A few words on the Reader's preoccupation this week — high school | Bleader

Friday, August 26, 2011

A few words on the Reader's preoccupation this week — high school

Posted By on 08.26.11 at 08:15 AM

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Cathedral in Rouen -- or your alma mater?
  • Cathedral in Rouen — or your alma mater?
This week’s Reader cover story worked its magic on me. I hadn’t thought about high school since maybe last week. I read the story, stopped what I was doing, and thought some more. High school is a little like a Monet cathedral. As time goes by the light we see it in changes and softens. But it's always a presence. For a writer, it’s also seed corn.

High school is the price we pay for being young. Growing up, I once told a daughter, is learning how to pretend to be normal. High school is the time when everyone pretends because no one is; or to put it another way, it’s when pretending to be normal is normal, before we figure out that for all our quirks and eccentricities normal is what almost everyone already is.

Forty-five years after I graduated from high school I was ready to attend a reunion. Most of the men struck me as grayer, more responsible versions of their younger selves. They’d simply grown up. The women, however…

The women had been raised by the rules of one world and thrown into another. I remember a rank of lockers occupied, by alphabetical chance, by five of the top girls of my class. My tongue thickened and my mind went blank whenever I was in the general vicinity. What I learned when I rediscovered the class was that none of these girls was still married to her first husband. Four of the five had divorced; all had reinvented themselves. They were simply more existentially interesting than the men I talked to because their considerable accomplishments were transgressive: they’d become women they could not have imagined back when high school was teaching them about life and its possibilities.

There’s a book in them. The TV show returns to the air next year, and we’ll see what the late 60s do to Peggy Olson, Joan Harris, Betty Francis, and the others, as the Mad men are no longer defining the world but trying to understand what’s happening to it.

As for high school, it’s what everyone has instead of Paris.

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