Can’t Learn Without Some Earn

Earlier this week, the blogosphere was rocked once again by the tour de force known as Samara. 

She went on a holy rant, describing the broken education system in North America. She quoted Pink Floyd. She made us love her more as she related her fears for her son and our generation as a whole that’s trying to function in an uneducated but expensive society.

It got me thinking: I haven’t lived in the United States in a very long time, so I don’t know everything about the current state of schooling, or lack thereof.

But I have had what you might call a Motley Crue (my brain is so infused with music, I honestly don’t know how to spell this phrase any other way) of American + Canadian + homeschooled + just plain whacked-out education.

I’m certainly not the smartest person I know. I’d never even heard of Common Core math until Samara came along, but it sounds terrifying.

I still marvel at the fact that I can flip a switch, and 9 times out of 10, light will enter my room.

Like Aussa, the idea of outer space boggles and taunts my mind-hole a little bit. I do wonder how everything around me is real, but I don’t question it or seek out the answers.

I’ll never be an inventor or a scientist.

In fact, most of my education, I “earned” through lying and, some might even say, stealing.

I was born in 1987. The #1 song the week I was born was “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake. Forever destined to straddle that line of being an 80s baby and a 90s kid, living with a single mom who was born in 1948.

Yeah, THAT 1948.

She grew up in Florida, in what I’ve heard was a manse (pastor’s house) that still thought it was okay to employ African-Americans to do everything for you, for low wages.

My mother raised me OLD SCHOOL.

When I wanted something, I had to earn it. One summer, I planted 200 petunias in our yard just so I could have an American Girl doll for Christmas.

I wasn’t allowed to complain about food, clothes or anything really.
Also, I was kind of racist and intolerant until 2007. But that’s jumping ahead.

I was educated at private Christian schools through grade 3. I was the weird one, the outcast who was so quirky and self-entertained that I didn’t realize I was the outcast…most of the time. But addressing bullying wasn’t really a thing in 1995. (Lord Almighty, that was 20 years ago. Someone hold me.)

So, my mom pulled me out of school, determined to educate me herself.

According to Mom, the three R’s were the most important: reading, wRiting (REALLY NOW?!) and ‘rithmetic.

But she had no follow-through and I had no desire to learn, since hey, apparently the world was ending soon.

By the time we moved to Canada in 1998 (to escape Y2K, of course), I’d already put in a solid two years of playing hookey. 

I’m convinced that my love for books is the only reason I can consistently spell words. 

Surprisingly enough, the world did not end. In the woods, I’d been busy learning how to light fires in pouring rain and shoot a gun and drive standard and stock up food so squirrels can’t get it, but had no idea digital cameras or Starbucks existed. 

When we emerged from the woods after 4 years in 2002, we were no longer Americans. But definitely not Canadians either. 

In 2006, I finally woke up to the fact that we literally did not exist in Canada (paperwork, shmaperwork am I right? #y2k #yolo) and that to survive here, I might actually need a real education. The SCHOOL BUILDINGS WITH TEACHERS IN THEM kind. 

August of 2006, I walked into the office of the local high school, and was like, “Hi, I’m an American-born homeschooler and I’d like to graduate. Please.”

Through a series of meetings with principals and guidance counselors, I successfully weaved a web of white lies and woe-is-me’s. 

I’m from the States, and my paperwork for living here hasn’t come through yet. But I’m working on it. Noooo I wasn’t. 

I’ve been homeschooled for awhile and I’m all caught up, I just want to complete my Dogwood diploma. I hadn’t officially opened a textbook in more than 5 years; who was I shitting?

Oh yeah, I can definitely pay for my courses if my paperwork hasn’t come through by the end of the year. Bahaha!

It worked. I became a registered student of the 2007 graduating class.

Granted, it was under the Adult Graduation program (for drop-outs, and lazy butts like me) so I wouldn’t be eligible for any bursaries or scholarships. But it only required 20 credits, and they treated me kinda like I was special anyway. Poor immigrant homeschooler. Let’s make sure she’s okay. 

I took part in a full 40-credit year, even though I didn’t have to. I was the only graduating student in the whole world that wanted to be there. I wasn’t burnt out; I was thirsty. I got excited about homework, I liked (almost) all of my teachers, I participated like I was dying. 

Of course, the first few weeks were like being pushed into the deep end of the pool after I’d just learned to doggie-paddle.

English 12. History 12. Math Essentials. Ooh, theatre. Ooh, choir. Computer basics. What the hell is Textiles? Why are there so many hallways? Why are the classes listed in alphabetized blocks? I have to remember a locker combination?

Oh thank God, a library.

My friends were really helpful too…at eating my lunch from the cafeteria. I know the movies make cafeteria food like prisoner’s chamber pots, but really, this school had a legit cook. Chicken caesar wraps, get in my belly.

Mom was a little worried. She knew our circumstances were precarious, but she wanted to see me succeed like a real self-starter, just like she’d been trying to teach me my whole life. Her fears of Y2K were still strong in the back of her mind, that only the timing of its occurrence had been false. Revealing our illegal status and doing the proper paperwork was not an option. She set aside some money for that end-of-the-year bill that would inevitably come.

Looking back, I can honestly say that that was the best year of my life. I know, I know, I’m married to an awesome guy and I’m legally allowed to be here now and life is pretty good. But that first taste of independence and hope and knowledge was so good. For the first time in my life, as I wrote essays and made people laugh in the theatre and sang my first solo to a standing ovation and walked the hallways with my friends who were so recently strangers…I felt like I was part of something. I belonged. My quirkiness and unique lifestyle wasn’t something to mocked. It was okay to dance with a boy at my prom. It was exhilarating to spend 12 hours on a Greyhound bus for a music festival in the next province. It was pride-inducing to have a Work Experience Course at the local newspaper, where I met even more people and discovered that I love to write. Without worry of the future or regret of the past, that year was completely and totally mine.

Before I knew it, actual graduation was upon me. My music teacher surprised me by asking if I’d not only like the open the ceremonies by singing the national anthem but to ALSO perform the Class of 2007’s graduation song – my choice.

My first thought was: I know exactly what song I’m going to sing and my second thought was: Well, crap, I guess I better learn the Canadian National Anthem.

It was a magical night. I donned that royal blue cap and gown, they called my name, I walked down the aisle of the hockey arena without tripping, I heard thousands of voices cheering for me, and I sang my heart out.

I still remember the words.

You can spend your whole life building something from nothing,
And one storm can come and blow it all away…build it anyway.

You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach,
And you know it might not ever come your way…dream it anyway.
God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray, it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway, I do it anyway.
You can pour your soul out singing a song you believe in
And tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang…Sing it anyway.

I sing, I dream, I love anyway.

Another standing ovation.

The following week, I nearly choked when I saw the newspaper I’d been working for post a picture of me on the FRONT PAGE, while singing the Canadian National Anthem with MY HAND OVER MY HEART LIKE A FRICK-FRACKING AMERICAN. No one gave me the memo, okay?! Also, you don’t even know how many shenanigans I pulled to get to that day, so let me just be the only person in the entire f’ing arena to put my hand over my heart!

So I guess what I’m trying to say is…I did it. I pulled it off. I, with a very poor starting education, passed all of my grade 12 classes with nothing lower than a B. I graduated, and not only just, but with honours. I look at my Dogwood as a reminder anytime I need to remember that I am capable of accomplishing much with little.

But as much as I thought I pulled it off, that I kept my secret so well…someone knew.

I’ll never forget the day my mom came home from the school office that summer, completely flabbergasted.

“Carly…I went in to pay the bill for your schooling, and they told me it wasn’t necessary. Someone had already anonymously taken care of it…did you tell anyone?”

In shock, I stammered, “N-n-no! Are you sure it wasn’t the school?”

“Yes. They made it clear that you weren’t taken care of by the school, and that this person was to remain anonymous. I can’t believe it.”

I still can’t believe it either. In my joy and thirst and exuberation, I’d accumulated over $2000 of expenses for my graduation. To this day, I have no idea who paid for it. Whoever they are, they made me feel seen, believed in, supported, and they literally made it impossible for me to ever repay them.

If you’re THE ONE and you’re reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You made my dreams come true.

  

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Sorry Mate, The Beatles Lied

 

I can see you clutching your pearls at my blasphemy now. But I stand firm in this realization, and will proceed to tell you why. 

All you need is love. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Too bad it’s utter bullshit. 

There are a lot of head-scratching Beatles songs.  And some of those were brought to amazing cinematic life via a little movie called Across the Universe.

 But those boys really sucked the blunt when they wrote All You Need Is Love. 

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done…

Yeah. 

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung…

Okay, I can roll with that.

Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…

Mm-hmm. 

It’s easy…

LIES!

It isn’t easy. Life is NOT easy, and love is NOT all you need to navigate it successfully. 

  

And MONEY. 

Maybe I’m making things too complicated. Maybe I’m not being spiritual enough. But the last six months have been kind of the worst, and I’m tired of not admitting that. 

Before we made the 14 hour drive moving back to my hometown, life was pretty good. It wasn’t perfect – I mean, I would have liked a bathtub and a double sink to wash dishes in and a regular job, but hey #firstworldproblems. My husband had a great job laying floors with his dad, and I was finding enough work to get by. We always had enough. 

And then, things sorta crashed and burned. We lost our baby. I couldn’t take the city and its crowded loneliness anymore, so I persuaded Steve to leave the only home he’s known for mine. 

I got a job at Starbucks and lived in a friend’s basement while Steve packed up our bungalow and looked for places to live. That’s how little we planned our move. People said we were crazy, that we were running away from our problems, that we wouldn’t succeed. But we took a note from t-Swift about it, and shook those hay-hay-haters off. 

I was enjoying Starbucks immensely, and after 3 weeks of being separated, Steve and I moved into our new little home, complete with bathtub and double sink. And second bedroom. And closets, oh my.

 We were living the dream. We had plans; I would support us until Steve found work as a floor layer, we would pursue our music, we would heal from our wounds. 

It almost worked, too. 

Then a couple of weeks before Christmas, I unceremoniously lost my job. 

New Years rolled around, and we each made beautiful resolutions to start fresh, keep pounding the pavement for work, investing in our relationships with friends, family, each other. 

Less than a week later, Steve came down with the chicken pox. 

You heard me: my 36 year old husband caught the motherf’ing chicken pox. For 6 weeks. 

  

For 6 weeks, I waited hand and foot upon this man, 24/7. Getting him better was my job. With each day that passed, our money dwindled. And we became a tad…tetchy. 

Because, yes, we were in love. Yes, we had taken the leap of faith to make our dreams happen. Yes, we had enough to eat. We didn’t look broke. But the rent was due, and living 30 minutes out of town was burning fumes in our pockets. We hardly spoke or touched; when we did, we were ridged with tension. Dishes were tossed, doors were slammed. 

Had our haters been right?

One day, the landlord came over to plough our driveway, and I literally hid in the bathroom for 20 minutes so that he wouldn’t possibly be able to see that I was home instead of working. 

Every time I looked at our bank account, I saw the word homeless on our horizon. I embraced the panic and the shame of our failure. I doubted every decision we’d made. I blamed myself, because if I hadn’t been so weak, would we have made these decisions to begin with?

I began to reach out to people; I couldn’t help myself. It’s the most awkward thing in the world, sharing money problems. Being broke is relative, and how do you share your struggle without making your friends feel like you’re subtly asking for a handout? Which, you’re not, but you’re  at a totally vulnerable enough place where it wouldn’t even slightly rankle your pride to accept one?

People can say money is the root of all evil, that money doesn’t buy happiness, that it only corrupts. But it’s a lot easier to believe that when you have enough money. 

Through facebook and friends’ inquiries, I started picking up nannying jobs around town. Steve was getting stronger, and had become able to function on his own. 

And then, a miracle happened. 

We remembered our music. 

Because of our “down time”, we were able to start singing and playing instruments together again. People started asking us to play sets of 9 or 10 songs at art galleries and cafes around town. We might even play a big festival this summer. 

We are living the broke musician life, and while it’s not glamorous, it is fulfilling. 

Every single set, we include this particular song. It is our anthem. 

Because, while living an “all you need is love” kind of life would be nice, it’s not real. 

This? Most definitely, assuredly, and heartbreakingly is.

We made this video 2 years ago, just barely out of the marriage gate, having no idea some of the obstacles we would overcome. 

Carly & Steve: Living On A Prayer

Today, the snow is melting, the sun is shining, I’m a full-time nanny, and Steve has a brand new job starting tomorrow morning. (Send him a good thought, would you?)

Take my hand; we’ll make it, I swear. 

Never Go Into a Match Against an Arcadian When a Big Mac Is On the Line…

When the brilliant author & dilettante Miss Helena Hann-Basquiat asked me to post a chapter from her new book, I immediately said yes.

Now that I’ve read this chapter, I find myself totally sucked into this strange and unique world featuring The Princess Bride and Murderous Big Macs.

Read, like, comment, share & most of all, ENJOY!

 

The Countess Penelope of Arcadia’s Delayed Reaction

“It’s possible… maggot,” the Countess Penelope of Arcadia (a pastoral community in the beautiful countryside of Florin) admitted, while at the same time managing to both insult me and channel The Princess Bride. “You may have been right about Greek life. Sororities are not for me.”

Penny had taken some time off between high school and university, due to the untimely death of her parents, and recently, she’d been having some regrets about not really getting involved with some of the more social aspects of university. She’d been doing well with the academic portion, but found that she’d lost touch with the very concept of making new friends.

I had just picked her up from a social function – some sort of alcohol-free affair designed to help off-campus students get involved with campus social life. Having moved down to Hamilton from Toronto to move in with Penny’s grandmother had played hell with her already almost non-existent social life, and I was doing my best to encourage her to get out more. What can I say, darlings? If you can’t do; teach. (My social life of late left much to be desired.)

“I tried to tell you, darling. There are all kinds of societies you could get involved in – but a sorority? Are you going to dye your hair blonde and become a cheerleader, too? Oh, and the line is, It’s possible… pig.

“Wow, Judgey McJudgementalstein,” Penny said. “Any other college culture stereotypes you’d like to throw out there? Oh, and, bite me. I like my way better.”

“Sorry,” I said. “It’s good that you’re trying to…”

“Ooh! McDonalds!” She interrupted, pointing to the golden arches glowing from the side of the highway like a mystical lighthouse. All that was missing were three Sirens sitting at the base of the giant M, singing in hypnotic tones: Ba ba ba ba baaaaah… I’m lovin’ it.

Sirens or no, we were shipwrecked nonetheless, as Penny insisted we stop for what she constantly referred to as two all-kangaroo-pouch patties saturated in MSG, questionable sauce, bacteria-laden lettuce, cheese-like plastic, pickles, dehydrated flakes that once belonged to an onion, on a processed bun so high in sugar it would give a diabetic a stroke.

I know, darlings, it’s quite a mouthful – but then, so’s a Big Mac. Why does she continue to eat them, you ask? Good question.

“If you hold Big Macs in such low regard, darling, why do you continue to eat them?” I asked her as we got off the highway to head toward the fast food femme fatales drawing us in with the alluring aroma of frying fat.

She looked at me incredulously.

“Because they’re delicious, of course!”

“Uh huh,” I said, shaking my head. “And not because they put an addictive chemical in them that makes you crave them fortnightly?”

“No, no,” she said, shaking a finger at me and slipping into a Scottish brogue not unlike Mike Myers in So I Married An Axe Murderer. “That would be The Colonel, smart ass.”

I really didn’t want to go to McDonald’s, darlings. The last time I ate even a few MSG laced french fries, I re-enacted the pea soup vomit scene from The Exorcist and may have spoken in tongues, I can’t be totally sure. I decided to try another tactic. I began to sing Meat Is Murder by The Smiths.

And the flesh you so fancifully fry is not succulent, tasty or kind. It’s death for no reason, and death for no reason is murder.”

The Countess Penelope of Arcadia gasped in utter shock as if I’d slapped her across the face.

“How dare you quote Morrissey at me, Helena?” She feigned offence, though for about two weeks after I introduced her to The Smiths, and she learned that Morrissey was a militant vegetarian, it was Penny who had given me grief if I even put butter on my toast. “You of all people.”

“What does that even mean?” I laughed.

“Oh, it’s on, Helena,” the Countess said, and rolled up her sleeves as if we were suddenly about to engage in fisticuffs. “You want murder? I’ll give you murder.”

“Cryptic much?” I asked her, putting the car into park in the McDonalds parking lot despite my utter lack of wanting to be there.

Penny looked at me with a devilish grin and began to mu ha ha. Yes, darlings, this is now a verb, conjugated in the present tense thusly: (which is still not a word, by the way) I mu ha , you mu ha, he/she mu ha has, we mu havons, you (plural) mu havez, they mu ha ha ha. Don’t ask me about conditional or subjunctive tenses, I’ve never been very good at those irregular types.

We walked into the McDonalds and for some reason, Penny seemed delighted that the lobby was full of people. As we stood in line waiting our turn to buy our chemically modified foodstuffs, however, she seemed to almost wither. It was like watching a kid crash from a sugar high. I didn’t make too much of it, until, when our turn to order came, she stumbled, and I had to catch her arm. She looked up at me and smiled, laughing it off.

“Sorry about that,” she said, shaking her head. “Just felt dizzy all of a sudden.”

“Welcome to McDonalds,” an only barely post-pubescent young man with the unfortunate name of Ronald said unenthusiastically. “Can I take your order?”

I looked at the Countess, who was leaning one hand on the counter and looking up at the menu board for some reason. She didn’t need the menu – no one needed the menu at McDonalds. Everyone knows exactly what they want when they walk in the door. Who browses the menu at McDonalds? I mean, really, what are you going to do? Ask if the Filet O’ Fish is good today? Ask what the soup of the day is? Say ooh, the McChicken sounds wonderful! Can I get that with a side of pommes frites and some salsa de tomate? Is it free range chicken?

“Yes, I’ll have the…” Penny said, and stood up straight and shook her head, smiling. “Sorry about that. I’ll have a Big Mac, and…”

And then Penny slumped to the floor and started twitching, and then full out convulsing.

“Penny!” I snapped, and looked around the room as people gasped in alarm and stared. “Penny, stop it!”

I was sure that she was pulling some sort of stunt, but then her eyes rolled back in her head and she began frothing at the mouth and making choking noises.

“Penny, no!” I screamed, and dropped to my knees and grabbed a hold of her. People gathered around us to witness the spectacle and pulled out their cell phones to call for the paramedics. Poor Ronald stuttered and stammered and asked what was wrong with her.

Penny shrieked – a high pitched, wheezing cry – and then went still.

*******

One hour earlier…

Penny had been watching the girl in the Paul Frank t-shirt intently, and couldn’t figure out what it was about her that she found suspicious. She usually trusted her instincts, but then, there was always a first time to be wrong, and in this situation, she couldn’t afford to make a false accusation. It would be social suicide.

No, Penny thought, I have to be absolutely sure before I say something. Just be cool.

But she never got the chance. The girl with the monkey shirt and pixie cut walked over to Penny, handed her a drink, and introduced herself.

“Hi,” she said, and winked at Penny, who then grimaced. “I’m Laura.”

It was the wink, Penny told me later. One wink, and it was all over.

*******

I knelt with my head to her chest, listening to her faint breathing, and screaming for people to get back and leave us alone.

“Oh, Penny,” I sobbed in frustration. “Why don’t you get up?”

“It’s conceivable,” Penny suddenly whispered, plainly and clearly. “You miserable, vomitous mass, that I’m only lying here because I lack the strength to stand.”

Penny eyes popped open and she put a finger in front of her lips, silencing me. She mouthed the word maggot, and I thought in that moment that I might actually strangle her.

She began coughing, faking spasms as if she were recovering. She stood up and acted mortified and embarrassed. She got my nomination for an Academy Award. My performance, however, required no acting.

“Oh, Helena, let’s get out of here!” she cried melodramatically, and I indulged her.

We reached the car without me losing my cool, but when we got in the car and closed the door, I swore a blue streak at her.

Penny looked at me, waiting for me to finish.

“Are you done?” she asked, knowing full well that in order to pull off that stunt, she was going to have to face my wrath afterward.

“You went too far,” I said, furrowing my brow at her in an attempt to look stern.

“To quote your best buddy, the immortal Ferris Bueller, you can never go too far. Besides, it was funny. In a couple of days, you’re going to realize this, and you’re going to call me a genius. Because you don’t even know what you saw in there; not really. I’m a genius, Helena. A fucking genius.”

I sighed. “Okay, genius, tell me what I just saw in there.”

“Uh uh,” Penny said, crossing her arms across her chest. “You’re just patronizing me. Ask nicely.”

“Please.” I said. “Pretty please with a side of I promise not to kill you in your sleep tonight.”

She looked at me sheepishly with a smile that was like looking in a mirror, and I grinned back at her despite my still present desire to push her into traffic.

“Yeah, but what about tomorrow night?”

“No promises,” I said, and felt my anger slightly dissipate and my curiosity peaked. “Please. Let’s hear the reveal.”

*******

An hour and a half earlier…

“So this is just a get to know you exercise,” the perky blonde with the sparkling white smile said. “I want you all to go around and introduce yourselves – but be careful – one of you is a murderer. Remember, if someone winks at you, you need to wait an appropriate amount of time before you fake your death – you want to give our would be murderer a chance to get away with it. But if you make a false accusation – well, let’s just say the consequences will be dire.”

She pointed to a bathtub filled with chocolate pudding. The message was clear.

Penny, it seemed, was an unfortunate victim of the wink murderer.

*******

“So I waited an appropriate amount of time – that is, enough time to get the hell out of there – and when you dropped the murder gauntlet, well… I just seized the opportunity.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” I said. “And you scared the shit out of me.”

“It was funny. Admit it.”

“I admit,” I admitted, “that it would have been hilarious if I had actually been there and been part of that Wink Murder game. But as it was, I was completely out of the loop, and as such, it wasn’t funny at all – it was cruel.”

Penny considered this for a minute, and hung her head.

“You’re right,” she mumbled.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, not believing my ears. “What was that?”

“I said you’re right,” she repeated, and when she raised her head, there was a mischievous look in her eyes that I couldn’t help but mistrust. “My genius is wasted on you! You weren’t there! Oh, Helena, I could kiss you!”

“Uh oh,” I said, worried.

“You promise you won’t tell anybody about this?”

I looked at her in disbelief as an idea of what she was thinking began to form in my mind.

“No,” I said. “Of course I’m not going to say anything.”

“Good,” she said, rubbing her hands together like a cartoon villain. “Then I can still use it on those sorority idiots! They’ll never know what hit them. Say it, Helena! Say it like you mean it!”

I sighed. “You’re a genius.”

“Good,” she said, grinning maniacally, hands still rubbing together with glee. “Gooooood.”

———–

If you want to read more, BECOME A FAN at PUBSLUSH and pre-order Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two and Penelope, Countess of Arcadia

Available now! image06 JESSICA image07

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettanteThe enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.

Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.

Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE