five years since graduating high school

About five years ago I finished Year 12 at Saint Ignatius’ College, Athelstone. I missed schoolies weekend but attended a Graduation Ball with the rest of the year level. Afterwards some of us friends sat round a table and wondered about what to come. Us same friends later holidayed in Victor Harbour, playing “Castle Crashers”, talking philosophy, and eating – except in my vegetarian case – bad food.

I remember that summer’s holidays fondly. If life without dreams is a broken-winged bird, this matriculated life was turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falconer left far behind on the ground. There were picnics, poker nights, jam sessions, you name it. To round it off, on New Year’s Eve I attended a Murder Mystery Party, shared wonderful food and played Bartok (which was all funner then it sounds), then got picked up the next day to go on a family holiday. Life was rich, abundant, easy.

joel floating in a pool

It was a relaxing time

I started at Adelaide Uni with a similar liberation. I remember feeling resentful towards high school, like the child raised vegetarian who later eats meat and curses their parents’ dominion. I could come and go as I please, learn as I desired. I resented Ignatius for hiding this enlightened world from me, even as I benefited from the ability to write a half-decent essay.

Yet, reckoning time, “whose million’d accidents | Creep in ‘twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,” blunted the sharpest intents. July of 2011 is the fulcrum bisecting my last five years, when I left Adelaide Uni, left the Dignams, left Adelaide, and headed for Melbourne. Since then I’ve worked in about nine different jobs, lived in four sharehouses, and experienced so many conversions that the road to Damascus is beginning to get eroded.

In The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb talks about the ‘Narrative Fallacy’, arguing that the retroactive attempt to impute direction or predictability to past events is desperate and misguided. He is talking about the grand scale of history, but I feel the same when I reflect on my few years. What has most been impressed upon me is the variability of life (and the difficulty in getting refunds from Jetstar when said variability renders flight bookings useless). The change in circumstance that can take place over as little as six months is astonishing, with friends, homes, motivations, mood, changing like pairs of socks. Five years after taking up anchor, I’m perhaps as vulnerable to the tempests and deep-sea currents that life may present, but at least I’m more aware of their existence.

Particularly, I’m struck by the change in friendship patterns that has coincided with each move: from school, from Adelaide, from Melbourne. The social context of high school, in which having a group is so much more important than having friends, seems wholly artificial. But even the real world has its sillinesses, and I’m yet to discern why some friends have persisted as stowaways, while others have disembarked as my ship puts out. This apparent arbitrariness gives me a placid acceptance of life’s social vicissitudes, yet also a great appreciation for those friends who do remain on board.

It’s also curious to consider how I feel about my alma mater. While the child-raised-vegetarian analogy might still hold, we could add to it that perhaps later the child more deeply appreciates the parents’ intentions and is grateful that he knows a few excellent vegetarian recipes. Sure my high school experience lacked some elements, and had some elements in excess. But, while I’m wary of post hoc reasoning – of crediting St. Ignatius for what would have been in any case – I still feel indebted to St. Ignatius for my wariness of post hoc reasoning, for the joy I derive from good writing, for the quiet reflective places I carry within me. It’s odd to go forth into this world and see some so differently equipped by their secondary education, and perhaps to envy their equippage so different from my own. But as I voyage further I find more use for my tools than perhaps I hitherto acknowledged. So there’s a belated, qualified, gratefulness.

And here I am now. Five years later I live in Canberra, an abortive university attempt behind me, working for the ACT Greens. I sometimes tell people that Christopher Pyne and I went to the same school, and it’s a funny sort of thing. I have a hazy plan for my next few years, at least until the 2016 (2017?) election, but I’ve learnt enough to anticipate that things may change. “So”, in the fatalistic words of Billy Pilgrim, “it goes”.

me looking bewildered with shaving cream

Years later, I look equally bewildered, although less creamy.


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