On Bullying

In the dark days before The Internet and cable TV, you could get most of your information from only a few sources: your parents and relatives, your religious institution (if any) and its holy text (if any), the newspaper, the television (all three and a half channels of it), the radio, books and magazines, teachers, random crazy strangers shouting shit on street corners, and peers. That was pretty much it. Maybe you went to a film or theatre performance now and then and got dipped into the communal pop culture pool of references that others were also dunked into, maybe you were fortunate enough to be tortured by exposure to an elderly spinster teaching piano lessons or some weird dance class that put you on the fast track to an eating disorder and low self-esteem, maybe you belonged to some branch of Scouting (Boy or Girl) that forced you to interact with a bunch of other little assholes in your age group (often outside, for the added misery of sunburn, insect bites and physical activities that you were crap at and hated), but, for the most part, your choices were limited, mostly local, mostly biased and inescapable. Sometimes bathroom walls were educational in unexpected ways, even if it took you years to work out what all that was about.  Maybe you were an introvert and wanted more than anything to just be left the fuck alone and not constantly criticized and pressured and your parents decided that you had mental problems because you actually liked being alone and did not want to be forced to play with your little brother all the damn time and then you saw a shrink who tested you, told your parents you were extremely creative and had an IQ in the genius range and were just an introvert and “normal” (whatever the fuck that means) and maybe they didn’t stop treating you like a nut, but did add some pressure to excel at all costs because you were now officially too smart to ever fail at anything. If you were lucky or your parents were less neurotic and eager to find fault, maybe you skipped that step, and good for you. Anyway…this is the information with which you armed yourself against the world and tried to figure shit out independently.

No one had the basic common courtesy to hand you a list of rules or discuss basic human psychology and logical fallacies or urban legends or human errors or anything like that. You might get traumatized by old “health” films from the forties that told you all sorts of wrong bullshit things about how to be a good citizen (Spoiler: Obey authority and use deodorant), how marijuana will make you crazy and then you’ll be doing cocaine and heroin and shooting meth into your eyeball and then you’d die, what capitalism is (awesome and not flawed in any way) versus communism (Jesus hates it), how not to drive like a mad person (especially if you have been drinking), and how sex is bad, wrong and likely to kill you but when two heterosexual people love each other very, very much they get married and then they promptly start doing bad, wrong, potentially deadly things to each other such as the man puts his schvantz into the lady’s hoo-ha and babies start popping out like clockwork, bing bang bong, and then everything is peachy keen. As a bonus, your teachers are loading you up with American myths like George Washington and that stupid cherry tree and telling you that Newton had an apple fall on his head, you should never split an infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition, that we had nine planets in our solar system (sorry, Pluto, you got the shaft),  and telling you that the only important people who ever did anything worthwhile at any point in history were rich white dudes whose judgment could not be debated, even with hindsight. We handled reptiles without freaking out about salmonella, had peanut butter sammiches on the lunch menu (and no one died) and played with liquid mercury in science class (and no one ate any). Seriously, it is a wonder we didn’t all just expire from stupidity and ignorance and unregulated danger all at once.

So there you are, young person, you tabula rasa you, and you have a lot of information getting lobbed your way, and not one bit of it is likely to help you if some of your fellow feral dwarves decide that you are a good target for abuse. Your parents will tell you to be a nice young person and mind your manners and pull up your pants (you should) and turn down your shitty music (fuck that; put on headphones, yo). Your church or temple or mosque will give you a lot of confusing and contradictory advice and rules and then you’ll run into people who don’t seem to understand the Golden Rule at all. Books, if you read (you should), are good, but you have to pick decent ones to read, because Twilight sure as hell isn’t going to teach you anything of value. Magazines and TV programs and movies are going to make you want stuff you can’t afford, show you unrealistically perfect people who were Photoshopped and who you can never look like (especially during the Awkward Phase of puberty), and give you REALLY shitty advice. Teachers, they don’t want to know. They are underpaid and overworked and have 199 other students to try to keep orderly all at once, and they are mostly hoping no one shivs anyone or overdoses on crank in the loo. Your peers are totally self-absorbed with their own angst and problems.

Dude, believe me, I know how much all that sucks. You might just have to learn to cope without a support system or go against all your instincts and peer pressure and unspoken social rules and DEMAND a social support system come to your aid. Caveat: If that was easy, everyone would do it. So I’m not saying it is even a little bit easy.

Speaking personally, I was given the lay of the land pretty early on. My parents set me down when I was a little tiny kidlet and said, “Look, kid, if something happens at school, it’s going to be on you. Your teacher or peers pick on you? That’s on you. Don’t come crying to us, or we will punish you because it has to be your fault. I hope we have made this clear. If you were good, then everything in your life would also be good. Bad things are down to you not toeing the line.”  This included being beaten with a motherfucking belt if I brought home a C or worse on my report card. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an entirely misguided thing to do (well, the beatings were a bit over the top and counter-productive, but the forced studying for hours on the cold, hard, parquet foyer floor until my legs went numb when my brain would NOT grok fractions ended up paying off in the long run). We have seen what happens when some parents blindly take their child’s side in every school-related conflict, such as blaming little Johnny’s inability to, say, do his goddamn homework on Mrs. Othmar, his teacher. That does not benefit the precious snowflake in any way. At best, it creates a monster with a sense of entitlement and self-importance who doesn’t feel–or have to be–accountable for anything, and those little special snowflakes grow up to be shitty adults. We all know one. That said, sometimes shit goes down at school and it is absolutely 100% not your kid’s fault, but, hey, you already said you would never, ever come to your kid’s rescue for any reason whatsoever, so don’t be shocked if your kid spends hours a day being tormented or struggling with some concept or whatever and then says nothing but “fine” when you ask him or her, presumably not caring one way or the other, how school went. Because you eliminated yourself as an ally when it comes to anything school-related, and your kid is damned if she or he is going to tell you squat or ask for your help with any damn thing. If you are lazy, maybe that was the goal all along.

If you think I am kidding, here is an example. One of my elementary school teachers took me into a closet, fingernails dug so hard into my underarms that I literally (and I am not misusing that word) had half-moon shaped scars there that lingered on for about fifteen years. I was probably, to be frank, misbehaving in some way. I recall being thoroughly bored during kindergarten, first grade and second grade because, hello, I could read and add and subtract and make a fucking color wheel with paint and all that shit (I read the entire 1972 World Book Encyclopaedia before I was in third grade and I do mean the ENTIRE encyclopaedia) and if you think that you, even as a mature and socially groomed and polite adult, could bear sitting still for hours on end while someone made all the slower learners in class power through “the fat cat sat on the mat” and “if you have five apples and take away two, how many do you have left,” and goddamn fucking macaroni “art” (especially when Curtis over there is making rubber cement gloves, Bob is mixing his boogers with glitter, and Lynah is eating the entire pot of paste), then you are a better person than I am. I could not. I was not allowed to read a different book, or to work on another project, or anything. I had to sit still, listen to someone read the primer that I read from cover to cover three times on my first day at school, and I got so bored and sleepy that I got nap jerks and at least once fell asleep in my chair and then promptly fell out of it. I crawled under tables, just for a change of scenery. I chattered to other children. (This was not always well-received by the other children.) I made toys out of my school supplies and retreated into imagination. I was bored and under-stimulated. I was not, however, a truly bad kid. I was polite to adults and tried so very hard to be good. Eventually a smarter teacher got the bright idea to teach me something I didn’t already know and to give me useful work to do, and all went swimmingly from that point forward, but for a couple of years there I was SO FUCKING BORED and often dragged off to a supply closet to be shaken until my teeth rattled, and to have bloody furrows clawed into my underarms, because I was not mature enough to conceal that boredom.

When this topic came up in conversation not too long ago, my mother said I was simply a bad kid at the time and that I deserved every bit of punishment I received. (It is probably irrelevant that many of my elementary school teachers were and are also friends of my mom.) I look at my little nieces and remember doing exactly what they are doing now when I was their age, and I worry about them. They are smart. They get bored easily. They do not tolerate it well. I hope to hell that they won’t get the “whatever bad thing happens at school, it is always going to be 100% your fault” message, because, even now, they are intellectually curious and full of energy, and have a lot of spirit and self-esteem. I don’t want them biting other kids or running around like little hellions, but neither do I want them to be so thoroughly bored and desperate for escape that they resort to sliding under the table to count the gum wads. And then I especially do not want some pruney jerk to drag them into a supply closet and shake them until they bite their tongues just because they were fidgeting or chattering or wiggling around, and later, if they dare complain, they get to be told how it is all their fault because they are “bad”.

So, anyway, the topic of bullying came up recently over the family dinner table and I admitted that I had been given a hard time. Here’s where you’d expect your mom to say something like, man, that’s a shame, I am sorry you went through that. Nope. Because I went through a spell when I was about six years old when I was unable to curb my expressions of utter boredom and frustration, I am never allowed to complain about being a human piñata later on, because I had to have really been mean to those other kids first. (This is from someone who was not there, mind you. It also does not matter that some of those kids were not even in elementary school or middle school with me. It was still all my fault because I had the nerve to act like a six year old when I was six years old.)

It did not help that I was a year younger (I tested in early) than everyone else and short for my age, or that my female peers were dressed like little Marcia Bradys with little silver ball pierced earrings, long hair, cords, button-downs or turtlenecks and Keds while my mom cropped my white blonde hair into a Mia Farrow “Rosemary’s Baby” cut so short, hideous, and emotionally scarring that I have never had my hair short ever again. My hair was so blonde and so fine that I looked practically bald and then my mother overcompensated for the androgynous hairdo by dressing me up like a baby doll in itchy smocked plaid shortie dresses, uncomfortable and babyish bubble knickers, Buster Brown Sunday shoes, a big stupid bow on my head, and scratchy, droopy opaque tights that would give me wrinkly elephant ankles and inch down until the crotch was looped around my knees no matter how ladylike I strived to be. In other words, I was marked as a huge uncool nerd pretty much from the jump. My peers, when not kicking my ass or calling me ugly or just generally being obnoxious (because they, too, were kids and were acting like kids), treated me like one of those life-size doll babies that would “walk” with you when you squeezed their hands. Nothing like being treated like an entertaining pet, and having adults think it was just precious. No one likes being treated like a pretty object or toy or condescended to, and I may not have had the words to use to express how that felt, but I still felt it. I am sure that occasionally I was not in the mood to be some bitch’s doll, and that occasionally I was ill-behaved (because kids are), but no matter what I might have done when I was six years old, that does not justify my peers treating me like shit for ten long years after…especially those peers who weren’t even my classmates way back when. Well, my mom thinks it does. But she’s full of shit on this account, and all too eager to place blame on me for stuff I barely remember…but you know what? One of us was there, and one of us wasn’t. I am inclined to think that one of us has a better handle on what it was like. Also, I don’t care if I was a raging asshole as a six year old or not. That does not make excusing bullying directed my way for ten years (did I stutter? TEN YEARS) in any way. Unless you’re my mom. So, yeah, that says a lot about our relationship right there.

Allow me to stipulate that I probably misbehaved, I probably at some point annoyed another child, and probably, at some point, did something I knew darn well I shouldn’t do. In other words, again: I was six.

I have always learned quickly and learning how to deal with my peers was likewise a series of quickly-learned lessons that I then never managed to quite forget. Here’s one I shared not too long ago:  “A friend’s Facebook comment about her sproglet getting in trouble for saying “damp towel” in class reminded me of a similar situation that happened to me in third grade. I got frustrated while doing sums and imitated the cartoon dog Muttley (“rassa frassa sassa frassa!”) under my breath and got told on by classmates AND got in Big Trouble for supposedly using a word I did not, at that age, even know yet. But, hey, I learned a new word (if not what it meant) thanks to that stupidity. Lessons learned: A shiny new legitimate cuss word (NOW I know what “fuck” means! Huzzah!) and “my peers are rotten finks and I am better off not speaking around them or to them when I can avoid it.”

Your peers are looking for things to tattle on you about, so you better not rock the boat by being the weird kid who annoys someone by quietly quoting unpopular cartoon characters in class. At any rate, I wasn’t the kind of kid who looked for shit to tattle on people about or make fun of them for, and I could have. There was the kid who wore red socks every single day for at least two years. I was nice to him. There was the kid whose earwax was so built-up that it would occasionally dislodge on its own and make a thudding noise when it landed on his desk. I was nice to him. There was the popular kid who spent most of his time in class catching horseflies and slowly pulling the wings off of them. I honestly feared him. But I was nice to him. There was the weird but insanely rich girl who self-mutilated to get attention and liked to eat boogers, scabs and eraser rubber, which fascinated and grossed us all out. I was so nice to her, we occasionally had playdates. There was the girl whose buck teeth were practically horizontal, who had freckles, wiry black hair that was styled like Joanie Cunningham’s on Happy Days, and unflattering glasses, and she was far from slim, and she was one of the biggest bullies in class. I wasn’t nice to her, since I was a popular target of hers, especially on the bus ride home, when her sidekick (a girl so blonde as to be albino, with white lashes and the same glasses / buckteeth issues as the main tormentor) but I certainly didn’t go out of my way to be nasty. I ignored them. I ignored the fuck out of them. There were fat kids and kids with glasses and thin kids and red-headed kids and I said nothing to a single one, and occasionally did say “s/he may have red hair, but you’re rude and that makes YOU ugly” to some of the nastier kids. But, as I was a non-winner, having me, a loser, stand up for them did not endear me to my fellow losers. It chased off some of the more insecure bullies, but it didn’t stop the REAL shitheads.

Mostly I kept myself to myself. I got caught in third grade slipping off to the restroom with a stack of books almost as tall as I was. I was happily reading to myself and hiding in a stall to do it before I got busted. I was in all kinds of trouble, but, naturally, this is relayed as a “cute” story now. Back then, I got my butt beat for it. But, hey. Books became my refuge and I was one of those readers who can get SO absorbed in what they are reading that you can stand behind them shouting their name and not get their attention. Happened more than once.

I was also sensitive in about every way you could be. I didn’t like loud noises. Ugly art offended my eye. My clothing tags would raise bloody welts on annoyingly hypersensitive skin. I didn’t like being teased (I am still not particularly keen on it) and had to learn to shrug it off or ignore it. This is a skill that takes some time to learn, so for more than a few years I was a fun target for teasing and pranks and general jackassery. I learned how to put on a poker face and not respond AT ALL, which means I learned how to pretty much turn deaf and blind at will…which, by the way, is no fun for the person trying to get a rise out of someone. To give me a little credit, I knew I was handling things badly and taking stuff to heart that I shouldn’t. I could rationalize a way to shrug it off, but it didn’t stop the hurt feelings or rage or frustration. I also stuck to my guns: They could be jerks, but I didn’t want to be a jerk, too. As a target for verbal abuse or mean-spirited teasing, I became less and less fun, but I was still a viable target for far longer than I should have been because I rarely struck back. On the very few occasions I did respond, the person bothering me regretted it immediately. I was verbal and a quick thinker, and if you kept pushing, I just might say something to embarrass you back. But, like I said, those occasions were few and far between, and usually happened only if the person being an asshole made the mistake of not being particularly varied or creative with their taunts. It gave me time to construct an excellent rejoinder and to hold it in reserve to be deployed when there were plenty of witnesses around to hear it. Those who were more subtle or careful not to bother me around witnesses were harder to fend off. A lot of tormenting happened on the busses, where teachers were absent and there were plenty of equally bored kids, many of which were a lot older, who would egg on any kind of fighting just to have something interesting and entertaining to watch.

Ah, busses. There’s the question of where it is safe to sit and too many people who don’t want to share a seat, especially with YOU. There are gum wads and spit balls and loogies that go where they shouldn’t, and your belongings being snatched away from you and held out of reach, and random sneaky jabs in the ribs or neck or the back of the knee, and people to trip up and send flying up the aisle, shoelaces and ponytail ribbons to untie, little kids to torture and so on. The only safe seats are either right behind the busdriver (you baby!) or the very back seat (usually annexed by the older kids). Hoi polloi go in the middle and suck it up.

I’m leaving out a lot of details because some I don’t remember clearly (and I certainly don’t have any emotional charge over them anymore) and because I was BY FAR not the most tormented kid around. There were many kids far worse off than me. One kid on the bus was socially challenged in all possible ways (unattractive, easy to torment, not the brightest bulb, and unable to take a hint) and I understood what it was like to really dislike someone for being a human punching bag. I didn’t join in when this kid was called things (one thing I recall was “Fagatron,” which still makes me wince), but neither did I want to be his best friend, and he was DETERMINED that I was not only destined to be his best friend (because I didn’t actively abuse him) but also his GIRLfriend. We were the last two kids to be dropped off, so sometimes I would actually hide to avoid his attentions (and once the bus driver had to circle back to drop me off because I hid too efficiently and was reading and didn’t un-hide in time to get dropped off). He eventually clued into this and that method of escape no longer worked.  He would try to touch me inappropriately, he would not leave me alone, and I thoroughly regretted that I had ever stood up for him against the bullies. No good deed goes unpunished, and all that. He didn’t understand that someone being kind was not equivalent to someone wanting to be groped or bugged while reading or whatever. Here’s where the bullied (me) could have become the bully to pick on a kid lower down the totem pole than I, but I didn’t. The whole experience just convinced me that staying under everyone’s radar was the best course of action at all times. Say nothing unless spoken to, and then only respond if you are addressed by your correct name (not an insult, not a nickname you don’t like, not a gibe) and with some courtesy, and then only if the person addressing you is not a raging asshole. Those folks are not to be encouraged to use you in their games. At best, if you happen to encounter a persistent raging asshole, you drag your eyes reluctantly away from the book you are reading, fix them with an unsmiling, silent glare, and slowly look them up and down, not responding to anything they might be saying to you during this process. Then shrug dismissively and go back to reading your book and acting like they don’t exist. If you do this properly, you are officially no fun and might be left alone, or you might enrage them to the point where they actually hit you. This is when a bus driver might be arsed to get involved and drag the little thug off of you, so, hey, win-win. Those bruises and lumps will fade.

My default mode was quiet, polite, nose-stuck-in-book, talk-mainly-to-teachers. If you were pleasant to me, I was pleasant to you, but I didn’t give you endless chances to use me as a punching bag. If you were an asshole to me or someone else (and I witnessed it), your opinion and friendship were no longer of any interest to me. Your popularity was irrelevant. I LIKED being alone and never felt lonely, so fuck ’em. Some other bully-deflating techniques that were occasionally successful: Asking a nosy person why they think you give a shit about their unsolicited advice (trick is, you have to REALLY not care), or “why do you want to know?” when they ask you something that is none of their damn business. If they try to give you any bullshit about wanting to know you better or being your friend, when you know damn well that this is a TRAP and a LIE, treat that with the scorn it deserves. Then there was the “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” when someone said something shitty to you. Bonus points if you timed this response to coincide with the arrival of a teacher. Casual bullies do not often have the ‘nads to repeat a shitty comment. This will not, however, work on shameless bullies. Know your enemy. I also found that responding to unsolicited nastiness with something like, “Excuse me, why do you think I care one little bit about what YOU think? Did I ASK for your opinion? Maybe that should have been a hint” to be somewhat effective.

For the most part, though, my occasional triumphs over shitty behaviors were few and far between. I made it clear I liked being left alone and had no interest in group activities (to the point of occasionally hiding behind the bleachers with a book, or wandering off into the woods, during PE class).  I had a few close friends and was satisfied with that and did not want more. I got a reputation for being a poet-bookworm and a daydreamer (guilty) and an artist who sidelined as a doodler-in-class (SUPER guilty, and you should see my English Literature textbook). I had to have an opinion crowbarred out of my mouth in class, and my teachers gave up trying to embarrass me for not paying attention when I managed to prove that I was paying enough attention to parrot back the last few things they said (and my notebooks were ornate masterpieces).

The biggest change, though, was the death of my father.

A lot of these defense mechanisms were only deployed after my father died (I was in 8th grade) and I got a huge dose of perspective. Tell me again, how does teenage bullshit or dealing with nasty peers measure up in any significant way with the death of a parent? They simply do not. I no longer had the luxury of being QUITE as thin-skinned (though my mother can still get under my skin with her “teasing”), I no longer had the energy to keep up with the changing tides of who was in and popular and who was out and a loser, I no longer gave a rat’s ass what some teenage asshat might think about me whatsoever. If I was ever a bit depressed about bullshit high school drama, all I had to do was step back a bit and say, you know what? This is NOTHING compared to losing my DAD. So FUCK THEM.

To be honest, my first two years of high school are almost a total blank: I was grieving (I still feel things very, very deeply and take a long time to get over emotional pain) and I am guessing I was about as responsive as a block of wood for the most part. Which is a type of weirdness that ordinarily gets you extra grief, but, if it did, I don’t remember it. For the first two years of high school, I put on the ugly preppy wardrobe my mother purchased for me that was not the least bit attractive on me, went through the motions, and managed to continue to breathe in and out and get through it. By junior year I was wearing my dad’s old Air Force jacket, jeans I had painted on, and some rather weird 80s clothing with, like, dolman sleeves or enormous cowl necks or strangely-shaped buttons. I was no longer even remotely interested in pretending I was giving a shit about fitting in, even with my wardrobe, and I was happier as a result.

Now, sure, I got the usual fake invitations to non-existent parties. Solution? I didn’t want to hang out with any jerks, so I returned their invites back with a polite “Sorry, I am busy”. I got the usual passed notes in class that, once opened, were nastygrams. Solution? After the first, I never opened one right then and there ever again. I either threw it out unread or put it in my purse if I was not 100% sure it was going to be shitfulness. I got called stupid names in the hallway. Solution? No response whatsoever. I got Secret Santa gifts designed to embarrass me. Solution? A polite thank you before I pointedly threw it out on my way out of the classroom (and I actually feel a little bad about that, now; go figure). My kindness to a fellow unpopular student resulted in him being just as nasty to me as everyone else in the popular crew he longed to be a part of but by which he had been rudely and pointedly and publicly rejected. Solution? I learned to be more careful about who I chose to be kind to, because teenagers are stupid and desperate for meaningless social advancement. I didn’t get a lot of abuse about my appearance, which made me very lucky, but occasionally there would be something. Solution? Break out that slow, mute, up-and-down raking of the eyes from the top of their head to the tip of their toes, look them in the eye, shake your head, scoff quietly under your breath and walk off. They will fill in the blanks with whatever part of their body they are most insecure about, and serves them right for trying to make YOU feel bad. Worried about who to sit with at lunch? Solution: Resolve not to give a shit, sit wherever you like (an empty table is a good bet), and your friends and non-assholes will come sit with YOU. (And this, friends, was the smartest thing I ever did in high school, because our lunch table was full of the smartest, wackiest, coolest Misfit Toys in school, and lunch was, as a result, enjoyable and not an exercise in misery.)

I spent most of my time with the people I knew were my friends and welcomed non-assholes at all times. I was nice to everyone, even assholes, but assholes only ever got the bare minimum of my time and attention. A smile when I walked past them. Maybe a “good morning” if I felt like talking. I would not go out of my way to communicate with them, but neither would I be openly rude. Some days it felt like all I did was smile or nod at unresponsive assholes who had spent years tormenting me or other kids, but that was OK. I valued being pleasant, so I was pleasant: I did it for me. I spent much of the rest of my time talking to teachers, and they proved to be far more interesting and informative than a bunch of tweens and teens. I learned more OUT of class, talking to adults, than I did IN class. If you are the school hackysack, try talking to your teachers. You don’t have to talk about bullying. Talk about what you are learning. It’s likely to be interesting. Also, you will get better grades. I’m just saying. The smartest kids in my class were the ones who were in the teacher’s offices having chats. You will learn stuff. Learning is good. Being dumb is not good. I don’t know how else to put it.

So, perspective (i.e., “nothing I have to deal with today at school is anywhere near as bad as Dad Being Dead, thankyouverymuch”), learning to distrust that other human beings are going to behave themselves cordially, keeping busy and creative by reading and making art and writing and THINKING a lot, listening to music, trying to appear as bland as warm vanilla pudding whenever possible in between one class or the next (in other words, not being the most exciting target), ignoring the assholes whenever possible, being somewhat oblivious because my mind was on other things and I was busy thinking about stuff, pairing up with real friends (safety in numbers), telling assholes to go fuck themselves (without actually saying exactly that) when I couldn’t avoid them, and spending a lot of time near adults (which, as a bonus, is an effective anti-bully forcefield)…that’s how I survived high school.

There are things kids know that parents often forget. You can’t tell anyone or it gets worse. You can’t avoid them, or they notice, and when they find you again, it gets worse. You can’t make friends with other victims, because it gets worse. You shouldn’t be a bully yourself, because then not only do you feel like shit for being picked on, you feel doubly like shit because you are a hypocite and hurting someone else. You know intellectually that the things you are being teased about are not really all that bad, but emotionally it hurts and you would do anything to make the things you are being teased about go away. If you’re fat, you want to take a knife and slice the fat off your body. If you are short, you would gladly hop on a torture rack and have someone stretch you. If you are weak and skinny, you wish you could lift weights until you faint from exhaustion. If you are flat-chested, you struggle with the decision whether or not to pad your bra and feel boyish and childish and unattractive, and if you have big boobs, you pretty much hate life and get really tired of people snapping or undoing your bra strap and being treated like a whore because your hormones kicked into gear early. If you are freckled, you want to put on an inch of pancake makeup. If you have “bad” hair, you want a wig or a perm or a dye job or straightening or extensions or an entirely new hairdo…anything to make it different. If you wear glasses, you want contact lenses, even if they give you a headache. If you have braces, you would rather put up with your crooked teeth, and if you have crooked teeth, you want braces so badly you could just die. If you are pale, you want to be tan and you’ll inevitably show up with orange palms and streaked ankles at one point. If you are dark, you might be desperate enough to buy skin lighteners and peels and risk ruining your face. Everything about you is suddenly not good enough, and yet WHO is telling you this? Who are THEY? How dare they? Seriously. They are stupid kids and you are fine the way you are. Work on what you can and what you want to, and say “fuck it” about the stuff you can’t change.

Look, I have no words of wisdom. I just know that we ask kids to navigate some complex social waters without many useful tools. It was probably a little better pre-Internet and cable TV. True, now you can go online and read that you’re not alone if you are being bullied. That has to help a little bit. On the downside, there is no time off from bullying in the Internet age. Your bullies aren’t restricted to trying to prank call you until your mother gets tired of answering the phone. Now they can call you on your mobile phone or text you, stalk your social media network homepages, make blogs and forums to discuss you (and other people they are bullying), and on and on. I don’t think we older folks realize that as bad as we had it, kids today can’t just go home and be free of the torment for a few hours. There is no downtime. If you are the bullied person, you can’t even be safe from it when you are at home. It gets you through your cell phone, through the Internet, through Skype, when you play a MMORPG…constantly.

Bullying was always bad, but now there is no time off from it. The ways kids torment each other are more nasty. They may have called each other “gay” when I was a kid, but, honestly, I don’t think most of us were fully clear about what that actually MEANT, and I am pretty sure no one actually knew any out-and-proud gay people or had any serious hatred for them. It was just something people said that made other people feel bad. I was never clear why it was such a horrible insult (and am still not clear about that, because there is nothing wrong with being gay). The bullying today is more violent. There are fewer stay-at-home parents around to watch over their kids when they come home from school. Bullies can follow you to your workplace if you have an after-school job. Bullies don’t have to blow up your land line and annoy your parents when they can attack you directly and BYPASS your parents.

Shit’s got to stop.

If I knew how to make it stop, I would. Saying “it gets better,” while that is true, is hollow. Dude, try to stick it out until you can go off to college. I was fucking popular in college and believe me, I would never have expected that and it actually took me three years to clue in that this was what was going on. But, in retrospect, it is true. I had more friends from more varied circles and groups than I had free time to accept invitations to hang out with them. I overheard people saying NICE things about me. I had people know who I was who I had never met. You never know. Maybe it was because I didn’t give a shit about popularity that it happened. But, hey, SHIT GOT BETTER. Try to stick it out until you can go away to college. Tell someone if you are being targeted. Block assholes online and don’t go to their hangouts online to read stupid shit about yourself. You do not want to be friends with people who say shitty things about other people or treat other people badly. You really, really don’t. Because it will eventually be your turn and it sucks. Resolve not to give a good goddamn about some stupid kids who don’t know who you really are inside, and what a good and decent and awesome human being you are. Their values are shitty, they treat people badly, they are acting like assholes and you really do not want anything from them whatsoever.

Keep learning and creating stuff and devoting your energy to getting the fuck out of your home town once you graduate so you can leave all the loser bullies behind. You don’t want to have to have perspective (such as a parent dying) forced upon you, so you’re going to have to find your perspective within yourself and keep an eye on your goals and what you want in life. Find allies, even if (or especially if) they are adults. Do your own thing. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

It gets better, not that this always helps to hear…and you probably think I am full of shit and don’t understand what it is like, but maybe, just maybe, I kinda do.