Thursday, August 27, 2015

NUMBERS, WORDS, AND WFF N PROOF

As I have been journeying through my journal from senior year in high school, I've discovered memories I had long since forgotten.  Puns were very popular in our AP English class.  They became a part of the air we breathed, and popped out at times without our realizing it.  At one point, when we were discussing Shaw's St. Joan, I remarked that St. Joan had a man’s job to do, so she had decided to be suitably attired—entirely unintentionally I had made a pun, and John Hazard seized upon it, pointing it out rather loudly to my delight and consternation.  

In addition, we reveled in "Tom Swifties," which were named after the Tom Swift series of books, science fiction tales geared toward readers who also might have read Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.  The author, who wrote under the pseudonym of Victor Appleton, had a habit of attaching adverbs to the phrase, "Tom said."  John Hazard had at one point promised me a whole page of Tom Swifties, but the very next day as I was getting my lunch from my locker, he walked past me and said, "'My, this roof is strong,' said Tom beaming."

As we moved into the second half of the year, birds came home to roost in the numbers we received on the various Achievement Tests we had taken earlier.  Those of us in the AP English class were mostly very competitive. I'm not sure if it was my father's influence, who gave me the impression I could do anything I wanted, or the three years at the all girls' school where I was used to competition, or my own personality, or a little of all three, but I never understood why a girl should play down her own intelligence in order not to offend a boy.  In the Achievement Tests I had taken, I received numbers that were all in the 95th to 99th percentile, but in Spanish I got an 800, which was the top score.  I was so excited, I ran out of the Guidance Office, and told one of my friends who was waiting for me, and soon a whole group of friends was congratulating me.  My Spanish teacher told me that even her nieces, who were native Spanish speakers, hadn't done that.  But my happiest moment was when John Hazard told me that he, who had gotten an 800 on a couple of other things, had not gotten an 800 on the German Achievement Test, and that he had never heard of anyone getting an 800 on a language Achievement Test.  Instead of being embarrassed, I was thrilled that now I had earned his respect.  

Another intellectual pursuit was the beginning of the WFF n Proof Club on campus, a game my father had gotten for me several years earlier to teach me logic.  I taught my girlfriends, and one of the boys taught his friends, and we carried on from there, and I even had to show the teacher who was the moderator how to play.  For several weeks, we all went around school using the arcane WFF n Proof terminology and undoubtedly got a great deal of fun from speaking in a language that the uninitiated didn't understand. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

KAIROS PIERCES CHRONOS

As spring eased its way into the high school, senioritis began to flourish, and I soon wangled several honors passes, which meant I didn't have to go to most of my history or Spanish classes since I had convinced the teachers to let me do more independent study.  They didn't have Spanish 5 at the new high school, and I wasn't in the AP History class though I should have been.

I spent many an hour sitting out on the grassy area in front of the high school with other senior friends equally endowed with honors passes.  I also had discovered a nook of nature within the campus itself which was deserted once classes were over, and I escaped there one day in the middle of a Yearbook meeting and sat there quietly soaking in the golden peace of a late afternoon, and the minutes dissolved into that timelessness the Greeks called kairos.

The Muse danced and images fluttered out on incorporeal staves, and I tried to pen the notes to a piece of notebook paper in a "Spring Sketch."  Looking back, I can see Whitman casting a looming shadow over the verses, but they did roughly outline the moments when time slowed and was forgotten.

There is a blade of grass here,
another there, and a weed,
adding up to a carpet ruffled 
with brown grass and leaves
that weren't raked up last fall.

There was a rain yesterday,
but it has all soaked through, 
leaving the grass springy
and very softly dry.

There is a tree there 
and five more, and a little bush.
The first shy leaves
have crept through the branches 
and they wave in the air
that has no heat and no cold;
and the breeze blows 
the blades of grass, too.

There was a bird in the tree,
perched among the slender branches
that toss gently in the air.
The warbler sent his low sweet melody
cascading into the sea of grass
where it blended with the endless rhythm,
as the notes came floating
from a chorus in a distant grove,
and the gull's cries rolled in
from a broad and endless sea.

There was a girl here beneath the tree
living with the blades of grass
and the new leaves that drink the rain,
singing the soft notes bequeathed
by the bird, long flown;
gathering her gifts of sun and peace
she held them to her until they were
impressed forever in her heart.

Rediscovering those lines didn't draw up a sketch of the place so much as the quiet that filled the space and coexisted with the bird notes.  Whatever was left of high school Sturm und Drang had drained away and left me on an island distant as a mountain valley with the air so clear you could hear cowbells from miles away.    

When I finally emerged from my reverie, I had no idea how long I'd been out there, but John Hazard asked me where on earth I'd been and I was a bit elusive in my answer.  When I reflected on this memory in prayer this week, I tried to imagine God yearning for me to return my gaze to him, but it is challenging to think of the ineffable Creator looking afar with his piercing eyes to see if I have turned toward him yet.

Friday, August 14, 2015

BURNING BRIDGES

“I know now that I have crossed a bridge which burned behind me…the world of sunshine and lollipops is gone, that I have made the first step toward self-understanding; whether I shall finally see reality is an unknown factor and where I go from here is also uncertain.  But the past is lost…irretrievably lost.  How true the clichés!  I can never go back!”  

My thoughts after the accidental encounter with a snow plow were as dramatic as only a high school girl can express them, and rather inaccurate as well, since the first three years of high school were certainly not just "sunshine and lollipops."  But with the resilience of youth, the very next line of my journal (without even a paragraph break!) described the introduction of coed volleyball in gym class:  "I was terrified when I first heard it but it wasn’t really bad, even fun.  The boys just ignored us, even tho’ we were on the same team.”

And, of course, my great consolation was going to Yearbook after school. I had begun to copy the beautiful handwriting of Russell, the literary editor on whom I had developed my major crush. "I live for Yearbook, and our meeting today was fantastic.  There was such a sense of joyful camaraderie, especially at the end when only [a few of us] were left.  We worked and joked...and we all got on famously.  I really, truly felt accepted."  

On the Friday before we left for Christmas break, I announced that “Today was the perfect climax to this past week.  This morning we had a Christmas assembly which was fun and beautiful, especially the band and the French horns, which were nostalgic, and I wished I hadn’t sold the horns we had.  But it was still great.  Then at lunch, [we] had a party at our table; we had a tablecloth, candles, glasses, ravioli, milk, and brownies.  It caused quite a sensation, and everyone enjoyed it.  Then we had a Christmas party in Spanish with a piñata.  I got lots of candy and gave it to the people in Yearbook—also the brownies left from the party.  Yearbook was icing on the cake [or maybe on the brownies].  We finally did finish the book, at least the section to page 107.  We worked until 8:30 pm....The glory and the strain can never be recorded here, but it was delightful."  I’m guessing the glory was more delightful than the strain! 

I remarked that Russ "and I really got to know each other—he got 800 Verbal SAT, 793 Math, 800 on Math Level II and Chemistry Achievement, and 157 on NMSQT—I got 150....  What a guy!  I’m really getting serious about him.  I can’t describe all the puns and Tom Swifties, the excellent captions I wrote, and all the fun we had."  I had finally met someone whom I recognized as an intellectual superior, who had an endearing sense of humor as well. When I watched Star Trek again for the first time in weeks, the character of Mr. Spock paled beside the flesh and blood real boy who had captured my attention.





Sunday, August 9, 2015

A TURNING POINT, "IF THERE IS SUCH A THING"

With the locks on all the doors replaced in the house, we were able to schedule a trip to one of the three schools I was still considering.  On the way there, I noted in my journal, “I discovered that I had left my grades at the hotel. Daddy was very mad, of course, but we went back, the interview was fine and they accepted me without qualification.  Then two very nice girls showed Mother and me the dorms.  But my absentmindedness as exemplified earlier has become a real problem.  How can I correct it?  Is there a way?  …I simply must, for the consequences are too often very far-reaching.  Of course if I had not lost the key we would have gone in November.  Period.  But we went this weekend, and it began to snow very hard coming home; the roads were slick.  I still don’t know exactly what happened—we began sliding all over the road, a huge snow plow veered into our lane very slightly.  Then everything began to go in slow-motion.  Unless you’ve really been in an accident, the feeling is indescribable. I saw the snow plow (truck) coming closer to the side window (I was sitting in front).  In those seconds I remember thinking with a mental gasp of disbelief that we were going to crash, and Daddy had never been in an accident and this would spoil it, and what if the side of the car caved in and crushed me, but I knew it just wouldn’t happen.  Then the shock of the blow—it dented the right front fender and bumped the door I leaned against.  It was quite a tremendous force against my arm, but I felt as if I could keep it from denting in.  Then we continued swerving over toward the dividing fence.  I thought, what if we go through it and crash head-on into a car over there?  Instead, the back left corner got dented.  If there had been a car behind us or no divider, we would have been seriously hurt or killed.  And if Daddy had not called upon all his years of good driving and experience the car probably would have gone into a spin and turned over.  Finally we got it stopped on the right shoulder of the road, the truck in front of us. Now that I think of it, the plow didn’t hit the door, but the shock was so tremendous I was thoroughly convinced that it had.  Men got out of the truck and Daddy got out, and they came around to see if I was hurt.... I had received the worst part of it, but fortunately I wasn’t hurt, although one of the men said I was white as a ghost. No doubt.  In that suspended moment when I saw the huge orange side of the truck looming at me I felt as if were coming face to face with Death and pushing it away.  That terrible bump—I could feel the side of the car near the tire go in as if it were a tin can; and it shook the door so it felt as if a huge force were falling against me.  But it was the physical reality of the thing that scared me most.”

At the time, I interpreted everything in terms of the “story” I had been told growing up; my father was nearly invincible and everything he did was right, and the fact that the accident wasn’t more serious was entirely due to his excellent driving skills.  Curiously, many years later when my parents had come to live with me after I was married and had four children, and the subject of that accident came up, my father mentioned that he had gotten a ticket for driving too fast for conditions.  I remember feeling outraged because I had always assumed the accident was entirely my fault because I had lost my purse.  Certainly, we wouldn’t have gone that weekend if I hadn’t, but the police gave my father the ticket, not me!  Despite that, as I reflect on it now, the feelings of guilt are far stronger than the belated outrage, but there are also sprinklings of gratitude that we were all spared any serious injury and were able to get home--after having the fender repaired at a gas station--without any further incident.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

HIGH SCHOOL DRAMA (NOT THE MUSICAL)

By the middle of November, I'd been plunged into a crisis by forgetting my purse at school in my rush to catch the bus. The key to the back door was in it along with my brand new driver's license, and we started getting phone calls to see if we were home. My parents alerted the police, and we had to get new locks on all the doors, and postponed a trip to see one of the colleges I was interested in.  

In the midst of all this, I suddenly realized I had singled out one of the boys in my AP English class to have a real crush on, as opposed to just having heart flutters from interactions with one or another of them.  I characterized it as "nothing serious, a pleasant sensation, although aggravating at times. I've read enough advice columns to recognize a mild case of infatuation--and he is a great kid."  Since he was the Literary Editor of Yearbook, I had more opportunities than just English class to interact with him.  When I showed the Yearbook foreword and its layout to him, the advisor, the editor-in-chief and several other staff members, the reaction was positive, and I was elated.

When he won the Bausch and Lomb science award, my father told me that he had won it when he was in high school, and my best friend gave me a copy of the article in the local paper, which had his picture in it.  I noted that he was very much like my father, "but different enough to make him very attractive to me.  He is very cute, very smart, very adorable, and I just think he's fantastic!"  At Yearbook meetings, I had a chance to talk about more personal things with him and we started to learn more about each other.  On a hopeful note, I remarked that "he's come to respect me more, perhaps to like me a little."  I began to use the article with his picture to mark my place in my journal, "so it will be where I can look at it, but no one will know the extent of my crush."

Curiously, he and I were elected class scholars. I could understand that he would be since everyone assumed he would be valedictorian, but I was new to the school and surprised that enough people even knew who I was to vote for me.  As we went down the hall to get our picture taken for the Yearbook, someone asked if we were the class "Romeo and Juliet," and I remember wishing that we were!

A few days later, my mother called the English teacher to complain about the play that everyone in the class had gone to see except me.  Mrs. Klein deftly defused the situation by telling her that I "was a catalyst in the class--and that everyone was trying to work up to my standards! It also explains why she read two of my papers and none of the others'.  She also said I was a very mature and charming person!  It makes me feel so happy when I find that someone likes and respects me."  As the year crept towards Christmas break, my life at the new high school seemed rather like a book where as I turned the pages I discovered friendships blossoming and romance like a burgundy rose opening in the center of the garden.