Fear Of Forms

Jun 02

FrogEver complain about all the useless things they made you study in school?

Like how to dissect a frog. Or the date of the Magna Carta. Or trigonometry. Quick! What IS trigonometry?

40% of people in a recent poll thought that 80% of what you learn in school is useless.
Or was it that 80% thought 40% was useless. Whatever.

It’ strue that some of the stuff they crammed into your dear little head had no value whatsoever beyond passing the test, but some of it actually did: it you know, logic and problem-solving and like that.

GeorgeCarlinAngryAnd as the great philosopher George Santayana (or was it George Carlin?) warned us, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

The real problem isn’t what they taught you, but what they didn’t.
Here’s one thing I wished I had learned a long time ago.

How to fill out a form.

I don’t know about you, but I have formophobia, a condition yet to be recognized by the AMA but which, when left unchecked, can cause severe confusion and even catatonia. When faced with any document I have to complete, I go blank, so to speak.

It’s the pits when you have to fill our forms AND stand on lines. The Motor Vehicle Bureau, particularly the one in Manhatan, terrifies me. . .

Once I procrastinated renewing my license until literally the last minute. On a Friday. During a blizzard with busses abandoned in snow drifts, subway stalled,, and taxis at home in the outer boroughs.

Fotolia_17198020_XSBut I had to get there! So I put on my boots, my furry coat, a pair of dark glasses, and hired a car and driver (ironic, no?) to get my license. Did I mention that I had the flu, and was in danger of fainting in the overheated rooms where people come to wait on one line, then another, and another, a place where they grow old and become bitter.

How did I escape this fate? Pure luck.

I asked one of the snarly-looking street smart clerks if there was any place I could sit down for a minute because I didn’t feel well, and she took my measure in a heartbeat: Shit. Here is one pathetic middle-aged woman who looks like she just might pass out and ruin my day. So she shocked us all by marching out from behind the counter (I thought she was going to smack me!) and then she escorted me to the beginning of the next line, and the one after that, and through the whole demoralizing process, both of us getting the evil eye and muttered comments from the less fortunate huddled masses, the poor souls who actually had to stand and wait.

I don’t know who they thought I was, or who I thought I thought I was, but the whole experience was surreal, ending with the driver and I going to Ray’s Pizza on West 11th. And don’t let anyone tell you that dressing warmly, beating the system at the MVB, and some nice pepperoni won’t cure the flu. It does.

Of course, this experience didn’t teach me how to fill out forms, although it did ease the fear of consequences. But not of the MVB.

Doctor’s offices aren’t great either. Although far easier than the forms for purchasing guns (ahem), and less complicated than insurance claims, applications for colleges or medical plans, you still have to deal with pages of repetitious question on those officious clipboards, all at a time when you want answers, not questions. “Why do I have this wart on my nose?” Not “Do you have a history of high blood pressure, mental illness or hemeroids.” The best reason for not changing doctors is that you’ve already filled out the forms. Incorrectly, perhaps, but filled out nonetheless.

Tax forms?. Forget it. I’ve spent countless thousands of dollars paying accountants, not just to get all the deductions (that too) but so I won’t have to figure out what line 13 means and why I have to subtract it from line 12B. I love those stickies with the arrows marks that tell me to SIGN HERE.

These days, because I’m trying to sort out my father’s affairs (not those kind of affairs) and make sure my mother is getting her Social Security and all that. I am surrounded by forms. They spread across my desk, my shelves, and my life like the Great White Plague.

In view of all these confusions and phobias, and I can’t be alone in this, is it too much to ask that we could have studied more Form and less Frome? Ethan Frome that is, a novel I never liked anyway.

Could we go a little lighter on the Pythagorean Theorum (Quick! What’s a hypotenuse?) and put more emphasis on filling out job applications. You need to learn how to make it seem like sweeping the floor in your uncle’s hardware store had a real relationship to that management position at Apple, or that knowing where to get really good waterproof mascara puts you on the fast track for becoming a costume designer for Lady Gaga. These skills can be learned and should be taught in school.

Another course we really need is Package Opening 101.
But that’s another blog.

Meanwhile, do you have any suggestions about what they didn’t teach in school — but should have?

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