Bully For Me. Bully For You.

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To commemorate October as “Bullying Awareness Month,” I bring you the following insights regarding the subject…

As a latch-key kid, I basically came home from school, made my meals, and did my homework until my adult “roommates” came home. (To amuse myself I’d drive across the local park, set fire to things, and make Super-8 movies, usually of me driving across the local park and setting fire to things.) So when I was bullied at school, I not only didn’t have any sense of conflict management or support tools of any kind, but I couldn’t even really talk about it. At the time, the notion of “talking about it” just seemed like it would make it all the more real. So I kept it all bottled up inside and quietly hated myself for being bullied upon. The bullying wasn’t extreme, really, in retrospect: hardly ever physical, mostly just name-calling, the threat of abuse, a few books knocked out of my hands, etc. I was never punched, never shoved, but I still felt like a victim. The bullying created a thick layer of malevolence and unease to my school day, which—in retrospect—affected my school-work, my relationships, and my self-esteem even today. I often feel like I put up with more shit than I need to, like the guy at the end of an incontinent elephant parade armed only with a shovel.

The bullying turned this outsider inside out. When people talk about how happy they were in school, I simply can’t relate. I had great friends and, equipped with a selective memory, I can create a fairly convincing scrapbook of happy times in my head. But, really, I only started to feel comfortable with myself in my 30s! Maybe that’s why my books are obsessed with the infantile. A part of me is still frozen in a state of arrested development. In the vicious, viscous amber of time. Despite being a boy named Dale, I was pretty popular in elementary school, doing plays and talent shows, etc. But, upon middle school, all my friends were sent to one school, while I was sent to another. I never really recovered from that. I was sent to, basically, an off-Broadway production of Lord of the Flies and learned to keep my head down (my, what interesting feet I have!).

I hated middle school. Hated it. So I find it supremely ironic that, after writing a bunch of books for middle-readers, I find myself having to go to schools for appearances. It’s like if I wrote a book about terrible prison experiences, then had to do a tour of maximum security penitentiaries. Yay. Maybe my next series should be about tropical spa vacations. Anyway, I don’t have a wide audience. My books are kind of cult-y. Niche. But the fan-base are really devoted. Half of the letters or messages I get are from adults, which is interesting. Also a lot of “spooky” teen girls, which I didn’t bargain for. I thought Heck would appeal mostly the pre-teen boys, but girls have really latched on to Marlo. Anyway, while I haven’t gotten any letters specifically about bullying, I can tell that my books are savored by outcasts: those that feel different. And that my stories, humor, outlook and way of writing appeal to them. They really enjoy the obscure references that make them feel part of an exclusive club. And I know that, when I was growing up, sci-fi and punk music really helped me through. It was very different then: media wasn’t so omnipresent. You had to actively seek out the things that you liked and, with the effort and intention that required, it made you feel like part of a club. Just knowing that there were other freaks out there that liked what I liked made school much more bearable.

The baddest bully in my books, Damian Ruffino— is actually named after a real bully I encountered in middle school. I forget what his first name was, but his last name was definitely Ruffino. He was one of those kids that was twice as big as the other kids, probably had facial hair as a baby…I remember he had the name RUFFINO on the back of the football jersey he’d always wear. He was just one of many. He never really did anything but make fun of me or threaten me. Anyway, in the first chapter of the first Heck book, Milton—the main character—has these horrible memories of his encounters with Damian flash into his mind just before his—SPOILER—death! While these scenes weren’t anything that happened to me, per se, they captured the feeling I would have of basically being “hunted” at school. Avoiding someone as if they carried the bully-bonic plague!

And, I have to say, adults weren’t much help at the time. At least not for me. I remember in middle school we had a PE coach for a while, his name was—get this—Tiny. And, of course, he wasn’t. One of those nicknames that bullies adopt to basically dare you to say something, I’m sure. Anyway, my friend Guy Himber and I were trying our best to play football despite our utter non-interest and complete lack of skill, and the boys who basically lived to play football as an excuse to hit each other would always plow into us with undisguised glee. So, I had headgear—of course—and after one particularly vicious play, Guy and I were pretty banged up and were either crying or were on the verge of crying, and I recall vividly Tiny, surrounded by a pack of snickering boys, just laughing at us. An adult not only thinking that it was fine for some boys to physically abuse others, but openly condoning, even celebrating it. That really pissed me off. I mean, what an awful, awful person. I’m sure there is an open position in Heck just waiting for Coach Tiny!

So that’s pretty much the fuel that feeds my Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go series. It was basically my middle school experience…a living Heck, though none of my teachers had hooves and horns, at least to the best of my knowledge. So, as irony has it, my book series often sends me back to school to do readings and workshops. My bowels still turn to jelly when walking down those shiny, institutionalized floors, hearing the exploding heart-attack bell, and swimming upstream through halls of impulse-control-challenged pre-teens. Maybe it’s a form of therapy. But it still feels like, inside, there is that nervous little kid with the headgear, wearing bellbottom cords and a Star Wars T-shirt, just trying to get through his day with as little fuss as possible. And I’m sure it is exponentially worse for kids today.

Being an adolescent is hard. Harder now than ever, actually. Especially with all of the adult tools nowadays that only kids have the disposable time to completely utilize for evil. The key to it all is perspective. Now, in retrospect, I know that that time was fleeting. Transitory. But a blip. Sure, it was awful at times, but now I know that it was just a patch of bad road. At the time, though, it seemed impossibly deep and impassably terrible. And it’s really hard to convince someone with no perspective to have perspective.

But does get better, as they say.

Just remember: A bully is basically no different than their victim, only he or she tends to keep their bruises on the inside. A bully is really only beating him or herself up……only you’re the one doubled over in agony, scrambling for your broken glasses and your shattered dignity. No joke (In fact, you should never joke with a bully, as they always finish up with a strong punch-line). Bullies are always on the prowl for a quick and dirty fight. It’s best to leave them to simmer solo in their own beastly juices. Trying to win is the surest way to lose. The battle they’re fighting isn’t with you. It’s with themselves. You’d just get in the way…

11 responses to “Bully For Me. Bully For You.

  1. Wonderful essay, Mr. Basye. I applaud you. Have an excellent day!
    Zachary Krishef

    • ZACH! So nice to hear from you, or “read” from you I guess. Thanks for the reblog and I hope you are doing well and swell but not swelling in a well.

      • Master Of Macabre Mirth,
        It’s nice to hear from you, as well. I am doing well and I hope that you are doing equally well. I love my A.P. English Literature class. I’ve been considering suggesting the Heck book series as something to study for a short period of time for the next group of students.
        Zachary Krishef

      • Ah, Zenith of Kindness, I am delighted you are thriving with AP English. More proof that you have a healthy and hearty soul, and you feed it daily. That would be fabulous to have the Circles of Heck series be the object of study. Oxford University apparently did a short block tackling modern interpretations of Dante, of which Heck was featured! Let me know if I can assist in anyway.

  2. Dear Dale,
    I know I haven’t talked to you in a long time and that my disappearance was rather untimely. I wouldn’t want you to think that I’ve taken offense at what you’ve written, or that I’ve stopped reading—I certainly haven’t! The main reason for my radio silence is because, to be frank, middle school happened. I find it exceedingly appropriate that I come back to your blog to this post, as it has filled me with an intense flood of sympathy. I, too, experienced crippling low self-esteem and bullying from all angles. I think there are very few who go through that period of compulsory education unscathed. Luckily I’m a junior in high school now, and things have gotten much, much better. I’m the co-founder of my school’s Literary Society, as well as an editor for my school newspaper. Seeing your exploits as a writer definitely inspired me and lead me to the path I’m currently ambling down at the frightening speed of time, which has been relatively good to me so far. (Easy to say as an invincible teenager!) Beatrice has scared many a good house guest, and I’ll have you know that although my hair style has changed, I have been inspired to start wearing my hair in a bun every now and again. Gotta exude that acute tightass personality! I’ll admit I’ve even got a habit of muttering “Provost Marshal Tesla” after each mention of the guy. My highly religious dad probably wasn’t too pleased to find my name and likeness in a book like yours, but I’ve advertised it to all my friends as the highest honor. I hope things are going well for you! Keep up the good work.

    • Hazelle! So nice to hear from you after all of this time (especially you, living in teenager years which is like five for every one of mine). Your message is, so far, the best thing to happen to me today. Everything seems slightly off for me today, like I’m trying to play a CD on a record player. I just assumed that you were living an amazing life but I am glad that you weren’t offended or weirded out by me using your name in a book. As I probably explained, writing secondary characters is always a bit of a chore: having to come up with a dozen or so people that seem believable enough. So that’s why I almost always use real people I’ve met to base those character on. That way I have a mental picture and a few features or characteristics to include so that I don’t slow down a writing session with having to make up someone from scratch! I am sorry that even someone as fabulous as you have had to endure bullying. I am sure that most of the things that you were picked on for will prove to be your most treasured assets! And I’m glad that things are going better. Middle school is indeed Heck. High school wasn’t exactly heavenly for me either, but I had some extenuating circumstances that probably worked to my disadvantage. And I want to say that I’m proud of your achievements, but that assumes that I have something to do with them, so I will just say that I am delighted your are co-steering your school’s Literary Society and are an editor for your school newspaper. Oddly, I am currently working on a story about a school newspaper, so any insights you have would be welcome! No matter what life throws at you or which path you decide to follow, I am confident that writing will help in some way: either through journalism or literary pursuits, or simply to sharpen your thinking and presentation skills. The world needs more fearless writers who can present their opinions both clearly and colorfully, like a glass crayon. And I had to think a bit on Beatrice…the creepy stuffed bear? That’s right: “she” was a prize at one of my readings! It was time for her to go. My son would roll over on her and her fierce growl would wake him up. Hopefully you two struck a better relationship. And, lastly, I sincerely hope your dad wasn’t too mad about your name appearing in Snivel. I don’t intend to offend other beliefs (my tactless tact has always been to make fun of everything, thereby making fun of nothing) but, judging from my Amazon reviews, I seem to offend people nonetheless. In any case, as long as YOU don’t mind, I’m good. Again, so glad to hear from you and I’d love to read anything you are particularly proud of that you’ve written sometime.

  3. Dear Mr. Basye,
    A very happy morning to you! I was reading the first book in Gina Damico’s delightful Croak trilogy when I realized something. Both of your series have puns, children who deal with death, and humor. Have you ever considered collaborating? I’m sorry if I sound rude or annoying. Have an excellent day!
    Zachary Krishef

    • Dearest Zachster,
      Whatever the opposite of rude and/or annoying is, that’s you. I have never heard of Gina Damico or the delightful Croak trilogy. But, then again, there are lots of things I’ve never heard of. Like antidisestablishmentarianism. I’ve never heard of that. But I will check out Ms. Damico’s work, and perhaps stalk her with a celery stalk, because that way I can be creepy while providing a high-roughage vegetable source.
      I hope you and yours are doing well and swell.

      • The Dalest Basye In The Writing World,
        Thank you! I love recommending books to people. I also hope that you and your friends, family, and other associates are splendid.
        Zachary Krishef

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