As I write this I am sitting on the train, on the way to Gatwick airport, (actually waiting for it to depart London bridge station) feeling slightly strange.
I’ve had a birthday this week, which of course is prime time for introspection & reflection, through through the last few decades of equivalent birthdays. I’m 32, so trying to pushing back to 22 is both amusing and terrifying, I was a completely different person back then.
Today, I have lived. I’m ‘widely travelled’. A good job, a career even. A husband. A rented flat that if you come into it is more like a home to me than anywhere I’ve lived before (primarily due to the books everywhere, and loved art, walking through a personal history through photography all over the walls, plants and herbs and herbs and plants). I have a more positive outlook than I did when I was 22. Sure there’s still days where I struggle more than anything to get out of bed, days the world is cloaked in black and grey (insert London winter weather joke here). But gone are the days where my thinking was like tunnel vision, with only a single option to ‘improve things’. Thanks Christ those days are over.
It’s funny, even going back further than 22, POBAW (shortening the book name as that is SO much easier) transported me straight back to the same era in my own life – 5th/6th form at Marlborough Girls College.
Like Charlie, I wanted & tried to hang out with an older crew, from boyfriends always being older, to wanting to be interested in things beyond my standard age group. But still, I found school intolerable.
Not fitting in feels like a ‘standard teenage angst’ but it felt searingly familiar. Being a part of something but outside on the edge, not ‘participating’ and feeling on the precipice sent me right back to that awful time. I didn’t last right thru school, I wagged for a whole term (sorry mum and dad if this is news, I’m sure it’s not) because I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. I was never going to go to university, as feeling slightly cast afloat in my own lonely headspace without a true set of immediate, close in proximity friends – I didn’t really know where I saw my life going. (namely into hospitality, and then TADA I’m 32, in London working for a massive media company?! My route through life has been a bit crazy).
I felt that sans the wonderful teacher (given how much I read even then, I wonder if this may have helped me more than anything else) in someways (and some more than others) Charlie and I had a sort of similar experience of high school.
The older friends or I guess more associates, I had in stages were a mixture of ex-boyfriends who I still stay in touch with, the actors the musicians, the drama people who were so much cooler than me in so many ways. Music was one thing. The girl who I basically just wanted to be (Jo, you’re not on my Facebook, but I’m forever in debated to you for my love, adoration (and imitation – seriously, check out my GUITAR…) of female singer songwriters – the discovery of various tracks like ‘Canonball’ by The Breeders & ‘Miss World’ by Hole & some track off The Trip 5 is solely down to you. You played a mix tape on road trip once, I think over the years I bought a CD of just about every single track from that mix. It changed my music tastes for life). Persona was another thing (from the actor I wanted to be, to the singer, to the really way smart and amazing girl who seemed to have everything ready and set out for an amazing life) and of course exes who I had various firsts with, the first time I cried all night, the first time I was cheated on, the first time I broke up with someone for no real reason at all and still genuinely regret – the ‘older kids’ always had so much more impact on me than the rest of my peers.
But I was too young back then, 2 years in high school is a lifetime of difference. The awkward, slightly odd, Anne Rice-obsessed kid just didn’t really fit in with the older ones.
What’s interesting (and probably slightly sad) is that in someways I’ve never really lost that periphery awkwardness, that feeling that I’m on the outside of something, even though I’m right in the midst of it. Maybe it’s an inability to make small talk (it annoys me) or that I have read so much that I either know or have an opinion about everything (I hate people like that, so in myself I try not to say something about things all the time. It’s impossible), or that I look around and can’t find anyone similar to myself so I just feeling like everyone must be thinking I’m just as awkward and strange as I feel. The worst part about this is at any type of large group function, as I look for something to do as I struggle to make conversation, which often involves the only thing in my hand, 99% of the time, a glass of something – beer/wine/whatever/christreallyisthatashot?sureI’llhaveone. I call this ‘Nervous drinking’. It’s got me in trouble more times than I can count.
Of course this isn’t the case with everyone I hang out with, and doesn’t happen when I meet some people for the first time. Now, I have a LOVELY wonderful set of very patient friends, some of whom would who probably would be surprised to here I still get that awkward nervousness, but I’m sure I’m not the only person I know who has it.
Different to Charlie I didn’t write letters, I was way to lazy for that. But I wrote letters to people. In class, to the friends I did have, to boyfriends. Always folded up and handed secretly between classes or at lunchtimes – opening them was a pleasure. Like a moment of sunshine, like that time when you realise things are okay with the world. But sometimes they weren’t. I’ve sent and received a few shoddy letters in my time, being heartless and cruel for no real reason at all. I’m sure being a fairly unhappy teenager could have been part of that (thanks punitiveness, you’re something I can recognise looking back even then), some were just so unnecessary. Everyone has teenage regrets I guess.
Charlie sees a girl in the book because he feels he should, sometimes I broke up with people because I felt I should, and said things I definitely shouldn’t have.
Charlie cries a lot in the book because he feels everything so much, while I didn’t cry, I still to this day wish I could feel things a little less.
Charlie plays Frank-n-Furter just once, and feels a wonderful sense of release, I’m sure that’s why acting always appealed, and why I sometimes feel like I’m still acting occasionally now.
Charlie’s friends groups changed after breakups, mine changed after making new friends, or friends moving away overseas, or suddenly feeling halfway through 6th form that I didn’t really have any friends at all and that empty lonely feeling wasn’t going to go away if I stayed going to school day after day, so like I said, I just stopped going.
I don’t know what my life would be like if I’d had some motivation to stay at school. While I was always the ‘You’ve got so much potential’ ‘If you just put some effort in’ kid – even at a relatively young age I never really saw the point. I think that was the hardest part to read in the book, even amongst all of Charlie’s loneliness, and sadness, he was still able to succeed. Straight A’s. A teacher giving him extra curricular books to read (not saying my life would have gone a completely different direction if Miss V had given me ‘The Fountainhead’ to read) but maybe, just maybe, I would have stayed remotely interested.
Yeah sure there’s the bit in the book/film that I’m strenuously avoiding (which you’ll know if you’ve either seen it or read it, it’s very much a spoiler) but I’m just going to leave that chapter closed.
It’s a beautiful book; however is he my generations (or gen X’s) Holden Caulfield? I’m not sure, but there’s definitely something in this that anyone who felt like the didn’t fit in at high school can identify with. It’s beautifully written, astute, honest, or maybe I just saw it as an incredibly sad reflection of myself.
ADDENDUM: This blog post NEARLY caused me to miss my flight, looks like trips down the long memory lane road shouldn’t be taken when you need to pay attention to train stops and which carriage you’re in, so you don’t end up in Godstone less than an hour before your flight departs at once going ‘Where the f*&( am I’ and ‘HOLY SHIT I HAVE TO CATCH MY FLIGHT’…