Monday, May 10, 2010

The Oracle of Madison High

The narrative of high school: that here is where your little slimy parts coalesce, like a comic book villain (Clayface), pieces of animated goo sliding themselves together from all directions. Pull yourself together, Man No Longer Child, Woman No Longer Girl. And it is assumed that out of this hazy slurry of childhood experience, the best in you will rise to the top, like cream fat. You will discover your talents. You will be young and sexy. You will do bad things with your friends and learn how to not get caught. You will have sentimental moments that will be the foundation of your in depth drunk phone calls later in your thirties, after you are married and have kids and are old enough to look back and laugh at how silly, how very SILLY it was to hold things like passion, fun, reputation so seriously.

So year after year these children, these young spotty faced giraffes, are transferred from the war-like, gladiatorial cages of middle school into the strict structure of Teenage Temple. You know what makes high school so fucking long? The constant unwavering, unmerciful introspection. Find yourself. Be Yourself. Don't Be That Bad Version of Yourself. Make Friends. Don't Listen to Your Friends. Be Aware That This is the Only Acceptable Time to Mistakes, But Don't Make Any Mistakes.

Now here's the other thing, on top of that, you also have to become an Adult. Because children can't be Adults. They don't understand what goes into that title. The knowledge of bills, of costs, of arguments and requirements and schedules, of struggling to make sure people like you, and hating them intensely when they don't. Learning how to ignore criticism of yourself as stupid, foolish, shallow, and be all those things despite the warnings. Memorizing the alternate meanings of words like Bitch, Diva, Geek, Player.Inventing your own definitions about what they try to inject in your head, and being unconcerned with the fact versus the perception.

And everyone you meet has gone through some version of this conversion. Everyone had a high school experience, even if it consisted of quitting high school. The messages are clear to everyone who has touched these walls, if only for a moment. Some have good stories. Almost all have bad stories. Sometimes, every once in a while, a prescient kid comes along who gets that stories don't have to be one way or the other, that sometimes stories just are and just continue and end where they want to. Those are the ones who later forget what happened in that school, and it washes away in a blur of unimportance later. Not necessarily a virtue, not a fault, just what it is.

So some of you will be assholes, and some of you will be good people. Some will be nurses. Some will go the army. Some will work in shitty jobs for a little while, some will work at shitty jobs always. Some will get married. Some will get divorced. Some will never be able to stay in relationships. Some will hate their parents forever. Some will wish they were closer to them. Some will have children. Some will not. Some will do cool things, like travel, or work on important scientific things. Others will slowly ascend the corporate ladder with no intentional momentum, and retire after 30 years with the same company. Some will be on unemployment at multiple points in their life. Some will do drugs and then quit. Some will be 40 yr old potheads with engineering degrees. They will become cat or dog people. They will find they have a type. They will get fat, or thin, or develop chronic conditions. This is what we learn in high school.

It seems important in high school to collect momentos. Dresses. Dried flowers. Sketches. Notes. Cds. Pictures of yourself, your friends, your life. It's like your body is actually warning you of the impending flood of life waiting outside, trying to build a nest against the coming cold. Our DNA has coded pubescence with an imperative to document the maturation.

The only things really important to keep in high school are the books they made you read. Those were the only things that didn't bullshit you. It's good to pick up A Separate Peace again, with your name and the name of all previous owners written on the front page, so it couldn't be lost among the identical copies of all your classmates and the three other classes also reading it.

More photos can be seen here.


  1. How could they leave behind those books? NOT BOOKS!

  2. now the q is: what was yr high school experience? good/bad/shitty hell, etc? fill in the blank now that i'm full of antici---pation

  3. My high school experience was okay. I mean, I wore really ugly clothes and was so self-obsessed that I barely remember anything about anyone else. There were drugs and boys and tons of defiance. It was not defining. My actual high school, an all girls prep school, was super fantastic at teaching, so I learned A LOT.

    Everything before 2001 is a general blur for me. I remember certain things, but I don't have any real feelings about them and I sorta feel like I wasn't really a person before that. Like, my brain was not functioning as an adult until 22.

    My parents would probably totally support this theory, though they would point out there are several areas in which I still function only as a child. Well, you know, one.

  4. beautiful words and BEAUTIFUL photographs. i just added you as a contact on flickr after checking out some more of your photostream. i also have a real soft spot for things that are crumbling, in mid-ruin, dilapidated, etc...

  5. I love everything about this post. Really, the photos, the words...all of it.

    Everything pre thirties is mainly a blur.

    I am really okay with that too.

  6. Have I mentioned yet that my nickname for you inside my head is now "Sweet Monkey Chaps?" Well my Sweet Monkey Chaps, it is. I hope that's ok.

    Since you already know I love these posts, I'll just tell you my favorite line - "It's like your body is actually warning you of the impending flood of life waiting outside, trying to build a nest against the coming cold."


  7. Libby - I know! There's always a few piles of books left in old schools. But most of them escape, promise.

    Steff - Hi! Thanks! This is my favoritest thing in the world to do, so I'm happy when other people appreciate it too.

    Blonde - I was always afraid that as I got older, life would speed up and go by really fast. But it seems like the better I get, the slower it goes by.

    Ells - I am okay with this nickname only as long as your mental picture of me includes demon fire shooting eyes and a vague Liza Minelli impression.

  8. Spectacular, from the morning tardy bell to the departure of the last school bus. It so rarely occurs to me, when participating in institutions rooted in specific buildings, that this, too, shall pass.

    I can't stop staring at the wall with the mural's paint mostly peeled off. Reminds me of There Will Come Soft Rains.


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