Monday, February 22, 2010

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

A few days ago I found out that a blog post I wrote about a year ago had been discovered by the person I wrote about. Why? Because I actually used the person's real first and last names. That was a colossal mistake. Let this be a lesson to ye all. 

I'm actually quite embarrassed about this after having been given a stern talking to by Peter for putting the names of his family members on this web site. I had systematically gone through and changed all the names to extremely long and difficult to cull together strings of "Peter's sister's husband's children from his first wife" and "Peter's brother's wife's sister." I guess I missed that particular blog post during my slash-and-burn session. I've gone through and reworded things so that it's more generic and not quite so caustic.

The thing is that blog posts are written quite off-the-cuff and so posts get written quickly (and sometimes in an emotional rant) without input from editors...SOME people find that trait charming and others find that they would rather lie down for a colonoscopy than read some stupid girl's trite internal monologue. 

Suffice it to say that I received a ton of comments that I did not post--mostly because it ranged from, "I knew those guys in high school and they are SO NICE. You need to GET OVER IT" to "God, that guy is still SUCH an ASSHOLE." None of the comments really added more to the conversation and it actually just kind of regressed people back to junior high. 

I mean, we're all supposed to be adults now. In fact, we're all middle-aged! Wow, how did THAT happen? 

The "These guys are nice to me" comments made me laugh because people are so narcissistic that they think that the only thing that matters is their own experience. Yes, I'm sure SOMEONE loved John Wayne Gacy and thinks he was TERRIFIC. But is that what I was talking about? I mean, if I read that some kid I knew in high school acted like a bully, no matter how well I knew the kid, it's still within the realm of human behavior. This is just a pet peeve because I hate that kind of comment. It's ignorant. 

We all did stupid things when we were young. We all did extremely hurtful things to people that we never thought twice about. I'm sure that Tom from high school could rant on a blog about how once he wrote me a love note and I threw it in the trash in front of all my friends. I had my reasons, among them, when he gave me the note I told him, "I DO NOT want it," and handed it back to him four times. He thought my being a generally nice person who did not want to treat him like an outcast like everyone else was (since I understood what that felt like first-hand) repaid me in dividends I did not want. Boy, I never made THAT mistake again. 

If he had used my real name, I would have written:

You know Tom, I'm really sorry that I did that and you're quite right to post anything you want on your blog, but can you please take down the part with my last name on it because I really don't want this rant to show up first on Google when I go for a job interview and my potential boss types in my name.

It's embarrassing to go back into your childhood and see all the crap that you once did or said and I'm glad you could make a funny story out of it so people on the internet could laugh about it. In fact, it's great that we can ALL laugh about every stupid thing we used to think was so insanely important and The. End. Of. The. FUCKING. World. when it wasn't. Aren't you glad you're not 14 anymore?

If I had gotten an email like that, I would have totally dug it. And I would have posted it. AND opened it up for comments.

I think the rant I wrote wasn't really about some jerk in junior high, but it was about the whole oppressive nature of the elementary school I attended. It was all uniforms, "boys-on-one-side, girls-on-another" and "stand in line" and "open your books" and "repeat after me." Of course, that, along with the whole fire and brimstone and Jesus will send you to the devil thing. 

In elementary school, when I read the Bible, I couldn't understand it. It was so confusing being a non-Catholic in a building full of Catholics who genuinely believed that they were going to heaven just because a few drops of water fell on their foreheads as infants regardless of how callously and cruelly they acted in life. We studied the Bible in school, but it was just pretty words on a page. In their day-to-day life, the teachings of Jesus were just fairy tales and their actions were, let's just say, not full of Christ-love.  

After junior high I entered high school and the experience was like Dorothy entering Oz. Black-and-white morphed into Technicolor. I checked out of elementary school and never came back. 

In high school, the teachers wore jeans and you could call some of them by their first names. They were passionate and supportive. There was no lines and girls and boys were all mixed together. Everyone in school was there to LEARN and even as a teenager, a lot of the kids were at the top of their game. Some were dancing at the American Ballet Theatre or taking lessons at Juilliard on weekends or singing opera on Broadway when they weren't at a science lab pursuing research for their prize-winning Westinghouse project. The craziest part about this school was that the door was wide open. No one was forcing you to be in class. If you wanted to cut class, you just walked out that door. Greenwich Village was just a few blocks away, so it was pretty damned tempting. 

But if you wanted to read To the Lighthouse as a sophomore like I did, even though the whole Virginia Woolf modernist psychologically deep philosophical story with no plot whatsoever is really WAY over your head at that age, your teacher will take you by the hand and guide you through it because if you NEED TO read Virginia Woolf before you're ready, then BY GOD, WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER. And yes, it was WAY over my head and I didn't understand it at all, but when I read it now, as an adult, Mr. Greenburg's kindness makes me want to cry and that kindness, internet? That is SO VERY To the Lighthouse. In fact, that kindness is the very reason why To the Lighthouse EXISTS. 

My elementary school experience became a sort of thing that I made fun of and told people about at cocktail parties. I would tell people about that time a girl in my class accused my race of taking over everything and wanting all the jobs, and my punch line was, "Yeah, like I wanted to become a checker at the Silver Barns grocery store." 

I did not maintain one friendship out of that group of kids. I left that world behind. I saw my ex-classmates as people who were stuck in that world and I wanted OUT. 

It was meeting Peter that helped me feel differently about this because he grew up Italian-Catholic in the Bronx and came from that world of Catholic school--he was an ALTAR boy, if you can believe it. He also grew up feeling different from all the kids he went to school with and he was one of them. He became vegetarian and his friends did not get it, they're still trying to convince him to eat a Big Mac. When Peter quit his promising job at CBS to go on tour with his band, they were the first to attend his gigs and buy his band's CDs. When Peter came back home flat broke after the band naively spent ALL of their six-figure signing bonus on recording their album, his friends took him out and paid. 

I always felt that I had such a difficult time because of my race and perhaps that wasn't fair. Yes, kids made fun of me for my funny lunches and the shape of my eyes, but I really could have given as good as I got instead of retreating. I mean, IRISH people making fun of immigrants and the way we look and talk? C'mon! And at least Chinese people are known to be smart in pop culture, unlike Italians. I could have opened up a dialogue but I didn't. And perhaps I missed out on something there. And perhaps I didn't. We'll never know. 

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