Taking Measure Of My Life, 50 Years Since High School
As the year limps to an end, 'tis the season for personal reflection.
But 2019's Auld Lange Syne moment arrived back in September, on the occasion of my 50th high school reunion.
In anticipation of my trip to Denver, the scene of my teenage years, I dug up the essay I had written about the 10-year reunion. Reading what I’d written 40 years earlier made me cringe at a few unfortunate word choices, but there were some nice turns of phrase. Of my classmates, I wrote that they “all looked like long-lost cousins, all looked like total strangers.”
But mostly I was surprised by my own changes and consistencies.
At the 10th reunion, I was asked if I was still into theater, having been in almost every play during my four years at George Washington High. In 1979, I wrote, “I hardly ever go to the theater these days, much less take part in it.”
In anticipation of my trip to Denver, the scene of my teenage years, I dug up the essay I had written about the 10-year reunion.
In the intervening years, and as soon as I could afford it, I became a passionate and regular theatergoer. Recently, I developed a serious crush on William Shakespeare, giving rise to a series of public mash-notes (a.k.a. blog posts) about the world’s greatest living playwright.
In 1979, I was asked if I’d done anything with my French. I wrote, “Besides forgetting most of what I knew? No.”
Lately, I’ve been brushing up on the language of Moliere and Colette via podcasts, YouTube, and even a few soirees pour converser avec quelques amies. And no, I’m not using French as an end-run around Alzheimer’s: if it didn’t give me joy, I wouldn’t bother.
Of course, some things never change.
For example, I had virtually the same conversation about what to wear with three women who are still good friends and who were the primary reason I went to the reunion at all. We dispensed with that question in no time flat, grinning at what felt like a hard-won victory.
The essay about my 10-year reunion had been published in The Denver Post, which was the pinnacle of my professional success to that point. Oddly, my most vivid memories didn’t get a mention in that piece.
In 1979, when someone asked me what I did for a living. I took a deep breath and, feeling every inch a fraud, ventured, “I’m a writer.” To that point, I’d had a few freelance pieces printed in what was known as the “alternative press.” My actual paying job at The Boston Phoenix (R.I.P.) entailed filing letters and screening the editor’s phone calls. And while I had a toehold in a newsroom full of “real” writers, I was hardly one of them.
I write to measure the distance from adolescence, to young adulthood, to my current state of “maturity” -- as in shelf-life.
I suppose I wasn’t entirely comfortable measuring myself against classmates who were already doctors and lawyers, mothers and fathers, and homeowners. At the time, I was at most a kind of apprentice writer, recently divorced, with custody of a dog.
At the 50th, I could talk about my husband of three-plus decades and my grownup daughter, a social justice warrior and aficionada of the Real Housewives franchise. (Not sure where we went wrong there.) I still have a dog — my fourth and arguably cutest. And I did not feel the need to apply quotation marks when asked what I did for a living.
At a 50th reunion, the question of retirement is inevitable, and I should have had a ready answer. I had been wrestling with the idea for some time, but every time it came up, it felt like an existential landmine and I changed the subject.
It was only in composing this year-ender that I finally realized that my answer to the question of retirement is — no.
“Writer” is not just my occupation or professional identity; it’s my modus operandi. I don’t know what I think about politics or polenta until I wrestle facts and ideas to the “page,” a word that does require quotation marks since I’m typing on a keyboard and you are reading from a screen.
I write to stay engaged with the world. I write to make a connection. I write to measure the distance from adolescence, to young adulthood, to my current state of “maturity” — as in shelf-life.
I do not plan to attend another high school reunion. But “never” is a slippery trap, so on the off chance that I do, I’ll have to figure out why and what it meant all over again, which will require far too many hours at my desk. And then I will send whatever I come up with into the ether — a virtual message in a virtual bottle — in search of a beating heart.