Thursday, January 17, 2008

truth, beauty and high school

1. the ant and the grasshopper

Thanks to a two-hour bus-and-train ride this morning, I’m almost halfway through Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett’s memoir about her friendship with the dramatic, enchanting and facially disfigured writer Lucy Grealy.

Ann (as portrayed by herself in the book) is none of the above. A shy girl taught in Catholic school to be humble, responsible and invisible, she recognizes her need for a person like Lucy, who leaves bowls of spaghetti in the middle of the floor and doesn’t believe you’re expected to pay off student loans or hospital bills.

With the exception of having gotten into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and having published a half dozen novels, I totally relate to Ann and have fallen for her as much as she falls for Lucy (I probably need Lucies in real life, but I need Ann on the page).

2. everyann

Last night AK, Veronica and I discussed our own awkward years.

“I was the classic bullied kid,” said Veronica, who grew up practicing Native rituals and attending alternative schools in Boulder. Somehow I thought such childhoods exempted one from bullying.

“I always pictured you as a popular kid,” I said. “Maybe not like party-kid popular, but arty-popular.”

“Like how some kids in band have a way more active social life than more technically popular kids,” AK agreed.

“No, I was just really unpopular. Every bullying cliché you hear about, that happened to me. Kids threw my jacket in the mud. They weren’t even creative. Back then I thought it was because I talked too much, but now I think maybe it was because I didn’t fit in with the white kids or the Mexican kids, who were all from like the same two towns in Chihuahua and Veracruz.” (Veronica’s Argentinean.)

“I’m obsessed with high school,” I admitted. “I always want to know how people were when they were kids because I think it totally defines how you are as an adult, one way or another, whether you rebel stay the same.”

Although AK and Veronica are both more extroverted than I am, and Veronica especially has a certain Lucy-like ability to make an entrance, I suspect we’d all identify with Ann.

Then again, maybe Lucy would too. Ann portrays her friend as a certain kind of glamorous, but also as someone who’s chronically lonely and self-doubting.

I remember getting up on a favorite soapbox of mine during a conversation with Stephanie a while back: “I hate how movie stars are always going on about how they were so nerdy in high school. They can’t all have been nerds. Someone was popular, and I wish they’d just own up.”

Stephanie shrugged and said, “Maybe that just shows how insecure kids are. Everyone feels unpopular at that age.”

At the time I was grouchy because Stephanie had rejected my theory, choosing to have empathy with homecoming queens rather than join me in pounding on them.

But she was probably right. And it’s probably empathy that separates grownups from teenagers in the first place. If I weren’t such a mysteriously Catholic quarter-Jew, I wouldn’t have to let the allegedly geeky Julia Roberts off the hook right now. Sigh.


the last noel said...

I have Greeley's Memoir "Autobiography of a Face." Is that an incredible title or what? I keep meaning to read it, but something tells me I'd really have to be in a pseudo-tragic state to read it. Their friendship does intrigue me. Lemme know how it goes.

Cheryl said...

I haven't read Autobiography of a Face, but Ann Patchett makes Lucy sound like a pretty fabulous person and writer--one who goes for drama, but not self-pity. My advice is to dust it off and read it (then loan it to me).

Unknown said...

you'd think that by now this conversation would have taken on an anecdotal quality; but no, it's still revealing things to me that i'll be taking to my shrink next week.

Cheryl said...

Oh, I'm totally still working through high school with my shrink. It's a lifelong process. :-)

Unknown said...

oh good, so i'm not behind. i always feel behind!