This past weekend my high school had it's ten year reunion. I didn't go home for it. Prohibitive costs of the flight aside, I feel like I still see my friends from those years, and for those I don't see, Facebook is sufficient. I'm friends (both for real and Facebook-stylez) with a bunch of folks from my graduating class, and I love how if you're not Facebook friends with someone, you can still access their photos. This seems like a glaring oversight on Facebook's part but is, in fact, its best feature. There's a small number of people from those days I don't wish to communicate with, but I do like to see if they've gotten fat or married a wildebeest. Best is when they're two for two.
Anyway, it doesn't seem like ten years since high school, particularly since I still wear the same clothes and listen to the same music from that time and they remain as hip and relevant as ever. But what I do experience a strange nostalgia for is elementary school.
Dream: Return to elementary school as a student.
Goal: Not achievable. Barring time travel or an Adam Sandler-esque film premise, I will not return to elementary school for further education. Nor would I really want to, of course, but my Dream exists because I miss the feelings and experiences that seem unique to that time in my life.
Plan: Seek environments and situations evocative of that time in an attempt to recreate those feelings. I'm not explaining myself well. This is what I miss from those days, over twenty years ago:
Structure. My friend Bradley and I recently lamented the loss of First Days. Save for new jobs or new homes, grown-ups don't get many First Days of anything anymore. But that First Day of School was something. As I remember it, the First Day began in the gym where each student's name was called to stand in a particular line, after which your teacher for the year would stand at the head of the line and lead you and thirty other nervous, sweaty bweens to their home for the next ten months. The good teachers made you feel relaxed and happy about the months ahead; the bad ones made you anxious and crampy, but either way, you could more or less picture the next year of your life on September 1st (or whatever day it was, I don't fucking remember). In what environment as an adult are you given that kind of rigid, unchangeable structure? I suppose a workplace is like that, to a degree, but a very small percentage of us can be confident we'll be at the same job in a year in this economy. Also, you are essentially left to your own devices at work, the assumption being that you were hired to do a job so go ahead and do it, be sure to punch out when you go home. At school, you are taught, directed, and coached to constantly absorb new information and improve. You are rarely left to your own devices unless it's like June 17th and you're just cutting shapes out of paper to coast until 3:30. But that brings me to the next thing I lack now, that I should probably seek.
Authority. As a student, you are frequently given information from teachers that you just accept without question. Critical thinking is neither understood nor expected from a ten year old, they just need information because you have to know shit sometimes. And I was good at that part of learning. Read me a story about a girl who loses her mittens while out walking her dog and I could tell you the name of the girl, the colour of the mittens and the breed of the dog. I'd absorb information, take the quiz, and be right when I was right and wrong when I was wrong. Now, though, I can't be taught anything by another human being. If someone is trying to explain something to me that I don't immediately grasp, I'm done. For instance, “To get there, you just turn left at College Street.” Got it. Don't need to hear it again. If someone reminds me, I go “Yeah, left on College, I know!” But if someone tries to educate me, they're immediately pretentious assholes. So if I'm at an audition doing a Chekhov piece and the director says, “You know what's interesting about Chekhov is...” I immediately think, “Who the hell do you think you are? What am I, a child? Start paying me and maybe I'll listen to you.” I don't know where we lose are pliable, open-mindedness but we lose it. Another thing we lose...
Friendship. Can you imagine sitting with thirty peers in the same room eight hours a day for ten months? I can't either! But we all did it for years, and consequently became friends with one another. My best friend Ryan sat behind me in grade six because of some teacher's arbitrary seating chart. We didn't start talking because of common interests, shared backgrounds, or similar goals, we started talking because we sat near each other. I wonder why now we place such a high premium on common ground when it comes to making friends. You can be stuck beside someone on the subway for an hour every morning and never look at them, much less talk to them, because it would be weird. You can't just start talking to the person next to you at the bar without thinking, “Does this person think I want to have sex with them?” I wish, incidentally, that we could have Friend Bars, where nobody dresses up or flirts, and everyone goes with the sole intention of making friends. Wouldn't that be great? And when somebody says, “I'm a mechanic from Winnipeg”, you wouldn't sniff and say, “Well then we have very little to talk about!” You'd go, “Cool! I like your pencil case! Wanna trade lunches?”
I hope this isn't too rose-coloured glasses of me. After all, I disliked a fair bit of my elementary school experience. I hated gym, and recess, and teachers who would yell all the time. I didn't care for walking single-file, or asking to go to the bathroom, or Head's Up 7 Up (what a stupid fucking time-waster!). But I do miss reading the next paragraph aloud, buying a new thing of markers, and pushing my desk next to my neighbour. Maybe there was nothing about the elementary school experience that was particularly affecting at the time, but enough years have passed that I've become sentimental about it. I'm sure I'll think the same thing about high school in a few years time, and I'll eventually look back on my life today as simpler, easier, I'll remember it as better than it is. But if you think about it, that's the awesome gift that experience teaches us. Nothing then was as good as you remember it, nothing now is as bad as it seems. We're all just a group of sweaty, nervous kids, waiting for our names to be called and to take our place in line before the bell rings.