Last week, I decided to start taking math classes through a free online learning course. You ever make a decision as an adult that you know your teenage self would have laughed at you for? Yeah.
I can hardly over-estimate the agonies math caused me in high school. I failed my math classes three years in a row, to the point that my guidance counselor wrote me off as not expected to graduate. I did graduate, and on time, but technically I was never promoted to the 12th grade, which created a lot of amusing confusion for my teachers.
My problems in math (and to a slightly lesser degree, science) had less to do with the subject itself and more to do with the fact that I just wasn’t very good at being a student. I’d gone to Christian schools from kindergarten to eighth grade, where I made straight A’s and B’s with essentially zero effort, but when I transferred to a public high school in 9th grade I discovered that I was about two years behind grade level in every subject. Thanks to the paltriness of my education, I had never developed the kind of study habits that might have helped me get caught up, and both my teachers and parents were oblivious to what was happening, so no one made any accommodation for me. This, plus the fact that I was dealing with serious problems at home that left me little energy to worry about school, insured that I was always an indifferent student, at least until my senior year when I realized that I was in danger of not getting into college.
I’ve watched The Normal Heart three times over the last week.
Anxiety interferes with a lot of things that it doesn’t even make sense for it to interfere with. Like absorbing new media. Everyone knows that anxious people sometimes have trouble leaving the house, or being otherwise social; I’m not sure how many people who haven’t struggled with anxiety know that it can also make it scary to venture into unpredictable emotional territory by getting caught up in a movie or a book you haven’t read before. But that’s one of the biggest things I struggle with. If you’re the sort of person who connects deeply with character and story, watching a new movie is a lot like going to a stranger’s house for the first time. Will I like the people I’m going to spend time with? Are they going to say or do things that make my anxiety worse? Will I feel trapped there, obligated to stick it out to the end even though I’m having a really bad time of it emotionally?
With regards to The Normal Heart, I actually know a lot of people who’ve delayed seeing it or decided to give it a miss altogether, because all you have to do is watch the trailer to know that it’s going to be devastating. The Normal Heart is about the dawn of the AIDS epidemic, when no one knew anything about AIDS except that it was killing gay men in droves. The story follows writer and activist Ned Weeks as he tries to raise awareness about the disease in the face of indifference from the straight world and opposition to his confrontational methods from the gay community.
I tend to feel intense sympathetic anxiety for characters who are trying to tell the world an important truth that no one wants to listen to. It borders on being triggering. But stories about the fight for justice, equality, representation, etc., are my favorites kind of stories, so I knew I couldn’t not watch it. Plus, it’s about queer history.
A well-known problem with queer media is that it tends to be depressing as hell. I know plenty of queer people who find movies like this too upsetting to watch, just like I know die-hard Benedict Cumberbatch fans who aren’t sure they’ll be able to bear seeing The Imitation Game (trailer link) because they know how Alan Turing’s story ends. I definitely had to gird my mental loins before I sat down to watch, but I’m so glad I did, because if nothing else, The Normal Heart proved just how little queer history I actually knew.