Tag Archives: high school

Being Cool in School

It’s been a while since high school, which I attended in Calgary and included grades 10-12. We had junior high schools for grades 7-9, and I attended grades 1-12 in one very large city block. In some cases I saw the same kids for twelve years, even if we weren’t friends. The schools were large and there were hundreds of kids.

It was common to know your homeroom classmates and some of the students from other classes, especially if you took an elective that mixed the classes. And sometimes friends were in different homerooms so you’d know maybe half of your year to some degree and the rest of the students barely entered the zone of friends or classmates.

There were times in high school when everyone hung out, during breaks between classes and at lunch. Our high school had a major entrance (for students) that had been named the Pit. There was one to either side of the main entrance on the south side, which also had names. The actual grand entrance to the school faced the west and very few students ever seemed to use it, partly because it faced a shopping center and most of the homes were on the south and east sides. The east side also had a couple of entrances and one faced into the school field. We called this one Apple Crisp I believe. Another one was called Numbers and I think one was called Colors. I forget the rest of the names.

I’m not sure who named them and it could well have been the group we hung around with. Everyone knew of the Pit because it was the entrance used by almost everyone, open in both directions (as opposed to the side entrances, which were usually only exits) and where the students were allowed to stand and smoke. So it was always stinky and overcrowded. I never really picked up smoking. For awhile my girlfriends and I tried smoking wine tip cigarillos, more for the flavor and the look than for actually smoking. When everyone started to get into smoking I tried but had to be drunk to do it. (Shhh, yes we actually drank [without our parents knowing] during those high school days.) I don’t think I ever bought a pack of cigarettes and gave it up rather quickly.

Now the Pit, the center of our universe in many ways, was where everyone could socialize, smoke and hang out. It was known as the place where the jocks and cheerleaders gathered, a collection of the studly and maturing boys and the girls with bodies and legs and pompoms that they knew how to move. So we, who thought we weren’t the cool kids, tended to go to the quieter entrances and hang out. They were far less crowded and brighter, especially Apple Crisp, which faced the field. And if you happened to be skipping a class teachers wouldn’t find you there. In fact they probably would only find you in the Pit.

And of course, should you be skipping school (but not able to go home because a parent might find you) and still hiding in an entrance, it was a place to drink elicit alcohol, smoke pot or even try something like acid. Though the more hallucinogenic the drug, the more quiet and out of the way you wanted the entrance. Numbers I believe was the favorite for such activities.

We never thought we were cool. We weren’t the geeky studious ones, nor were we the jocks. We were also not the deadbeat losers that missed so many classes they failed. Fighting and knives and guns were still pretty much unheard of while I was in school except maybe for one or two boy on boy fights, though I never saw one. So we were a bit like nomads, flowing through, not quite part of any group.

Or so we thought. Of course we had formed our own group. But when you were in class, no one was a group. You were an individual under the watchful eye of the teacher. We were required to do a mandatory counseling class in high school. The girls would gather or the guys and it obviously wasn’t everyone because it was at the counselor’s office. Maybe it was 12-20 girls total.

I vaguely remember one session where there were a number of the cool cheerleader girls and then my friends and me. We ended up talking about belonging and being cool and we said how we knew they were the cool ones. And they said, but it’s you guys who are the cool ones. I don’t remember the exact details but I remember the feeling to this day.

Never had I felt cool, in control, the one people looked to for fun or leadership. And yet, that was my perception, not the perception of others. It was a very eye-opening experience for all of us. I wondered how many other people were either faking it or didn’t think they “were the ones” whatever being the one might be. I wrote about my experiments in changing myself in “You are Who You Pretend to Be” and in fact I was changing before this in high school. But it attributed to my change and I think the counselor who got us together from different cliques was very wise in letting us see how the other half lived, or acted. It truly didn’t put us all on a more even level. I sometimes wonder how much impact it made on my other classmates.

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Alcoholism and Life

I grew up with an alcoholic father. Some might debate this but he drank a fair amount, did terrible things to us and grew violent. It was not pretty and it marred us with scars we bear to this day. My mother went back to school at one point and worked as an alcohol and drug abuse counsellor so she knew the signs well. It’s interesting, before she moved into that line of work, the men she dated were all alcoholics.

I also had a friend who became my best friend and lived across the alley from me. We got into various types of trouble together, went to parties, and drank underage, as most of our friends did. I cannot tell her tale as to what pushed her too far. It could be an easy statement of physiology though easy is not the way it was. By sixteen she was an alcoholic with a host of embarrassing events under her belt, making difficult for her friends to be around her. I asked my mother what to do (and I have to say my mother was very good about not berating us for drinking underage) so she gave me some pamphlets to pass on to my friend. One was a checklist of behaviors that could indicate you’re an alcoholic. Some of the statements were: do you not remember what you’ve done while drinking, do you pass out after drinking, do you feel the need to drink every day–things like that.

Of course, giving a teenager such pamphlets didn’t go over that well and as high school grew towards its end and my friend also became pregnant (facilitating a quick marriage), we also started to grow apart. I couldn’t help her and she was going to need to help herself. I don’t know if she was embarrassed by her alcoholism or felt that I judged her (and I confess that I did at that time) but we eventually lost contact. It was only many many years later that she made the effort to contact me, having been dry for a long time, with grown and growing children. I then had to get past the wall that I had left behind from that time.

In high school I had also started dating a guy who I went with for a year and a half. He was two years older than me so he was finished while I was in grade 11. And he worked at a pub. I looked old for my age and could get into the bars without being ID’d. (Oddly enough, after I turned legal age, I was ID’d often.) He too became an alcoholic, drinking too much and too often. I don’t remember if that’s what broke up the relationship but it was a contributing factor.

I’d seen enough alcoholism by my mid-twenties, including an Irish couple in Vancouver who were on a self-destructive path through their drinking.  We also stopped being friends. And there are others, those with the red splotchy faces, the abusive tongues, the rude behavior that had driven friend and family away. I would often talk to these people, if they were friends, expressing concern but when they continued along their way I felt I didn’t need to be in the path of their abuse either.

I was arrogant enough to think I’d never be an alcoholic because I didn’t like alcohol that much and I was aware of it. That may have been the case but I wasn’t aware of the abyss in my soul and where it was sucking me to. I was unhappy and single, while all my friends were in couples. I hated myself, my eating disorder was out of control. On top of it, I’d fallen in love with a man who didn’t love me and inadvertently probably rubbed the fact in my face with his patronizing way.

Before I knew it I was drinking to drown the pain and perceived loneliness. I stood in the back of a poetry performance night one evening, crying (from my broken heart), then going out to my car to drink a cider, then coming in and crying, and repeating in progressively drunken way. I went to a camping event and proceeded to get so drunk that I didn’t know what I did. In essence, I had a blackout. Then on New Year’s eve I went to Blaine to some friends’ party. Bored and feeling the loneliness around all the couples there, I decided to drive back to Vancouver to another party.

Lucky for me, some friends braved my wrath and took my keys away. I later passed out and left the next day. Shortly after that night I was thinking of my life and realized I teetered on the edge of becoming a full fledged alcoholic. The brink was close and I was sliding over it. Also lucky for me, with that realization, I started to reassert control over my life.

And two friends at that time, drew straws to see who would approach me and say I had a drinking problem. The loser got to come up to me, probably expecting me to tear into her. But when she said, we think you have a drinking problem, I said, Thank you for being such good friends to tell me. You have the right, if you see me out of control at any time, please tell me.

And after that, I did try to control it, and not drink to cover my problems. Alcoholism, though, can strike for a number of reasons. Some people are physiologically more susceptible. Others make it part of their lifestyle. Others use to flood the hollow spots. It is the duty of anyone who is friend or family to say to the drinker, You have a problem and you need help. But as always, it is up to the person to change and hopefully have the support of friends when they take that path. I learned some valuable lessons about drinking and about me. I wouldn’t want to go that road again.

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Personality: You are Who You Pretend to Be

As a child I was extremely shy and introverted. This doesn’t mean that I was weak or without personality. I was fairly strong willed but I wouldn’t talk or do anything to stand out in the crowd. The argument for nature vs nurture might play in here. My personality was imprinted at birth. My circumstances affected how my personality played out.

Growing up in a home rife with turmoil and many abuses probably made me into the shy and insecure child that I was. I was picked on, teased and remained in the background. I remember my passive aggressive act when one girl was bugging me in school. I didn’t confront her but as I walked home I spit on the sidewalk in front of her house.

In grade 7 I was still fairly shy but starting to flower in personality (as we are all wont to do in teenagerhood). I had a few friends, and was trying to fit in. However, my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas (or my birthday) that year and I said a purple dress/shirt/some item of clothing. I received a wardrobe of purple; pants, tops, dresses. Everything was purple. I could not wear purple again for about ten years but today it is a color I wear frequently.

With that geeky stigma of one color, I tended to cringe and become conscious of clothing. I also looked at Margaret Parsons in my class. She was shyer than me, had red ringlets (really gorgeous red hair actually) and wore a school uniform. In retrospect I have a lot of sympathy for Margaret and Morag, who both came from school systems with uniforms. They stuck out like sore thumbs and again, moving into a district wasn’t easy. They were definitely outsiders and looked at strangely. Kids are very cruel, not yet tempered with the social skills on how to stab someone nicely in the back.

Back to Margaret; she was very very shy and quiet and I decided then and there that I didn’t want to be like her, which meant I had to change. It was important for me to fit in. My family was different, with divorced parents, not going to church, fighting. All my friends had more “normal” families. First was the clothing. Jeans and T-shirts were much the norm for teenagers.

By late high school I upped the ante again. My clothing was mostly in shades of blue and brown. I decided that if I wore brighter colors it would make me more outgoing (and had read something to that effect). Basically it became a case of fake it till you make it. I did this again in art college.

Overall it was a long, slow transition, but little by little my clothes got brighter and my personality changed. I started to wear more jewellery (some would say I wear too much) and became a clothes horse, liking fashion and trying to find unique styles. But along the way I consciously challenged my boundaries. And sure enough, I went from being a shy introvert to and outgoing extrovert.

Few of us are 100% of anything. We all have introvert and extrovert in us. I can be quiet, even withdrawn, and sometimes prefer to sit back in the sidelines and watch. But I also enjoy being at a party or around people. Had I not pushed myself I would have probably remained an introvert. Would the switch have happened anyways? I don’t know. But I’m sure it would have taken much longer.

Wearing bright colors was a physical manifestation of how I wanted to change and I think it did work towards bringing me out of my shell. And shell it was, a protective coating from a tumultuous home life and the jibes and jeers of class mates. Interestingly enough, I grew a different shell, with bolder colors that stopped a lot of the teasing once I wore them with confidence. So yes, I think a leopard can change its spots.

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School Lunch

As a young child growing up in Calgary and couple of miles from school, my mother would pack our lunches in those little metal lunch boxes. I somehow don’t remember spring and summer lunches and I think we would do that walk home: twenty minutes in each direction and twenty minutes for lunch. But winter was a different story. I remember being in grade 1 or 2 and late every day for a week because my little legs couldn’t slog through all the snow.

So we’d go with the little lunch boxes. I think there were butterflies on mine. The thermos always had hot chocolate made will milk. The sandwiches (often with Velveeta cheese–ick!) were wrapped in wax paper, not saran wrap. After all, they’d be eaten several hours after being made and saran wrap was more expensive. There was probably an apple or an orange. Calgary in the winter when I was a child, didn’t have a host of the exotic fruits and vegetables that we take for granted now. In fact, the vegetables were pretty limited. I can’t stand frozen vegetables to this day, cooked mushy and tasteless (thank god I never had to experience canned veggies).

By junior high (grades 7-9), we were big enough to walk home for lunch or take it to school. Obviously lunch was not a big part of my childhood memories. I don’t recall whether I brought it or went home. I suspect I did both. But by high school, we were too cool for lunch and going home. On sunny, warm days I did still go home. I wasn’t a rich kid and made my money babysitting, or later, working in the movie theater. But by grades 11 and 12, there was usually one or two people who had a car. Sometimes we went to McDonald’s (I never did eat the burgers.) or drive off for a bowl of won ton soup. There was a mall near the high school so we had a few places to pick from.

There was also the school cafeteria in high school and we sometimes ate there. And sometimes we brought our lunches. I remember Gordon Amsterdam with his chocolate spread and sprinkle sandwiches, or the ones that were nothing but lemon curd on white bread. I think there was one vending machine, or maybe I’m just hallucinating it. I don’t recall ever buying pop from it and that’s all it would have held. No sandwiches, no soups, no salads, or even chocolate bars. There was a store close by for many of those items.

These days, the schools have so many machines. I suspect that the wee tots still get to bring their lunches in whatever cool lunch box/bag is the style. For that matter I have one now with Kali on it. I would use it but I usually bring soups that are in containers bigger than the thin lunch box and don’t do well tipped on their sides. In fact, the Kali box would only be good for sandwiches and cut up apples as it’s not deep enough for most varieties of lunch.

I don’t tend to eat sandwiches very often and I still don’t drink pop (soda) very often. Lunch is in whatever opaque bag I have. Lulu Lemon is one trendy lunchbag. I don’t use it for the fad setting but it is a good size for lunches. I imagine there are a lot of kids today that buy their lunches in cafeterias. That was a luxury once, even if it was cafeteria food.

 

I suppose I’ve gone on about lunches because I’m making up my annual fall time soups. An easy way to bring something nourishing without having to waste precious sleeping time in the mornings.

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Teenage Sex and Teachers

When I was in high school we had this drama teacher. Big at emoting; surprise surprise. There were a range of us, from those who wanted to be there acting to those who were slacking with an easy elective class. I was still shy but actually liked to act. One of the better “acting” students was, if anything, very dramatic. She and this teacher would emote at each other constantly, to the exclusion of the rest of us. In fact, he barely taught us at points because they were too busy googoo gaaing at each other.

Were they having sex? Most of us thought so. Did we care? Not really. I only cared because my instruction was suffering as this teacher gave one student who didn’t need it all of his time. Were we scandalized? No. Presuming they did have some sort of affair, I have to say that 17-18 year-old girl definitely was cognizant of what she did, wanted it, hoped for it. She certainly wasn’t coerced or influenced and may have manipulated the situation.

Hero worship, big daddy syndrome or whatever you want to call it has gone on for a very long time. Hollywood perpetuates it with leading men often 20 years older than the women. Only in a few cases have they (Hollywood) been brave enough to actually have a female lead older than the male. Harold and Maude is an example of a spring/winter relationship where friendship and personality does not see the boundaries of age. I’ve never had a problem with relationships where one person was significantly younger/older than the other.

A friend of mine is married to a man 18 years older, and friends of theirs just got married and there is nearly 30 years difference. I’ve dated men 15 years younger or older than me. What balances age? Attitude, similarities, wisdom, youthfulness and maturity.

A teacher in their 20s or 30s attracted to an 18-year-old isn’t that odd in our society. Where the problem comes in, today at least, is that there is seen to be an imbalance of power. A teacher could in essence coerce a student into having sex with them for passing grades. This applies as well to colleges and universities. Such fraternization isn’t just frowned on but basis for dismissal. Old movies are rife with college professors married to the young women they slept with, causing their first marriage to fail. Of course, a professor can also be blackmailed by a student in such a relationship.

There have been several cases of teachers being charged; sometimes with true grounds for sexual harassment. Sometimes the instructor was blackmailed or set up without any truth. There are people who will use any situation to manipulate and have power over someone. Doing an internet search will show that there are enough cases of teachers of both genders having sex with their students.

A female Burnaby teacher at St. Thomas More school is now under investigation for alleged relations with a grade 11 student. Tom Ellison was convicted with a conditional sentence for his sexual congress with 17 students (that he confessed to being with). Twelve of seventeen former students complained of their relations with him in the 70s. Because laws for any teacher having sex with a person under 18 regardless of consent were not passed until 1988, the sentence was of a lesser degree.

There are two aspects to teacher/professors having sex with students. The main one for both is the abuse of a position of authority.  For school teachers it is also the issue of underage sex. There are definite cases of rape and sexual abuse, but there are also the nebulous cases and it becomes unclear who instigated and if a student would ever suffer ill effects from the sexual encounters with their teachers. The simplest way to keep it from getting ambiguous is the law as it stands:

The Criminal Code does not now criminalize consensual sexual activity with or between persons 14 or over, unless it takes place in a relationship of trust or dependency, in which case sexual activity with persons over 14 but under 18 can constitute an offence, notwithstanding their consent. Even consensual activity with those under 14 but over 12 may not be an offence if the accused is under 16 and less than two years older than the complainant. The exception, of course, is anal intercourse, to which unmarried persons under 18 cannot legally consent, although both the Ontario Court of Appeal(3) and the Quebec Court of Appeal(4) have struck down the relevant section of the Criminal Code.

Blame can often be shared. There is a bigger difference of sex with a 14-year-old than with an 17-year-old. Coerced sex is never right but consensual sex gets iffy. Teachers are now being tried mostly on the basis that they are going against the law. If anyone asked me in a court of law if that high school classmate of long ago was coerced, I would definitely say not. But if the affair affected how we were being taught, I would definitely say yes. And if one had broken up with the other, there could have been blackmail. It’s better to keep it black and white.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2007/01/26/bc-ellison.html

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My Greatest Science Fiction

Back around grade 10 or 11, I was taking biology and had to do an experiment and write a report. I chose to do something with fish, guppies most likely. Therefore I would get some guppies–we might actually have had some still, and colored lights. I would then test how different colored light affected fish.

Well, I never did buy the lights at all. I did no research, I read no book. But I did submit the experiment. I wrote up a full paper on how the various lights (red, blue, green, yellow) had affected the fish. I can’t remember what I wrote but I talked about how the red light made them sluggish…or maybe it was the yellow, though I think I equate yellow with sunlight and had them more active.

The experiment covered several weeks and in the end, i received a B+ for the paper. Not bad for a piece of science fiction. Not it could be I got away with it because the teacher knew nothing about biology, being the physics teacher, but that’s the point.

I don’t really consider this cheating because I didn’t copy anything from anyone else. I just made it all up. Somehow, this tale came out tonight after we did Mexican with margaritas and came back to the dorm where several people actually worked on stories. I did too. I’m nearly done on the Berchta story. My day for being critiqued is Wednesday.

I know what will be said: my story is very complex. I’ve had to create a society, religions, races, geography, culture, myths and history. It’s not easy but I am looking forward to getting some direction. And I’m still waiting to see if I received a grant or not.

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Back in the USSR

In high school our gang of girls that would hang around together, spend time at each other’s homes watching TV and discussing boys. Common wardrobe of the era and in Calgary was jeans, T-shirts and those lumberjack shirts worn as jackets, or jean jackets. Marie, Debbie, Kathy, Cathy, Robyn, Leslie, Joanne, Heather and Joyce made up the main group of girls. The guys varied; some were friends and some boyfriends. We would get together at someone’s house and the guys who played guitars would twang away, half-heartedly working on something while the girls tried to come up with band names.

None of us sang. None of us played instruments so we dreamt of our stage careers and how we could play tambourines or rattles while the guys played. It never amounted to much but jamming musically and verbally. I think my boyfriend, Randy, may have been one of the players but mostly we just had a place to hang. There was the guy with the black Beatles style haircut and the somewhat hawkish nose. There was Gordon Amsterdam who had a penchant in school for eating chocolate spread and candy sprinkle sandwiches. Gordon was blond and slim so this nutritious diet didn’t seem to do much damage to his weight. There was Lorne and…I remember so few of the boy’s names but Gordon’s always had that mysterious espionage-spy sound to it. James Bond meet Gordon Amsterdam.

One of the houses we often went to was Ollie’s. Ollie was pronounced like the “O”in Olaf not the “O” in Oliver. Where we knew Ollie from I’m not sure as he was slightly older than our high school going selves and he didn’t seem to be in school. But then my boyfriend was two years older than me, a world of difference in those days. He graduated and worked in a bar. I looked older than I was and would often get into the bar, especially if he was along.

So perhaps Ollie was Randy’s friend. Ollie was quiet, shy really. Most of our boyfriends still fit the gangly filling-out stage but Ollie was solid and muscular, well-formed, dark haired, tall and probably could have had any girlfriend if he had ever noticed them. He didn’t. Even when we were at his place (it might have been his parents’) he seemed oblivious. What mattered to Ollie, the only girl he seemed to care about, was his car. He spent loving hours on it, his head under the hood. I’m sure it was a classic but I can’t remember what it was. Still, Ollie cherished it.

In truth, while we daydreamed about being a band, hanging in Ollie’s basement on old couches and mattresses, taking illicit substances (at least for the age we were) all we really wanted was a place to be. Most of us couldn’t hang out at our parent’s without them checking in. Malls were the only option and got boring pretty quickly. We could smoke, drink, just chat and maybe neck with our boyfriends. And there was Ollie, the quiet one, the guy from Russia, who worked on his car and obsessively played the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR.”

I can’t remember or even picture most of those guys now, but Ollie was a vignette, who rarely participated in a conversation, yet still memorable as a guy out of place and time even then.

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