Schoolgirl days

Maureen Johnson’s latest post is about her Catholic schoolgirl days, which inspired her latest book, Devilish. (Out now! Run don’t walk to get your copy!) Like all her posts (and books for that matter) it’s dead funny and includes the following line, which’ll have me giggling for days:

“Maureen’s my freshman now. Get a new one.”

The post got me thinking about my (not Catholic) school girl days. And, well, gah! I do not get teary when I think about them. Quite frankly, I think anyone who tells folks under eighteen that their school days will be the best days of their lives should be shot, or at least told to shut up.

I remember adults saying that to me when I was a teenager. Every single time I heard those words it plunged me into the kind of deep dark depression that only a fourteen year old can experience. Really? I thought, if this is as good as it gets then what on earth is the point?

Fortunately, I have sane parents who assured me that it’s total lies. They were right. Primary school was not the best time of my life, nor was high school. A quick survey of every one I know confirms that they weren’t the best days of their lives either.

There were occasional worthwhile moments in my education. A handful of my teachers were awesome and some of my fellow inmates classmates remain friends to this day: Hello George! Hello Jeannie!

But mostly it was completely foul. Yes, you’ll learn a lot (I learned how to put a whole box of lit matches in my mouth without any first-degree burns—don’t try this one at home—I did recently, and, um apparently I have forgotten the trick—Ow!) and you’ll really, really, really earn that high school certificate or diploma (or whatever it’s called where you come from), but, trust me, things will start looking up the minute you graduate.

Or at least by your twenties. Definitely by your thirties . . .

So how about you lot? Any school tales of horror to share? What did youse lot learn? Was anyone else adopted by an older crazy student or do things like that only happen to the Maureen Johnsons of the world?


  1. cherie priest on #

    High school was abject misery for 3/4 of the experience – but my senior year, I’d decided what I was going to do … so I signed everybody’s yearbooks with, “Save this for when I’m a rich and famous writer.” Well, it’s punchier than, “Save this for when I’m moderately successful with a couple of novels out” isn’t it?

    But yes – school years are some of the hardest, strangest, and most insane ever. I took a year off for real-world living before college, though, and when I did return to the classroom – I had a greater appreciation for it. I rather enjoyed college, so I guess I can’t chime in for misery on that count 🙂

    Grad school kinda sucked though …

  2. Justine on #

    Really you didn’t like doing your postgrad degree? I liked it a lot more than my undergrad one. But it’s different in Australia: No course work. You just write a book in a somewhat structured and supervised way. Excellent practise for my current life.

  3. Rachel Brown on #

    i hated my entire school experience up until college, which I loved. I hated elementary school at holy wounds of jesus christ the savior convent for obvious reasons, but i also hated high school. of course, it was even because everyone at high school hated me.

  4. Rachel Brown on #

    ps. yesterday i was in my home town (in california) at a cafe writing when a guy at the next table asked me if i’d gone to santa barbara high. I said yes, and do I know you? He said his name, which i recognized from high school, although I have no recollections of him as a person whatsoever and I’m not sure we ever interacted (i didn’t say that, though!) and am amazed he recognized me.

    he works for the local dept of education. i told him i was a writer, then showed him my home page. he and his table all did a double-take at that. i guess they assumed that by “writer” i had meant “i write bad poetry and send it to my family at chanukkah,” because they all exclaimed, “you really are a writer! your book was published! It was in usa today!”

    afterward, I kicked myself for not having asked him if he knew what any of our other classmates were up to.

  5. Andrea L. on #

    you mean like going to the cafeteria and slipping on spilled milk and then falling flat in your face on concrete floors, then having the whole school know it in 5 minutes.

    or! like two nights ago for example. I was in my room in boarding school with my roomate and all night we talked about the school “hotties”. Then the next day every guy you talked about looks at you weirdly or laughs in your face. Then you realize that your older sister had put a web- cam in your room.

    the humiliation has not yet eased.

  6. Little Willow on #

    Another reason why Maureen and I get along – We have amusing stories that sound made-up and make other people laugh, but really happened and aren’t always as funny WHEN they are happening…

  7. parker on #

    i think the people who say school days were the best days of their lives actually feel this is true – which is sad. they are often the people who ‘ruled the school’ or at least ran with the popular crowd – or were sports stars or had some kind of cache that is only revered in the closed controlled environment of school.

    some of these people leave school and go on to a good and interesting life and others find themselves living a life that is dull – or unfulilling – or gets derailed by a tedious job – or unplanned children – or a bad marriage – or they don’t make it to the big league (or the olympics or the A league or whatever)…

    for them school days were their glory days…and they don’t welcome the way the world expanded after school and they were no longer the centre of attention.

    for others the wide world is a wonderful place of possibility with so many opportunities to find out who they really are and to carve a space for themsleves. the wide world is a place that is so much more appealing than the narrow, limited, prescribed possibilities school offers…

    opps – didn’t meant to rave quite so much…

  8. Justine on #

    Rachel: I bet you could google him. But nice to get the hey-I’m-a-real-writer-now moment!

    Andrea L.: Bloody hell. I’m an older sister so I feel an obligation to defend other older sisters, but not this time! Your sister was so out of line I don’t have words.

    I was humiliated many times during high school. The good news is that high school doesn’t last very long and now I’m the only one who remembers. But at the time . . . at the time it was hell. You have all my best wishes and sympathy and support. Hold your head up high and think of other things.

    Little Willow: One of the best things about getting older is that as disaster unfolds around me I freak less than previously. Nowadays I’m thinking, “This is going to make the best anecdote!”

    Parker: Mi casa es tu casa. Rave all you want!

    That’s the problem with this kind of a post. I’m able to say high school wasn’t the best days of my life because I’m lucky and my life has gotten better and better. But that isn’t always the case. It’s good not to forget it.

  9. marrije on #

    i was in this touchy-feely montessori highschool and actually don’t remember much of it (i was a rather distracted young person, i think): no social dramas, no teasing, couple of kids who drank too much and smoked too much, but that had no attraction for me, so I sailed through.

    there was also an amazingly tolerant atmosphere: i didn’t do any work at all for most of my third and fourth year, and hardly anyone batted an eyelid. lots of room to read whatever i liked (henry miller comes to mind. went right over my head, of course. when i told the teacher what i was reading he just raised one eyebrow and said ‘rather a lot of sex in that one, right? oh well’ excellent reaction.)

    but by the sixth year i was thouroughly fed up with all the understanding: you could always get out of anything by pretending your guinea pig had died. and they expected me to work for my exam. so i got out. oh yeah! and then the headmaster said i would never go anywhere this way, and my mother just blew up. that was good.

  10. jessica on #

    I went to 4 different high schools, all public, in outer eastern Melbourne. And even though i attended high school in the mid to late ’90’s my experience was very Puberty Blues-like (minus the surf.)

    Before the knuckling down years of VCE, i spent most of my time reading in the crappy understocked libraries. It was much more fun than getting embroiled in pointless high school drama.

  11. Emmaco on #

    I loved my Catholic primary and high schools. They were very liberal hippie sort of schools with meditating and debating current issues and concern for social justice and other things like that. But I’d never say they were the best days of my life – even though they were great I was ready to finish when I did and forget dress rules and teachers checking drafts and so on.

    Also, my best friend who was with me at boths schools says I didn’t seem to pick up on some of the bad things, like the existence of cliques (I still can’t really remember there being many…)

  12. alison on #

    Oh Justine, I didn’t go to my reunion this year – just couldn’t!
    We had a shockingly dull brown pinafore dress with brown socks and brown shoes.. and I checked on their website – now the school and the uniform have gone all funky. Twenty years too late…

  13. Chris S. on #

    Just to break the streak… I had a great time in high school. My undergraduate days were frankly hilarious (ah, the sweet life of an english major). And I have to say that I consider my life now to be pretty d*mn good.

    Just because you enjoy your school days doesn’t mean your life peaks there.

    But the whole ‘best days of your life’ bit? Mm, not sure about that. Having less responsibility doesn’t always translate as ‘better’.

  14. Emmaco on #

    Belatedly reading Maureen’s entry, I’m reminded that I think (like grad school) Catholic schools are different here. We didn’t have any nuns or even very many masses or traditional prayers. In American movies there are always priests in dog collars and nuns in full habits but I never saw priests or nuns wearing them when I was growing up.

    We had a big sister/little sister program but it always kinda fizzled out after the first week or so. I can’t even remember mine so she was nowhere near as cool as Maureen’s!

  15. Rebecca on #

    i don’t like it when people bring up the ‘best days of your life’ thing, because that implies that there’s one time of your life that is better than all the rest, and then if you’ve already passed it, you have nothing to look forward to but suckage.

    i loved high school. absolutely loved it. i still go back and visit every chance i get. i’ve been out for over a year, but i never stopped missing it. it’s an all-girls catholic school called incarnate word. we were attached to a university, so we had a lot of cool stuff other high schools didn’t. for example, since it’s not allowed to restrict college students’ access to the internet, they couldn’t restrict ours either. hence, lots of sneaking on aim and email, hehe!

    the sneaking was what made high school so much bloody fun. we came up with so many ways to circumvent and break the rules. in college, there aren’t any restrictions, which is nice but boring. the only rule-breaking you can do in college is fail out, break the law, or get drunk, none of which interest me or sound particularly fun. also, college is a lot less personal. even though i go to a pretty small one, the professors are all stuck away in their offices or else off campus when they aren’t teaching, so i never get to know them. in high school, we had open mods, which was free time that we were supposed to use for homework. (haha!) we could go into any teacher’s classroom as long as he/she didn’t have class, and we could talk with friends, cram for tests, take tests, get help from teachers, talk to teachers, whatever. some teachers played movies or had board games. my history teacher had a couch and floor pillows and always played movies on fridays. i was really close to her, and also to my spanish teacher and soccer coach/government teacher, and speech teacher. i guess my high school was very unique, but it was also a matter of luck too. i happened to land with the right people, and our group was oblvious to whatever cliques there may have been. but as high schools go, mine wasn’t all that cliquey. we would frequently talk to people outside our typical groups.

    and we had so many exploits, like sleeping during mass, hiding in the basement, and stealing soccer uniforms (it’s not as bad as it sounds, honest! :P) i really really loved it, and i miss the closeness of high school. at college, i just go to classes, mostly with people i don’t even know (or like) and then i go home. there’s only one professor here that i’m really close to. it’s gotten better in my second year, but it’s still not like high school. and i was definitely not one of those popular alpha whatsit people, so i don’t think that has anything to do with why i loved it so much. i dunno, it’s kind of hard to explain. you had to be there. 😛

    i could talk about high school forever. sorry. i’m going to write a story about it and then maybe that’ll get it out of my system. 😀 but yeah. it was wonderful. and i don’t mean to make college sound completely crapola, because it’s not. it’s just not the same.

  16. Little Willow on #

    I’m a walking dictionary and an anecdote archive box.

  17. janet on #

    I still live near the city where I grew up, and a few years ago when I got on a bus, the bus driver looked at me and instantly said “Janet Lafler! You went to Skyline High School!” True. I didn’t recognize her, but when she told me her name it rang a vague bell. She told me I looked just the same, and I guess I must have, since she recognized me instantly. (I have to admit that I found this flattering; I was pushing 40.) She caught me up on some of the gossip from our year, and I realized that I had purposely forgotten a great deal about it. I am still in touch with two people from my school days, one only sporadically, and we never, ever talk about our teen years. There are a few other people that I wouldn’t mind seeing, including a high school friend who wrote a book of interviews with gay porn actors — I found it on a friend’s bookshelf about 15 years ago.

    Given that I still live in the same area, it’s striking that I have so little continuity with that period of my life.

    Here’s an example of why:

    When I was in my early teens, there were a bunch of guys who used to call me “Fido” and bark at me. Every school day, for several years. In retrospect, the odd thing about this was that they were not a bunch of louts — they were among the intelligentisia of the school. Part of the horror of it is that I didn’t do anything about it — I just took it. Tried to make a game of it. None of my teachers ever did anything about it, either, even though some of this was going on in class. I still have revenge fantasies on occasion.

    Aside from the “happiest days of your life” lie, another lie I will never tell my daughter is “if you just ignore them, they’ll get bored and quit bothering you.”

    College was a bit better, but I didn’t really start to like myself much until I was about 30. I’m now nearly 43, and the last 10 years of my life have so far been the best.

  18. Justine on #

    Janet: I know so many people who were tortured one way or another through their school years. And very few people who’ve had to take that garbage once they left. And even those who loved school—as witnessed by this thread—would never call it the best time of their life. It’s a pernicious lie.

  19. Genevieve on #

    I had a high school friend recently tell me that high school was the best time of his life. (we finished high school over 10 years ago now…) Honestly, I enjoyed high school, but was it the best time of my life? No. I feel bad for my friend that he thinks his life peaked at 17. What does he have left to look forward to if he’s convinced the best days have already happened?

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