History & geography & lessons from the smoke pit

I’m highly suggestible, and also tend towards being high on life when I’m sober/aware, taking in great input and don’t have too much stress.

When I was a child I quickly learned that in public I would be ridiculed for being high on life. It was overtly suggested to me (mostly by my mom) that poverty and pain were everywhere and I’d better pay strict attention to it, and covertly suggested to me (by my school mates, and certain family friends and relatives) that alcohol, cigarettes and even certain drugs were “cool.” I had a desperate covert urge to be thought of as “cool,” since I covertly saw that being “cool” apparently got you “liked.” But what I really wanted was to love and be loved.

Being an empathic type of person I soon felt deeply the poverty and pain that existed in some parts of the world, including in pockets of our own little bit of suburbia, and at the same time learned that if I drank, smoked and even did certain drugs then it was perfectly “okay” to seem high.  So I replaced my natural “high on life” systems with ones that were suggested to me, ones of pain and suffering and then wallowing in toxic or chemical substances to connect with others and seem high again. Once I had that figured out (and it didn’t take me long) I was accepted, as one of them/us.

Until that time I had been, alongside my best friend Alema, one of the two top students in our little suburban classroom and much admired and hated for it. It was also very irritating that, like Alema, thanks to the common-enough privilege I’d been born to, I knew how to dance and sew and play piano and draw and had neat handwriting which the teachers praised. I was a master at the humble-brag and also terrible at anything that wasn’t learned from text or diagrams or in a classroom setting (for example, baseball), neither of which made me more popular. Alema was popular by reason of her sweet nature and good looks and lack of any firmly-expressed opinion.

All that would have been acceptable, but there were other weirdnesses like believing in the theory of evolution, and not realizing that the majority of kids in the class thought Adam and Eve were not metaphorical creation symbols but actual historical figures, and that the same kids had been brought up to believe that it had been curious Eve (rather than some white-bearded “God”) who had “sinned”; yet at the same time being too ignorant to know where on the map the birthplace (India) of my best friend’s father was.

These were the days in Canada when every class in that secular public school still recited the Lord’s Prayer at the start of each day. My best friend’s parents were deeply religious (Christian), though their daughters (including my best friend) weren’t. Later their father would try to exercise the devil out of my best friend’s head — or at least that was the way my rebellious friend told it. I was a bit jealous when she told me, only wishing I could have been there to see how it was done. Soon after the attempted devil eviction my friend was forbidden from seeing me and the rest of our friends anymore and her family moved away. That was the end of the only nearly-lifelong friendship I’d had till that time. But I suppose that’s normal for a kid.

I loved “them” (the “cool” kids in the school smoke pit — yes smoking on school grounds was allowed back then—) dearly, including Ruth who’d managed to get “in” before me, her sister Susan, being four years older, having paved the way. From Susan, who could also play classical piano, Ruth and I would learn a devoted love of “devil music” such as that by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Bon Jovi, and Guns ‘n’ Roses. This common bond of love for music, and an eagerness to tease our hair three inches high and wear poured-on acid-wash jeans, was our ultimate pass to the smoke pit and its daily dose of smoke-and-mirrors intrigue.

The smoke-pit kids were mostly kind and good at heart and they too had been stifled in their creativity by the vague weight of their accepted suggestions. We became good friends.

Well, as good friends as any people can be, who are all seeking outside themselves that which can only be found within.





16 thoughts on “History & geography & lessons from the smoke pit

    1. Thanks for your comment Strider. Well, that was in the 80s and I haven’t been back there in a long while. But yes it really was surprising to me as well, even as a kid. And completely amazing in retrospect to think of saying the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools. Times have changed there since then. Nowadays in Canada I don’t think that would fly. The establishments are becoming more and more ethno-conscious especially on the southwest coast where immigration levels are high, and awareness grows in terms of finally acknowledging First Nations rights and culture. In the area we last lived there was a strong earth and equality movement.

      When we lived in the UK a couple of years ago, I was surprised that the kids were singing about “The Lord” in assembly — in a public, secular school. What’s it like in your area?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. strider48

        Religion generally is in a massive decline in the UK. Belief in Creationism is almost non-existent although we have friends who are JWs and may also believe that the earth is flat.

        We still have assemblies and my school was very Christian in its observance but many modern schools make these activities either multi-faith or non-religious to avoid offending parents (who may choose to be offended where no offence exists).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I loved some of local JW’s in Canada. My mom would invite them in for coffee and I would debate with them for an hour or more. They were really nice and open to friendly conversation/discussion and questioning about their beliefs. I found it fascinating because I just could not understand how anyone could “religiously” follow any one set of beliefs.

          I liked that in their interpretation of the bible there was a period before the biblical great flood where they believed that humans did not eat animals. “I give you every seed-bearing plant…” They’d given us a children’s bible when my sister and I were young and that’s how I first learned the bible stories (alongside First Nations creation stories, Greek and Roman mythologies). I think there is a grain of truth in all of it but I do not at all think it should be taken “religiously” nor literally. They don’t believe in flat earth (lol — by the way have you seen this guy? So hilarious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvAk9718Jo8) but they did believe that a limited number of souls (144,000) could get into heaven. Which did not make sense to me.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. strider48

          I used to invite JWs into the house for a chat until MBH had to hide in the kitchen to stop laughing as we discussed their unusual ideas.

          As a child my very religious aunt signed me up to a programme which required me to read a passage from the bible each day so that in a year I had read the whole bible. This means I have still a good working knowledge of the texts.

          The link you sent me is great. Isn’t that comedian Simon Pegg in a wig?

          If a limited number of souls could get into heaven then wouldn’t it be full before man discovered fire? Bit unfair on Mother Theresa, she never stood a chance.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Ooh that programme sounds pretty cool. The Bible is one of the best texts around. I couldn’t read the big one yet. I was obsessive about not skipping any parts and I got stuck on the “and so-and-so begat so-and-so’s,” trying to prove that it was incest in my head. So what do you believe, Strider?


        4. Yes I was looking at that just the other day… it’s all very easy for those of us with Internet and a bit of filtering know-ho to access almost any information in any kind of package, now, isn’t it? But back then the JW’s were my friendly, bite-sized access to otherwise foreign points of views. So I’m grateful to them for that. And to you, for being here to discuss these things. 💛

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Interesting – when I was at school back in the 80s/90s there was still the occasional hymn sung around holiday celebrations and graduations (which were typically held in church) but I grew up in Sweden so the whole praying and stuff at school was long before my time. We’re just not a very religious nation. These days we are choking on our political correctness and there is rarely anything that ties in with any religion, but this is also because these days the population is a lot more diverse and therefore having a Christian bias might offend or exclude some. It’s all gone a bit overboard, really, but I think the general intention is good. Just like you say about immigration levels and I think an inclusive society is better anyway so that anyone who does feel a strong need to practice whatever religion can do so and take up equal room.

    Of course I live in the UK since 25 years back and religion is a bit more prominent here still (as you say), and the UK is a lot more traditional in that sense than e.g. my native Sweden, but I suspect it’ll go the same way eventually. In a way it’s almost strange it’s not FURTHER down that road! I mean, it’s one of the things I really love about the UK and especially about my beloved London – how it’s such a melting pot of every culture and religion you could imagine. You wander down a street and might walk past a mosque, a baptist church, a Polish bakery, a Caribbean style cafe, restaurants of every cuisine you might imagine and of course people of all different backgrounds and nationalities you could imagine and a few you couldn’t – it’s the best. Like – everyone’s here! This is where it’s at! If I get on the bus or whatever else I’ll hear several different languages being spoken at any one time – it’s so cool. Even this slightly introverted and awkward Swede felt immediately welcome here, even when my hurdy-gurdy-flurdy-burdy accent was strong – because so many people are from somewhere else and so many have an accent too! 🙂

    Anyway. Loved this piece and your thoughts around how we go chasing the high we actually have inside us and kill off by seeking it elsewhere. It’s insane when you look at it that way, isn’t it?

    Have a great weekend!! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Anna what a wonderful comment. Such a beautiful outlook of London! My sister lives near London and she loves it too. I didn’t like London until she took me around a bunch of good spots. Then I loved it quite a lot more. It definitely is a cultural mecca! I think Canada is much like Sweden in the politically correct department. Like you, I think inclusivity is important and much better to err on the side of non-specificity, or multi-religion studies, when it comes to religion, in public funded schools so that more and more awareness of alternative belief systems and philosophies grows. But yes it can get out of hand. This thing about the “Let it Snow” song potentially being banned from the CBC… well. Too far IMHO.

      Have a great weekend, and thanks so much for visiting and reading! xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I always think of Sweden and Canada as similar in lots of ways – wholesome folk with a love for the outdoors and a healthy appreciation of ice hockey! 👍 The Brits insist on that ridiculous cricket nonsense, it’s like watching paint dry. 😊😘

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I could never figure out this running backward and forward thing. Like, let’s rather run in circles, or diamonds, people! Or even lets sweep a broom behind some rocks on a sheet of ice! 😉😆Ain’t sports grand. (Not. Only ice hockey. Ice hockey is grand.)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Bernie Delaney

    Ah, the cool kids…I definitely succumbed to their charms. But I remember a girl transferring to our school because her mind was warped with ouija boards. Kind of like Religion, inverted. Sometimes I wonder how I survived it all, the boarding school thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes the Ouija board! We had one, just as many other seventies-born households did in the day. Another brilliant marketing venture. Cardboard and a plastic shuttle — just add fun, fear, scary stories and presto! A party trick gone sinister-viral for only $9.99. Kudos, Parker Brothers! ;))

      Boarding school… I can only imagine. Must have been so hard… 💛 If you have (or make) any posts on it, feel free to drop a link here somewhere, if you feel happy to share xo

      Liked by 1 person

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