Tuesday, 9 September 2014
Rebel Without a Clue
I might possibly maybe be facing a High School Reunion next year. I know, I hear you, why even bother thinking about it if it's that far away and not definite. You know me though, I think about everything. And then I write about it to get it out of my head. My writing is like so much brain litter accumulating in piles where I leave it behind. This blog is only one of my many forms of journal writing. There is a great deal of litter in my head to deal with! Anyhow, back to this reunion, or rather back to my thoughts about High School.
I am not one of those people who loved High School, though I didn't have a horrible time there. I grew up in a small town, the same place I have since returned to live and which is now much larger than it was then, more than doubled in population. Whether it was due to the time or the place, my experience at school does not look anything like the way Hollywood portrays it, and I wonder, given the relative popularity of high school drama or comedy as a theme in popular movies and books, if my small corner of time and space was so freakishly odd or if the writers of popular entertainment are just completely disconnected from reality.
This reunion I speak of would be my thirtieth high school graduation reunion, which means I am well removed from my teen years but one of the features of my particular brain is a very vivid memory. I recall most aspects of my life as though they were yesterday, though I must admit that recalling what I had for breakfast yesterday is not as simple and this sounds worryingly like senior citizenship. But let's get back to those teen years in the mid eighties.
There were three grades attending the school, grades ten, eleven and twelve, the final three years offered by public school, and each grade level had roughly one hundred students if you round off to the nearest hundred. This meant you probably knew the names of most of your peers and had likely attended school with at least a third of them since kindergarten. Four elementary schools fed the high school and because this is a military town and in those days military families were transferred more frequently than they are now, there was also a segment of the school population that was only around for a couple of years at any given time. I can recall the names and faces of my classmates from elementary school who moved away after a couple of years and I often wonder where they are now, and who they went on to be. The three grades in high school were not separated by floor or wing or anything like that so people mingled and had friends across the grades though each grade level had it's cliques.
Ah yes, cliques. Now we are getting to the stuff that movies are made of. The popular people, the uncool people, the nerds, the jocks, yes all of those stereotypes exist because in reality they do exist to some degree. Some, like me, didn't quite belong in any of these categories. I was neither popular nor unpopular but I was definitely not part of the cool crowd. Unlike in the movies, the cool crowd was not made up of the wealthy and well dressed. Real wealth did not really exist in my community; it was a middle class town. I can't say how the military offspring dealt with the differences of rank their parents may have had, but if that was an issue at all it didn't make a big statement at school. Most of us were middle class in income, most had stay-at-home mothers with some mothers picking up a retail job when their children reached the teen years. Nobody had the kind of family with a big house, a swimming pool and parents who bought you a car for your sixteenth birthday.
The cool kids generally wore jeans and tee shirts, particular brands were the right thing to wear at certain times, but these brands were still within the means of most families and available in our small town shops. As long as your jeans came from the jean store and not from the discount store you passed inspection. I recall a moment when I was twelve and wearing my first bra. One of the cool girls marched up to me in the change room before a PE class to inspect the label on my bra because a dispute had broken out around me as to whether or not it was the right brand. Brands were important but looking rich was not. Neither were good grades, appearing to take school seriously or working too hard at it, nor saving your virginity.
To be cool you had to drink, perhaps smoke, do a bit of weed, wear jeans and Nike tennis shoes, get middling grades and never discuss them, party at the beach on weekends, drop lots of F-bombs, have a boyfriend or girlfriend and be known to be sexually active and even better if you played volleyball. Boys needed to play volleyball and basketball. You could get away with being known as smart and caring about grades, hoping to be a doctor or lawyer, if you also played sports. You should goof off in class though, demonstrating that you don't need to please the adults (teachers) and if you are girl this usually means talking and laughing too much, maybe applying some makeup during a lecture. Physical attractiveness definitely helped but you could be the fat friend of the coolest person at school if you did the right things.
Are you wondering where I fit in? I didn't. I navigated high school as best I could, essentially considering myself trapped amongst a bunch of immature idiots whom I could not stand. I was, as you can imagine, viewed as a snob by some, tolerated by others, and liked by perhaps half. If I had to guess I would say I was probably second tier in the social hierarchy, but looking back on it I was perhaps a bit odd. A teacher I liked once told me, during a private conversation, that I was a rebel. I laughed and told him I was not and that all of the others were. He must have thought that was daft but at the time I didn't really understand what a rebel was. To me a rebel was James Dean, and I was at school with a lot of James Deans. Instead of comprehending that the rebel was the one who dared to be different, I saw it as a formula to be followed and it was a formula my peers were all trying to follow. I had decided there was no way I was ever going to be cool so I would, instead, be the opposite of cool.
I will confess to you here and now that in a world where it was not considered a desirable thing, I was raised to be a lady. Not a real lady with an actual title. You do not need to address me as Lady Shawna, but I was raised to have the manners and behaviour, the demeanour that would allow me to have socialised with Charles and Diana had they chosen to honeymoon in our small town. This was nothing to do with snobbery and everything to do with what my parents, given their own background, considered a life skill. I had impeccable manners, good grammar, and used a knife and fork together in ways that made my peers laugh out loud. In other words, I used them properly. I must here note that it has been my observation in life that the majority of people do not use these utensils 'properly' and I am beginning to think it is of little consequence. There are more important things in this world. It's not that I was raised to believe these things important so much as for them to be so automatic that I could be at ease anywhere and not embarrass myself. There is some irony in that.
I mastered two distinct coping skills and employed both but while in high school tended to favour one over the other. First I employed what I call the What the Hell I May as Well be Different strategy. No, I did not dye my hair purple and wear heavy eye liner and draw fake skull tattoos on my arms. Had I done that I would probably have gone straight to coolness in less time than it takes to apply grungy smudged eyeliner. I dressed like a career woman instead. I wore vintage style sheath dresses, pencil skirts and blouses with mid heeled pumps. I dressed for the world I thought I wanted to be in, one with intelligent people interested in doing something, studying or working to make the world function smoothly. I wanted to be serious, to be taken seriously, to be older. I wanted responsibility and respectability. I knew I was going to university and I knew I would pursue a career and I couldn't wait to get there. Being stuck in high school in a small town was holding me back.
Can you just imagine how someone who is an introvert and at times shy, not at all confident but somehow looks it, reserved, mannered, seen as an intellectual and unable to participate in volleyball due to the onset of the M.E. I did not then know I had, can you you just imagine how that someone would be perceived? Oddly, I never lacked attention from boys. Not the coolest ones, but easily second tier. I nearly always had a boyfriend. The second and less employed strategy was that I also learned to behave in ways that did not come naturally to me, in order to fit in somewhat. I took up swearing. This was initially very forced and calculated but I am a reasonably good actress. "Fuck yeah, I do swear sometimes. No, not all the time, that's soo lame." This image would look so much cooler if I were waving around a cigarette but I was then and have always been too health conscious to smoke.
So this alien creature in a pencil skirt sometimes swears and has a steady boyfriend. Anybody with a steady boyfriend has to be sleeping with him because he'd dump her if she weren't but we just can't imagine this alien doing that. She's soooo square. Isn't she? Does anybody know? Is she sleeping with him? She has to be. No, no way, she wouldn't.
Highly intelligent conversations sometimes took place between myself and the cool girls.
Bernadette: "So how come you never swear? What's your problem?"
Me: Thinking to myself that technically this isn't true but let's go with the other persona here..." Probably because I have a larger vocabulary than you do and can think of other words to say."
Bernadette: Gives her best withering glance at my chest. "Well at least I have boobs."
And she did. Huge ones. Also a huge mouth and a small brain which she was slowly frying with her party tricks.
There was nervous laughter all around from the group of witnesses. I have no idea who won that exchange from the perspective of the audience but I excelled at looking like I didn't give a shit but would never use such a word.
Amazingly, I did have friends. Generally I was not much different from the person I am now, and I do hope it is clear that person is generally rather nice. I still have good grammar, excellent table manners and sometimes drop an F bomb, but not often. I was in an environment where I didn't fit and I coped as best I could. It may explain why I have no interest in pencil skirts or vintage dresses at this point in my life and why I am undecided as to whether or not I want to attend a reunion. I remind myself there were some good people there and it might be interesting to find out what they are doing now. I wonder what I will wear. I don't have a single pencil skirt left in my closet.