All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Monday, March 12, 2012

Life is Perpetual High School

I didn't hate high school. I know it's common to say it was hell, but I have to say that overall, I'm thinking I didn't have it too bad. My family was pretty well known in the small town having relatives in the administration and faculty so it's not like I could get away with anything. I was pretty well behaved, didn't drink, didn't do drugs (Seriously Mom, never once), was just really content in my little nerdy world of band geeks and cheerleading; yes I'm one of the rare exceptions to the stereotype rules. I loved the arts but also knew the popular kids. To be clear, I wasn't popular, I just knew them all. I wasn't invited to the parties, but I knew them all. I was always just on the periphery. I was never a good student. Not that I didn't like learning but I was super ADD. That didn't exist at the time but now it's pretty clear to me. Teachers would be lecturing and my mind would be off on a tangent somewhere else. If I had a great teacher, and I did have a few, and I was entertained, I could get good grades. When I wanted to, I could sit down and memorize a full chapter of history, but when I was 14, I just didn't want to. And I was big on not doing things I didn't want to do. My grades were always just average enough to squeak by, mostly because, and I always hate to admit it, I didn't 'apply myself.' If I had a freaking dollar every time someone told me that. But even then, I just wasn't interested in being normal. I didn't want to be a Straight A student. I was on the cheerleading team but it was so I could go to all the games, not so I could be popular. I was in the bandfront (or drill team) because I liked dancing and that was the only place I could do it. I was in the choir because I actually enjoyed music. But what was always pushed down my throat was that I needed to do better in science and math and get good grades so I could go to college and get a good job. Well I have news for you, when you're 14 years old, studying Biology just isn't interesting when all you want to do is sing. I went to high school before the internet (thank GOD!) and before cell phones. I am so grateful to have grown up in a time when we had to be creative to communicate. The art of note writing has disappeared, especially note folding at which I was so damn skilled. Making plans to meet somewhere had to be firm and specific because if you were wrong, it didn't happen. There were no 'where you at' texts to be exchanged. You just went home. 
I did hate gym class. I have some pretty athletic brothers and gym class couldn't have interested me less. I love watching sports, not playing them. Especially in a high school gym class where it's more obligatory volleyball games than physical exertion. 
What I did like about high school was the social aspect. Interacting with the same hundreds of people every day, seeing their faces, knowing their lives and making memories that I have to this day. I reconnect with these old friends on Facebook and sure we're rapidly approaching 40 now but I think of them as the 15 year old I would high five in the hall. High school is a weird place. For me, like I said, it was OK. There are clearly people who think it is hell. People who are bullied relentlessly or ignored mercilessly. Some react with violence, some react with isolation and some just plan to come back to the 10 year reunion and tell all these people off...I've seen it happen. 
I've watched dozens of movies about high schools and cliques and social circles and mean girls and every stereotype imaginable. The worst part? They're all true. I was friends with some incredibly mean girls who to this day are still, mean girls. My mother once asked me why I would be friends with such mean people and I didn't even realize it at the time, I just thought that's how girls talked to each other. Needless to say, I was always more comfortable around guys. I had a lot of brothers and it was just my comfort zone but there were the few girl friends throughout the years, still friends to this day. 
The thing is, 'applying yourself' to good grades in school when you're that age doesn't seem so important to the rest of your life. And I guess I didn't trust myself enough at the time. All I was interested in was the arts but I went in another direction on some bad advice and tried to make myself do what I 'should' do instead of what I 'wanted' to do. I won't go off on a 'follow your dreams' digression but why is it so hard to trust that instinct? At 18, I was studying accounting in a community college. Now, at 38, I'm living in Eastern Europe trying to enrich the lives of people by exploring the arts. Why didn't I do this 20 years ago?
So why the random rant about high school? Because I am back in high school. Being in a small country such as Moldova, everybody knows everybody's business and everyone likes to talk. Life is always going to be high school. There are always going to be groups of people you're not a part of or who don't like you for no apparent reason. You are always going to have to kiss the metaphoric head cheerleaders ass to get what you want. You are always going to have a crush on that boy that you think is so unbelievably unattainable that you never exchange words. (Sidebar, my HS crush is now one of my good friends. I have no idea at 16 why I couldn't approach him. He is one of the nicest guys ever. You would think I would apply that logic to my life currently...) You are always going to be fighting for the rights of the arts to be as rewarded as sports...and it will never happen. You will always enjoy the comradery and hate the gossip and competitive jealousy and politics.
Here in Moldova, life with 120 other Americans ranging in ages from 22 - 68, it is high school. There is an athletic crowd, there are mean girls, there is a popular clique, there are artists, there are cute boys that everyone's afraid to talk to, there are social politics, there are competitive natures, there are great friends to be had and great battles to be fought. They are 'teachers pets' and people who can't seem to do anything right. There are people who need to give you their resume when you speak to them so you are immediately impressed and give them credit for all that they do...and there are people who work hard and ask for nothing in return. There are people who are involved in every organization to build up the resume, there are people who are counting down their time here like it is a prison sentence and there are people who stay completely off the radar and do their own thing. 
So where do I fit in? I haven't decided yet. And I'm guessing that my perception of myself is probably different than that of 5 of my closest friends. But here's how high school is now different than it was in 1991:

  • Texting can be your best friend and the devil at the same time. There is no intonation in texting and it is all up for interpretation. This can be detrimental to those of us with imaginations.
  • College really isn't for everyone.
  • I really wish everyone could go to college.
  • There is always someone with a camera.
  • Having a drink and drinking are two separate things. I find I do not desire to do either very often these days.
  • Sometimes calling mean girls out on their mean girl comments turns them into balls of yarn.
  • I really don't care what people think of me.
  • I don't take anything personally.
  • Singing karaoke is still really fun.
  • Silent dance parties in your room with the lights off and headphones on are still a fantastic way to let off steam.
  • It's great to be 'one of the guys' until you wish you were more than 'one of the guys.'
  • Sticking up for the bullied instead of standing behind the bullies feels way better.
  • Cute smiles can always make me blush.
  • Sense of humor and intelligence are a trade off for looks any day. (To be fair, I would still marry CJ Murray if he asked...)
If only I had this confidence and fortitude when I was 15. Thank goodness, I have a niece who does. 
I don't think that Peace Corps or Moldova is exactly unique in this high school metaphor, it's just a lot more in my face here. I'm faced with the same group of Americans for 2 years and we are all in each other's business whether we want to be or not. The difference this time around is we chose to be here. We came back to high school. And we did it in a culture that we're not familiar with and in a language we don't speak. Are we gluttons for punishment or really just hoping for a second chance?
All I do know is that getting caught up in all this can distract us from the reason we are here. And that is frustrating. So when I wake up tomorrow morning, I'm going to be working on some grant proposals, some project ideas and some language lessons. Besides, I have dance class tomorrow night and I have to get home in time for "Pretty Little Liars."

(This midnight rant brought to you by Starbucks Via.)

1 comment:

  1. You are perceptive. Like the editor of the school paper, the one whose comments are just a little too bald yet strangely and disconcertingly liberating, that little breath of frisson. You're getting something and giving even more, I imagine. Good for you.