You should never try to measure anything by using a yardstick that changes it size and dimensions at random. There is no way to tell if you are growing or shrinking if the recorded six inches on Wednesday is the same thing you measured at ten inches on Tuesday, but it’s a wrench that’s been in your tool box for twenty years and you know danged well that it hasn’t changed size. You realize that there is no empirical data to be had on anything if you keep using a fourth-dimensional yardstick whose flux capacitor is out of adjustment.
Human beans, however, tend to foolishly always measure with their fourth-dimensional yardsticks. The way Texas measures children’s educational development, with a new and harder test every single year. No matter that everyone knows the yardstick is broken.
During the COVID 19 pandemic, I have had a lot of time to evaluate myself and my life’s work. But it is important to find the proper yardstick. I don’t need a broken one. I need a solid, unchangeable one.
I worked for thirty-one years in Texas education, grades six through twelve, seven years teaching English as a second language to Spanish speakers, Vietnamese speakers, Chinese speakers, Lebanese speakers, Portuguese speakers, Egyptian speakers, speakers of that language used in Eritrea that I can’t even pronounce, much less spell, and speakers of multiple languages from India. I earned a pension voted into being in the 90’s and I was grandfathered past the legislation that gutted pensions for teachers in the 2000’s. Of course, pensions for teachers are like treaties with Native Americans. They disappear over time and are never spoken about again by people whose voices can actually be heard.
So, wealth is not a yardstick I can measure with. I am in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy from medical bills already, having only been six years retired. And, since I can’t afford further medical debt, the next heart problem, cancer problem, stroke, or other fatal illness will have to be the death of me. I can’t afford a cure at today’s prices. (I have health insurance, but they pay for diddly-nada. You only have health insurance so you can pay premiums to rich people, not to cover any expenses.)
Accomplishments are not a workable yardstick either. I was never a teacher of the year (or even employed in a district that gave out such an award.) I never walked on the Moon or Mars, like I wanted to do as a kid. I never starred in a movie, or directed one, or wrote the screenplay for one, as I hoped to do as a college freshman. But such things are daydreams and pixie dust anyway. No more real than a fourth-dimensional yardstick.
When I was ten years old, though, an older boy sexually assaulted me. Not merely molested me, but tortured me, caused me physical pain, from which he derived sexual pleasure. I was fortunate that he didn’t kill me, as that kind of sexual predator is known to have done. But he lived out his life quietly and died of heart attack a few years ago. He never assaulted anybody else that I or the authorities ever found out about. So, I actually forgave him after he was dead. And what he did to me made me vow to myself that I would fight against that kind of predatory behavior for the rest of my life. I would go on to be a teacher who became a mentor to lonely and fatherless boys, not to prey upon them, but to protect them from the wicked wolves of evil appetite. I did not do the same thing for girls because I knew that certain temptations might be too much for me. I am not, after all, gay even though my first sexual experience was a same-sex nightmare. And I did like beautiful women and girls. Maybe that part of my life is a gold star in the book rather than a black mark.
And I am a story-teller. I have now published sixteen novels, and I have two more cooking in the old black kettle of imagination along with a book of essays drawn from this goofy little blog. Whether that is a yardstick by which to measure or not, is entirely up to readers. Some have told me that my stories are well-written and the characters are realistic and engaging. Some have told me that putting mentions of pornography and sexual assault into my novels is too much, and that my depictions of nudists I have known and loved is inappropriate, but that too is a matter of opinion. I don’t believe I have done any of that gratuitously. And I firmly believe young adult readers want and need stories about unwanted pregnancies, being victimized, and suicidal depression. I know that when I faced those things in my real life, I benefited from the things I had read about those very things. It’s not like I was promoting anything bad.
But measuring yourself is hard. Especially if all rulers and yardsticks are of the growing-and-shrinking-randomly variety.