Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What I Wish I Knew Before I Started High School

I've been thinking about my friend Isabel who will be starting High School this week.  I didn't want to give advice (although I guess that is what this is) but I thought about the things I wish I had known before I began.  Here is a starter list....

1.  Popular kids are not happier.  Ditto star athletes, band stand-outs, teachers' pets, the kids having sex, the ones getting get the idea.  Yes, some will have (or will seem to have) an easier time of it in high school but that is not the result nor the cause of any perceived social status.

2.  Everyone gets pimples.  Everyone is a mass of volatile hormones that cause them to (at least sometimes) feel uncomfortable in their own skin.

3.  Some boys need to shave.  Some girls look like they could be the substitue teacher (I was mistaken for one the first day of 9th grade).  Puberty arrives at different times.  Physical maturity does not necessarily correspond with emotional maturity.  At the end of all this you'll be spit out 4 years older.  But your body and your brain will still be developing.

4.  One lie leads to 2 which leads to more and more and you will never feel more alone that when you are living dishonestly.  Just tell the truth and deal with it.

5.  That said, not everyone needs to know everything about you.  There is nothing wrong with keeping your private core protected.  Choose carefully who you let in.

6.  Along those lines....make sure you have someone to whom you can tell everything.  If you don't have a person like that, keep a journal.  Writing or speaking about things, even small ones, helps you to figure them out.

7.  Yeah, it's a tricky line to walk:  don't give yourself away, except for when you do.  Easy for me to say, right?  I'll tell you the metric that works for me in finding people I can trust.  They must be smart, funny, and kind.  And they must be all three.  Smart, funny, and unkind?  No good.  Smart and kind with no sense of humor?  Great people to have around.  But unless I can share a belly laugh with someone, I don't feel aligned with them somehow.  Funny, kind, but not smart?  Also great people to have around, but again, lacking alignment.  By smart I don't mean geniuses--just people at or above your own level.  And with funny I'm not talking (necessarily) about the class clown but about those who share your sense of humor--people with whom you can be silly.  And kind, well.  Kind is kind and that is clearly the most important of the three.

8.  You know what's right and what's wrong.  That doesn't mean you'll always choose 'right', but whatever you choose, do it because it is your choice, not because you feel pressured or uncool otherwise.  Doing something 'on a dare' is never a good reason.

9.  It's okay to say 'I'm not comfortable with that.'  You don't have to give reasons or even know the reasons.  You can figure it out later (with that friend or journal).  If someone says:  'give me one good reason...' just say I'll get back to you.'  Or even better, just say:  'No.'  It's not a legal debate to win or lose; your own conscience and your own preferences are what count.

10.  Don't do things to make people like you.  People will like you if you like yourself.  And you will like yourself if you stay true to your beliefs and ideals.  Be that kid and you will have plenty of admirerers.

11.  And anyway, there are already more people who like you than you think.  If you find yourself feeling intimidated by a group of people, just imagine them all as kindergarteners.  You can totally deal with this.  Or, if they're older, imagine you are the kindergartener and they are in 3rd grade.  Remember how when you got to 3rd grade you didn't feel so big?  Yeah--3rd graders don't have everything figured out and neither do these kids.

12.  Good news and bad news:  You are not alone.  Yay!  Other people have been in my shoes and can relate to my experience!  Boo!  Why does it seem like someone is always watching when I make the slightest mistake?

13.  Be gentle with yourself and others.  At a basic level we are all just creatures making our way in the best way we know.  Be quick to forgive and slow to anger.

14.  High School is not the whole world, even thought it might feel like it.  Try not to obsess about what you look like or sound like.  Everyone is trying out personae.  Live and let live.  It's a cliche but it's true.

15.  Take hard classes.  Don't shy away from something out of fear you won't be able to ace it.  (I did and still regret it.)  Also take fun classes just because they're fun and to give yourself a break in the day.

16.  Don't be afraid to ask for help on anything.  Most teachers and counselors are in their jobs because they want to be of service.  Let them!

17.  Think of this time as a springboard to your future.  You don't have to win High School.  Your job is to learn and have fun.  And you're not just learning chemistry and composition; you're learning how to interact, how to study, how to be patient, how to plan.  You will build upon and use these skills as much as you will the academics.

18.  High School marks the end of a certain part of your life and it could be one of the most unsettling periods you go through.  Hundreds of people undergoing chaotic hormonal changes thrown into one stew pot--craziness!  Definitely expect some days to be achingly long and boring.  However, chances are that you will experience higher highs and lower lows in these years.  And just like when you are on a roller coaster, it is okay to scream sometimes, laugh like mad, and cry with relief when it's all over.

19.  Which leads to....enjoy your time at home.  I know school can be stressful and you might have a part time job or college prep stuff to work on, but really soak in this time when someone else is legally required to take care of you.  You might feel like you are part adult and part kid.  Make sure both parts get some air time.

20.  You are great.  When you are feeling your ugliest, clumsiest, stupidest, most clueless, remember that actually you are pretty fabulous.  And I am not the only one who thinks so.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Let's call her Sarah

The other day I was in the car with a new-ish friend.  Let's call her Sarah.  She drives a zippy, spiffy little car and lives in San Francisco.  She's an artist.  As I write this, she is at a film festival with her artistic daughter and her supportive husband.  She's funny and smart and kind and I was telling her how delightful I have always found her and---here's the miracle part---there was no other layer to my feelings.  Without complication or envy, I find her delightful.  I delight in her.

It took me half a century to get here, but now, finally!  Wow!  Look at me!  I'm a grown-up.  Kind of.

Monday, May 18, 2015

When I feel powerful it is because.....

As an undergrad, I was a research assistant on a project studying the then-new Carol Gilligan theory of gender differences in development.  Mainly what I did was code data and mainly what I remember are the answers to the survey question "When I feel powerful it is because _______."  I was 19 or 20 and found it both sad and funny that many of the middle-aged women answering the survey filled in things like:  "The house is clean;" "The children are in bed;" or "I have lost weight."  O! sad housewives!  O! what a limited worldview!

Last night, nearly 30 years later, I was feeling powerful.  Yes, I was.  I was clean, the sheets were clean.  The boys were in bed asleep.  And the floor was clean enough that I didn't end up with impromptu crumb slippers.  As a younger person I assumed those other women felt powerful because they'd conquered some challenge that had been foisted upon them.  Maybe they experienced power because they no longer feared judgement--the house was clean!

Now I know the feeling from the other side.  My domain is under my control.  I have decorated, cleaned, organized, clothed, and fed.  Yes, this is in service of others and yes, Carol Gilligan, it reveals my prioritizing of relationships.  I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Self Portrait, 3rd Person

Self Portrait, 3rd Person

The haunted child has a pigeon
on each shoulder.  The birds
are not haunted.  They do not know
fear.  The child knows
a thing or two:  times tables, state
capitals, the words that get her home
when she is lost.

The beautiful child carries a shawl
but it means nothing.  Her beauty
means nothing.  She rushes through a forest,
bare feet cushioned by pine needles
and arrives at the back door
of a little cottage.

The curious child, mouthy and distant,
wears white cotton, and fidgets like a woman
in pain.  She can see the very thing
you believe to be hidden.  She doesn’t want to.  
It’s just that, as soon as she achieves
silence, the vision arrives.  

The sad woman can’t help the aging.  She can
still bend over, she can still smile and remove her bra
as if to music.  When she smiles knowingly,
it means she knows.  When she flutters her hands,
it means she used to be a bird.

The pigeons on her shoulders, let’s say
they represent imagination.  Let’s admit
that they fail.  Let’s confess
that we don’t even know what success
of the imagination would look like.

And the woman, we must agree
that her tears aren’t real. But they could be,
if we weren’t watching.  She conceals her eyes,
but not from shame.  Out of dignity, aggressive
self-possession.  You should thank her.
But don’t wonder what it means.  She won’t
tell us.  Don’t ask.  Shhh.  Don’t say a word.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Just joining us?

If you want to read the story-in-progress here, please start with the piece titled "he bought a small bottle of orange juice."  Or, you know, just browse away...


Friday, April 25, 2014

'Me' is not (necessarily) a bad word. Hint: Just take out John.

Me and John are going to the store.    WRONG.  How do I know?  Take out John and you get:

Me is going to the store.  Clearly WRONG, right? So, the correct way to say it is:

John and I are going to the store.

Most of us have been corrected on that particular usage error so many times that some of us begin throwing "I" in willy nilly anytime "me" feels like the right word.  The problem:  sometimes "ME" is correct!  And now, aye yi yi, people trying not to make a mistake are blowing up grammar to the extent that a patently wrong word usage is beginning to sound right and even *smart*.  Shudder.  Some examples to help you navigate the waters of 'me.'  Remember, if you're not sure, just take out John!

Do you want to go to the store with John and I?    WRONG.  Check it out.  Take out John and you get:

Do you want to go to the store with I?    Blech, right?  We can all agree?  So, correctly stated:

Do you want to go to the store with John and me?

That's right, the word 'me' is just out there proudly waving its object flag.

Also correct:

Let's keep this between you and ME.

Give John and ME a hand with this.

Picture tagging is one area where the fear of 'me' has scared people silly.  You look at a picture of two people and then you read the tag:  John and I.  WRONG.  It's not quite so obvious when you take out John, but what would you think if you saw a picture labeled "I."  Clearly wrong, right?  Remember that the unstated preface to the phrase is "This is a picture of...." which makes the entire phrase one big OBJECT of a preposition.

John and I at the Grand Canyon.    WRONG

John and me at the Grand Canyon.

If you switched things around and made these phrases the subject of the sentence then you WOULD say "John and I were at the Grand Canyon."  Notice that verb in there?  Changes everything.

But just keep it simple.  When in doubt, take out John and say the sentence again.  How does it sound?

Love, me

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Poem read at cemetery for gravestone dedication

Conversations with My Brother
For Scotty Nielsen
Forever-ness of death still stuns.  But death
Does not let conversations end.  I speak
Aloud sometimes.  I listen, hold my breath. 
The fabric torn, the picture incomplete.

At night I dream my brother back to life.
The smile’s not quite right somehow.  The sleeve
I reach for disappears, just dust and night
And scabs and grit.  I ask him not to leave.

I thought I heard your laugh; it was my son.
Sophia has your smile and Jack your way
With friends.  The conversation’s not yet done.
How can it be with so much left to say?

I want to tell a joke I heard. I want
To fill your lonely heart, un-crease your brow.
The pain you felt, the blows you took still haunt.
I cannot reconcile the grief of now
With what you must have felt that final day.
I can’t un-stitch identity, un-sister
Myself and reconstruct with bits of clay
And random scraps.  Instead I hold this list,
Your names.  The conversation does not end
Dear brother, father, son and friend.