Thursday, July 2, 2009

self-inflicted homework in july

I knowingly and willingly saddled myself with schoolwork for the next month - including homework. I'm a glutton for punishment, it's true. Except this time, it's not exactly punishing and could possibly be fun (plus, there's no credit to be earned so no pressure).

I'm taking a course in Freelance Journalism at the local community college. I enjoy reading and writing nonfiction and thought this might be helpful for honing those skills. Our first assignment was a personal narrative which I turned in Tuesday at midnight - procrastination patterns don't change as you get older apparently. What does change is that I still had to be at work at 8 the next morning - no showing up in pajamas or starting at noon.

Below is my first homework assignment - the first draft anyway. As a side note, back-to-school in July still makes me want to buy a fresh notebook (done) and give 110% the first day only to slack off about half-way through. This class was slightly different from my undergraduate experience in that the class did not fill up from back to front, it filled up in a "U" - back and sides first with latecomers being subjected to the pit.

I digress. On to homework.

Tall Tales

My mother, a respectable 5’5”, spent a good part of my physically formative years jabbing a knuckle between my shoulder blades whispering, “Stand up straight.” My father, the 6’4” source of my extended proportions, spent a good part of that same time reminding me to, “Watch your head.” Several years passed for me in a perpetual bob-and-weave motion. Unknowingly, they were preparing me for a life of comments, advice and attention fixating on the “above average” distance between the bottom of my feet and the top of my head.

Sports were a natural outlet. I was plopped in a volleyball camp in fifth grade, played on the Junior High volleyball team in sixth grade and was recruited for basketball in sixth grade because, “You’re tall.” It is a sad thing to assume that because a middle school girl has the wingspan of an albatross and the legs of an ostrich that she’s figured out how to get them going in the right direction at the same time.

I persevered, and when I transferred to public school I continued playing both sports. I played volleyball because I enjoyed the game and basketball because “You’re tall.”

“You’re tall” was not a compelling reason for me to participate. You want me to stand in one spot and get run over by a sweaty beast of a woman just to keep her from throwing a ball in the air and through a hoop? And, if she misses the hoop, you want me to jump up and down with my arms in the air and my armpits in some other unfortunate woman’s face to try to grab the ball from the air? Then you want me to lumber down the court in the opposite direction clapping my hands and screaming “I’m open! I’m open!” only to repeat this scenario for a full four quarters? Height is no substitution for passion.

Though my involvement with volleyball might not be characterized as passionate, a decade of competition was a commendable commitment. I had managed enough coordination and motivation to earn a scholarship to play at a small, private university in North Carolina. Volleyball paid for college, including a semester in Europe.

The semester had started with a week-long orientation to Paris. The week culminated in host families picking us up from our hotel. The intimate lobby of the hotel was crammed at 9 AM with flushed cheeks, plaid kilts and intrepid franglais-speaking students. The flushed cheeks and kilts belonged to a group of Scots in town for the Sunday match du foot between Scotland and France. (They had started lubricating upon arrival – which was estimated at two nights earlier.) The intrepid students were the group from North Carolina.

An impromptu performance on the bagpipes seemed an appropriate sendoff, but the confined merriment sent me seeking a quiet corner for a last-minute transportation strategy session with a friend. We were soon discovered as the youngest of the plaid-decked Scots motioned excitedly for us to join the group picture. Obligingly, I unfolded my legs to stand and unwittingly triggered an uninhibited reaction in a thick, Scottish accent.

“Oh my god! She’s fuckin’ huge!”

Just how huge? I couldn’t answer. I’m not certain why, after that incident, I didn’t make a concentrated effort to convert my height to metric. It wasn’t until I reached Germany for an intense month of language instruction that this omission surfaced as a problem.

“How tall are you?”
“Ich weiss nicht auf kilometer.”

Unfortunately, knowing one’s height in kilometers is hardly useful, except to elicit some laughter from the instructor.

Years later, after a presentation to Korean students on “Five Conflict Styles”, the question posed with most interest was again, “How tall are you?” Finally, I sat down to figure out the answer: 183 centimeters.

This is not to suggest that U.S. Americans aren’t equally curious. At a professional conference about a year ago, two women approached me in between sessions. “We’ve been trying to guess how tall you are.” I felt like the jar of jelly beans on the librarian’s desk with the sign in front that says “Guess How Many and Win a Prize.” Both women came to the correct answer (in feet), which was impressive since wearing high-heels tends to play with real and perceived height.

I wear high-heels frequently. Contrary to popular belief, this is not to crush the spirits of those around me or rub it in that I’m already tall and now I’m even taller. I wear them because I like them. I dated a guy shorter than me once but got tired of flip-flops. After that, dates had to be okay with me wearing heels regardless of the impact it had on their own perceived stature and associated ego. In the end, I married a 6’4”, pragmatic man who could appreciate that one of my top criteria for a husband was that I could wear heels.

For most people, specific numbers aren’t necessary. Height is relative. There will always be someone taller and always someone shorter. Sure, there are those who fall outside of what is “normal” or “average”. When my brother started spurting, he shattered my reign as tallest sibling by stopping his ascension at 6’8”. I’m now in the middle of the family line-up: not the tallest and not the shortest – average.

In the absence of specific numbers, line-ups are the easiest way to visualize the height of a person. I was the mammoth, green-clad matron of honor at my 5'10"-youngest sister’s wedding. That’s right, at the head of the line by virtue of title and the obvious front-runner for jolly green giant. Pictures confirmed what I suspected: the frail twinkies of youth who were the other five attendants were dwarfed. Nevertheless, I stood my ground. My 5'9" sister commented after the ceremony, “I could see you thinking of mom’s knuckle in your back.”


  1. I think one of a journalist's first responsibilities is to the truth, so lets get this straight: 6'6" if you don't mind. Lets not go making me into a giant. Pandas are scarce enough as it is.

  2. You weren't by any chance wearing heels the last time I saw you? No, guess not.

    I tried to put in the panda reference it just wouldn't fit.