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Today is my birthday! I'm a sucker for birthdays - they're sort of a big deal to me, and I'll admit that I like having all the attention that comes with the big day. Last night, three of my friends took me out for drinks to celebrate turning 34. As I was on my way to meet them, I realized I was going out with the exact same girlfriends I'd celebrated with on my 17th birthday (one of whom was there for my 10th birthday, too!). That's crazy. I mean, how likely is it that you'll still be good friends with the same three girls you were friends with at 17? Not likely. I am lucky. While I considered this, I couldn't help but think about how much has changed since high school, too.

And the truth is, it does get better. Not just for LGBT kids, or those dealing with awful divorces, or bullying, or any of the other million things that tend to creep in and make high school even harder, but for everyone. Now that I'm solidly in my 30s, I am finally realizing how much has changed since high school and just how much better it gets. Take, for example, perspective on cliques and popularity. To steal a line I wrote my work-in-progress: "Cliques don't fizzle. They just shift." And it's true, sadly. Mean girls still exist. Cliques exist everywhere - preschool mom groups, PTA, college dorms, corporations, writing groups - but when you're not squeezed between the same four walls with the same 50, 100, 500 people everyday, they just don't matter as much. Phew.

Some other things that have changed: My hair (not always for the better), my body image (I'd love to have the "fat thighs" I had in high school), my self-respect (I admit that I will never remember the state capitols, but I know I rock at giving smart guy advice...and I feel good knowing that's way more important in real life), my self-confidence (I'm a full time novelist, for god's sake...that isn't an easy choice!).

It's spending time with my friends from high school that reminds me of how much I've changed, but also how much of me has remained intact...it's just that I respect who I am much more than I did back then. I've always been quirky (aka weird), too loud/brash/dorky/awkward (insert any other low-self-confidence word here) for my own good, gangly, and inappropriate in conversation. Also, I never could--and still can't--dance without looking like a fool. In high school, those were major hurdles to conformity. Now, I see those same hurdles as major assets. It took me a while to figure that out, though.

Happy birthday to unique, outspoken, skinny-enough, always-honest me! (This picture is me, today, showing off my shiny new nose ring. It's been pierced for 13 years, but I finally nerved up and got a ring instead of a bland ol' stud!)