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26 November 2009 @ 08:26 am
Memoir Blessings and Curses  
Memoir-writing has become a fascinating exercise for me that is bringing people into my life I never thought I would hear from. I've been contacted by ex-wives and friends and family members of those I've written about. At least one person vigorously disputed my characterization of them from our days in the temple and argued that they weren't there at the same time. Fortunately I kept letters I wrote during that time period clearly placing me there while they were. I personally didn't think I said much that was truly negative about them but we don't all perceive things in the same manner. In the end I agreed to change her name.

Most of the time it has been beneficial that I've used real names. My main policy for now is to use real names except where I feel a victim of abuse or mistreatment needs to have their privacy protected or someone has asked me to. There are certain cases where I will refuse to use a pseudonym because I feel someone needs to be accountable for their behavior. The primary person in that case is Mahasraya, also known as Michael John Cody. The fortunate outcome of using his name is that someone from his past has come forward to provide valuable information from before I met him myself.

How Not to Deal With a Student's Crush


With the power of Google, others have stumbled upon my memoir entries. In particular, lately friends of my 8th grade science teacher, let's call him F.K., have been commenting about how unfair I am to him. What they don't know is that an associate of his first family also contacted me last year and told me things about his abusive treatment of his first wife and children that shocked me deeply and changed my whole outlook on him. This was fortuitous because it provided some closure for me and I no longer care to have an answer to my questions about what I meant to him when we spent such enormous amounts of time together when I was 13/14 (and he was 29/30) or later when we reconnected as adults and saw each other and exchanged letters and phone calls. If he wants to call it platonic, I don't care. I still think that for a teacher to spend so much time on a daily basis with a student who obviously has a crush on him is crossing a boundary that is unhealthy for the student--especially while willfully ignoring the student's feelings. It is a form of subtle encouragement at best and manipulation at worse, and I suspect the real reason is to feed the ego of the teacher. I want to remind people that teachers have the power in such interactions and the responsibility to form clear boundaries. When dealing with a teen from a troubled background (absent father, suicidally depressed mother) it becomes even more important to do so.

Someone with an IP address from F.K.'s current place of employment recently posted a rather nasty comment calling me delusional and saying that the only relationship was in my mind. So let's review the actual facts and I'll let readers be the judge about how appropriately the teacher behaved. Keep in mind that he's a smart man who couldn't possibly miss what half the school body knew: that I was in the thrall of a major crush, my first big one.

*Every day after school he allowed me to hang out with him in the science lab. Sometimes other students talked with us but most often they were doing their own thing at another table (we were geeks one and all) while F.K. and I discussed philosophy and world religions or played chess, made jokes, teased each other and generally enjoyed our conversation. By the time we left there were few cars left in the parking lot. School let out at 3 and I remember at times it was nearly 5 when we left.

*Every morning I would hang out by the door of his homeroom, across the hall from mine, and we'd chat until the bell rang. I remember one day he was joking that he had an invisible doberman named Shadow with him and this became a running joke of ours. Yes, silly--I'm not saying we discussed rocket science!

*We played chess throughout the day by telling each other the moves as we passed in the hall. I kept a magnetic board with me and used masking tape to keep track of our moves.

*Several times he drove me home in his little sports car.

*The following summer (1973) I had been crash dieting because he'd made comments about how I should lose weight. I walked a lot that summer and walked over to his home across the Mississippi River in Hamilton. (I had the address from the school paper.) When I showed up I was not sent away or told that it was not appropriate to just drop by. I ended up spending the day and was given a choice whether to accompany him and his children on an errand or hang out with his wife. I chose to stay with her and chatted all day, then had dinner with them. I now see this as a poor choice on his part. My mom should have been called to come and get me and I should have been told not to visit again.

*The next school year ('73-'74) I continued to drop by the science lab and we continued chatting as before. There were a few months that I couldn't do so because I was living in the "county home" after asking to be removed from my home. I was required to go right there on the bus.

*The following year ('74-'75) I dropped by a couple of times but I was attending high school at that point. Later I dropped out and joined the Hare Krishna movement to get away from home.

*I dropped by school in the spring of 1976 when I was once again brought home by my mother and we caught up on events in our lives.

*Spring 1978: I was visiting my father in Hamilton with my 4 month old son and when it was time to leave I gave F.K. a call to let him know I was in town. He offered to come and pick me up for a visit and then drop me off at my Aunt's house in Keokuk. We chatted at his home for a bit and had a snack. His kids were present but not his wife, I believe she was at work that day. He drove me over the bridge to Keokuk and was curious about my husband. I told him I had a picture at my Aunt's and he came inside briefly to see it, then left.

We lost touch for awhile because I was moving and he also moved away.

*Summer 1985 I decided to try to locate him after hearing he'd left town, so I got his address from the other science teacher he worked with, Mr. W. (Aside: I was saddened to hear recently that Mr. W has Parkinson's disease.) I wrote to F.K. and he replied right away. We also spoke on the phone. I was getting ready to take the train out to the West Coast where we were relocating. He offered to meet up with me at the Salt Lake City train station with his young child and fiance'. We had about half an hour before the train would leave again. At the end of that visit he gave me a hug (this was the only real physical contact that ever took place, just for the record, it was never physical whatever it was) and I said "will you write?" and he said "you know I will."

*During the remainder of 1985 and to the end of 1986 we corresponded. He wrote over 3500 words altogether. We spoke on the phone several times, most often when his wife was at school in the evening. I noticed that he was giving his students tests while he wrote a couple of the letters. I don't know how aware his wife was of his end of the correspondence. I have the letters on file.

At some point I was weary of the ambiguity. I will not pretend that I was not behaving badly when I ignored the well being of his wife and finally asked for some clarity on just what he was feeling towards me--was it ever sexual or romantic, I asked? This was his reply:

The Question, I have had a good deal of mental gymnastics, self entertainment, puzzlement, and judgmental debates trying to come up with an answer. Here I am, the man known as The Shadow of the Owl, and someone has asked me to stand still and have my picture taken! Have you no sense of tradition? Image? The mystical? I mean I was thinking of going back to my tribe and having my name changed to The Ghost of the Owl, or The Shadow of the Ghost Owl, in order to better capture the essence of my Mittique (?) image, my self image as I move along the forested mountain trail as swiftly and as smoothly as the line 1/x [asympteticely?] approaches zero and as quietly as the ever lengthening shadows stretch through the forest in the late afternoon. DON’T YOU JUST LOVE IT WHEN I TALK THAT WAY? Did you ever play chess? Did we ever play chess, hell, I can’t remember stuff like that, but I do remember that chess teaches, if nothing else, that the import is not the move itself but rather how it affects or will affects what is to follow. You follow?


OK, clear as mud. He should have just written at that point and said he couldn't correspond with me anymore, or even that he couldn't unless I respected his marriage and kept it on a platonic level.

His wife found my flirtatious response and the next time I called, he picked up and was trying to tell me it was a bad time to talk because his in laws were there for dinner. I was about to get off the line when his wife picked up an extension and told me off and of course never to call again--for which I certainly can't blame her. Of course he could have told me never to call or write again himself when he picked up the phone, but I guess his in laws were in the same room and that might have been awkward. So...it ended abruptly and without any way to process what it all meant. That was hard for me to deal with after a childhood of disappearing fathers and uncles.

On the bright side I am finally "over" the whole thing in terms of my feelings for him. However my writing stands because I think this is an important issue for anyone who teaches to be aware of and because it had consequences for me later in my life--in a story I haven't told yet.

What should he have done back in 1972-4? Told me not to come by after school unless I had a specific question about class material. Told me not to hang out before homeroom because he was checking in his students and I had my own homeroom to attend. Not played chess with me. Not joked around with me. Not driven me home. Not allowed me to show up at his house with no consequence. If I persisted in trying to do any of the above, he should have enlisted the resources at his disposal--guidance counselors, the principal's office, note to my mother, parent-teacher conference, and so on. If he was concerned because I was a student from a dysfunctional family, again he should have enlisted the counselor to help him find a way to set a clear boundary with me while having them provide the support I needed. He was the one in power and there were many options. But spending enormous amounts of time with me, knowing that I had this crush, only poured gasoline on the fire. Ignoring what I felt just made me feel discounted and disrespected and injured my self esteem. I began to feel like I didn't matter, really, and I yearned for some kind of validation from him that I was not getting anywhere in my life at that time. It really set the stage for some unhealthy baggage at a crucial and impressionable point in my development.

I will grant that at age 29-30 etc he perhaps hadn't had a lot of practice dealing with student crushes. I'm sure there's a learning curve. But it would be nice if he at least once had acknowledged that he didn't behave properly and that it had negative consequences for me, rather than writing--or having a "friend" write--a nasty and dismissive comment putting it all off on me as my delusion.

The following passage is from a college professor talking about student crushes:


For most of us (let's hope) our students don't see us when we're sick, whiny, tired. Like actors on a stage, we (presumably) perform at our best most of the time, concealing the reality of our frailties and our inadequacies from those whom we are teaching. For many of us in academia who were "geeks" and "nerds" in our own younger years, the sense of power and satisfaction we can derive from holding a class spellbound is tremendous -- and very, very seductive. And as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong in deriving real pleasure from teaching well and knowing you're admired and heard.

But there is no greater sin in our profession than to use an individual student's crush in order to gain validation outside the classroom. Given that we've established that some crushes tend to be more sexual and others more intellectual, it's understandable that some profs may feel a tremendous curiosity about what exactly it is that a student who appears to be "crushing" really wants. Time and again, I've seen professors make the dangerous mistake of subtly encouraging a crush -- not because they intend to have an actual affair with a student, but because they are hungry for more and more validation. They may hope to entice the student into sharing more about his or her feelings, all for the satisfaction of feeling more powerful and desirable.

Students don't seem to get crushes on me as often as they used to. Some of this is because I am older, and some of it is no doubt due to the reality that my boundaries are much better than they were a decade ago. When I was a novice teacher, I did consciously encourage student crushes because they felt so damned good! I loved the little notes and the "googly" eyes I would get -- and I found myself enjoying the attention way too much. It was several years into my career before I became aware of just how manipulative and unprofessional I was being; I am happy to say that I have radically changed how I interact with students.


A follow up on student crushes: what not to do.

Previous post about F.K.

F.K. can take solace in one thing: his name is not Mahasraya!
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