Saturday, April 24, 2010

On Nostalgia and Homogeniety

AMT wrote a wistful post on nostalgia, which fit in perfectly with the current theme of my days lately, which is trying to remember what it feels like to be a teenager.

I keep thinking I do--all eager and nervous and twitchy and stuff--and then I realize that's me now. It is so hard to recall how you felt/acted/thought back when you were a different person, particularly if you don't think that person was all that different than your present day self.

But we are--I am pretty sure, though hazy, on this: people change more than they realize, and the parts of themselves they forget tend to be the ones that differ the most from the present day. This impression comes from having talked to a wide variety of people over the years, none of whom can recall being on top in high school. Everyone was teased, persecuted, trod upon, lonely and alone. I have rarely met anyone who says they were more or less fine in high school, and never to having been the sort of jerk that is more than fine and makes others feel bad about it--or wings French fries at their heads. Apparently, that's the sort of thing you rinse out of your consciousness when you hit your 20s.

So I'm going to come right and make this bold pronouncement, nearly damning for a writer: I was ok with high school. It was not the best 5 years of my life, but I had some fun, some good friends, some good teachers, learned some stuff. I vaguely recall being teased in grade 9 for wearing a ballet top I bought at the Bay (I still have it) and I certainly never got invited to the coolest parties, It would've been weird if kids I didn't know invited me to their parties, and anyway, I lived way out in the country and my dad would never have driven me. I hung around with folks I liked, ate lunch with them in the hall by the auto shops, edited the yearbook, and was left largely alone by everyone else.

I seriously worry this makes me a less interesting person to some people, which in itself is such a high school thought.

I am trying to get these memories back because I want to be able to "get" what is going on with my students. One of the hardest things to remember is conformity. It has been a very long time since I worried seriously about the ways I deviate from the status quo. I am not much of a rebel--I think I'm naturally a lot like the status quo--but not entirely, and who cares?

One of the great perks of one's twenties as that there are so many different things to do and ways to live that it's very hard to even *find* a standard to try to conform to. I know people who stayed in school for a decade straight after graduating high school, people who found jobs first and went to school when they could afford it, who dropped out immediately and those who never studied formally again after high school grad. I know people who married immediately after high school, after college, after travelling through Europe, after 6 or 10 or 2 years of dating, or barely any time at all. I know people who are politically opposed to marriage, who were fervently delighted when Canada legalized same-sex marriage, and those for whom the whole institution seems irrelevant. Friends my own age have kids in school, kids in diapers, kids in utero, cats, dogs, houseplants and (only one) guinea pig. People are cheerfully devoted to their jobs, wrathfully alienated from their jobs, climbing the corporate ladder, unemployed, underemployed, fascinated by their work or terrified of it. I know homeowners, couchsurfers (ok, we're getting a little old for that), rooming-housers, apartment dwellers, parental-home dwellers, and perpetual travellers. I know people who think of poverty as only one car, and people who think of wealth as ordering dessert.

How am I supposed to conform to that? I can't, so I don't worry about it (and feel happy I have such interesting friends). What makes conformity an issue in high school, I think, is that by nature of the age you have a certain amount of it. Almost everyone lives with their parents, has to be at school at a certain time, takes basically the same classes, and, due to how neighbourhoods tend to work, has basically the same amount of money. They are limited in who they meet beyond their families and classmates, and exposed to a tonne of marketing about music, movies, and fashion, not to mention fastfood, cosmetics, etc.

Even when I was a weird kid, I had basically the same sort of shoes as everyone else--not exactly, and believe me everyone knew it, but I did in fact like a lot of what everyone else liked. There was not much else available to like--not that I knew of, anyway--and those Birkenstocky sandals *were* very nice.

It is actually not that hard to recall that perfectly natural assimilatory instinct--I want clothes I see people wearing on the bus all the time. But it is harder to transer that into the classroom, where kids are reluctant to raise their hands, share their ideas, read their work, or even admit to liking something, if they do not already have pre-approval from their peers. In some ways, me being really impressed with a particular student's work is no joy for them, because it singles them out. There's nothing more depressing than realizing that your too-loud compliment is being met with a glare, and you might not be seeing any more of this student's so-good work. Argh.

This does seem to fade with the older kids--they're happier to talk about what makes them/their work unique. They're closer to their twenties, and the point in your life where it is not only acceptable, but desirable (positively ravenously so, at certain university parties) to be a touch odd.

Another weird part of my nostalgia is wondering if the decade without a status quo is coming to an end. I wonder because this nostalgic thinking led me check the Facebook profiles of a bunch of people I knew in high school (oh, what did we do with our creepy stalker tendencies before Facebook?) It's actually really hard to tell what people are up to with the standard privacy settings, but two things I can tell you are popular are getting married and having babies--almost everyone's profile picture was a wedding shot/ultrasound/baby pic. Intense.

The difference between grown-upitude and high school, of course, is that people care less what others do--both because they are more tolerant and openminded, and because they don't have a lot of time to invest in writing a mean little song about some other adult's lack of real estate savvy or whatever. But I'm trying to experiment with feeling a little bad about the ways I'm weird anyway--I thought it might bring me closer to my students.

This is definitely a very odd thought experiment. Thanks for reading.


Amy said...

Rebecca, I was fine in high school, too! So much so, in fact, that in my twenties I thought that I was making it up, that I must have been rose-colouring it (!) or whatever, and blocking out all the bad crap. But what I think I might have been rose-colouring was the way that I treated other people. Back then, I thought of myself as a sweet, caring, compassionate person who loved everyone and everything... but I've heard from people since that I was actually kind of mean. I certainly didn't mean to be, and if I was it was through carelessness rather than malice (I still have a problem with this - what I think other people will think is funny, they don't always necessarily do), but there it is.

Oh, and as for channeling stalkerish tendencies pre-Facebook: I can remember a) calling people and then hanging up; b) walking by a certain boy's house every day after school even though it was super far out of our way just because my friend liked him (and it worked, too! After a year of this, we ran into him, he invited us in, and they ended up dating!) and c) writing anonymous notes telling boys to meet us at a certain time at a certain place and then waiting there to see if they showed up (they never did!)The last one was actually something I did to a friend with a boy she liked. I thought it was really funny at the time, but as time has been telling me, it was probably just mean.

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

Amy, I think that's how it happens--I never would have thought of my own actions as mean (except to my brother, because he didn't count [sorry, Ben]) but this is probably a biased perspective. I think I would recall throwing fries, but there was probably more subtle stuff. Also, I wish I had lived somewhere pedestrian-friendly in those days; your stalking adventures sound fun!

Everyone, It occurs to me that this post might make it seem as if I don't care or believe that some people's high school experiences legitimately sucked. Of course I do--I was there for some of it. I just think highschool memories tend to skew towards despair.

Ransermo said...

I find that I remember the high school moments that I was really worked up emotionally during. It is hard to remember the long, ordinary moments or rituals that made up most of those five years. Perhaps it gives it a bit more drama than actually occurred. Kind of sad as I don't really see that period of my life particularly dramatic.

I recall enjoying school work, but its amazing how much of that has faded.

It was probably not as sad as I think it was. Although I much prefer being an adult and only requiring glasses to read now. :)

Most of my pre-facebook stalking was mostly daydreaming or accidental mall encounters. :)