American Horror Story: Catholic High School

I wrote in the previous post that I had spent time with teenagers on the cusp of their senior year and the world beyond. Three of these teens attend a private co-ed catholic

school. As they opened up, and saw they had a captivated audience in me, they let loose.

I don’t know much about private catholic schools, and the ones I have a brushing acquaintance with are posh and single sex. So this is new to me. Also, the school is in suburbia – that strange land. The tuition is crazy expensive. The kids I spoke to, two girls and one boy, are smart, funny, adorable – terrific. But they are in a weird school.

I am proposing to FX that the next season of American Horror Story should be Catholic High School. Jessica Lange could return as a sadistic principal. The faculty at this school are lay teachers. There is a priest on staff who, along with his duty of hearing confessions, spends his time chiding the girls for wearing their uniforms too short in a shaming and long-winded way.

I also learned:

You can’t use the drinking fountains unless you want to get chlamydia, herpes or other social/viral/bacterial diseases.

When I was with these three teens, they were in the midst of writing a theology paper. Thomas Aquinas? St. Augustine? Nope. The paper was on abortion and how they feel about it. Talk about a rigged game! This is where I abandon hope for the future of education. Yeah, I know it’s a touchy subject. However, where better to learn to listen to opposing views in an intelligent and respectful manner and create thoughtful debate? In the venerable run down halls of this institution for a start. This trio hasn’t a full-formed opinion on abortion, but they do know the paper has to be against abortion. Which is fine. But, it’s also not. They are not thinking about the issue, only that they need to give “them” what “they” want – or face the consequences.

The Spanish language teacher is not from Spain – he was originally a history teacher. He spent one year in Spain during college and is a self-proclaimed Spaniard. From what I can tell he acts like a hysterical maniac. He singles out students he doesn’t like and gives out detentions generously. And, he lives with his mother. One of the girls had detention with him – alone in a classroom with this guy. She said she reached for a book to do homework and he shouted, “No! Eyes straight ahead!” For 90 minutes. Prayer or mediation are not sanctioned? Maybe one could silently pray that the police finally uncover the dead hookers he buried in his mother’s basement.

The young man is deeply engrossed in A.I., and is building a “better Alexa*” as he puts it. I asked him about colleges he is considering with his guidance counselor. I received a confusing answer – not because this young man is confused – he knows exactly what he wants. I’m guessing the explanation he was given was muddled. The guidance counselor thought he should get three letters of recommendation instead of the usual two. I asked why and he said, “I don’t really know, because he (the guidance counselor) began by saying, ‘Jesus would want you to.’ And that’s when I stopped listening.”

Two of the three are involved in school theater. The most recent production was the musical Guys and Dolls  – catholic school material? Gambling, burlesque, unmarried couples…There was an awards ceremony – county or catholic-wide – and the boy was nominated for three awards. One of the “leading ladies” (Lady Gaga?), who had been overlooked, was furious and said, “If you win an award, I’ll kill myself!” There’s much to parse here. First, she’s perfect for the acting profession with that level of hyperbole. And, where are the Catholic/Christian tenets of loving one another, turning the other cheek? And the suicide threat! Isn’t that a major moral sin? The tenets are not in evidence but the seven deadly/cardinal and moral sins are. Nice work!

I’m not worried about these three – they have great families and once they leave this asylum – they will be fine. I don’t doubt there will be a period of time where they may eschew Catholicism and attending church. Can one blame them? My greater concern is that they will be turned off from learning, which would be a shame.

Maybe there is Life on Mars after all……the best selling show…

Clare Irwin

*Since we’ve thrown decorum out the window, I’ll mention that I tried to convince the young man to name his “Alexa” after a French prostitute. He wasn’t buying it.

Another Country

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” so begins the opening of L.P. Hartley’s wonderful book The Go-Between. d3d75b8ed2d3b44ee2db94e86d2cd808A friend of mine often quotes this line to me when we start to dwell too long in the past. The season is gradually changing, the official end of summer was four days ago, the nights are chilly. Time is flowing and a number of friends are traveling right now: Spain, Germany, Denmark, Amsterdam, and Sicily — foreign countries. The transitory nature of summer to fall and friends traveling sends me back to my past, my foreign country. Sicily for me is a memory of a time when we did things differently, my family, and so did I. I went to Sicily as a teenager and it was the most enchanting trip of all. Everything was ripe, the season, me, the confluence of sensibilities and the beauty of the place. I fell in love with this magical island. My great-grandmother (more on her in another post) was a remarkable person and exceedingly well traveled. She urged me to go and where to stay.

I landed in Taormina which now is well known, less so then, and I stayed in a hotel that was at the foot of the ancient Greek amphitheater, and had an unobstructed view of the town below and Mount Etna in all her glory. It was a hotel that had been there a long time and had been owned by the same family for generations. It had a 19th Century quality to it — even with the mod cons — and the garden, which was all overgrown and lush and mysterious was a realized vision of a Romantic era poet. When I arrived I was led into my hotel room which faced the garden, the sea, and Etna. I was being shown in by a sweet housemaid, an older lady, who was more than likely born and raised and lived in this impossibly beautiful place her whole life. Even so, when she opened the French doors onto the terrace and all the splendor, and she heard me gasp, she smiled knowingly and said, “Come un sogno” — it’s like a dream. Indeed. I loved that she, who probably did this many times a day for many years, still enjoyed people’s reaction and was so proud of her town.

Goethe spent time in Sicily and wrote some wonderful poems about the island — it certainly seems he was completely taken with it too. I remember the word “bewitching” was an adjective he used. And it was certainly that. Beguiling too. On my trip there, which was quite a long one, I had my official coup de foudre, the lighting bolt of love at first sight. It was wonderful. I think you have to be very young to enjoy that feeling to the bone. You get all tingling and thrilled and every nerve end seems to be vibrating like a tuning fork My young man was tall, handsome, intense, sexy and brooding — all the things that are wildly attractive to young girls. He was marvelous and funny too and I was totally enthralled. I’ve never forgotten him all these years, and I think of him more often than more serious or longer lasting relationships — maybe just because it was that brilliant flash of light.

The day I left he was angry, perhaps the only way to part. We both knew that probably we would never see each other again. Maybe not, we haven’t yet! I wonder if he married, what career he settled on, if he has children, did he stay or move on to a bigger city where there is more advancement. I’ll never know, I suppose. I like to think he stayed, it’s worth staying there. Imagine living in a place that is so beautiful it can bring you to tears? I don’t think he remembers me, I was just another girl passing through, and it doesn’t really matter. I remember him. And, I am grateful to him for being my lighting bolt, and for that foreign country where people do things differently. I can visit, briefly, as an itinerant, stopping for just a moment and then departing. For we all must leave, return to the present, and let the past rest and recede into the fine dust and ash that it is, and that we all one day shall be.

Clare Irwin

 

 

 

 

 

N.b., L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between was a film starring the incomparable Julie Christie, and much missed Alan Bates (pictured above), with the screenplay written by the famous playwright Harold Pinter. The supporting cast is stellar too. Hartley’s other well-known novel The Hireling is also worth reading, and it too was made into a film with Robert Shaw and Sarah Miles who are dark, sexy, neurotic and amazing. Read both, see both. You won’t be disappointed.