Sunday, March 01, 2015

After reading about some huge re-modeling efforts in my old highschool (apparently before that not much had changed since the early 90's it seems), I was struck by a wave of ..what?  nostalgia, weirdness, surreal euphoria?  nausea?  Anyway, it prompted me to pull out the couple yearbooks I still have. Considering I 'd just re-watched Mean Girls last night and came to the conclusion that high school is pretty much always high school just with different clothes and music, I am struck by the fact that that particular feeling of entropy I'm struggling with is a very particular late 80's early 90's sort of entropy, filled with big hair and varsity jackets and mall  food court culture.  We were just beginning the era of computers and I remember the journalism dept was the first glimpse I had of Windows.  The Berlin Wall fell.The Gulf War came and went and barely registered a blip on the radar. I did a stellar paper in American Govt class on the US response to Alien sightings. I watched a lot of Beverly Hills 90210 and laid on my bed listening to  first Paula Abdul and NKOTB and, later, Concrete Blonde and Nirvana.

Culture was shifting, and at that moment, the 90's was being born. Within a year after graduation I'd be a black-wearing, Kant-reading alternative music listening misanthrope with black light posters and a desire to be a writer.  But at 14, I liked Debbie Gibson and neon and swatch watches.  I wanted to be Tiffany Amber Thiessen on the cover of Teen Magazine. I want to marry Corey Haim and, later, Christian Slater.   I wanted to be as shiny perfect as the Noxema girl, but mostly I argued a lot with my mother and tried strange diets to whittle my size 16 frame (which was actually pretty thin for me in retrospect) down to an 6 or 8 like the girls in movies and magazines.  I vascillated between strict dieting and binging (I never could bring myself to purge, though I did do weird things like chew things and spit them out.)

Outside of this, I was pretty happy.  At that point I was still trying to find my way by joining everything--student govt, french club, the student volunteer org, drama club.. I wrote environmental editorials for the newspaper, failed trig my senior year, the first thing I'd ever faltered in. But already I was pumped for college, pumped for ambition, seeking out the shiny plaques and gleaming white certificates. NHS, French Honors Society, International Thespian Award,  Illinois State Scholar..(It took me awhile to stop seeking out the gold stars and the joining, well into college to focus on only the things I wanted to focus on and the not the shiny feathers in my cap.) I was "friends" with  alot of similar people and we fed off the competition and rivalry (one girl a year behind me so resembled Reese Witherspoon's character in Election I had to check the credits to make sure I didn't know the writers.)  In reality, I was pretty much dealing with my awkwardness by overcompensating to not seem awkward at all.  To belong, to be one of th,X people--the newspaper staff, the drama people.  And it helped, and I also had other friends who had been around pre-highschool to ground me.  They were the people I had sleepovers with, talked on the phone with, went to the movies with ,have albums full of photos from sweet 16 parties. Most of us drifted and occasionally re-connect over Facebook from time to time, but we are not the same selves we were anymore than the school itself is the same now.

In fact, looking over the past is sort of like coming face to face with your former self and finding it unrecognizeable.  Even the permed blonde hair that was always sort of green from summers spent in the backyard pool seems strange. I laugh when I look at old photos and say "What that girl needs is an underwire and a good conditioner."  Mostly because I don't know what else to say to her.    It sounds canned to say that things will be more awesome than you imagined (and well, yes they are, they really are) but that girl doesn't even know what to imagine.  She wanted to be a journalist.  She wanted to be an interior designer.  She wanted to be an actor, a marine biologist, an English teacher. She read a lot of Stephen King, but really she didn't know shit about writing, outside of some horrible rhymed poems about flamingos scribbled in her diary.  She didn't know what to ask for mostly because she didn't know what was possible TO ask for. Outside of romance and horror novels, writer and poets were strange historical creatures like Poe and Shakespeare.  I read The Bell Jar my junior year (mostly because the Bangles referenced it on the Everything album), and was non-plussed, though two years later I would fall in love with it. Boring.  I said that a lot then.  I'd like to think I had deep undercurrents of dissatisfaction with high school, but I didn't run much in the way of deep anything those days.

It was all surface shiny--all neon lights ad Spencers and and Sbarro. I always get this uneasy feeling when I see those photo series depicting abandoned, decaying, shopping malls.. I tried to be at the mall every chance I got, even though I couldn't afford much outside the movie theater and the snacks from Walgreens we'd sneak into said theater.  But even then things were shifting.  By the time my sister( 4 years younger) left high school kids were hanging at Barnes & Noble and strange tiny artsy cafes downtown.  It was the mid 90's and the whole world became sort of artsy and bookish and pseudo intellectual.  I loved this in college and ate it up whole, but it would have been completely foreign to my highschool self in her Guess sweatshirt and imitation Keds.  By the time I moved to Chicago in 1997, I was already a different person (though I would argue I'm still very much THAT person now, just a little older and blonder and with a bigger apartment and better taste in clothes)

I skipped all the re-unions (10 and 20), mostly on the logic they were inconveniently timed and most of my actual friends were not going anyway, but mostly probably because I can't reconcile that world to my world now and it makes me really sort of uncomfortable.  How would I  merge those selves together?  Was it even possiblle?  Does grown up writer me even fit in that world anymore?  Does that world even exist?  Did it ever?

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