Archive for July 2012
One of the popular kids invited me to a summer afternoon party at a country club, and despite misgivings, I decided to go. My mom took me shopping on purpose to find an outfit: pale green shorts and a patterned top that matched. This was her idea of what counted for well-dressed and appropriate for the occasion, and I trusted her because A. I had zero fashion sense of my own, and B. I wanted to fit in.
My mom dropped me off outside the club. Sounds of the party came from the terrace around the corner. I remember the moment of walking up a grassy slope toward the popular kids and feeling uncertain in my clothes. I remember wondering if I’d ever be popular and fearing that I wouldn’t know what to say or how to be funny. I remember my optimistic hope that I just had to be myself and all would be fine. I fooled myself that I wouldn’t care too much what they thought of me.
Here’s what I knew of popular kids: they had parties, nice clothes, careful hair, purses, dermatologists, and cars. They drank, smoked weed, planned prom, ran the paper drive, and were elected class officers. They dated each other and their families were members of the same club. They were cheerleaders, football players, and tennis players. The girls were usually nice if I was talking to them one at a time. The popular boys didn’t talk to me unless I was with one of the girls.
Here’s a quick summary of my friends: they rode the city bus, played the violin, sang in the school musicals, threw pottery, liked math, took photos for the school paper, drew, played volleyball, fenced, and gardened. They didn’t date. They were nice in groups and even nicer one-on-one. The girls had sleepovers where they baked cookies, ate bowls of M&M’s, and stayed up late watching black and white movies on TV. What the boys did for fun is anybody’s guess.
In short, it was nice being with my own friends rather than in the popular crowd, but it was curious to watch them, like they were an alternate, fancy race growing up in a parallel universe side-by-side with mine, right in the same school hallways and cafeteria.
Since those days, my close friendships have grown more distant, and over the past couple of years, in the wake of a reunion, I’ve developed caring relationships with girls who once were popular. I find myself wondering if the social pattern carried over to our later lives, or if there were deeper divisions of interests and values all along. Were some of those popular girls naturally more comfortable in social situations, and thus better at orchestrating them? Did those people skills carry over to their family lives and future jobs? Were they safe from jealous insecurity, or were they ruled by it?
Here’s a highly simplified summary of where we went after high school, jobwise, which, of course, is hardly an indication of personal fulfillment, but it reflects, in a way, how we’ve contributed to the world.
The popular kids went on to careers in real estate, advertising, law, medicine, teaching, coaching, psychiatry, and the corporate world. The kids who were my friends went on to careers in engineering, acting, writing, music, architecture, teaching, veterinary work, museum work, and government.
And me? I don’t remember any other details from that country club party. It has vanished, unremarkable, with a thousand other social situations I learned with practice to negotiate. I’m glad I figured out early that I liked being valued by people who mattered to me, and I’m thankful that in my life today, the issue of popularity is moot.
Here’s what I think it takes to be popular:
1. Forget about being popular.
2. Be nice to everybody whether they’re popular or not.
3. Get involved with the clubs, sports, and activities that sincerely interest you, so you can hang with other people whose ideas excite you.
4. Brush your teeth regularly.
5. If you bring candy somewhere, bring extra to share.
6. Invite two or three friends over to play games.
7. Stay up late reading your favorite books.
8. Learn a foreign language.
9. Be nice to your parents.
10. Be nice to younger kids.
And that should do it. You’ll be popular before you know it. Popular with yourself for sure.
I read for fun. I love to drop into a good story or follow a curious argument. Some books I devour fast, like a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, and some I savor slowly, like the chocolate cappuccino brownies my sister made lately with my daughter, two nieces and two nephews. The one I ate was rich, smooth, full of careful love, and I can still taste it.
My favorite place to read? The hammock in my front yard by day, my living room couch with a good lamp by evening, and my bed with many pillows by night.
I’m fond of Goodreads, where I can keep a running list of books I’ve read and want to read. It’s fun to see what others are recommending, too, and join conversations about favorite books.
Since I abandon books that don’t interest me, the ones I finish are all books I like. The last ten books I read or reread are:
Julia Quinn, What Happens in London
(Light-hearted romance of spies.)
Trish Doller, Something Like Normal
(A young Marine comes home from war.)
Veronica Roth, Divergent
(A teen girl trains as Dauntless.)
Emmy Laybourne, Monument 14
(Kids hole up in a store to survive disaster.)
Genn Albin, Crewel
(A teen girl learns to spin time and matter.)
Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl
(Mary Boleyn serves as mistress to Henry VIII.)
Olivia Goldsmith, The Bestseller
(Dishy, gossipy tale of publishing in the 90′s.)
Jennifer R. Hubbard, Try Not to Breathe
(Teen boy adjusts after discharge from psych residence.)
Julia Glass, The Widower’s Tale
(Cranky, old guy allows preschool in his barn.)
Lois Lowry, The Giver
(Boy starts to see red in colorless dystopia.)
My girlhood bedroom had pink ballerina wallpaper, six mirrors, six closets, and two windows overlooking the Mississippi River Valley.
One closet was devoted to dress-up clothes, and as it was positioned over our laundry basket, the dress up and dirty clothes often mixed and had a similar scent of wood and sweat. A favorite, satiny dress we wore through until it was threadbare, and kept wearing with various sashes and pointy-toed high heels.
We taped the notices of our theater productions and our drawings on the walls. We piled books behind the curtains. The floor was routinely littered with dolls, doll clothes, tinker toys, Lincoln logs, paper dolls, puzzle pieces, game pieces, Erector set pieces, comics, crayons, paint brushes, paint-by-number paint capsules, knights, cowboys, army guys, and books.
My father owned a toy store and believed in play, from forts to kits of the Dickey House. Mess was assumed and tolerated to explosive proportions, until a parental crackdown would command a complete pick-up. Then we’d stuff our gear into already full closets, vacuum the floor, and let the mess start to creep again.
My sister and I shared the room in matching twin beds, and at night the light from my brothers’ lamp a room away would shine toward our beds so if we raised our hands or legs, we could make shadows on the wall. My shadows were bigger and fuzzier than my sister’s, which lent themselves to domination, while hers were distinct and birdlike, good for shadow puppeting.
When at last we settled down to sleep, and my brothers turned their light off, too, the windows would take over the dark room. From the city lights below and light reflecting down from the overcast sky, the windows glowed faintly purple. The heat would blow gently in. I’d look out at the tree branches and listen past the crickets for police sirens, or the train whistle from along the tracks passing by the river. I’d think about the people out there, still awake and going places, while I was snug and safe at home. I wouldn’t want the day to be over.
My girlhood bedroom had pink ballerina wallpaper, six mirrors, and two windows overlooking the Mississippi River Valley. It still does. My mother has recently sold the house and a new family will be moving in soon. I hope they hang fresh wallpaper, fill the closets with toys, and let the messes run free. I hope they listen for the train whistle.
I knew this girl once. She still won’t tell you his name, but he was older, and cute, and he played volleyball at the resort when her family took the boat over every summer evening to play. This guy, he teased her, and joked with her older brothers, and she had to pretend she wasn’t looking at him and listening to him all the time. She had to serve the ball, knowing he was watching. She got to watch him play. Sometimes he was captain and picked her for his team. It was sweet and terrible, either way.
Then, one day, her brothers caught on. She hadn’t even said anything. They couldn’t know the depth of her crush, but they knew enough. So they joked about him, saying he wore white socks. Like that was a crime. Like that made him silly or unworthy. “There’s nothing wrong with white socks,” she would say, and her brothers would laugh harder.
The guy had the decency never to tease her himself, or, heaven forbid, make a move. As if he’d have a chance with her three big brothers around.
But she remembers, this girl. After the games, they drank pops by the lake, in a big group around the double swing, and she can still see his white socks.
It’s been hot, but whenever I feel like complaining, I think of all the people who haven’t had power this week and I imagine what they’ve endured without air conditioning. Then I wonder if running my air conditioner will deplete the ozone layer more and give us worse summers in the future. Then I look up stuff on the ozone layer and discover ozone-depleting chemicals have been banned from home air conditioners since the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1989. The only snag is, it’ll take 50 years for all the ozone-depleting chemicals we released before the Montreal Protocol to be cleared from the stratosphere.
So, I no longer feel guilty about my air conditioner ruining the ozone. I only feel guilty about it using up a lot of electricity. Then I imagine our future and how people will survive, and I picture solar farms, violent storms, the new plague, and curious beauty.
I’m having fun writing my next book. I’m also making ice cream sodas this afternoon. Here’s the recipe.
Ice Cream Soda
Vanilla ice cream
Whipped cream (optional)
Squirt a nice big gob of Hershey’s syrup in the bottom of a glass. Add a little vanilla ice cream and mix the two together into a gray mash. Add seltzer water until the glass is half full, and stir it until the gray mash is dissolved. Add a big scoop of vanilla ice cream to float in the seltzer mixture. Squirt a little more syrup on top to make it look nice. The whipped cream and cherry are optional.