Jessica Day George

Monday, August 2, 2010

Back to School- Please Be Kind!

aka The Mean Girls Post
aka Hooray for Josh and Rachel

So, this is something that I've thought about blogging for a long time. But I didn't want to get preachy . . . or seem weird, or desperate, or like I haven't gotten over the trauma of high school . . . and let's face it: I probably am weird and desperate, and a therapist would probably tell me that I really need to get over high school. But, since it's back to school time, and since I'm about to send my oldest child to kindergarten, let's plunge in.

People, be nice to each other.

I don't know if I have a whole lot of teenage blog readers, I'm hoping that I do, just because technically my books are for you, but also because this post is mostly for you. Teenagers, be kind.

School is hard. It's very hard. Academically and socially. Puberty is hard. (Golly, I hate that word. It just sounds nasty.) Your brain is so busy trying to process all the changes that are going on to it and your body that it doesn't really work right. True story: scientists recently published a report saying that teenagers are incapable of making logical decisions. Now, I find this hard to believe. No logical decisions at all? Surely not! Okay, I did some STOOOPID things in high school, but I like to think that some of my decisions were not totally insane! I did occasionally try to flirt with boys using an English accent. I may have called up a guy's mom when I knew he wasn't there, to try and chat her up for information . . . which at the time seemed like a brilliant plan that would totally endear me to him for years to come. Uh huh. Yeeeah. Moving on . . .

School is hard. Puberty is hard. Life is hard. You know what doesn't help any of these situations? Mean people. To quote one of the world's best bumper stickers: Mean people suck. So why do we feel the need to be mean to people? I wasn't a "mean girl" in high school, I didn't get a kick out of putting other people down . . . but there are times when I could have been nicer. A little less sarcastic. Or even just said hello to someone who looked like they were having a bad day. I don't know why I didn't (too absorbed in how bad a day I was having, probably), but boy do I regret it now. I have a theory that sometimes we feel so low, that we put people down because we hope it will make us feel better. "Ha! Now she's more depressed than I am! I feel so much better!" But it never works, because now you have the added guilt of making someone else's day a worse.

Now, I am not telling you to go out and make friends with everyone in your school, so that we can all hold hands and run through meadows full of puppies. Mainly because it's not possible to be friends with everyone. Everyone is different, and there are always going to be people that you mesh well with, and people that you don't. But that doesn't mean you can't smile at people. That doesn't mean you can't say hi. Or, if your day is really sucking with a lot of suckage, at the very least, try not to verbally destroy one of your peers. (You are now all wondering WHAT ON EARTH WAS SHE LIKE IN HIGH SCHOOL?!)

Here's the thing about me in high school: I didn't know what I was doing. Maybe it's true, and my brain wasn't working. Who can say? I also did suffer from some mild bouts of depression. School was hard, I liked about two classes. I also went to a high school that had, well, some cliques. It was nothing like Mean Girls (an excellent movie, which I highly recommend), but there were moments. I once had a friend tell me I couldn't sit with her at lunch because I was wearing too much black. I had lived there six years when another friend (who had known me the entire six years) was surprised that I knew this other girl at our school, since I was "new." My parents lived in that town for almost ten years, and my mom said that she had people refer to them as being "new to town" up until the day they sold their house. None of these things, you can imagine, made me feel very good. I frequently thought, "Okay, math test today, German test, viola lesson later, turn in audition tape for the orchestra thing, and I swear, if So-and-So makes some smart remark about my clothes, I will freakin' lose it."

In short, I had enough going on, with school and just the everyday stresses of life. I needed good friends who supported me, I needed encouragement and to feel like I was wanted, like I belonged. Why? Because everyone needs these things. Everyone has enough other stuff going on in their lives, every day. There are stresses with school, work, family, and countless other things. We don't need to worry that our friends are gossiping about us behind our backs. We don't need to be told we don't look right, or fit in. What purpose does that serve? A temporary rush of power for the person making the comment, and then . . . what? Nothing but badness.

Now, I can't protect you all from the badness. I honestly wish I could. I wish I could travel around to high schools and leap in front of people making demeaning remarks and scream "What, what, WHAT are you doing?!" (a la Sassy Gay Friend on YouTube), and help them rethink what they're about to say. But I can't do this. I know that I can't even protect my own children from this, and boy, let me tell you how badly that hurts. But what I can do is urge you to try and not be the mean person. It's hard, because some times it's so easy to lash out, or to put someone else down. But please stop and think before you do this. Even if you don't want to befriend everyone you see, at least you can try not to be their enemy.

And now the part where we all go, Hooray for Josh and Rachel!

Now, I'm really, REALLY not trying to lie on my bed of pain and bemoan the horrors of my personal high school experience. It wasn't really THAT bad. But at the beginning of my senior year, I realized that I didn't have a Best Friend. My Jr. High Best Friend was a year older in school, and had already gone to college. My Best Guy Friend had done the same. (Hey, Rebecca! Hey, Derek! What's up?!) So I kind of wandered around with my usual circle of friends, none of whom I was all that close to. And then, I went on an orchestra trip to Spokane.

Now, our high school orchestra was amazing. I mean, TRULY AMAZING. Taught by Rick Hansen, a gifted violinist, we used to win competitions and be invited to perform all over the western US. We rocked! Many of our members went on to become professional musicians, and I've discovered that several people met their future spouses through orchestra. Our orchestra was fab, and the only reason why I didn't graduate early. I had talked with counselors about early graduation, and taking college classes locally, but I would have had to give up the orchestra, and that was something I just wouldn't do. It was a great thing to be a part of, and so I hung on. Just after Christmas, senior year, we went to the All Northwest competition in Spokane. Sometime on that looooong bus ride, I was approached by two sophomores: Rachel, a violinist, and Josh, a cellist. I knew their names, but not much else about them. We hung out on the trip. Josh tried to drink a liter of water while laying on his back in a moving elevator. It was great! (The trip, I mean, the water thing was hilarious but kind of gross.) We returned home, and Rachel, Josh, and I continued to hang out.

We didn't have a whole lot in common on the surface, other than orchestra, but that didn't seem to matter. We just liked to talk. We could talk about anything. They got me to try out for competition speech, and I went to State in the category they picked for me. (Two years later, at college, one of my friends said the weirdest thing she'd ever seen was this speech one year at a state speech competition. Yep, it was me!) We cheered for each other at everything we did. We waved as we passed in the halls going to our various classes. It felt so good just knowing that if I was having a bad day, even if I was wearing black, someone would sit by me at lunch. It felt good knowing that I could call someone after school to vent, and they would listen. it felt good knowing that if they needed something, they would come to me. People trusted me to care for them, no matter what. That's a big responsibility, but it's one that makes you feel happy all the same. Josh and Rachel played as two parts of a quartet at my wedding reception. Two weeks ago, they were at my house for dinner. Rachel lives in D.C., and has advanced degrees in Political Science. I just found out that Hillary Clinton is the Secretary of State like, a month ago. Josh delivers organs for transplant because he thinks it's fun. I, um, don't. Yet we talked for four hours straight. Fifteen years ago we reached out to each other, and it has been a wonderful experience.

I still don't know how to diagram a parabola. I often have trouble with semicolons. At this point it doesn't matter. Math is irrelevant after high school, no matter what they try to tell you, and I have a copyeditor who checks my semicolons. But one of the most invaluable things I learned in high school was how to be a friend.

Reach out to someone. Make someone's day. Maybe they will become your best friend. Maybe not, but what does it hurt to try? The important thing is that you try, despite the suckage of your own day and the fact that your brain may not be working at all, and not be the meanest person in the room.


Sermon over.

You may return to class.

*Related book recommendation: Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver


Kellee said...

I may just share this with my students. Great sermon :) And it is just as bad in middle school as high school.

Jaleh D said...

I feel for you. My only child is heading off to kindergarten this year as well. It's not as scary for me as it would have been since our school system had a pre-K program he attended this past year.

But I whole-heartedly agree with the reaching out and being nice parts. I had some friends in high school, but I still didn't feel like they treated me as well as they did each other. That hurt more than they realized. But I lacked the confidence to tell them. At least HS was an improvement from the previous four years. (See my posts on what science fiction and fantasy mean to me.)

College is where I really learned what friendship was all about and was able to rebuild my confidence. My first close friend there was made because I followed a girl from my orientation group into the bathroom because I saw that a presentation made her upset. I took a chance to reach out to someone having a rough time and made a good friend in the process. I haven't talked to her in years, but that's another story.

Never knew how similar we were before, other than our love for dragons.

Julie Belnap said...

I'ma teenager! You could do this for me!

I really liked this post Jessica. I want to be nice to a lot of people, and I hate to be mean. It's very good to try and have good friends, but I have trouble reaching out to others, except if I meet them in seminary. I had no best friend in my 9th grade class last year.

Now I'm headed to High School, in a place I'm not sure of it, where moving to who knows where, and I get to start out as a brand new kid. So it probably won't be easy, but I'll try hard to make friends. I don't like being mean, and I want to show this to friends...

SandyKay said...

Amen, sister.

Tawnni Jensen said...

I'm a teen too! Totally true. One of my best friends ended up being the girl I though was weird in elementary school. You never know where you're going to find a friend. That's the one thing that they don't teach you in high school. Trust me, they try to teach you everything else now adays. (although I do with my zoology teacher had told me what makes a white tiger white.)

Jas.Lin said...

I'm ALMOST a teenager. I will be in four freaking months....

Krystal said...

I'm really, really glad you brought this up. I'm a Junior this year, and I hope to keep this blog post in mind throughout the year. I'm positive it will help me. We definitely need more kindness in the world. Thank you! :)

c'est moi said...

Oooh, sick, "running through a meadow full of puppies"? You really are a sadist! (I'm just saying that, because your blog made me shed a little tear! Too bad you didn't have my core of steel in high school - you know I was mean to all the mean girls and they were seriously afraid of me :) - and now I teach the little darlin's... What I have to say now is: word.

erika said...

Thank you for the advice. i love your books just to let you know. I'm in middle school and i'm super shy. I need all the advice i can get, so i say it again thank you.

Claire said...

Wow. Great sermon! :) I'm transferring to a different school this year because I had so many bullies. But, on the bright side, all my Gilr Scout friends are at my new school. Hopefully they can handle me bringing a journal to recess and not playing with them. I love to write, so I always have a journal with me. I write EVERY MINUTE OF THE DAY.

I love your books Jessica! :)

Melissa said...

Now I am paranoid. Since I went to high school with you, I hope I was one of the nice ones, if not, I am super sorry :) In my memories, you were this self confident, witty, brilliant girl. You always dressed beautifully. I remember an orchestra concert that you wore this updo and looked amazing. (It was the first time I had seen such fancy hair in our podunkville.) You seemed ahead of the times in fashion.

Jr. high was the hardest for me. I was teased for talking to the stinky kid that only had 1 pair of pants in band and let alone for the way I looked and on and on.

I remember hanging out in orchestra and Josh was fun. It was hard for me, since I was a lowly band member, but it was fun to hang in the back during all the plays and be entertained. And go to California with all you smart kids. ha ha

Now that my oldest is starting Jr. High, I am very paranoid for all the things you mention. I am glad you turned out okay and I am thankful for your books. You are very talented.

Grassyx said...

That's brilliant, I totally agree. I'm a teenager and there are a lot of people at my school who act stupidly and I don't see what they get out of it.

-I know this comment is a bit late but I had some spare time on my hands and I thought 'Hey, why don't I check out Jessica's website before I get overpowered by homework!'-

So, yeah, I completely understand what you're saying and I laughed at some of this- the part where you tried to use an English accent to flirt with boys, definately made me giggle. I'm not mean to people (as far as I can tell)and if some people hate me (I know of a few people that certainly do) then that's their problem, not mine.

You're only young once afterall