It’s My Very Own Hollywood Coming-of-Age Story

Once when I was in my mid-20s, when I first moved to Madison, when I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer, I volunteered my services to a local nonprofit. My job was to lay out their magazine. The magazine’s topic was something I hadn’t studied and it used words I hadn’t heard before and didn’t understand such as hegemony,  pedagogy, and pluralism.

I worked with the female head of the organization and another male volunteer and felt completely out of my league intellectually. Other times, when I would visit the woman’s home, in a wealthy area of town to work on the project, I felt socially out of place.

As the two talked I would try to keep up and use the words they did, but since I wasn’t accustomed to speaking in the way they did, I used words wrong. I said the word “impasse” once to mean “stuck” because of computer problems and was corrected in a way that I have never forgotten the nuances of the words since.
It's a pretty old story. A common Hollywood movie, actually. At first I was thinking of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, but the me now will not pretend that I've actually watched that movie. Click To Tweet
After the project was complete the head of the organization took me out for dinner at a restaurant downtown that I had never been to. She knew the owners and walked around as if it were her own home, introducing me, although I mostly looked down at my shoes.

She ordered a plethora of appetizers, asking me which of the ones I thought would be tasty. I had no idea what anything was on the menu, much less what would be good. The prices shocked me and, although I thought she would pay, I calculated the costs in my head, wondering what my portion might be and if I had enough credit on my charge card.

I had never imagined I would eat in a place like this. The fanciest restaurant I had been before was the Cheesecake Factory, paid for by my bosses at my past job in Chicago. As the food came out and we sampled from this and that, she only took a few bites of each. I followed her lead doing the same, though I wanted more and my own interest in good food was born.

But though I wanted more of the delicious food, I didn’t want more of the experience. I felt so uncomfortable around the woman and her colleagues that when I had to drop off the last layouts of the magazine, I slipped them in between the glass and her front door so I wouldn’t have to see her again.

She heard me and opened the door. I made an excuse about it being late and she invited me in, but I declined. I just didn’t feel comfortable.

Since that time, I have learned a lot.  I still don’t know many of the words in that magazine, but I know a lot of other vocabulary and concepts that probably seem just as abstract and boring to others.

I’m not the same person I was then because I know more about myself and what is interesting to me. I don’t know that woman anymore, but I know I don’t have to be the person I thought I should be when I was with her. I don’t think she’d make me uncomfortable anymore.

It’s a pretty old story. A common Hollywood movie, actually. At first I was thinking of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, but the me now will not pretend that I’ve actually watched that movie. I’ve also read enough to know that not everyone likes that ending. So I started thinking about my favorite coming-of-age and social class movies and here’s my list:

  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  • Ladybird (2017)
  • The Way Way Back (2013)
  • Into the Wild (20017)
  • Good Will Hunting (1997)
  • About a Boy (2002)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
  • Say Anything (1989)

See, I told you I could be all abstract and boring! Are you abstract and boring in this way too? If you are into this kind of stuff, tell me below. What are your favorite coming-of-age movies or movies about social class?

12 comments

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  1. Kate Johnston

    I know I’m socially boring because I’m an introvert! 🙂 Or maybe it’s that I find most social gatherings boring. Ha! Anyway, I love this post and I had an easy time picturing how your experience went. Do you ever wonder what ever happened to the woman? I can’t think of a different coming of age movie from the ones you’ve listed. They’re all great!

    • Catherine Lanser

      Yrs, she’s still around and the organization is, but I’ve never run into her. We don’t run in the same circles 🙂 I do wonder if she remembers me. I’m socially boring too! I find small talk exhausting.

  2. Leiloni

    My favorite coming of age movie from when I was growing up that has to do with social class is probaby Can’t Buy Me Love. Now, I would have to say that it thr Harry Potter series, but more the books than the movies.

  3. Sherry

    This reminds me of when I was in my early 20s and believed I was ready to take in a night of ballet even though I had never experienced anything like it before. I went and quickly realized I wasn’t yet ready for it. Since I knew one of the dancers and had gone in support of him, I felt horrible about feeling so incredibly bored. I think I could handle it today, but haven’t been back to the ballet just in case. One of my favourite movies of all time is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! I have introduced it to my older kids and they now love it as well.

    • Catherine Lanser

      I have never been to the ballet, but I do like opera. I had a similar experience watching the symphony. I really like classical music, but was bored watching the musicians. I wanted something else to do while I watched.

  4. Liliana

    I have worked with rich people before and at first I did feel uncomfortable, but now I am working towards being financially independent. I am also socially boring haha, but it’s all good. I did love About A Boy and I have the soundtrack for that movie. I also love Real Women With Curves, that movie was amazing. I recommend it if you have not seen it.

  5. Carol

    I think most of us have experienced something similar. I do remember being asked to a semi-formal dinner/dance with a blind date. We sat with “rich people” and it was hard – I really didn’t fit in. I was doing social work at a welfare office. That raised eyebrows!

    • Catherine Lanser

      Yes, it helps to know yourself and know who your tribe is so you can spend most of your time with them. Thank you for stopping by!

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