Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Returning to school

I have my ten year school reunion this weekend. Most conveniently, I need to be in Canberra for work next week, so I get to travel up at someone else’s expense and catch up with everyone I didn’t manage to see in the course of the road trip of doom over the Easter long weekend.

I filled out my “what have you been doing for the last ten years” form yesterday. It seemed rather dry, and in some ways a little boastful. I stuck narrowly to what I’ve been doing in law: the big firm job, what I’ve been doing recently, the published article, competing in the international rounds of the Jessup Moot.

I did not mention writing at all, which will surprise some who will be present, I’m sure.

But beyond me (and this is blogging, so really, it’s all about me), I’m concerned I’m going to have forgotten the names of everyone not immediately on my table. Will I be bored by those who’ve stayed in Canberra and carved out lucrative niches in real estate? Quite possibly, if only because I have no interest in real estate at present. And also because if I have spurned the path to entrepreneurial wealth, it’s not as if I have any weighty publication track-record to back me. Which is what some may have expected I’d have done by now. It’s what my eighteen-year old self would have expected by now.

Still, I’m in no rush to try and make a career out of my writing. Law is at least interesting, and even at its lower rungs pays sufficiently well to fund hobbies and give me time to become a better writer with a novel worth trying to do something with commercially. That said, I wrote three (excruciatingly bad) novels in high school and a handful of short stories (I found the short form harder then, and still do) and quite a bit of poetry, some of it fairly readable in a school-boy vein. And people noticed.

Someone said to me recently: “Of all the people from school I’d expect to be working as a writer or something more interesting by now, you’d top the list.” He had the significant grace to add a somewhat less two-edged compliment: “But I guess that’s what happens when you’re good at two things.”

I went to a school that really did heap recognition on people regardless of their area of achievement. The key word though was achievement. My awkward bookishness could be overcome in that environment through being rather regularly and publicly recognised for achievements in creative writing, drama, public speaking and debating. It may have been a less kind place if you weren’t a clear front-runner in some field, or at least keenly interested in doing something. To be entirely honest, I wouldn’t know. It was a school that provided opportunities to be involved, and I took quite a few.

Anyway, a big part of growing up is realising that at high school you do have a chance to be a big fish in a small pond, and a good deal of your twenties is acknowledging the truth in the Waifs lyric: “I never thought I’d be quiet so far away from where I planned to be by now.” I am good at what I do, but so are a fair number of other people. Blogging, for example, has been incredibly kind to me – it does, however, prove there are a lot of other people out there who are extremely talented and not widely, conventionally, published writers.

But that is if one accepts the rather stupid idea you have to grow up to be who you thought you’d be in your adolescence. I am not bound to my vision-of-self as at age eighteen. True, I might have got further along one given path had I a blinding drive born of a narrow vision at that age, but I don’t.

Do I crave being who I was at school again? The sense that each year I was achieving more, doing better?

Absolutely not.

Never trust anyone who thinks high school was the best period of their life. Now, in Melbourne, is undoubtedly the happiest and most confident I have ever been. I like not being socially awkward, I like not having acne so bad it requires heavy-duty medication, I like having a girlfriend, I like not feeling an outsider (regardless of how many friends or how ‘in’ I actually may have been), I like that other people’s opinions matter less to me, I like the fact I do not have to devise strategies to avoid outbreaks of bullying on my school bus. So I am pretty confident that I am not going back to recapture something, or to trumpet my ‘achievements’ since.

I am on a table with friends I have stayed in touch with in degrees ranging from intensely to very poorly indeed. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

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