Face to Facebook

Ever since I was young, I was drawn towards a few very close friendships…choosing intimacy and emotional connection over flittering throngs of social butterflies. But still those butterflies’ shimmering wings attracted my attention.

Recently on Facebook a girl from my graduating high school class created a ‘closed’ group for the class of 1987. In high school I always felt like I was on the outside of something seductive. Looking versus living. When I requested to be added to this group, I found myself flooded with outdated emotions. Some of the women had posted old photos. Raucous, toga clad  fifteen year old girls, draped over one another effortlessly, linked by confident smiles and the effervescent air of popularity. I am sure were I to come face to face with these women now, we could converse easily about our jobs and families, maybe even our pets.

But coming face to Facebook with them distracted me.

I felt unsettled. Awkward. Envious. All the unpalatable feelings that had smeared much of my adolescence with a bitter icing.

Past emotional states have ways of re-establishing rule when you least expect them to. They can materialize like invisible obstacles daring you not to trip. Taunting you not to fall.

Photograph by Chris Blakeley

But fall I did. I was thinking about these high school girls and the isolation I used to feel when I was walking Lilly (my dog) this week. I was deep in thought, composing the opening sentence to my next hopefully riveting post. I saw a man up ahead, walking slowly, chatting on his phone. I decide to pick up my pace and sprint by him so he wouldn’t slow me down. I felt like pushing forward. Forging ahead. I wanted to run those high school days right out of my mind. As I was just about to pass him, I tripped on that damned invisible obstacle. I flew. Dramatically. Unexpectedly. Magnificently. I landed in a heap at the feet of this poor unsuspecting dog walker. I smashed my knee. I lay nose down in all my vulnerability. Defeated. Ridiculous. I felt fifteen again.

He was very gracious. He waited while I collected my thoughts and my diginity. He tried not to express his own shock as I counted the animated birds gathering in a halo above my head. He told me his name and shook my hand and eventually I hobbled home. I’m waiting for him to add me as a friend on Facebook.

So I didn’t have to write my post this week because my post wrote me. And that’s what happens sometimes. We lose control of something we think we have all the power over. We get hijacked by old experiences. Stale emotional states try to convince us that they are still in date. And it’s hard to STOP them.

The trick, I have decided, is learning how to avoid swallowing feelings that have long since expired. How to stay standing tall. Or if, like me, you can’t help but fall, how to pick yourself up and courageously limp away.

Take ten minutes and write about high school or secondary school. Compare your perspective then and now. Do you have some feelings that are past their expiration date which need to be cleared from your cupboard?! Share in the comments!

PS. It has come to my attention that some of you who are subscribed via email are replying directly to the emails you receive. Unfortunately that is a NO REPLY email address and I do not receive those responses. If you want to respond, please leave a comment by visiting the site directly, or you can reach me at [email protected]  Thank you!


4 Responses to “Face to Facebook”

  1. Jenn P
    June 11, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    When I was in high school, I wasn’t part of the decidedly “in crowd” and I felt a healthy degree of intimidation and insecurity around those who were. It’s not like I was a sad loner who ate lunch by herself in some remote corner of campus and didn’t have a senior portrait in the yearbook. I had a terrific small group of close friends, kids who shared my academic ambitions and rather strait-laced sensibilities when it came to things like partying (which means we weren’t partiers) and there I am in my yellow Adrienne Vittadini sweater and pearls on page 32 of the 1986 yearbook, a happy smiling girl ready to graduate. I even had the same boyfriend from ninth grade through freshman year of college, a sweet Catholic boy whom my parents adored. But despite my relatively well-adjusted years in high school, I did feel that I was on the outside of something bigger, better, more fun, and more interesting: the social swirl of those popular kids who knew things I didn’t. I admired the way those girls dressed and did their hair so that they looked not unlike the airbrushed models in Seventeen and Glamour. Their perfect (in my eyes, anyway) appearance seemed effortless and part of some system of coolness and knowing to which I did not belong. They were all versions of Linda from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and Claire from “The Breakfast Club” and I felt hopelessly awkward in comparison. All of the boys who were part of that crowd were versions of Jake from “Sixteen Candles,” Bender from “The Breakfast Club,” and Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” (Belated thanks to John Hughes and Cameron Crowe for creating the archetypes of my adolescence.) Some days in high school seemed designed to remind me that I was on the outside of something important in that microcosm and always would be. I remember in 11th grade having the strange realization that I knew the names of all those cool, fast kids but very few of them knew mine. Some days I just couldn’t wait to be done with high school already and its constant reminders of how invisible I could be.

    So what are the two great ironies of my life? First, I have been a high school teacher for almost fifteen years. Through my passion for teaching English literature and writing I somehow wound up back on a high school campus, teaching 12th graders who are late-model versions of all the kids I went to high school with (21st century beautiful girls, athletic boys, thoughtful artists, spirited class presidents, awkward loners, etc.). The second irony is that this time around in high school, I am the “popular kid.” My daily life on campus is sprinkled with admiring comments: “I wish I had your class this semester! I miss it so much!” “Ms. P, I want your closet. Your style is so cool!” “Your way of teaching has made me like reading!” “My older sister said I had to take your class before I graduated.” Readers should be assured that my boundaries are firmly intact and my self-concept is healthy, so I am not one of those pathetic teachers whose arrest is reported in the papers after they have forgotten that they are adults and their students are, well, not adults. I am not at risk of deluding myself into thinking that I’m re-doing high school and that my students are my friends and peers. I teach in high school, but I am not in high school. I’m pleased that being in my classroom is a positive experience for students and my interaction with them contributes something to their growth, but that’s a professional validation; it doesn’t validate me as a person. My popularity now in high school strikes me as ironic because most of the kids on campus know my name but I don’t know all of their names. With a certain amount of appropriate immaturity reflecting the need for more life experience, some of my students have expressed surprise when they learn that I was a rather shy, bookish girl in high school who wasn’t part of any popular crowd. They are just as surprised when I tell them that I can’t remember my high school GPA or SAT and ACT scores. All of the things to which I attached so much value in high school and regarded as referenda on who I was as a person – being known, social connections, academic scores – those things and their supposed value fell away as I moved out into the world and saw how big it is and how small high school was in comparison. My emotional perspective opened up as the world opened up. I am still susceptible sometimes to the adolescent insecurity and awkwardness that lie dormant in me and can rise up when I encounter certain people from my high school past, but I’ve become pretty good at recognizing that those feelings aren’t based on anything real. Maybe they never were.

  2. Erin
    June 12, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    First I just have to say (sorry, I’ve been hit or miss with reading blogs the past couple weeks) that the site looks gorgeous! I love it. I hope you do, too 🙂

    Second…I had THE SAME EXPERIENCE coming face to Facebook (love that phrase!) with my old high school classmates when they started a closed group. All my most prominent memories of high school are of feeling like an outsider, of being uncomfortable with who I was. I know there were plenty of good aspects about my high school days, but they’re drowned out in the racket of all the negativity.

    You already know what I did as a first step toward clearing the air 🙂 It was definitely a step in the right direction.

    Oh…and I hope your knee is feeling better!

  3. Sophie James
    June 12, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    Facebook is that old high school clique writ large. It brings up a lot of the same emotions. The fact that you’re not face to face is itself quite treacherous, slightly bullying in its anonymity. Really lovely writing, Rory. And I love the idea of the post writing you. xx

  4. Jen
    June 17, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    Like most kids, high school was a very confusing time for me. There are so many brilliant highs and many huge humiliations all wrapped up in the crumpled ball of my high school experience. For me, high school is summed up by the phrase, “Go big or go home.” My successes and failures were equally huge. I felt so big and so small all at the same time.

    I was lucky. My parents gave me loads of support and appreciated independence. The only rules in my house were to be home by curfew, not to eat in the family room and that friends couldn’t call after 9 p.m. The latter was more firm. To this day, my close high school friends remember the terror they’d experience if they called too late and my mom picked up the phone. We laugh about it today. Back then, this was serious business.

    Although there were many triumphs academically and through music classes, like many, I remember the embarrassments the most – getting turned down by the boy who I wanted to go to Homecoming with, standing up to sing a solo where the background guitar was so faint that you could hear every flat or creaky note in my voice, always scrambling to find a date to something that seemed “major” at the time and rarely being anyone’s first choice. It’s never really how it plays out in those teen movies.

    Of course there were highlights too. Being pursued by the older boy, getting featured in a musical number, piling 10 high into someone’s station wagon and driving aimlessly through town laughing and listening to music, creating lifelong friendships – the kind you can pick up as if a day hasn’t passed.

    High school wasn’t my favorite time. I spent so much of it trying to figure out a way to fit in while being my unique self. Going to college freed me of all of that. I found the courage to accept and truly be myself and I haven’t looked back.

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