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?