August 17th, 2010

Kids that I once knew

I think there might be something in writers–some writers, anyway–that serves as a reasonable counterfeit of being a really nice person. I don’t think I’m a jerk or anything (usually), but the amount of time I spend listening to other people is not something I do out of generousity: I am *fascinated* by what other people say. Almost all of them (except those doing home renovations).

Actually, maybe this has less to do with being a writer and more to do with not having a television, but anyway–it’s certainly not research. Don’t worry, I’m definitely not cribbing your words and experiences for literary reproduction, not even those of drunk people at parties who tell me their sexual woes, or people on the bus who screech into their cellphones about a knife-fight at the appliance store where they work. I would never put that stuff into a story, since it already is one. I just like the narratives. And I can’t help but think that it is, in some osmotic way, good for my writing to hear a lot of different voices, a lot of different experiences, all the time. So I am able to sell myself my own personal preference as professional development, which means that I don’t have to leave the bar and go to bed early when all my friends are bitching about their jobs. Hooray!

I think this love for narrative (and other people’s business) might explain why I enjoyed high school as much as I did–when else are you so intimately associated with people you do not know. In fact, you do know them, but it’s a form of knowing that does not come again in life: teenagers are loud, theatrical, bad dissemblers, self-absorbed, and often in close proximity to each other every day, 10 months a year, for 5 years. Sometimes 12 or 13. In my school, anyway, everyone knew everything about everyone. I wasn’t even well-connected enough to hear gossip, just overhear it, and yet I knew plenty about people I’d never spoken to except to do a French assignment in pairs.

This sounds like it could lead to snark, and occasionally it did: I was pretty judgey about the girl who cried in French class because she had just realized she wasn’t wearing her bra, and in a completely different way, judgey about those who were too devoted to the crystal-growing competitions. But I was also (no one will be surprised at this) the yearbook editor: I knew *everyone’s* name, and rather liked the idea of us all being part of one thing or at least one book. I loved slotting everyone’s face into their little boxes next to whoever came before and after in the alphabet, regardless of their affiliation. Everyone together.

That sounds lame, and, oh, it probably was, but here’s the thing: I went to a *really* good high school. It was in an area where parents had the money and the time to encourage their kids’ interests, and so did the teachers. Many people were in band, as well as the school band, which was pretty outstanding (FYI, I played flute, and was not outstanding). People acted, wrote, went to OFSA championships and did power-tumbling. And even the non-participants, the people I couldn’t coral on picture day (punished them by running happy faces in their boxes) were the stars of their own lives. I am firmly convinced that most people in my school were interesting, and almost all were very good at at least something.

I was really looking forward to finding out how it all turned out for everyone. I am *not* sure how I was planning on actuallizing that. I am still friends with my closest hs friends, but who stays in touch with random acquaintances, lab partners, and the girl who had the locker next time mine and a goth boyfriend. Aside from a brief misfire right after I graduated from university, I never lived in the area again so I couldn’t run into folks at the supermarket, and since I’m not actually *from* the wealthy suburb where I went to school, neither do my parents.

For a while, my lovingly tended narratives of my schoolmates had nothing to go on–did the bandboys take it on the road? Did university finally pose a real challenge for the science smarties? Did that girl ever find her bra? I pestered friends and acquaintances for who they’d run into in parking lots, gyms, sports bars, whatever, and asked questions like, “Did she/he look happy?”

And then came Facebook. People ask what’s the point of “friending” people you aren’t friends with in real life, and I say that’s the point! I have a lot of FB friends who I talk to in my actual life via email or phone or actually in person, and if FB suddenly limited the # of friends we could have, those guys would be the first to go! If I can talk to you elsewhere, I don’t need you on FB. But there are also plenty of FB friends on my newsfeed who just friended me because we are in the same high-school network–we have spoken since the 1990s, but I see their funny status updates, their wedding pictures, their workplaces (urgh, many people don’t post that–so annoying!) I get to continue their narratives, even though most of them probably barely remember me and would be puzzled by this post.

I eat the same thing for lunch almost every day, and if I liked you once, I’ll probably always like you unless you do something terrible like try to eat my cat. I like stories, and I always want to know what happens next. I think that’s actually a human instinct, not just a writerly one, and I suspect it’s part of what makes FB so popular.

One Response to “Kids that I once knew”

  • Nathalie says:

    Love this! I just had a similar epiphany about FB and how, yes it can be shallow, but, hey, it’s deeper than what I’d have without it.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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