Tag Archives: teen drama

Helga Pataki: Profile Of A Tragic Love Story (From A 90s Kids Cartoon)

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I was lucky to be a kid in the 1990s. Talk to most people my age and they’ll agree. The 1990s was a golden age for cartoons. That may seem somewhat egocentric, but I’ve yet to hear a convincing counter-argument. This was the era that brought us the animated classes for “X-Men,” “Batman,” “Daria,” “Animaniacs,” and so much more.

As a kid during that era, there were many great shows that I still hold dear to my heart. I’ve mentioned a few of them in the past. A few of these shows hold up, even by today’s standards. I contend that the “Batman” animated series only gets better with age. One show, however, has taken on a very different meaning over the years the air and, being an aspiring romance writer, it still resonates with me.

That show is “Hey Arnold!” and for most cartoon-loving kids in the 1990s, this was one of the best shows that didn’t involve talking babies. It was a unique show that followed a diverse cast of characters, each with their own unique connection to the titular Arnold. By almost any measure, Arnold was a lovable, relateable idealist who you just can’t help but root for.

How can you not love that football shaped head?

He’s loyal, altruistic, friendly, compassionate, and empathetic. Even as a 4th grader, he’s the kind of kid you want to be friends with. He’ll go to bat for you. He’ll stand by you when the chips are down. When the whole world around him is wrong, he’ll stand for what’s right. Whether it’s the 90s or today, there’s a lot to like about a character like that.

However, the best part of “Hey Arnold!” isn’t how inherently likable Arnold is. In fact, one of the most endearing sub-plots of the show is built around a character who, on paper, couldn’t be more different. That character is Helga Pataki, the short-tempered, overly hostile, overly dramatic girl who often threatens others with her fists.

She’s also secretly in love with Arnold. It’s not just a childish crush, either. She’s really in love with Arnold.

When I watched this show as a kid, I thought that crush was kind of odd. It’s not that I didn’t care for romantic sub-plots. Even as a kid, I enjoyed romance, even in cartoons. It was one of the reasons I loved the 90s Marvel cartoons so much. I just didn’t understand the romance in “Hey Arnold!” Then, when I watched it with a more refined perspective, it gained a whole new context.

In essence, the love story of Helga and Arnold is built around tragedy, but somehow manages to feel sincere and genuine. It’s a love story that initially comes off as obsessive and unhealthy. However, as we learn more about each character, they gain more complexity. With each subsequent refinement, it becomes clear just how much these two complement each other.

It’s worth reiterating that this is a kids show from the 1990s. Things like tragedy, romance, and chemistry are things that usually don’t fit into a show within the pre-Spongebob Nickelodeon era. Even within those limitations, the complicated love story between Helga and Arnold is surprisingly mature.

To appreciate the depth of that story, it’s necessary to understand some of Helga’s story. Even by the skewed standards of a kids cartoon, it’s pretty sad. Helga does not come from a nurturing, supportive environment. Her parents are a wreck. Her father is a self-centered blowhard who cares more about his business than his family. Her mother is a dazed alcoholic who always seems hung over.

Then, there’s her older sister, Olga. She’s basically the perfect daughter who sucks up all the attention in her family. She’s sweet, successful, kind, and an overachiever. She sets the bar so high that Helga has no chance of ever matching it, so she doesn’t even try. As such, her parents barely notice her. Her father often forgets her name. Most of the time, she just calls her “the girl.”

This pretty much sums it up.

This is not a happy home life for anyone, let a lone a 4th grade kid. Nobody pays attention to her. Nobody shows her any semblance of affection or love. Nobody is even nice to her. Then, she meets Arnold. He’s the first person to show her real, sincere kindness. It’s not out of pity, either. That’s just the kind of person Arnold is. Naturally, it makes an impression.

It’s a tragic foundation for any love story, but it’s one that isn’t fully fleshed out until later seasons. If there’s one episode that defines Helga’s character, it’s Season 4, Episode 78, entitled “Helga on the Couch.” This is the episode that lays bare just how tragic her life was and still is. It also puts all the obsessive feelings she has for Arnold into a larger context.

It’s almost disturbing how sad things were for her. As early as pre-school, we see just how neglected she was. We also see just how big an influence Arnold was for her at that moment.

Again, it’s worth reiterating that this is a kids show. If there were a story about a pre-school kid who was that neglected by her family, it would make headlines and stir plenty of outrage on social media. However, “Hey Arnold!” managed to make this distressing story feel genuine and heartfelt.

The romance isn’t entirely one-sided, either. In the early seasons of the show, Arnold mostly saw Helga as his bully. He rarely saw her as anything more than that. However, as the show went on, he starts noticing her complexities. He even manages to get through her tough, hostile exterior on a few occasions.

While there are more than a few occasions when she comes close to confessing her feelings for him, it’s not until the series finale/movie that they actually become an item, at least as much as a couple of 4th graders can be. The way they go about is part of what makes the romance feel genuine.

It doesn’t just revolve around Helga finally coming clean. Without getting too heavy into spoilers, Arnold gets to see first-hand just how far Helga is willing to go for him. She shows him with her actions how much she cares. It’s not something she could ever put into words and not just because she’s a kid. Remember, she comes from a home where she never got a shred of affection from anyone.

This moment, which was a culmination of many hints and sub-plots that developed over many seasons, is incredibly cathartic. Even my inner 90s kid could appreciate it. It effectively completed a journey that started with the first episode. Helga starts off as this obsessive, stalker-like bully. Then, over time, we understand why she feels the way she does and why Arnold reacts to it so strongly.

It’s still tragic on many levels. As a foundation for romance, Helga and Arnold don’t start off on the right foot. This is a relationship that could’ve easily become a one-sided affair that quickly devolved into stalking. Somehow, “Hey Arnold!” managed to make it work. It even managed to make it feel sweet.

The fact that such a complicated, yet genuine romance could manifest in a kids show is further evidence that the 1990s truly was a golden age for cartoons. For that reason, and many others, “Hey Arnold!” and the unique love story it told will have a special place in my heart.

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How “The Society” Humanizes Teenagers In A Refreshing (And Overdue) Way

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As someone who hasn’t been a teenager for many years, I admit I have some unflattering perceptions of that demographic. Ask anyone over the age of 30 what they think of teenagers today and chances are you’ll hear more than a few complaints.

They’re too obsessed with their phones.

They’re too emotionally fragile and prone to outrage.

They’re too entitled, coddled, and sheltered from the real world.

You’ve probably heard those rants before and not just from Fox News. With those stereotypes in mind, imagine what would happen if a large collection of teenagers were left unsupervised and isolated in a large area for long stretches of time. What do you think would happen? How do you see that playing out?

Something like this, probably.

I don’t deny that I’d make some unflattering assumptions such a scenario. I would fully expect that they act erratically and irresponsibly. I would also expect for them to falter emotionally if left alone for too long. Having lived their whole lives within some system of authority and supervision, I wouldn’t expect them to function for very long on their own.

It’s those very assumptions that that “The Society,” a very binge-worthy Netflix show, dares to challenge. This thriller/mystery/drama is one of those shows that has all the right ingredients to play up every tired trope that teen-centered television show has explored for years. That was certainly what I expected when I discovered the show. I freely admit that those expectations were wrong.

The premise of “The Society” is built around a strange mystery that “Lost” fans should appreciate. One day, a large contingent of high school students get on a bus and leave the affluent New England town of West Ham for a 10-day camping trip. For reasons not yet revealed, the buses turn around and drop them off exactly where they picked them up.

Upon returning, these teenagers find out that all the adults in their town are gone. Near as they can tell, everyone just picked up and left. To further compound the mystery, they find out that all the paths leading out of the town have become dead ends. There are no neighboring towns to visit. As far as they know, there’s nothing but endless forests in every direction.

It’s genuine mystery with distressing implications. While the specifics are only partially explored in the first season, the mystery is only part of what makes the “The Society” such a compelling show. It doesn’t just put a bunch of hormonal, irrational teenagers in an enclosed area and let the drama tell the story. The show dares to humanize teenagers in a way that is exceedingly rare in a TV show.

By that, I’m not just referring to a handful of character that are well-developed and fleshed out. While there are certainly plenty of those in this show, it approaches how teenagers conduct themselves with more balance and nuance. It even makes the case that, in dire situations, they can come together and cooperate as well as full-fledged adults.

In the beginning, that’s not immediately apparent. When they all return to West Ham and find out the adults are gone, they react the way most would expect of decadent, hormonal teenagers if they were left unsupervised all night. However, the extent of their decadence never goes beyond a certain point.

To a point, being the key term.

Sure, many drink, they dance, and they hook up. A few just go home and turn in for the night, thinking nothing is amiss. They don’t do anything too outrageous, though. In essence, they conduct themselves the same way most single adults would if they knew there were no police or authority figures to stop them.

After that first night, though, things start getting serious. These teenagers, who still come off as kids in the first few episodes, realizes that something has gone very wrong. Their parents are gone. The adults are gone. Their entire town is completely cut off. They have no connection to the world beyond their town. They have a finite supply of food and little experience in terms of governing themselves.

It’s a scary situation. Some handle it better than others, but a few start to crack under the pressure. For some, especially Campbell Eliot and Lexie, the situation reveals sides of their personality that probably wouldn’t have otherwise emerged. That tends to happen with most people in extreme circumstances, but being a teenager tends to raise the stakes even more.

The fun and games quickly end. People start getting hurt. There are even a few deaths, which has a significant impact on everyone in the town. It sends a clear, unambiguous message. This isn’t just about hanging in there until their parents find them. They have to survive and they can’t do that unless they work together.

On paper, it sounds like it can only end in disaster and it certainly comes close, especially towards the end of the first season. Again, these are teenagers. Most people don’t expect them to function beyond a certain point. While “The Society” doesn’t strip away everything in the mold of “Lord of the Flies,” it removes enough to make the situation dire.

They still have electricity, running water, and shelter. However, their food supply is finite and there’s a distressing lack of expertise in everything from basic medical care to fixing a car. In order to survive, they must create a system of governance to keep the peace. If they don’t, then everybody suffers.

This is where “The Society” really shines, both as a story and as a concept. It’s also where it explores how teenagers, despite their maturity and lack of experience, can come together when they have to. They’re not perfect, but neither are experienced adults. They do find themselves in painful, heart-wrenching situations that include murder, illness, and despair. However, things never totally fall apart.

To anyone who has ever tried to explain student loan debt to a teenager, it almost seems absurd. The idea that a bunch of unsupervised teenagers can somehow form a functioning society just doesn’t fit with the common narrative surrounding teenagers.

In that narrative, things always tend to devolve until the adults return to impart the proper amount of discipline. Look at any movie, sitcom, or rowdy music video and the themes often come back to teenagers being out of control and needing the discipline of responsible adults. “The Society” makes the case that teenagers can become responsible on their own, albeit after some setbacks.

There are still many factors working against them. We’ve yet to see what happens to the citizens of New Ham, as they dubbed it, when the food runs out and they have to start farming the land. We also haven’t seen them endure a harsh New England winter. However, “The Society” never gives the impression that these young people are incapable of overcoming these challenges.

By the end of the first season, it’s easy to root for them. The emotional toll is palpable and so are the difficult decisions that many end up facing. Over the course of the show, however, it’s easy to see the progression that they all experience. It’s hard to even see them as teenagers anymore. Some conduct themselves as true, full-fledged adults.

While the mystery surrounding “The Society” is still unfolding, complete with fan theories and potential clues, the show’s approach to depicting teenagers is its greatest accomplishment in my opinion. If there is a second season, I’m definitely interested in seeing how these characters and their over-arching story progresses.

I doubt “The Society” will change anyone’s current attitudes of teenagers. There will surely be other shows and movies that double down on the many stereotypes surrounding them. If nothing else, “The Society” shows that teenagers are capable of carrying a story without adults complaining about them.

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What I Wish I Learned In Sex Ed

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I like to think I had a good education in sex growing up. I grew up in an area that heavily promoted comprehensive sex education and did not solely rely on telling horny teenagers to abstain. On top of that, my parents were very upfront and transparent on sexual issues. They did not lie to me and they did not avoid the issue whenever I asked them questions.

In that sense, I consider myself luckier than most. I’ve heard way too many horror stories about kids getting a form of sex education that’s downright damaging. At the same time, there are some things I wish my teachers and parents had taught me. I feel like it would’ve saved me a lot of stress, confusion, and uncertainty later on in life.

While some things can only be learned through experience, I think in matters of sexuality, insight goes a long way. It’s one of the few acts we’re biologically wired to seek. Even if we find something out on our own, we’re not always going to understand it and that often means making flawed assumptions. That can make things awkward, to say the least.

What follows is a list of minor, but relevant aspects about sex that I wish I’d learned more about growing up. Some of these issues are things my teachers probably couldn’t have mentioned in a health class without getting into trouble with parents, but that’s exactly why they’re worth putting out there. I think these are conversations worth having with young people, especially as we enter a new sexual landscape.


Number 1: What Orgasms Are And How They Differ With Gender

Looking back on my experience with sex education, this feels like the biggest oversight. I learned about male and female anatomy. I learned about pregnancy, contraception, and diseases. I even learned a little about healthy relationship skills. At no point in any of these discussions did orgasms come up.

While I knew what they were, no teacher ever said that word or even hinted that they were a normal part of sex. They either avoided the issue or pretended it didn’t exist. They described sexual function the same way my biology teacher described how animals digest food. This led me to wonder that adults were hiding something from me and my peers.

Later on, as I learned more about sex outside of school, it gave the impression that adults just didn’t want to tell young people about things that felt good. Never mind that orgasms have a lot of health benefits and are a great way for a couple to bond. Not even mentioning them just sent too many mixed messages that only get more mixed over time.


Number 2: Feeling Horny Is Natural (And Not An Affliction)

This was especially common in middle school. Granted, most teachers said that thinking about sex is natural. However, actually wanting it might as well have been the same as wanting to steal a car. In any case where someone might have wanted sex outside of marriage, it was framed as something deviant and wrong.

Again, this was not a religious school. This was a secular public school in a community that was not overly-religious. Even so, every health teacher gave the impression that being horny was no different than having a violent impulse to choke kittens. I’m thankful my parents did plenty to counter that, but it did leave me feeling more stressed than I already was as a teenager.


Number 3: The Sex You See In Porn Isn’t “Real” Sex

Most reasonable adults understand that the sex they see in porn isn’t supposed to mirror actual sex. That kind of sex is designed to be shot, edited, and exaggerated for erotic effects. The problem is that too many reasonable adults, some of which teach health classes to teenagers, assume that only adults are watching porn.

I knew what porn was when I was a teenager. I knew how to access it. Everyone in my class knew as well and anyone who claimed they didn’t were liars. While there were discussions about sex in the media, it never got beyond things like body image and peer pressure. They never actually explained to uninformed teenagers that porn is not a good representation of what sex is.

For men who think they’re supposed to hump for 40 minutes straight and women who think they have to hiss every half-second, it’s an important tidbit that’s worth sharing. It also doesn’t help that porn does a terrible job of depicting romance. Just a simple explanation at how exaggerated it was would’ve gone a long way towards developing a healthy understanding of what non-pornographic sex was.


Number 4: Not Having Sex Isn’t The End Of The World

This issue is similar to the issues associated with the DARE program that tried to convince teenagers to not do drugs. That program not only doesn’t work. It gave me and my peers a very flawed image of drugs for years to come. The way my health teachers talked about sex wasn’t much different.

Beyond skipping the joys of orgasms, they often described sex as this scourge that was spreading disease and misery to countless teenagers. If you weren’t doing it, then something must be wrong with you. At the time, I already had severe self-esteem issues that were compounded by a terrible acne problem that made me feel ugly and unloved.

While no teacher ever said that people who don’t have sex are somehow flawed. They only ever framed people who didn’t have sex as safer and less likely to get diseases. That’s not the same as saying it’s okay, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s actually pretty common. That revelation may not seem like much now, but at the time, it would’ve made a world of difference.


Number 5: Sex Can Be Emotional, Intimate, And Fun

This is a bit more personal for me because I was a closeted romance fan. I’d been a romance fan before I was a teenager and once sex entered the picture, I knew there was a link. My health teachers just did a terrible job of explaining it. They talked about sex as though it was just a formality, like a wedding or a tax refund. Romance and intimacy never entered the picture.

Sex was either just a small part of human reproduction or this dangerous thrill sport on par with juggling chainsaws while wrestling a hungry grizzly. There was no emphasis on intimacy, romance, or just the fun of it all. Couples do have sex for fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. My own parents even told me that. My health teachers, on the other hand, gave the impression they were completely unrelated.


Number 6: Some People Are Just Wired Differently For Sex

This may have been a product of my own teenage angst more than anything else. The way my teachers talked about sex made it seem as though everyone had this scary creature lurking inside them and a good chunk of our lives are spent keeping it at bay. Everyone had to do their part to tame their sexual demons. There was no way around it.

However, that’s not how peoples’ sex drives work. Some people just aren’t that sexual. They don’t get as horny as the average people. When they do, the things that satisfy them are wildly different than the things that satisfy others. Some people have elaborate kinks. Some are happy with a quickie in the shower twice a year.

This idea that everyone has their own sexual makeup wasn’t even hinted at. It made it seem as though everyone in the world, myself included, had the same sexual proclivities. Even though we can’t agree on gods, the afterlife, or pizza toppings, we’re all somehow in agreement on this. I know it sounds like common sense to an adult. To a teenager, it framed the world in a strange, overwhelming way that I could’ve done without.


Number 7: Not Every Woman Goes Crazy On Their Period

I know people don’t like talking about women’s bodies, especially when it comes to that time of month. They’ve been taboo for centuries and for a long list of frustrating reasons. When young men learn about what women go through during pregnancy and menstruation, though, they get the impression that their hormones turn them into meth addicts in withdraw.

Having grown up in a house with multiple women, sharing a bathroom, and just being around a lot of women in general, I know that most women don’t radically change when they’re on their period. Some do have issues. Most are understandable, treatable, and not a reason to fear an entire gender.

In the sex ed I got, I had multiple male teachers joke about how glad they were to not have to deal with periods. These teachers were married, by the way. It made me wonder whether they knew when to leave town or sleep in the basement during certain times of month. It also made me wonder if the women in my family were different because they didn’t seem to go crazy every month.

There’s certainly room to talk about women’s issues during sex ed, even among teenage boys. However, a little perspective would’ve gone a long way. It made being around girls more awkward than it already was. I was a teenager. There’s only so much awkwardness I could handle and I handled it poorly. I’m not saying better sex ed would’ve fixed everything, but it sure would’ve helped.

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights, men's issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

Should We Re-Think Our Expectations Of Teenagers?

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When I was a teenager and in a particularly bad mood, which happened more often than I care to admit, there was this one thing my parents often told me that really pissed me off.  It came out in many forms, but this was the underlying sentiment.

“If you EXPECT it to be a bad experience, then it’s GOING to be bad experience.”

I can’t recount how many times I heard something like this. I just remember it pissing me off even more every time I heard it. They usually said it to me whenever we were going out to do something that didn’t involve me sulking in my mood. Being the great parents they were, they didn’t let that happen. They got me off my ass and out of that mindset.

They probably didn’t know at the time, but that bit of good parenting reflects a real phenomenon within our collective psyche. It’s called expectancy theory and it’s kind of what it sounds like.

It’s based on the principle that if someone has certain expectations about something, it’ll affect how they approach it. If they have a positive, hopeful attitude, then they’ll be more likely to evoke positive, hopeful outcomes. If they’re negative about it, as I often was, then it’s not going to turn out well and confirmation bias will help make it worse.

With that in mind, I’d like to apply this to an experience that’s pretty much universal for everyone. Specifically, I want to focus on our expectations as and towards teenagers. Now, I know I’ve given teenagers a lot of crap on this blog, often highlighting how they tend to do dumb things and have misguided attitudes. In my defense, my own confirmation bias has somewhat affected that.

I did not have a good teenage experience. I had a terrible attitude for much of my teenage years and, despite having great parents and amazing social support, I found ways to make myself miserable. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus less on my own experience and more on the concept as a whole.

Take a moment, whether you’re a teenager or not, to ask a few important questions about the sentiment you have towards teenagers. Don’t just think about how you feel about it, personally. Think about how we collectively approach the teenage experience.

Are teenagers more deviant because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be deviant?

Are teenagers more immature because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be immature?

Are teenagers disrespectful because of their basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be disrespectful?

Are teenagers more prone to risky behavior because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to do risky things?

See the pattern? There seems to be this underlying assumption about teenagers that rarely gets scrutinized. It’s this idea that all the biological changes that teenagers go through with puberty somehow transforms them from these sweet, innocent children into these reckless, irresponsible, proto-adults who aren’t capable of managing themselves.

It’s fairly likely that all those biological transformations that teenagers go through has some affect on their mentality. However, even the most up-to-date research on the issue concedes that our understanding of the mechanisms behind the process are extremely limited. What that means in a scientific context is we should not assume that our assumptions at the moment are wholly valid.

It may very well be the case that our expectations about teenagers have a significant impact on how we treat them. In turn, how we treat them ends up affecting how they act in response. Then, when they react, we use confirmation bias to justify our expectations. It comes off as one elaborate self-fulfilling prophecy to which we all contribute.

When you think about it, the signs are there. If you’re a teenager, just look at how the world treats you. If you’re an adult, think about how you were treated as a teenager and how you treat teenagers now.

We impose strict curfews about what they can do with their private time. We don’t trust them to consent to sexual activity until a certain age. We regularly send them to educational institutions where their lives and schedules are strictly controlled, not unlike that of prisoners. Whenever there’s a crime or an act of deviance, we tend to expect teenagers to be involved.

From my own experience, I can attest to this. When I was in high school, I noticed a distinct change in the way adults and teachers dealt with us, compared to middle and elementary school. Suddenly, everything we did was subject to greater scrutiny. It was as though everyone thought that we, a bunch of hormonal teenagers, were just one impulse away from becoming violent deviants.

I’m not going to lie. I found that kind of insulting. Teachers, adults, and even police officers would talk down to us whenever they discussed things like sex, crime, and even our personal lives. It wasn’t just that we were expected to screw up. It was almost as though we were supposed to screw up.

It never really crossed my mind that being a teenager could mean anything else. The idea that these attitudes were somehow flawed never entered my mind. I don’t think many people, including other teenagers, give it much thought now. That may very well be a problem that only makes itself worse the longer we have these expectations.

Part of what inspired me to write about this topic is an article from TheVerge that pitched the crazy, yet oddly logical idea that we should consider those under the age of 24 to still be teenagers. I admit I thought it was a joke at first, albeit not of The Onion variety. However, the author does make some interesting points.

Compared to earlier generations, youth today are staying in school longer, marrying and having kids later, and buying a house later, writes Susan Sawyer, the chair of adolescent health at the University of Melbourne, in an op-ed published today in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. The transition period from childhood to adulthood lasts far beyond age 19, when it is popularly thought to end. As a result, she writes, we should change our policies and services to better serve this population.

In a sense, the author of the article is doubling down on the expectations. Now, it’s not just people who don’t have a two in front of their age to which we should ascribe these assumptions. We need to apply that to people even older because somehow, they’re still not meeting the other expectations we have of functioning adults.

Personally, I think that’s taking things in the wrong direction. If we’re going to start expecting more deviance and immaturity from more people, then that’s what we’re going to see and not just from confirmation bias. Just as I did as a kid, my negative expectations led to negative manifestations. Now, they may follow young people beyond high school.

It’s not magical thinking to say that attitude matters when it comes to dealing with people. Human psychology is extremely complex and varies wildly from individual to individual, but humans are still a very social species. As such, treating others with respect and maturity will provide them with incentives to do the same.

I don’t deny that certain assumptions are difficult to escape, especially when some of them are incorporated into actual policies. Even if we woke up tomorrow and started treating everyone over the age of 13 as a responsible adult, it probably wouldn’t resolve the many issues we still have with youth in society. However, as I came to learn as an adult, having a good attitude goes a long way towards achieving a good outcome.

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What I WISH I’d Learned In School

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I’ve said it multiple times and in multiple ways on this blog. Expect me to say it again in many other ways there is and even a few some thought impossible. High school sucks. I hated it with a passion. When I look back on my life, I’ll always see high school as one of the bleakest, most miserable experiences I had.

There are so many reasons I hated this point in my life, too much to list in a single blog post. Hell, I’d need a whole series of novels to adequately convey the misery I felt every day I had to endure that rancid swamp of standardized tests, cafeteria food, and adolescent hormones. The most I ever learned from high school was never wanting to be that miserable again.

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I like to think I learned that lesson well. My entire outlook on life changed for the better the day I graduated high school. Everything I did after high school, from going to college to getting my first book published, feels like a step up from where I was. Sure, it helped that I got into shape and fixed my horrible acne problem, but that shift in outlook still shaped a significant part of my adult life.

Even though I feel like I’ve done fairly well with that life, there are times when I look back at high school in ways that don’t give me night terrors. Other than not wanting to be so miserable, a lot of what I learned in high school hasn’t really helped my adult life.

I’m not just talking about quadratic equations or knowing what the hell T.S. Elliot was talking about either. A lot of the meaningful lessons I’ve learned came from experience, family support, and internet access. These are all things I could’ve learned without gym class, exams, and stale pizza. High school never really prepared me for adult life. It only ever prepared me to pass a goddamn test.

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With that in mind, as well as the knowledge that many kids are eagerly awaiting the end of the school year, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on all the lessons I wish I’d learned in high school.

These are lessons that would’ve helped my adult life in so many ways. I worry that the kids preparing for summer won’t know just how important these lessons are until it’s too late. Some have to do with life skills. Some have to do with understanding how the world works. In any case, these are the lessons that I wish high school had taught me.


Lesson #1: How To Start A (Non-Awkward) Conversation With A Stranger

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This is something that should come naturally. Having a conversation is one of the most basic elements of non-sexual communication there is. Other than a handshake, it shouldn’t need to be taught, right?

Well, this is where high school, ironically enough, gives teenagers too much credit. It’s half-true that most people know how to start a conversation. The problem is that for most of our lives, to this point, all the conversations we’ve had are with family members, relatives, or childhood friends that we’ve known so long that we remember the brand of diapers we used.

Starting a conversation with a friend is easy. Starting one with a total stranger that isn’t awkward is much harder. It’s also an important skill when it comes to making new friends, working with others, and even finding a lover. The hardest part of any new connection is starting that conversation.

Some high schools do teach social skills, but still give a higher priority to reading Shakespeare and passing a math test. I’m not saying those things aren’t worth learning. I’m just saying that better social skills will help people make friends, improve teamwork, and get them laid. No math test can ever do that.


Lesson #2: How To Tell Someone That You’re Romantically Interested

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A big part of what makes high school suck is loneliness. Unless you’re an athlete or an exceedingly beautiful girl, you’re going to feel lonely. On top of that, puberty is rewiring your brain to make you want to kiss, hug, and hump others in ways you thought were gross as a kid.

Teenagers may be melodramatic and prone to emotional meltdowns over a lost shoe, but they still have genuine feelings. They still feel love for others. Having that love and not knowing how to express it makes for some pretty awkward situations, some of which can be downright traumatic.

I had more than my share of crushes in high school. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to actually talk to these girls to let them know. For this one girl, I actually wrote a note and put it in her locker. I never heard from her again. That’s a clear indication that there’s room for improvement.

Having someone to love and to share your emotions with is healthy, regardless of whether you’re a teenager or a grumpy old fart. Knowing how to explore and express that love with someone goes a long way towards tempering that loneliness. For those enduring the rigors high school, less loneliness can only help.


Lesson #3: How To Spot A Scam

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As teenagers, our understanding and assumptions of the real world is painfully limited. That’s unavoidable because teenagers haven’t been on this planet long enough to have any real idea of how it works. Most of what they know comes from media, their family, or ugly rumors circulating around the cafeteria. To say that’s an imperfect perspective is like saying Kanye West is slightly eccentric.

In the real world, there are a lot of liars and frauds that will exploit the hell out of anyone’s imperfect understanding. When I was in college, I noticed a lot of school email accounts got bombarded with those Nigerian Prince scams. Some actually fell for those scams and lost real money because of them.

Beyond the scams in spam email, there are other elaborate frauds like work-from-home gimmicks, fake lottery winnings, multi-level marketing, and online dating scams. Those with limited life experience are especially vulnerable to these schemes and falling victim to them could ruin your life. Just ask anyone who invested with Bernie Madoff.

It wouldn’t be too hard or take too much time for high school to teach us the basics of scams and how to spot them. Teenagers are already cynical, by nature. Learning how to spot cheats and hucksters won’t just help them save their money. It’ll help them avoid being conned out of their faith, their trust, and their panties.


Lesson #4: How To NOT Freak Out When You Watch The News

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This is something I’ve brought up before. It’s a lesson I learned in college, but one I really wish I’d learned sooner than that. In the age of the internet and smart phones, it’s easy to get bombarded by all sorts of weird news stories that scare people into thinking the CIA put fluoride in their water to control their minds. For hormonal teenagers with limited life experience, it’s even scarier.

The world the news presents us is not the same as the world around us. The news can only ever highlight tiny bits and pieces of a much bigger picture. Most people don’t realize that until they’re adults. If they’re unlucky, they learn the hard way and spend too much of their lives hiding in a bunker, hoping that the Illuminati doesn’t send assassins.

Perspective is an important thing and teenagers struggle with that. As I said before, their life experiences are limited. They just emerged from childhood and began making sense of the world. The least any public school can do is help them.

That means telling them that the news rarely tells a complete story. It also means reminding them that the reason why something is news in the first place. These horrible stories we see every night are news because they’re rare. The world and the people the news describes are only brief glimpses at best and click-bait at worst.


Lesson #5: How To Craft A Resume (And How To Pad It)

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A major part of learning, be it in high school or pre-school, involves acquiring skills that will help you find meaningful work later in life. It’s not just enough to know how to read, write, and do basic math. Most people can learn how to do that for free these days, thanks to online services like Khan Academy.

To give you a better chance at finding a job, it’s important to develop other skills. Unfortunately, the only skill high school ever really teaches you is how to pass a test. That may help you get a driver’s license, but it won’t help with much else.

Even if you have skills, putting them together in a resume is a skill most people have to wing. I’ve actually taken classes that help with crafting resumes and none of those classes were offered in high school. I had to find those in college and after I graduated.

It’s a simple fact of modern life. To find a job, you need skills and you need to sell your ability to make those skills useful to others. That’s what will help you get a job. That’s what will help you find a lover. That’s what will help you get laid. Some skills don’t require college. Others may require a master’s degree. Learning how to seek and market those skills is far more valuable than just filling out a test form.


Lesson #6: How To Invest In The Stock Market The Right Way

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This is a topic I don’t blame high schools for avoiding. When most people, including highly educated people, talk about the stock market or the economy, it usually flies over everyone’s head. I would go so far as to say only a small part of the population is even wired to understand investing and finance.

However, there are few skills in life more important than knowing how to manage and invest your money. Anyone can just go into a bank and open an again. Knowing how to actually manage that money so it grows over time and isn’t undercut by inflation is a skill that’s often overlooked.

A teenager’s limited perspective of the world makes the stock market too complicated to understand. However, most teenagers do understand the value of making money. Why else would they make such a big deal about getting an allowance or a part-time job? That understanding, though, will only take them so far.

Contrary to popular belief, investing in the stock market isn’t just fairly easy. It’s actually pretty effective at building future wealth. It doesn’t just beat inflation. It beats nearly every other investment out there.

I didn’t learn anything about stocks in high school or college. Everything I learned came from a small booklet that a relative gave me. That booklet only had one real tip. Unless you’re going into the financial services business, the only real investment you need to make is in index funds.

Despite what the Jim Cramers of the world may tell you, nobody can beat the stock market. Nobody knows what it’s going to do today, tomorrow, or a year from now. You can’t beat, but you can make it so you don’t lose to it either. In some parts of life, not losing is just as good as winning. With money, it’s one of those lessons you don’t want to learn the hard way.


Lesson #7: How To Find The Job That Best Fits You

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This might not be something that can fit into a typical high school class. While most high schools have guidance counselors and career counselors, a lot of what they do is just sell you on the idea of going to college. They’ll help you find an education path. They may even help you find a career path. Finding a job that fits you, however, is not exactly a priority.

It happens all the time. People will make it through high school, go to college, and get all the right degrees for a certain career path. Then, they find out that the job they thought they wanted didn’t fit them. They either end up miserable working a job they don’t like or overwhelmed at the prospect of starting over. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

That’s why I think it’s more important to help teenagers figure out the kind of work that fits them. Some like making things with their hands. Some are more creative. Some are analytical. Some have personality traits that make working in a cubical akin to a prison sentence at Alcatraz.

I’ve worked more than my share of jobs that I hated. A lot of people endure that, even famous celebrities. Finding a job that actually fits someone’s skills and makes them want to do that job is a lesson too valuable to overlook. High schools are in a perfect position to help teenagers do that. The fact they don’t only makes the situation more tragic.


I know it’s too late for me to salvage my high school experience. It was a long time ago and I’ve since learned a lot about life, namely how to not be miserable.

However, I still feel like I started way behind the curve and have only recently caught up. How far ahead would I be now if I’d learned these lessons in high school? It’s impossible to know. All I know now is that high school still sucks and it’ll always suck for me. I’m okay with that. Hopefully, future generations will not know such misery.

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An Ode To Hot Teachers

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Being a teenager sucks. Going to high school sucks. Going through puberty sucks. Unless you’re a star athlete or a cheerleader with the body of a young Carmen Electra, chances are your adolescence in general sucked.

Mine sure sucked. As I’ve said before, I was socially inept shut-in who did little to take care of himself. On top of that, I had a horrible acne problem that eventually required medication. I wasn’t just a pain to be around. I wasn’t much to look at either. That basically guaranteed that my teenage years were going to suck, despite having great parents, great siblings, and an environment that gave me every opportunity to be less miserable.

I get the impression that my experience is not typical. Teenagers are walking cocktails of hormones, emotions, and ignorance. Everyone, from the nerds to the jocks, finds a reason to be miserable at some point. The fact anyone survives it at all is nothing short of a miracle.

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I highlight this misery because I want to establish a certain context here. Life as a teenager, going to high school and enduring the monstrous transformation that is puberty, is fraught with misery. Anything that makes it just a little bit easier is akin to giving a starving child a lifetime supply of chocolate cake.

That leads me to hot teachers. No, I’m not talking about a porno sub-genre. I’m not talking about the scandals involving teachers sleeping with their students that make the front page of Fox News’ website at least three times a year either. I’m just talking about that one teacher during that one year in your teenage life that actually made going to school less miserable.

Don’t deny it. You had a teacher like that. I’m not saying he or she was a supermodel or an Olympian, but they definitely got your attention and not with their teaching skills. Something about them just sparked that chaotic cocktail of hormones in your body in just the right ways. It made you think thoughts you didn’t quite understand, even after you discovered internet porn.

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Hot teachers are a sliver of gold in the mountain of horse shit that is adolescence. In some ways, they’re a rite of passage. You only really feel like you’re growing up when your genitals start doing strange things around a teacher you find attractive. It can be awkward, as anyone who has ever had to hide a boner in the middle of algebra class can attest. Then again, awkwardness with teenagers is par for the course.

I believe that hot teachers are a gift to the world, if not an act of mercy to all those whose adolescence was more miserable than most. They remind miserable, emotional, melodramatic teenagers that there’s still beauty in the world. It’s not all just acne, homework, and standardized tests. For teenagers of every generation, their value cannot be overstated.

As a tribute to the hot teachers of the world, I’d like to share another personal story. Unlike some of my previous stories, though, this one doesn’t involve actual nudity. It does involve thoughts of nudity though. How can it not? It involves my teenage self.

It’s true though. I too once had a hot teacher, one I still remember fondly to this day. She was a rare beacon of light in the never-ending torment that was high school. She actually made me less miserable in high school. That’s something that therapy, anti-depressants, and Taco Tuesday can’t boast. She’s kind of a personal hero is what I’m saying.

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Out of respect for her privacy, I won’t reveal her name. For the sake of this story, let’s just call her Ms. Diana. I had Ms. Diana for a history class in my sophomore year. At the time, I was 16. My acne problem was just starting to become a crisis. My hormones were just starting to go into overdrive as well. I remember having to hide at least one awkward boner a day. Ms. Diana didn’t help in that effort, but with her, I didn’t mind.

Ms. Diana was one of those young, energetic teachers who loved to talk fast and fill the room with energy. She wasn’t the kind of teacher who would just give presentations, pass out worksheets, and lay out lists of facts. She actually tried to keep people engaged. She tried to get people excited. She might as well have been the high school equivalent of a lion tamer.

She was also hot. I hope that goes without saying. I don’t just mean hot, in terms of personality. I mean Ms. Diana was hot in that she would’ve looked awesome in a bikini and not because she had a beauty regiment on par with Gwenth Paltrow, complete with jade egg for a healthy vagina.

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No, Ms. Diana’s beauty was a natural beauty. She didn’t need makeup. She didn’t need designer clothes. She came into class wearing something she probably bought on sale and she still made it look sexy. That’s a special kind of beauty, even by teenage standards.

That beauty definitely resonated with my teenage self. I can’t remember a class where I paid more attention and felt more engaged. I can’t say that about a lot of the teachers or classes I’ve taken. I also can’t say those classes got me thinking and feeling things that I didn’t feel without an internet connection. It was a strange, but beautiful thing.

Now I never went out of my way to tell Ms. Diana that I found her very attractive. That’s not because I wanted to avoid a scandal that would end with one of us being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer though. I didn’t tell her because it wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t necessary because I wasn’t the only hormonal teenage boy in that class and some of those boys did not have filters between their brains and their mouths.

It was very much an open secret in the school. The boys thought Ms. Diana was hot. Nobody really argued about it. Nobody denied it either. I get the sense she knew that. I don’t think she would’ve agreed to teach teenagers if she didn’t to some extent. Maybe she knew she could keep her students’ attention by being hot. I’m not saying it’s a little coy, but you can’t argue with results.

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This eventually culminated in an incident I still laugh about today. It happened one day after lunch. We were filing into class. I was there a few minutes early and so were a couple of my male classmates. Then, out of nowhere, this exchange happened:

Male Student: Hey, Ms. Diana! Is your dad a terrorist?

Ms. Diana: Um…no. Why do you ask?

Male Student: Because you’re the bomb!

I laughed. We all laughed. Even Ms. Diana laughed. This after September 11th, by the way. The fact that we laughed about it should hint at just how hot Ms. Diana was and how much me and my fellow male students appreciated her.

To this day, Ms. Diana holds a special place in my heart and my memory. At a time when so many memories from that era were bleak and forgettable, she was a shining star that came along at just the right time for an awkward teenage boy. I like to think that the feelings she inspired in me helped inspire my future aspirations as an erotica/romance writer.

I doubt that’s what Ms. Diana intended to teach me. I’m pretty sure she just wanted me to pass my tests and exams. Thankfully, I did. That other inspiration was just a bonus. Maybe one day when I become a famous erotica/romance writer, I’ll thank her. She deserves as such for helping me survive high school.

Until then, I remain forever grateful to Ms. Diana. On behalf of all those who had lurid thoughts about their teachers, I thank those wonderful teachers who look good naked who helped inspire both minds and genitals. You may not think it, but you helped us in ways that went beyond teaching us. You helped make our teenage years slightly less miserable. For that, you should be proud.

With that, I leave you with the ultimate ode to hot teachers, courtesy of Van Halen.

 

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A Personal Story The Day Before Valentine’s Day

It’s the day before Valentine’s Day. For spouses, lovers, mistresses, and fuck buddies, it’s almost time to begin a day of romance. There will be kissing, chocolate, love-making, and just plain fucking, although not necessarily in that order. It’s a beautiful thing. I don’t deny that. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I have a strong appreciation for all the things that Valentine’s Day represents.

That said, it’s also my least favorite holiday and has been for a while now. I know I’m not alone either. Some have gone so far as to create an entirely new holiday called “Singles Awareness Day” to balance out all the annoying reminders that Valentine’s Day gives. It’s basically a weaker version of Festivus, minus the famous Seinfeld connotations.

Now I don’t take my disdain of Valentine’s Day quite that far. I don’t believe that creating one bullshit holiday to counter another is that productive. It also doesn’t change the underlying reasons why many people hate Valentine’s Day.

For many, Valentine’s Day is a harsh reminder that finding love is hard for a lot of people. Let’s face it. If you’re a pretty, young woman with big tits or a handsome young man with a fat wallet, finding love is easy. You can walk down the street in a thong and you’ll probably find someone to celebrate a holiday with. It’s just that easy.

For the rest of us, though, we don’t have that luxury. We’re at the mercy of our circumstances and some of us don’t handle those circumstances very well. In fact, we find ways to make them worse, even when we don’t have to.

In that spirit, as well as the spirit of those who would rather spend this Hallmark Holiday drunk, I’d like to share a little anecdote that should help explain why Valentine’s Day is so difficult for me.

I’ve gotten personal on this blog before. I’ve confessed to sleeping naked and shared a story about my first trip to Las Vegas. Those stories have some inherent sexiness to them. Unfortunately, there’s nothing sexy about this one. It’s mostly just somber recollection of a very lonely part of my life, long before I ever had an outlet in erotica/romance.

It happened when I was a teenager in high school, also known as my extended stay in Hell. I’ll probably say this many times on this blog, but it’s worth emphasizing. I hated high school. I was absolutely miserable. I wasn’t just a whiny, self-loathing teenager. I basically went out of my way to be miserable. It’s even more pathetic than it sounds.

This particular story highlights just how bad it got for me. It happened right around January of my freshman year, which also happened to be the year I developed a horrible acne problem that plagued me for most of my teenage life. So I was already feeling pretty bad about myself to begin with. However, being the miserable little fuck I was, I just had to make it worse.

During this time, we had a major snowstorm, which happens pretty often in my part of the country. We get at least two a year and this one was probably the biggest of the year. The whole neighborhood was a winter wonderland. It would’ve been so pretty if I weren’t such a miserable little shit.

In addition to the snow, it was colder than a snowman’s nut-sack in the morning. Given how early class started, I had to be out at the bus stop at around 6:30 a.m. Remember, this is the middle of winter. It’s still dark out and most of my body is still asleep.

Why is this relevant? Well, it matters because the bus stop I stood at was just across the street from my house. The neighbors were nice and our families got along. So when it was so damn cold and dark out, they would let me and the other kids stay indoors where it was warm. It was a good deal. The kids in my neighborhood were all very nice and friendly. I had no reason at all deny such a generous offer.

Then, I remembered that I was a miserable, self-loathing teenager who had the social skills of a brain-dead fish. Even when the weather was nice, I never talked to anyone. I never tried to strike up a conversation. I would literally spend an entire morning not saying a goddamn word to anybody. The most I did was stare at my shoes and daydream about not being in high school.

As a result, I didn’t take my neighbors up on their generosity. I just remained out there by the curb in the freezing cold, shivering to myself and finding more reasons to be miserable. All the while, the other kids at my bus stop stayed indoors and stayed warm. They probably even chatted, supporting one another in any way they could, knowing that high school always found new ways to make teenagers miserable.

I really could’ve used that support. I really could’ve used friends like that. I believe that if I had chosen to hang out with them while we waited for the bus, I probably would’ve been less miserable in addition to being warmer. They probably wouldn’t have said a word about my acne problem. They were teenagers, but most of them weren’t assholes.

Sadly, I just decided to stay miserable. I decided to keep to myself. For an entire week during the coldest time of the year, I stayed out at that bus stop, alone and miserable. I never said anything. I just stood there, endured the cold solitude, and waited for the bus. It’s as sad and pathetic as it sounds.

Why am I sharing this the day before Valentine’s Day? Well, I want to tell this story to help illustrate how bad I was at connecting with people. I had horrible social skills. I had no charisma whatsoever. It certainly didn’t help that I was exceedingly self-conscious, mostly due to my acne. It is a sad, pathetic feeling that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Now don’t get the wrong impression. This pathetic loneliness was my fault and mine alone. My family did damn near everything to support me in every possible way. They went out of their way to make me less miserable. I basically rejected them. I made the decision to be miserable. I wish I could unmake it because it still affects me to this day.

Looking back on those cold, lonely mornings, I feel as though I set myself back. I eventually did improve my social skills, but I was very behind the curve and still am to this day. It shows when I talk to new people and especially when I try to talk to women. I can handle myself a bit better, but I really did handicap myself for reasons that have never been justified.

So on the day before Valentine’s Day, I find myself remembering those cold mornings in high school again. I remember the loneliness and isolation that I imposed on myself during that time. I don’t doubt for a second that there are many others like me who share that feeling. Not all of them are in high school, but I imagine there’s never a shortage of miserable teenagers.

To those out there who do feel lonely, especially during this time of year, I would urge you to fight the urge to stay miserable. Fight the inner demons saying you deserve to be lonely. You’re better than that. You deserve to connect with others because guess what? They’re human, just like you. They seek connection as well. Look for it and you’ll find that you don’t have to be alone.

For this year, at least, I’ll probably be spending Valentine’s Day alone. The only companion I’ll have is named Jack Daniels. However, I refuse to remain in that cold, lonely place I put myself in all those years ago. I want to find love. I want to connect with people. Hopefully, my work as an erotica/romance writer will help me achieve this.

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