Sunday, November 13, 2011

The mocking, the mocking.

I just want to say - these blog posts are getting harder to write. The notes I'm coming across have so much backstory, so many raw feelings, it's a little disturbing to put myself back there and then try to pare it down to one post. Still, I want to have 12 solid posts before this blog's birthday in January, to average out to one a month... so hopefully I can get it together in the next little bit.

Well, I think it's time the tables turned. Today, I bring you a note not written to me, but by me! My best friend also has a stash of notes from junior high, and recently, we stayed up too late, drinking whiskey and giggling our way through them, trying to figure out what in the world we were referring to 12 years ago and carefully re-folding our well-creased triangles.

This note is a prime example of one of the best kinds of junior-high notes - the language is fascinating. It's full of what I call "inside language" - like inside jokes but it's not funny -  and its use was never designed to be a secret code, but that's how it reads and is a tribute to the relationship Kate* and I had. Our friend (and my ex-boyfriend) Alan**, around the same time, described us (in writing - this is verbatim) as being "somewhere between best friends and constellations of each other; the path of one depends on the other's gravitational pull" and after nearly 14 years of friendship, we're not that twinny but we're just as close. Even though I express concern that she might be "sick of me" and give her option to not hang out at the end of the note, I'm pretty sure she didn't take me up on it. We slept over at each other's houses at least twice a week - often on weekdays - and would follow one another home from school. We had A.P. U.S. history together, which resulted in long nights of studying and worked together at a coffee shop not far from my house. We were together nearly all the time and I called her my sister.

I'm not exactly sure which "situation" that turned into "problem" and then an "annoyance" I was referring to, because the "tragically depressing ingrate", our friend Sam***, caused a lot of these for me in 10th grade. In fact, this note could probably be written nearly any day of that school year. The three of us were on an Odyssey of the Mind team together with some other kids that made up our core group of friends. I'm not sure the word "disaster" can truly convey what that experience was like -  coaching 6 nerdy, manipulative, angst-ridden friends that are trying to work together to solve a stupid problem (this was the year Odyssey of the Mind actually became Destination: Imagination in Minnesota and it sucked) sounds like probably the worst thing you could decide to do, but our coach did an admirable job considering the kind of stuff we pulled:

1. One punched (through) door.
2. One plot to put razor blades into shoes and kick the ankles of another teammate at a rave.
3. One half of the team going on strike, leaving the other 3 kids to do nearly everything a few days before competition.

You get the idea - it was tumultuous at best. The only thing we were really good at was Improv. Our angry tension turned into pretty great comedic timing, and was the only point at which we actually came together as a group to create rather than destroy.

Sam and I had a friendship in which we challenged each other to the extreme. There was a lot of lying, violence (he once slammed my head into the ground and gave me a minor concussion during a game of flashlight tag - to be fair, I kind of deserved it) and manipulation. Our friendship was so involved and time-consuming that it resulted, in part, in the breakup between Alan and I. He was jealous of it, sure I was in love with Sam rather than him because I put so much effort into cultivating our ridiculous relationship, particularly one long-term lie/manipulation/deception, which I'll write about another time.

I'm not exactly sure what was wrong with me that day. It was obviously troubling me, and he was obviously concerned, but all of that other stuff came between his expressing it and my receiving it well. While I was able to communicate the infuriation I felt ("the mocking, the MOCKING") to Kate, and which I'm sure I re-hashed for her in person, I wasn't able to ever communicate to Sam without more trouble, more lying, and more violence. He had this way of masterfully getting under my skin even when reaching out, and the idea of being honest and open never occured to us so it was hard to tell when that happened.

Despite this basis for friendship, to this day Sam and I are connected on such a deep emotional level I can't fully describe it. To others, I call him my twin without blinking, like he's the male version of me, an extension of me. Just like family, he's always there, integrally a part of my life. And just like my family, we have communication issues sometimes, but I know they will never touch our fundamental relationship.

Still, it troubles me that I can't describe Sam and I's friendship well, or trace back how and why we're so close, when I am able to discern and pick apart most of my relationships quite analytically, noting significant moments, turning points and motivations for both sides. I think in part it's because everything was so crazy then - adolescence is full of changes and growing, and obviously mine was a little extreme at times. But I also think it's because, like my family, it feels like Sam has always been there - there's no "start" to our friendship, just like I foresee no end, so if I still feel the need to try and track it all back, at the very least, I have time.

* & ** & *** - all names changed to protect these people from hating me too much.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More Church! More Camp!

Four out of the five years I attended youth group, I went to something called workcamp in the summer. They're short-term youth mission trips - about a week - where 5 or 6 kids and an adult leader team up to help residents in the community with a construction project, like painting the house, re-shingling a roof, or building a wheelchair ramp. Each person on the team had a role - lunch/snacks/breaks coordinator, devotion leader, team leader, etc. The company (Group Workcamps Foundation) does all the organization and creates the "kits" needed for each project, as well as organizes evening programs and logistics like housing (usually on the floor at a local school) and breakfast.

Each one is really formulaic - for example, Sunday night is when everyone meets their teammates and decides who has what role. Wednesday night is the talent show, Thursday night is Jesus Died For Your Sins And You Should Feel Really Bad About It night, Friday night is a celebration of all the work done and goodbyes, since everyone makes a mass exit Saturday morning after breakfast.

The official stance of the Group Workcamps Foundation is that it's not so much about the service projects but rather a chance to deepen a relationship with Christ, which I'm sure a lot of people felt, but I just wasn't one of them. My mom is fond of saying that Presbyterians like "a little religion with their art" which made it pretty easy for me to "pass" amongst them as a young atheist, but it wasn't as easy in my Group Workcamp team, especially when I decided in my second year that I wanted to try being devotion leader for the week.

It didn't seem hard, nor did I feel any conflict - you read the prescribed scripture for the day over lunch and lead a discussion about what it meant to everyone. The theme was later repeated in the evening program. Even though I didn't feel as though I had a personal relationship with God, I've always been able to read poems and fiction and dissect them for discussion - in fact, it's one of my favorite things - and I didn't figure this to be much of a challenge. Simply because I didn't believe everything didn't mean I could parse out greater meaning and depth.

What WAS a challenge, however, was my team - especially when, about halfway through the week - I divulged that I wasn't so sure about God. I'm not sure what scripture reading I had just done, or what someone else said that prompted me to reveal this information, but the silence that followed told me I'd made a big mistake. The kids looked at the ground until one of the adults tried to salvage the conversation about the scripture, ending quickly with a prayer and having everyone finish up their ham and cheese sandwiches. I was then pulled aside and demoted from devotion leader to... nothing. I remember numbly continuing to paint the inside of a garage, mostly ignored by the rest of my group for most of the day, while I tried to understand what had just happened and why I felt as though I'd done something horribly wrong when all I had been is honest.

At the end of the week, we said our goodbyes and I left, clutching an envelope full of something called "Care Cards" - they're short notes you're supposed to write to your team and every member of your youth group during the week. The notes are all little nuggets of inspiration and gratitude like "Thanks for your hard work!" and "I see God's light shining in you" and "You're the best!" They all go into an envelope and when you leave on Saturday morning, they're distributed so you can read all the notes from the week on the ride home. My notes also tended to say things like "No offense but you're really strange" and would mention I had a "unique attitude".Reading through the care cards from that week is a little hard; I remember how confused and hurt I was. One of the girls, Jenny, wrote "Your love for Christ is already shining through to me with the work you're doing. Keep it up!" in the beginning of the week, and at the end of the week she wrote "It's been interesting this past week working w/ you."

Jenny on Monday -  I'm the best girl ever!
Jenny on Friday - not feeling the love.

Another girl wrote "I liked talking to you this past week. Even though our beliefs and opinions differed, I found you interesting. Good luck with your future plans." I get it, I'm obviously not full of Christ's love, so obviously how hard I worked to make our resident's house a better place is irrelevant.

One of the things we differed on was whether or not she should take her narcolepsy medication. After she fell asleep on the roof one day, my vote was YES.

The mass-distributed care card from the M.C. (who essentially was the Head Devotion Leader) says "It was not a freak accident that you were your crew's devotion leader. Continue to tell people about Jesus, and explore the gifts God has given you!" I came across this care card right before I read one from a friend of mine in youth group.

It starts "My Atheist friend. Why do you bother with workcamp?" I remember thinking to myself, "Yeah, why?" It was 10 days out of my summer, with all the travel. I stuck out from the group as an unknown, I was frustrated with feeling alienated and alone, I was both a little intimidating and intimidated, my eye-rolling muscles were getting a huge workout, and I didn't know if I was doing any good or really belonged.

I don't know if I really answered myself in the end, but I kept going until I left for college.

Over the years, Group Workcamp programs changed; they got a little more extreme, contrived and disturbing, especially Thursday night:

Thursday morning: Workcampers! Bring a rock from your worksite to tonight's program!


... the rising part I may have made up, but you get the idea. I spoke out against returning, and instead finding another program that suited our needs more (and didn't result in a late Thursday night trip to Dairy Queen to debrief so we wouldn't be afraid to fall asleep) but was shot down because it wasn't tradition (this was also the response to the notion of NOT riding 900+ miles in a school bus from Minneapolis to Tennessee. I'm pretty sure my spine has never been the same).

Over the years, I also changed. I played to my "audience" in a way: I learned all the words to "Flood". I kept to being in charge of lunch, snacks, and water breaks at camp. I took over the back of the school bus and reigned (nicknamed "Queen Kashena") with the combined force of my eye-rolling and sarcasm... but I also kept trying to change things for the better, making the experience more inclusive, introducing more levity. One year I decided to write a care card to every single camper. All 500+ of them. I succeeded, but I didn't really sleep. One year I held a dramatized re-enactment of the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Canada on the ceiling of the bus (green army men with magnets on the bottom and duct-taped flags everywhere).  I also refused to participate in our youth group's yearly "initiation" which took place during the first lunch stop of the first day. The senior kids would haze the first-year kids in a bizzare hostile takeover of what would otherwise be a peaceful time to stretch and eat a sandwich.

In the years since I've left, the youth group has changed too - they pick more community-centered programs. They travel in 15-person passenger vans. They try new methods for fundraising... and they know the percentage of the youth group that secretly considers itself to be Atheist or Agnostic: a pretty shocking (to the congregation) 70%.

That 70% gives up 10 days of their summers, makes ham-and-cheese sandwiches for campers, dutifully paints houses and builds wheelchair ramps for the elderly.

I think they're doing OK.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I have a crush on U.

I basically got this note twice in one year.
In the last winter of junior high, my parents expressed their wish that I attend a private high school in order to prioritize and maximize my chances of attending an exclusive university. My mom touted the college acceptance statistics of preparatory schools in the area and sent me for admission testing, interviews and tours. She also started pulling me out of school to send me on exploratory overnights with daughters of her friends at local colleges and universities, hoping that I would get a feel of the campus and the gravitas of college life; what I discovered was that you could have ANY CEREAL YOU WANTED for breakfast, and no one stopped you from being on the MUDs at 3 in the morning, allowing my half-elf half-human to launch psionic assaults on evil creatures and level up four times before dawn.

By spring, I’d narrowed it down to two schools – the exclusive, Episcopalian Breck School and De La Salle, a Catholic high school on an island. I knew that Breck was the smart choice - I had no interest in Catholicism, a strict uniform policy, and a mandatory religion class. Breck had an extremely strong program, was close to my house, and had several acquaintances from elementary school, assuring my transition to a new school smoother than usual.

Unfortunately, I had no interest in attending private school. I didn’t want to leave my friends, was confident in my public high school to provide a great education, and was probably a bit terrified of having to actually work at doing well. Instead of communicating these very valid concerns to my parents, I hurled myself toward the school where I knew would end in my failure, because that’s the kind of self-destruction I excel at.

In my admission interview at De La Salle, they asked me what denomination of Christianity I most identified with, and I said I was an Atheist. They asked what my favorite Bible verse was, and my response went something like this: “The one where they eat babies. You know, because of the famine.” (This is true. 2 Kings. Look it up.) They then asked me what I’d taken away from this particular verse, and I’m pretty sure I said something along the lines of “Always eat someone else’s baby first.”

The acceptance letter came three weeks later.

So we bought the uniforms, I got my first metro bus pass to go to school, we paid tuition. My first week was a blur of August heat and disorientation; I was terrified of being stopped in the hall by an upperclassman and ordered to sing the school song or recite the school’s mission statement, failure of which would result in detention. My 8th period math class was held at the top of a tower, where I was held prisoner by algebra and an angry, bitter nun who liked to start class by wordlessly pacing around the room for a few minutes before returning to the front. She’d stand up there, dressed in all black despite the heat – and would gravely announce in a low voice: “Three of you are in uniform violation. Detention awaits.” Seriously. I could practically see the wheels in her head, churning out malice. As she moved forward with her lesson, we’d spend the rest of the afternoon wondering which of us were to be written up; the suspense was torture as we all continued to wilt, our uniforms wrinkling, our brows sweating.

I had a hard time making friends. Most of the other kids already knew each other from their private, Catholic middle and elementary schools. Almost all of the Catholic schools in Minneapolis fed into De La Salle – particularly the schools where the student body was predominately Black. This was also new to me – even though I’m half Black, I’d attended schools with a very small Black population, and the culture seemed foreign to me. I felt guilty and awkward about this, particularly when my mom asked me why I didn’t really have any Black friends – and I didn’t have a response. My family had attended a Black Methodist church while I growing up, where I fell in love with gospel music and hats, but I’d never felt a connection to anything else there. We stopped going around 4th or 5th grade, so I never entered a confirmation class or a youth group, or found anywhere else I’d have made friends. We didn’t live near my grandparents, aunts or cousins, so they weren’t a big part of my universe, and as a result “Black culture” wasn’t a big part of my life.

I was also in the very beginning of my disordered eating habits; I’d become a vegetarian over the summer and refused to buy food from the cafeteria – instead I brought my own raw cabbage and sunflower seed sandwiches with butter. This weirdness didn’t really endear me to the rest of the kids at lunch time, so I took to eating alone and reading. Eventually, I made friends with a kid named Harrison*, whose parents were psychiatrists; we’d spend hours on the phone discussing our mutual strangeness and all of the things we observed about our fellow students; I’ve been hyper observant most of my life, and Harrison was taught from birth to put meaning and weight to everyone’s words and actions, so we had a pretty complete picture of what everyone else was doing, and how separate we were from it. One night he asked me if I liked him, and I said sure; we were friends, right? He pressed the issue, and I realized he was asking if I like-liked him. I went quiet, and I heard him breathing shallowly into the phone. It was the last time we talked.

That movie deal comment is a whole other blog post worth of material.

Three weeks into the school year, I knew I’d had enough. For all its preparatory laudation, I wasn’t challenged. My classmates were more concerned with makeup, boys, and Homecoming, and I longed for familiarity and wearing jeans to school. My parents asked me to give it more time, and I did – but only about two months. By late October I was miserable, and ready to flee. I re-enrolled in public school, and when I told my classmates at De La Salle I was leaving, I was unprepared by the attention I received. I was passed the above card with everyone’s best wishes, most of them saying things like “too bad we didn’t get to know each other” and “I’ll miss you” and “it was nice knowing you”. One of the boys in my English group, Matt*, wrote me this other note, telling me he had a crush on me:
I have a crush on U. 

He passed me this note as he left our last class, and I never saw him again; I’m not quite sure why I didn’t call or write, and I doubt he had my info. Maybe I was afraid of being friends with someone who liked me, as I’d been with Harrison, or trying for my first relationship. Maybe I was too wrapped up in getting caught up academically and socially at my public school. Maybe I didn’t want anything to do with my time at De La Salle.

I doubt I’ll ever really know what I was thinking then, but only part of me wishes I did; a few years ago I even burned all of my journal entries from around that time, so only these letters remain. Many of the choices I made were painfully irresponsible and self-destructive; I did everything I could to set myself up for failure, time and time again. I know hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but I know I was cognisant of the consequences of bad choices, and I still made them. I still felt trapped. The only theory I have is that even now, my inability to communicate negative emotions and thoughts constructively trips me up, and so I was probably completely unable to do so back then.
Thankfully, we grow up, we talk things out, we try new things, we learn. I went to good high school, I went to a good university; I am at peace with these aspects of my education, and joyful about all the things I’ve accomplished.

That nun, though. I hope she got what she deserved.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hormones! Hormones! Hormones!

Apparently "this week" in blog time is approximately 5 months, so from now on I'm not going to make any promises about when I'm posting. It'll keep everyone on the edge of their seats... and keep me from being such a liar.

This note is from my friend Megan*. Megan and I had a very serious, very intense, very brief (8th to 9th grade - probably shouldn't count the summer) friendship, and after that it faded until we were simply acquaintances whose only ties were based on mutual interests and some social group crossover.

I can't speak for her, but I'd say that the basis of our friendship from 1998 to 1999 was probably the following things:

- the art of letter-writing
- tea
- classical music, theater; doing anything related to those
- feeling superior to other people because we liked classical music, theater, letter-writing and tea

And that's pretty much it. That's a friendship that doesn't last when you're 14, but when you're 14, it's a friendship that looks like what you think must be an adult friendship, which everyone tells you will last forever. So you think it's going to last forever. It's telling that I don't remember much of the actual things we did together - I remember the things we imagined together.

I imagined Megan and I swapping out our tea for martinis and her performing classical music and theater and my writing about classical music and theater, but the letter-writing would remain the same, because that's just what the civilized world does. Megan had, like most of the girls I loved being friends with, a rich verbal and imaginative life - we could talk and pantomime and dress up and use props to our hearts content to create any scenario and fulfill any fantasy or "future self" we wanted without much effort. We fed off of each other, making crystal palaces out of our suburban homes; intelligent, sophisticated, confident women out of our impatient adolescent selves.

Megan wrote me in her beautiful handwriting most often during science class; there must have been some sort of health or physiology section that February, or maybe we actually had a health class - I don't remember. Either way, I bet I was also depressed and intrigued by the alcoholism stories. In junior high, if you're still a little sheltered (like we were) and you're not drinking, or know anyone who is drinking, or know any alcoholics - alcoholism is something that sounds incredibly exciting, disturbing and adult. Even as a kid, I liked to pull down the crystal decanter and put cream soda in it, pretending it was whiskey. We were obsessed with getting there, getting to adulthood, getting to where we thought our lives were going to begin; watching videos on how people finally - finally! - got to drink and then were apparently so overwhelmed by it they "threw their lives away" as the announcers would gravely pronounce - WAS depressing. Was it possible that we'd get just that far to screw it up and never get to really live? Were we to be left wanting forever?

By the time the lecture got to hormones, I'm not surprised she was tired of it. Learning about how our bodies were changing because of them, and that they had their own timetable, and that we had to go through all these changes to get through where we were to where we wanted to be - only to find out maybe we didn't really want it - or maybe we couldn't handle it - might be a bit much for one class period.

*Name changed to protect people from other people finding out they wrote me letters I now put on the internet please don't kill me.

Monday, March 14, 2011


... I'm sorry it's been a while since I've posted, it's been busy around here. This week I'll be sure to put up a new note and story!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Clearwater... part 1

I've just realized that the majority of notes I have involve camp. This note, from Cate*, was written to me from Clearwater Presbyterian camp in northern Minnesota, about 2 hours from Minneapolis. Our church held retreats there, and the greater Minnesotan Presbytery holds a summer camp there annually, which Cate attended every year until she started to go to Workcamp. I have a HUGE amount of "care cards" from when I used to do Workcamps also, but that's another story.

Cate and I were very good friends from 1998 - 2000ish... We were still friends after that, but not very close, and understandably so. She's one year younger than me, and was definitely the lighter half of our duo; 1998 was the year I started to get really depressed, which freaked me out to no end. I had a very hard time expressing it, and unfortunately, when it did come out, Cate, and her boyfriend/my good friend Tom*, took the brunt of it. For two years. I'm pretty sure I just completely burnt her out, which I'm very sorry for now; it was a lot to try and deal with. Reading through all these notes gives me a picture of myself then that is very often funny, but just as often, or more often, really sad.

Cate touches on an anecdote from the first time I went to Clearwater. Our youth group had done a retreat earlier in the year, in the fall. Since I was brand-new to the church, and it was the first time I'd ever gone on a retreat of any kind, I didn't know what to expect - but I definitely did not expect to be taken on a sort of "living history" scavenger hunt which involved running up to a door like Martin Luther and nailing the "95 theses" to a door. The rest of the time was spent singing, eating, and running around the woods that surrounded a calm, clear lake.

One night during the retreat, my nervousness about being new - new to the group, new to organized religion where people held hands and sang (I didn't know any of the songs!) - resulted in my telling a ridiculous story, which is what still happens today when I get nervous and have too many glasses of wine. We'd gathered around a fire pit, and I started telling the story of a novella I'd written between 1996 and 1998. I'd sent it to be judged for a children's writing contest earlier that summer, and when I'd returned from Costa Rica I'd found out I'd won first place, which was pretty exciting for me.

The story was about a girl named Lindsey, 11, who was the second-youngest in her affluent family, and felt she was quite out of place - her older siblings were all brilliant and successful (one was a law student, the other very popular) and her younger sister, Jan, was beautiful and the apple of her parents' eyes. She decided, in a jealous haze, that she'd push Jan off a bridge and into the river near their house, jump in after her, and save her, becoming the hero of the family.

She pushes, she jumps in after - but the current is too strong and Jan drowns. Quickly getting rescued herself by passerby, she lies and says Jan slipped and she jumped in after, and she's so sorry she couldn't save her, blah blah blah. The family and majority of the people in the ensuing hoopla believe her, except for one police detective, who is suspicious of Lindsey's account of the events (I do not explain why he's suspicious, but I was 13). Lindsey starts acting weird, not sleeping or eating, and eventually her older brother Peter gets a confession out of her. The entire family is disgusted and shuns her - she's sent to a sort of school for emotionally disturbed youth, and the rest of the story is a series of letters from her to her brother Peter, discussing her life, life at home, and the results of one distressing trip back home to see her family. The letters end when her school writes a letter expressing sympathy for her suicide.

When I finished telling the story, there were tears in nearly everyone's eyes. The girls immediately expressed that it was the saddest story they'd ever heard, and oh my goodness how awful for that family, and where did you see this, did your mom know them - and it dawns on Cate and I that they missed the fact that it was fiction.

If this happened now, I'd put my hands up to stop them and calmly explain that no, they'd misunderstood, I'm so sorry - it's a work of fiction. That's all.

But 14-year-old me and 13-year-old Cate burst into a fit of giggles, nearly falling off the logs we were perched on. I was gasping for breath and trying to control myself as the girls who had been incredibly sad minutes ago now thought we were heartless for laughing at such a sad story and cruel for laughing at them for being sad about it. I did eventually manage to explain it was fiction, but I doubt I apologized, and by then the damage was done. Cate remained my only church-friend for a while.

* Names changed to protect people.

Do you have notes you want to talk about? Comment below!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Peace, Love, Happiness, Whatever

I apologize for the long lapse between posts - I've been going to a lot of doctor appointments for myself and my cat, who is trying really hard to die on me as far as his blood work is concerned, but seems mostly like his happy-go-lucky-please-let-me-outside-now self, so I'm hoping the blood workup is a dirty lie and he turns out triumphant. Maybe he was bit by a radioactive spider or something and will become a SUPERCAT.

This note is from a girl named Chelsea, who was a friend from the second session of a summer day camp between 6th & 7th grade to the end of the summer between 6th & 7th grade. It wasn’t more than six weeks, but I’m pretty sure she thought we’d be friends forever. It was the kind of friendship that starts when one of you (me) says something awkward and nerdy while you’re tie-dying t-shirts or writing poems about nature and 99% of the class thinks you’re “weird” (to be called weird when you’re 12 might as well be the kiss of death, but as I’d been ‘weird’ forever, I was used to it, and used to saying things aloud anyway) but one other girl in the class – one, if you’re lucky! – thinks you’re her kindred spirit immediately and to demonstrate overwhelming relief that there is one other person in the room that could “get” her, she shares her coveted Gardetto’s at lunch, which totally suckered me in. I mean, come on. Mini breadsticks, rye crackers AND pretzels? Sign me up!

This is the only note I have from her, which makes me think that I either a) really did not get the note she asks about or b) I DID get the note but threw it away in an effort to destroy evidence that I got the letter and didn’t write back, as I’m sure it also commanded “AND WRITE BACK”… I’m sure I would’ve put the note on my bulletin board and would have seen it staring at me, making me feel guiltier and guiltier every day I didn’t WRITE BACK, but feeling really contrary about it, because I don’t like it when anyone tells me what to do, and Chelsea didn’t scare me in the least.

B sounds more like me.

Anyway, unlike Chelsea, I was probably looking forward to school, because my summers were difficult. School meant socializing with friends and being busy with lots of after-school activities like girl scouts and chess club and dance and theater; the summer meant endless amounts of chores when I wasn’t at day camp (There was no rhyme or reason to themes of these camps, either. I don’t know who picked what, but I’ve been to French camp, writing camp, math camp, swimming camp… you name it, I was signed up for it). But day camp is just that – a day, or more likely, half-a-day – which meant hours upon hours of precious daylight to clean the bathroom, dust every surface in the house, clean my room, clean my room again because it wasn’t good enough the first time, wash dishes, pull weeds, mow the lawn… I digress. I’m just saying, my idea of summer wasn’t romantic visions of lounging around in the sun for three months, playing with my friends and hanging out at the ‘ol swimmin’ hole, eating ice cream… none of those idyllic things. I just imagined a long line of brooms coming at me menacingly, like in Fantasia.

Chelsea was the first person to write a postscript to me like that – the symbols and the words “Peace Love Happiness Friendship Harmony”. I’m glad she spelled them out (I now realize that was the custom, but then I felt relief) because I would have otherwise thought it was some really cool code she’d come up with that I had to figure out. I would have probably torn the letter apart, looking for clues to the symbols, trying to rise to the challenge, because I always rise to challenges; and honestly, that could have easily been a decisive end to our friendship because how uncool is it to have a dorky, intense response (imagine I wrote a banal, casual letter but with a PS written in the secret code I think she’s written but that she doesn’t understand) to something that everybody knows is just a simple “cool” thing to write at the end of a letter?

Surviving middle school is about keeping up with what everybody else knows - or at least that’s what I tried to do, and generally failed. It felt like I was always trying to keep up with the biological phenomena that is schooling fish; they turn and move with a particular groupthink that directs their movements and allows the majority of them to survive, but if you don't join up you don't know what music to listen to or what TV to watch or what shoes to wear.

Our friendship failed because I didn’t, in the end, write back, and we never made arrangements to visit one another. At least, I don’t remember writing back – and it’s possible she ended up moving away, or I lost her address – but mostly I think I didn’t care. Chelsea had been a good comrade at day camp, but she wasn't in my immediate frame of reference and that made it hard for me to keep up my end. Plus I'm sure this letter would have been followed by other boring letters and eventually I would have run out of things to say. While I definitely had appreciated her appreciation for my weirdness, Chelsea wasn't that weird; I felt a little betrayed that she wasn't really a kindred spirit - she knew things like "Peace Love Happiness Friendship Harmony". She could swim with the school a little more easily.

PS - Don't you think it's weird "Friendship" is a star? Discuss!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I know you have been violent to others. Like me.

I know this note reads like the stream-of-consciousness of a crazy person, but it is a direct response to a conversation Chris and I had in Mr. Heinecke's 8th grade English class. I can't fully explain the possum or kangaroo references, but I was probably thinking of ways to use up my excess energy - due to the serious caffeine addiction I had.

Mr. Heinecke rarely called me by my first or last name. He usually called on me by saying "Yes Ma'am," because I was a snobby know-it-all. When he assigned writing a response to the movie "Black Sheep" I refused, citing the film "immature" and "stupid" and while the rest of the class was excited to spend the day watching the movie, I actually moved my desk into the hall and worked on my essay alone. I'd decided to write on the BBC version of Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca" which I'd taped off of PBS; I was also quite fond of the thesaurus:

"Mrs. Danvers was insanely rancorous with Mrs. De Winter. She was upset that Mrs. De Winter had moved into Manderly, the manor where the story primarily took place and thought that she did not know how a household should be run. She was also irate that Mrs. De Winter was slowly taking over Rebecca's spot in the household. She was enraged and resentful of the fact that Mr. De Winter had married very soon after Rebecca's death, and was embittered that the new Mrs. De Winter was so young and did not come from a wealthy family. Mrs. Danvers was acrimonious and resentful of Mrs. De Winter."

I don't know how many more ways a 13-year-old girl can come up with to say "angry" but it's likely I knew them all; I was pretty angry back then. I was transitioning to new friends after a weird year in a new school district, not sleeping much (see caffeine addiction mentioned above), my sister (who I was apparently mean to - sorry about that) was also just moving into her teenage years, and though I didn't know it at the time, my mom was starting to get really sick.

I also had a lot of insecurity about how smart I was. The "West" that Chris asks about beating was the rival junior high in our school district, which seemed to always edge us out in Knowledge Masters, a competition like Quiz Bowl. West had a system that involved tryouts and alternates for their team, like football, and designated "captains" for every subject. Our school's team was hand-picked by the directors of our gifted program, who had already expressed their ambiguity about my participation. I desperately wanted to be on the team, but when the list of names was posted, mine wasn't there.

I was eventually asked to join the team a few weeks later when another member had too many extra-curricular activities and resigned. He suggested me as a replacement, and when friends of mine on the team got behind the idea, the directors did too - but I never forgot I was second (or third or fourth) choice. I was on the junior high team for two years and the high school team for one before I was asked to co-captain the high school team my junior and senior years, and I have never felt the need to rub something in someones face as badly as I did that day. It took every ounce of maturity I had to not run across the football field, get a visitor's badge, burst into the gifted offices and announce loudly, that I, the fourth-choice girl, was going to captain a team, so they could SUCK IT.

Of course, being on a team and being a captain are really different, which took a while to learn. Since my junior high didn't have "captains", just the directors of the program, and was more of a hodge-podge, I think I can understand why I wasn't the first choice to be on the team. Maybe. Let's just say I'll never forgive them (I'm not perfect!), but can understand.

When building a KM team, it's very important to get the right balance - some energetic kids, some calm kids, kids who are strong in different areas. I knew I was very strong in literature and logical reasoning, but was also a bit of a mess. I'm sure the violence Chris refers to in his letter was, on one hand, the fact that I'd hit him in the arm a lot when he annoyed me, but on the other hand my general state: Caffeine-induced mania, lack of sleep, a good amount of anger and snobbishness - not exactly the description of a good team player, no matter how smart you are.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Jade" the Possum

I just wanted to give you guys (all 6 of you) a teaser for next week: The story behind this extremely flattering portrait of me in 8th grade as a possum... I think those are supposed to be my feet, not some sort of butterfly-shaped organ attached to my lower half.

I know, the resemblance is striking.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hope Your Robot Brings You an A

Anyone who knows me knows I love robots. I have a large blue robot that was given to me in college – a good friend made it for me in his lab (he was an aeronautical and astronomical PhD student) out of wood and hardware, and brought it by the library where I worked as surprise. The best feature he has is poseable eyebrows. Hilarious! I also have little sticky robots on my desk at work - they make for great lunchtime photo sessions behind a backdrop of copier paper (I work hard, I promise).

I'm not sure what robot my mom is referring to in this note - one of many she slipped in with my lunch throughout my childhood - but this was written to me in the first few days of 6th grade, so obviously my love is over a decade old.

With most of my elementary school classmates, we’d just “graduated” from 5th grade and moved over to one of the school district’s middle schools. This was the first time we had more than one class in English; our elementary school had been an immersion school, but the middle school was a sort of hybrid system that incorporated multiple elementary schools, so half our day was in English with other kids (gym, art, math, English), the other half in Spanish with (social studies, science, Spanish). It was also pretty large in comparison, and I remember getting lost on more than one occasion, but did eventually figure it out, I guess. I mean, I’m not there now, so I think I did OK.

And I’m not sure why my mom thought Kelly would figure out what I was going to give her for her 12th birthday. Was I really bad at keeping secrets then? Had I told our other best friends, Kelsey and Christy? I was probably worrying unnecessarily, which is still one of my favorite pastimes. Things I am unnecessarily worried about right now:

n Crocodiles (is there a chance they could come to the Pacific Northwest? Will I need to move? Crocodiles can track you.)

n Alligators (see Crocodiles, but without the tracking part. They don’t/can’t/aren’t willing to do that. I appreciate their laziness.)

n Falling off my bike (I am not currently on a bike, but I was this morning. I was worried then too, but it was more appropriate.)

I rotate worries/fears pretty often so it never gets boring, though Crocodiles are almost always on the list. Unless I’m at home and then the fear of burglary usually edges them out, because I haven’t heard of crocodiles in the PNW yet, so I don’t worry them being in my kitchen like that one woman in Florida who was nearly eaten.*

*Ok, she wasn't nearly eaten. But still. Could have been.

UPDATE: My mom says I was worried about Kelly finding out about the gift because I HAD told Kelsey and Christy and was concerned they'd tell. Huh, the things you find out when you share your blog with your mom.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

First Boyfriend, First Post

Tim C. was the first boy to ask me out. It happened at breakfast during Environmental Camp - an educational week of "tracking" animals in the woods, looking at poop, cross-country skiing, and dog sledding - and it was pretty awesome. Tim's best friend Chris, who had long hair and wore a lot of black, came up as I was just taking a sip of juice and dropped the note in my lap. My eyes followed him back to his seat before opening the note, and he tried to keep me from seeing Tim's red face pressed between his arms on the table. I read it quickly, stuffed it into my pocket, and tried to ignore the teasing that promptly ensued from my table.

It took me a while to write Tim back. I couldn't understand why he liked me - the only time he saw me was in our 6th period math class, which I hated and probably scowled through the entire time. I also looked awful, as I had gym class 6th period on the opposite side of the campus, and had to sprint to get changed and to class on time.

I slept with the note under my pillow that night at camp and a few days later, the last day of camp (obviously avoiding anywhere he or Chris could be during that time - I think I had a sandwich in a bathroom at some point), drafted a response which basically said, "Sure." We had a sweet, if short relationship. We went to one junior-high dance together where he bought me punch, I "guest starred" on the cable access television show he and Chris had until a particularly rambunctious use of the air horn resulted in my storming off the set, and I doubt we did more than hold hands, but I have nice memories of it all.

I kept the note all these years because it WAS the first time I'd been asked out (ironically, amongst my friends I was the first girl to be asked out, the first girl to have a boyfriend, and the first girl to have an older boyfriend but now most of them are engaged or married and I'm not even dating anybody) and I loved how practical ("I'm not going to say mushy stuff") and proactive ("let's start with this!") it was.

I've recently found others, all dating from 1994 - 2001 or so, and have started to go through them. They are often sweet and hilarious - sometimes a little troubling and sad - but they struck me as being quite accurate snapshots of who I was then, and probably of how a lot of other people were too, and I thought it'd be interesting to share. So in the words of Tim C. - let's start with this!