In April 2001, the church youth group went on retreat at a nearby campground for some team building, bonding, and fun.
By eleventh grade we were embarking on a new program at our church, following Life Teen, which meant having more adult leader support in youth ministry. It wasn’t just one person in charge but more of a team effort. And there was music. Fantastic music.
We met every Sunday after Mass for something fun to break the ice and then learning and discussing the Catholic faith, but in a friendly environment. I really enjoyed having something consistent to participate in. I connected well with the adults, over time feeling like I could trust them.
Throughout my junior year of high school I continued to write poetry. It was a way of getting out all these thoughts that were bouncing around my head. They didn’t have to remain stuck in a circular loop, and I didn’t have to worry about how others would interpret the words.
I continued to share some of my writing with my English teacher from ninth grade. We worked to build a literary magazine for the school, and she encouraged me to continue writing. I’m sure she’s the one who suggested I enter a poetry contest hosted by a local college.
I came off the excitement of Governor’s School to begin my junior year with braces. The wires, rubber bands and brackets on my teeth were cumbersome. Using wax didn’t help much to protect my gums from stray wires that poked out. Braces were challenging to clean, and wearing headgear at night was just a pain. I wasn’t a very cooperative patient, but eventually the braces did their thing and helped to correct an overbite. Mine stayed with me through at least the first year of college.
Junior year meant officially being considered an upperclassman. Many, well most, of my classmates were now driving to school. I was 17 at the start of the year and still hadn’t shown much interest in driving. I knew how much responsibility I would be taking on by driving, and I was scared.
Along with being unable to accept compliments, there was also this long held concept of being less than and inferior to others, which began early on for me. I struggled in so many ways to match the speed, ease and ability of my classmates that I saw it as a flaw in my very character rather than strictly my ability. It defined me to the core, this idea of not measuring up. That even if I managed to improve, it seemed to matter very little because someone else was still better. My focus was all about how I compared to others instead of establishing my own track of development.
You’re supposed to pay attention to your interests and abilities to recognize talents as those might influence future areas of study to pursue and a potential career path. How do you successfully accomplish this with a negative view of yourself? Yes to a degree I saw that writing and creative writing were more strong suits. But it wasn’t enough to completely draw confidence from it or to see it as an actual talent. I still felt misunderstood for preferring to write in a notebook rather than trying to talk with others.
I twisted most of the compliments I received, convinced that people were just trying to be polite or telling white lie because they felt sorry for me. And with this internal, self-defeating attitude, you can tear yourself down pretty far. I didn’t need extra help in this area. So the emotional and sometimes verbal bullying/antagonizing that I received in previous years just reinforced this feeling of being inferior and incompetent, unworthy.
Most people probably have a spot they like to go to for peace and quiet. It might be a daily place of refuge or more infrequent. It might mean going to a physical location or just closing your eyes and creating a special environment in your mind. Or doing a daily Bible study and meditation which helps to start the time with a proper frame of mind.
In high school and college, my happy place was with a journal. Writing out my thoughts and feelings offered me peace. I could vocalize what I needed to there without having to worry about pleasing anyone or needing someone else’s approval. So, yes, despite all the uncertainty that encompassed my life, there were still moments of seeking calm and peace … and finding it.
These poems were both written during tenth grade. I have no idea what prompted the first poem, although it was written before I had any concept of yoga. The second was written after finishing my biology final exam.
She was the one who would hang posters on the wall of the cafeteria of scholarship contests and other scholarly opportunities. I first heard about the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities by spotting a poster in the cafeteria. The Governor’s School was offering a 5-week program in the summer for various visual and performance arts, music and creative writing. The poster included details about a one-day workshop at a local community college to offer a chance to work on poetry and learn more about the summer program. Even though I was attending a high school in Georgia, I remained eligible to apply because I still lived in South Carolina.
Upon reflecting some on what I wrote for sixth grade (read that here), it occurred to me that I had actually transformed into that chameleon that I so desperately wanted to be. (If you missed that one, you can find it here.)
I really thought I reached that level much later in life, but in all honesty, the proof is shown during the misery of sixth grade.