In high school I almost failed English (writing in particular) on two separate occasions. The first involved a poem I wrote in grade 10.  After handing out everyone’s graded papers, my teacher, a rather tall man who looked like the product of breeding between Jack Spratt and a praying mantis, asked me to stay after class.  As the bell rang, triggering everyone else to zip up their pencil cases and head for the door, I trudged up to his desk.  Actually I probably just walked but “trudged” sounds more writerish.

The teacher unfolded himself from his chair (also a *totally* writerish thing to say) and glared down at me, my paper in his hands.  Before handing it over he let me know he wasn’t entirely convinced I wrote the poem.  I believe his exact words were “It’s an outstanding poem, really excellent writing, it’s very impressive.  If you really wrote it.”.  Then he tilted his wonky eye in my direction, gave me the stink stare and pushed the assignment across the desk into my shaking hands.  I wasn’t nervous. I was furious.  I got an A+ but only because he couldn’t prove that I didn’t write it.

I can’t remember anything about the poem other than its title; Crystal to Coal.  It was basically about the reverse metamorphosis from good to bad that negative reinforcement can have on a person.  CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?  I’d give just about anything to have saved the poem but I probably went home and threw it in the garbage in the kind of melodramatic gesture only a teenager can manage.  All the while hoping someone is witness to it.

The SECOND writing incident in high school was one year later in drama.  We were given a writing assignment for some reason.  I can’t remember what the assignment was but I do remember being held back by the teacher to be chastised.  This time I was ready for it.  Here we go again.  Another teacher has been so blinded by my superior skills that SHE thinks I plagiarized too.  I felt kind of smug as I wound my way around the class to her desk, shooting finger guns at my other classmates punctuated with a wink.

But this paper didn’t have a big A+ at the top of it.  It had a D.  What followed was a lecture on sentence structure and plotting and how I was getting a D because my writing was too stream of consciousness.  I wrote the way people speak, which apparently is quite jarring to the reader and should always be avoided.

Unless you’re James Joyce, Proust or Virginia Woolf.

I can remember both of those incidents like they happened to me just this morning.  Not just yesterday.  “Just yesterday” would be too cliché which is something else that’s to always be avoided in writing.

I can also vividly remember the torturous dissecting of a fetal pig, the horrifying gym shorts, Mr. Manson scrawling a perfect circle on the chalkboard math class by whipping his arm in a circle, my lock combination,  Jimmy telling me I was pretty but not as pretty as Marsha and every single song played at every high school dance I went to.

I remember most of high school with a kind of technicolour intensity.

As it turns out, that’s not only common, it’s a universal phenomenon. According to Psychology Today our strongest memories are from when we’re between 10 and 30 years old.  The phenomenon is called The Reminiscence Bump.  No matter what you do or what you accomplish, if it happened after or before those 3 decades, the memory will never be as vivid.  The Reminiscence Bump is why you can forever revel in that game winning play or cry at the thought of being bullied by an asshole in the gym class.

High school doesn’t just seem more memorable than the rest of your life, it IS more memorable.  For me those are mostly great memories.  Even reminiscing back on the bland, non-eventful memories of high school stir up a certain nostalgia that make me happy.  Wearing a  new favourite outfit, or walking through the cafeteria to sit down with my friends.


I loved high school.  So when I found out my old high school was being torn down for reasons I still can’t even figure out (nor can anyone else) I almost cried.  I still have dreams about walking through it’s hallways.  My sisters went to Parkside, my nieces and nephew, and pretty much half our small town went there from 1960 until they closed it a couple of years ago.

It was a piece of Mid-Century Modern genius in this town that should have been historically preserved.  The building’s architect, Lloyd Douglas Kyles, used revolutionary methods and materials to create the iconic building.

As soon as I found out Parkside was possibly being shut down I drove over to it with my camera.  I wanted a picture of it.  I wanted to remember it.  I  understand the irony.  I was never going to forget Parkside.  Science has proven that.  It, along with all the memories it produced are etched into my brain deeper than any other experience in my life.

But still.

I wanted a picture.

I sent the best one off to my sister Pink Tool Belt at the end of April, 2013.  Last month she finished painting it.  She wanted to remember it too.

If Parkside was your school and these are your memories, my sister has a limited number of prints for sale (like she did with the Deluxe Restaurant which sold out quickly.)

For a print Email Me.

Pink Tool Belt can do pretty much anything I can do only she can paint as well.  She builds her own furniture, can sew anything, is an interior decorator and has made a homemade meal every night since she got married at 18.

For the record?  She failed home ec.

Have a good weekend!


  1. Rikki Lewin says:

    My four kids went to Parkside also. One of them loved it….
    My youngest was given a minimal pass in Gr 12 Art. He didn’t want to apply to college because he thought his work was substandard. I had a “helicopter parent” moment and with his permission applied on his behalf. He was admitted to a very competitive program on the strength of his portfolio, and is now a very happy and successful illustrator.
    So glad for you that your vocation didn’t follow your poem into the trash – teachers have such a strong voice, sad when it’s misused.

  2. Stephbo says:

    My senior year AP English teacher told me I wrote like a first grader and that I really had no business being in her class. She’s dead now. Karma’s a b*itch.

    In other news, 14-4-30. That was my combination. I graduated in 1989. I don’t know what I ate for lunch yesterday, but I can tell you that.

  3. lisa thomson says:

    Where is this high school located, Karen? It’s (was) beautiful. Too bad it was torn down. My junior high school was torn down and houses were built there. The senior high school still stands.

  4. Melissa says:

    High school was horrible for me and my friends. We were constantly bullied and that –
    that sticks with a person. Unfortunately I can’t look back on those years fondly, and further unfortunate is this fact that those years won’t fade as fast as the ones since. I’ll hang on to the best memories from 10-12 and 19-30. College was a blast so I’m glad to know those memories will hang around a lot longer than my early 30’s.

  5. Julie says:

    I went to AH&VS and was always jealous of your school whenever we attended track meets. It’s too bad!

  6. Sandra D says:

    I wasn’t a happy camper in HS either, but it’s still a bit disconcerting not to see the school standing anymore (I still live nearby). When I attended, there were 1600 students, but as the area ages, the kids aren’t here anymore. They built a new one further away, but still call it Ernest Manning.

  7. Angela says:

    I loathed high school. Went to 3 if themas my Dad was in the RAAF and we jeot moving around. Bestbthinh for me was finally being old enough to leave. I have left behind most memories and have no wish to ever attend a reunion.

  8. Mel says:

    The same thing happened to me in yr 12 english… the teacher pulled me aside after class to talk to me about my epic sic-fi/fantasy story that had taken me weeks to write and said it was so good she believed i had plagiarised it, so gave me 0%. When i went home devastated and my mum rang the school and complained she changed it to 100%. I will never forget that, in fact after that i vowed never to write again… soul destroying…

    • Elaine says:

      A teacher’s comment can sometimes stay with you for a long time! Just remember that you know the truth!

  9. Elaine says:

    What a lovely, poignant post, Karen!! This is what I love about your blog!! I never know, as a reader, what subject you’re going to talk about and I just LOVE that you don’t cover your books with burlap OR turn them around the wrong way OR tear off their colorful bindings!! I loved high school and had many friends. I didn’t learn a heck of a lot as all I did was think about the Friday night dances. My grade 9 high school English teacher went out to Banff the summer Marilyn Monroe was filming “River of No Return” with Robert Mitchum. Marilyn hurt her ankle and my teacher was spotted in the crowd and asked to fill in for Marilyn on some of the distant shots. How cool is that! I was a teenager in the 50’s as you can probably tell (by the year the movie was filmed) and loved every minute. Those were very happy days. After graduating, I went to a job so much like scenes from the show, Mad Men. I kid you not – we even had a sexy, curvy redhead like “Joan” – her name, though, was Joyce.

  10. kelli says:

    Nope not me. I barely remember anything from high school, except that it pretty much sucked. I hated school! What did I learn?

    You had to be pretty, popular, or a jock (or really smart, which didn’t make you popular, but made mom and dad happy, until you became a gazillonaire later on as a tech geek). I wasn’t all that smart or all that pretty but I became a cheerleader because I wanted to be popular.

    Well, I became more popular, but hated everyone else on the squad. None were my real friends, and they were all a bunch of stuck ups who more or less ignored me cos I wasn’t really “one of them” to begin with.

    After HS at a local bar once, a couple guys chatted me up like they were my BFFs, and I remember thinking: “you didn’t even look at me in HS, go away, you putz!” Nope, my best years, and best memories, were during my early 20s during the early 80s. What a time to be alive! The country was booming, the music was fabulous, Reagan was Prez, MTV ruled, and everything seemed to be amazing, including the fashion, which was…unique. 👘👗

    I met a real BFF at work, someone who, quite literally, made me what I am today (or maybe until I hit 40). She was world-traveled, had an ultra cool bi-level haircut, knew lots of cool people, and I adored her. We were joined at the hip for a good 2-3 years, most of it spent clubbing and, with our friends, being ‘so hip it hurt’ in downtown Milwaukee…until we both had to find ‘real’ jobs, so we were separated by many miles.

    I ended up moving to a new state and started a new life, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING since, has ever come close to the memories created during that time. I ache for those days sometimes, even if I now realize I was just a poor, ballsy 22-year-old still living at home, who thought she knew everything there was about being cool…especially when it came to wearing shoulder pads, smoking cigarettes and naming obscure new wave bands. 😁

  11. Tracy N Egan says:

    And while I do adore your style of writing, I absolutely hated highschool (see what I did there). I have almost zero memories of it, other than paying $20 to leave it all behind. (THANK YOU GED)

  12. Patti H says:

    Alas, a McDonald’s now stands where my elementary school was. The junior high was torn down several years ago. The high school still stands. I wonder if my name is still “carved” in the asbestos ceiling where my then boyfriend wrote it with the tip of my umbrella.

  13. Safetydog says:

    A friend of mine laughs that every school she ever attended no longer exists. Her lower level schools have all been torn down, and her university was shut down and programs merged with a larger university. So she feels like her entire educational history has been wiped out. Note to self: if this friend signs up for continuing education somewhere, don’t plan on getting a degree from that school – it won’t be around much longer. ;)

  14. Ellen says:

    keep in mind that there are those of us who HATED high school & couldn’t wait to get out. ( I have politely omitted all the curses.) We don’t remember all that much. We didn’t have many friends or good times to remember. I do remember teachers who were kind to me, or who were particularly good or bad.

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