Well. Someone called Nameseeker was asking, in the comments to my post about Minicon and the "Geek, Be Not Ashamed" panel, what I'd recommend to someone going through a bad high school experience. What would help with that situation? It's a good question. It's one I've been thinking about. And a week from tomorrow I'll be part of Career Day at a local high school, and so while I'm hoping that it's a good one, not the really toxic atmosphere some of them are, it's got me thinking about that. And sure, like the man says, escape is a prisoner's first duty -- but nobody screws up high school so badly that they're still a sophomore at 47. So there's escape, but there's also the consideration of how to do it so that you'll be functional later. How to get free of it without chewing your leg off, so to speak. Not always easy.
Compliments were a major weapon at my high school. The barbed compliment, the sarcastic compliment, the compliment that turns on someone else present, the compliment that's supposed to erase months or years of ill-treatment...and then the complimenter can turn to others and say, "I was just trying to be nice." There was one girl at my high school -- which was, in case you hadn't heard by now, a pretty nasty one, although there were several salvageable experiences from it -- who was clearly trying to be nice by her own standards. She wanted to be known as a nice person. She also wanted to be "popular," in the high school sense of being in an in-crowd. And it did not occur to this kid that people would set the value of her attempted niceness much higher if she didn't spend her time with some of the meanest people in the school. If the sort of people who would kick handicapped kids in their leg braces and make fun of the kids who could barely speak a sentence didn't get a free pass from her on their behavior.
So I guess my first piece of advice for people trying to endure a toxic high school is to recognize that other people are having to live with the toxicity as well, and to be as kind as you can manage. Other people may not notice it. But it'll be something you know about yourself. You don't have to be indefinitely kind to people who are mean to you, but it might be useful to give people more than one chance; if they're used to hearing, "Is that a good book?" with derisive snickers behind it, they may not be prepared to take it as a serious and congenial discussion question the first time around.
(This is not the same thing as being as nice as you can manage. Nice is a club you can give other people to beat you with. Nice conforms to local standards, particularly for girls. "Nice" may prevent you from taking a good swing at the guy who kicked the girl in her leg braces. "Kind," on the other hand, may well tell you to go for it; sticking up for others can be very kind and well-remembered years later.)
This was meant to be a longer post, but with work on fiction and the ever-popular vertigo troubles, it's taken me this long just to get a start on it. So I'll try to do more later on the same theme, because I think it's unfortunately important.