On the theme of women's achievements (and alienated computers)

I have been blog-absent for several weeks, to my very great regret. What have I been up to in this period of dead air?

Well, first the absence-motivating event: my computer lost the ability to recognize its own power cord. After the academic year I've had, I frankly sympathized with its general alienation from even the idea of energy. But this alienation left me sadly computerless and internet-isolated for a couple of weeks, as I sent it away to be repaired. The latter end of this period coincided rather disastrously with the densest grading time of the semester, so by the time my computer was returned I had a couple of piles of assignments waiting to be analyzed and processed. Still, if the eMidlife iCrisis of my wee laptop had occurred just a couple of months earlier, during the Final Dissertation Push, the psychic consequences would have been infinitely more dire. So I feel strangely grateful that the old thing held itself together for long enough to see me through my own crisis time.

In the meantime, I attended my tenth high school reunion. I went to what might best be described in hyphen-saturated terms as an achievement-obsessed, all-girls, mildly-religious school, a school which is rumored to have been the primary source of research material for Queen Bees and Wannabees, the book that inspired the film Mean Girls. For most of the past ten years, amidst my college and grad school friends' tales of high school experiences defined by isolation and bullying, I had managed to construct quite a rosy mental picture of my own time in high school, one in which the term "academic rigor" made frequent appearances, the concept of "cliques" appeared not at all, and I fondly recalled the fact that I used to wear one of my several capes (I was a theater person, which naturally yields the corollary that I was, in a broader sense, a drama person) to school regularly without encountering any trace of public mockery or bullying. Would that I were so unselfconscious now.

It was only recently, while talking to a student who had attended our brother school (by which I mean the boys' school that was associated with our girls' school), that someone expressed skepticism about this rosy picture. His impression of my high school, which his sister was currently attending, had considerably more in common with Mean Girls than my nostalgic construct. Suddenly I remembered all sorts of things that might have been better repressed: the fights we had our senior year, for instance, about whether our "senior theme" should be "the military," a proposal which seemed to be largely motivated by a desire to parade about in fatigues hazing underclassmen. After that came the memory of having to repeatedly protest the addition of what Stephen Colbert might now call "On Notice" and "Dead to Me" boards in the senior lounge, on which members of our class could post the names of underclassmen who offended them, so that they could be shunned by the rest of the seniors. Or the recollection that we were so out-of-control tense about college admissions that we were actually forbidden to speak about where we had been accepted while on school property. Of course, boasting finds a way: as admissions letters trickled in, girls soon began driving their cars up the school drive with prominent college stickers affixed to their windshields and bumpers.

So I approached my reunion with some trepidation. What did I find when I got there? That there were myriad friends I had fallen out of touch with whom I was desperately happy to see. That I hadn't felt bullied in high school because I didn't have the slightest desire to be friends with the "mean girls." (And that these girls still didn't have even the inkling of a desire to engage in conversation with me.) That we were all fairly dispirited by the falling college admission achievements of more recent classes, but that this was because it seemed to us to represent a shift away from the academic rigor we all remembered (that part of my nostalgic construct, at least, was proved right), and a failure to recruit and retain the excellent teachers we had loved. That when a group of former high school acquaintances get together in their late twenties, the ring fingers of left hands attract an unseemly amount of attention. That, despite this attention, the "boys" at our brother school's tenth reunion seemed much more interested in showing off wives/girlfriends/fiancées, while we (by contrast) were busy flaunting our advanced degrees. That we are a highly, HIGHLY educated group of women. About half of my class showed up to the reunion, and I only met one person who was not in the process of (or had recently obtained) a degree higher than a bachelor's. She, to our very great admiration, was working on an organic teaching farm, and planning to start her own agricultural venture. And that, as my delightful friend E commented while we tallied up all the MBAs and MAs and PhDs and JDs in progress, "counts. I mean, really, doesn't it? She has a FARM!!"

In the aftermath of the reunion, D. joined me on the east coast, where he will stay with me (hurrah!) until shortly after my graduation in a week and a half. At the moment, I am with him in Philadelphia, where he has been called up to do some film work. I haven't set foot in this city for at least ten years, and luckily our hotel is smack in the middle of the historic district, so the last couple of days have mostly consisted of wandering desultorily around beautiful gardens and antique houses filled (bizarrely) with people dressed in Revolutionary garb who insist on calling me "Madam" and telling me tidbits from the biography of Betsy Ross. I hadn't quite realized (see how much I have learned from the anachronistic strangers!) that, when the maker of our first flag apprenticed as an upholsterer, it was not at all a common trade for women, since it involved quite a lot of very heavy labor. What's more, Ross owned and operated her own shop through several marriages, which was (according to my temporally dislocated new friend) virtually unheard of in New England at the time.

There's certainly more to be said, although I can't quite put my finger on what it is at the moment, but I have the vague feeling that this is rambling on a bit long for a single post (look how much bloggery I have stored up in my absence from you!). Other stories will have to wait for another time...