I Don’t Do That Podcast (With Ocho)
“You’re so smart; why don’t you do better?” Melody was confronted with this statement constantly throughout school. In this episode, we discuss her situation: leading the curve in many areas, while underperforming in others. Tune in to hear Melody share her struggle to adapt to the school system, and its failure to meet the needs of people in her situation.
Ocho: Hi. This is Ocho. Do you ever wonder about people? Me too! I even created this podcast to help us find out about them. It’s called I Don’t Do That, and It’s where we get into things that we’re not into. Starting now:
[theme music plays]
“na na na na na yeah nah I don’t do that, no I don’t do that. You know it’s alright; you can ask, but I don’t do that, no I don’t do that. I don’t do that. I don’t do that.
Melody: I have found that I am a resourceful learner. I have found that I have all of this information available to me, that I can just go get and learn.
Ocho: Episode 5 is “I Don’t Have My High School Diploma.” We’re talking with Melody Taylor, who does not have her high school diploma. Melody is a percussionist and author. She has written five novels in the urban fantasy genre. She also has more in the works. She is from Generation X, lives in the upper midwestern U.S., and identifies as white and female. You can learn more about her books and read her blog at melodytaylorauthor.com. Melody, thank you for being here today.
Melody: Thank you for having me.
Ocho: It’s a pleasure and I look forward to our conversation.
Melody: I think it’ll be fun.
Ocho: So we’re here talking about not finishing high school?
Not having a high school diploma
Ocho: OK. Can you tell me what school was like for you when you were in it? If you think of your younger self, what would you like as a classmate and as a student ?
Melody: Sure. So I always the weird kid. I was always the odd one out, just socially. And I always felt like—I have a friend who’s a schoolteacher, and I tell him frequently that like he’s doing a much better job than I ever got when I was a kid. I feel like elementary school and high school both really failed me. I very much felt like in a lot of my classes I was being held back to the level that the other kids were at. And if I wasn’t being held back I was being rushed forward faster than I could go, faster than I could think, faster than I could catch up.
Ocho: So at sometimes you’re like, I know this already like “get through it.” and then other times was it confusing? Was that why you were rushed?
Ocho: So there was definitely like this polarity. Did it vary by subject then? Is that what it was?
Melody: Yep, English and reading comprehension, and science, I was reading ahead and all of our textbooks. Like the teacher would have us be reading, and then doing a quiz off of whatever chapter we were on, and I would be four chapters ahead because I just found it interesting and comprehensible. Math, I always felt like I was always falling behind, and just never got the assistance that I needed on any of that.
Ocho: Were you reading for pleasure then?
Melody: Oh, a lot. Yes, I come from a family of readers. My mom got me hooked when I was a kid.
Ocho: Sure. What’s your family like. You got brothers and sisters?
Melody: I’ve got two sisters that I was raised with and then one half-sister on my father’s side that I just met a few years ago.
Ocho: Oh, ok. So growing up, t was you and two other girls?
Ocho: And where were you in the birth order?
Melody: First one. I’m the oldest.
Ocho: OK, So you’re the oldest, and you’re weird kid?
Ocho: How so? Besides academically. There’s a disparity, but are you weird in other ways?
Melody: Oh yeah. I definitely had a strange sense of humor that the other kids didn’t get. I was the one who was reading for pleasure, and pretty much nobody else was. Or there were like one or two boys who started getting into sci-fi right around 6th/7th grade, but like prior to that I was really the only kid with a book in her hands all the time. Weird sense of humor, and I just I came from like just a different family I feel like than the other kids did. My mom was a weird mom which…I liked that…I very much enjoyed having a weird mom but everybody else’s mom was very like “standard Midwestern mom.”
Ocho: Funny. I know exactly who you’re talking about. Like, I could point them out on the Street.
Melody: Yes, exactly. And there were so many kids that had families like that. Where they just had like a very standard, like sitcom…
Ocho: Do you feel like you take after your mom then?
Melody: In a lot of ways yeah.
Ocho: Well that’s great. And it kind of explains the weirdness?
Melody: Oh yeah. I come by it honestly. absolutely.
Ocho: So it seems like we’re talking about Primary School, like K-6 here?
Ocho: Was that at Public school then?
Melody: Oh yeah
was that in a small town then?
Melody: A medium-sized town. Eau Claire Wisconsin was where I spent a lot of my childhood.
Ocho: Ok. And like how many would be in a classroom with you?
Melody: 20-30 depending on the year.
Ocho: OK but you’re not finding allies in your school. You’re not finding people who you have anything in common with. And that kind of thing. Did you have friends to speak of?
Melody: A few kids that I would hang out with a little bit. The one girl that I was best friends with in first and second grade, she and her family moved away right. On the last day of second grade, I walked her home and she jumped in a U-Haul, and they left. And she was the only kid that I had anything in common with it all. Her parents were artists sure so she came home from your family too, so it worked out well.
Ocho: Yeah, that’s understandable. It seems like most people who are quirky, or who have interests, or whatever, those don’t really develop, because they don’t have the autonomy to choose them when they’re that young.
Melody: Very much so.
Ocho: Like, I liked, what, like, He-Man and GI Joe because that’s what I was supposed to like, right? Did your school recognize that you were gifted at all?
Melody: Oh yeah, we had a gifted kid program. We had the alpha program A-L-P-H-A A Learning Program For High Achievers, and my problem with that. It’s been how many years since I’ve…
It’s kind of an awkward acronym. I was trying to make sense out of it. There’s an F in there, but there is not. And like, “A”? Is that you’re supposed to abbreviate?
Melody: It’s bizarre. But it, and it’s also been…like I said, the last year I was in the alpha program was sixth grade.
Ocho: I could just imagine you correcting them and being like, “you know, ‘A’ isn’t supposed to be abbreviated…”
Melody: “It doesn’t make sense in this acronym…FYI…”. But it was literally me and two other girls in the entire elementary school that were in the ALPHA program…
Ocho: And how many total?
Melody: Us three.
Ocho: Oh, just three, ok. You and two other girls. No boys.
Melody: No boys.
Ocho: OK I thought you’re going to say you were a minority, but ok so three girls and that’s it.
Melody: Yep. And I was constantly in and out because I had really, really high scores and like high achievement in science and reading, and all that. But my my math scores, any time I was out of math class, my math scores with dip really bad. And the Alpha program took place during math hour. So I was taken out of math to go participate in the Alpha program, and then my scores would dip in math because I wasn’t attending. And then they would kick me out of the Alpha program, and I go back in the math, and then my scores will come up and so then they put me back in the alpha program! Where I would then be taken out of class during math…
Ocho: What was your perception of that? Were you aware that that was it? And that was why? I mean, did you have any thoughts of like “Hey, I don’t belong in this gifted program…”
Melody: No, I knew I was smart. I knew I was smart. I would get mad every time they would kick me out, because I was like “I hate math.” And I don’t think that makes a person smart or not. Like, why…?
Ocho: It does seem to be that there’s a heuristic, or his mental shortcut of, like, “you are either a smart kid, or you’re a dull kid.” Without regard to subject matter. They think if you excel you’re pretty good at all things. Or like, you’re at least average at everything? I definitely went to school with people who have the same story you know?
Melody: I’ve heard it over and over again. And then I also recently found out that I have ADHD, which I did n’t know until about two years ago. And one of the things I heard a lot when I was a kid was “you’re so smart; why don’t you do better in school?” Apparently that is the rallying cry of the undiagnosed ADHD kid: “You’re so smart; why don’t you do better in school? Why don’t you focus, why don’t you do your homework, why don’t you do your assignments?” Because they bore me!
Ocho: What am I supposed to do? You expect me to do that? To sit there and write out the same math problem over and over…
Melody: And I’ve got it! I’m ready for something else now!
Ocho: Di you feel like you understood concepts? Or do you know what your issue was with math now?
Melody: I know precisely what my issue was with math. The major issue with math was the timed math test. I did not start struggling with math until we started having to do a timed math test every single day. The first couple minutes of math class was, “you have to do 100 problems in one minute.” And if you didn’t do it…and then you had to read your score out loud to the rest of the class. And I would just freeze with anxiety, and I wouldn’t even do one. And so the teacher would say “OK so what’s everybody …” she would read the answers off “number one, answer to number two, answer number three…” all the way down, and for every for every point for every problem you got right you got a point, and then she’s “OK now everybody read your score out loud to the rest of the class.” and everybody else is doing like 80, 90 and I’m like “zero.” And the entire class turns to look at me, which of course just makes the anxiety worse! So then I just started to dread math. And the only help I really got was, the teacher would say “Do you have any questions?” And my hand would shoot up, and then they would come over, and they would they would do a couple of problems on my paper. And say “There. Do you see how I got that?” and I would say “no.” And the response of every single teacher was to go
set the pen down, and walk away. Like, “my question has not been answered. Get back here!”
Ocho: Yeah, so there really wasn’t any follow up with that.
Melody: Nope, none whatsoever. And that’s the timed math problems in elementary school.
Ocho: Did you find you could do those problems if you weren’t in class or…?
Melody: Oh yeah. Totally.
Yeah, so the anxiety, I mean, it’s competition. And then like, it’s also being in front of everyone.
Melody: Yeah, public shaming.
Ocho: Yeah, public shaming. Public, anything. So can you tell me about the circumstances under which you left school? When was that?
Melody: So there were actually two different periods where I left school. One was in the middle of sixth grade: My mom had started to pick up on the fact that I was just miserable, and the teachers were telling her that I wasn’t applying myself. And she was like “but she’s miserable like yeah of course she’s not applying herself.” When you’re miserable, you don’t apply yourself. And a friend of hers younger brother was being homeschooled by his parents, and we’d never really heard of that before, but he was doing really well. And she said “you know what, let’s give this a try. Do you want to do homeschooling?” And I said “hell yeah. I do not like any of the other kids I’m in school with. I don’t like the teachers, I don’t like the curriculum…like yeah let’s absolutely try homeschooling.” So that’s what we did. She took me out of school middle of sixth grade, and at first she set up like a schedule and then had textbooks and stuff she wanted me to to be working through, and then after about a week of that she said “you don’t seem any happier.” I said “I’m not.” And she said, ”I think we’re trying to mimic school too much. Let’s branch out. Let’s just go to the library, and what do you want to learn about?” And I said “I don’t know; I like dolphins a lot.” And she said, “Let’s just get a bunch of books and dolphins, and then you give me a report at the end of the week, what you learned about dolphins and then we’ll go back to the library and do it all again.” So that’s what we did.
Ocho: Wow. Your mom is very open-minded and willing to take on quite a project too…
Melody: She can be; she really can be. She’s she’s got, a backbone of solid steel, I feel like, sometimes, and when she puts her mind to something. or when she sees something needs fixing, she really goes for it.
Ocho: Well, that’s great. I mean, it seems like you were fortunate to have that opportunity.
Melody: Yes. I know so many other kids’ parents who are like “oh she’s struggling and I don’t know what to do for her besides just keep putting heron that bus and sending her…” and my mom was like “she’s struggling. We’re going to do something different. We got to take a chance here.”
Ocho: You probably get each other pretty well because if you take after her and that kind of thing….
Melody: In some areas it depends. But anyway, you’d said about the time I left school…sixth grade was the first time.
Ocho: Ok and you were homeschooled for how long?
Melody: Three years. And then we moved to Mankato Minnesota from Eau Claire, and I didn’t have any friends. And when you’re a little kid, school is how you make friends. I tried joining the 4-H program. That wasn’t great. I tried joining like a couple of different groups and clubs around the area, but a lot of them a lot of the kids really cliqued up because of who they knew in school. So I said to mom “I wanna try going back to school; I don’t know if I’ll like it or not.” And she said “well in Wisconsin you can take a kid out of school for any reason whatsoever; in Minnesota there’s rules and we don’t meet them. So if you go back to school, that’s it. You’re back. And you’re stuck.” I was like, okay, so I thought about it for several months and then I said “I’m just friggin lonely, like I’ll try this.” So halfway through ninth grade I started at West High and we were coming back from winter break and all the teachers were doing testing to see what you had retained over winter break, and I put my hand up in the first hour, first period class, and I said “so we’re doing this test on material that I haven’t learned. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to sit it out? Do you want me to take the test? Like how do we want to do this?” And the teacher was a science class and he said “I would like you to take the test, just so I have an idea where you’re at.” I said “sure, ok/. That makes sense; I can do that.” So I took the test, well I got the test, I looked at the questions, and all the other kids were groaning over how hard it was. And the next day we got scores back and they were not good and the teacher was unimpressed with what the kids had retained, and kinda lectured a little bit like “You guys weren’t really doing very well.” I got a perfect score. And I was dismayed at how simplistic the material was. And I thought to myself “I have made a terrible terrible mistake.”
Ocho: Yes, it’s going to be boring.
Melody: This is gonna be so boring. I am already well ahead of everyone here, and now I’m stuck in this structure again, where I could be doing so much more, and learning an knowing so much more than what they are going to teach.
Ocho: So you felt back in the same place as you were three years ago? How long did that take? A couple days?
Melody: Like oh no, that was the first test. First Day.
Ocho: Okay and did tyou sort of have the same difficulties and math and that kind of thing too?
Melody: Oh yeah. Exact same difficulties. And then further yet, I had missed a couple years of beginning algebra, and I was jumping right into the lowest class of Algebra in high school. It was remedial, but it was Algebra 1.I had not been taught the order of operations. I had never heard of the order of operations. They did not ever reteach the order of operations. So I kept getting the wrong answer consistently. Yeah, and when I would ask for help, the teacher would come over, do a problem without saying anything and say “there, do you see how I got that?” And I would say no…
Ocho: Did they have any tutoring?
Melody: Nope, they put me in remedial algebra. And then we did we did a unit on graphing, and I just shut up with an A+ in graphing. But then we went back to algebra and I went right back down to an F. And I could not understand why I wasn’t getting the right answer. And it was, I think I was in my mid-20s, and I was complaining about this to a friend, and then he said “oh yeah cause you got a remember the order of operations” and I said the who-what-now? Because even in remedial algebra they did not bring up the order of operations. Not once.
Ocho: Were you talking to guidance counselors and things like that? Was anybody…
Melody: I was talking to a guidance counselor, and her entire response was “you’re so smart. Why don’t you do better?”
Ocho: So it seems like, I suppose hindsight is 2020, but it seems like we can look at your situation right now, and say “wow it’s very clear that there are certain areas that were deficits and certain areas where there’s a huge surplus of knowledge” and couldn’t they do something for you as a student in your unique situation? It seems like we can pinpoint exactly what it was. It wasn’t even just algebra. It was all these parts of algebra; algebra except for graphing or whatever. Minus graphing, if you will. You’d think that something could be done like someone could be nurturing your strengths or helping you out with with these other areas that are that are difficult, and going back and being like you know “we’ll just get get it as caught up as we can.” Do something like that you know… I haven’t worked in the education system except for a little tiny stint I had in high school everyone is on IEP’s in this high school because it was an alternative high school. Was there any options like that, or was there an individualized program for you or alternative school…?
Melody: There was an alternative school was where the kids who were on parole went or the girls were pregnant. And it was dumbed down. It was for the slow kids. It was definitely not for exceptional kids. Or for kids that were exceptional in some areas, but needed assistance in others.
Ocho: Yeah, I mean, I can imagine how dull that would be.
Melody: Yeah, well not only dull, but these were, like I said, these are the kids that were on parole. So there were drugs…
Melody: They were constantly fighting and going back to jail. And going to juvie. It wasn’t a safe environment.
Ocho: So was that talked about, or was that just off the table.
Melody: I knew it was available. I was not the slightest bit interested in setting foot on that campus.
Ocho: No one suggested it to you…
Melody: Or not even a little bit. No, I think the
worthless guidance counselor suggested it and I was like, “Are you joking? I’m in advanced English,and pulling A’s. Please explain to me why I need Alternative High school. Because I can’t get through Algebra. And because I hate it here and I’m bored.
Ocho: I mean, you don’t have to convince me. It sounds like a bad idea.
Melody: so when I was 16, I had the flu and my mom was a college student herself.
Ocho: So you say, we started a ninth grade, so where are we at now? 16?
Melody: 16. So I’m part way through sophomore year.
Ocho: So you did stick it out like a year and a half maybe or something.
Melody: I tried really hard, but I got got the flu, and my mom was a college kid, she was a college student herself. We didn’t have health insurance. The state health insurance that we have available today was not available at the time, so I got sicker than a dog, and I couldn’t go to the doctor. But we knew it was the flu my baby sister had health insurance, and she got it she caught it from me, and she got to go to the doctor, and she was diagnosed. So we knew it was influenza. I was sick for a month, before I started to feel better. And when I went back to school, my guidance counselor came and took me out of class and said “where have you been?” and I said “I had influenza.” she said “do you have doctor’s notices?” and I said “no I don’t have insurance” and she said “you’re gonna have to repeat this year if you can’t provide doctor’s notices.” My mom called and said “this is bullshit. She was sicker than hell; I wasn’t going to send her to school, she couldn’t even keep her eyes open. How is she supposed to provide a doctor’s notice when we do not have health insurance?”And the school said “regardless if she can’t provide doctor’s notices she will have to repeat this year.” And my mom said, “how about if I sign the paperwork for you to drop out” And I said “sounds good!” So that was the second time I left school.
Ocho: You always have options. but I mean at that point, it’s sort of, the writing’s on the wall right?
Melody: I was very backed into a corner at that point yes.
Ocho: And it seems as though that the policy is discriminatory against people of a certain income, who can’t afford to have health insurance.
Melody: Oh 100%. And it’s still the policy to this day.
Ocho: But there is State Insurance now/
Melody: Yes, that’s an option. To hopefully help fill in some of the gaps. But if you’re undocumented, you can’t get state health insurance.
Ocho: That is true too. And this show is all about exceptions. It’s all about exceptionals. It’s all about exceptional people who don’t do that. Maybe they don’t have documentation. Maybe they don’t have health insurance. So we think about them here and we pay you tribute. So how did people react to you leaving?
Melody: Depends on the people. Because I was malcontent I had fallen in with a bad crowd. And before I dropped out pretty much most of the kids that I was hanging out with had already dropped out. But a lot of them were starting to drink, or starting to do drugs, or were in and out of Juvie, or pregnant, and I was starting to disassociate from them. I was like “I’m dropping out but I’m not dropping out for the same reasons that you are dropping out.”
Ocho: Did you acquire any of those bad habits or?
Melody: I did not, strangely. I did start cutting school a lot, because I was like, “why am I here. This is pointless, I’m leaving.” But my mom’s response was, “if I sign this paperwork for you to drop out, you have to promise me you’re going to get a GED, and you’re going to go to college.” And I’m 16 and I said, “I promise. I totally promise. That sounds good to me.” and so she signed the paperwork.
Ocho: I just want to take a second in the middle to talk to our listeners. Thank you for listening to this podcast. I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback about the production, and the concept, and the content. If you’re a financial contributor, I want to thank you especially. Even if you’re just giving a few dollars a month, it really does help keep the lights on around here. And to anyone interested in making a contribution, you can do that at idontdothatpodcast.com/give.
Melody: My teachers…I had to go back to class one more time, and get a signature from each of my teachers, and from the principal or the vice principal. The vice principal yelled at me for 20 minutes. So that just convinced me even more that I did not belong there. A couple of my teachers just signed the paper and didn’t even look at me. One of my teachers said “this is a sad day. You’re a very smart kid and you have a really great attitude. I don’t like signing this paper for you.” And I was 16; I shrugged.
Ocho: Yeah I suppose that’s what you do.
Melody: I was like I can’t I can’t help you with that man. Just get me out of here.
Ocho: So, anybody else, any classmates or anything? Was there any reactions from them?
Melody: Not really, I had one or two of the kids in my Advanced English class who were mad at me, but they just repeated the same thing, “you’re so smart. Why are you doing this?”And I was like, “I don’t know, maybe because I am a little too smart for this place.”
Ocho: Sure. Yeah, it’s not set up for you. It seems like maybe is the answer in hindsight.
Melody: Precisely. Yeah, this isn’t a good place for anyone of any kind of exceptional ability, whether that’s exceptionally needing help, or exceptionally smart.
Ocho: Like, especially if it’s both. I think that’s got to be the case.
Melody: Right, which was even more frustrating! Because I definitely needed way more help in certain areas, but I was definitely just excelling on my own in others. And I couldn’t get assistance either way.
Ocho: I’d be interested in…I don’t make the show a public forum at all, because it’s just about people being able to tell their story, and I don’t think anybody else has anything to say about it. But I would be kind of interested in knowing what people involved in the education system think about a case, you know, like yours. You know today, or in other places, or whatever, maybe they have something. It would be good for people to think about that anyway people in administration and whatnot.
Melody: Yeah, you would think.
Ocho: So did you get your GED?
Melody: I did get my GED. I got it early, and I got a 99% score on it. I was supposed to take…because I was under 18, I was supposed to take classes, and then practice tests before I actually took the test to get the GED. I went into the fellow that was coordinating all that, and I said “I don’t want to take courses. I don’t want to take practice tests; I just want to take the test, I wanna get this over with.” And he said “OK I’ve got a waiver here that I can sign, and get you into the actual testing.” I said “great,” so he did that, and it’s funny I was telling somebody else about this little while ago, and they said “he probably expected you to fail and have to come back and take the courses” and I was like “maybe. That’s entirely possible.” but instead I flew through with flying colors, passed with a 99%, I got my GED when I was 16.
Ocho: okay and there is math on this, right?
Melody: There’s math on that. Yeah, but basic math, not algebra. Which I’ve always been able to understand. I can’t do it fast, but I’ve always understood addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, long division…those make sense to me. I’ve got it. Yeah, no problem. There was a little bit of algebra on there. Yeah, which is why I got a ninety-NINE percent.
99 %. That’s the one percent there.
Melody: Because I scored 100% in reading comprehension. I scored 100% on the essay part. I scored 100% in the science reading comprehension, and then I scored just under a perfect score in the math. And I know it was the algebra questions that tripped me up
Ocho: Are you any better at math now?
Melody: a bit? Yeah, I would say, I can make change like a demon.
Ocho: Nice. That’s great. Do that arithmetic quickly.That’s probably what, in grade school, they were pointing out that you couldn’t do.
Melody: Exactly and then the other thing I think is funny, is when I was in first or second grade I was counting on my fingers to get the answer, and the teacher came over and said, “you can’t count on your fingers.” And I said, “why not?” and she said, “because when you’re an adult, and you go to the bank, and you need to take out money or put money in, and you sit and count on your fingers, everyone will laugh at you.” And I was I was thinking about that the other day, and I was at the bank, and I was counting on my fingers to find out how much I wanted to take out and how much I wanted to put in, and guess who laughed at me?
Ocho: uh, zero people.
Melody: Zero people. Because we’re all adults, number one, and number two, because as far as the bank is concerned, I’m a customer. And you don’t laugh at your customers.
Ocho: No. Customers do way stupider stuff than that, and they do not get laughed at. So you got your GED. Did you go to college then like you said?
Melody: I applied to MSU to go to school and I was accepted. I applied in the spring, and was accepted early summer, and then I thought about it through the summer, and in the fall when it came time to enroll, I decided not to. And then I did, a couple years later, try going to south-central community school, and I was in school for a week and a half and I called my sister and I said, “I feel so frustrated and so out of place, and so much like I do not belong there.” And she said “why are you doing it?” And I said “I don’t want people to be mad at me for giving up,” and she said “so you’re doing this to impress other people?” and I said “oh my God! Good point!” and I got off the phone with her, and I went and I got online, and I unenrolled from all my classes. And I paid $200 in student loans
Ocho: Was that feeling any different than high school? No, it’s all the same…just, boring, and like, “I don’t need to go through all this kind of thing…”
Melody: I was sitting in comp 101 and we were reading a book, it was a really good book. The book was “A lesson before dying.” I don’t remember the authors name, but it was a really good, really intense book. And the teacher, the instructor, wanted us to write a one-page essay on why the main character’s task was so daunting. And I was like, “this is gonna be a hard essay to write. Like how do you define exactly like what he’s going through? It’s really tough, like this is gonna be tricky to figure out.” And the kid behind me, who is almost 10 years younger than me, raised his hand and said “What does daunting mean?” And I went “I got to get out of here.” This is not where I belong. And so, actually, I asked my comp 101 teacher if there was a way I could test out of the class, and she got really mad at me and told me that that was extremely presumptuous, and that when a student requests to test out, it creates all kinds of extra work for the instructor. And that that was very inappropriate of me to ask. And I was like “I’ll just leave then.”
Ocho: That kind of sounds like she just didn’t want to do the work that she’s hired to do. I mean, it’s an exception, but it’s still something she’s supposed to do, right?
Melody: Yes technically. I feel like she was very invested in college as an institution, and as the only institution available tor moving forward, or moving up or being intelligent. Like “This is your only option, and damn it, you’re going to go through it the way that you are supposed to go through it, because that’s how I went through it, and that’s how people are supposed to go through it.” I really got that impression from her when I talked to her.
Ocho: So okay, do you find yourself at a disadvantage, or do you find any benefits?
Melody: Both. On the one hand, college particularly. I have never found myself to be at a disadvantage with not getting a high school diploma. Not ever. A GED is generally excepted as being just as good by employers and colleges everywhere. Like it’s just not a thing. Nobody actually cares. Like they tell you to stay in school and get your diploma; nobody actually cares.
Ocho: Somebody probably does at some elite schools, and things like that.
Melody: I was gonna say, I’m betting you can’t get into Harvard with a GED, but I never wanted to, So there we are. But yeah, like MSU, like the more medium size schools…none of them ever cared that I had my GED. They were way more concerned about my SAT scores, which were also in the 90th percentile, so there we go. I have found that I am a resourceful learner I have found that I have all of this information available to me that I can just go get, and learn. Like if I want to learn about anything…I got really curious about Islam a few years ago and I just went and got a bunch of books about Islam, and started learning about it. And I I love that. I love that we have that available to us as a population. I love that it’s it’s not something you have to pay for; library cards are freely available, and libraries are very well stocked. And if you can’t find something you’re looking for at your local library, you can get it from another library like they can get it in from another…it’s phenomenal
Ocho: And you can getused paperbacks for like five bucks online. You can get any book delivered to your house. selling paperbacks for like five bucks?
Melody: Exactly. Actually there’s so much knowledge available.
Ocho: I buy used books, paperbacks, and read them and then give them away because like, I don’t want it hanging out…
Melody: Like once it’s in your brain. Yeah, you got it. And then somebody else should know.
Ocho: Maybe I’ll loan it out, maybe I’ll get it back, amybe I won’t, but it’s like 5 bucks, 10 bucks.
Melody: Right? Great, it’s great. Absolutely. We have a ton of knowledge available to us. And I feel like, of the college grads that I’ve met, I don’t feel like a lot of them—some of them do, some of them do—but I don’t feel like a lot of them understand that, or take advantage of it, or know how. And I do, which I love. So I feel like that’s a benefit.
Ocho: And you have curiosity. Like that is a thing that you have.
Melody: And it’s been nurtured. Yeah like when I was a kid school, school never nurtured it but my mom did. And my grandparents did. That was huge.
Ocho: I’m guessing that school might have done the opposite of nurturing.
Melody: Quite a bit. Yeah, so I feel like that’s a benefit. I feel like the high school diploma is a non-issue, but the college degree has been a little bit of a problem, simply because college is so build as a track to get a job, right, and it’s so frustrating. Because I also heard on NPR the statistic that 89% of college graduates are not working in their degrees field. And it’s like why would I want to take out these incredible loans, and spend spent so much time in a place where I’m miserable to get a job that I probably can’t even get with this degree. However lots of other more professional or executive level-positions do you require a college degree. It doesn’t have to necessarily be in the field that you’re applying to, but they want you to have something, and if it’s kind of relevant then that’s great. And I don’t. And that has been a bit of a hold back, but I don’t want to work in those positions anyway. Sooo…
Ocho: So some interpretation I might offer is just that you are, and have been, like your whole life, you’ve been a leader of yourself, if nothing else, in not following these things. And these institutions are there to institutionalize you. And they prepare you for more institutions and that just might not be your thing.
Melody: Precisely. I definitely have always been like a strike-out-and-do-my-own-kind-of-thing-kind-of-person.
Ocho: Are there any exceptions to that? Are any institutions you belong to, or that you’re fond of?
Melody: Nothing I can think of.
Ocho: Okay, I do think we’ve talked a bit about like…there’s definitely some smart people who are successful in school, and some smart people who are unsuccessful in school.
Melody: And quite successful outside of it.
Ocho: Yeah, exactly. And then there are people who are not as bright as average, who are good in school. And, you know, what we would expect, other people who fail because they’re they’re not that bright. So there’s all kinds of the outcomes.
Melody: Oh yeah 100%
Ocho: So you’re at your sort of an exception, or an an outlier. Being a smart person. It’s been demonstrated, and you’re not shy about it. I knew it before he came in because we’ve known each other…I knew it when I first met you; it didn’t take long to figure out.
Melody: I’m proud of the fact that I’m bright. I don’t want to lord it over anyone, and I don’t think it makes me better than other people, but it’s like having green eyes. I’m proud of the fact that I have green eyes; I like my green eyes. I’m proud of the fact that I’m smart. I like being smart.
Ocho: Sure. And it seems to matter less as an adult. They tell you it matters more than it does.
Melody: Oh yes.
Ocho: But then that’s probably true for everything as a kid. They’re like, “oh, you’re so fast. Oh, that’s good. You’re going to succeed in life because you can run fast.”
No…office jobs don’t require you to be very fast.
Ocho: Yeah, pretty much nothing requires you to run fast.
Melody: Unless you go right into athletics. And how many people actually do that?
Ocho: Professionally? It’s so slim.
Melody: Right? It’s such a narrow margin.
Ocho: You have a pursuit, an intellectual pursuit that’s your passion, which is writing novels. Urban fantasy novels.
Melody: Yes, urban fantasy. So I write vampire novels. I have a couple of faerie books out. I’m working on a ghost story. The elevator pitch for the first vampire book is this: The main character has not been a vampire for very long; she’s only been around her for a couple of years. She was turned by her best friend, and in the first chapter her best friend is brutally murdered. She has no idea who would do such a thing; She realize she doesn’t actually know a whole lot about his past, and now she’s completely on her own and the killer is coming after her too. She has to figure out how to survive as a vampire without a mentor, but also try to figure out why the killer is coming for her, and stop him before he can hurt her.
Ocho: That’s exciting. That’s the first one; That’s “In The Dark.” Right?
Melody: “In The Dark.”
Ocho: Well that’s wonderful. Is there anything tied to “I don’t do that,” that don’t have our high school diploma, that’s related to writing? Or would you say that like you write just as well or better not having it?
Melody: I would say I write just as well or better, not having it. Just because it’s such an innate thing. I was reading a book about language and the development in humans. And it was brought up by Steven Pinker.
Ocho: We read the same nonfiction, I’m pretty sure.
Melody: I’m pretty sure we do.
Ocho: We should trade some books.
Melody: We should. But one of the things that he brought up was that language is an instinct. And it’s something that, if babies have the right environment, they will just grow up doing it. They just do it. Instinctively. Writing is a human invention that must be taught. And some people are good at it; some people are natural that it; some people can muddle through OK, and some people suck at it. And that’s and it’s it’s the same as like being a car mechanic or building a house, or knowing electric-…like it’s it’s it’s it’s a human invention, and it’s something that must be taught, and it must be learned, and it’s not innate. It’s not some thing that everybody can just do.
Ocho: It’s a technology. It hasn’t always existed either, probably. All the theory I know goes along with that too.
Melody: Precisely. And I find I find myself in the fortunate position of just being a natural at it. I just picked it up right away. My mom handed me the Chronicles of Narnia, and I dove in. And that was it that was it for me.
Ocho: Do you have experience being educated in writing or is it all…
Melody: All self-taught. One of my other favorite nonfiction subjects to read is, “how to write a good novel.”
Ocho: There you go. So that was an education for you, then. Reading other books.
Melody: Oh yes definitely.
So on writing and that kind of thing….Are there any others you would recommend?
Melody: There’s so many. I don’t necessarily recommend Stephen King’s “on writing.” It’s not a bad like beginner-beginner book, but it doesn’t take you passed any any starter concepts. I really liked Lawrence Block’s “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit,” which is a fun title. And then it’s just a pretty well-written book. But I understand…I haven’t read any of his other books, but I guess he’s got a whole series on writing that’s really fantastic. I really liked “getting the words right” is the name of the book. I cannot remember the name of the author… The Art of Fiction was another one. Oh! Strunk and White
Together: The Elements of Style.
Melody: Such a good basic like, “Get started. Get it right” book.
Ocho: When do you use a semicolon? Strunk and White; they know. Every single time.
Melody: They can tell you. Every single time. In a couple of paragraphs: they just lay it out: here’s how you do it. Go forth and write.
Ocho: I love using semicolons because I know how.
They’re real useful.
Melody: They can be! In the right place, they’re perfect.
Ocho: I read Kurt Vonnegut, something he wrote about writing, and he says just don’t use them. But he’s funny. And made it funny when he said it.
Melody: Fair enough. You want to make sure that you’re not overusing strange punctuation, but when it’s right, it’s perfect! And then, as for a little bit more advanced, plot structure, “the story grid.” I picked that up a couple years ago, and it was illuminating. It was totally illuminating. There’s lots and lots of books on fiction writing that talk about sentence structure, and characterization, and dialogue, and building backstory, and all that, but there’s not very many that really get into how a story should be structured. Like first A then B then C then D then the end. Like the character needs to be accomplishing X in order to move towards Y. Like, in a lot of writing books that I have picked up, that’s very much just left to the author’s imagination, which can get very frustrating when you recognize that there is a structure, but you do not know what it is. So “The Story Grid” was hugely helpful in figuring out exactly what that structure is supposed to look like, and how to move a character through a situation in a way that is interesting, and keeps things moving. I really loved that book. Like I said was just totally illuminating. I loved it.
Ocho: It seems like you could offer some education on how to write.
Melody: I probably could.
Ocho: I think these days people are sort of realizing that we can learn a lot of things on our own. and I mean a lot of it is the internet. I figured out what was wrong with my toilet. You know, I’m not I’m not that kind a guy, but I’ll just give an earnest try at anything, and there are people out there wanna do want to teach you things.
Melody: I hope so. I know there’s a lot of reskilling going around. A lot of that has to do with homesteading: knitting and canning and gardening…that kind of thing going around. But it’s like there’s so much more. there’s so so much more that you can learn on your own.
Ocho: You can develop your own ways to do it, too. To me, the part of the thing about not going through the mill of education, is that you come out different. And I mean, we’ve already read Stephen King. And I suspect his book on writing was really rudimentary cause he’s going to write another one, you know. He’s a very commercially marketable guy. He’s probably like, “oh I could write three four of these…write them in little stages.” But we’ve all read Stephen King, and we love him but how many do we need? How many Dan Browns do we need? How many…so someone who has a different education or has educated themself could come out different and I mean I like I like a lot of musicians that way too, who do not have the same education.
Melody: Or even a formal music education.
Ocho: Yeah, any. I mean, I could talk about Kurt Cobain or whatever. But it’s simple and then then you play it, and you know approach it from a theory perspective, and you’re like, “what was he doing? This is really complicated.” But he just did it from his ear.
Melody: But he’s made it up. He just sat down and went, “this sounds cool.”
Ocho: Because he heard other music. And if he had gone through learning the major scale first, and so on, he wouldn’t have got there. He only lived to 27.
Melody: Right? Oh my gosh.
Ocho: He would not have gotten there.
Melody: No not at all. But instead we have Nirvana.
Ocho: And it’s young music, because he was a young punk kid. And then he has this sophisticated sensibility just from listening to music because that’s what comes out of him. I admire a lot of stuff like that, and it wouldn’t exist if he was educated about it.
Melody: Exactly. Did Juilliard turn out John Lennon or Kurt Cobain or the Beatles? No.
Ocho: What are your thoughts on that? On people going to school and going and doing the regular things?
Melody: If I mean, if that’s what suits you, more power to you. Like the reason why these institutions are set up the way they are, is partly because it does suit a lot of people. We need to start making exceptions for the exceptional, instead of just assuming that everybody is a cookie cutter and all fits into one shape. But for some people, school is very interesting. It’s a way to get out of the house. It’s a way to learn things that they wouldn’t otherwise look for themselves.
Ocho: To socialize…
Melody: To socialize. Absolutely. All of these things are perfectly valid and perfectly reasonable, but like I said…
Ocho: …learn how to function in an institution. We were talking about that.
Melody: Yeah, exactly. Like if you want to go into an office job and climb a corporate ladder, college is a great place to start. And I don’t want that. But I’m not everybody. That’s fine. Everybody wants different things: I don’t want children. I like dogs, but I don’t want one in my house. I love cats. Not everybody agrees with me on these things.
Ocho: These are future episodes.
Exactly. I want to write books. I like urban fantasy. I don’t like romance, like there’s…everybody’s different. Everybody’s totally different, and what suits one person very well, great! Go for it! It doesn’t suit everybody. And I think that’s the main thing that we need to get away from: just because something suits a few people or even a lot of people, it doesn’t mean it’s going to suit everyone. And it doesn’t mean that those people are bad, or not going to succeed, or shameful in any way.
Ocho: Yeah, just because you don’t fit in.
Melody: Right? Exactly. Like not everybody’s going to. Yes, they should be allowed. It’s fine.
Ocho: And you will fit somewhere else.
Melody: Precisely. I’ve definitely found my place. I was always the weird kid, always the outcast when I was in elementary school. In high school started finding more like me. As an adult I have found the musicians and the actors and the dancers and the readers and writers…I have found my people. And I didn’t have them until I was probably about 17-18 years old. But now I have them; and I have so many of them. And they’re great. And I know where my tribe is.
Ocho: That’s that’s amazing Melody. I’m happy for you.
Melody: Thanks! Me too.
Ocho: And thank you for being on the show.
Melody: Thank you so much for having me.
Ocho: People, did you like today’s podcast? Maybe you want to show your support. Please visit idontdothatpodcast.com/give to make a donation in the amount that you choose. That’s idontdothatpodcast.com/give. It would help us very much, and we’ll help you out, too by giving you access to exclusive content with a donation of any amount.
And/or if you have an interesting, heartfelt, or entertaining story about something you don’t do, and you’d like to talk to me, and get into whatever you’re not into, on this podcast, please visit ochotunes.com/guest to apply to be a guest on our show.
My name is Ocho. I’m your host, chief engineer and producer. I also composed and performed the theme song. Shoutout to Uncle Bam’s Spicy Meme Shack in Vancouver, BC. Shout out to The Nomadic Minister, Melissa Ketchum; I got to compose and record music for her podcast, The Awakening Hour, which will debut on November 11th. If you need any music composed, recorded, or even performed live, please contact me on my website, ochotunes.com. Shout out always to our sponsor Anders with PrimeTime Web. Background music was performed throughout today’s episode by Tyler Watson. Thanks again to our guest, Melody, for sharing your thoughts and stories.
Thanks to all of you, for all that you do, and DON’T do. I will talk to you again. …if I’m lucky.