Thursday, September 29, 2005

How do you solve a problem like Kristeena?

The first time I saw her—sitting on the front row in the media history class—I had to stop and drink her in. Without a doubt, Kristeena was the single most beautiful college student I had ever seen.

Tall, with brunette waves tumbling over her shoulders, she sat ramrod straight in the plastic desk, long legs wrapped around each other in that way very thin young girls have of crossing them and then crossing them again.

Kristeena isn’t just pretty. She’s stunning, as in stop traffic, slap your granny, get out your checkbook gorgeous. Her eyes, like Elizabeth Taylor’s, twinkle like amethysts under double rows of dark lashes. Her mouth turns up slightly at the corners, even when she’s not smiling. And her lips—shoot, women in Los Angeles subject themselves to painful thousand-dollar injections with long, cold steel needles trying to get some version of that lush, bee-stung look. Angelina Jolie would kill for Kristeena's lips.

Other girls wouldn’t sit anywhere near Kristeena in that class. As the semester progressed, her side of the room became the boys’ club—except for Rick, the chatty film student, who defiantly sat in the estrogen zone across the room, surrounded by blondes. But the other guys just stared at Kristeena instead of openly flirting. Her high-fashion, gamine look and steely posture kept their engines idling on high.

She was quiet that semester, but attentive. She kept perfect attendance and during lectures, she’d scribble in a notebook and then look up at me and nod as I prattled on about Citizen Kane or why it was called “yellow journalism” and not green or pink.

She made C’s on the two short papers and a C on the midterm. Then came the final. Look, my exams are ridiculously easy. I don’t like tests—I had terrible test anxiety in college and in grad school sought out courses that omitted them (most did anyway). With 100 students in a lecture class, I hate grading the things. So I always do a thorough review with the class and pretty much spill all the pintos about what’s going to be on the multiple choice exam. If you pay attention as you fill in the Scantron sheet, you’ll catch on that I put the correct answers in a fairly obvious pattern (a technique that drives the Type A’s berserk). I even tack on a 10-point extra credit question at the end, which means a lot of students make 110 points on it. Nobody ever flunks one of my finals.

Until Kristeena. She tanked it completely. One question said: “Most of us carry at least one photo of Abe Lincoln in our wallets. Those images came from the photo studio of: (a) Mathew Brady; (b) George Eastman; (c) Thomas Alva Edison; (d) Richard Avedon; (e) none of the above.” She picked Avedon. We’d spent a week talking about Mathew Brady and his Civil War photos and all the times he and his staff photographers had made portraits of gloomy old Honest Abe.

Avedon?

She picked Quentin Tarantino for “Who directed Citizen Kane?” and “False” for “You can watch broadcast TV channels without the use of cable connections.”

The final counted for a huge portion of the overall grade (the only way to keep students in town to take the required exam, unfortunately), so by flunking it, Kristeena ended up with a D in the course. She got the only grade below a B I gave in that class that semester.

Almost the same thing happened when she took my writing class the following spring. She sort of muddled along—showing up for class every single day, always dressed to the nines—nodding and smiling right to the end. Her skills were terrible, but then, what else is new? I gave her easy topics to write campus news stories about (students are supposed to come up with their own) and she still bungled them. Always with a shrug and a smile, she'd come up with some thin excuse when I handed them back with a low grade.

I thought maybe she would squeak through until it came to the final project, a group effort with three other students. They had to write and perform a short situation comedy script (a lesson in the art of writing humor that includes a look at the process of getting a show from page to airwaves). All the kids did knockout work that semester, turning in script after script that looked and sounded like the real thing. (My fave was the “five years later” look at what the Friends characters would be doing circa 2009). Kristeena’s group came to me a few weeks into the assignment and complained that she wasn’t showing up for their meetings and they wanted her out. "She's an airhead," said Bob, "and I should know--I dated her for two months last year." I persuaded them to keep working with her. They reluctantly said they would.

Last day of class, I always order pizzas for the script readings. We munch along and enjoy the laughs and it’s a nice way to go out after a long semester. As it happened Kristeena’s group was the last to perform. She took the lead and, standing at the front of the room, they started to work their way through the script. Twenty-five minutes later, there had yet to be a chuckle. (Scripts are only supposed to be 8-12 pages long.) The lines sounded like a cross between a court transcript from a really boring child custody trial and the lyrics of ABBA songs, possibly in the original Swedish. It was baffling mumbo-jumbo. And with the rest of the class squirming as we ran out of time, I finally had to stop the group and sort of jovially adjourn things with a “That was interesting.”

What a mess. After class, Kristeena’s other group members hung back and told me that she’d offered to type the final script they’d written without her. What she showed up with for class was something else entirely, a jumble of words that she told them she’d been up all night writing.

Once again, the girl had nosedived at the 11th hour. She made a D for the course, which meant she’d have to take it again to be considered for the major.

Was it drugs? Eating disorders? Self-sabotage? I would find out later that it was a combination of all three, plus boyfriend problems and a set of parents who were crazier than a bucket of bedbugs.

The next semester rolled around and by golly, there she was again, back in my writing class, ready for a do-over. Back on the front row she sat, coltish legs entwined at knee and ankle. Smiling, twinkling and nodding as I launched into the first day’s spiel, she looked even more beautiful than when I first laid eyes on her a year earlier.

There are so many Kristeenas gracing college classes these days. They act the role of perfect students. They go through the motions, but they really aren’t equipped for the tasks. Not “college material,” as they used to say. It’s like these girls are in college, but not into it. Some do flunk out after a few disastrous semesters. Others sort of wake up by their junior year and realize they’d better get to work before they find themselves in the seventh-year-senior society. And some, like lovely Kristeena, become content to earn that “Mrs.” degree. She will look so pretty in a Vera Wang gown.

The Kristeenas are rather like porcelain figurines, now that I think about it. Perfect, beautiful and shiny on the outside, but fragile… and strangely hollow underneath.

36 Comments:

Blogger Kelly said...

Wow, nice post. And it left me thinking, "It must be very difficult to be a Kristeena." I saw many of them teaching at UCLA, but now see few of them in Smalltown. For the better, I think.

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that they can get into good colleges because their high school teachers let them pass/graded on looks.

What a hard situation, she's probably doing the best she can and it isn't her fault she's so stunning nobody took the time to invest in her intellect.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Lonely Londoner said...

I always feel a bit sorry for girls like that. As anon said above, I find a lot of extremely beautiful people, boys and girls both, are so privileged by their looks that they don't ever learn how to learn, you know? People either assume that they're airheads because they're attractive, or people make it easy for them because they're attractive and so they never learn how to respond to a challenge. It can really cripple them later on, because people tend not to take them seriously.

5:33 AM  
Blogger G. Brooke said...

As you write about Kristeena, I'm struck by how inaccessible she is. I can see her vividly, she's right there; but I can't quite get at her. Even the suggested explanations about drugs, boyfrieds and parents sort of hang in the background, not touching (or solving) this agreeable, beautiful cardboard girl. I know she has depth, but that depth is not for me to find.

I think you succeed in making me see her very much as she must look to you from the teacher's podium.

7:09 AM  
Anonymous handworn said...

Something like this, Londoner?

May she be granted beauty, but not
Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught
Or hers before a looking glass, for such
Being made beautiful overmuch
Consider beauty a sufficient end
Lose natural kindness, and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy,
That chooses right,
And never find a friend.

W.B. Yeats, from "A Prayer for my Daughter." Amen.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Lonely Londoner said...

Yes. Precisely, handworn.

I love that poem - I used to read it over and over as a teenager, when I was coming to terms with being pretty but not beautiful.

And brooke, I love your description.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

from: the same anon as above.. comment two

The really sad bit is that her beauty will fade, and those who adore her for her looks will go away as well. In 50 years, instead of having a loving family and maybe grandchildren, she'll be alone with her cat -- who doesn't realize she used to be beautiful.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Hillary said...

I like the misspelled 'KristEEna' touch. :snicker:

11:20 AM  
Anonymous andrea said...

Kristeena - I don't see it as misspelled ... just a bit of exotification. This isn't an Ashley. She's not blonde and probably not even white.

You find Kristeenas tending to cross all lines of ethnicity and even economic status...

12:09 PM  
Blogger Eddo said...

Great Story, too bad it's true.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Cold Potato said...

What she needs is a break-- a break from her parents, a break from drugs, a break from her boy-toy, and a cold dunk in the reality of life as the rest of us know it.

I do not have high hopes though: one would think that by the third time around the merry-go-round, she would at least try taking a different teacher.

It is not what we are on the outside that matters, but who we strive to be on the inside.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous leslie in ca said...

What a very sad story.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Greg - Cowboy in the Jungle said...

I wonder what makes people the way they are. Nature? Nurture?

Were you able to reach Kristeena? Can you help her?

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Shake in Boston said...

Its sad to think there are so many like Kristeena that never discover and fulfill their full potential as human beings. In my opinion, that's the one thing we were all put here to find out about ourselves.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

Maybe that is all she was meant to be - a bright flower which not even bees could gain from.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Morgaine said...

Oh, please - she has no business in college, and the idea that she's wasting everyone else's time is galling. She's the reason I had to take a literacy test before I could graduate - everyone in my college had to write an essay to prove that they could before they got a diploma. That's something that should have been quite apparent long before an immanent graduation. It also tells me that at some point, someone got a sheepskin without being functionally literate.

Kristeena will marry very well. He won't care that she doesn't have a thought of her own, since that would just make her difficult, and he'll have lots of money to keep her impeccably dressed in Gucci and Prada. She'll more than likely have things and go places the rest of us barely dream of - fortunately for her, looks are all that matter in this culture.

4:07 AM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

The thing that still surprises me about these tales, prof, is the mention of parents. I've only been out of college nine years, but my parents were a distant memory the second I unpacked my dorm. When I went to grad school, my parents showed up for graduation and that was it. I don't think I even talked about my classes or anything those two years, to them. The idea that a college student would get mommy or daddy to come to their rescue--a COLLEGE parent/teacher conference--bewilders me. Or is parental presence just a given in a private university? (I don't mean that in a snide way. I'm serious.)

Enlighten me!

9:30 AM  
Blogger Greg - Cowboy in the Jungle said...

Superhomie,

You and I graduated at about the same time. I saw this on a few ocasions but I understand that it is rampant now. There is a syndrome, or something called "helicopter parents." I posted a link in a comment here some time ago (sorr don't have it any more), but apparently it works like this...

The Greatest Generation (pre baby boomers) contributed a great wealth to this country and made many sacrifices. However they produced the baby boomer generation which grew up during a time of national prosperity and good fortune. They were somewhat shielded from the world that their parens grew up in.

The baby boomers begot the "Me" generation which encompasses everything from those who saw Starwars as their first movie to about the end of the Grunge phase of rock. This includes Gen X and Gen Y.

The baby boomers, not knowing the troubles and strife their parents had to wade through believe that their "Me" generation kids should be sheltered from even more unpleasantness.

They hover (hence helicopter parents) and dont hesitate to step in and deprive their child of a life lesson all in the name of comfort which is now an apparent birth-right.

I can't wait to see what level of disfunctionality the next generation delivers as spawn.

1:01 PM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

I teach 9th grade in an affluent, north-of-the-metroplex school district. I see this helicoptering en masse with my students. We all roll our eyes and want to shake these parents by the lapels of their Armani suits. What are they thinking?

I keep telling my kids that their parents aren't going to be a safety net for them in college...no wonder none of them have believed that.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Greg - Cowboy in the Jungle said...

One day their parents will be geriatric and they will be in their mid-forties. The shoe will be on the other foot and they will be so ill equipped to deal with basic life.

The reluctance to assume some basic self reliance and responsobility will be the new line that eventually seperates the classes. Those who can not, will loose their fortunes. Those who can will earn new ones. A social paradigm shift is afoot, my friend. Twenty years from now things will be MUCH different and the conditions that bore the "Greatest Generation" will be on us again. And alas - society starts a new.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Auntie A said...

Ah, yes. The helicopte parents. Fortunately, when I teaching high school, I didn't have those kinds of parents. Of course, I also worked at an "economically disadvantaged" school that was also majority minority. So, the parents I worked with, also fortunately, were very concerned about their children's welfare and were more than happy to watch their children fall flat on their face if need be.

As for Kristeena, we, the other college kids, had a name for people like her, we called them 'bowheads' because a lot of them wore huge bows in their hair. A lot of them were also in the sororities (the social ones) and didn't do a whole lot except take up space. I had a French class with one such girl, who drove a bright red, brand new BMW convertible (this being back in 1990). We all knew it was hers because she told us. I asked her how she'd gotten it and when she said her dad got it for her, I asked her what her dad did.

Yes, I know, none of my business. My only defense is that I was 18 and too stupid to know better.

She looks at me and says "My family has old money."

My initial thought was 'Not for long the way it's being spent.' I was bright enough to keep from saying that.

This girl will go on and marry rich and never have to worry about a thing the rest of her life. I can almost guarantee it.

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Auntie A said...

I just read my post and realized that, even after previewing the darn thing, I had left out a part of the sentence regarding Kristeena.

It should read As for Kristeena, when I was in college, lo these many years ago, we....

12:25 AM  
Blogger Morgaine said...

Quote:
"I can't wait to see what level of disfunctionality the next generation delivers as spawn."

They're happening now. Most of them are sociopaths. We've moved beyond selfish straight into narcissistic and landed with a complete lack of empathy and disregard for humanity.

2:58 AM  
Blogger Jeff the Baptist said...

"Kristeena will marry very well. He won't care that she doesn't have a thought of her own, since that would just make her difficult, and he'll have lots of money to keep her impeccably dressed in Gucci and Prada."

I disagree. Kristeena shows every sign of being the one in control relationship wise. The boys follow her, she doesn't follow the boys. He will marry her because she is beautiful and she will marry him because he's rich. And they will both get what they want and what they deserve.

She thinks on her own, she just doesn't do it about high philosophy.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous zyne said...

Oh, you went and wrote her so that I want to know more about her. You were vague enough about her coming to her specific fallings that I am inclinded to try to fill in gaps. Is she playing a game? Is she after something else from class? Is she really fluent in English? Does she has a learning disability? What did she do next?

There's more. That the other pony girls don't like her: A big indicator she might be worth knowing. A D from you, why did she come back to you again.

A project with a group of several, and she overpowered them all (how, by batting her eyes?). What pussies were they, whining to you, when they could not find it with themselves to deal conclusively with the 'problem' they'd already complained to you about. They "trusted" her in the end, and they refused to question her at the time. But then they came whining to you, too. Her group scapegoated her. *They* are what is wrong with that school.

10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the looks of it you are a bunch of educators. Why do you sneer at your students? Troubling.

1:02 AM  
Blogger Al said...

A college education is not a right. People shouldn't go if they aren't going to actually learn anything. Profs are people too. Wouldn't you sneer if you saw the sorts of things written about on this blog as a part of your DAILY work? I doubt if many people wouldn't find it depressing or become angry over time if they had to deal with it. I am sure that I would.

I'm working on my Master's degree right now while I work full-time and have a new wife of the last year. I have little sympathy for people who get it all handed to them but are unable to do the work as well as not having the drive for any education.

To echo another comment above, I had to take a proctored, written test (written by hand by me, in fact) earlier this year in order to be allowed to continue in my graduate program. This test is mandated during the first year of all graduate programs for the state of California. If you do not get a minimum passing grade (8 out of 12, I believe), you cannot continue your program. I believe you get two chances. Why do I have to take this test even though every one of my classes is primarily reading and writing research papers? Because some idiots managed to game the system to the degree that they graduated without being able to write properly. That lessens the value of my degree in the eyes of employers or others when it happens because it means that they may not believe the hard work that I put into it.

There will be little sympathy here for rich kids or even poor kids who don't belong in school but continue to be there.

3:25 AM  
Anonymous Vrdnd said...

Dear Blogger:
I could not get through the whole Kristina story. Would it be possible to edit it somehow?
Also, would it be possible to have something more real? I don't mean to be harsh or anything? But as a colleague professor, I do not find so many students like that, I mean it.
And the unraveling, cant'start ranting on that yet, but I might if I get to the exiting part where I read it from beginning to end.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

Thank you, very interesting!

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Blogger kristeena said...

my name IS kristeena. it's not misspelled, it's spelled how it sounds and i must say on our behalf that not all kristeenas are beautifully stupid. i am in college and doing just fine using my brain!

9:23 PM  
Blogger Kristeena said...

hahaha...my name is spelled the same way...Kristeena :) Well...at least we're a beautiful breed of people. :)

2:15 AM  
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