My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t hide it. Because this woman looked gooooood. I mean, her skin was healthy, her make-up was flawless, her cheeks were plump, her hair was out and styled, she sported a cute outfit. This woman had it together. She was unrecognizable — in a good way. I never would have known it was her if she hadn’t stopped me. Never in a million years.
I had to say, “Oh my God, you look so good!”
She knew exactly what I meant and simply said,
“Thanks. I got away. “
“How’s little Kenny?”
“He’s great. We’re both great. I’m done with him [Big Kenny].” I knew exactly what she meant. “I got out.”
She told me she’d moved out of the city and was doing just fine. It showed.
I had to hug her, and I’m not a hugger by nature. I told her I’d often wondered how she was and added, “It was so good to see you.” It was heartfelt.
I had never before been so happy to run into somebody I didn’t recognize.
I think I smiled for the rest of that day, and I’m smiling as I write this.
I never saw her again. But I never worried about her again, either.
I tip my hat to Laura, “You go girl. Here’s to one that got away.”
Just Me With . . . a happy ending.
P.S. I wish I had done more to help her. Now, looking back, my mind fills with the “I should have done this, I could have done that . . . ” and Big Kenny should have done time — for something, anything. But I am just glad Laura got away. I don’t need to be the hero. Laura did it. She got away.
I am the most bitter of bitter, clinically depressed and all around down in the dumps – – most of the time. But something strange happened, something occurred to me that made me . . . . smile. I think I just heard a collective gasp from my readers, it’s shocking I know, really shocking. But I smiled . . . I smiled . . . regarding the impending nuptials of my ex-husband, a man I had been with since the tender age of 16, a man with whom I share the only children I’ll ever have, a man who, after many years of marriage, suddenly told me, simply, “I have to go,” on one snowy night after we had put our children to bed.
Now, a mere four months after our prolonged and contentious divorce became final, he has announced plans to remarry (well, he left me a voice mail). Though I do think it sets a better example for our tween and teen children, I have many concerns, many scowls and curses about the whole idea of it and the manner in which it has unfolded. All fodder for another post for another day . . . maybe, . . . or maybe not.
But the story today is not so vile
The story today is about my Grinch-like smile,
which started out small and then started to grow . . .
it started, of course, when I realized and thought . . .
I thought and I realized that them tying the knot
means a knot will be tied and . . . he’s all knotted up!
In other words, minus the bad Seuss inspired prose.
He’ll be married while I– am– free!
My ex-everything will be on lock down, committed, his relationship and his ownership of property will be governed by our state’s laws, he will be bound in matrimony. His dating and new relationship days are over. Even now, he’s running around getting stuff for the wedding and speaking in the royal “we” while I am, in a word — free.
This is all new for me. I was married young and for many years. For most of my life, I was someone’s girlfriend, someone’s wife; hell, I was his girlfriend, his wife. Now, I’m not. Did you hear it? Did you feel it? There has been a small shift somewhere in the universe and everything has changed . Next month, he’ll be somebody’s husband and I’ll be NOBODY’S wife. (smile) In a strange way, this has set me free in a way that separation and divorce and even other men did not. This is a statement to the world that our epic romance, and crippling break-up — is — over. And the fact that I’m okay with that part of it, even though I was royally dumped, will be so much more obvious when he makes his vows to another woman and . . .
I . . .DON’T . . . LAY . . . DOWN . . . AND . . . DIE.
Oh, I’m still pissed about a lot of things, don’t get me wrong. Sure there will be more announcements, more crap to deal with; it’s another chapter in a book I didn’t want to read. And I’m not even addressing here my larger concerns about difficulty dealing with them both where the kids are concerned, his lingering hostility toward, pity and disrespect of me, the fact that I never got a chance to be single while younger and without children, the opportunities I may have missed because I married young, and that he is getting a do-over in a way, as a woman and mother, I cannot. But . . . still . . . I’m free.
Soon, we will no longer just be living separately. He’ll be living married and I’ll be living single. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I haven’t jumped into the dating waters with both feet. I stick my toes in, maybe up to my knees, then get out where it’s warm, apply my sun (man) screen and enjoy the fresh air. However, whenever I do get in — whether I jump, inch in slowly, get pushed or perhaps pulled in, it’ll be my thing. I’ll make stories to tell, stories that for once, don’t include him.
“Oh the places [I’ll] go . . .”
And you know what? I don’t have to settle for the random landscaper dude. I can do better. I deserve better.
Just Me With . . . a smile. heh heh heh
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