Round Pegs in a Square Building

Hi all you lovely loyal literati! Happy Festival of Lights! I think it’s high time for an actual post, don’t you? (Also, side note, what is it with the changing of the layout again?)

SO…..

The other day I received an email from my high school alumni association, but it wasn’t your standard money request email. Or the unfortunate-yet-not-really-unexpected Death Notice. (What, your former place of education doesn’t tell you when grandparents of former/current students die? Must be a Jewish thing…)

Instead it was a Dedication Invitation, that started with “Come Say Goodbye to our Old Building!” The rest of the email was boring so I didn’t read it, but I didn’t really want to.

For the last few years, my old stomping grounds were slowly giving in to the inevitable demise of its 50+ years,  as new stomping grounds were being broken, dug up, filled, and built up a couple miles down that-a-way *points in random direction, possibly in a northwestwardly fashion*

Yeah, the building was old and quite possibly the textbook definition of the opposite of “state-of-the-art”. In fact, if you opened a dictionary to look up the phrase “crotchety old building” – you’d see a picture of my high school.

images

If only such a phrase actually existed…

The outside was brown brick, with bronzed letters spelling out the name of the school, and the various organizations that were also housed in it.

There were three stories, with the bottom story depressed into a hole in the ground that was affectionately dubbed “The Moat” and which, many many times, students tried to flood. I think the best attempt was that one time when students put blue tarp on the ground and called it a day.

The walls were yellow, the lockers were an uglier shade of yellow, the classroom doors were pale-green, and there were benches around the perimeter of the second floor with extremely-worn forest-green fabric. Even the trim around the windows in the rooms were green. The donation plaques in each room were a very dark shade of green, although some people refer to that color as “black” (but we all knew better)…

Shades_chartreuse

Yup, that’s my school: “50 Shades of Chartreuse”

The only bit of character that the school had was a mural on one of the walls that had the words “Knowledge” and its Hebrew counterpart “Da’at” in bright reds, blues, and oranges.

But it wasn’t much to look at.

There was history in the building, to be sure. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Jewish teenagers wandered the hallways, and maybe even learned something too. Personally, at least 30 members of my own family received the equivalent of a GED certificate there.

But, being the bastion of co-ed Jewish/General education for pretty much the entire Chicago-area Jewish population (and some out-of-towners, too) – well, that’s a lot of pressure. There needed to be guidelines, structure, a format to the well-roundedness that would be applied to anyone who walked up the metal stairs and through the two sets of glass double-doors, even if only for a semester.

And yeah – that happened. Kids were kicked out all the time. For reasons varying from getting caught* drinking and doing drugs, to wearing vaguely inappropriate clothing. Like, a shirt that hit 3 inches above the elbow. Or pants under a skirt.

Because everyone was expected to leave school with not only a deep-rooted association with sunsets and science labs, but as a replica, a copy, of those thousands of students who came before. We were continuing the well-honed tradition, the belief, that we could retain our Jewish identity and still interact with the world out there.

48236e6f1646a5a4471dd0e4cec0da40

The only problem with this was that we didn’t all have the same background coming in. The other only problem was that we were expected to question and question and question authority, until our questions were exhausted and we felt satisfied with whatever answers we had been given. Which is not the problem. The problem was that many times the answers weren’t all that satisfying.

Of course, there were the others who were more easily molded into the type of person we were expected to become. Who accepted the expectations without questions or doubts or second-guessing, and currently live the life that was predetermined for them.

And then there were those who questioned some of the information we were taught – out loud or quietly. There were those who rebelled secretly; others did so out in the open, by wearing clothes that were not deemed “acceptable”. And there were others who epitomized “fake it til you make it” before it was a thing on t-shirts being sold for $15.

Some of us just wanted to march to the beat of our own drums, regardless of whether we accepted the answers or not. I preferred skipping down the hallway, but that’s me.

Sg11005_sarah_graham_were_off_to_see_the_wizard

Sometimes I even sang the song. And by sometimes I mean “always”.

The problem with marching to a different beat is that you no longer fit into the mold, and you are therefore singled out. For detention, for expulsion, for long talks with administrators about “what would your grandmother think?” Or, you were just given looks of disapproval.

There was one time in particular when I realized what was happening. I had expressed my desire to not go to Israel for a gap year, and received laser-eye daggers from the dean.

28982384

And it wasn’t just the administration who made us feel unwelcome. Because the school was small, and everybody knew everybody. In my day there were maybe 350 kids in the entire school – large by other Jewish school standards, but tiny when compared to the public schools in the area. If you had been singled out, everyone knew, and there were some students who made it their business to remind you of it. Constantly.

So why would I return? Why would anyone who had similar (or worse) experiences feel the need to come back to say goodbye?

We already said our goodbyes – the day we graduated. There is no lingering sentiment, or memories that need to be revisited. If anything, we would go just to help with the destruction of the building.

And I know that if I had gone to public school I wouldn’t be where I am today, and blah blah blah. But why would I go back to something that holds more not-so-great memories than great memories?

e15eaea7fac78cc3407f22acee272513

But there is also a third option – to run from it AND learn from it. And that’s what I’m going to do.

I went to that square building and came out a misshapen quadrilateral. I understand and I appreciate the education that I received. But I still question the methods and motives of certain administrators, and I don’t need to say goodbye.

Besides,  I don’t have anything appropriate to wear anyway.

Currently Grooving On: music by fellow alum David Draiman

 

*To get caught you had to be A) really stupid, B) really desperate, C) both.

Advertisements

Actual Reality

I feel that I should apologize.

That last blog post was not my usual writing style, other than the fact that it was all over the place. But it was lacking in the sardonic sarcasm, and for that I’m sorry (actually sorry) (should that be a hashtag?) (eh, whatever).

But – how can you describe a fairly horrible situation to people who live too far away, and in something of a bubble? Is there any way to describe it in a way that they will understand, and relate to? Or, at the very least, somehow maybe perhaps comprehend?
You can’t. It’s just not possible.

But I was trying to write something anyway, because there was too much going on and I therefore needed to get some of the crazy off my chest. But it was all over the place, because the situation is really all over the place.

And then – my high school did the thing it always does when something is going down in Israel. I mean, other than the charity and the sharing and the liking and the support from TOO FUCKING FAR AWAY.
It asked alumni living in Israel to “tell us about it.”

Here, they said; put into words how you feel when you don’t know if the person sitting next to you on the bus is good or bad.
Tell us how it feels when you see an explosion of messages on your phone from your kid’s day care and have no idea if it’s about the crappy temp. assistant or because someone tried to break in.
Tell us how you feel when you hear about another attack in the neighborhood where you have relatives and you don’t immediately hear from them, and start thinking the worst.
Tell us that this ever-present SOMEONE is out there right now and is causing undue stress, anxiety, panic, and disorder.
Tell us – but only in 500 words, because we have limited bandwidth.

This is not the first time I wrote something for them. It is the first time I submitted what I wrote, though. Mostly because I didn’t think I adequately portrayed how I felt in previous attempts, but also because I didn’t think they would appreciate what I had to say.

See, my high school doesn’t really do the sardonic sarcasm thing. They like silver linings, and hope, and a firm grip on the religious values they instilled in us. They want to know how us alumni maintain those beliefs during hard times, and they want it short and concise and in monosyllabic words.
Um….

For a long time I’ve known that I had a unique writing style and voice – and occasionally it would get me into trouble. But at the same time I always felt compelled to write an alumni perspective about what’s going on, if only to have a different voice telling the same story. But I also had to understand that my target audience is full of people who kind of like the status quo.

So to do this, I had to dig deep down and find my old self, who wasn’t as sardonically sarcastic, and instead was only slightly smart-ass. I had to find my short, skinny, somewhat optimistic, semi-hopeful, pre-9/11 self. I had to channel my insulated, bubble-dwelling, former “me” and not lose my uniquely witty writing style.
I had to find my 17-year-old self and write in a way that would A) meet those requirements, and B) not get not-posted at all.

And what I ended up with was, well, that. The good news is they didn’t edit it in any way. The bad news is – I don’t think it was enough.

It’s really not easy, you know? How does anyone describe what they are going through to people who have never experienced it?
If I asked my friends in Elsewhere how they’re dealing with all the shit that’s happening right now, you know what they would say?

Because the crap that’s going down in ‘Murca (and everywhere) is just part of their lives. They don’t even realize it’s happening, and it doesn’t even register with them.
That’s exactly how it is over here. The sad truth of all the crazy going on in the world right now is that it doesn’t register with anybody. Either because there is no frame of reference and we therefore can’t relate to it, or because there is simply TOO MUCH going on in the world.

I can’t possibly put into words what I’m going through, because there are not enough words. Even if I could find the words, they have no frame of reference. Just like I don’t understand what it’s like when there’s another school shooting.

But….while I was searching for my former self, I remembered this one time….

About 17 years ago, in the summer of ’99, one of my classmates was shot in the leg by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith. I was away at summer camp, but naturally the news reached us fairly quickly (and in the days before technology too, no less). When the school year started a few months later, he came with a crutch, a noticeable limp, and a picture of him with Sammy Sosa.
Because that’s what happened back in the day of terror attacks – you got to meet your hero. Now you’re lucky if you don’t meet a therapist once a week for the rest of your life.
He also came back with a byline that, if anybody started saying it, the entire class would join in to complete it.

Just like how you all finished saying this line in your head...

Just like how you all finished saying this line in your head…

Because that’s how we dealt with the fact that he could have died.

I remember talking to him one day about it – about the actual event of the shooting. And of course, we all read the newspaper articles that interviewed him. He was our mini-celebrity.
Because back in the day, if you got shot in the leg by a white supremacist terrorist, you became a celebrity. You were special.

Now, not so much. Nobody is special, because everybody is terrified. And the entire world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Wow, you really CAN find anything and everything on Google.

Wow, you really CAN find anything and everything on Google.

The world is full of terror – good and bad. I did mean that bit, and in all sincerity too.
There’s good terror when you take your first step. Or learn to ride a bike without training wheels. Or know that you’re about to win your school-wide spelling bee.
There’s good terror when you lean in to kiss a boy you like. Or when you say “I love you” for the first time. There’s also terror when you wait for the reply. (not to mention anxiety, but one emotion at a time here…)

There’s good terror all the time; way more than the bad. But the bad terror gets noticed because it is so rare. Like, tornadoes and hurricanes get covered extensively, even if they don’t actually do any damage. But nice, sunny days? When’s the last time there was a Discovery Channel special on those?

Maybe instead of Shark Week, or something.

Maybe instead of Shark Week, or something.

So because we are inundated with all the crap that’s going on, no amount of effort or trying will amount to anything remotely worth writing about to my fellow alumni living NOT in Israel. Because they wouldn’t get it.

And yet, for some inexplicable reason – I try anyway. Because I have this feeling that if I didn’t end up here I wouldn’t understand. And I honestly just don’t know if I would want to understand.

I would be busy with my own life, over there in that alternate reality. I would be working, and hopefully I would be passionate about it. I would probably be married, with a kid (or several, because who knows).

But – I would still be living in that tiny bubble, with people I grew up with and knew for my entire life, only thinking about my friends in Israel during the difficult times, and wondering how they were dealing with what was going on.

I wonder if I would read the things they posted.