High Ability, Low Motivation

I’ve started having those old high school nightmares again. These were the dreams I often had well out of graduating with the class of 1992 with acceptable grades and little interest in looking back. The dreams were of a couple different varieties; can’t remember the combination to my lock, can’t remember how to get to my class, I’m pulling into the parking lot late and it looks like the Arroya Coliseum at a Van Halen concert circa 1982, or that I can’t remember going to any of my classes or doing any work all year and it’s time for finals. I’ve had various repeat types of nightmares over the years, but this back in high school scenario has been one that’s haunted me continuously and consistently since summer of 1992. Another is having to go to the bathroom but the men’s room is a wet, dark labyrinth of filthy toilets and broken sinks(that’s for another story.)

The high school dreams are strange, though.

I didn’t necessarily have a rough time in school. I was a great writer and reader, so English and writing classes were more my thing. I was not so good in math and sports, so Algebra and gym weren’t as much fun. But overall I was a slightly better-than-average student that got his work done, sometimes last minute, but I got it done. I had a handful of close friends, I played guitar, I read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King, and couldn’t wait till I could get out of school. I was just more interested in getting a job and doing what I wanted to, which was listening to music and attempting to make music. College was a short conversation. I applied to three or four schools, got accepted to all of them, then got a job at a video store and settled on renting porn and Sega Genesis games to locals. I feel it was the right choice for me.

Of course analyzing the high school nightmare you realize they’re merely manifestations of stress and anxiety in your current everyday life. Family, bills, parenting, job, relationships, emotional struggles, feelings of failure, and interpersonal tensions all become “Oh shit, I don’t remember ever going to this class but I have a paper due!” and “I need to take a piss but this bathroom looks like Dante’s fourth layer of Hell!!” For me, high school is something I’ve fixated on for years. Not because of some 13 Reasons Why-type trauma, but more so that I think deep down I feel I could’ve done better. I had no lofty academia goals in mind. College wasn’t on my list of things I wanted to do. I had no ambition or motivation for higher learning. I felt I was learning everything I wanted to or needed to in books, records, Fellini films, dumping half a bottle of berry Schnapps into a cup of Pepsi and hanging out in 18+ Michigan bars and watching terrible bands play grunge songs till 1am.

I just wanted to work, make money, and concentrate on me.

But I do feel that I half-assed it my last couple years of high school. I was concentrating on playing guitar and wanting a girlfriend. You know, the normal stuff. I was doing the minimum to get by and not fail. Yes, the old lame and passe “not applying yourself” applied to me. I looked at high school as a roadblock to the land of dreams. What were those dreams? I guess playing guitar in my parent’s basement, getting caught up on Hunter S. Thompson, and renting titles like Rump Humpers and Will and Ed’s Keister Easter to Midwesterners, and taking trips to the Michigan shore once in a while.

I have come to terms that I had my chance and that I averaged out of high school. I didn’t fall on my face, just stumbled a few times across the stage as I was handed my diploma. I traded in renting films and games for a legitimate full-time gig. Got that girlfriend I was looking for, then she became my wife. We built a house in the woods, made three kids, and adopted some miniature schnauzers. Music never was my full-time thing, but I still made enough original music to make a pretty decent mixtape. Four different Bandcamp pages with four different vibes going on.

I feel I’ve done alright for a Midwestern schmuck with no college degree.

Lately these high school dreams have come back, and I’ve realized why. The pandemic has put our kids at home doing their schoolwork remotely on iPads and laptops. It’s put them as the responsible party to getting their E-learning done on time. Two out of the three of our kids are doing their work. Our son? He’s been lagging. Calls and emails from all of his teachers letting us know that they’ve received zero assignments. Whaaa?? Zero? 20 percent of that was technical issues where assignments weren’t uploading. But the other 80 percent was because he just wasn’t doing it.





This is my son’s freshman year of high school, and it’s been challenging. He’s always been a pretty bright kid. Typically straight A’s in school. This year was like going 100mph right into a brick wall lined in Adamantium backed by a concrete block a mile wide. There’s just been a disconnect. I’ve gone through the many stages of concerned parent; from worry to anger to fear, then back to anger for a long time, then finally settling into indifference. We’ve established he’s not going through any sort of emotional distress or bullying. He’s still affable, generally happy, and into music, comics, and horror movies(just like me.) But there seems to be a teenage boy cloud of aloofness that’s settled over him this year. A lot of “What?” when asked questions about homework and assignments. A lot of “Huh?” when asked to show us where he’s done his work. A few just blank stares when asked why he hasn’t done it. Those stares have evolved to “I don’t have a good reason.” So there’s that.

The pandemic has gone from a half glass empty to a half glass full scenario, though. My wife is working from home, so she’s created a very regimented schedule for the boy. Up every morning the same time, a shower, a good breakfast, then laptop set up at the kitchen table where he works for a few hours now. He’s getting caught up and he seems to actually be enjoying this set up. Some people just aren’t self-motivators. Some people can’t work without a list and schedule. My wife is like that. If I sent her to the store to grab a few things she’d come home with $200 worth. She works incredibly well with a set list of things to do. I can improvise and still keep things tight and sparse. My son is more like his mom. He needs some structure, otherwise homework turns to three hours of watching videogame clips on Youtube.

So for now the high school nightmares have subsided. No more missed classes and forgotten locker combinations. But I had a new nightmare last week. I had to go to the bathroom and went into the men’s room. It wasn’t dirty. It was actually very well kept, like going into my grandma’s bathroom as a kid. But the door to the stall wouldn’t shut and as I sat there trying to go a line of drag queens came walking in. They seemed to have just finished some kind of stage show and were coming in to change. As they came in they were looking at me saying hi and I was saying hi back like I knew them, all the while trying to get the stall to latch.

Not sure what that meant, but it beats missing class.

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