I remember feeling ostracised and lonely at my all girls high school. But when I look back, there was no reason for me to feel that way. I had a group of supportive girlfriends and one particular tight-knit friendship. I might have felt on the outer, because every teenage girl feels that way sometimes, but it wasn’t my true orientation. I never ate my lunch alone. I never dreaded going to school. I never begged my parents to send me somewhere else. Any dramas were completely internal and of my own making. Is there anything a teenage girl seeks more voraciously than drama?
I recently went to my twenty year high school reunion. Everyone was friendly and genuinely interested in one another. The imagined snobbery that was probably just shyness and a little bit of fear had melted away. It struck me that we all probably felt the same way in high school. That the petty jealousies, the simmering insecurities and the imagined slights playing out within my friendship circle, were playing out in all the circles around me. I was just oblivious to it. Too caught up in my own internal world, fretting about what others thought of me. I retrospect, I don’t think others did think of me – our interests did not extend beyond worrying about ourselves.
Teenage girls make wonderful victims. It was role I relished. Courting pain and anguish because I desperately wanted to be a writer and all the serious poets I knew wrote about pain. Nearly exclusively. I have just read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and I wish I could deliver that book to my teenage self. Gilbert brilliantly argues that creativity does not have to be mired in suffering. And that if you able to create through suffering it’s likely to be in spite of it, not because of it. The tragic artist figure held great appeal in my teenage years. But in truth my life was uninterestingly devoid of suffering. My parents remained together and were supportive and lovely. I was in good health (just crap at sport). I got good grades (not quite as good as my very, very, very clever friends, but respectable). There were no shadows. So, I think I invented tragedies within my social group that actually didn’t exist.
As an adult, I experienced true pain and suffering and I echo Elizabeth Gilbert’s sentiments when she says she wants none of that. Interestingly, I wrote through that pain, realising that childhood ambition of writing agonising poetry. But I only did it to feel lighter. I only did it to leave that pain behind. These days, I don’t try to conjure pain. I try to avoid it.
Looking back on high school itself, there were definitely girls that could have exercised more kindness. But then I knew nothing of their personal demons – real and imagined. Hell, I could have exercised more kindness. But that’s the thing about playing victim – it shields you from the reality that you could be the perpetrator of another person’s sadness.
If I could go back in time, I would tell my high school self not to worry so much about everyone else. To spend energy thinking about how you want to be – not how you think others want you to be. I’d tell myself that everyone has choice. In every day, every moment really, every single person has a choice. Whether to make someone else’s life a little better or a little worse. For those that choose the latter, you can decide how much weight you want to attach to their approval. For yourself, choose the former. Do no harm: not to yourself and not to others. Life is wonderful. Don’t betray it.
This post was inspired by Dani’s post at Eat Street – What I Learned in High School. Why not pop over to her blog and read what others have to say about their high school days? Your very welcome to join the party and write about your own experience and link up in the comments on Dani’s post.