Popular, I Want to Be Popular – I’m Catching A Wicked Case of Stripes

Down here in the South, folks go back to school in August. I think that this trend is a leftover behavior from long before my initial school days, which began in the 1950s. I grew up in the middle of a cotton patch, and the primary source of my community’s sustenance came from harvesting the cotton that was grown there. Where I grew up, most of the farmers didn’t have mechanized cotton pickers during the 1950s. People had to pick cotton by hand, and contrary to what many believe, some white people picked cotton, too–just like the African Americans. [At least that was true in my community.] And a lot of those human cotton pickers were children. [I don’t think that the South got the memo about restrictions against child labor. For that matter, the South seems to have missed several memos, but that is another story or ten.]

But back to this story. During my childhood, the cotton crops were ready to harvest in early fall, and in order for the kids to be free to pick cotton when it was ready, school resumed in July and dismissed again during September–for 6 weeks–for cotton “vacation.” [“Vacation?” – What an abuse of a word–picking cotton was no vacation, but again, I need to focus on the tale at hand.] After farmers were able to buy mechanized cotton pickers, cotton vacation ended, but Southern schools continued to start earlier than they do in the North, and that trend holds to this day.

I’ll get to the point of my initial saga, however. Because of that antiquated farm community mentality, I’ll go back to school this year on August 11. You may be gasping and wondering WHY.  Why would I be returning to school this year? I’ll readily admit that I have reached the ripe age of 72, but after a long recess from teaching, I’ll return to the classroom this week. This time, I’ll be teaching writing in college, and I’m thrilled. But one of my age-old concerns has returned. What accessories do I need to help me be more popular, as I return to school? Just like when I was in 4th grade, I want to be popular.

I could go in several directions, trying to tell you all the reasons that I love this scene from Wicked, but no doubt, the greatest message of this Broadway musical is that the game of trying to be more popular is not only a waste of time–it is a mistake. I got that message at least 60 years ago, and yet, I continue to play the game. It seems that I can’t help myself.

Before I decided to return to teaching, I hadn’t bought any new clothes for years, but again, like when I was a kid, I am regarding back-to-school-day as my prompt to get some new clothes. I’ve purchased several new outfits, a new purse, and a new backpack. Both my backpack and my purse are Sorukas from Barcelona Spain. Remember. I wanna be popular.

And then, it was time to get new school shoes. I have heard that the little patent leather Mary Janes with white ruffed socks are out. I asked the girl in the store what was “in.” She answered, “Hey Dude.”

What are Hey Dudes Shoes? – Eagle Eye Outfitters

I responded, “I’ll take 3 pairs and throw in some holey jeans, too.” Again: Popular- I want to be popular.

Today, I went to the hair salon, and I told my hairdresser: “Don’t skimp on the highlights this time. I want my entire head to glow.” I added: “I want to be popular when I go back to school.”

It is all a game, and I know that, but some primordial lesson that I learned many years ago taught me that if I want to survive “out there”–especially at school, I need to play the popular game. Yet, the popular game is the very kind of game that destroys the Wild Woman within us. Estes confirms that thought in Women Who Run With the Wolves.

“…to be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

David Shannon wrote and illustrated an outstanding picture book that illustrates the danger of trying to please others and not being true to oneself.

A Bad Case of Stripes (Scholastic Bookshelf): Shannon, David, Shannon, David: 9780439598385: Amazon.com: Books

A Bad Case of Stripes is about a girl who was overly concerned about what the other school children thought about what she did and said.

I suspect that Camilla never felt that anything about her was good enough, and she tried very hard not to cause anyone to look down on her. Because the other kids did not like lima beans, Camilla did not eat them either. But as she repressed her own needs more and more–just to fit in, she caught a Bad Case of Stripes.

A doctor examined her and said that Camilla could return to school.

At school, the other kids ridiculed her unmercifully. As they hurled insults at her, Camilla’s appearance would change according to the insult.

More doctors examined her, and they gave her a bottle of pills to help rid her of her malady.

But Camilla turned into a bottle of pills.

Soon after that, Camilla turned into her entire room.

Out of nowhere, an old grandma-like healer appears at the door.

Voila! Camilla becomes herself once again. But this time, Camilla has learned her lesson. Enjoy this reading of A Bad Case of Stripes.

But I’m not finished. Did the 2 witches learn anything in Wicked? Yes. Elphaba realized–just in the nick of time–that chasing popularity was not a game that she wanted to play. And shallow Glinda–she learned a few lessons, too. Ultimately, Glinda did not succeed at turning Elphabapa into what she wanted for her,  but both witches were changed for good.

In my opinion, this is a perfect ending for “A Tale As Old As Time.”

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides. – Margaret Thatcher

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.– Margaret Thatcher

Herein lies the key: If you try to please all of the people all of the time, you have elected to stand for nothing concrete. To stand for something is to get off the fence and to get out of the middle of the road.

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” –  Abraham Lincoln