On Middle School Misery
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On Middle School Misery


Good morning Hank, it’s Tuesday. So due to tornados and broken airplanes and
a chain of events too complicated for my exhausted brain to unravel, I have visited airports
9 times in the past 100 hours and I am very tired, and recently I unexpectedly found myself
alone on a train in New York, the city where Brotherhood 2.0 began for me, and also the
city where earlier this year we played a sold out show at Carnegie Hall, a dependent clause
that I will get tired of saying when never. So anyway, there I was on the train blinking
a lot, because my eyes desperately wanted to be closed, and I kept thinking about this
tumblr message I had received earlier, from a middle school student, who is currently
attending the very same school that I attended in 7th grade, and who has one of the same
teachers that I had. The message read in part: Ms [name retracted]
and I were talking, and she told me that you were a quiet, unique and miserable boy in
middle school. She also told me that you were bullied because of your awesomeness. It didn’t feel like awesomeness at the time
of course, at the time, I was just miserable. I mean Hank, you’ll note that this teacher
didn’t say I was a good student, because I wasn’t. I wasn’t merely a nerd, I was, or
at least I felt like I was, a stupid nerd, which is like the worst kind of combo. I take
that back, pizza combos are the worst kind of combos, they are an insult to pizza. But anyway, I almost never think about middle
school now Hank, but the message really forced me to remember it, and also I was on a train,
which inherently makes you kind of nostalgic. So yeah, it’s true that I was miserable, and
that I was bullied. In fact, I would often fantasise about hurting my bullies, or holding
a gun to their heads and making them apologise, making them feel as scared and powerless as
I felt. But of course, that isn’t the way forward. I realise now that the people who bullied
me were not evil, they were kids, living with their own fear and pain, some of whom were
dealing with trauma and abuse that I never even could of imagined. Now that doesn’t justify
their behaviour, but it does help me to understand that it really wasn’t about me. Their treatment
of me was not a reflection of my value as a human being, and while it was very difficult
for me to feel anything but miserable in those days, in retrospect I survived middle school
because many people in fact were quite kind to me. My parents, teachers, fellow nerds
and even popular strangers who wouldn’t stand for bullying. We decide collectively what kind of behaviour
is acceptable, and while The Lord of the Flies would have you believe that like adolescents
always descend into mere cruelty, my experience of social orders has been much more complicated.
I’ve found that sometimes, often even, kids are capable of tremendous kindness and generosity,
in fact that’s been the hallmark of the nerdfighter community for more than seven years now, and
I’m proud to be a nerdfighter in part because I wish so much that I could have been one
in 7th grade. There are always nerdfighters in Our Pants (link in the dooblydoo) who
will listen to you if you will also listen back, and that is truly awesome. Right so anyway Hank, there was this moment
onstage at Carnegie Hall, during the soundcheck, when John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats
said into the mic: “this is a message for sixteen year old me, not only did you survive,
you are playing piano at Carnegie Hall”. Now I’m not going to tell you that like everyone
who has a tough time as a kid ends up at Carnegie Hall, but the idea that those years have to
be the best of your life is just ridiculous. So to the young woman who wrote me, to myself,
stranded far from home in an endless string of airports and train rides, I call up the
great Robert Frost quote: “The only way out is through”. You will get through. I will
get through. Hank, I will see you, hopefully from Indianapolis,
on Friday.

About James Carlton

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100 thoughts on “On Middle School Misery

  1. Thanks for making me find out about Frost's "A Servant to Servants" even if the original ironizes "making it through" a little more than your take does.

  2. You're very courageous for speaking publicly about this harder part of your life, John. Congratulations for that.

    You obviously don't have to answer the following questions if they make you uncomfortable, John, and I sincerely hope I'm not bringing back unpleasant memories by just asking them. If I do, I'm terribly sorry. But is it possible for you to talk about what exactly did your bullies did to you, or is that too painful to tell? That way I'd truly be able to feel your pain.

    What made you realize that your bullies were dealing with trauma at that time? Was it insight that you gained as you grew up, or did you learn things about them in later years?

    If it makes you feel any better, John, I too was bullied in school. Growing up I was a very over-sensitive person with poor social skills. And every year from K4 to 12th grade there was always at least one person who got a kick out of how easy it was to push my buttons. I realize now that this isn't as bad as other types of torture that people throughout the world have endured in school (I never got a swerlie, a wedgie, etc.) and thus my experience is probably best described as "teasing", but make no mistake, my pain was very real. There were too many times in which I didn't feel good or safe going to school. I had to learn to be more open minded, and smarter than my tormentors. Fortunately, as the years passed and me and my peers matured the bullying stopped almost entirely by the time I'd reached 12th grade. I even managed to become friends with students who had given me a hard time in primary and elementary.

  3. Damn. I never imagined myself harming my bullies. I always dreamed of being stronger… so much stronger I could protect myself and them too (incidentally). Young me could imagine having a gun, but not in a face-off against other humans way.

    And so you became a writer.

  4. These guys have such amazing perspective and are so smart but it is important to know they don't know everything and they have their own biases. That being said I'm a big fan

  5. I have watched this video several times over the course of a few years and I have suddenly realized that I am in middle school and I am very grateful for this video.

  6. I always come back to this video… I remember watching it a year ago when I started going to therapy because I was bullied in school… I had really bad depression. Now, I still have depression and I am still going to therapy but I have more experience and I kind of see everything in a different way…. and a year ago I couldn't completely understand the video but now I do. And it really is true. "The only way out is through." Thank you John, for being with me for so long. DFTBA

  7. I just wanted to say thank you for this. As someone who is currently experiencing what can only be called a depressive downswing, hearing these words is a comfort I knew I would find yet again. This video is a go to for me and I really appreciate it in this moment. Thank you John.

  8. I find that John and I had very similar experiences in middle school and high school, except for one key difference. I went to public school.

  9. I'm in 8th grade and. I don't get bullied but I stand up to bullies when I see them and to anyone who's getting bullied because of who you are just stand up and say I'm proud of myself and you can't make me feel any differently p.s was bullied at one point

  10. I just can't stop thinking about the other people on this train watching this strange man staring into a video camera doing nothing.

  11. Dear Comment Section Void,

    I listen to this like it's poetry, I play it over again, three times in a row. It never ceases to amaze me the feeling of really connecting to an artist's artwork. It's like someone wrote your heart a lovesong. Thank you John for making Art and thinking deeply and loving all of us so widely!

  12. I'm in middle school now and this video made me think about how being bullied is different now at least how I see it. People don't get bullied by one person as much. An unspoken agreement between everyone just causes everyone to be a little more impatient or rude to this person which is arguably worse than just having a few people to watch out for. Now I'm just trying to remember that anyone can be having a bad day or a worse day or a day that could be only described as the epitome of suffering and that by being kind nobody can say anything against you other than you are weird or somethin. But better to be weird than a bully. Idk how much of a train wreck that is. Lol

  13. I remember middle school was horrible for me. I wasn't bullied, but I was an immigrant, and I had an accent. I went to a school in Miami where hispanic kids born in the US would discriminate foreign-born hispanic kids. I felt like a second class citizen throughout 7th and 8th grade.

    High school was 99x better. My accent kind of faded away, and high school kids were mature enough to not care about where you were born.

  14. does anyone have advice for surviving bullies once you're out of school? a workplace bully has replaced my school bullies before him and I don't knew what to do or if there is any escape.

  15. I'm 36, and the eldest brother, and I was miserable in junior school. And senior school. I frustrated my teachers and parents because I was obviously bright, but was only really concerned with fitting my slightly nerdy self in with all the cool kids. In my head I know that school was not a waste of time, but I feel like it was. Now if youtube had existed when I was at school..

    Btw my mum has sung at Carnegie hall, despite being from wales 😀

  16. the only way out is through, because you can't go under it, you can't go over it, you have to go through it!

    that book was my childhood foRGIvE mE

  17. I feel like a stupid nerd all the time. I love a bunch of nerdy things and I love learning, but I am not good at school.

  18. When I was at Primary school in Australia the first thing most of us were taught was if you have a problem you should solve it yourself. While this is essential to being independent and mature it also meant our teachers sucked at handling bullying. Quite often students would start teasing each other which would then dissolve into severe abuse. However telling the teacher meant you were a snitch, a weakling. Meaning if you were bullied it was because you deserved to be bullied, that was the kind if school I spent 6 years at. I was able to overcome bullying because of two things. I was academically one of the best students, and my older sister was popular. Yet there were many in my school that had nothing. I don't believe the bullies in my school were necessarily cruel rather they were ignorant, in fact at one point I was a bully. You were either a victim or an attacker. Children while often being viewed as innocent, often easily pick up on the cruelties of others and rather than rejecting them they recognise it as tools for survival. However through all that cruelty I came to recognise one thing, It is the responsibility of everyone to stop bullying. You shouldn't tell the victim to "stop being a victim". You must include the teachers, parents, the bully, the victim, everyone and tell them "this is wrong. We can stop it".

  19. The bullying I experienced in middle school and early high school was bad enough that I think about it at least every other day. Even worse than the things they would say were the sneaky things they would do to get me in trouble
    or the way they would ignore me if I tried to say hello to them, or crowd me so that I would never cross to their side of the lunch table.
    I wish I could say that I believe those kids weren't evil, but I'm not sure I believe that. I know I shouldn't be, but I am still hurt and angry. I think about it and talk about it so much that my girlfriend doesn't want to hear about it anymore. I know I'm not supposed to dwell on the past, but I'm finding it impossible not to.

  20. Sounds like me…awesome ppl always got bullied or ignored and everyone else was so sub-par…it's mostly jealousy. NYC sux big time, Long Island is worse…so sorry ..I wish I knew you in middle school hehe..at least you dont hate all your teachers for not calling cps or gaf about the misery, bullying, clothes that didnt fit, lack of food and withdrawn affect./..I'd prefer mine in jail.

  21. I was very lucky to be a happy person in middle school. I had friends, I was accepted and I felt like I mattered. Now that I've been in high school for two and half years… I'd give anything to feel that way again.

  22. This is one of my favorite vlogbrother videos ever. It's any amazing thing to hear that one of your heroes has felt the same way you're feeling right now. I always watch this video when I feel worthless and I want to give up. It's a great thing to know that even in my darkest days, I can still get through it, because I know someone else has too. Thank you john. I know you'll never see this, but I can't even begin to express how thankful I am to have this community. Thank you so much.

  23. I can relate. I was ignored in middle school, and had trouble fitting in in high school. I have come realized that those years formed me, and that things do get better.

  24. Thank you John for your adamant decision that Lord of the Flies does not summarize human nature. While people do awful things, it isn't the core of our being. As Mister Rodgers said, "Look for the helpers." It's easy to overlook the good for the bad.

  25. I was bullied pretty bad in middle school, and 7th grade was probably the worst year of my life so far, this is a hecking relatable video

  26. I ride the 7 train regularly and can attest this is far from the weirdest thing one can witness riding NYC public transit on any given day. Hope to see you on the subway one day 🙂

  27. And if it hadn't been for those trials you went through as a kid, would you be as wise as you are now? Who knows! Thank you for being an amazing example that things don't always suck. You grow, you change, life changes. You can someday choose to surround yourself only with people who love and support you, and it gets better!

  28. OH MY GOD THANK YOU FOR THIS I AM 16 RIGHT NOW AND I LOVE THE MOUNTAIN GOATS AND LIKE I JUST STARTED CRYING I NEEDED TO HEAD THAT SO SO SO MUCH

  29. There's RCA voice actor on other end of my phone, paid, afTRA, Christian media, on Skype too. My unwanted feedback loop, offer advice, promoting their brands, reaffirming my fake disease, while their knife remains firmly lodged into my back

  30. congrats, you got into World Scholars Cup 2019, you're one of the key things we must research about in order to win lmao

  31. I currently go to the school you went to. I think about that often. That my favorite author in the world once walked the same halls I do and sat at the same pew in the same chapel connected to the same middle school in the same city that I live in. And apparently felt simpler pain as I do. I want you to know even though you probably wont wee this that I look up to you as a role model. So basically the idea I was trying to get across in this very poorly constructed sentence written by someone you don’t know is: thank you.

  32. I did six grade, then I "did" online school for the other 2 years. I did half of seventh grade for 2 years. I'm a sophomore now and I'm above average.

  33. Wow I just realized John Green from CrashCourse and the author John Green are two same people. Always thought they were distant relatives of some sort

  34. Ah middle school was also extremely miserable. Sixth grade was when the depression came.

    But I got through. 🙂

    And hopefully I will get through high school.

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