The Facebook High School Problem

Over the weekend, I got thinking about high school and promptly got on Facebook to check out what my former classmates were doing now.

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Not my school – actually, a school in New Zealand. It’s a good (happy, glossy, promotion-purposed) depiction of things, though. Source.

This was a bad, bad idea. Facebook has a way of simultaneously presenting the best and worst of people; when you’re looking at what’s publicly displayed, it’s very much the glossy stuff without any cracks in the veneer through which sore points might show and for which you might feel compassion, and without the jackass posts or comments that remind you of what kind of people they really are. No, it’s all beautiful photos of husbands, wives, children, exotic holidays, happy friends and fancy job titles instead.

I wasn’t a raging social success at high school. Academically, I did quite well, but socially, I was a disaster. I had no confidence, I was shy, and, aware of how nerdy my grades made me and how dorky I actually was, I was scared to do anything that would brand me even more uncool than I already was.

The school itself was a public co-ed one in the suburbs of Melbourne. The families who had enough money sent their kids to private schools, but those who didn’t quite have enough for that but still had enough to own houses and live in the vicinity sent their kids to this school instead. It was considered nicer, less wild and a bit better academically (my sister would snort at that) than the other nearby options.

It was a school full of kids from families trying very hard but frantically trying to look like they weren’t. A lot of my classmates, in hindsight, were the same. As well as the usual trying to fit in teenage business, there was a strong attitude of just not ever being caught getting into anything. The only form of passion really celebrated was sporting prowess, which I didn’t have, and you could do things deemed “bad” like draw on your school organizer with permanent marker or get smashed at the weekend, but anything else required the appearance of not caring unless it was something so niche-y that it was too weird to make fun of.

In other words, it was like a lot of other schools, really. It wasn’t the worst school to have attended, but it wasn’t the best either.

So I found myself looking at the public profiles of the people with whom I graduated but who are not my Facebook friends. Quite a few of them were still friends with the exact same people they were friends with back then, living in the same area and, my God, making slightly updated versions of the same jokes. It was that last one that really awakened some contempt in me, I admit. They had had all these years to do what they wanted with their lives, experienced all manner of personal and social upheavals and yet there they were, making a slightly advanced version of “lol ur gay” jokes.

The rest of what I felt, though, was jealousy and inadequacy, a icky wave of it fresh from my seventeen year old self. It was ridiculous, I knew it even as I felt the mood coming over me, but I was acutely aware of once again being somehow on the outside, just like I always had been. I didn’t have the sense of everything fitting together, place and person and background, and, as much as I might mock them, I can’t help but long for friendships that strong and enduring. Basically, fifteen years later and 8400 kilometres away, I was still wanting to fit in with my high school peers somehow.

Failing that, because I quickly realised I was, I wanted to somehow prove I was better than them, that I was actually above all that shit and somehow having the last laugh. Again, it didn’t work. Thinking about all the things that I’m grateful for in my life didn’t ease the sense of inadequacy I felt, especially when I thought of my work and my financial situation. In fact, that just made it worse, because I’m already second-guessing myself on that front and then I could add guilt to the mix of ugly feelings, for not being appreciative enough of what I do have.

Like I said, it was ridiculous, but is it really that surprising? These were the first people against whom I ever judged myself as something like an adult. To find myself looking at them again even in the a distant, cyber way was to once again do the same measuring. I wonder if it’s so unusual at all that the inadequate feelings still so readily rise to the surface, especially when the measuring that is happening takes place somewhere like bloody Facebook.

Ultimately, the way out of that nastiness into which I had cast myself was to shut the damn browser window, get on with my day, and remind myself of why I’ve made the choices I have, the plans we’ve got, and the various ideas I have for making the things I’m not happy about better. It took, all in all, quite a bit of energy to wade through it.

I’m not going to conclude this a list of the things that are great about my life for which I’m glad, because I don’t think that’s the lesson in this. No, this is a note to myself.

Next time you feel curious about what such and such is up to, STOP. Do not start Googling anyone you once knew, especially pre-university. The answers are simplistic, you know they don’t tell the whole story, and you won’t like them anyway. You’re just going to feel bad about yourself, and then feel bad about feeling bad about yourself. Hell, you’ll end up overthinking things so much that you’ll eventually feel bad for your snap judgements of them and how unfair you’re being by not crediting them with being complex thoughtful humans just like everyone else and even typing this is exhausting.

Go read about the Social Survival Mammoths and Gypsies, (I love Wait But Why), remind yourself to focus on you, and do something vaguely productive instead.

Ok? Ok.

 

 

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Six months

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Shortly after trying his first food

Mr K turned six months old yesterday! It feels like a lot has happened, not just because I haven’t been blogging and I skipped a five months post, but also because… well, a lot of stuff HAS happened. He’s grabbing toys and rolling over like there’s no tomorrow, though he still isn’t fond of being on his tummy and he has started eating rice porridge (homemade by R). He goes to childcare a couple of days (give or take) a week and doesn’t totally hate it. Most significantly, he lost his grandfather, gained a passport, and made his first very long international flight.

Those previous two sentences might give you an idea of why I haven’t been around.

Enough, April. Bring on May. Please.

 

Cherry blossoms and death

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“… the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short.” – CherrHomaru Cantu

According to the calendar, it has been spring for over a month. The equinox marked another official beginning of the season. Yet it is only now that spring really feels like it’s in business, for the cherry blossoms are blooming.

You can get over just about anything if you do it enough times, and so it is with me and the cherry blossoms. The delight I might have felt when I experienced the sakura the first couple of times has faded, tempered by all the other things I associate with the season. The chaotic frenzy of the new school year. Hayfever. Crowds and a near-obsession with capturing the perfect photo and selfie at the expense of the real world. The reality that picnics under the cherry blossoms actually just involve getting drunk enough that you might not notice your backside is freezing off. Winter still not bloody going away.

But there is still more to it than that.

Unlike April 2nd 2016, which has been grey and cool, April 2nd of 2015 was a warm, clear day. It was beautiful weather for viewing the cherry blossoms and that was what I set out to do. Normally, I would have been working for at least part of the day but it was spring vacation and my Thursday students had taken the day off. One of my other students had recommended a place in Tokyo that was very popular, explaining at length the routes one can walk to visit several different vantage points. I was 10 weeks pregnant, though not many people knew it yet, and certainly not my students, in the throes of morning sickness and struggling to gather the energy to do anything much at all. Yet I was also conscious that my obvious interest and the effort my student had put in meant it would disappoint her, even if very quietly, if I did not make the journey to see them.

I made it to the train station where I needed to switch lines and stopped for lunch first; skipping it just exacerbated the “morning” sickness, which was really afternoon/evening sickness with me. I tucked my phone away long enough to pick out a restaurant, order, pay, and find a seat. It was about a five minute window where I was not paying attention to my phone. Just five minutes. Yet in that time, I got a message.

It was from my mother. My uncle was dead.

Ten years ago, in 2005, I remember being utterly offended when a friend announced her engagement via ambiguous text message. The world’s changed since then, though, and even if ambiguity still grates on my nerves, text messages are a more acceptable means of breaking major news now. In this case, perhaps it was the least painful way to do it. As she later explained, she needed me to know before the Facebook tributes started flowing and told me for her, but the idea of making that particular international phone call, dealing with possibly not getting through or Skype, wasn’t something any of us were keen on. It was the right choice.

My uncle was sick, really, for a long time before that from diabetes-related problems that were only exacerbated by what were  honestly questionable lifestyle choices. The doctors had told him a couple of years before that they didn’t expect him to live longer than five years.  For all that, though, it was still a shock. He was always a part of our lives until, that day, he wasn’t anymore.

Accompanying shock was a wave of overwhelming helplessness. I remember sitting there, feeling suddenly and unpleasantly both hot and cold, and just not knowing what I should, could, would do. Lunch arrived and I had to eat it, and somehow that became continuing on with my original plan because the alternative was to cancel it and go home, and to do that would mean beginning the painful process of accepting that my uncle had died.

Details from the rest of the day stand out starkly in my mind.  The blue skies, the crowds, the strong wind that blew through the trees. I remember feeling sick, exhausted, dazed, and I remember seeing the cherry blossoms even as I remember not really taking them in. There’s the overpriced juice from a vending machine when I started feeling sick again, the darkness of the subway that took me there and, finally, the burning of tears in squeezed-shut eyes on the return trip.

I found myself regretting my choice today as I was walking along. Aside from the reasons I already mentioned,  I made myself carry on with my viewing plans because, if my pregnancy was a success (and it was such a very big if back then in my mind), I might not have a chance to carry out such a trip again in the immediate future. To do so with a baby or small child did not seem wise. I’m pretty sure that I was correct about that, but I’m not sure now that I’ll be able to bring myself to do so even when/if it becomes feasible again. I think of that place and I remember pale blossoms, blue skies, crowds, a sense of unreality and the first shock of loss.

Cherry blossoms are finicky things. Some people plan visits to Japan around their blooming, but I honestly wouldn’t recommend it. A streak of cold weather can delay them, a burst of warm weather can bring them forward, and the rains and winds that are so common in April can sweep them away with brutal efficiency. They do not last long.

Aside from their beauty, though, it is their transience that makes them so worthy of excitement. They come and go so very quickly, with a degree of unpredictability that even the sakura watch weather forecasts cannot really overcome. As Cantu noted, they are seen as representative of life itself.

I didn’t go home for the funeral. I wish I had even as I recall how impossible it felt. A ten hour minimum flight is tough at the best of times, and early pregnancy certainly isn’t that, and my budget was already badly strained. The pragmatist in me noted that attending would have been for me, that while I think such a thing would have been appreciated, my fleeting appearance would have caused my family even more stress with having to manage me, my flights, and my less than fully healthy state. The last time I saw my uncle was the day after Christmas 2014, briefly, and that has to be enough. I can wish that I could back in time and lengthen it, to say things that were left unsaid, but that won’t make it possible.

Writing this, I’m finding that I no longer regret this new association I have between cherry blossoms and death. It’s a reminder, even if it is sobering and depressing. All we have is now. Nothing lasts. The good, the bad, it all gets swept away, sooner or later.

Defining and renegotiating success?

I read this article, “Why feminism needs a new barometer for success” late last week, concerning how female freedom and success are still defined in conservative terms that concern financial success and a balancing of traditional roles. As the article’s author notes, “empowerment is presented as earning a high income, and “having it all” means an enviable job, a family, and owning your own home. But that’s not every woman’s idea of empowerment.” It goes on from there to examine other ways success might be defined, offering up some more altruistic and self-fulfiling alternatives where money, for instance, is not the end goal.

If the weather is an analogy for my life, I can only hope there are going to be more pleasant months on offer than there in the average year in the Kanto area.

It struck a chord with me because this is something I have been grappling with for several years now. I have spent that time working part-time rather than full-time and dealing with the consequences of doing so. I wouldn’t say I’ve spent all the time I’ve saved productively, and I definitely won’t claim that it has been easy financially, but it has been on my own terms and that’s been very rewarding in its own right.

One thing that I have found difficult is the extent to which, despite my best intentions, my wants are still shaped by the traditional economic values and related social norms alluded to above. I don’t much of an interest in designer clothes or other designer wares, big, expensive nights out are not really something I do, and I’m a bit ambivalent about owning our own house.

BUT! I’m sucked in just as easily as ever by new clothes and the prospect of overseas holidays.. I also spend far too much money eating out and, as already evinced here on this blog, hanging out in cafes and while I might not feel strongly about home ownership in itself, per se, I’d like the freedom to actually own the cats without anyone objecting or renovate or whatever Those are just the things I want. If you factor in long-term necessities, things one might describe as “boring yet important”, such as insurance, saving for retirement, paying off debt, back-up plans should things go disastrously wrong,etc., then the whole thing becomes much more difficult.

Renegotiating the balance between the life I want, the one that is expected of me, and paying for both of the above is something I am struggling with anew now. It is one thing to make these decisions when R and I are two adults who pool our finances for shared resources and otherwise manage ourselves. It’s another when there’s a small, dependent person entering the mix whose needs, for the next while, are going to be very much front and centre. The opportunities we want to give him in life are not free of charge, but some of the best things we can offer – our affection, time, energy – cannot be compensated for financially. The balancing act is becoming ever more difficult.