I've been thinking about high school lately. These past two weekends I drove two hours west to visit my parents. Mom's having some health issues, which have for the most part resolved. I needed to check in on Mom and Dad. I want to appreciate the time we have left.
When I drive through the town and visit the house where I grew up, remembering becomes reflexive. With my kids entering their teens, memories of my own teen years bubble to the surface. They're mostly good memories.
I remember certain individuals and moments from high school almost photographically. More generally, I remember being impatient to finish high school so that I could move on to college and the rest of my life.
I took my high school yearbooks off my parents' bookshelf and carted them home. I showed my class photos to my kids. "You look younger than everyone else," my daughter observed.
I skimmed the sea of fresh, exuberant faces. I perused my friends' comments jotted on the back pages and in the margins. Apart from the kinds of things you would expect to see written in a yearbook, things like "didn't we have fun in such and such a class," "hope we're in some of the same classes next year," and "to a good friend" I found things that I hope still apply to me.
"You're a good listener."
"You're a truly good person."
"You could be an outstanding writer. All it takes is a little self-discipline."
My daughter started high school last week. She's adjusting to her new schedule and a different homework load. I suspect she's also radically changing the way she looks at the world. It was during high school, especially the summer I spent at the Governor's School of North Carolina, when my questions about why things were the way they were became sharper, and my world view became more jaded. My daughter is testing her limits these days, just as I did over thirty years ago. She's thinking that she may want to become a writer.
When I started high school, my parents were younger than I am now, but I think I'm in better physical shape than they were then. My daughter is more self-disciplined about writing than I was then, but I think I may have something of value to teach her now about the craft, the art, and the experience of writing.
Good writing reflects an artful balance of living and remembering. Being present in the moment, at work or in high school, rather than living in anticipation of the next thing. Being honest but not brutal, true but not harsh. Remembering what happened, not what you wanted to happen or wished had happened. I can put words together, but assembling them so that my reader truly experiences what I'm expressing takes work.
I didn't really understand that in high school. I wonder if anyone does? The teacher who wrote that I could be an outstanding writer was admonishing me as much as she was complementing me.
I wish I had heard my teacher more clearly. I hope that my daughter hears me.