Monday, July 30, 2007

High School and Other Painful Pursuits

Someone recently began a discussion arc on the six- packers’ loop about being a geek in high school. Many banditas chimed in, confessing to geek-hoodness, listing clubs they were in or activities they had joined in high school. We have a significant number of band and choir geeks, Latin Club geeks (raising my hand here), speech and drama geeks, National Honor Society geeks, and student government geeks.

Most banditas confessed to being good students. I'm not surprised because writers by default must be good readers, lovers of the written word, and shapers of gripping characters and the worlds they occupy. They must be moderately well organized and superbly disciplined, all traits that make for good students.

When I was thirty-seven, I flew back to Virginia to attend Hopewell High School’s twentieth class reunion (go Cougars!!!). Like many of you, in high school I was in that undetermined class between the “cool” kids (we had Greek letter fraternities and sororities on our campus – so NOT cool) and what we called the “hoods,” students who regularly got into trouble, ditching school, smoking on campus, or flunking tests on a regular basis.

Our little tweener clique consisted of the scholars, the smart kids, not exactly fitting in with the jocks and cheer leaders, but respected because, well, we were the top graduates, we got the scholarships, and we helped the others through their trig and physics classes.

Life is such an amazing leveler. At my twentieth class reunion, I was so surprised to find that I was the cool kid! I was one of the few college graduates, the one who could still fit into her wedding dress, the one who had a respectable job, and the one who had miraculously transformed from a skinny girl with no boobs or hips into a moderately attractive woman, albeit with no boobs. There's a name for us girls: we’re called late bloomers.

I have three daughters, all of whom are gorgeous and tall and slender (this from their Dad), but they bloomed “late.” My husband always said a late-blooming daughter was God’s blessing to worried parents. Somehow their common sense anchors them until their beauty takes over.

I’ve been teaching adolescents for over twenty years and I know this for sure: I’ve NEVER met a beautiful, talented girl who felt extremely confident. There seems to be in most of us that little unsure girl who’s positive she’s not as pretty as everyone says, who’s fat even though she weighs less than my jeans, who can’t see her creamy complexion for the zit worming its way to the surface.

I had a student a few years ago who lives in Las Logos, a very pricey gated community near where I live. To give you an idea, Eddie Murphy (yes, that one!) just sold his $10 million house – estate is more appropriate – out there. I was helping my student write her college application essay and we began talking about girly-stuff. Here is this beautiful (really), talented (really, really), smart (triple really), little cheerleader whose life is very hard. She cooks and cleans for her entire family (mom and dad off making money), she maintains a 3.9 grade-point average, and she is universally liked. I have no compunction about eavesdropping on teenage conversations, so I know this for a fact.

I just hugged her and told her how much better life would be in a few years. She’s a mental late-bloomer and doesn’t even know it.

So my question to you, gentle readers, is: What’s the most poignant event YOU can recall about high school – good or bad? Lay it all on the line. And then think, like my granddaughter golfer in the picture above: What a long way you’ve come, baby!


Christine Wells said...

Jo, it's so interesting that you see this from the perspective of a student as well as a teacher. Your story of the student who seemed to have it all shows you can't really tell what goes on in someone else's life or in their mind from the outside, can you?

I remember being told by one of the 'jock' girls at school that I wasn't a nerd because I played sport. But I could tell that was the only thing that saved me! I was school captain, won a half scholarship to study law at university and used big words. I also did speech and drama, but so did a number of the 'cool' kids, so it didn't carry a stigma like it seems to have with a number of the banditas. But you know, I liked doing all that stuff. Being cool means you miss out on a lot of experiences because you can't ever show that you care about anything. Call me a try-hard (yes, please, call me a try-hard!) but that's certainly not the life for me!

Caren Crane said...

Jo, I was so uncool by the definitions of the day in high school. But my friends and I, who were all the "smart" kids with various uber-geeky pusrsuits, thought we were cool. As in, we were cool to each other. And that was enough. Though I wanted, sometimes desperately, to be someone I wasn't, I had pretty much accepted me by 10th grade and simply proceeded along with being myself.

The most ironic thing in my life is that these days, people assume I must have been one of the cool kids in high school. Ha! Late bloomers for sure, Jo.

And, by the way, Jo really is one of the cool kids! *g* I'm trying to think of a great illustration of my uncool. Will post when I dredge one up.

Christie Kelley said...

Another of the uncool kids here but not quite the nerd either. I sort of fell in between the two. But definitely a late bloomer. Because I had five brothers, I was far more of a tom-boy than most of my friends, but they didn't seem to mind.

I only did very few after school activities because I had a babysitting job from the time I was 14. Coming from a lower-middle class family, the money was more important than the clubs and teams. Babysitting was a great job since the kids were older and didn't need too much supervision, it gave me lots of time to daydream (a really important thing for writers).

Joan said...

I was one of those who existed in the limbo of high school. Not part of the "cool" kids yet not in advanced classes (except Earth Science). I was in Latin club for the two years and participated in our Jr. and Sr. class plays.

I was a Korean walk on for Pleasure Ridge Park's rousing presentation of M*A*S*H and an islander in South Pacific. Had to put this nasty black dye on my blonde hair both times. Ugh.

And they cut my Bali Hai siren song! :-(

But I observed and listened and learned while I was in limbo and garnered lots of insight and character building experiences so that when I bloomed late (twenty years late)I came out a fairly nice blossom.

Kirsten said...

Bandita Kirsten here. See that picture of the walrus? I know, it's a bit hard to make out, but that's me, junior year of high school. I had the misfortune of hanging out with a number of very musically talented folks, and we all did chorus together, and naturally we all tried out for the school musicals together. So what part did I, the least talented of the group, get?

THE WALRUS. Yes, I was a talking walrus in the musical Carnival (not the more popular musical Carousel, but Carnvial, probably chosen by the musical gods just to torment me).

I'm a decent sport and I guess a bit of a ham, so I actually enjoyed the Walrus gig, though I would have preferred to be the heroine, Lilly.

My tag line, which I had to say over and over? "Touch my tooosk, Lilly!"

(You take that wherever your dirty little mind wants to go. Walrus did have a big crush on Lilly.)

jo lewis-robertson said...

Loved your comments, Chris. I'd forgotten all about the athletes' group, mainly because there were NO female athletes when I was in high school (in ancient Babylonia). Today, that group is a wonderful place for young women to find their niches, I think.

jo lewis-robertson said...

Ha, ha, Caren, it goes to prove my point: if you live long enough, everyone's cool.

Donna MacMeans said...

Jo, Here's my deep dark high school agony...I never dated in high school. Not from desire, you understand, I had plenty of that. No one ever asked me. So I never went to prom, never had a first kiss in high school, never held hands in the movies - in high school. I spent Friday and Saturday nights with my girlfriends - wishing, dreaming, hoping that the right guy would come along and realize what a treasure was buried beneath my non-cool exterior.

For course college was a dating hallopoolooza. I truly made up for lost time. The ironic thing about all this is that the right guy did come along. We've been very happily married now for 34 years - and he was the big football star of his high school on the other side of the state. Yep - I married one of the cool kids. How ironic is that?

Caren Crane said...

Donna, I love that story! My husband was no cool kid, he was rather geeky like me. Except he was on the wrestling team. See, if I had been a mat girl (which I wasn't chosen for) like my best friend, I could have ridden the bus with the wrestlers and made out with my wrestler boyfriend.

Um, except I didn't have a wrestler boyfriend. Or any boyfriend. Like you, Donna, I made up for lost time in college. *g*

I met my husband when in college for the second time at 22!

Joan said...

Dating? In high school? *sigh*

I didn't either and like Donna not for lack of want/need/desire. I spent my prom night out with a friend (also dateless). We went to see "Blazing Saddles" and eat pizza. *huge sigh*

I went and saw the new movie "Hairspray" last week. There is a song in there that Tracy sings after Link winks at her. It has her imagining wedding bells and a life of romantic bliss. Gosh, how many of us girls did THAT while in high school? *Joan raises her hand*

Having still not found the right one though, I have a LOT of making up to do...can't wait

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Joan, is there any loneliness as aching as that in high school? I've been lonely as an adult, but I remember pining for true love as a teenager. A physical heartache! Must have been hormonal. *g*

I can't wait to see "Hairspray". Did you love it?

Caren Crane said...

Wow, Christine, you were good at sports? I'm in awe! I finally learned to walk without tripping over my huge feet, but that's as far as I got. *g*

Christine Wells said...

No, no! Caren, I wasn't *good* at sports! At our school, it was pretty easy to get into teams if you were moderately co-ordinated. I was never in the A team for anything but I did swimming, gymnastics, netball and volleyball. I don't think we won a game all season in volleyball but we had fun:)

Joan said...


I enjoyed Hairspray....can't really pinpoint WHY LOL

I couldn't stop staring at John Travolta as a 500 lb woman with a weird accent. The music was strangely infectious.

But that girl who played Tracy WOW! That girl can sing and dance!

She was on Regis and Kelly. She is 18 years old, no formal training, worked at a Cold Mountain Creamery and just thought she'd try out....and got it!

jo lewis-robertson said...

Donna, love your romance story. I, too, never dated in high school -- I was a youngie, was 16 most of the year and not allowed to date. My husband likes to say I was saving myself for him, ha, ha, but we've been married 41 years, so he may be right.

And for those of you who were rah-rah girls during HS, I don't mean to imply that popular kids in high school went downhill after that LOL.

I remember seeing Paige H., absolutely the most beautiful, kind and popular girl in my class. She was five months pregnant during the graduation ceremony -- mind this is 1961 -- and she managed to keep it hidden. When I saw her 30 years later, she was still married to the father of her child. Some love affairs are just meant to be, I guess.

Trish Milburn said...

I had very limited dating in high school, and those few dates were with guys from other schools, no one I went to school with. I really became comfortable with who I am today beginning in college, when I was out on my own and away from the small town where everyone knows everyone from day one of your life. I sort of reinvented myself, even my name. I was always Patricia in high school and before, but have been Trish ever since college. Now, Patricia sounds odd to me.

Caren Crane said...

Trish, that reinventing yourself thing really works, doesn't it? I did the same thing. When I started college, we had moved twice in the two previous years (only two moves of my lifetime up to then, by the way). So I had some experience reinventing myself. I hadn't managed, until college, to be much more outgoing. The problem was, there were lots of stupid people wherever we went. And they got on my nerves. *g*

So, before classes started I was invited to this Freshman Honors program for extra smart kids and I figured I would meet some geeks like me there and be happy. It worked! My best friend from college was one of those. She is actually gorgeous and is some head honcho of a huge international company now. *g*

I also made an effort to smile at people. That's how I started getting dates. Who knew? All those years of orthodontia paid off at last!

jo lewis-robertson said...

Trish, I think a lot of us reinvented ourselves when we got to college. I did! My first name is Benita, and I was always having to spell/explain it, so when I got to college, I used my middle name Jo. That made me Jo Lewis, which you have to be old enough to appreciate (Joe Louis, first black heavy-weight boxing champion).

I remember walking across the quad on several occasions, having someone scream "Jo, Jo Lewis," and I'd ignore them, not recognizing my own "new name." It took about two years to make the switch. Now even my Virginia family call me Jo. I'm not sure my husband knows who Benita is LOL.

Nowadays if anyone calls for Benita Robertson, I know it's a telemarketer or the IRS! I decided a lot time ago that if I ever sold a manuscript, I'd use my maiden name Jo Lewis; I sort of miss it. My dad would be proud.

Caren Crane said...

Jo, I'm a little slow, I'll admit. I think because I always READ Jo Lewis instead of hearing it, I didn't think of Joe Louis. Joe Louis and I share a birthday, May 13! (We also share it with Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel and George Lucas, among others.)

The funny thing is, my husband shares his birthday, January 10, with George Foreman! We never use fists, but we definitely can go 9 rounds! *g*

Kirsten said...

You might think a walrus would get lots of dates in high school, but I was similarly date-challenged. I didn't have a serious boyfriend until I was a junior in college. I only dated one other boy before I met my husband, fell immediately in love, and knew I met my one and only.

Caren, your comment about loneliness is so right on. I have re-read some of my journals from high school and college and the pain just ripples off the page--when would I find love? Why was I the only one who never had a boyfriend? Would anyone ever want me?

And body image. Don't get me started on body image. Talk about heartache. (shudder)

Yes, high school can be a painful pursuit. Of course, there were lots of wonderful times as well, and I look back now with really fond memories. But that teenage angst is nothing to sneeze at.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Sadly, I too was a geek. And like Joan I was on the periphery of the cool kids group, but some of the "bad" kids hung with me in classes, too. I was sort of "that-girl-who-got-along-with-everyone" as long as their friends weren't nearby!

My geeky credentials: Choir and my closest friends were in band. National Honor Society, middle school radio announcer. And I graduated 33 in a class of 400.

We had a big sorority type group that most of the "in" girls joined. Uhm, frankly, their rituals seemed stupid to me, so I refused when they recruited me. So I guess that was my one chance to be cool, and I blew it!

Joan said...

Doesn't matter, Suz.

You're COOL now!

Cassondra said...

Oh, man. Even the subject is painful.

Dating? Ha! Me neither. Actually I probably could have been cool, but I wasn't. I was too artsy to be considered a true geek, but I didn't know how to play that into coolness. I was a weird kid. Too different to fit in anywhere really.

On one prom night I was half way across the state, singing at a music gig at some church. I started playing music around the region when I was fifteen, and once I could drive I went even further.

And just to show HOW uncool I was, my parents knew they could trust me to drive half way across the state alone, be completely responsible,and get myself home safe that night after the gig. I was like a little adult. What a shame. Every parent's dream. Every kid's nightmare.

Truth told, most of the time I used it as an excuse. "So, Cassondra, do you have a date for the prom?"

"Nah, I've got a gig that night. Booked it last fall." Actually I might not have a gig, but it was easier than admiting I didn't have a date.

I was a weird kid. The music. The art. Journalism. And Vo-Ag. The first girl to go four years in FFA in my high school. I had crushes on half the guys in Vo-Ag, but I was everyone's buddy, and the only one who ever asked me out was the one I wasn't a bit interested in.

A smart girl would have gone. But me? Nope. Not smart enough to know what was good for me.

Sheesh. The years take the edge off, but I remember thinking that school and those people were the whole world. I'm really glad they weren't.

Lance said...

Yeah, I was a band geek in Jr. High. Actually worse, b/c I didn't fit in with the geeks either so when we went on band trips I was a loner (worse than a geek).

Alas, I was a good musician but thought I was too cool for band so by highschool was done with that scene.

So I grew up w/o the musical background I could have but like you, at my 20-year reunion, I was The Bomb.

jo lewis-robertson said...

Welcome, Lance, our token male. Nice to know guys have teenaged angst too!

Caren, you're too funny. How nice that you and DH are faux celebrities. I don't even want to THINK about the ten rounds you're doing with your him!

Cassondra, thank goodness the years take the edge off or we'd all be in trouble. So poignant, your comment about kids thinking high school is the whole world. So many of our teens can't see beyond that very limiting world to the amazing journeys that lie ahead, ones like we banditas have taken.

kennan said...

"beautiful" daughter chiming in here :) (by the way, only two of your daughters are tall and the other one is waaaaay too skinny).

i was a strange breed in high school. i was elected homecoming queen, but wasn't asked to the homecoming dance and had to scramble for my own date--a boy from another school that i knew from church. sheesh.

but here is what i am dying to know...where are all those "geeks" now? i am fascinated by that thought. like tara trumbull, who got a perfect score on her SAT but didn't seem to have a single friend. i would rather spend an entire night talking to her about what she's done with her life than with the homecoming king.

Caren Crane said...

Kennan, you are so right! The unusual people (like you, Cassondra and Lance) are usually the most interesting later in life.

I think for many people, staying "in" with the in crowd means they either don't take chances or make choices they otherwise might, or they take chances and make choices they otherwise wouldn't or shouldn't. In other words, they end up not being true to themselves.

I think Jo quoted from "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. I remember reading that in junior high and wanting to be that person who "took the road less traveled by". It really has made all the difference!

Joan said...

Lance, (Did your mother name you from a romance novel? :-)

Anyway, you brought up an extension of the high school experience...reunions.

On my 25th (only in dog years...I'm much younger :-0) I had determined I was NOT going to attend the reunion. Been there a couple of times and couldn't fathom going again. (One year, saw one of the gals I hung out with Jr/Sr year. Hadn't seen her in forever. She had her back to me. I went up and said "Sandy!" She turned around....and had almost a full grown moustache!!! Aghhh)

On the afternoon of the reunion, I was actually recouping from some State Fair baking when my friend and our hair stylist called me at home and demanded I come. The stylist insisted she'd stay late and do my hair. I grudgingly agreed and went. (I like getting my hair done)

I was one of the better looking ones there! Not so much in LOOKS but I was dressed stylish, my weight was down, I had a LIFE. The popular girls looked like the tired old women you see pinching the melons at Kroger. One guy wore socks and sandals and went to great lengths to tell us about his draining toenail.


So, yeah. These high school "friends" can come to my booksigning and see me. I'm done with reunions.

jo lewis-robertson said...

From Shannon: Your blog was so good! And of course I LOVE the picture of your favorite granddaughter (hee hee... MY child of course).

I, myself, was a choir and drill team geek in High School but still relatively popular... not the popular invited to all the parties sort but the "oh I know who Shannon Roberston is" because I sang solos in our HS talent shows and at pep rallies and stuff. Oh! And I was VERY nice! I was NOT beautiful by any means, although my Daddy might disagree. I was cute though... I think. Just cute enough to NOT feel like a toad but I was still pretty insecure about the way I looked, always dieting and feeling fat. But I was actually really confident. I flirted with boys who were years older than me but still managed to stay out of trouble. And I had really really good friends, all of whom were choir geeks or on Drill Team like me.

I think the key to a good High School experience is all about friends. Good friends who share similar values are priceless when you are a late-blooming teenager. I had no peer pressure really. No expecation to fit in where I didn't feel comfortable. I felt comfortable in my skin, albeit flabby skin, I was well liked and was respected and liked by my teachers (because I was a good student of course... I AM a Robertson you know). So High School for me was really great. My only heartbreaks in High School involved having crushes on boys who were WAY out of my league (I think I subconsciously kept it that way... perhaps another discussion) and therefore I could pine away at a distance and write in my diary and pass notes in class about them without ever really putting myself at "risk."

So I think about my little budding golfer and wonder how HER High School experience will go and how I can help it be like mine (aka fun, exciting, free from heartache and trouble and full of wonderful memories). Sigh...We'll see I guess. I do NOT think I will be blessed with a "late bloomer" though. She is only 8 and quite tiny but she already needs to wear deodorant and has the attitude of a 13 year old. The other day she said to me, "Mom. Seriously. Get a grip." Okay... she hears that one from ME, but still.

megan said...

I was nothing as listed above. My mother called me a "tall beautiful late bloomer". Perhaps, but I was not the jock, or the cheerleader, nor the class Validictorian (just look at my spelling). I followed in footsteps from cheerleaders, dancers, beautiful singers, artists, class presidents, and Homecoming Queen. Even though my feet are large at 10', they couldn't quite fill those steps that preceded me. I did however have a love from my father that I will never forget. Not being the best in high school was just fine by me. I had a love from a daddy that will last forever!