Sunday, April 15, 2012

Can I change my vote?

How many times has anyone said something is like high school?  It's a Mad Lib for the ages.

___________________ (noun) is like high school.  If you are too young to know what Mad Libs are, screw you.

High school is used very often in life to describe anything that is petty, mean, isolating, immature--okay you get the point.

And it's true, high school can be a cold, cruel place or a wonderful place.  And if not cruel, it can be a trying place, a place you can't wait to get out of and for some,  a place that you try to get back to or hang onto.

Pretty typical of small town life, most kids I went to high school with fell into one of two categories.  The stayers and the goers.  I was a goer.  I definitely was in the can't-wait-to-get-out-group.  I did enjoy high school but often  I felt like I didn't fit in a lot of the time and that in order to fit in I had to be something I was not.  I went to a small high school in a small town.  Most of the town's inhabitants, unlike me, were born in this town and lived there their whole lives.  Their parents went to the same high school and grew up with everyone else's parents.  It was not always the easiest place to be an outsider.

To boot we were one of two Jewish families in the town and that made us stand out like a sore thumb.  The majority of people around us didn't know much about Judaism and this was the early 1980's in small town America, political correctness, diversity and inclusiveness weren't exactly the cornerstone foundations of California, Pennsylvania ala 1979-83.  I don't want to paint an incorrect picture here, most people in California were warm, welcoming and kind. There were exceptions, but these were rare.  Still, though it does seem my Jewish identity figured quite prominently in people's minds.  Reading through my yearbook entries it is amazing how for many people, my being Jewish defined me in high school.  One person wrote to me:  stay Jewish and you'll go far.  Now, I am not even sure what that means which is why I can remember it 30 years later, although it is a positive statement.

What I am saying is that for various reasons I was an outsider and that, probably more than any bad time in high school fueled my desire to get out of California, PA.

But I did okay in high school.  I had friends and fun and as Neil Simon once wrote, "I loved it for the most selfish reason of all, because I was young."

Like any other high school, we had our stereotypes.  We had the jerks jocks, the cheerleaders, the beauty queens, the band geeks (although band was considered fairly cool in my school, but perhaps that is because, even though not in the band, I am half a geek myself), there were the brainiacs, the partiers, blah, blah, blah.

I never really fit into group.

I was friendly with a lot of kids from different circles, but was never really a part of them.   I was smart but because I could have a solid B average with the bare minimum of effort, I put no effort in.  I made honor roll but not honor society.  I certainly was not athletic and had never learned how to play an instrument.  In hindsight I think I kept myself out of these circles purposely.  I've always resisted fitting into a particular box as an adult and of course had these tendencies as a child.  Like I said my state of mind in highschool, the hormones of adolescence, feeling different being a Jew in the middle of a Wonder Bread town and being hurt and angry over the loss of my mom and the breakup of our family set the stage for me to keep myself on the outside.

I had my core group of friends who were of the cheerleader-band-brainiac types.  Lovely, sweet, kind girls.  We had a lot of laughs together and sleepovers nearly every weekend, well at least until boyfriends took center stage and we hung out a lot.  We went shopping, we walked around the block at least a bazillion times every summer.  But they, at least to my teenager way of thinking, fit squarely into California and I didn't.

I graduated, went to college, dropped out of college, went back to college, went to graduate school.  Sure, in the first years I enjoyed going back home and seeing high school friends.  I am a person who finds endings tough (child of divorce) so I tried to keep up with my closest friends for as long as possible.  After my dad sold our house, high school friends started getting married and building their own families and little by little that place and those people (with the exception of 1 or 2 exchanges of holiday cards) faded my my mind and were largely only fleeting thoughts.  My connection with California, Pennsylvania vanished.

It was just a distant memory.

Enter Facebook.

I joined Facebook in 2007 at the behest of a few friends.  Living abroad and oceans apart from most of the people you love Facebook is like a G-dsend.  It's a great way to keep in social touch with lots of people and to have daily contact.

I am the poster child for the Facebook time suck and I am not ashamed to admit it.

After a while Facebook really became viral and I started getting friend requests from loads of people from high school.  I am not someone who friends people I don't know.  95% of my friends list are people I know in real life.  The remaining  are bloggers and parents of autistic kids that I don't know in real life but I feel like I know them.

Nearly one-third of my Facebook friends hail from California, Pennsylvania and its surroundings.

And funnily enough a LOT of the more regular contact I have with people are with people from high school.  They look at your photos, they make comments, they like, they're interested, they are genuine and kind and caring.

I've actually developed what I think at least are some real, actual connections with people from California, via Facebook.  People who I knew in high school but had no real connections to.  Now they are some of the people I love exchanging comments with and look forward to the things they are posting about and interested in.  Some of them are people I had not shared more than fleeting hellos with in the hallways of California High School.  People whose labels said enough to me back then to make our contact as little as possible are now some of the people I look forward to hearing from the most.  

More than once reconnecting with random high school people has been used as a prime example illustrating the negative aspects of social networking.  The implication being that social networking kind of forces you to maintain contact with people you don't give a crap about.  And maybe that's true but it's not my experience.  Technology opens up new worlds for people.  While it is not a whole new world, California, Pennsylvania has made me revisit an old world and see it in a brand new light.  I went to high school with some wonderful people, salt of the earth, funny, smart, supportive, genuine, REAL people.

So, while I once marked time in California, PA waiting until the day that I could get out and break free from a place where I didn't quite fit.  Now, 30 years later, after having seen and done a lot of things, having the opportunity to live in two foreign countries, meet lots of people and rack up lots of experiences light years away from California, that it is with some of those very same people, that I feel the most at home with.

How's that for irony?

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