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Hand Book of a Hidden Man, Part 7: I Go To School

01-28-2023 | By Dan Zimmerman | Issue 125

What Happened Before

Before the emotional drama I'm about to relate took place, something happened to set the stage.

It was a typical sunny day in San Luis Obispo. When he wasn't busy with church work, Dad usually had a project going around the house. He liked to worked with his hands. Mostly he preferred working with wood, but on this particular day he was painting the fence that skirted our front yard.

It might have been left over from another project; either that or someone in the church had given him an extra gallon of bright red paint they had laying around. It's difficult to think of another reason why he would choose to paint the fence that color.

It was rather garish, but I loved it! Maybe this factor had something to do with why he chose the paint. He saw I was interested. This must be why Dad decided to let me help. He was a smart dad. And he knew it was water-base paint, how that would make for easy cleanup. I was enthralled, utterly immersed wielding that great, big brush laden with bright, wild color.

I slathered it over every inch of fence I could reach.

Of course Dad painted some of it, too.

There wasn't a danger of me hurting anything. Maybe I dribbled a few drops on the grass but... no big deal... it was a grand experience, so freeing, and so red!

What Happened That Day

Fast-forward a few days. Mom is leaning over my bed. Trying to sound enthusiastic, she whispers, "Time to get up now, Danny. It's your first day of school!"

Recently she had been saying I would be going to school soon, but I didn't have the slightest idea what she was talking about. But now, the day had arrived.

I imagine she was anticipating this break from having to watch me all the time, not because I was very naughty, but more because I was so very curious and continually got my hands into stuff. I've always been a wee bit messy. Not sure it's true, but I've heard it's a trait of creative types. I think Mom welcomed the thought of someone else having to pick up after me.

But first she needed to get me there. Like I said, even when she had described it in glowing terms, I was not interested. She spoke of "all-the-new-friends-I'd-be­ making-and-the-neat-new-things-I'd-be-learning." I like to think now that I flashed her a cool, blank stare, but hey, I was only five. I probably just whined.

Somehow, she got me dressed and deposited in the back seat of our four-door, drove through small-town San Luis Obispo to the block-like, institutional-looking Kindergarten building, where she pulled up in front.

She got out, making soft, assuring sounds, and went to open the back door, next to which I was seated. I knew she was intending to simply "help me out." But I was ready for her, and scooted quickly to the opposite side of the car. A terrible back-n-forth drama commenced, her cooing and my loud crying as the soundtrack. I wriggled back and forth across the seat several times, but was finally apprehended.

I barely remember the moment she dropped me off inside. It was probably a direct transfer—me into the arms of the teacher.

What Happened Then

A pivotal event happened soon after that first day.

My teacher gave all the kids an opportunity to paint!

She passed a sheet of paper to each of us; we probably taped it to the table, because this was going to be a wet exercise. In front of us were jars with several colors of paint, and brushes, too. I grabbed a big, fat one. I think she instructed us to paint a "pretty picture" or "something beautiful we could take home to show Mom and Dad."

Actually, I didn't have to think too hard about what to do, or look what the other kids were doing. I was rehearsed. It was fresh in my mind. I took that brush in hand and—painted the entire paper in front of me solid red!

The atmosphere was thick with anticipation.

I seem to remember (or is it a dream?) the teacher circling the classroom, admiring all the other kids' work, but saying nothing to me, not one word. She looked over my shoulder, but was noticeably tight­ lipped about what I had done.

What Happened After That

Soon after this, however, my kindergarten teacher made an appointment. She wanted to have a private conference with my parents. I only learned much later what went down that day. It wasn't pretty.

I imagine she said something like, "I'm concerned about your son... been wondering if he might not have psychological problems. His disturbing painting says to me he might be bottling up some hidden anger.

Is everything all right at home?"

I bet Dad got a good laugh out of this, and immediately told her about my helping him paint the fence red, which must've changed the tenor of the conversation a bit. Mom was probably just angry.

But it's not funny to me.

Now, it wouldn't be fair to say my relationship with school was completely painful. Maybe I'll settle for saying it wasn't a smooth ride, or that our ongoing relationship could best be described as conflicted.

The System

To be fair, what my mother told me about school turned out to be... almost true. It did teach me useful skills, did introduce me to many interesting people, and..it certainly fed me a ton of information!

But how much information does a person really need? How much can one actually use? And how much time does it take for the system to enter all that data into our brains?

Of course then everything has to be filed correctly. A place for everything and every thing in its place. I soon noticed that categorization was enforced. The compartmentalization of each department was determined and the partitions between the categories were maintained and kept strictly separate.

What would the potentialities of life have looked like if I hadn't been loaded up like that, if my head hadn't been broken into all those categories? And what about all the years the system burned through in its determination to form me that way?

What if I suddenly had all that time back?

Thank heavens the operation wasn't successful; I noticed eventually what had been happening. Halfway through college it dawned on me. I had been losing touch with certain things deep and precious, spaces both inside and outside, both remote and immediate. Seemingly all of a sudden, there were dimensions of myself I was unfamiliar with, sympathies I had known before, intuitive capacities and aptitudes I had once been conversant with.

It was like suddenly waking up to discover that a spiritual umbilical cord had been cut, and that the system I was being shaped by now seemed bent on becoming my new lifeline.

I wrestle with these thoughts. I'm not certain it's a completely correct assessment of the situation, but I have my suspicions.

I do know, however, that I still feel like a fish out of water. Crazy to say, most of my life I've thought maybe there was something wrong with 1ne, not the system.

It still happens. Out of the blue, someone will come up and ask, "Why do you find it so hard to be happy?"

Indeed, why can't I just..."adjust to life?"

Time was—whenever I thought about these things, I would start seeing red. Now I've learned creative ways of navigating the situation. Hence, this book. The best thing to do, however, is to laugh, if you can.