Tuesday, September 16, 2008

High School High

Tomorrow, I'm going back to speak at my high school. Apparently, Being Plumville was on their summer reading list, and they wanted me to come talk about it with the students. I feel weird about it! In many ways, I just left high school, even though I've had almost eight years between then and now. I've done college and graduated and now I'm in the daily grind of work. Not to mention I've written a few things . . . that they've actually read.

I think it's because I've changed so much in many ways, and yet not at all in others. To go back and walk into your past, essentially, that you're doing things now nobody ever fathomed when I was there and having people who "knew me back when" see me now. Clearly, they are proud of me because they asked me back. I'll say, I didn't intend for Being Plumville to be read by children, but even Amazon.com has it under its textbook promotion. Wha? That's so odd. I don't know how else to say it. Something that I started because I was writing my thesis at the same time, and I was curious about some issues that are going on inside me (and still are) has become this "thing" that I never envisioned. Teachers who saw me as a student who played the viola and was on the soccer team now know what I did on my "off" times . . . that I wrote. If they came back and saw my choir in 2005, they'd realize I sing, too. Just the various sides of me will come to a bit of a head tomorrow, and I'm in this very suspended place about it. I'm excited, but apprehensive--about how the students will receive me; how they received my book; how my old teachers will receive me; if I say something I shouldn't because they're too young to understand/get it/appreciate it/agree with it.

I'm not quite the quiet little girl who kept her mouth shut back in high school; I'm much more secure in what I think and not as shy about letting people know it. I used to lay in the cut in high school, unobtrusive because being a chubby black girl who wasn't necessarily poor and was deemed "smart" and didn't have much of a social life was a bit of an aberrance, and kids have a tendency to mock what they don't understand . . . what isn't "normal." I saw Saved by the Bell; I watched those after-school specials; I read Sweet Valley High; I wasn't trying to go out like all the other nerds did.

But what's funny, Facebook. Facebook has been a surprise in a good way. All these people are now friending me, people with whom I wasn't close back in the day; or people I knew only because we shared a class, but never a conversation, or very few conversations. The "cool" people, the "popular" people, to my none of those things. These people friend me or leave me messages saying how proud they are of me or how they can't wait to get my book, etc. And my jaw drops because I didn't think I was that memorable, or memorable enough for them to friend me. Yet, this is opening my eyes to something: just because you do your best to be unseen, doesn't mean you aren't. Just because you keep to yourself and try not to bother anyone or "do your own thing", doesn't mean people aren't paying attention to you and watching you and rooting for you.

Story time: Junior year in high school we got our transcripts to prepare for senior year. They tried to block out our class ranking, but it seemed the permanent marker wasn't dark enough to mask those pesky little numbers. Everyone and her blind dog's dead mother knew who numbers 1 & 2 were--identical twins of all things. But the third spot . . . heh. Me. So I had a dual feeling of "hell, yeah!" and "aw, shit!" (if I'd been the cussin' kind back then ;) ) because, dang, if that further didn't separate me from the pack, especially regarding other black kids at my school (this is clearly, clearly, another post). But, we had a soccer game either that night or sometime soon after, and I was sitting next to one of the "popular" black girls who was also on the team watching the Varsity team play (I was on JV, and quite happy there lol). She asked me what my rank was. I didn't want to answer, but she was nice, and I mumbled it. She said, "huh?" so I said it again louder, but just as, dare I say it, apologetic about it. She nodded, then she smiled and said, "I'm so proud of you."


I had no idea. Understand, in any given class I had, I was either the only black person, black girl, or one of five or less of either permutation thereof, so I felt on the fringe of the "black community" at my school, especially since my group of friends was mixed . . . which was something you didn't really get at my high school (my cafeteria could've been the cover of Dr. Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?). But some sort of invisible burden had been lifted off my shoulder at that, and it felt really good.

So, maybe, by me going back to school and speaking, I can lift that invisible burden off someone else's shoulders, someone who's been told by her culture in school, her culture in her neighborhood, her culture as portrayed by the media, that says you shouldn't excel; that you shouldn't want to be the best you can be. That is is cool to "do the damn" thing, and that being black or being poor or being female or being whatever means you shouldn't, or that you're automatically something else, or your fill-in-the-blank card is on probation. It took me a long time to get to that point, and in many ways, I hang on to it by the tips of my fingers.

But ultimately, as my sis and my friends, those same few people who've been there even when I was unobtrusive and shy(er), said that I represent someone from their community who left and "made good", and that is important for them to see, especially considering I am primarily of a demographic who has the least chance of doing so.

I'll have to remember that when I talk tomorrow.

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