Now I have time during the Christmas break!
And following the steps of David Sedaris (whose book “Naked” I have started reading), but not really funny ...
An exercise in memoir writing:
Four fat spiral journals gather dust atop my bookshelf, a quantitative testament to my instinct for writing. I remember feeling so many things as a teenager, but that didn’t matter so much because I am no better off for it. The main thing I did to color my world was feel. And it all sounds so stupid now, with my occasional third person commentary, sentences peppered with SAT vocabulary, and experimental uses of mature-sounding phrases. Truly, as I leaf through an old Five Star diary crudely taped up with grainy band photos and stickers, what’s written in it seems to imply that the only times I really thought were when I picked up a pen. What makes these half-size notebooks so heavy are not the pages stained with barrels of Pilot ink, but the various paraphenelia glued and weighing down many a page, so gaudily displayed, as though each detail really meant something worth recalling even a few years later. It was a glorification of presentable trash.
Music was my god and I often used lyrics in the margins to explain myself, but that never really did the trick. It just perpetuated the lie of knowing. [“I need to change my life (“I think I’m gonna change my life…” – Coldplay) but I don’t know how.”] In my high school era journal I explored my attraction to Asian culture, my terrible eating habits, my prolonged spiritual immaturity, my dynamic relationships with my family members, the glances of distant boys, dealing with a morbidly introspective friend, future band names, what I labeled as depression but was probably more like discontent and loneliness, and the prospects of having fanciful idiosyncracies. And shame on me, I always knew what I needed to do all these years, I just never got around to doing it. Insight, instead of leading to change, lead to further tunneling into the undeveloped corners of the mind- definitely not the wellsprings of much-needed wisdom, especially in those days of sturm and drang.
Looking back, high school was simply a phase. In order to keep from being socially eaten alive, as soon as I entered those heavy green doors, I let myself fall into a category, seamlessly blending in with the rest of the herd. I was an “orch dork” and compliantly let the nerdy stereotypes apply, since being smart was somewhat admirable. Orchestra was not my life, but it was the only serious extracurricular activity in which I participated that was going somewhere. I remember our quartet practicing for an upcoming wedding gig in the foyer of our auditorium, since there were no practice rooms open. Our playing perked up each time we detected any movement near the door, human or not, and we took pride in ourselves that we were teaching the modern world how to appreciate the beauty of classical music, albeit being played mostly by kids who never took their instruments home and “crammed” for chair tests. It offers a bit of assurance that at least we weren’t a cult like the monstrosity everyone else called “band.” I suppose I really was a nerd in my Type A ways, but interacting with the real nerds (who eventually went off to star at Harvard and Rice) kept my self-confidence afloat. Of course, having been in orchestra since the 7th grade prepped me for this title, but really, high schoolers should at least be given some say in who they are to be during these last years at home. If we are to wreak havoc around town, let us do it with people we actually like and perhaps even care about.
So there I was, residing in the least uncomfortable social group and doing the things they did. I knew kind of who I was, but didn’t have the gusto to come out and try to be myself- I hated the stage-every young starts off under a spotlight and I fled it. Each time I happened to bump into a licensed member of another crowd (none of those wannabes, please), the most I could do was chuckle at their cleverness, grin stupidly and later wonder at my total social ineptitude. The stuff of worldly greatness was not in me. Cheerleaders pitied my attempts at jovial conversation and jocks seemed amused at how much I didn’t fit into any of their definitions of a girl. Of course, behind their backs I slandered them with labels anyhow, like a bitter social reject in a lousy teenage comedy. The group I detested the most, however, was the Asians. Though we had ethnicity in common, I wanted so badly to keep it at that. Why I was so hard on them I don’t know, but nothing induced the rolling of the eyes like the analysis of their clothing, demeanor and patterns, all of which I dissected in my mind with contemptuous glee. Like most other cliques, they were predictable and exhibited clone-like behavior, the boys with their porcupine-spiked hair and the girls all hoed out. Although now that I look back, I was very severe towards them; I think it just irked me that there were no “normal” Asian Americans who could acceptably escape nerd-dom and Azn-ness at that time. But I still pride myself on the fact that I have never toted an IM screen name or e-mail address with “azn” all stuck up in it, even when it was the cool thing to do. Until then, I'll be repairing my attitude towards my own race in America.
The high school script was all there and I always had to make the conscious effort to follow it. No, I never felt like participating in a food fight, being gung-ho about a service organization, or talking back to a teacher. If there was any student so unintentional and inside the box, it was I. The SAT, grades, chair placement and news of hookups and breakups were all things we were supposed to stress over and I did, not that I really cared about any of those things in the end. It’s quite possible that my circle of friends grew sick of me using big vocabulary words the summer before we took the PSAT, if not for the only reason that it reminded them that were behind in preparing for it, even though I myself was not sure when else they would come in handy.
One semester I became a library aide, not quite voluntarily, for the officials were afraid that I and a handful of other juniors would run wild and terrorize the neighborhood if we were let out after 5th period, so they made a rule, and never mind that I had no other credits I needed to fulfill. I don’t ever remember shelving books, the ultimate boredom-inducing task, but every once in a while I was handed the neat electronic labeler, and I would furtively print out a memorable sounding catchphrase or two to adorn my tattered school planner, my heart rate quickening if the librarians wandered one step closer to the dark corner in which I was situated. That semester I mainly helped organize the magazine room, alphabetizing stacks of Rolling Stone, Surf Magazine, Spanish People, and a dozen other titles by call number. It was pretty mindless work, but at least I remember what a pre-motherhood Britney looks like. Another boy in the grade below me was also an aide during that period, but he was far more delinquent and often raised suggestions that issued semi-frowns from me, a look that betrayed interest rather than disapproval. Very little reading occurred in the library, and even less school-related research, but it was there that I vowed to start reading classics after picking up and weighing a dusty copy of Gone With the Wind in my hands. There was a small college and career lounge situated near one of the entrances, and I spent a few days leafing through the catalogs and looking at job descriptions, as if I really knew what I wanted to do. The librarians were two older ladies who pretended to be much busier than their job required, looking up booklists, contacting other schools and getting their ten thousand steps going from counter to counter. They were actually very nice and the white-haired one gave me a porcelain message board with a painted racket and ball in the corner when she discovered that I had tennis 7th period. Even though we dropped it shortly after and cracked the corner, my mother still uses it when a blank Post-it note is nowhere to be found. The last day they filled a paper plate with Chex Mix and package cookies and set it in one of the small reading rooms for the other aide and me to enjoy, giving us the day off. It was so cute, really, but after the boy stuffed his face, as he wiped the crumbs off his mouth he cursed them for every time they were “mean” to him, aka didn’t let him go home or enter the sacred school radio station recording studio.
All the typical books we read in English made little impression on me. They never took me anywhere nor made me feel anything remotely close to what the author was aiming for. Holden Caufield was simply disturbed and confused, what did that have to do with me? Although, he was admirably “creative,” the term I graciously bestowed upon his erratic and psychotic behavior. It was if my frontal lobe was dormant all those years, which means I can only make foggy, C-student references to literature from here on out, since college English Lit hasn’t been much better.
As I was cleaning out my closet to make room for this past semester’s junk and papers, I found my green graduation gown wedged in between the back wall and a box. It was more wrinkled than my 6th grade class shirt, along with the NHS stole they made us buy. Hm, didn’t think much of high school.
Last year, I made fun of my current roommate Kristi when I found some old Dixie Chicks and Pat Green albums hidden in the back of her CD case, but I have to remember that I once championed distasteful music in my pre-indie music or whatever it is I listen to now days. It was the 10th grade and 102.1 The Edge was the soundtrack of my life. I could always be seen moving about the house and doing homework with headphones in my ears and with an early 90’s Walkman empty tape player clipped to the side of my jeans (it had a radio). There was A Perfect Circle song (“Judith”) that I had become enamored to after hearing it for the first time on the “10 at 10” show, something that I tuned into religiously every evening before I brushed my teeth. And to think that I actually let it enter my mind and mix with my emotions to this day makes me shiver. Fortunately, one night at my cousin’s house, I listened my cousin’s Beatles CD’s and they turned my toes away from the beginning pathway to dark/goth side. And that’s as far as I’ll go talking about the development of my musical tastes during those formative years, although sometimes I do wish that I had been introduced to more good bands actually deserving of my relentless adoration (it had to go somewhere), when most of the time I was bestowing god-like status upon the new wave of British trad rockers who made lush, oversentimental, and grandiose ballads devoid of any real meaning. Seriously, you could reduce me to tears with climactic, cinematic strings layered over pleasantly sung lyrics as inane as “my weakness is none of your business.” Overproduction never sounded so good.
Ack, this proves that writing about high school puts me back in that territory - I have not stayed up past 2 AM for a long time. And if that effort sucked, don't worry I've thought about taking classes. Goodbye and goodnight!
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