Los Angeles City College, Political Science class, front row, center.   I am 18, in a tailored dress, self conscious and feeling out of place.   I stared into the dark dynamic eyes of Dr. Kalionzes, the popular Political Science teacher, and concentrated hard on his lectures. But I barely understood the concepts and I did not get any “ah hahs,” certainly no mental pictures came to me from “Political Science,”… a contradiction in terms isn’t it? But then, I was a Secretarial Science major, which was just as incongruous.  In a private session with Dr. K, I said I was having trouble understanding the subject. He looked at me quietly for a few seconds and replied,“Why don’t you just get married and have kids?” (Ow!) I was stunned. The Psych prof did something similar when he told us that if we did not have a Stanford I.Q. score above 115 we did not belong in school.

Dr. K gave me some study tools and in the end, a “D” because he was kind. I look back now and appreciate his candor—I was a sensitive young woman unsure of herself and probably looked like I needed a husband. It’s not an insult, more simply an honest observation.  I did not comprehend things quickly, and then not like other kids did. Maybe he read that in me too. But the following is the gem of great worth I took away from his class:  One day the “old” student,…around 40.., raised her hand for the first time. She had some gray in her shoulder length black hair, and a calm knowing about her. After listening to the young students argue around an issue, she raised her hand and spoke softly; the class got still:

“Not everything is so black and white. There is a great deal of importance in the shades of gray that lies in between.”

And I got the ah hahs.  I saw black and white squares in my mind, with soft stokes of grays and color dancing between. Balance. I could paint that concept!   But alas I tumbled out of City college after a meltdown from academic stress.  I ran crying out of my shorthand class in the middle of fast dictation. I confess too, a broken heart—my boyfriend skipped a Marine Corp reserve meeting and was sent into active duty overseas (there’s another “ow” for you). Not wanting to be left home alone, sulking over my losses, I got a job in a friendly bakery and iced cakes which was fun, and earned passage on a Cruise ship to Australia where I had one life adventure after another. Twenty years later, around 40…, I was literally corralled back to college in San Jose by my step daughter.  I took a painting class or two, and  sculpture classes, and art history. One day I got a letter that said I was on the Dean’s list and I still grin when I think of it today, 20 years later.

Those spooky kids who gazed out the public schoolroom windows, miles away in imagination, who got Ds, or couldn’t spell or were delinquent, or shy, who we teased or who became rebels, or who ended up in dumbo English class like me, but could draw good or could just smell a 57 Chevy and know how to fix it?  We all know them. You might even be one. We all have that in us some place.  In our culture, that “something different”  is the yeast in the bread.  Just as I refine my writing over and over, and sometimes submit to the editor what might not be with mainstream thought,..I go with that something inside me anyway, and fan the flame when I find it out there, specially in kids. That little “ah ha!” thing, playful but really indescribable, hugely valuable, somewhere in between.