Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Group Project

To this day, I shiver whenever I hear the words, “Group Project.” A chill runs down my spine. I begin to sweat. The world around me darkens, and the camera of life pulls out in an unsettling, Hitchcockian dolly zoom.

I see that some of you are nodding your heads. You remember school, and you understand the dread terror of the group project. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

But if you don’t know what I’m talking about? If, in fact, you’re thinking, “Hold on, I loved group projects”?

Then you’re an asshole.

Because you’re the reason the rest of us hate group projects so much. You’re the dickhead who, when asked to list your contributions to the project, said something like, “Oh, I did a little of everything,” or, “I was in charge of project integration." Both of which mean you didn't do squat.

The bigger the group project, the more I hated it. A five-person group project just meant that I was going to do five times the work and get one fifth the credit. Occasionally, the teacher would notice my sour face and say, “What’s the matter, Robyn? I used to love group projects when I was in school.”

Oh, did you? Then you, Mr. or Mrs. Teacher, are most definitely an asshole.

Judge Judy: You're an Asshole, Case Dismissed

The first step of the group project was always planning, which is a fancy way of saying that the rest of the group decided on the scope of the work I’d be doing. And you know what? It’s real easy to envision an expansive project when someone else is doing all the goddamn work.

Once in a while, a group member would suggest a meetup after school, to work on the project, and my eyes would flash with hope. Surely, this would be a chance to get the rest of the team down to business, to put their noses to the grindstone and… make their noses sharp, I guess? (I never understood that saying.)

But it was always a trap. At best, everyone sat around eating Oreos and talking about TV shows. At worst, the rest of the group took it as an opportunity to criticize the work I’d already done, tell me to do it over, and confiscate any relevant library books I'd found in return for an empty promise of future research. That, I think, was the most galling. I would always show up with an armload of primary sources, while the rest of them, taken together, would have an article torn from the newspaper and a hastily photocopied page from the 1967 Grolier’s Encyclopedia.

It wasn’t that my classmates were stupid. They almost always knew the material. For example, in 7th grade, a group member once dismissed my script for an informative skit on American history by holding it up and saying, “This is the Articles of Confederation. We need to throw it out and write a Constitution.”

And, I have to admit that she had a point, because that script totally sucked. It had no through-line, act II was a muddle, and you’d have to put the denouement through a sifter to find a single nugget of catharsis. But it wasn't like she was volunteering to rewrite it. She was just insisting that I toss my work and start over.

Editor Cat Sez: Cut Last 15 Pages

In hindsight, I think I was right to scream about the ambiguity of the creative process, although calling her “le Diable” from the other side of a locked door may have been crossing the line. Especially since it was her room that I locked myself into.

Not cool, past Robyn.

Sadly, that wasn’t the worst group project I’ve ever been on. That one would come later, in my sophomore year of high school. The class was Honors Spanish II, and it was a rolling caravan of suck. You see, in that class, we divided up into study-buddy style pairs that we kept for the entire semester. The problem? I was absent the day we picked our partners. Consequently, I got stuck with the guy that literally no one else in the class would tolerate.

This motherfucker could have been the poster child for the phrase, “he tests well but he doesn’t apply himself.” Every time the teacher assigned a group project (and she did so with torturous frequency,) he would stare at me, eyes wide and mouth open, like a guppy struggling to make sense of its own reflection in the fishtank glass.

About halfway through the semester, as a direct response to his uselessness, the teacher started to explicitly divide each group project into two parts, in a futile attempt to ensure that each partner did at least some of the work. But, of course, she didn’t divide the grade up, so the whole exercise was pointless. I remember one project, a report on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, where she assigned one partner to write a 10-page report and the other to make a short presentation for the class.

If you guessed that I got stuck writing the paper, it just proves that you're not braindead. If you guessed that I also ended up doing all the work on the presentation, then you’ve been paying attention.

Hernan Cortez conquered the aztecs? My Nana Smith just worked at the chicken plant.
If you guessed that I even tried to camouflage his disinterest by typing up relevant bullet points, making a timeline, and obtaining pictures that he merely had to cut out and paste onto the board, and that he did no such thing, claiming he was “busy”, and that I replied, “busy with what?”, and he said, “well… I had to do this Cortez project,” and I said, “but you didn’t do it!”, and he stared at me with his stupid vacuous fishface and said, “because I was busy,” and then he stood up in front of the class and just read my goddamn bullet points verbatim, one by one, including the one that said, "something about the importance of La Malinche," and that we both got a C minus, and that after class we both somehow got lectured by the teacher because he blatantly didn’t do any fucking work, then you are sharp as a tack but also prone to run-on sentences.

And if you guessed that I bludgeoned him to death with my Spanish textbook while shouting, “¿Donde esta la biblioteca now, asshole?” Then you’ve somehow tapped into my subconscious fantasies and you should run while you still can.

Because if I kill you in your dreams, you die in real life too.

Dot dot dot catharsis.

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