This week I was asked, “Where are you from?” because I wasn’t interested in watching the college football championship game. I had finished eating a nice meal in a local gastropub and was ready to leave – but the waitress was surprised that I wasn’t interested in joining the throng of revelers in red who circled the bar areas and occasionally glanced up to the TV’s to catch the score or watch the replays. During my meal I’d been happily entertained with the book I’d brought. (Middlemarch if you care to know.) Football is a big thing in Oklahoma. It means zipola to me however. No I don’t quite fit in.
This week I was asked where I went to school. Really? I’m almost fifty. Honestly, I realize that when someone asks this they are trying to find common ground. But common ground doesn’t need to be found in ancient history, does it? For me discussing high school brings up frustration, vexation, and memories of not fitting in. I’ve discovered that invariably it is people who enjoyed those years that ask the question. Not that they are living in the glory days necessarily. It’s a way of categorizing. Where we in the same place at the same time? Did we know the same people? Did we experience the same rights of passage?
Sadly, no. We didn’t. I always cringe when I’m asked this question. No you didn’t go to the same high school at the same time I did or we’d know each other. It was that small.
For some people a small town school is a great thing. You can be a big fish in a small pond. But if the pond is too small there is little room for individuality and growth. Small ponds offer few opportunities to anyone other than the big fish. And I’m not even certain they offer much to the big fish beyond the rocky shore.
All this talk of ponds is a bit nauseating; the town in question is actually on a lake. The primo reason my parents moved there. The first day of school in sixth grade it was obvious I’d taken a few steps backwards. I hadn’t known, or would have ever imagined it necessary, to bring a nickel extra for chocolate milk after second recess. Second recess? Chocolate milk? Yep. That was easy enough to remedy the second day but I never really found my groove. Sitting in the same classroom all day wasn’t something I’d done for three years and seemed a bit boring not to mention smacking of immaturity. Junior high was only months away – everything would even out then I told myself. But little changed. The classes I had expected in junior high wouldn’t be available until high school, if at all. Even then, options were narrow. Narrow options leave little room for learning about the world, or finding out who you are.
I went to college unprepared by the small school I’d attended. A town without a library, and parents without curiosity did little to help. I sat in a college class and wondered who Dante was, and why I’d never heard of most of the books that the rest of the kids had read. I wasn’t prepared and I couldn’t catch up.
What I’ve realized over the years since then is that it is up to me to be interested in the world. I read now more than most people I know. I travel, I ask questions. I rarely ask where someone went to high school.
What people are doing now is more interesting that high school. I enjoy when people ask what I’m reading or knitting. How is the farm going? Or the new house? All current events.
Last year we were at Living Kitchen for dinner with a table full of mostly strangers. The only couple we knew was our friends Carissa and Carston. Carston is an interesting and very bright man. A soft talker too. At a table full of new people he asked the most wonderful conversation starter of a question of a man near him. “What are you passionate about?”
Cut to the chase. Forget finding common ground. Learn about people. Carston was genius. This seemingly mild mannered stranger was passionate about building wells for fresh drinking water in underdeveloped nations. Would we have ever had this conversation if Carston hadn’t asked such an open question?
What would I say if someone asked me – what are you passionate about? It could change daily.
Family and friends – sure. Too easy.
Going deeper I’d talk about how much the yarn I’m knitting a lace shawl looks like a pasture of winter grass in Oklahoma. (You thought I wasn’t going to get around to knitting, didn’t you?) Each row holds stitches of yellows so pale they are almost white, golds, and yellow greens, yellows within a breath of being orange. Soft beautiful merino wool the colors of winter grass. I love this shawl so much and I can’t wait to wrap it around my body. How can I not be passionate about that? I may still not fit in but it’s more revealing than where I went to high school.
SAME DAY POST SCRIPT
Passion burns bright. So does that tall golden winter grass. Christopher’s father just called from the farm and we had a fire – five acres of pasture burned up in the high country, along with the farm truck.