Tuesday, November 22, 2005

High School and the Ugly Duckling

Something got me thinking about high school again. Maybe it was a conversation with some friends about the word arrogant. Everyone who was there was decidedly uncool in high school. We were all the sensitive, deep feeling types. The kind who invested personally in everyone and everything. Each of us had been called arrogant. We were all so far from that. People called us arrogant when they didn't understand. It happened when we felt shy and held back.

But I can’t stop thinking about it, and what I’m thinking is that I’ve been arrogant, but not in the way people who called me that thought I was.

You see I thought I was the most different one this planet ever saw. No I didn’t think it. I was sure. The ugly duckling was a movie star compared to me.

It took the longest time for me to figure out that everyone feels different. I was no special case. In some way, everyone feels like they are that proverbial island that no man is supposed to be. High school is the archipelago of humanity.

No one had it easy. Everyone didn’t quite fit. Some felt it more than others. Some had power and some didn’t. But even the cool kids admit that they felt one slip away from falling into the uncool abyss. Whenever high school becomes the topic of conversation, almost everyone says the same thing—once was enough for that sort of bliss.

The very coolest kids—those in the extreme— never left behind their small-town, high school way of judging things. They sort of stopped living fifteen minutes after graduation. High school became the frozen moment, the high point of their life. They still talk about the big game as if it were last week. Seeing one is like a rare bird spotting. They’re best found returning to their glory—at class reunions looking at the mannequins dressed in football uniforms. That’s what it meant to be super-cool—too cool to talk to—they gave up a lot. They got to run a universe, and then their universe ran out.

At one time they were almost scary, now they look sad to me.

I thought I was different, but I know that I’m not.

What do I still carry from my high school years—besides my fear of the word arrogant?. Do I flinch inside when I walk by the mannequin at the class reunion? How much of my life is an echo of those days? Maybe high school puts recordings in everybody’s head. If one extreme is still playing last week’s game, is another still fretting last week’s disappointment?

Do you suppose the ugly duckling ever swam far enough to believe that he was beautiful?

—me strauss Letting me be

33 comments:

mojo shivers said...

I like to think that everyone is beautiful. It's just a matter of degrees and subtle shadings.

Paul Watson said...

What you said about the jocks and starlets of high school treating that period as the peak of their lives struck a chord with me.

I was as uncool as they came back in school and couldn't wait to be out of the whole situation, thinking the same rules and social games didn't apply outside of school. Hah, they didn't, there were just new ones.

Looking back I wish I hadn't scorned the cool people as much as I did. I scorned them peaking in school when at the same time I saw myself peaking later in life. I'd have been better off not worrying about the peak at all.

allan said...

I think the duckling idea is a good picture of high school.

All the ducks were forced into a small pond, and established a pecking order that lasted for years.

Graduation was a flood, all the ducks could find a pond that suited them, rather than one they were forced into.

Time for another migration?

somebody said...

There isn't really such things as 'cool' and 'uncool' at my school, that depends on who your friends are.

Kelley Bell said...

You are so right about some people being stuck in time. I have seen it happen to so many people.

When I ran into an old frined from high school, she could not imagine that I was a different person from the one she knew when she was 15.

She was shocked at the way I had changed, as I was shocked by the fact that she had not.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Paul,
Thank you for coming,
Yeah, it seems that none of us has really grown into our sense of humanity yet when we're still in high school--or at least it's the rare one.
smiles,
Liz

ME Strauss said...

Hello Allan,
Welcome.
I think one good thing is that we're not stuck in a single pond or with a single kind of duck. Hey, amybe that's why they say "He's a weird duck." :)

smiles,
Liz

ME Strauss said...

Good on your school Gerard,
It must be a very special one.
smiles,
liz

ME Strauss said...

Hi dear Kelley,
I've had that experience going home. It's dishearenting at best. I'm sure it's a big part of this piece I wrote to see who some people became.
smiles,
Liz

mergrl said...

Do you suppose the ugly duckling ever swam far enough to believe that he was beautiful?


great post Liz, as somebody who was routinely called stuck up in high school because I was shy and different, it really hit home.

I like to think that my ugly ducking finally realized that she wasn't ugly at all, just her own unique self.

ME Strauss said...

Hi mergrl,
I'm delighted that you found your own unique self, because I think she's one smart, lovely person who I like being with.

smiles,
liz

Indeterminacy said...

I was one of the (class of '80) geeks who hung out in the high school computer room. Wasn't very popular, but no one called me arrogant.

I think by now everyone I went to high school with has gotten over their life ending after graduation. Or else they're in dire need of therapy.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Indie,
Thanks for coming to see us.

Yeah, I know after a while we either get to be human beings or we need to see a shrink. Good point.
Liz

easywriter said...

Poor ugly duckling, still worrying over the perceptions of others. Look in the water little swan the truth is there.

ME Strauss said...

Oh Easy,
How wonderfully compassionate you are. Thank you for coming by to make the ugly duckling know how beautiful he is.
smiles,
liz

Betty said...

I have often wished that I could see how my schoolmates turned out, but I moved away and have never been to a reunion. You reminded me, though, of something I used to do in high school. I was not cool or popular, for sure, but thank heavens I wasn't scorned the way some of the shy kids were. That's because I used to consciously emit vibes of good will to ward off the ridicule of the popular people. I swear, it seemed to work. My best friend was made fun of; I was left alone. I use that technique to this day when I feel threatened; maybe I should just keep swimming to a place where I won't need it anymore.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Betty,
It's hard not to feel threaten. It's also hard not to notice when someone feels threatened when they walk by us either.

Why should we still scare one another?

smiles,
Liz

Jennifer said...

I think I'm blessed when it comes to HS and memories.

I remember all right, but I remember three years of school totally unlike anything the typical HS kid experiences because I wasn't in HS I was at lycee (French HS) And life was blessedly different for me. It was like dropping and orange into a bunch of apples--this unstoppable curiousity on both sides that made HS wonderful.

Then there was the senior year...and your memories brought back many of mine (many which I'd managed to forget)... I tried so hard to change the colors of my feathers before I realized even if I managed to change 'my appearance' that wouldn't really change me.

I avoided HS and it's experiences for the most part and I look back every day and thank my luck stars...but on occasion I get this thought...what would it have been like--4 years at one HS?

This ugly duckling realized there was more out there long before most...it just took her a while to build up the courage to realize she could go explore alone :)

ME Strauss said...

Hi Jennifer,
How lucky you were to have that experience and how mature to have taken so much good from it. No wonder you've become such a unique and special woman.

I for one am glad that you didn't spend four years trying to change your feathers. :P

smiles,
liz

toadman said...

I hated high school. I was frightened of inadequacy, and feared ridicule. I was quiet, and tried my best to fit in with everyone, to no avail.

I had friends, my little group of cronies. We were on the outside, we were different. We were very alone in rural Texas with our strangely cut hair and weird clothing of the mid-1980s. We were band fags. We were drama queers. We never did things that were thought of as great, like the football players did.

It's all over now though. The simple angst of high school. We weird ones, at least most of us, have passed on to other things, bigger things. Things that matter more than the prom, or popularity. We've passed into adulthood and left our animosity behind.

I hope the popular people did too...

ME Strauss said...

Hi T-master,
How lovely the way that you can let go and let them off the hook. I hope they got passed what made them that way the same way we did too.

One of the best things about high school is that it's over. :)
smiles,
liz

The Hungry Writer said...

I believe the ugly duckling finally looked into the glassy water and realized that she was indeed beautiful. I like how you say they ruled the universe and then their universe ran out. Awesome!

ME Strauss said...

Thanks Hungry,
That was my favorite line too.
smiles,
liz

Mark Daniels said...

Interesting post, Liz. One of the things I like about high school reunions is that a lot of that old junk evaporates and people can relate to each other on more of a real level.

Mark Daniels

ME Strauss said...

Hi Mark,
I haven't been to a reunion in a very long time. I bet mine would probably be the same. The coversation I had and another just got me thinking in this direction.
smiles,
liz

zandperl said...

I think one good thing is that we're not stuck in a single pond or with a single kind of duck.

Many people are unfortunately. I've had the good fortune to decide I didn't want to stay in the same place until I'd been to many, and I lived in a different place for 7 of the last 10 summers. Meeting new people and seeing new ways of doing things really allows you to see that you're not an ugly ducking after all.

ME Strauss said...

Hello zandperl,
I applaud you finding a way to find yourself. It's hard enough to do under any circumstances and so many of us don't.

Thank you for coming and for your insight.
Liz

Cibbuano said...

I think that, the older you get, the more arrogant you'll become. At least, most people seem to have an arrogance of opinion or knowledge as they age.

When you're in middle school and high school, you just want to fit in, so you'll accept anything if it's popular...

ME Strauss said...

Hi cibbuano,
You think so. I think the older I get, the softer I become--like an old pair of shoes. I wanted to fit in once, but always knew I wouldn't, couldn't. Now it's easy to just relax and let people have their way most of the time, because most things aren't so important.

smiles,
Liz

garnet david said...

Very thoughtful and thought provoking post. Perceptive and well said.

I was lucky in Highschool. Though I was nerdy and gay, I was a star talent, and I knew what my career would be.

Regarding this post- I love when the last sentence is the question the whole post answers.

Isn't that how life should be?

I want my last breath to be the question my whole life naswered!

ME Strauss said...

What a great statement, David,

I want my last breath to be the question my whole life naswered!

I wish that for you.

smiles,
Liz

dog1net said...

Liz,
Talk about a statement of profundity: "High school is the archipelago of humanity."

I only went to high school for a half a year, and so I only got a taste of the different cliques that existed: the jocks, the preppies, the losers, etc. It was probably good that my time in high school was short, because I didn't fit in any established group. I was the weirdo, an outcast, which probably was a group onto itself. Later, when I became a teacher at a private high school, I was amazed by how many different groups kids fell into, and found myself wondering about that. It just didn't seem natural, and I think it had a lot to do with the school environment.
I really like what you're doing with your recent writings, how you focus on that one idea, the emotions associated with it, the images that present it, and then how you put
your finger on what the essense of that is by relating what it means to you, and in doing so, letting the reader experience it in the same way.
Scot

ME Strauss said...

Scot,
It's always so nice when you stop by to tell me what it is that I'm doing. I so appreciate your insight and "out-sight" of what is in what I write. You are my colleague and my friend.
Liz