Alas: Required Reading


All through elementary school, after those disastrous first Dick and Jane episodes, I was able to choose what I read. Sometimes we had to try different categories, such as biography, history, folk tales and fiction, but we were able to choose titles within those categories. We then had to write book reports about each one we read. These were generally delivered in front of the class in such a way as to intrigue the other students without revealing too much of the plot. Most of the reports ended, “if you want to know what happens, you will have to read the book.” It got so we could chant it in unison.

But alas, in high school, I once again was forced to read the same book as everyone else in the class. Fortunately, I still spent my time in the library stacks, slowly reading my way around the alphabet. But the English classes had set curricula for each year: a novel, a Shakespeare play, some poetry, occasional short stories and not much else. As you can imagine, this meant we spent weeks on one book. We were assigned a chapter at a time. A dreadful way to read anything.

Of course, I was incapable of stopping after one chapter and always immediately read the whole book. The classic collision of me and the English teacher came in my senior year when the novel was Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. The teacher was agonizingly slowly leading the class in a discussion of the minutia of each chapter. Then she asked me some question. When I answered it, she said “You can’t know that yet!” I tried to stay silent after that, and she stopped asking me questions.

Nightmares of High School P.E.


When I was entered high school in 1960, there was great pressure to have us be “fit.” President Kennedy stressed regular exercise and the Royal Canadian Air Force Exercises were widely recommended. There were prescribed exercises, one routine for all women and one for all men.

High school gym class was required, and we met every day, dressed down into gym clothes and did group exercises in classes of 30 or so. At the end of every class, we stripped naked and ran through a series of showers back to our lockers to get dressed and on to our next class. If you were having “that time of the month,” you could wear shorts into the shower room. The gym teacher diligently checked off which girls were wearing shorts. I assume she was checking for pregnancy, though she never said. Because I was a late bloomer and not regular, I avoided the teacher’s  attention by copying the cycle of the girl in the locker adjacent to me, wearing shorts each time she needed them.

If you are thinking the whole time was a nightmare, you would be right. This was the memory I took to the gym and first met Paul who needed to understand my present level of fitness before he could begin to work with me. I was questioning my sanity as we began the assessment.