[From 1976-1983, I taught English and directed plays at Holland Hall Upper School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was twenty-four and had negligible experience. I didn’t know up from down about teaching, but during those years, a handful of students changed me irrevocably. Over three decades, one way or the other, they’ve found me. I recently invited them to become guest bloggers, reflecting on something about their high school selves.
From the Class of 1982, Janet was a spitfire, a firecracker, a spotlight with no dimmer switch. I could give her any role, from impish fairy to bitter southern mother, and she was completely, impressively convincing. Despite the fact that her offstage manner was overall quiet and kind, she had a powerhouse sense of purpose onstage. When a scene required her to slap another actor, they decided to go full on instead of choreographing the movement. Did she ever! Back then without a performing arts center, our plays were performed in The Commons, and I believe that shocking crack of her hand lingers to this day in the rafters.]
The Wonder-Full Wonderful
Wanna know what I learned? People, if you wanna know about the obvious, come talk to me. Subtlety, nuance. That’s someone else’s business.
Honestly, I have run as fast, as hard, as aggressively as any person can. There is within me the perpetual hope that I shall be better in the next phase, as I shed a personality like a piece of old clothing going to Goodwill. I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad, but when you are clinically depressed, survival means you cling to the hope, remember to change your underwear, and take your meds. It’s a bonus day if you get in the shower and use soap.
Yes, I used the word purposefully. You see, it was an awkward, uncomfortable, marginalizing, lonely time. I was filled with teenage angst, bewilderment, and frustration because my body and mind were behaving so weirdly, while unrequited love sent me into sleep deprivation because the boy I was madly in love with pined for someone else. I constantly felt out of sorts, at war with everyone and everything, including the universe.
There is Craig Benton practicing his calligraphy; Karen Henry Clark, so over our idiocy, she runs full-bore into one of The Commons’ columns and, like the best of the silent comediennes, falls backwards spread-eagle onto the floor; David Rollo corralling his choir to sing with a passion only he understood; Ted Sloan smoking his cigarette in that ebony holder of his, while planning to stir trouble amongst the students in his gleefully evil way.
There, on the page, I swipe away the splash of salty water that represents so many fading things, experiences, and people. Not fading, but pieces of my past falling off onto the pavement and being left behind as I move on.
I chose independence over having a family. I chose to define my life, my rules, my ethics. I will anger you, disappoint you, and confound you, and none of that matters to me. I will delight you, challenge you, and cheer you, and none of that matters to me. I am not being aggressive here.
Feel what you feel.
Think what you think.
I am simply moving on.
All I’ve cared about is that I always have a choice. Although my process is not for everyone, making choices propels me closer to my version of freedom and peace.
I didn’t learn only in high school. I’ve been learning my whole life and it hasn’t stopped. Everyone of you is The Wonder-Full Wonderful. Each of you has given me a gift: knowledge, imagination, passion, wonder, humor, strength, hope, forgiveness, patience, love, respect, anger, exasperation, derision, urgency, pain, loneliness. You have challenged me to think, broken my heart, and comforted me when I hurt. I am amazed at each of you and the grace that carries you through life. You have shown me what it means to live, to truly embrace what moments I have left.
Life requires courage, curiosity, and the need to fail.
I have failed brilliantly, picked myself off the ground, turned away from the ledge, nursed my wounds, kept carrying on, and know that even my worst day is precious.