I missed my 20-year high school reunion last weekend. “Missed” sounds like an accident; or it could be an active emotion; or it could me a deliberate swerve. This was a combination of all three. Maybe I could have figured out a way to go. Of course I could have figured out a way to go. The combination of wanting to see the summer program’s last days and not wanting to make summer travel any more complicated were the real reasons. (It felt satisfying to tell others I couldn’t make it because I was still running a “summer program” — sounds important and altruistic enough, I suppose.) Truth is, I was also scared to go, not because I didn’t like high school or because I was afraid of seeing anyone in particular, but because I wasn’t sure how I’d handle being remembered as someone I’m not anymore.
Fortunately, there’s Facebook. And, unfortunately, there’s Facebook. Reunion planning is probably never going to be the same. The whole whirlwind that transpired as the reunion was being fine tuned created lots of connections. I’ve ended up seeing pictures of lots of people, many taken at the reunion itself. All kinds of people say it was a great time. I recognized about half of them. The other half I could have passed on the street ten times and I never would have placed them. I imagine that I might be more similar to how I looked in high school than many, and I’ve also imagined someone (had I gone to the reunion) saying, “You’re exactly the same as when you were in high school!” And I’d respond, “Yeah, except since high school I’ve drunk beer and had sex and got a PhD.” All those things, in high school, seemed equally far away to me.
Now that my non-attendance of the reunion is behind me, I’m working on backpacking preparations. At the same time, Anna has left for her first trip to Girl Scout camp. Her experience and my own have similarities, but amazing differences as well. Girl Scout camp is in a secret location — you only know where it is if you’re going. But it’s an amazing location, sitting next to a lake amongst aspen at 9200 feet in elevation. We all want to go. She learns to sail and climb and tie knots and wrestle bears. The details are fuzzy in my head. But I do know that that place is amazing: They check the cars coming in and they check the health of all the girls and they check the cabins to the girls and they assure everyone (moms especially) that it’s going to be fantastic. They thought of more than we could have ever asked for, which is a lot.
We pored over the catalog and written materials looking for anything that seemed even remotely suspect. Nothing. It was all golden, except just one thing: There is a policy that the counselor to camper ratio is 8:1 during the day, and 6:1 at night. Holy shit! What do they do with those other two girls?
My own preparations for backcountry adventure have similar anticipation and anxieties. I’ll be trekking over mountain passes, eclipsing 13,000 feet on my own 2 feet (a ratio of 6500:1, day or night). This trek signifies the end of summer, even though it seems as though we’re in the middle of the season, because from backpacking I return to get in the car and hit the road for Oregon and then [insert multiple adventures here] and then pull into the garage right before I host a new faculty orientation back at campus. And then school starts. My blood pressure rises just thinking about it, both the what-I-need-to-get-done-before-I-leave stuff and the weight-of-the-things-to-do-as-soon-as-our-car-pulls-into-the-garage-at-home things. It makes my blood pressure rise, but I know that being in the mountains will make it go down. Being in the mountains means there’s only one step at a time, singular tasks and simple goals. John Muir crested that pass — I should too.
Each time I go to the doctor my blood pressure is higher. Part of this, I think, has to do with the fact that I get nervous about my blood pressure being higher. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think there’s other stuff going on, too, like a shoulder thing that doesn’t go away but doesn’t really bother me so consistently that I know that it’s a problem. There might also be a neck thing. And there might be other things, but most of these will be helped by a walk in the woods.
The worst part of the doctor, most recently, wasn’t the blood pressure reading, but the companion that the doctor brought into the exam room. I recognized him. He looked like he was in junior high, but better dressed. He was a dress-up Ken doll doctor. He was a former student at the institution at which I teach. “Of course,” I responded when the doctor introduced this med student and asked if it would be permissible for him to observe the examination. That’s a reasonable answer, especially for someone like me who believes in education, apprenticeship, experiential learning and all that.
But this was the urologist. I knew the day would come, but it always (whatever day it is) sneaks up on you and before you know it, you’re dropping your pants in front of a former student, coughing. It’s all fair, I know. It’s only fair.
All of these things told me something about myself without me anticipating it. Other things are supposed to tell us, diagnostically, about ourselves and our actions. I suppose this is why people read horoscopes, or take quizzes in the magazines you see in the supermarket check-out line. A Facebook post from an acquaintance recently advertised, “I write like Ursula LeGuin.” Of course, I knew that was bullshit, but I was intrigued with the methodology. They used this very interesting tool:
which takes writing samples and then magically tells you what writer you emulate most. For example, I took everything above in draft form and pasted it into the website, and I’m told that I write like Cory Doctorow. I’ve never read Cory Doctorow. I took another piece of writing and I was told I write like Dan Brown. I was dismayed. Another piece, and I’m Kurt Vonnegut. That helped my psyche. Intrigued, I took the very quote I pulled from John Steinbeck and input it into the text box: “You write like Stephen King,” I was told.
And I guess that sums up all of my fears, anxieties, trepidations, and the like: I worry about going to high school reunions and the doctor and the backcountry because I never know who I’m going to bring along. Will I be Kurt Vonnegut? Will I be anxiety ridden? Will I be trekking across snow fields with a grin on my face? Hopefully it’s the latter, half full and only half worried and writing about it half as well as Steinbeck would.