American Horror Story: Catholic High School

I wrote in the previous post that I had spent time with teenagers on the cusp of their senior year and the world beyond. Three of these teens attend a private co-ed catholic

school. As they opened up, and saw they had a captivated audience in me, they let loose.

I don’t know much about private catholic schools, and the ones I have a brushing acquaintance with are posh and single sex. So, this is new to me. Also, the school is in suburbia – that strange land. The tuition is crazy expensive. The kids I spoke to, two girls and one boy, are smart, funny, adorable – terrific. But they are in a weird school.

I am proposing to FX that the next season of American Horror Story should be Catholic High School. Jessica Lange could return as a sadistic principal. The faculty at this school are lay teachers. There is a priest on staff who, along with his duty of hearing confessions, spends his time chiding the girls for wearing their uniforms too short in a shaming and long-winded way.

I also learned:

You can’t use the drinking fountains unless you want to get chlamydia, herpes or other social/viral/bacterial diseases.

When I was with these three teens, they were in the midst of writing a theology paper. Thomas Aquinas? St. Augustine? Nope. The paper was on abortion and how they feel about it. Talk about a rigged game! This is where I abandon hope for the future of education. Yeah, I know it’s a touchy subject. However, where better to learn to listen to opposing views in an intelligent and respectful manner and create thoughtful debate? In the venerable run down halls of this institution for a start. This trio hasn’t a full-formed opinion on abortion, but they do know the paper has to be against abortion. Which is fine. But, it’s also not. They are not thinking about the issue, only that they need to give “them” what “they” want – or face the consequences.

The Spanish language teacher is not from Spain – he was originally a history teacher. He spent one year in Spain during college and is a self-proclaimed Spaniard. From what I can tell he acts like a hysterical maniac. He singles out students he doesn’t like and gives out detentions generously. And, he lives with his mother. One of the girls had detention with him – alone in a classroom with this guy. She reached for a book to do homework and he shouted, “No! Eyes straight ahead!” For 90 minutes. Prayer or mediation are not sanctioned? Maybe one could silently pray that the police finally uncover the dead hookers he buried in his mother’s basement.

The young man is deeply engrossed in A.I. and is building a “better Alexa*” as he puts it. I asked him about colleges he is considering with his guidance counselor. I received a confusing answer – not because this young man is confused – he knows exactly what he wants. I’m guessing the explanation he was given was muddled. The guidance counselor thought he should get three letters of recommendation instead of the usual two. I asked why and he said, “I don’t really know, because he (the guidance counselor) began by saying, ‘Jesus would want you to.’ And that’s when I stopped listening.”

Two of the three are involved in school theater. The most recent production was the musical Guys and Dolls  – catholic school material? Gambling, burlesque, unmarried couples…There was an awards ceremony – county or catholic-wide – and the boy was nominated for three awards. One of the “leading ladies” (Lady Gaga?), who had been overlooked, was furious and said, “If you win an award, I’ll kill myself!” There’s much to parse here. First, she’s perfect for the acting profession with that level of hyperbole. And, where are the Catholic/Christian tenets of loving one another, turning the other cheek? And the suicide threat! Isn’t that a major mortal sin? The tenets are not in evidence but the seven deadly/cardinal and mortal sins are. Nice work!

I’m not worried about these three – they have great families and once they leave this asylum – they will be fine. I don’t doubt there will be a period of time where they may eschew Catholicism and attending church. Can one blame them? My greater concern is that they will be turned off from learning, which would be a shame.

Maybe there is Life on Mars after all……the best-selling show…

Clare Irwin

*Since we’ve thrown decorum out the window, I’ll mention that I tried to convince the young man to name his “Alexa” after a French prostitute. He wasn’t buying it.

Metamorphoses

The word narcissist has been bandied about a good deal recently. It is a disorder of the personality, and  unlike other psychological disorders, there is no cure, no psycho-pharmacological remedy. I’ve known quite a few narcissists in my time: men, women, young, old, different walks of life and histories. It is democratic in that regard.

I don’t think that I need to contribute to the amount of oxygen being consumed by the current discussion, but it did get me thinking about the ancient myth from which the moniker is coined. As my classics professor would always tell us, “Go to the source!” I remember translating, from the Latin, Ovid’s interpretation from his Metamorphoses, or “Books of Transformations.” I  also recall the versions provided by Edith Hamilton and Bulfinch’s Mythology. It’s a tragic, cruel story – and as is their wont the Gods of Olympus get involved. Echo was a wood nymph favored by Artemis, and Narcissus, a mortal, was the most beautiful youth of all. Echo pines for him and he rejects her relentlessly until she fades away and there is nothing left of her but her voice. Ted Hughes, the English poet, translated Echo’s plight: “From that day/Like a hurt lynx, for her/Any cave was a good home./But love was fixed in her body/Like a barbed arrow./There it festered/With his rejection.”

Narcissus’s end isn’t much better; he falls in love with his reflection when he sees it in a pool of water, and unceasingly gazes upon himself until he dies. The nymphs – they were a kindhearted lot – forgivingly commence to bury him, but when they go to his body: he is gone. What is left is a flower, in one account purple within with white petals  – the description varies. However, what is consistent is that the flower is commonly found by the side of a brook or stream.

How wise were the ancients! They got it right long ago. I have witnessed, among friends and others, that in the dynamic with a narcissist, the one bestowing love – it’s completely depleting and self-annihilating. As for the narcissist – they are pitiful creatures – they are all together alone as they too wither and go. They don’t leave a lot of happy memories behind. 

To be sure, many narcissists are extremely charming, charismatic, captivating, enchanting – all that sort of thing. They draw people to them, and once the masque is removed, one is in way too deep.

All the current Sturm und Drang aside, I would say why not delve into some of the classics? There are some marvelous tales of transformation from good old Ovid, and many myths and legends found in other tomes. The experience, shall we say, may be transformative?

Happy reading

Clare Irwin