Transcript of 33rd Session between Charles Balis, M.D. and Ms. Sharon Lough, Friday, September 25, 1998 at 10:00 am.

Dr. Balis: Hello, Sharon. How was your week?
Ms. Lough: Not so bad, I guess. I've made my feeble attempt at a short story.
Dr. Balis: Your classroom assignment?
Ms. Lough: Yeah. I was afraid we would have to read them aloud, but Doris got off on a tangent and spent the class talking about the theater. A troupe is putting on a production of "Troilus and Cressida," a Shakespeare play I hadn't even heard of. Doris spent most of the class discussing it with Big Gulp--the frizzy-haired harridan and classical literature aficionado. I think they put just about everyone to sleep, except Beavis and Butthead, who snickered every time they said the word "Trojan."
Dr. Balis: Last session, you said you established rapport with one of the girls in your class.
Ms. Lough: Yeah, Li'l Dyke. She had pink streaks in her hair this week, and she painted her nails to match. I told her it looked nice; she said thank you, but not much else. I've tried to talk to her, but I had a feeling that I wasn't cool enough with my monochromatic tresses. Graying temples don't give you any points towards coolness.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: I think I had a breakthrough, of sorts.
Dr. Balis: Oh?
Ms. Lough: I've never really understood the dynamic among women. I don't have many women friends, at least not for very long. When I was chatting up Li'l Dyke, I sensed she was withdrawing from me. I didn't know why; I thought I was being nice instead of my usual surly self. Maybe she knew I was a big phony. She was carrying an instrument case, and I asked if she played the violin. She smirked and said, "Duh."
Dr. Balis: What did you do?
Ms. Lough: I thought I had nothing to lose, so I tried a different tack. I said that the Shitty College orchestra was known for its mediocrity. She sniffed and informed me that she was a student at the San Francisco Music Conservatory. She was only taking this class because she wanted a change of pace. I told her that most classically trained musicians where little more than machines and that music conservatories were like factories, cranking out these machines by the dozen. That got her attention. I challenged her; I asked to hear her play. Li'l Dyke rolled her eyes and made a face. But after class, we went to a practice room at the conservatory.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: And she played a piece by Vaughn Williams, the Skylark Concerto. I admit, I was impressed--it's a difficult piece. But I knew I wouldn't win her over by praising her, so I told her that she used too much rosin and needed to work on her vibrato. I said that she didn't have the maturity or depth to interpret the piece and that she played like yet another classically-trained automaton.
Dr. Balis: How did she respond?
Ms. Lough: She was annoyed. I added that if she ever wanted to become a soloist, she'd have to use the Midori Ito public relations ploy and play up her flat-chested, androgynous sexuality, and hope the latent pedophiles would buy tickets in droves. That pissed her off; she told me to shut up.
Dr. Balis: That was very harsh criticism, Sharon. Did you know what you were talking about? The piece you're referring to isn't a concerto, it's a tone poem called The Lark Ascending. And that last comment was really uncalled for. You know from personal experience that girls that age are extremely self-conscious about their looks.
Ms. Lough: Yeah, whatever. My parents forced me to take piano for years, but I wasn't very good. Most of what I know about classical music I learned from listening to KDFC 102.1 FM.
Dr. Balis: Last week, you came to this girl's defense when a guy in your class called her names. Why the sudden change? I thought you wanted to make friends with her.
Ms. Lough: A recovering Suzuki brat who dyes her hair and dresses like a little boy while slumming at Shitty College doesn't want accolades. She's been patted on the head for performing like a good little monkey all her life. If I had told Li'l Dyke how great she was, I wouldn't have made any impression on her at all. When I complimented her in class, she barely acknowledged me.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: She asked me the same thing: what the hell did I know about music? I know the difference between a mature, seasoned performer and a student who practices a lot. I picked out a few notes from the piece she played on the piano in the room. I hit a lot of clinkers even when she slammed down the sheet music in front of me. She snorted and said, "Very good, I can tell you've been playing for years." But at least now, she was talking to me. I pointed out where the apex of the musical phrase was, and then I had to explain what "apex" meant. I showed her, with my clumsy keyboarding skills, how she could use volume and tempo to emphasize the notes at the peak of the phrase. Li'l Dyke was defensive, standing with her arms folded across her chest, but I think I made my point. I told her I had a great book about music interpretation by Pablo Casals, and she could give me a call and borrow it sometime. I was feeling uncharacteristically bold--I wrote my phone number on her sheet music and left without waiting for her response.
Dr. Balis: Hmm. Has she called?
Ms. Lough: Uh, no. I'm half-hoping she won't, because then I would have to run out and buy that book. That was an interesting experience, though. I felt a rush for days afterward.
Dr. Balis: Hmm. Did you plan this confrontation?
Ms. Lough: No, it came in a flash. I knew I was taking a big risk doing it, but I didn't care. I kept telling myself, "She's a teenager, what do you care what she thinks?" If she told me to go to hell, or worse, if she just ignored me, I would have just avoided her for the rest of the semester.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: Last weekend, the Tofu Rejects reared their soft, malformed heads. They're quite frightening.
Dr. Balis: You began tutoring the ESL students? How did that go?
Ms. Lough: It amazes me that these kids have such poor language skills. I don't want to spend the whole session ranting...
Dr. Balis: No, you would never do that.
Ms. Lough: Very funny. I spent two hours with these kids, and I wanted to tear my hair out. I wasn't so much angry at them, but at the whole system that allowed them to graduate from high school with little more than rudimentary English skills. A few of them I could barely understand, their accents were so thick. I can understand why a non-native speaker would have trouble with English spelling and grammar. Granted, English isn't an easy language, and American idioms can be confusing. But the Tofu Rejects I saw could barely string five words together to make a sentence, and they're high school graduates! Those liberal dolts who promote bilingual education should get a load of these kids, they'd change their tune pretty fast. I'm really glad I was never in a bilingual program, or I'd be fucked, too.
Dr. Balis: Was your first language Japanese?
Ms. Lough: Yes, my father wasn't home much, so I imprinted on my mother and her friends. When we first came to the States, I couldn't speak any English at all. I learned by watching "Sesame Street." I had to learn quickly, too; I had no choice
Dr. Balis: You were born in Japan. Doesn't that make you an immigrant?
Ms. Lough: Yeah, I know where you're going with this, but it's different. I've assimilated, I've learned the language and the culture. My mother struggled for years to learn English, she didn't start speaking it until she was over thirty. My mother wasn't very educated to begin with, even in her own language. She came from a rural area, and in her generation, farm families didn't send their daughters to school. She worked really hard, going to night school for years to learn English and take citizenship classes. My mother is not very Americanized. She's still hard to understand, and she's a lousy driver, but at least she tried. I give her points for trying.
Dr. Balis: While I can understand your frustration, keep in mind that there's no need to take it out on these kids. Cultural assimilation is a slow process.
Ms. Lough: Sometimes I kind of feel for the Tofu Rejects, but all my compassion evaporates once they start to piss me off. A lot of them don't even make an effort. They don't do the reading or even attempt to start on their assignments. They want me to do all the work for them.
Dr. Balis: You can use the relaxation technique I've shown you to help you focus on the task, rather than dwell on the things that anger you.
Ms. Lough: Yeah, I've been doing that. Sometimes, I take a break and do some deep breathing. What pisses me off is that so many teens from immigrant families don't even need to assimilate. They live in self-segregation. Everyone in their neighborhoods comes from the same or a similar culture as they do. They choose to associate only with people from their homeland. And a lot of them were really arrogant--I could tell they thought English classes were a waste of time. This one fat Korean boy, an accounting major, didn't even pretend to care. He kept saying, "This is hard for me." He knew as a CPA he'd earn a better living than any English major by cooking the books of a Korean-owned business. He didn't need our stinking language.
Dr. Balis: Be patient, Sharon. A lot of times, teaching is patience and perseverance.
Ms. Lough: I'd much rather club them over the head with an unabridged dictionary.
Dr. Balis: I think many English teachers feel the same way. And I'm sure at least some of the students do appreciate the effort you're making.
Ms. Lough: No, they don't. They want me to spoon-feed them the answers. God forbid they should actually think.
Dr. Balis: Be patient, Sharon. And keep breathing deeply.
Ms. Lough: Are you going to throw me out now?
Dr. Balis: It's about that time. Take care, Sharon.
Ms. Lough: Yeah, thanks.
Arrow, Straight, Left, Earlier Arrow, Straight, Right, Later

Button to Dr. Balis' Notes Doctor Balis' Notes on this Session

Button to Sharon Lough's Transcripts Transcripts of Sharon Lough's Communications
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