Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Frightening Nature of Architecture

I have always hated new schools. I can't remember my first day of kindergarten, but I'm sure I threw up. I think I was born with a genetic fear of being that one lone kid walking into the class after the bell, being stared at as I search for an empty seat, getting that disapproving glare from the teacher. I shudder at the thought to this day.

In my hometown, the schools used to be set up in three age groups: K-5, 6-8, 9-12. I vividly remember the feeling of dread that filled me for most of fifth grade. In fact, fears of losing my locker, forgetting the combination, not finding my classes, (not to mention changing before gym class) got so bad that I developed a stress-related off-shoot of OCD called trichotillomania. In layman's terms, I got so stressed I pulled my hair out.

The transition to high school was made easier by the knowledge that I wasn't the only one intimidated by the prospect of navigating three floors of hallways and stairs in the three minutes between classes. But the summer before my senior year, I moved. I, like so many other children of divorce, moved from one parent's house to the other's, and ended up in a much larger school. By this time I was seventeen and old enough to kind of disguise my trepidation. And I was sure that I could find my classes simply by looking at the room numbers on my schedule. I was wrong. This was a very old school, one which had been built on to and remodeled several times. This school had wings, odd little hallways that shot off at strange angles from the main building, and hidden stairways that led only to one or two rooms per floor. Take the wrong turn and instead of Algebra, you could end up walking out of the supply closet in the Art room. But I made it, with plenty of odd new-kid glances, and graciously offered directions from fellow students which more times than not led me to freshman remedial PE rather than the Political Studies class I'd asked for. And when I finally walked out of that school for the last time, I swore I would never be a new kid again. I would never, ever, attempt to navigate the halls of a new school for as long as I lived. This is no small part of why I never attempted college.

But now, out of a desire to find some direction for my life, I am going to break that vow. I am going to take some classes, in not one, but two, separate colleges. It's only two classes, and they offer no credit hours toward any sort of degree (in fact, I found them only in the paper flyer that comes mass-mailed every fall offering yoga, basketweaving, and "E-Mail For Seniors"), but it's enough to revive that dormant hibernating beast that is my Fear of Educational Architecture.
I have a theory, and I have no proof to back it up aside from my own intuition. But I believe that the same architects who design hospitals and clinics also design schools. Those are the only two sorts of places where walking out of a room presents you with a hallway which looks identical in both directions at the same time as looking nothing like where you were when you entered the room! I could add government office buildings to the list, but they usually come with little placards on the walls, written in no less than five different languages, complete with arrows pointing toward various departments. In fact, if you're lucky, English will only be the second or third language from the top. (Is it really that hard for Hispanics to figure out that POLICE and POLICIA mean the same thing?)

So here I am, trying to figure out how to sign up for two classes on the one 5x7 sheet of newsprint in the Personal Enrichment Courses flyer, and wondering if at thirty I will finally be capable of finding my way to one class in a community college. After that, I'll worry more about the hundred mile drive downstate to find one more class in a different community college. All this is in hope of refining my writing abilities to the point where I'll be able to read my own work without cringing.

Ahh, to be half the writer Joe The Peacock is.

Edit: My mother has decided to take the same local course I'm taking. Apparently it bothered her having her drop-out daughter proofread her college papers and find so many errors. So I guess she can help me find the classroom.

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