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15 September 2006 @ 02:56 pm
Prison Break Gen Fanfiction: Knowing All The Wrong Things  
Title: Knowing All The Wrong Things
Author: HalfshellVenus
Pairing: Michael (Gen)
Rating: PG
Summary: Being a genius sometimes means knowing all the wrong things…
Author's Notes: Written for 60_minute_fics for "Dirty Little Secret" (i.e., something that has actually happened to you or someone you know) and for prisonbreak100, where I'd planned to use the "School" prompt but found that was one of the fanfic100 clinkers I'd tossed when I created that prompt table. D'OH! Okay then... Writer's Choice prompt.

x-x-x-x-x

Being a genius always sounds really great, unless the genius is you.

People envy it, assuming right away that “Everything must just come so easily.”

They don’t think about “Everything except understanding people,” which is usually the next part. Or, “Everybody just waiting to see if you make a mistake.” Or how about, “A really smart person could die of boredom in the public school system.”

Michael knows about all of these things, because he’s been there. He’s still there.

Mathematical equations, systems theory, the quiet elegance of algorithms… he knows all of that well. The meanings of words and phrases, essay formats, the rules of grammar and the poetry of certain novelists’ styles are all tucked away in his mind waiting to be called upon, to be reawakened.

But the subtleties of verbal communication—of “No” accompanied by a blushing smile, or “I see” when the mouth and eyes are stony— there is no textbook for these things, no syllabus for social intelligence.

Abstract reasoning is all well and good, but it doesn’t tell you if the girl in Social Studies who sits in front of you likes you. Dostoevsky might still be rippling through your brain heedlessly when a conversation with some boy you barely know ends with a fist to your face that you never saw coming.

Even for a genius, there are intangible parts of life.

Sometimes, Michael thinks those might be exactly the things he really needs to know.

Now, Lincoln is completely different. Lincoln can fix cars. He has girls calling on the phone around the clock—even the ones that know they’re part of a buffet and not the entrée.

On the other hand, Lincoln also gets into a lot of trouble. But Michael doesn’t think that’s because Lincoln doesn’t understand. No—he’s pretty sure Lincoln knows what the score is, and either decides to take the risk or to give vent to whatever’s pissing him off. Lincoln doesn’t have misunderstandings with people—he knows what’s going on and what lies at stake. He simply chooses to take that next step, knowing that the consequences might be very, very bad.

It might be stupidity, but it definitely isn’t ignorance.

Michael usually doesn’t understand the context well enough to make good or bad decisions when it comes to things like that.

He’s been labeled a geek all of his life, and people have been angry at him or expected too much of him because of it. His grades were always good and he always knew the answers to the teacher’s questions. But by fourth grade he’d learned not to raise his hand all the time, and years later he would simply wait to be called on like everyone else.

In the third grade, Michael found himself in a situation he didn’t know how to handle.

He was doing so well in school that his teacher got the idea to find some enrichment opportunities for him. “Would you like to learn Spanish”? Mrs. Stettler had asked him. And Michael answered “Yes,” because he had no way of knowing where those simple little words might lead.

Well, where they led was to an eight-year-old joining a group of fifth and sixth graders for three-times-weekly lessons with the Spanish teacher. Sitting in that classroom in the too-big chair, surrounded by the intermittent snickers of the kids around him, Michael had the feeling he’d made a big mistake.

He hadn’t known—why hadn’t she said?—how uncomfortable and embarrassing it would be. On the playground, those same older kids called him “Brainiac” and “the boy genius.” It wasn’t nice, the way they said it.

He wanted to ask Mrs. Stettler if he could stop going, but the first words out of her mouth were, “How was Spanish? Isn’t it fun? It’s so nice that you have a chance to learn it.”

Peer pressure lay on one side and fear of disappointing his teacher on the other. Even Michael’s super-brain couldn’t find the answer to that one.

One day he stopped off to use the bathroom on the way to Spanish, and he washed up slower and slower as the clock ticked on. What if he just didn’t go to class? he wondered. What would happen then?

After two weeks, he’d successfully spent every Spanish lesson hiding out in the bathroom—in the stalls if necessary, standing on the toilet to keep his shoes out of sight. The time seemed to stretch on forever in that bathroom, with nothing but his own mind to keep him occupied…but it was better than being made fun of.

His downfall was a break in routine—someone else’s, not his. The bell had rung a minute or two back, and he had just stepped out of the stall when the Spanish teacher himself walked in the bathroom. Michael froze like a mouse about to be eaten by a snake. For once he had no words—no idea what to say at all.

And he couldn’t understand why the Spanish teacher didn’t seem surprised to find him there.

Mrs. Stettler sat him down that afternoon, her words slipping past him like a river of remorse. “Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t want to go?” and “I thought you’d really enjoy doing this.” He still had no answers for her, because then he felt guilty for not trusting her on top of already feeling guilty for not going to the class.

When the school year was over and Mrs. Stettler moved to a district across town, Michael was immensely, ridiculously relieved.

He never did learn to speak Spanish. He couldn’t make himself want to, after that experience. But he figured that was okay, because he’d never need to know it.

Life is full of ironies, including what you do and don’t know, and what things you choose to learn or to avoid.

Because if someone were still watching Michael, all these years later while he plots to break out of Fox River prison and escape to Panama… they’d see that that decision was one of those rare times when Michael was actually wrong…


------ fin ------




 
 
 
bluesister on September 15th, 2006 11:01 pm (UTC)
“No” accompanied by a blushing smile, of “I see” when the mouth and eyes are stony

Michael wrong is refreshing. And the above? I'd like to get the rest of that manual.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: MichaelInBarshalfshellvenus on September 15th, 2006 11:20 pm (UTC)
:D That part of the manual I now understand (although it was exactly this kind of thing that used to give me fits).

But there are still parts of it that elude me. I have to say, for brainiacs the words/body-language conflicts are one of the hardest things to decode. They tend to actually listen to the words when they should be watching the body language instead. But People should say what they mean is permanently etched in their heads-- not just as an ideal, but as-- damnit!-- the way things ought to be. And then you know how that goes. :0
The Grammarian about whom your mother warned you.acostilow on September 15th, 2006 11:46 pm (UTC)
I repeat my previous comment.

And you know. You rock. :D
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: PB Final Hughalfshellvenus on September 15th, 2006 11:49 pm (UTC)
Hee-hee! It's slightly better, now that it's been edited. Including the slipping tenses that I hadn't noticed before (D'OH! Late-night writing has its hazards)

Happy weekend! Hope to see you at 60_minute_fics again tonight. If the prompts don't keel me ded. :0
The Grammarian about whom your mother warned you.acostilow on September 15th, 2006 11:52 pm (UTC)
*coughs* Probably not. I've been having trouble writing lately, and the prompts are spurring me into a frenzy as they used to. So. *shrugs*

*pets*

We'll give you a very nice funeral. :D
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: PB Final Hughalfshellvenus on September 17th, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)
and the prompts are not spurring me into a frenzy as they used to. So. *shrugs*
I couldn't get anything out of them this week. *Sighs*

Sometimes, when they're all tied to one larger theme, that just really doesn't work for me. Contrasting ideas usually mean that at least one of them will grab me.

And moreover... the "unreality"-based ones either roll like whoa! or just shrivel and die. :(

So nothing this week for me either. Rats.
(Deleted comment)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: PB Final Hughalfshellvenus on September 15th, 2006 11:52 pm (UTC)
:D I tell you, that phrase "Book smart, life dumb" isn't vernacular over here for nothing.

Though I think Michael is more life-smart than, say, my roommate who put a spray bottle of mildew-remover down sideways on top of my antique Victrola cabinet. "I didn't know it would leak!" "What-- you thought that was a waterproof container?!"

But what's really hard is being a young genius. The "facts" are so obvious, and the social skills are just the opposite! Because there are no hard-and-fast rules for people. They aren't so easily compartmentalized when you're a child.
PamalaX: Michaelfrustratedpamalax on September 16th, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
Very interesting!! I've spent a lifetime being very
much like you describe Lincoln, always awed by people
like Michael, so it is very interesting to see a lil
glimpse into what it must be like to be the other side
of that coin.

Thanks
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: PB Final Hughalfshellvenus on September 16th, 2006 04:28 am (UTC)
Very interesting!! I've spent a lifetime being very much like you describe Lincoln, always awed by people like Michael, so it is very interesting to see a lil glimpse into what it must be like to be the other side of that coin.
You so often get one or the other-- ultra smart about things or ultra smart about people. If you're exceptionally smart about things, you usually flunk the "people" part. If you've got both... helllllo, politician. ;)

One movie that has really stuck in my mind about this is "Say Anything." The main character is a good kid-- not all that smart, but kind and very well-intentioned. The would-be girlfriend's Dad balks at his daughter dating this "Champion of Mediocrity," as the Dad puts it. But it's clear to the viewer that in addition to kindness, the kid has absolute integrity-- and those two things are far more important than intelligence.
I'm for wine and the embrace of questionable women: michaelmissyjack on September 16th, 2006 02:51 am (UTC)
Wonderful insight into Michael. And I bet at some point he would beat himself up for this!

I think in Season 2 it may be the people part that is the difficult bit of the puzzle (of staying free) for Michael.

People should say what they mean is permanently etched in their heads-- not just as an ideal, but as-- damnit!-- the way things ought to be.
This is so true. And the other side of it is that Michael expects people to trust that he always means exactly what he says.

Also I wonder if the biggest challenge for Michael is that the person he understands the least - is himself.

Oh Michael *sigh* Thanks for a lovely story!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: PB Final Hughalfshellvenus on September 16th, 2006 04:32 am (UTC)
I think in Season 2 it may be the people part that is the difficult bit of the puzzle (of staying free) for Michael.
It was in Season 1 too-- that's where he'd flub up. Even in the first episode, where he hacked Bellick right off immediately with his cool tone and use of "Boss"... he was too new at the game to presume that familiarity with the system, and to assertive when he said it. Bellick has never forgiven him for that misstep.

And the other side of it is that Michael expects people to trust that he always means exactly what he says.
Yes! It's all the same problem. If you operate from directness and (usually) honesty, everything lives in that framework for you (your behavior and other people's). You forget that the larger world is not necessarily IN your framework.

that the person he understands the least - is himself.
I would agree with that enormously. It's also part of what keeps him intriguing. So long as we don't feel that it's the WRITERS who don't understand Michael (every now and then, that's what it seems to be instead). :0
Genevieve: michael tattoo by three_fingersmsgenevieve on September 16th, 2006 06:46 am (UTC)
Woah. This is amazing - heartwrenchingly believable and makes me want to beg you to write a dozen sequels to this. Thank you so much for sharing.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: PB Final Hughalfshellvenus on September 17th, 2006 11:30 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised people are liking it so much, I guess because it's too close to me.

But this side of Michael I understand all too well. Particularly being trapped by other people's expectations (especially at such a young age), and also feeling like you really should be able to solve a social problem like this one but just not having the first clue.

And not knowing at all that really, no kid your age knows the right way to deal with a conflict between guilt/expectations/humiliation. That's a fairly complex issue at any age.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. :)
Mayhem Parva: Rain (hmwitzy)raincitygirl on September 16th, 2006 06:56 am (UTC)
Oh, this is NICELY done. So cute.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: MichaelInBarshalfshellvenus on September 17th, 2006 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! Poor Michael. Who knew it would be so easy for someone else to get him in over his head?
Kat: geniusbluebird1045 on September 16th, 2006 10:13 am (UTC)
This is beautifu! Very well-written.

I absolutely love this part:

But the subtleties of verbal communication—of “No” accompanied by a blushing smile, or “I see” when the mouth and eyes are stony— there is no textbook for these things, no syllabus for social intelligence.

Abstract reasoning is all well and good, but it doesn’t tell you if the girl in Social Studies who sits in front of you likes you. Dostoevsky might still be rippling through your brain heedlessly when a conversation with some boy you barely know ends with a fist to your face that you never saw coming.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: MichaelInBarshalfshellvenus on September 17th, 2006 11:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Kat. :)

But the subtleties of verbal communication—of “No” accompanied by a blushing smile, or “I see” when the mouth and eyes are stony— there is no textbook for these things, no syllabus for social intelligence.
This is the hardest thing for the socially unsavvy. The conflict between words and underlying meaning is just a minefield they can never navigate correctly.

And sadly, so many really smart people have this problem. A large part of it, actually, is that they don't know how to deal with dishonesty and social games and indirectness. Some think of it as immaturity... but one could also say that much of it self-resolves as OTHER people become more mature. ("Little Man Tate" all over again-- a child who can relate to civilized adults better than wild little children).
Maz (or foxxy!): Michael Rubs Headtuesdaeschild on September 16th, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)
Genius=no common sense! How well you showed us that here and poor Michael, huh? Awww!

Very intuitive and a little sad! Loved it!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: MichaelInBarshalfshellvenus on September 17th, 2006 11:35 pm (UTC)
Very intuitive and a little sad! Loved it!
It IS a little sad, isn't it? Because all of this is really a problem that Michael still has.

Glad you liked it-- thank you! :)
Maz (or foxxy!): Michael Rubs Headtuesdaeschild on October 8th, 2006 11:17 am (UTC)
Okay, hopelessly late but I loved it and you're welcome! :D
Becbecisvolatile on September 17th, 2006 12:10 am (UTC)
God, this just made my toes curl.

Just... so well done.

And this line seems so right:

when a conversation with some boy you barely know ends with a fist to your face that you never saw coming.

Thanks for sharing!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: MichaelInBarshalfshellvenus on September 17th, 2006 11:37 pm (UTC)
when a conversation with some boy you barely know ends with a fist to your face that you never saw coming.
It hurts to think of that, doesn't it? A lifetime spent with unforseen hostility and missteps waiting, all because you didn't see the progression of what was happening until it was too late.

So glad you liked it. And I LOVE that Lincoln icon-- it absolutely fits the episode. Standing lookout outside the store, immediately check out the babe with the dog, and call the cops down on both of you because you made her notice you! *thwap* Hot, sexy Dumbass!
blazeorfadeblazeorfade on September 20th, 2006 06:17 pm (UTC)
Wow, this hit very close to home for me. I definately felt the Michael feels in this, when I was younger. I learned fast though how to imitate the other people around me, their actions and behavior to fit in, even if I didn't completely get it. Glad to say I'm a little better with social cues now.
And I completely get the whole they should just say what they mean thing. People mistake it for naivete, I just think its the way it should be.
Great piece.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: MichaelInBarshalfshellvenus on September 20th, 2006 06:56 pm (UTC)
I definately felt the Michael feels in this, when I was younger.
Oh yes, me too. Too much of this piece is like my own childhood (that was the key for this prompt, writing your own secrets. That Spanish class thing actually did happen to me...).

And I completely get the whole they should just say what they mean thing. People mistake it for naivete, I just think its the way it should be.
Watching "Little Man Tate" years ago was a revelation for me. I'd always been told I was socialy immature, but I realized watching that movie that HE was not the problem per se. It was merely having to wait for other people to grow up, odd as that seems. Most of the time, adult conversation (so long as there's no hidden agenda) is civilized and comprehensible. It's with little kids that you get the "Your mother eats bugs! And your dress is ugly!" out of nowhere kind of WTF inputs that are so freaking baffling. ;)

Glad you liked this one-- it seems to be all-too-true for a lot of people who were like this as children. We're not alone! :)
blazeorfadeblazeorfade on September 20th, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC)
"I'd always been told I was socialy immature"


Same here, my older brother always tells me "you're just sheltered, wait till you get out in the real world" That never felt quite right to me though.


"Glad you liked this one-- it seems to be all-too-true for a lot of people who were like this as children. We're not alone! :)"


Yeah, too bad I can't go back in time and tell this to the eight year old me who hated being pulled out of class for testing and stuff.
mercurybard on September 22nd, 2006 04:04 pm (UTC)
“A really smart person could die of boredom in the public school system.”

Amen.

Abstract reasoning is all well and good, but it doesn’t tell you if the girl in Social Studies who sits in front of you likes you.

Poor Michael. I bet he was all gawky as a kid too.

I like the envy over Lincoln being able to deal with girls and people in general. Lincoln doesn’t have misunderstandings with people--->for some reason, I think that needs to be accompanied by a snapshot of Linc's fist punching right at the camera.

You move from abstract talking about the hardships of Michael's being a genius to one concrete example--Spanish class. Nice, tight structure.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: MichaelInBarshalfshellvenus on September 22nd, 2006 06:22 pm (UTC)
Poor Michael. I bet he was all gawky as a kid too.
Oh, I'm sure-- all big, bewildered eyes when it came to social contexts. Probably adorable, really.

Lincoln doesn’t have misunderstandings with people--->for some reason, I think that needs to be accompanied by a snapshot of Linc's fist punching right at the camera.
Heh-heh! With an addendum: "It's not a misunderstanding when you're doing it on purpose! BAM!"

Glad you liked this story. And I see that you, too, know the pain of being too-smart in the public school system. Gah.
Deadbeat Nymph: pensivedeadbeat_nymph on September 27th, 2006 03:41 am (UTC)
I just saw this story. I have nothing new to add to everyone else's comments, but I wanted to ask you, HalfShellVenus, if you were familiar with Sarah Slean. Have you heard her song "Book Smart, Street Stupid"? It's on Night Bugs. I just thought you might like it.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: MichaelInBarshalfshellvenus on September 28th, 2006 12:06 am (UTC)
Have you heard her song "Book Smart, Street Stupid"? It's on Night Bugs. I just thought you might like it.
I haven't heard it, but I'll see if I can dig it up.

Thanks!