Monday, October 18, 2010

Here's a Little Advice

There has been a lot of talk about bullying in high schools recently.  I can relate.  When I was in middle school and high school, it was like I had a big pink target on my forehead and virtually EVERYONE knew I was gay and tormented me for it.  The problem was that I was still working on trying to be the swinging straight boy.  I was self aware enough to know that I was "in a phase" that I might or might not outgrow.  I tried to take comfort in the fact that I read in a book somewhere that lots of boys go through that phase and don't turn out gay.  Well, that didn't work out.
Not everyone tormented me, of course.  There were the fat kids who got picked on as much as I did.  There were other sort of awkward, strange kids who got picked on.  And, if I was lucky, there might be a kid who was a little gayer than I was who could avert attention away from my big homo self.  Even with the other targets around, the assholes who tormented me seemed to have plenty to go around.  It was a miserable time. 
With the benefit of 25 years under my belt away from high school, I want to share some advice and survival tips for anyone who might be able to relate.

1.  Popular and not popular ends the day you graduate.  When you go to college or into the working world, your high school social status doesn't matter for squat.  The once popular girls (we'll talk more about them later) join sororities with the other formerly popular girls and fight among themselves for queen bee status and boyfriends.  They will not have time to notice you.  Once popular boys join fraternities, if they make it to college at all, and compete for the titles of "He Who Gets Laid Most" and "He Who Can Drink Most."  Guys like you and me, we arrive at college among people who have no knowledge of our high school social standing and are more interested in us if we're fun to hang out with, share the same values or do the same things.  I remember being amazed my freshman year at Luther with the fact that people kind of wanted to spend time with me- for a while  anyway, but that's for another number in this list.  Once you make like minded friends, you'll begin to forget being stuffed in lockers and getting swirlies.

2.  On the subject of popular girls, there are generally two types.  One type is popular because she is outgoing and friendly to just about everyone.  She will cross social strata to a degree.  If you are nice to her, say hi and smile,  she will acknowledge you as a human being.  If you happen to figure out if she is in any activities that interest you, it is worth sitting on the yearbook committee or science club, because she may get to know you and have your back when it counts.  They other type of popular girl is the opposite.  She may be pretty, or not, but she is a hag. She achieved her rank through cruelty to other girls and intimidation to keep all those beneath her in their place.  Beneath the wickedness, she is full of insecurities and secretly hates herself.  All those who cling to her as friends are self loathing morons.  Fully half of these girls will end up bitter and in trailer parks.   Okay, there is no statistic supporting that, but I think it is probably true.  Anyway, here's a tip, don't give this mean chick any information about you.  Smile and say hi with indifference and that's it.  If she tries to talk to you, say you're late for something- a waxing maybe- and walk away.  If she gets you to be even slightly vulnerable, she will turn on you and use what ever tidbit you've given her against you.  Keep in mind, this girl is miserable and likes everyone else to be miserable. 

3.  Virtually the same goes for popular boys as popular girls.  The nice popular boy is handsome, outgoing and genuinely kind.  If he sees you getting beat up, he will actually think about stopping it, but likely won't do anything about it.  He may make a gesture later by making small talk with you when no one else is looking.  It's just a gesture, but take it.  Be cool.  He doesn't want to hang with you, but is just acknowledging that he knows you're a human.  The mean popular boys are the same as the mean popular girls but with a penis.  They typically aren't as cunning as the girls, but high school boys aren't terribly bright generally.  If they give you crap, try not to get in to a verbal sparring match with them. You will always win, but they won't care and will still beat the crap out of you.  Avoid provoking them if you can.  They too will end up miserable.  I also guarantee that they will look like hell at the 20th class reunion. Hell. No really. I promise.

4.  Stay focused on things that make you happy and connect you with other people.  This doesn't mean spending every waking moment playing video games with your one friend or painting your nails black and being morose while listening to depressing music.  Goth is so over done.  You will have to actually work at this, especially if you are a bit of an introvert.  Find something to do outside of school with other people.  Volunteer for something at church or at the animal shelter or stuffing envelopes or raking yards for old people.  Most of all, practice being friendly, opening your mouth to say something and listening to people.  Half the battle of overcoming being shy and awkward is to shut down the voice in your head and listening to people.  If it takes you a second to collect your next response, tough.  It is called a pause.  Conversations have them.  Connect with people.  Practice.  You'll have fun and build up your confidence.

5.  If you choose not to go to college but instead work, leave town. Hell, leave town if you go to college, too. This one is simple. If you are in a small town, go to a bigger town.  If you are in a large city, go to another neighborhood.  Why?  Because the miserable, mean "popular" kids who aren't smart enough to get into college or get pregnant and marry are going to stay in town with you and will be assholes for the rest of their lives.  Leave. Town. As. Soon. As. You. Graduate.

6.  Don't do what I did.  How's that for advice?  I was shy and afraid and miserable.  Instead of following the advice in #4 above, I started drinking and doing drugs excessively.  Lighting up once in a blue moon may not be a bad thing for you, but don't make your life's goal one of being zoned out all the time.  I did this from early high school until I was 21 and it took me years to grow up and left me without a lot of enduring friendships from my youth.  Just trust me.  It is so not worth the money.

7.  Adults are okay. If you have reasonably cool parents who are interested in your day, tell them about your day.  Let's be clear, your parents will always probably be a little uncool because that's how parents should be.  It is a warning sign if you have really cool parents because that might mean they have no boundaries. (A mom who wants to pole dance for your friends? Bad sign.)  But, if you have reasonably cool parents, let them be there for you.  If you're getting shit at school, tell them.  They will probably freak out and try to fix things, but tell them that for now you just want them to listen to you about it.  Don't let your dad go over to your tormentor's home to kick the shit out of your tormentor's father until the day before graduation if he must.  If you don't want to tell your parents, find a cool teacher.  Really.  You can probably find one in the English department- maybe a creative writing or speech teacher, or your band director.  Ask if you can talk and just have them listen.  Adults will help.  I had two teachers that I could talk to a little.  One I think saved my life at a particularly low point.  Thanks, Mrs. Friest.

8.  Always be your best self, even when it is hard.  That is so difficult to do, but if you start practicing it won't be so hard later in life.  Be kind. Just because other people might be mean to you, doesn't make it okay for you to pick on the rung lower than you if there is one.  Be friendly.  This is hard, but more people will have your back if you are pleasant to be around.  You don't have to be giddy and effusive. Just be cool.  Be compassionate.  Usually there is a reason that other kids are jerks.  You don't have to analyze them or approve of their behavior, but if the day comes when the mean popular girl falls on her ass and smacks her head on the icy sidewalk, give her a hand.  Laugh inside.  Laugh really really really hard inside but give her a hand. She might not take it, but at least you've had a good laugh and made the gesture.

9.  It does get better.  Yup.  Lots and lots of people have been saying this lately.  They are saying it because it is true.  Once you graduate from high school, that whole mess is behind you.  There is a whole world of people out there who will think you are fun, interesting and worth spending time with.  It will happen for you, no matter how awkward and odd you are.  It will happen even if you are the mentally challenged twin in the set who gets a 3.85 grade point average, unlike her sister who gets a 4.0.  And I'm not referencing anyone here in particular, Jean.  Really, I'm not.  ;o)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cranberry Festival- The Sequel

Oh boy, oh boy!  It's time for another review of the Cranberry Festival Parade!  This past weekend the tiny village of Stone Lake, WI held it's annual Cranberry Festival.  It was a brisk autumn day but about 25,000 crowded- and I mean crowded- into all 10 or 12 city blocks of Stone Lake. Why?  Because it is FUN!
Here are Curt and our guest Marina eagerly awaiting the parade.  Some of the parade pics are out of order, but I didn't want to reorder them by cutting and pasting HTML.  And will you know the difference?  Probably not.
 Here is Grand Marshall Tuddie Gillette enthusiastically accepting a pair of crocheted panties from one of her adoring fans.  If you don't know who Tuddie Gillette is and what she has done for the town of Stone Lake, join the club.  She looked like she might still be fun at a party.
 Okay, these are the Senior Center King and Queen.  Anything odd about this picture?  What struck me as odd is that the king and queen hardly look old enough to be committed to a senior center.  Maybe they've reached the end of their usefulness on the family cranberry farm.  Maybe they are loony as all get out.  Maybe their children just didn't want them around to burden them when the actually got old and dumped them at the senior center.  In any case, sad.
 These little tykes must have gotten my notes from last year's critique.  They were smiling and waving a lot compared to last year's little duds who looked utterly miserable.  The little gal in front saw me and was trying to give me a jazz hand.  Needs some work, but she'll get there.
What happened to the little cars?  The Shriners now drive scooters in an exciting choreographed ballet.  I personally liked the little cars.  However, with America's obesity epidemic, I suspect today's Shriners no longer fit in the little cars.  Did I ever tell you that I had a former co-worker who grew up in Hayward, let's call her Pamy Phrancis, who stole a Shriner clown car and crashed it into a tree when she was in high school?  She's a folk hero to me.
 Okay, this queen got her picture in my blog for two reasons.  First, this is just a nice well balanced picture-  great colors, action shot, nice.   Second, she was the ONLY queen in the whole parade in a dress who waved and smiled like a queen should wave and smile.  A+ to her.
 This dude was in marching band and trying to be all bad ass with his mohawk.  You're still in band.  Low rung.  Sorry dude.
 Here are two little campaigners for Sean Duffy for Congress.  He's a Republican.  These little girls were indoctrinated early into the cult.  The one driving wants to grow up to marry a rich attorney with a narcissistic personality disorder in hopes that she will one day be a Senator's wife.  The passenger is just hoping she can repress her lesbian tendencies convincingly enough to rise through Republican pundit ranks to become the next Ann Coulter.  Tragic.
 Look who showed up with The Singing Cranberries- my gal Mary Catherine Gallagher.  I worshipped her.
 Here is that creepy closeted scout master marching behind his little troop of gay haters.  Methinks... blah blah blah.  At least ditch the dusty rose neckerchief.  It gives me the willies.
 Seig Heil!  Seig Heil!  These sad queens were doing the synchronized seig heil wave.  They clearly did not get my notes from last year. STOP THE SYNCHRONIZED WAVING ALREADY!  No one likes it.  I want to know what old 1940's washed up beauty queen is still teaching this shit.  Maybe we should put HER in the Stone Lake Senior Center a bit early.
 I was momentarily distracted by a cute dad across the street.  Okay, if every moment between floats counts as momentarily, then yes, I was momentarily distracted.
 Last year these ladies were dressed up as Pink Ladies.  This year they were cross dressing as Danny Zuko.  I'm still convinced there is a fair amount of weed consumption going on here.
I like the percussion section of marching bands.  We were treated to 5 marching bands- 3 high school and 2 middle school.  One middle school band was from a Catholic school and was playing a hymn.  Disqualified.  Only one of the high school bands was properly dressed.  See above.  This boy is thinking "Could I get laid if I wasn't in band?"  You'll never know, young man.  You'll never know.
 Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong.
No one, especially an emotionally fragile 17 year old boy should EVER be cajoled into wearing a white one piece jumper in public.  I don't care that he gets the great authority that comes with being the drum major.  He will never live this down, at least in my mind.  He may be over it, but I, gentle readers, will never be.
My favorite part of the parade.  I wanted to smooch him.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Falling Farther In

I miss my parents today.  I miss them every day, but the last few weeks have had an unusual amount of longing for them.  It could be that they have appeared in my dreams in various roles, as have other departed friends and family.  It could just be the autumn.  According pagan religious traditions, in the autumn the veil between this world and the after world (death?) becomes thinner.   One might be able to more clearly "hear" the words of departed loved ones, catch glimpses of dear spirits in our periphery, talk to God or the gods, as the case may be. Maybe that is why I am missing them- because I can catch something of their essence near me but can't be with them.
Logically it all makes sense that a religious tradition that is based on the rhythms of the earth would have such beliefs.  Look around.  The bounty of summer is coming to a close.  The killing frost will turn the flowers and leaves of our annual garden plants black. Perennial garden plants die back to the ground saving energy in their roots.  Deciduous trees begin to drop their leaves in preparation for the long sleep.  The veil thins to allow easy passage around the circle into death.  This circle, the cycle in and out of life, into death and back into life, is what I rely on to get me through winter.  Like the trees, my mind sort of goes to sleep in a seasonal depression every year.  I just need to trust that the spring will come.
For a person who is not religious, I spend a fair amount of time pondering religion and the spirit.  I steer clear of religion because of the divisiveness of it all.  My god is better than your god.  My sin is less than your sin. My love is better than your love. My celestial underpants (Mormon- for real) are better than your big granny underpants (Lutheran)... and so on.  So many heinous behaviors are done wrapped in the cloak of religion.  Yet, according to what I understand of religion, the god they claim to follow would/should be horrified by what is done in his/her name.
I think it is fine if people choose to be religious.  Most people long to be a part of a community of like minded people.  We just do.  Social is survival.  Its a part of what makes our species successful.  But I question why these communities have to be separate and superior to one another based on ideology that is often more debatable nuance than actual difference in core belief.  It's that kind of thinking that drives me away, but often leaves me just slightly outside of having a strong sense of community in my life.
That is not to say that I feel alone.  Far from it.  I have family and friends aplenty. I have a strong sense and belief that we are all connected by something.  By what I'm not completely sure, but for me there is an undeniable connection between all living things.  I feel it in my body.  I can stand in a sea of people and feel it- a shared common humanness.  I can look into the eyes of my dogs and see it.  I can nurture a plant from spring to fall and sense that the energy and care I put into helping that plant thrive has bonded me to it in some way based on the exchange of care.  I give the plant care.  It blooms and surrounds me with beauty.  I don't think that connection is god with a capital G necessarily.  I'm not sure.  But, I do think that at the very minimum we are bound together by a collective will to first survive.  Plants that are sick will still shoot up a few leaves in an effort to heal.  The human brain in it's most lizard like simplicity will keep the heart beating and lungs breathing while other failing organs send out poison to bring an end to the body.
At the beginning of last month, a former friend of mine killed herself after struggling many years with depression.  We had a falling out many years ago and I only learned of her death through a mutual but distant friend.  Strangely, even though we hadn't communicated or laid eyes on one another in over 10 years, her suicide has haunted me a bit since then.  I'm sad for her.  I'm angry at her.  I'm have compassion for her. I think what she did was cruel to her partner.  Suicide is just so taboo.  It challenges our sense of the basic level of our connectedness- the instinct to survive.  I think that is part of what makes the act seem so violent, so uncomfortable, so confusing, so infuriating.  I saw my mother fight with all her being to rid her body of leukemia, to extend her life.  I've seen many friends with AIDS fight until their bodies gave out.  So this business of choosing one's out is deeply complex for me-  a moment of grave illness of another sort, another kind of "giving out" perhaps?
Maybe my former friend will come to me in a dream, forgiven and forgiving, and explain this to me.  Maybe she will come and tell me that I have to figure this out myself, or that it is none of my damn business.  Not knowing her, or particularly liking her, for 10+ years sort of puts it in to that realm a bit doesn't it?  In the mean time, I'll accept the slide into darkness that happens every year, experience the comfort of memories of friends that are no longer here, and trust that the sun will come back starting on the winter solstice, that the days will get longer and that I'll get easier to live with starting around March or so.