Roe is No More

Protest art in St. Johns. It’s not hitting my feelings exactly (it doesn’t jibe with the UU first principle), but it does capture the zeitgeist.

The draft opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization dropped right when I was smack in the middle of the longest period of my life. For 15 straight days I bled, a marker of my waning theoretical fertility.

I’d love to say that the decision took me by surprise, but it was more like my approaching menopause. I knew the end of Roe v. Wade was out there, but I didn’t know when it would happen. In my mind, the last wall fell when Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, but the chipping away has gone on for years. It was happening when I was in high school and Roe hadn’t yet turned 20.

I wept when Ginsberg died. When the official decision came down, I’d already done my mourning.

My fertility remains a theoretical thing because I’ve never been pregnant. I’ve never wanted to be, I’ve worked very hard not to be, and I’ve been lucky enough to have the means to suppress that egg from starting it’s monthly journey and lucky enough to live in a time when I was allowed to do that. I’ve also been lucky enough that my various forms of birth control (there have been many) have worked and I’ve never had to go through the steps to get an abortion. Steps that have been relatively easy in all the states I’ve lived in, at least at the time I lived in them.

Gen X follows the coming of legalized abortion. The youngest ones were prepubescent when Roe came down. We’ve hit menopause or are wrapping up our ability to conceive just as six people on the Supreme Court decided we aren’t the people who get to decide what to do with that fertility.

Because I’d never wanted children, the ability to have an abortion was paramount. I educated myself about birth control (Thanks, Our Bodies, Ourselves and Sassy Magazine!) got on regular birth control once I became sexually active, and was rigid about contraception. Still, I always made sure I had at least $600 in my checking account, and always knew where the nearest clinic was.

People have abortions for a variety of reasons. Some are selfish, some are logical, some are an act of mercy, some are well through through, some are not thought through at all. A lot of people have opinions about that particular medical procedure. But does that mean they get to say? It does not.

In high school, I wore a brass cuff engraved with Becky Bell’s name and her birth and death dates. When people would ask me what was the meaning of the bracelet, I would explain that Bell had died in 1988 from complications due to an illegal’s abortion she sought because of parental consent laws. I lived in the (very) slightly liberal city of Boise in a very conservative state, so a lot of time that information would be met with silence or a quick change of subject. But a lot of women, hearing about a young woman died from an illegal abortion, would tell me about how scary it was before abortion was legal and the friends they lost, or the stories of their friends who were grossly affected by illegal abortions. But I think I was the only one hearing those stories. To hear everyday women speak about abortion was never a thing. As with so many things, we don’t listen to women’s stories. We don’t even ask them what their stories are.

And that, for me, is what this comes down to. There are two pillars of my fundamental belief in a person’s right to choose abortion. The first: abortion is a medical procedure that should be decided on by the patient with input from the doctor treating the patient. The second: women and other pregnant people have always sought abortions, no matter what the law says. When they can’t access them legally, they find a way.

There shouldn’t have to be a way to be found. Just as every person in the United States should have access to healthcare, so should part of that healthcare include deciding for yourself, if a pregnancy should continue.

I’d like to think that this is the issue that causes an uproar across the nation and a blue tide in November. But I don’t think it will be. We will need to have another generation see what it’s like when a bunch of people get to make choices for other people and see the fallout before we can find a new path.

Winco Discovery: A Rough Draft of a Short Story

At the last minute of her Business 101 class, the teacher assigned Greta to bring iced animal crackers. On her way home, she stopped at the big grocery store that reminded her of her mother frowning at every price, she headed to the cookie aisle and grabbed three bags. Her eyes shifted to the left as she calculated the cost. It looked like she would be air drying her laundry again this week.

She headed to the produce section to grab the scallions her mother had asked her to buy and as she cut through the bulk department, something caught her eye. In the white bin were the very same animal crackers she was holding. Her eyes shifted to the left again as she calculated the bulk price.

She set down her three bags and grabbed one of the industrial-strength bulk bags and started scooping, imagining the hug of warm, clean pajamas.


1994. I was a freshman, settling in to my second semester. It was an optimistic time. I felt at home in college, Hillary Clinton was going to make sure everyone in the US had access to healthcare before I graduated from college—Time had even published a mockup of the national health insurance card—and women were ascendant, something that made choosing a women’s college seem like a brilliant decision.

My government professor had everyone pick a special project for the semester. Mine was to keep up with the doings of the Supreme Court. There was some end-of-semester assignment, now long forgotten, but I what I do remember is that I needed to read the New York Times and other publications like Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, to keep track of what SCOTUS was up to.

I liked this assignment. In my picture of my impending adulthood, I saw myself always making time to sit down and scour the news, keeping up on current events, informing myself about the issues, and being able to talk intelligently about not only the Supreme Court but also state and local issues. I would for-sure be a person who always had a subscription to not only my local newspaper, but also the New York Times.

I loved following the Supreme Court. Rehnquist, Blackmun, Stevens, O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg. Blackmun was the key to the reason I’d grown up in a country where abortion was legal. He would retire that year, making way for Breyer, and that court would stay the same until 2005, when I was well into my imagined adulthood with no national healthcare and no subscription to the New York Times.

One of the things I loved about the Supreme Court was that it stood above politics. We said that all the time then, and talked about how the Founding Fathers (we used that term without much comment) designed the Constitution so that the Supreme Court was above the fray. The justices were appointed for life! They often went off in different directions than the presidents who appointed them!

And Ruth Bader Ginsburg was my favorite. A tiny woman with a big brain who wore lace collars on her robe, I took her nomination as one of the many signs the country was shaking off the conservative shackles I’d come of age chafing under. Her appointment and confirmation meant we were moving to a brighter future where women could finally fulfill their potential, and the idiotic notions of supply-side economics and shaming people who needed help were finally behind us.

It was so important to have more than one woman on the court. I’d watched with worry as several big decisions about abortion rolled through the court in the 80s and early 90s. It seemed ridiculous that eight men could properly put the importance of access to that procedure in context. Ginsburg was smart, and as I listed to Mara Liasson’s NPR stories about the Supreme Court I always held still to make sure I could feel the weight of Ginsburg’s words.

And now it’s many decades later, and I woke to the news she is gone. I’m no longer a college freshman optimistic about my future. I watched a talented, competent woman with clear platforms and tons of experience lose an election to a man with no plans, no respect for the people he supposedly serves, and no real desire to do the job. The healthcare system is a mess, the problems of systemic racism seem insurmountable, and the Supreme Court is not far above the fray, it’s right in swamp throwing elbows with the other two branches. My life is not what I planned it to be; it’s far from the rosy picture my nineteen-year-old-self envisioned.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life didn’t run its course as she planned. When I think of her, graduating at the top of her class, taking the hits of overt sexism, and interviewing with law firm after law firm, it’s hard to think about. She was sidelined, like so many women and people of color, and we lost years of her (and so many others) contributions.

But she kept going. She stayed with her love of the law however she could and eventually was appointed to a position only 113 other people have ever held, becoming one of six people to ever serve on the court who weren’t white men.

I’m pretty sure Ginsburg was set to retire once Clinton was elected president. She was already very old, and her health was turning. Her husband had died, and she had served for more than two decades. But when the election fell out a different way, she just kept going.

I was going to have a lazy day today. I’m tired from more than a week of wildfire smoke, worn down by this pandemic, beyond feeling anything about the current administration, sick at the amount of hatred and willful ignorance displayed by so many, and forever worried about how my health will affect my finances, now and in the future. The best course of action seemed to be to sink into my bed and my couch and let this day pass.

But Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead, and she worked so long against such long odds for so many things that have made my life better, either overtly or tangentially. So I’m going to make my bed and get dressed. What I do today won’t matter much in the world, but it will matter in my life. If I don’t take care of my needs, I can’t do the work I need to do to make a better life for myself and my community. Today is the first day without RBG and it’s another one of the many days in my life where what I do makes a difference.

I thank Ginsburg for her service. And I will do my best to make my own service ongoing.

Trucks. 90% not needed

Reading all of Mr. Money Mustache’s posts has changed me in several ways, but profoundly when looking at what cars Americans choose to drive. And while sometimes Mr. Money Mustache can seem a bit blame-y when it comes to haranguing people about their debt and lifestyle choices, I’m totally there with him re: cars. And I’m completely there regarding trucks.

I love a good truck. When my parents inherited money while I was in my teens they paid off the mortgage and my dad bought a truck. I loved driving it. It was driving stripped down to the basics: standard transmission, rough cloth upholstery. To this day, something about a bench seat still gets me. Trucks are handy for hauling things, and they’re big, without being as asshole-ish as large SUVs.

However, I think in 99% of the cases, they are completely unnecessary. The above three trucks are parked in these spaces every day that I walk this way to work. I’m guessing they belong to the construction workers who are building the big tower down the block. But these trucks aren’t used for construction. They’re used to get the construction workers to their job.

As Mr. Money Mustache points out in this post, the two things to worry about  with vehicles are fuel economy and passenger/cargo space. These two trucks fail on both counts. Assuming the construction workers are driving themselves to work, they could be doing so in a much smaller car, even something as small as a Smart Car. (Which cost a lot of money, now that I’m looking at the price.)

Yes, these construction workers may use their trucks for other things like hauling things on the weekend, or an after-hours job. But they probably do not. Like most cars in the USA, they drive us to work and back home again.

And do these construction workers own these trucks free and clear, with no car loan? Possibly, but not probably. If there’s one thing all the Financial Independence reading has reminded me, it’s that car loans should be avoided at all costs. If the people who drive these cars are paying loans plus interest, that makes them even more inefficient choices.

I don’t currently own a car, though I do pay for the use of one. I take public transportation to work and use it to get me to other places when the car isn’t available. It’s easy to say that I’m lucky–that I’ve got it easy, with a quick commute downtown. Not everybody has that option.

But I would also say that I arranged my life in this fashion. When I last looked for work, I applied for jobs that were close to my house, at least via public transportation. If the job hunt hadn’t turned up anything, I would have expanded my search, but I’ve done the hour-commute-each-way-via-public-transportation thing, and I don’t want to experience that again, if I can help it.

These trucks may make their owners very happy. But they also might be inflicting needless financial pain. At any rate, they aren’t a good choice for the planet. I’d like to see us, as a country, move away from big vehicles.

Essay: On being excited for once-in-a-lifetime expereinces

There’s a total solar eclipse happening soon, I don’t know if you’ve heard.

If you haven’t heard, I guarantee that you do not live anywhere near Portland, Oregon, because right now the eclipse has popped right to the top of general conversation topics, sometimes even outranking discussions of the weather, and the continually perplexing antics of the occupant of the White House.

I’ve backed away from these solar eclipse conversations because a lot of them go like this:

Someone:  So what are you doing for the eclipse?
Me:  I’m excited to go to Salem to watch it, ideally from the park in front of the State Capitol building.
Someone: When are you leaving?
Me: I am committed to getting up as early as I need to, in order to get myself to Salem.
Someone: That’s not going to work.

They don’t always say it straight out.  Sometimes it’s a series of follow up questions, each in a tone that says I’m an idiot for thinking my plan will work. Sometimes they lead with it, as in the phone conversation I had last night where the first thing caller said was, “You don’t think you’re actually going to drive to Salem, do you?”  Sometimes it’s a shake of the head and a doubtful lip purse as I outline my plans.

It’s frustrating.  It’s frustrating especially coming from people who know me, and who should know me well enough that “plans” means “detailed itinerary with many options, including multiple backup plans.”  Those same people who know me should also know that when I’m firmly committed to fun and excitement, that I will find it whether or not those plans will come to pass.

What really bugs me people’s inability to see anything but trouble in my excitement. This has lead to more than one frustrated rant on my part.

“When people tell me they are engaged, do I point out to them that statistically, their impending wedding is likely to be a costly endeavor that will end in divorce?” I said to a friend at lunch the other day.  “No, I do not, I congratulate them, because they are excited, and thus, I will be excited with them.”

I get that not everyone thinks experiencing a total eclipse is super cool. I get that not everyone is excited about the influx of people. I get that there might be terrible traffic, clouds, or any number of unknowns that might get in the way of my path to totality.  But when people tell me they don’t like crowds, do I tell them they should suck it up and wade into the crowds for this amazing experience? I do not, because I accept that they will not enjoy an experience with crowds.  I let them be them.  

They need to let me be me, which means not getting in the way of my excitement.

With that out of the way, here’s the plan:

Route option #1.  Portland to Salem via I-5
Route option #2. Portland to Salem following the same route we did when we rode the Oregon Scenic Bikeway.  It’s all back roads straight to the capitol.
Route option #3.  Portland to Salem via a different bike route to Salem, but this one on the west side.


The radio and internet are important supplies.  I will be monitoring the traffic conditions throughout the weekend.  If I’m hearing reports that absolutely no one is getting through to Salem or anywhere in the path of totality, not via any roads, not even those traveling through the night, well then, we will be experiencing the near-total eclipse from Kenton Park, and I will be happy to have the day off, and greatly enjoy 99% of the super cool experience.  

Note that I don’t count the internet as something that will be available during the navigation to the event, as it is possible that the grid will be at capacity and internet will not be something to be relied on.

Maps.  Big state map of Oregon. Pages of relevant maps of the area copied from maps at the library.

Water.  Several gallons, in case we end up spending the day with no access to water.

Food.  In case there is no food to be had.

Full tank of gas. I’m thinking it’s wisest to not count on getting gas anywhere in the path of totality

Books and games.  Things to do when we are waiting, either in standstill traffic, or at the capitol hanging out before or after the eclipse.

Blankets and pillows.  If we’re leaving at 3 am, 1 am, the day of, or 11 pm or 9 pm the night before,  I’m going to need to nap, and I want to be comfortable during that nap.

Toilet paper. Because you never know when you will need toilet paper.

Eclipse glasses.  No eclipse blindness for us.

Phone chargers.  Even if the grid is at capacity, we don’t want to inadvertently cut ourselves off of potential communication because our phones have died.

The most important thing I’m bringing:

A sense of adventure and a sense of fun.  Because even with all my plans, it might not work out.  I might experience the eclipse from the park seven blocks from my house, or from standstill traffic outside the path of totality.  We might run into all sorts of things not anticipated or thought of that mean that we don’t get the unique opportunity of totality.  But when people ask me, “What did you do for the eclipse?” or “Have you ever seen a total solar eclipse?” I’ll have a story to tell. And it won’t be one of how I got up like I do nearly every Monday and went to work, because the obstacles of getting to the unique experience 60 miles away were too high and it seemed like too much of a pain.

It shouldn’t be a matter of charity

The fatal stabbings on the Max were terrible.  Girls harassed for their appearance, good people dead, a person who was quite possibly mentally incompetent taken into custody. And don’t forget the guy who robbed the dead guy of his wallet, backpack and wedding ring.

Here’s a follow-up story that is ostensibly good news.  The person who stepped in, got stabbed and survived will not have to pay out of pocket injuries incurred while doing the right thing.  But this article mostly makes me mad.

“Fletcher briefly choked up as he told [Legacy CEO Dr. George] Brown how much the waiver meant to him and his family.” I’ll bet it did.

As someone (with insurance that my company pays $485/month) who just paid $2,700 for a diagnostic mammogram, I can imagine just how much the medical care Fletcher received cost.

When I read a report of cost of care being waived, I’m happy for the person who receives this charity.  But the US needs to move to a system where everyone is covered for everything and no one has to worry about if they can afford what they need to live.

Articles like this remind me of the DJ, visiting Portland from elsewhere, who went to sleep at the Jupiter Hotel, and woke up to a cab driving through the wall of his motel, causing horrific injuries.  The cab was driven by a guy who went into a diabetic coma (something that probably would have a good chance of not happening with a functioning healthcare system) and that diabetic coma put a working member of society into our medical system through no fault of his own.  His life was changed forever.  I’m sure the bills on top of that were crushing.

We need to find a way to cover all people.  People who step up in tense situations, people who find automobiles on top of them in their hotel rooms, people who make bad choices and end up with preventable diseases, and people who are just stuck with what they are stuck with due to genetics, chemicals in the environment, what have you. We’re all Americans, and we all deserve care.

Essay: Piano

I wrote this in response to Carrie Mesrobian’s Tiny Letter about her piano experiences. Which I cannot find online.  It came to my mailbox, it doesn’t seem to be in her archive.

I played piano starting in second grade, and quit by fourth. I also hated to practice.  That hatred of practice followed me to other instruments: flute, oboe, saxophone, guitar.

My mother sold our piano when I was in seventh grade.  I hadn’t touched it in years.  My grandmother objected.  “Every house should have a piano,” she said “just in case someone might want to play it.” I was relieved it was gone, then wanted that piano back a few years later, even while avoiding practicing my concert band music.
I started playing again two years ago.  I play about five minutes a day and have made minuscule progress. I play on a keyboard my friend bought for her daughter, before her daughter aged up to a real piano.  It doesn’t have all 88 keys, and the keys it has aren’t weighted.  I want a decent electronic piano (my boyfriend doesn’t think our house is big enough for a real piano) but haven’t saved the money, and am partially worried once I invested any sum of cash I would lose all interest and there the piano would sit, with the guilt rolling off of me when I dusted it.
When I play, I feel connected to that theoretical musician I once was.  I think of an ex-boyfriend, who makes his living as a musician.  I imagine futures when I will find people to blues jam with, or have people over to play and sing.  The piano seems to transport me to the past or the future, with very little progress made in the present.

The peaceful transfer of power

I’d hoped for a different kind of day. One with historic implications. One where I set aside my daily doings to watch the ceremony, so I could say, “I watched her inauguration.” I was looking forward to the day when, after 241 years of US history, we finally had a president who looked like me.

This morning, reading my friends’ final “Obama: Yay!” posts, I broke down. It’s hard to see a woman I voted for lose, but it’s even harder to see a highly qualified, nose-to-the-grindstone, over-prepared woman who really, really wants the job lose. It’s even worse that the man who won is not highly qualified, woefully unprepared and I suspect him of wanting to win the election more than wanting to govern the country.

The clip from Facebook that tripped me over to sorrow was Barak Obama at his second inaugural. After giving his inaugural address, he left the podium, then turned back saying something to the effect of: “I want to take a second look at this. I won’t see this again.” That appreciation—of how lucky one is to be the US President—will be missing for the next four-to-eight years. We’re setting aside a leader who understood gratitude, and struggle, and going high when others go low and we’re swearing in a leader who thinks his success was inevitable, who never misses an opportunity to promote himself, and who responds to the smallest slight with a full-bore attack.

Maybe something good will come out of this chaotic and often hate-filled leadership style. It’s possible. In the time between the election and the inauguration I’ve looked for signs that the man we will call President takes seriously the gravity of his duties. I’ve found little evidence.

In four years, I’m guessing my life won’t be very different than it is now. Sure, we could get sucked into some sort of war that’s entirely unnecessary, but we’ve been doing that since 2003. My hopes for the next four years include the wish that people aren’t hurt by policies I disagree with (ban on Muslim immigrants, repeal of the health care law, bathroom “safety” laws) and that maybe things take a turn for the better.

Joining the government is public service. I’ll be watching to see who is being served, who is being left behind and who is being left out.

Image from:

Essay: On Popularity

I’ve been thinking about popularity lately.  Specifically of the high school kind.  I see the popularity class structure depicted over and over again in movies and books and I think they get it wrong.  Books have more nuance than movies, but still don’t hit the mark.

Popularity in movies and books is a straight line, with the least popular person or group at one end and a very clear person/group at the top.  Every character talks about how popular they are, where they stand on the line of popularity and what they need to do/not do to move up or down in line.  People say things like “she’s the most popular girl in school” or “he wasn’t very popular, but he started working out and moved up and now he’s prom king.

In a recent YA book I read, social order is a big theme of the book.  The protagonist is part of a quartet that includes the most popular girl, the girl that everyone is talking about.  At one point in the book one of the protagonist’s friends leaves the quartet, saying something to the effect of, “I’m leaving this, I’m going to fall so far that no one will know who I am, I’m out.”  And then she convinces the protagonist to come with her.  In the pages of the book the two of them do fall off the social radar of the school, so much so that when fortunes turn and the protagonist becomes popular again a year later, some people don’t even recognize her, even though she hasn’t undergone the classic movie technique of the transformative makeover.  I find this construct to be complete crap.

My school experience was very steady. I went to an elementary school that fed into the junior high school that fed into the high school.  There were no major boundary changes at any time and a large percentage of the people I went to elementary school with were sitting in the same group of nearly five hundred graduates in my high school class.  Here are my memories of how popularity worked.

In early elementary school we were all just there.  There were some smart kids and some not-so-smart kids and there were friend groups, but they weren’t drawn with firm lines and a lot of people played (this was before play dates, we just played) with other people.  Around third grade and definitely by fourth grade, some people started to become more cool than others.  In my mind, this happened when two girls moved to town and suddenly some of my friends were changing, doing things that were perceived as cooler.  These things usually happened at slumber parties I wasn’t invited to, which I was okay with, because I didn’t like the sound of what they were doing.  I can only remember the uncomfortable feeling and not the actions that made these girls cooler, though I suspect they were along the lines of prank phone calls.

From fourth through sixth grades, our elementary grade of 50 students in two classes had divided into cool and uncool kids.  I knew where I was (uncool) and I could tell you where everyone else was if you asked me, but—and this is the key to how popularity really worked—no one did ask me.  We didn’t talk about any of this, not with parents, not among ourselves, not with teachers.  Friendship groups had subtly shifted and no one said a thing.  In the movies, this would be depicted blatantly by two friends conversing: “Delilah has gotten much cooler than us.”  In books it would be depicted more subtly, perhaps a paragraph about the changes in Delilah ending with an observation that Delilah was cooler.  But in real life?  Certain people were spending more time with other people and certain people were being invited to parties while other people were not, but there was never a time to sit down and chat about it.  There was never a time when someone told me I wasn’t cool.  Instead there were a lot of regular reminders of how I wasn’t in the cool group.

Again, I don’t remember anything specific, it was just a feeling I had, perhaps brought on by days and months and years of asides and glances.  One too many comments about how many books I read or how I knew the right answers or what I was wearing.  The theme seemed to be “you are not like us” or “you don’t belong with us” but never was it, “we’re cooler than you.”

This was disconcerting.  I didn’t want to be part of the cool group—they made me uncomfortable—but I worried that all my friends would change over to the cool group and I would be alone.  With only about 25 girls to choose from, I had a friend group of probably five people, and losing too many of them would leave me with nothing.  I was also worried because my closest and oldest friend was very good friends with the cool group and I spent a lot of time worrying when she would stop being friends with me and choose them instead.  She turned out to be one of those kids who can float between all groups and we remained good friends through almost all of high school.  But I had no way of knowing that in fifth grade.

Also—and this is a key of my memories of popularity—I was doing the same thing.  There were people who were not cool people that I didn’t want to be part of my friend group and I made sure that didn’t happen, either by making the same kind of comments the cool kids were making to me, or I ignored them entirely.  I went to elementary school with a girl who would become a very close friend in junior high and high school and I don’t remember anything about her during elementary school, except thinking she was weird.  And I didn’t even think about her very often.  Keeping with the lack of conversation about popularity, the two of us have never discussed this.

People could join the cool group.  I remember a very nice girl seemed to make a decision to be cool and started hanging around with the group.  I watched as they weren’t very nice to her and it reinforced my belief that that group was not for me.  She stuck around though, and remained cool through junior high.  I don’t remember her at all in high school, though she graduated with me.

In junior high we flooded together with five other elementary schools who had presumably been going through the same changes we had. There was a brief period in seventh grade when elementary friendships fizzled and new friendships were formed and everyone found their group again. It was more of a free-for-all than the changeover from high school would be because for the first time we had an officially popular group.  No one told me who they were, I just knew. I still know, could pull out my seventh grade yearbook and tell you who was popular.

I also knew I was not part of that group.  Mostly I remember the popular boy who lived down the street and his attitude toward me at the bus stop.  There were only five of us waiting at my stop and it was awkward every morning. Make conversation?  Don’t make conversation? It seemed weird to not talk, but every time I joined in he would look at me and I would know he was thinking what a dork I was.  Interestingly, he still had this look at both the tenth and twentieth reunions.  My adult self thinks perhaps he was just squinty, but years of experience tells me that he still thinks he’s cooler than I am.

Again in junior high, I didn’t want to be popular.  I heard tales of things they did at parties and I didn’t want to do those things and so I had no reason to be popular.  And I had friends of my own.  It was touch-and-go in seventh grade.  I can recall hanging out with people I was not friends with during the rest of school.  But I had my oldest friend around and people rotated in and out until mid-eighth grade when I found the core of people I would spend the rest of junior high and high school with.

So for me, junior high and high school was all about the friend groups.  There were tons of different friend groups, one of which was the popular group, but many more groupings of three or more kids who hung out regularly.  The popular kids did their popular kid things and the rest of us did our things.  And people were friends and friendly to people who weren’t part of their groups.  I didn’t know everyone, but I had classes with people of all different groups, we talked, sometimes we did things.  There wasn’t a firm line drawn around my group of friends, and I didn’t forget the names of people I had in classes.  There were popular people I enjoyed spending time with in class, even though we would never talk outside of class.

Our junior high and another one fed into my high school and there was another rearranging of groups, less dramatic than the junior high one, but with 500 people in a class it’s reasonable that people spun away.  I talked to people at my reunions who I spent a lot of time with in junior high and have no high school memories of.  But I didn’t forget them.  I still knew who they were.  In high school there would also be small shifts at the beginning of every school year when the new class of people arrived and people from different grades made their way into friendship group.

So popularity wasn’t some straight line from uncoolest person to coolest person.  There was a group who was popular and everyone knew it, and then there was a web of other groups who were not popular and probably—like me—didn’t care that they weren’t popular as long as they had friends.

I can recall one friend blowing my mind with the observation about a popular girl.  “What makes her popular?” she asked.  “No one likes her except her friends.”  This was a true statement.  No one could stand this girl.  Unlike some popular people who were nice, this girl was not nice and not friendly.  My friend continued, “I have friends who like me, so does that make me popular?”  It did not and we both knew it, but I was left with a different view of the popular people.

It would be interesting to have people from high school sort people into the groups that they remember. I want to see what kind of groups the people in the popular group would make.  Do they see themselves as popular?  Would they pretend not to be, because popular people are mostly depicted as assholes in popular culture?  One of the most popular people in our class recently directed a movie in which a character very much like herself was portrayed as being very uncool, not popular.  Does she really not see herself as popular when the rest of us do?

Popularity in my school experience was much like my experience of the American class system.  We don’t talk about money in the U. S. of A. and how much we make.  But most of us have sorted ourselves into friend groups of similar income amounts and educational levels and I can make some guesses as to how much money people make every year.  People who make a lot of money are often depicted as popular/successful, even though—like a certain person in my class—no one really likes them.  Some people might be aspiring to a different income level/popularity and paying for more things with credit cards than cash, because they want into that higher group.  Just like school, they might not be saying that overtly, but we can all see it.  Not that we’d ever say anything about it.

An aside that I couldn’t jam into this essay. I recommend Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen which examines a current-day eighth grader’s quest to become more popular using a book from the 1950s.  Aside from being a great marker of contemporary adolescence, Van Wagenen really digs into what makes someone popular.  Her conclusions are interesting.

Essay: Advice Column

Note:  I’ve been wanting to write more essays, but haven’t really had anything burbling to the surface to write about.  But now Poets & Writers will send me a weekly creative nonfiction prompt every Thursday and so I’m angling to use that as a weekly springboard for a short essay.  It might not be every week, especially as school gears up, but I’ll do my best.

Think of a situation from your past when you were unsure of what to do and wished for someone’s advice or opinion. Describe the scenario and ask specific questions about your next course of action, as if you were posing the issue to an advice columnist. Then, write an essay in the form of an advice column response to yourself. Analyze the situation objectively–cite relevant anecdotes, examples, or hypothetical outcomes–and share words of guidance, insight, and encouragement with your past self.

Dear Advice Columnist,

I’m 23.  I’m a week into a graduate school program in something I think I might like to do for work.  I graduated college a year ago—finished school in three and a half years—and have been working while waiting for the next stage of my life to begin.

The thing is, I like the job I have now.  I like the people, I like the work.  I’m good at school, but the thought of more hours in the library turns my stomach.  I can make myself do it, but should I?  If I go full time, I’ll be done in two years, have a dual degree and can get on with my life.  But something in me wants to chuck the grad school thing and just keep going to work every day.  Advice?

One Path Seems Much More Attractive.


Your signature says it all.  I suspect your hesitancy has to do with the fact that the more attractive path isn’t the one you are supposed to be walking on.  Or the one you think you aren’t supposed to be walking on.  So let’s go through things objectively.  On one hand, we have the graduate school path, which will possibly lead you to work that you might like to do.  I’m betting that work pays more than the job you have now and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that your theoretical work will pay more than you make now.

On the other hand, we have the job you have now that you really like. I can tell it’s something that you are qualified for based on your undergraduate degree, or possibly your high school diploma.  You wouldn’t be the first person to finish school and pick up work that looks a lot like the stuff you did to get through school.  I don’t know if it is something you will always like, if it’s something that you can add new challenges to, if it’s the kind of work that will always be available to you.

You also don’t seem very excited about graduate school.  And I believe you when you say that you can power through and do the work because someone who shaves off a semester of college knows how to get work done.

But you don’t want to do the work.  Not right now.  Maybe you’re still worn out from undergrad, maybe you are having fun in your paid work, maybe you never really wanted to do whatever this graduate school program is training you to do.

Here’s what I know.  Graduate school will always be there.  Sure, it’s convenient to go now, when your options are probably pretty wide open, you’re used to the school stuff and you have all of the getting-into-the-program stuff behind you.  As you get older all of those things get harder.  But right now you’ve got a job you like to go to where both the people and the work are stimulating.

You can try for a middle path, maybe see if you can shift your work around to accommodate a half-schedule and a class or two per semester for your program.  You can see if you can reduce your work schedule to minuscule, just to keep a toe in the fun, while you power through your graduate program.

But if you are more of a singularly focused person, go with the job for now.  Maybe try to keep some options open in the grad school direction, volunteering, what have you.  Or maybe decide that your job now is what you want now and do that job.

Whatever your choice, make your decision and be happy with it.  Maybe skipping graduate school isn’t the path you planned, but it might be the path you choose.  So go with that path and be thankful for all the things it will bring to you.  If it ever starts looking less attractive, do what you have to do to find a new path, by either doing that graduate school thing, or something else that looks interesting.

English philosopher John Lennon once told us that life is what happens when you are making other plans.  I think your life is happening right now.  Make your decision and go for it.

Good luck,
Random Advice Columnist.