What I learned at my 30th year high school reunion

Yup, that’s me! At my reunion, with classmate and fellow writer Pauline. Awesome doesn’t begin to describe us.

Hold onto your hats, my friends: at the last minute I made the decision go to my 30th year high school reunion.

I know, I know. I bitched about not going. But in the end, my writing instincts kicked in and I realized that this was going to be a once in a lifetime (or at least decade) opportunity to really get some good column material.

Add “opportunist” to my resume.

Once I decided to go I jumped in with both feet. I connected with the girl coordinating the event and offered to help with check in/collecting information.  I convinced a few other people to go. Then I went spent money I didn’t really have on a dress that made me feel fabulous.

And guess what? I had fun. Honest!

OK, dear readers, I know what you’re waiting for … here are a few things I learned (or was reminded of) at my high school reunion:

1) I look better than I think I do. Either that or the mass consumption of alcohol by other people makes me look completely fabulous. I suspect the latter but I’m going with the former because it makes me feel better. 

2) Piggybacking on that, it occurred to me (not for the first time but sometimes it helps to have someone else point it out) that there’s a fine line between negative thinking and self-deprecating humor. I make fun of myself all of the time. (Case in point, see #1.) My life is an open book. I live in the “I’ll admit my mistakes because I know you feel the same way” realm, and I know for readers it’s helpful and encouraging. It’s what might be called in creative circles as my “writing persona”.  (“Truth+ pain=funny” is the comedic equation, after all.)

But last night someone said to me that I needed to stop the “negative thinking”. Hmmm. Interesting. See, I know I’m awesome now (in all the ways it matters to me for me to be awesome, not in the ways other people try to define it) … but the past me wasn’t quite so fond of myself. As I’ve matured, I’ve found the balance between the two but I struggle with those rare moments when they collide. 

I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, I know I’m not. But while talking about it is helpful for me and for readers, does it also feed the beast, so to speak? How, as a writer, do I use that struggle creatively while not falling prey to it emotionally? Food for thought. (And to the person who raised the issue last night, albeit in passing … thank you … and, I’ll add with a wink, I still think you’re full of BS but I do always think of you fondly …)

3) While my general memories of high school are painful, for some of my classmates there are very specific events that are still quite raw. Gaping wound kind of raw. I mean, 30 years later, we’re talking details, dates, times, places, who said what, who was wearing what.  I don’t bring this up to criticize, because I know that when you read that, some of you just thought, “Oh, get over it.”

Easier said than done. And from my own experience, I understand that. I also know (from experience) how unhealthy it is. Someone once told me that the word picture in Greek for “unforgiveness” is the person who was wronged carrying on their back the person who wronged them. I don’t know if that’s true – any Greek scholars out there want to clarify? – but the message is crystal clear. It’s time forgive, for your own benefit and not for anyone else’s.

4) And what’s a great way to do that? Go to the reunion! Honest to goodness, if there’s one lesson you can learn from going to a high school reunion – whatever year; I learned this one decades ago – it’s that time is the great equalizer. Everyone gets older. Everyone gets fatter. Everyone gets grayer or balder or wrinklier or richer or poorer or happier or more miserable. And generally speaking, most people are a whole lot nicer. And the ones that decades later still act like they don’t know you (or still give off a snobbish vibe) aren’t worth knowing anyway.

5) And lastly, while it’s fun to reminisce about the good old days, it’s more important to focus on the friendships you have right in front of you every day. The only thing that really tied together the 70+ alum who gathered last night is that we once shared a home room or English class. Thirty years ago. I have more in common with the kid who waits on me at Tim Hortons; he at least knows my dog’s name and how I take my coffee.

Yes, there were some people there last night who have maintained significant friendships with people since high school. But those friendships are not based on high school; they were formed in high school but exist now only because they’re based on mutual respect, common interests and a general desire by all involved to engage in a significant and meaningful relationship.

I confess that I’m jealous of those people. I have a very, very small circle of friends who know me. And perhaps just because of my creative (and squirrely) nature, I can’t really think of any of those friends who know all of me. My readers know a lot about me and my daily faux pas, but my marriage, my family relationships (other than my Irish and Italian ancestry research) are mostly off limits. I have some friends with whom I share common interests – tea, books, writing, dogs.

It makes for a wide community of acquaintances but can really leave you alone in the desert when the going gets tough.

A pastor friend said recently that when we’re lost (spiritually, emotionally) we “don’t know where to turn and we don’t know who to trust.” That’s me. I think that people who have close, deep and meaningful friendships that they’ve cultivated and tended over decades probably find themselves in that situation far less frequently than the rest of us. Count yourself lucky if you have one of those deep friendships, because I think they’re rare.

Bonus lesson: If you focus on what might happen at the reunion you definitely miss what would have happened. Case in point: I have connected with several classmates who are writers. Any creative art can be a lonely business, but writing can really be isolating. It’s just you and a blank page for hours on end. To be able to encourage each other and to maybe work on a project together? If I hadn’t gone last night, I would have missed the opportuity to build that network of fellow writers.

So there you go. As usual, I’m willing to open a vein and bleed on a page to help someone else find a way to heal (or in this case, reopen an old wound to examine the scar). Because sometimes the best lesson you can learn is that you’ve already moved on.

And if you’re one of those people holding on to painful memories? Let me give you a piece of advice: You are the only one with the power to set them free. Simply unclutch your grip and let go.

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13 responses to “What I learned at my 30th year high school reunion

  1. The best part of the night was connecting with you and James! I love the picture of us too. Now the pressure of writing my own post…

  2. Isn’t it amazing at reunions like that, almost everyone reverts back to a slightly more grown up version of how they were years ago? The jokers are still the jokers.

  3. Joanne, well written blog(s). I wish I had known you in High School, I’m sure we would of been friends!!!

  4. Joanne, your a very talented writer, I loved both of the reunion stories. So much of that fits my life and so much of it was why I did not go. I’m sure I would have had a good time but for me time is valuble and I would rather spend it with people that are close to me than past “friends” that I probably would only see at the next reunion. It was nice looking at all the pictures and how everyone has changed. It would have been cool to put our senior picture on the name tag, well at least for me, I’m not the best at remembering people, oh well maybe at the 50 year reunion.
    Take care, maybe I will see you in November.
    Dave Arilotta

    • Dave, do come in November. Honest, it was a wonderfully painless and very cathartic experience. I kind of made it my personal mission to try and make sure everyone arrived to a friendly face Saturday night. I hope I was successful but I promise I’ll make the same effort in November!

      Joanne

  5. Alicia Verhey Santiago

    Joanne. I remember you fondly from High School, hun!!! I am awestruck at your charismatic wiriting capabilities…. You have such a flair for words and saying something so worth hearing! I think many people feel/felt what you were putting into black and white. I truly enjoyed reading all of your captions from the reunion. I found myself chuckling numerous times. Life is NOT easy, my friend – this much I know. For whatever it’s worth, know that I think you have evolved into a marvelous woman!!! ( although I didn’t think other wise in school )… Much success to you in your writing Joanne!!!!! Nice to “see” you on here and the FB page!

    • Thank you, Alica. I appreciate the kind words more than you know! When I saw your name on FB all I could think of was laughing with you in high school. Over what? Who knows! But if your name is associated with laughter all of these years later, know you left a happy mark on the world. 🙂
      Joanne

  6. As I sit here at 6 a.m. with my morning cuppa (after a frustrating day at work yesterday and a restless night) I can’t think of a better way to start the day! When I say ‘Chicken Soup for the soul’ I know it’s a cliché, but I mean it in the best possible way! HUGS!!

  7. Love your blog! Loved talking to you at the reunion

  8. So I found out the other day I was excluded from the invite for my 10 year class reunion because the hosts are girls I never got along with. Like anyone I went straight to my mom. After a lot of crying (from me) and a lot of “forget those people! They don’t matter!” (From my mom:) she led me to this post. You helped me realize that it really doesn’t matter what they think and at this point in life you make your own happiness. Thank you for your inspiring words!

    • Oh Elie! That’s terrible! I would have cried too. Yup, you don’t need those people. Ten years have passed and you’re ten years smarter, stronger and more beautiful. And you have decades and decades left to continue to leave your mark on the world. Onward and upward!
      Joanne

  9. Pingback: 50 thoughts on turning 50: #24 Follow The Improv Brick Road | Notes From The Funny Farm

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