Five Things You Quite Possibly Don’t Know About Me

The good news is that I get spared most memes; for whatever reason, they seem to pass me by. Liz just tagged me with this one, though, and since she complied when she got tagged, I’ll do the same. I want to note that this is hard, though; there are plenty of things you don’t know about me, but not so many that are (a) sufficiently interesting and (b) insufficiently private to write about here!

1. I graduated from high school when I was 16, but never skipped a grade. My parents actually started me in school a year early, at this super-progressive little private pre-school/kindergarten/elementary school. Once they divorced, Mom got a job as the librarian for the Catholic school near us, making an appallingly low salary — Catholic school librarians, at least back then, were paid less than Catholic school teachers, who were paid significantly less than public school teachers — and so I had to leave the little progressive school after second grade and follow her over to that Catholic school. Given that I only turned seven during the first week of classes in the fall, the school’s principal (one of a very few nuns remaining at the school at that time, and a really, really tough one) refused to put me into third grade until Mom threw some kind of fit. When she relented, it was only so far as to place me in the B group of our rigidly tracked third grade, but within about two weeks, my teachers requested that the new little smartypants be moved up into the A classes.

2. Apropos of the above, I was not only singled out in elementary school for being peculiarly young and annoyingly smart, but also notably small. Part of that was the age thing, and part of it was just super-delayed growth and slightly alarming skinniness. I began ninth grade standing 4′ 10″ and weighing 65 pounds, and ended it nine months later at 5′ 3″ and weighing 95 pounds. None of that is an exaggeration. I have stretch marks from that year.

3. I have studied French repeatedly over the years — in a so-called “gifted and talented” program when I was about eight (the most annoying of the classes I’ve taken; I missed the first week or so of the session, and the class was filled with irritating little brown-nosers who were determined to show off how much they knew. I don’t know how long I actually stuck with the class — I suspect not very long — but it’s the only time I’ve ever felt genuinely lost in the classroom); in high school; in college; in preparation for my doctoral language exam; at my current institution. I’m still working on it, via Pimsleur, and I’m hoping to spend at least some chunk of this summer in Paris. I’ve studied a bit of Italian and Spanish as well, but for some reason I keep returning to French, as it seems like my only chance of ever becoming fluent in another language. And it’s increasingly clear that that’s not going to happen, either, unless I spend some concentrated time in immersion. I’m good at the logical parts of languages like syntax, but my vocabulary is pretty awful. Or — let me put it this way — I can recognize words, but not call them up on demand, and thus I can read fairly well, and I can understand a fair chunk of what’s said to me, but I find speaking French extremely difficult. I am determined, however, not to die monolingual. (Being at a hotel here in Prague, surrounded by kids who not only speak relatively fluent English but also German and Russian, has cemented that for me.)

4. I took two years off between my masters and my doctorate, and spent a year and a half of it working as the assistant to the Director of Creative Affairs for the television wing of a major Hollywood studio. This should, by all rights, have been a fantastic job, but it had a couple of things wrong with it: first, assistants to studio executives, at least at this studio, and at least at that time, were assumed to be, and were considered, professional secretaries, and not in training to do anything else, as opposed to assistants out on the lot, or assistants at talent agencies, who are all assumed to be looking for something more. So I got kinda locked into that job, and whenever my (very sympathetic) boss would give me something more interesting to do than clerical stuff, someone would say to her, “isn’t she your secretary?” The other thing that was wrong with the job, alas, was that my boss was in the process of checking out of Hollywood, and so as she took on fewer and fewer interesting projects, I had less and less to do. The good news is that about a year in I’d decided that I wanted to go back to grad school, and so I filled the endless hours at my desk studying for the GRE.

5. And finally: I’m lactophobic. Not lactose-intolerant, though that may play a minor role in the issue, which is really that I am actively afraid of milk, and of things that are too milk-like. Not dairy more broadly — I live for cheese, and ice cream is just fine — but dairy that’s too liquidy. I have to eat my ice cream pretty fast, because I can’t eat it once it’s melted. I hate cream-based desserts of all varieties. I can’t eat pastries that are cream-filled. No flan, no custard, only the occasional odd bite of tiramisu. Only chocolate mousse if it’s so overwhelmingly chocolaty that it’s clearly more related to chocolate than to cream. I can only stand crème brul?©e if it’s got a really high brul?©e-to-crème ratio. I can eat things that are made with milk, and I can eat cream-based soups and sauces (though not too cream-based, as I discovered with a very unfortunate mushroom soup yesterday at lunch, which was basically cream with saut?©ed mushrooms in it). I can handle berry-flavored yogurt, but have to work fairly hard to be able to deal with plain yogurt. Some of it’s taste, some of it’s texture, but most of it is just plain irrational. I cannot watch a glass of milk being poured, and I cannot watch someone else drink milk. Even the idea is repellent. (God, I’m on a roll now.) I just can’t believe that anyone should drink something that you have to smell first to see if it’s gone bad. In fact, for years, I didn’t even want milk in my refrigerator, as I was convinced that it would persuade the other food to go bad, too. Which is where I localize the phobia — all I can figure is that I must have had a bad-milk experience as a baby, because I’ve refused to drink it for as long as I can remember.

Which sure made that Catholic school fun, as our teachers used to check our milk cartons every day at the end of lunch.

It’s my turn to tag folks, but the danger of getting hit with a meme this late in its lifecycle is that it’s awfully hard to find the uninfected. After a bit of poking around, though, it appears that I’m safe in hitting up the Wordherders and friends: Jason, Chuck, Matt, Jason, and George, if you’re up for it, I’d love to find out what I don’t know…


  1. Hey, I just got the annual catalogue from the AMAZING French language school in Provence I went to for two summers – I would adore to go back but it’s not going to work out this summer. They have small groups – 20 people total, groups according to proficiency level of 3-6 people. You stay in a MONASTERY. Which is absolutely beautiful, in the Provencal alps, among lavender fields (go in June or early July for lavender – August is thunder month so not quite as great) – and there are vegetable gardens all around it and the most delicious fresh gourmet yet not arrogant (if you get my meaning) food for all meals, and people are so NICE, and there’s wine with every meal (well except breakfast) which sure helps with the language – and classes are mornings only, unless you want the intensive version, I didn’t, because afternoons you can pick excursions, and it’s all in french with your French teachers present on excursions and at meals (helping you figure out how to say pass the wine) and I just absolutely loved it. And I learnt quite a lot of French too, especially a confidence in just talking, since it’s total immersion 24/7.

    I’m so sad I can’t go back this summer and would feel much better knowing someone I know was there 😉

    The website is

  2. Shhh — to a certain extent. I wouldn’t want to drink either of them (they do trigger my “opaque white liquid” resistance), but I’m a fan of rice milk on cereal, which is something I can’t really bear to do with real milk. When I’m in a situation where the only option is real milk (no rice milk; no yogurt), I wind up using a tablespoon or so, just enough, as R. says, to aggravate the milk.

    Jill — this sounds like a fantastic program — thanks!

  3. My God. I have never heard anyone, anywhere, in my whole life describe EXACTLY the aversion that I have to milk and any cream-based (or creamy-texture like) foods and beverages. It’s incredibly eerie to read what my own brain could have produced – to a T. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in the world and that the mockery that I have suffered for this aversion isn’t mine alone.

    We had to buy some milk for a recipe last week, and I tried having it on my cereal (as opposed to my regular soy milk) but I kept thinking about it for the rest of the day and feeling yucky. Back to the soy milk (and as little as possible of even that).

    Bless you, KF. Bless you.

  4. Get. Out.

    After 39 years of being told, in effect, that I’m a complete freak for having this aversion, it’s astonishing to me that there’s someone out there who really gets it. No one ever has before — people I know who hate milk still seem to love flan, and people who don’t like creamy desserts still put milk in their coffee. And then there are the vegans, who get the general dairy resistance but don’t understand the great cheese exception. I am so glad to know you’re out there, Natalie!

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