For most of us, the early years of life were spent in classrooms looking out at the bright sunshine when spring came around. Those precious minutes of recess were never enough to satisfy anyone. Coming back inside with a fine sheen of sweat on our foreheads, we’d try to settle down but a glimpse out the class window was a harsh reminder: “You’re stuck here until they let you go.”
Occasionally, there would be a break in that routine for a school field trip. Yet even these were regimented tours, shuttled on and off buses after a visit to some historical site or other stuffy educational experience.
But when I was a sophomore in high school and got braces on my teeth, I welcomed those days when one parent or another would pick me up from school to make a trip to the orthodontist. It was an odd sensation to be riding about during the school day. It felt a touch illegal even though my brief truancy was approved by the school nurse, or whoever.
It was ten miles one-way to visit the orthodontist, and ten miles back. The appointments never lasted long once the braces were installed. My mouth was filled with contraptions though. Sometimes the orthodontist had to jimmy and yank things into place. At one point he installed a thick black button on one of my eye teeth. It had a hook installed in the middle much like the L-shaped buttons on a set of tall boots. That held a rubber band that stretched back to a stubborn molar that served as an anchor. It was quite the operation to move my teeth into proper position. It took two full years.
Following every appointment, my teeth would already start to hurt by the time we got back to school. But I bore that pain as a worthwhile reward to be free of school constraints for that hour or two out of class. All of life seemed like a tradeoff. I was neither a completely good or bad student. I was both. I’d get A’s in the subjects I liked but struggle to get D’s in stultifying subjects such as algebra. It was the most offensive form of math I could imagine at the time, and for all time. I got a B in geometry and a D in algebra. I still say fuck algebra.
That hot and cold attitude toward school meant there was always some form of stress nagging at my conscience. Either I’d blown off some assignment or failed to do the homework. Or else the topic of study escaped me completely. Such was the case with government, a junior-year debacle taught by a creepy teacher that had an affair and married one of his students. What could that ass teach any of us?
I now know that some of my distraction was the result of what I call ‘artistic ADD.’ Perhaps I sit somewhere on that spectrum as evidenced in many other challenges in life. My focus is incredible for creative projects but repetitive ventures test my concentration. But I’ve learned to cope quite well.
But part of my love for ‘playing hookey’ from school came from that relief from the pressures of school. I knew that they had not gone away. They were only deferred for a while.
I think about that schoolboy sense of relief these days. I well recall that feeling of being out of the classroom during the daytime when my fellow students were sitting back in that stuffy high school. It was a brief glimpse of what freedom might feel like in the future. For the last year I’ve worked for myself on remote contract and it allows a certain amount of freedom.
That said, I’m highly disciplined about getting work done well before it is due. And if there are tough aspects of learning about a subject to write about it, I’ve learned to do that digging well in advance. Now it’s a reward to don my workout clothes and get out during the noon hour or any other time I choose to go out and run, ride or swim.
Not everyone’s cut out for that type of self-discipline. Working from home or out of a coffee shop with good wi-fi does take focus. And I’ve got that. In many ways it’s a hard-earned sense of freedom. But life isn’t easy or it would be boring. Just like those classes I loved to skip back in school.