“Everything you are and do from fifteen to eighteen is what you are
and will do for the rest of your life.”
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD,
letter to his daughter, September 19, 1938
I remember my time at Corona del Mar High School time as generally positive. Clearly, these were the formative years of my life. Yet if one were to ask an old classmate of mine about me they would probably say, “I don’t remember anyone by that name.” I had a small number of intense friendships that are still my best friends to this date. We were more or less “loners” who kept apart from the intrigues of high school and were happier with a smaller but closer circle of friends. In high school, these friendships became much deeper as I became deeper as a person. You will always make new friends in life, but associations that date back to adolescence are unique. There is an emotional intensity in the teenage years that dims somewhat as you get older and the years pass by more quickly and life has less novelty. Many of my experiences from adolescence are burned into my memory and do not fade with the passage of time.
A very competitive place was Corona del Mar High School. There existed subtle but powerful pressures to achieve and excel: to be the best student, the best athlete, the best looking, the best dressed, etc. Our parents put pressure on us, the teachers put pressure on us, and, most importantly, we put pressure on each other. The affluent community of Newport Beach tried to replicate itself with a combination of upper middle class expectations for its children. Clearly, not all teenagers thrive in such a demanding, ultra-competitive environment, but I did..Other CdM students rode Vespas and were into British Ska music (the “mods”), or sort semi-disengaged from school and wore dramatic black makeup, experimented with drugs, and listened to bands like The Cure or The Smiths (the “Goths”). I did not pay much attention to the social life on campus or the hierarchies and drama among students. I did not belong to any clique in high school, highlighting my introversion. At later jobs I was often the last person to know what was happening in the workplace, and it was no different when I was in high school.
Looking back today at my high school regimen, I cannot imagine living so physically intense a life again. My average day in high school started at 5:45 a.m. with a morning workout followed by a quick shower and breakfast at school, classes all day long, workouts after school, and then homework and studying often until late in the night. Whew! My life revolved around sports and studying, sports and studying, sports and studying, etc.; sleep was something I caught when I could. I remember vividly wishing for sleep (or the free time to sleep) and struggling to stay awake in class. In retrospect, it was a great idea to put so much of my adolescent energy into positive activities: I earned good grades for college, acquired work habits and discipline, and was a valued member of successful athletic teams. I enjoyed working towards something valuable much more than wallowing in confusion and adolescent angst (something I unfortunately did during my dismal freshman year). You can read and see more images about the cross country and track teams below:
Cross Country and Track Team
All this, of course, need be seen in the hormone powered confusion of adolescence. I ached with the sexual urges of nascent manhood and had absolutely no idea how to relieve them. In my fours years of high school, I went on the grand total of ONE date. I had absolutely no idea how to make time with the opposite sex; I had to learn this later. I was ahead of most of my peers academically and athletically, but behind socially.
Still, I remember bonding fiercely with my peers at Corona del Mar High School. In particular, I fell seriously in love for the first time, something which brought me both enormous pleasure and acute pain. In the end, I never kissed her nor even told her of my real feelings. If I ever was anything (even in those early years), I was a passionate (if diffident) lover. I was an indefatigable reader who learned all the essential things about writing which make up the writer presently jotting down these thoughts. I was a solid “F” student in French 1 who (whom after a teacher challenged and made me mad) returned on fire and was the top student in all of French 2 with a passion for languages that survives to the present date. I won an award for Social Studies achievement, served as Sports Editor of the campus newspaper, and managed to pull an amazingly diverse number of “F’s” and “A’s” in my classes. If I liked a teacher and a subject, wild horses could not stop me. If not interested, I would do absolutely nothing and stare stubbornly into the teacher’s glare.
Not all my teachers were great, but I had a few great ones — and that is all I needed for college and beyond. Mrs. Thompson was the best writing teacher I ever had, as I explain in more detail below:
Mrs. Miriam Thompson
English Teacher in memoriam
In retrospect, I was lucky to grow up in the California of the 1970s and 1980s. But the place changed so much in the next thirty years: California became wealthier overall with the technology boom and explosion of global trade, but inequality exploded as the middle class hollowed out and the place became more like a Third World country. In 21st century California there are the rich and the poor, and everything is so expensive. The California of my youth seems mostly like a paradise, as I look back at it.
I graduated from high school in June of 1985 and headed off to college (link). I was more than ready to move out of my parent’s house and to leave childhood behind. I was ready for adult life, or at least the start thereof.
My teenage years: impossible confusion, explosive pleasures, dark grief, eternal restlessness, the sultry sexuality of nascent manhood… they are not years that I would ever want to live again.