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Friday, November 16, 2012

High School Never Ends

Last Saturday I ran into someone I went to high school with in my small town. This isn't the first time I've seen her; we've run into each other a few times, the first being at a pediatric dentist that neither of us live very close to. Randomly we only live a few subdivisions away from each other now, and although we weren't friends in high school we always liked each other as people. It's strange how now, years later and miles away and even though we never spent any time together outside of school, we recognized each other almost immediately. It took me a few moments to remember her name. We looked at each other and pointed, said, "Hey!" and chatted until we were on firm footing. It's strange to me how strong that bond is, that "We went to high school together," and how it makes us almost friends now without anything else to support it.

She even told me that there's a facebook page for our graduating class. I had no idea! So I went on to facebook and checked it out. Boom. There it was. High school on facebook. And I realize that I am such a different person now than I was more than a decade ago. Hugely different. The funniest thing about it is, I don't think they'd notice. In high school I was very active in theater and in debate, and confidence is key to being successful in those fields. So I faked it. No one can tell if you're faking confidence as long as you follow 3 simple rules: good posture, eye contact, and say nice things. These three rules are equally important but it's the last one that seals the deal. If you feel good enough about yourself to say nice things to other people (nice things are NOT self-deprecating things, it is not nice if you aren't being nice to yourself) they believe you, and if you say nice things about other people they want to believe you because they want to believe that you're right.

I was a pro at faking confidence in high school. Some real confidence sneaked its way in, but being confident in how well you fake confidence seems wrong, somehow. I was in all the school plays (never the lead- too tall for an ingenue) and brought back a record number of debate trophies for our school (which was never very good at anything, so bringing back a "record number" of awards is not nearly as impressive as it sounds). People knew who I was, if they didn't know me very well. I was even voted most likely to succeed, although if my elation was somewhat tempered by another friend saying, "Of course you won. Who else is there?" and by the boy who won most likely to succeed also winning most likely to become an evil scientist and trying to take over the world. Someone also said I had nice eyes. I maintained my facade of confidence by never expressing any of my own opinions, by always being accommodating, and never staying in one place or with one group too long.

Dating was almost non-existent after my sophomore year. I had my one and only boyfriend then (my husband and I got engaged after being friends for over a year and then going on 3 dates, so we skipped the whole boyfriend/girlfriend status). My boyfriend was also in debate and drama, and he was always the lead in school plays. I'd had a crush on him for years before, but he was a senior when I was a sophomore so it was his first time really meeting me. My faked confidence fooled him, too, but it wore down the relationship because I was never relaxed around him, and it ended it a very private very devastating break-up after he'd graduated. I didn't tell anyone about it. Wouldn't have been good for my image.

Then I slid through the next few years doing my best not to let anyone get too close to me. The break-up had confirmed and intensified my inner monologue of "If they get to know the real you they won't like you," and I redoubled my fake-it-till-it's-over persona. Seems like a big waste, now, but it's how I survived. Looking at all those faces from my yearbook on facebook I wondered how they saw me. If they really believed the confidence or if they were so busy with their own lives that they rarely noticed mine. I wondered if they remembered me fondly, or coldly, or at all. I was a medium fish in a pretty small pond and most of the people I interacted with weren't in my own grade.

If I were to go to the next reunion, I wonder what it would be like. They probably wouldn't have any idea the immense changes I've undergone and the entirely new person I've become. I doubt any of them knew how intensely lonely I was those three years. Why did I do that to myself? Why was it impossible for me to be normal, or honest with anyone? Ironically I doubt that anyone I talked to now would think that I've changed at all, because I'm not faking the confidence any more. I'm more than three decades into my life and I finally like myself. I express thoughts and opinions that are mine. I'm comfortable in my own skin. The first time I realized that my husband was someone I could marry was when I realized I was being myself around him. It was eye opening. It was liberating. It was freaking awesome.

Not that there isn't anything I would change, given the chance. But those things that I'm not don't define me anymore, and most days they don't even register. I've got other things to worry about, other people to care about, and other goals to accomplish to spend much time obsessing over my weight or whether I can get through lunch period. High school is the world's biggest social experiment, and no one escapes unscathed. I wish I'd spent less time worrying and more time doing things. I wish I'd invested more in the friendships I did have then. I wish I'd spent more time playing with the band I was in (electric bass guitarist. Bask in the envy).  I wish I hadn't dated that one guy my sophomore year and ruined an almost friendship I had with a really cool girl who also liked him. He was a jerk and he broke my heart with such force and efficiency that it took me more than five years to recover, and I don't think she ever forgave me for dating him when I knew she liked him. These things stay with us. They don't define us, but they do color the way we see the world.

I want to go to the next reunion. I want to see these people that I spend so many years with, in some cases from preschool to graduation, and have my first real and honest conversation with them. We can be friends now, years away and miles apart, because once upon a time we were Lions. There were sports games and school plays, dances and concerts, but most of all we went through the fire of high school together. And high school ends. Most of life waits on the other side. But nothing is ever as intense again, because high school is like all of life compressed and concentrated into one building. And you never forget it. Faces pull you back. Yearbooks pull you back. And today, facebook pulled me back.

Go Lions!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Moment of Truth and Why it Matters

My book is coming out in print today! I know I've been talking about almost nothing else, but it's so huge in my mind that it's taking over. After today I promise a greater variety of topics, but I reserve today to be all about ME and MY BOOK!

This book is the culmination of a life-long dream. I've always wanted to be a writer, and now I am. It's incredible. I'm an author. For real. People have purchased my book. I have a copy of my book. It is the single most overwhelming feeling I've ever had. When I got married I was so excited I couldn't stop grinning. When I gave birth (both times) I was grateful and tired and HUNGRY for the first time in months. This is simply mind-blowing. It's hard to comprehend that it's finally happened, and the first person who pinches me to wake me up is going to get punched in the throat. 

That's why I wrote a book, to be an author. Why I wrote this book is different. I was a very lonely teenager who struggled to find friends and to feel like I mattered. I spent years with my internal monologue whispering things like, "If they get to know the real you, they won't like you," and "People either hurt you or leave you," and other insidious self-esteem killing things. I know now that I had moderate depression, and that I was lucky to have found so much solace in reading. I also know that those feelings of disconnect and self-doubt are common in teenagers, and that I wasn't the only one who felt so completely alone and cut off. 

I still feel lonely sometimes. There are ways in which being a married adult parent is more lonely than being a teenager, because we don't have school every day to force us into contact with our peers. Spouses work late and we're busy with our children and our chores to the exclusion to time to spend with friends, and friends are even harder to find because often the sole prerequisite we employ in finding other adults to spend time with is the ages of their children. "I have a five year old and you have a five year old" is a tenuous link to forge a friendship on.

We get swallowed in our role as "mom" or "dad," we get lost in our jobs or volunteer work, we lose our sense of self. And we get lonely because it's been so long since we've seen us. And we think we're fine, because we're rolling along checking off our lists and going through life getting things done and forgetting that the point of all this is to find joy. 

Now I work with the youth, the young women specifically, and I wanted to tell them so many things that I've learned growing up. Then I realized I wanted to tell every teenager everywhere these things. So I wrote this book to tell them and to tell everyone that we are not alone, there are people all around us who love us and want to help us, even if the people we feel we should trust betray us. I wrote this book to say that we are not all special, we are each special, and we must believe that we can do greater things than we ever believed ourselves capable of doing. I wrote this book as an urban fantasy so that the messages could come across without feeling preachy or trite.

And it is a good book. People I've never heard of are leaving reviews on Amazon saying they couldn't put it down or they've read it twice already. did a review because I wrote the novel on my iPad, and even he said he started reading it for the technology story but was hooked by the writing and the plot within a few paragraphs. 

There is no bad language. There are elements of romance but it isn't a romance. You can feel comfortable buying and recommending this book to anyone based on its own merits, and not for any other reasons. I'm proud of my book, but even more, it has a message that I want to get out to everyone.

And of course I want it to do well, so I can keep doing this. I have three more books plotted out for this series and a whole other trilogy I want to do later, all of which revolve around the same themes: we are not alone, but we need to reach out to others. We are capable of greater things than we think possible. And we must believe that amazing, miraculous things can happen to us, in our own lives. Not just other people, but to us each individually. I'm not alone anymore, and all I can think about is going back into that blackness and yelling in the dark until everyone else knows they aren't alone either.