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My Cameron Frye Complex

This essay was originally submitted for my Grammar & Style for the Writer class (Fall 2009). This piece won first prize for the Mills College Creative Nonfiction Undergraduate Writing Contest (Spring 2010).

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A high school senior is under the bedcovers at home, skipping school, and bemoaning the impending thoughts of final exams, graduation, and life in general. As the camera pans across the screen, left to right, crumpled-up tissues and bottles of medicine line the edge of his bed, stacked neatly together like an alcoholics empty wine bottles on their way to the recycling bin. His phone rings, and its his best friend Ferris on the line, begging him to come out and enjoy the beautiful spring day: Hell keep calling me. Hell keep calling me until I come over. Hell make me feel guilty. This is uh... This is ridiculous, ok Ill go, Ill go, Ill go, Ill go, Ill go. What ILL GO. Shit. After several attempts, Cameron finally gets out of the house and joins Ferris, and the two have a wild, life-affirming adventure that would surely, in his overly-cautious state, cause ulcers. In the film Ferris Buellers Day Off, Ferris best friend Cameron Frye is a stark contrast in personality; Cameron is constantly filled with doubt and apprehension and has to be bullied to do nearly anything. Cameron is completely terrified of taking chances and exposing himself to the world on his own, and without the encouragement of Ferris, Cameron would probably

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still be in his bedroom, being a hypochondriac, convinced he was dying as a means to protect himself against the unknown, as life passed him by. From the first time I saw Ferris Bueller, I knew I was just like Cameron. Although Ferris and Camerons adventure involves doing everything humanly possible to stay out of the classroom, my Cameron-like qualities always seem to creep into my school life in one way or another. In Cameron-esque style, I have sat in the back of classrooms, waiting for a teacher to pump me full of information and facts that would probably serve me quite well in the case I ever become a Jeopardy contestant (Im crossing my fingers and hopi ng that that actually does happen), but never questioning methods and ideas that would have made me a better learner. A debilitating fear of being wrong and taking risks had rendered me unable to be a proactive student, just as Camerons fear of life kept him in bed. I was in junior high school when I began to fully recognize this aversion I had to classroom participation. It was during sixth period World History when a classmate teased

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me about being smart. Of course, bearing the logic of a twelve year old boy in mind, I was smart because I wore glasses and was, therefore by default, a nerd. And I figured, based on his offensive tone of voice, being a nerd was not a good thing. But I was confused; being smart had never meant anything bad before. If anything, I had gotten nothing but praise and encouragement throughout grammar school. SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) had always been one of my favorite times during the day. Going to the library to research a project on ancient Egypt wasnt the least bit boring. Helping my sister build a bottle rocket to see if, at peak velocity, it would go over the fence in the backyard was exciting. Between Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and PBS, Id choose PBS any day (what if The Magic

School Bus was on?). And, after my first trip to San Francisco when I was ten, instead of talking
about the hugemongous red bridge wed driven across or the trolley ride in Fishermans Wharf, Id gushed to my dad on the phone, stuck back home in Southern California, about our

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day at the Exploratorium and how wed made a tornado and seen an exhibit all about Thomas Alva Edison. Its natural for children to be excited about new things thats why grammar-aged kids are so engaged in class. Like sponges, they soak up numbers and colors and facts, and recite gobbets of information like parrots, unable to keep it to themselves. Knowledge was always a powerful draw to me: I just wanted to know everything, and was thrilled to discover that it was physically impossible for me to run out of things to learn. If wanting to learn made me smart, then I wanted to be the smartest kid in the world. Sure, Id gotten the occasional taunts and teasing four eyes (I have worn glasses almost my entire life, after all) and other childish, yet socially branding insults but being smart was never a bad thing. It wasnt until then, that moment in junior high, that I began to really notice what my classmates were saying about me, and, more importantly, that I cared about what they were saying.

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This classification stung, and within weeks of earning my new label I became one of the class geeks. I learned fairly quickly that the teasing subsided once I remained quiet during class; even in the face of questions, I hardly uttered a word. It became an absolute chore for my teachers to pull me into discussions; it was like dentists pulling teeth. I knew from the frustration on their faces all they wanted was for me to just say what was on my mind, but I was too stubborn to speak. Eventually, the nasty surprises of random requests to answer questions or to share homework examples eased, and I was able to simply fade away and conform into the category of shy and quiet. Although I was now shy and quiet, I still loved to learn. I continued to study hard, but it became a secret part of me that I hid. I couldnt even share my test scores with my friends because of the possibility of being teased; I often downplayed my grades, or just blatantly lied. Once, when I was in the seventh grade, a teacher had posted students grades at the end of the semester, and my classmates were shocked to see a grade percentage of 117 percent. And guess

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whose grade it was? I remember my cheeks burning red and my stomach slipping a few notches when, after putting their student ID numbers together like a puzzle, my classmates realized it was my grade. I tried to shrug my shoulders and pretend that I didnt hear them. I kept my eyes down and doodled on my page of notes like everybody else, and denied my own A+ because, in my experience, the teasing just wasnt worth it. Mom could just put my progress report on the fridge when I got home later, and that would be enough praise for me. But, to add insult to injury, the teacher cheerfully confirmed that it was in fact my grade. Maybe she thought it would be a good thing for my peers to know that I had done so well. But, in junior high, it was social suicide. Even the other smart kids sniggered when one of the screw-offs in the back of the class hissed in an unexpectedly derogatory tone: See, I told you she was

I never wanted to be perfect, and really, who would? It would be exhausting to be perfect all the time. But, here is where I faced a fork in the road. I always knew both inherently and

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from my parents support that school was important, so I kept studying. And that, down the road, college was important, and that I needed to get there. And you dont go to college these days without some good grades and 85-th percentile test scores. Extracurriculars on a college application, like badminton club and community service at an old folks home, are like the sprinkles in Funfetti cake: not really necessary, but they add a nice crunch that sets it apart from the more boring cakes that may not contribute as much to society. Still, the pull to be accepted was strong, too. As shallow as it sounds, I didnt want to be that girl that ate lunch alone in the hallway, looking forlornly at the cliques of girls discussing lip gloss and first dates in between turning the pages of a well loved book, the fictional characters more real than any real-life experience. So, I chose the path of least resistance and became the outwardly timid and inwardly brainy academic bookworm obsessed with my monthly copies of Newsweek magazine, but with an unhealthy penchant for Total Request Lives (TRL) daily picks on the side that I developed

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simply because thats what everyone else my age was interested in. I gravitated towards the kids who didnt groan when my required three pages for an essay doubled just because I couldnt stop writing about the themes in The Outsider, but I still kept my guard up. It was obvious to me, and everyone around me, especially my family and close friends, that Operation Cameron-ization was taking effect, and going very well. But, in the back of my mind, I always wanted to be a Ferris. Ferris Bueller is everything I always wanted to be in school: outgoing, witty, challenging and unyielding. Even Grace the secretary admits: Oh, hes very popular. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads they all adore him. They think hes a righteous dude. Sure, it may be strange to want to emulate a fictional character, but Ferris is something more than just a smart-ass who doesnt want to go to school, he represents an idea. Ferris is an enthused catalyst, who will go to any means to get what he wants; he doesnt sit back and watch the action, he is the action. And I wanted a taste of that action, and frankly, who wouldnt? Im not saying that

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I was some, Debbie-Downer loner in school, on the outside looking in like Cameron at the top of the Sears Tower, staring at the busy people below going about their daily lives, because I wasnt. But, on the other hand, I wasnt exactly hijacking any Von Steuben Day Parade floats and lip-synching Twist and Shout by the Beatles in Downtown Chicago, either. Based on the things my mom has said about my childhood, I suppose at some point in my life I was Ferris-like. A particular story she likes to tell friends and family and strangers who are willing to listen, for that matter is from one of the neighborhood block parties during the summer I turned seven. It was a lazy, hot Charleston evening at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Paris Island, South Carolina, and the ladies of the officers neighborhood were setting up the picnic tables for a buffet-style supper. I had insisted on taking the Perfect Attendance trophy I had earned from school to the party, and right before everyone started serving themselves, I hopped onto the top of one of the wooden picnic tables, proudly unwrapped and displayed my trophy for all to see, and then proceeded to serenade my neighbors with a stirring

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rendition of The Circle of Life from my favorite movie of the week, The Lion King. As embarrassing and cringe-inducing as this anecdote seems now, at the time, that was just typical Allison behavior; I was always performing and loud, moving at the speed of light, only slowing down to meet new people and make them happy. I dont know definitively when the transition from outrageous table dancer to introverted bookworm occurred, and completely took hold of me, but it has been only recently that I began to notice traits of my old self reemerging. During my freshman year of high school, I was enrolled in American Sign Language (ASL) II so that I could communicate better with my hard of hearing sister. Within a few months of the course, my classmates had again come to the conclusion that I was smart. Try as I might to keep this notion out of their minds, repeatedly they came to me for help with the vocabulary and language mechanics. Unlike my past teachers, who had practically pleaded on my behalf to leave me alone, my ASL teacher encouraged the interaction, and by the end of the

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year, it surprisingly became much easier to accept the attention I received for my knowledge of the subject. The real mark of my transformation came by means of my final project. Every student had to choose a song to translate in front of the whole class my absolute worst nightmare. All of those people staring at me, analyzing my every move? Judging me? No thanks; Id rather jump into a lake full of crocodiles. But, with the encouragement of my teacher, I choose the song Someday by Nickelback, a fast-tempo rock ballad that most second-year students wouldnt even attempt to sign because of the songs frantic pace. I practiced for weeks, and when the day of my presentation came, I was as nervous as could be. When it was my turn, I thought my stomach had turned to ice, and my hands were shaking so badly, I was convinced my fingers wouldnt be able to form the signs to interpret the song properly. I stood at the front of the room, with forty-five faces staring back at me, and somehow was able to sign the whole song, all three minutes and twenty-seven seconds of it. At the end, I was sure I would be teased

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again for my nervous and nerdy state, but the students in my class, mostly upperclassmen, were silent. I wondered what they were thinking: Why did she choose a Nickelback song? Who

listens to NB anymore? That was so eighth grade

After a few seconds of awkward stares, a senior in the class announced: That was the

coolest thing I have ever seen in my life! Polite applause followed and relief spread throughout
my entire being. Finally, it seemed, my love of knowledge had been truly encouraged by a teacher, and accepted by my peers. However, it wasnt until my sophomore year of high school that I began to take a genuine interest in school again; I even joined the newspaper staff, became an officer of a club or two, and auditioned for a couple of the school musicals (unfortunately, no

Lion King). By my senior year of high school, I was an editor of the paper, and had since
attended a summer program representing my high school. I still have Cameron like qualities about me I still have an indescribable phobia of front-row desks, hate to be called on by my teachers, involuntarily turn into a tomato when

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looked at by large groups of people, and am nearly always catching myself wondering: Should I even say anything? Its not like Ive really got anything interesting to say. But there has been a progression, slowly but surely there has been a progression. I dont necessarily break into a cold sweat anymore if my name is called, I am more apt to contribute my thoughts to a class discussion and, I totally love my glasses (this is one girl whos never getting Lasik surgery). I suppose the thing I regret most about not assimilating myself into my educational experience sooner is of coming to the realization of all the opportunities I missed out on in which I could have made a difference on campus. I could have run for a student government position, created my own club on campus, or simply come to the conclusion that my opinions are actually important much earlier than I have. It seems so foolish now, looking back on all of the things that were so important then: Limited Too tank tops, glittery butterfly clips, *NSYNC posters, and, most importantly, fitting in. But, its also scary thinking that it would be so easy, especially at a smaller institution like Mills College, which has an undergraduate population of just over a

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thousand students, to slip back into that routine of complacency and conformity. Hiding from the world, and hiding from myself. From whom I could become. College is supposed to be the time in my life when I discover the person who I truly am, and I plan on making every effort to meet this person once she comes along. I wont hide my intelligence anymore, because Ive worked hard to get here, and I refuse to be that shy, quiet girl in the corner because now I know thats not who I am, nor who I want to be. I refuse to allow my Cameron complex to interfere with my life experiences. Just like Camerons epiphany at the end of the film when he inadvertently trashes his fathers restored 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. Im going to take a stand. Im going to defend it. Right or wrong, Im going to defend it. A wise man once said: Life goes by pretty fast. If you dont stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Granted, Ferris Bueller may not exactly be the authority on

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achieving Nirvana, but if he can get someone like Cameron to enjoy an extreme day of hooky, I think I can trust his logic too.