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A Brief History of Failure

I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why it happened. But it happened, and for that, I am grateful.

I got a C in African History.

A C. Not a D. Not an F. A fucking C.

I should have failed. No, seriously, I should have. Of the thirty sessions of the class, I showed up for maybe twelve. Maybe less. I stopped counting after week five. I stopped showing up—no, literally, I stopped showing up entirely, and I didn’t even turn in any assignments or harp on the professor to give me another chance to turn it all around—around week 9. After the midterm, because by that point I had already fucked up so much that there was no longer any turning back.

The root of the problem was that this class, being a history class, was part of the Liberal Education school, which has no enforceable attendance policy of any sort. The basic philosophy among the professors—and dear Professor Jones, whom I barely spoke with during my brief and unmemorable tenure in the class—is to thoroughly outline the syllabus and stick fucking to it. That way, kids can leave early, show up late, or never come to class at all except on test days or paper days. It’s up to them; they can be enriched by the classroom environment, or they can stay home and watch Judge Mathis in their underwear.

I decided to do the latter. I showed up rigorously for the first two weeks, during which the professor made her agenda clear. The syllabus was set in stone, and by the time the first two weeks were over, I knew it’d be okay to occasionally bail. Sure, I’d show up when I felt like getting up for it, but mostly I’d have the freedom to sleep in and screw the class.

So I missed a week. And when I came back, things were scary. And things were different. We were behind in the syllabus. None of my peers had any knowledge of the two papers we were supposed to do during the semester. And apparently—though I didn’t learn this until much later, as a direct result of my lack of communication with the professor and my lack of caring for the class as a whole—the papers had been transmogrified into a slightly different assignment: five brief oral presentations during the course of the semester. By the time I discovered this, I had missed two of the presentations, was ill-prepared for the third, and had faxed in a paper I didn’t need to research or write.

This was right around midterm time. I was conerned I had missed the midterm. I was also concerned that there might not even be a midterm, and whatever had replaced it was something I had no knowledge of nor preparation for. As it turned out, though, we were just ass-behind on the syllabus, and the midterm had been postponed for a couple of weeks. During this couple of weeks, waiting for the midterm, I was told about the presentations-in-lieu-of-papers deal, which seemed like a cool idea because it required far less research or effort. But then I realized that, because of all the problems, I was currently failing the class, and the way the percentages broke down, it would be nearly impossible to recover.

Did I talk to the professor and explain my situation? No. Did I scramble to create the illusion that I gave a damn but had some sort of harsh-mistress (and largely fictional) job that required more of my time and energy than a class? No.

I panicked. I do that sometimes. Actually, I do that a lot. I simply froze up and left, take-home midterm in hand, wondering how I’d pull myself up. I’d have to get an A on every single thing I did in order to even squeak by with a D, so I’d really have to buckle down and study in order to…

Ah, fuck it. I turned in the midterm, got a B+, read my essay portion orally, and then never showed up again. My humiliation and paranoia got the better of me—I maintain to this day that every person in that class, Professor Jones included, we mocking me and laughing at me constantly.

You know what that means. Instead of having three missing oral presentations, I had five. Instead of having the midterm and the final to boost my grade, all I had was the midterm. As a matter of fact, unless you count the paper that was never supposed to be turned in and the pseudo-oral presentation of my midterm (both of which must have counted toward my final grade, I guess), the only assignment I ever did in that class was a midterm worth 15%, on which I got a B+.

I failed the class. The grade I got was F. And I’ve been paranoid about that for weeks, but at the same time silently hoping that maybe she’d just take pity on me and slide me by with a D. After all, I had created a somewhat fictional counterpart for that class to slightly explain my behavior—the shy, silent guy who trembles and whose voice cracks when he speaks in public.

And yet, somehow I got a C. Thank God for the bell curve, I guess. I didn’t earn it, but dammit, I’ll take it.

And jeez, I snatched my grade report and hid it from my parents for nothing. Dammit!

Also, for those interested, I got an A in Writing For Television and a B in both Fiction Writing and Aesthetics of Cinema. I think I should have had an A in Fiction Writing, but that’s okay. I know why I got the B, and I probably deserved it in the end.

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