Tuesday, March 26, 2013


When I was sixteen, I had the opportunity to take an I.Q. test. See, the pediatric neuropsychologist (mouthful, I know) that had been working with my younger siblings for ages also works with gifted children, too, so she told my mom that when my older sis and I each reached sixteen, she'd do stuff like I.Q., personality, and the what-jobs-are-best-for-you bullshit. So as I sat there, my frustration slowly escalated every time I had a non-verbal thing to do. Logic puzzles, patterns, manipulation of physical objects, etc. I'm not sure how far in it was, but eventually I was supposed to be putting a wooden cube made of rectangular sticks back together- I had been working on this particular 3D puzzle for almost ten minutes and wasn't even a third done. The doctor kept reminding me I wasn't timed, but every time she said it, I only got angrier. "I know, Dr. ___, I'm trying." Finally, after I passed the ten minute mark, my rage finally boiled over.

"FUCK THIS SHIT!" I shouted and threw as many pieces as I could fit in my hand across the room. One whizzed by the face of the doctor.

"Okay," she said, eyes wide. "You're done."

When it was time to talk about my results, she said she wouldn't average my verbal and non-verbal scores because while I was dancing near the genius level in the former, I was precariously close to developmentally delayed in the latter. And that wouldn't give a "true" indication of what I'm capable of or whatever mumbojumbobullshit excuses she had.

You may think that was the start of my fear of numbers, but all that did was solidify preexisting feelings and phobias with math. I was almost always the last kid to pass their times tables tests in third grade (the grade level you learn those in my school district), I needed extra help with long division and multiplication in fourth grade, I barely got Cs in math in middle school, which meant I wasn't remotely good enough to take algebra before high school, and then that teacher refused to let me into an Honors geometry the following year, the year I took this I.Q. test. I've never been good with numbers, and that was with my mom cheering me on the whole time, telling me how smart I was and how I could do anything, etc.- I don't remember ever getting wind of any of those gender stereotypes little girls get told.

Quite the opposite: Expectations of me were always quite high. This could partially have been because of my older sis- she took an I.Q. test when we were little, and apparently did so bloody well on it that I had to follow her around the Southern California school systems because all the elementary schools wanted her to inflate their test scores (I can only assume I either didn't take one myself, or I was mediocre enough to not matter). And she lived up to the expectations- she kicked ass in math (and if she didn't, it was because she didn't do her homework or something- yeah, my older sis is one of those lazy geniuses that people like me get greener than Hulk thinking about because of how hard we have to work to do fractionally as well at anything). So her reputation preceded me- as such, teachers would assume I'd do just as well and be entirely shocked and confused when I didn't.

But somewhere as a young-un, I picked up on how bad I was with numbers, so then I became one of those kids that psychs themselves into doing really shitty in math. I'd try, believe me, I'd try- but there was always a little demon in the back of my head telling me it was pointless, I'd fail, I'm stupid, etc.

I still hate numbers.

Statistics? Forget about it.

I was trained to hate statistics. Because people aren't numbers. My mom and grandma would remind me not to think of people as dots on a line or as pieces of a pie graph- people are people, flesh and blood, like me, like them (as in Mom and Grandma). Especially since even from a wee ickle age, I was a statistic in a few ways:

##Neither of my parents went to college, nor any of their siblings, and only one grandparent did.

##My mom's generation was the first to live off the reservation in South Dakota- and my grandpa was the only member of his that left it, but he moved back when he and my grandma divorced, anyway, so I still have a crapton of cousins and relatives there. 

##Iz a gurl.

##Being bullied.

 As I got older and experienced more, all three of those things, along with the constant reminders from my mom and grandma (while she was still alive) that the world is cruel, but we can change it for the better, helped me notice oppression and suchandsuch. I stood up to my fourth grade teacher for insisting "Sioux" is pronounced "Sao," for example (she got so angry she threw a folder onto the table she was at), and I'm pretty sure I went to the principal for it, but that my mom was proud as fuck. And I'd stand up for other kids, even though I'd get bullied, myself. I finished a few fights in elementary and middle school (never started, though- Dad was proud of those ones) (and I never lost). 

And then I started to realize there were more ways in which I was a statistic:


##Siblings with disabilities.

##Alcoholism and abuse at home.

##Certain health problems.

Not to sound Ivory Tower and all, but I definitely felt the race-class-gender trifecta at college. I mean my GOD, there's a reason my undergrad is nicknamed Whiteman. I mean, when my mom came to visit for the first time, it was for my graduation, and on her second-to-last day, she dropped her iced tea onto the table we were at and said, "Oh my GOD! I understand what was bothering me!"

"What?" I asked, freaking the fuck out. Something had been bothering her? What the Hell?

She bent down over the table and said in a low, conspiratorial voice, "I just saw my first black person. NO wonder they don't get it, they're all a bunch of white trust fund babies!"

Yes, Mom, yes. I had been saying that all four years. Good job. 

I did some... stuff... then hit grad school, and felt even more like a statistic. And then what does my discipline want me to use?


Oh, the bitter irony of it all!

I think there's something fundamentally unethical about "operationalizing" people and social structures and phenomena and calling them data and running them through stats programs and then proclaiming you somehow understand the human condition more. Fuck that shit.

Fuck. That. Shit.

And even since starting grad school, I've become more of a statistic.

##Sexual assault (more than once). 

##The stereotypical gives-in-then-never-sees-him-again situation. The one men don't like being stereotyped for doing, but then go and do it. And that I'd be called a whore for, if the positions were reversed. 

##Sexual harassment. 

##A bad prof to work for.

##More health problems.

This Ivory Tower is totes suffocating for a freakish go-getter like me. And yet, I know if I leave, I'll become a statistic again, and in soooo many ways: Another Native American that quit grad school. Another woman that quit grad school. Etc.- basically, take a bunch of the above and add, "... that quit grad school." 

But, I'm 100% positive of a few things. Yay numbers!

##I have a lot of awesome friends.

##I have a few family members that love me.

##I have the best dog in the world.

##I fucking love peanut butter.

##I'm a good person.

I'm okay with being statistical for those things. Absoposolutely. And that keeps me going. Where I'll end up, I have no fucking clue. I know (vaguely) what I want (family, house, career, and I think in that order of importance), but where, precisely, and how? Meh. Keep on fightin' the good fight. 


  1. I was always better at verbal subjects but while I had to put more effort in with math, I still managed to get into higher level classes most of the time. But it was a strain, especially in high school and while I stayed at that high level, I wasn't happy. "I don't remember ever getting wind of any of those gender stereotypes little girls get told." I heard those stereotypes and while I rebelled against them, as I struggled in math, it made me begin to believe that maybe they had some truth in them, at least in my case. But I think there have been studies about how the way math is taught is just not tailored to a certain kind of learning. I don't think there are really math people and English people but the subjects are taught very differently. English encourages you to speak and have discussions and problem solve in a different way. And I was always closer with my English teachers than any of my other teachers, especially in high school. I remember going to office hours and telling them about what I was going through personally in addition to working out ideas for essays and the like.

  2. My parents have always had high expectations but they were always less "you can do it" and more "I don't understand why you're not able to do it".

    Lazy genius is not a good place to be. It makes you complacent and it's harder for you when you can no longer rely on natural aptitude because everyone around you is also smart AND they work hard. Trust me, I know.

    "But somewhere as a young-un, I picked up on how bad I was with numbers, so then I became one of those kids that psychs themselves into doing really shitty in math. I'd try, believe me, I'd try- but there was always a little demon in the back of my head telling me it was pointless, I'd fail, I'm stupid, etc."

    EXACTLY. I think it's still part of my struggle with science now. You get into a certain mindset and you can't shake it. It becomes your truth.

  3. Anyway, beautiful post. I really enjoyed reading it.