Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sometimes, I Revisit High School (And Look What I Find!)

Today is full of the quiet of snow.

Sometimes, in the moments when I am desperately procrastinating finishing the summary, the reading, the outline of the paper... moments when I am tucked into fleece and sweatshirt with the grey cat on my right and the black dog snoozing in his chair, I go back to high school.

I read backwards, searching the folder hidden in my computer called "Waring Work... I just had to keep." I creep up our rickety stairs and peer into the smudged penciled calculus tests, physics problem sets, and the drafts of essays with Charles' most honest criticisms in their customary bleeding black ink. I crouch down onto the floor of my room, surrounded by the words of wise editors and critics, peers who challenged this and that thesis, my interpretation of Pearl in The Scarlet Letter. I swim for a few stolen moments in the place where I learned: it's about the writing, not the grade. It's about the words, not the big definitive strokes and the circle at the top of the page. It's about that moment, when you emerge, sweaty and triumphant from your tenth revision of the same poem with the right word - flushed - and all you know now is that the poem is better.

So I bask in the loving, correcting words of my teachers, my friends and fellow students, the ones who taught me that the point of learning, the real reason we read and write and sing and do calculus and speak en fran├žais and memorize lines - it's because the moment of the right word is the real victory, not the grade. I've lived in college for close to three years now, and it's high school that taught me how to love to learn, how to travel through this country asking what it means to be an American of the people we met on the street. My high school that journeyed me from poetry-disdainer to lover of words. Waring that taught me to breathe in the deep smells of Proven├žal lavender and write it down, never stop remembering and bringing it into life here.

The moment when you stand in front of an audience and say that quivering question - "Oh Edward, don't you see? It was me at the ball that night! Me in that gown of smoke and spider's web!" You are more beautiful, more Cinderella, than you've ever been before in your whole life.

It's the moment when you dream of something infinitely larger than a small red "A." It's the moment when you realize that what you want, at the end of the day, is to understand how to modulate your voice according to the arrangement of "Every Breath You Take" that the ever-talented Tim has arranged for your merry band of warblers.

 It's the moment when your bookshelves are full of the story of what you've learned - your story, right there in the dusty shelves and the questions and your heart is there too, your curious mind, you love of Dostoevsky with your love of Anne Sexton with Jonathan Kozol.

And after all, you are a traveler, and you have been taught how to see landscapes: how to remember the myths and the legends, how to look with the eyes of your heart at a place. (Thanks, Lisa-Jo, for these words that break my heart with how true they are). 

(photo credit: Clare Stanton, 2006)

You can see Campobello Island, you can see Paris, you can see Rowley. You can see the landscape of your friend's hearts and hear their stories and echo back to them those right words that were the point after all. You can pour love into your learning. 
(Photo Credit: Clare Stanton, 2006)

Sometimes, I go back to high school, and I remember the moments when I learned because it gave life, because the word was supposed to be "flushed" not "beaming," because the problem set about gravitational force mattered in the biggest way.

This year, I am going to replant myself in the heart of that girl who loved learning like that. I am going to seek the right words, the solution to the calculus problem, the short story that is just bursting to come out of me.

I am going swimming this year in the overwhelming, rich and joyful world of learning to love learning again, not for grades or approval, not for resumes or cover letters - but because it is bursting with light. 

Won't you come sit on a bench with me, our feet propped up in their bright shoes, our arms and minds and hearts beaming with ideas, and learn to love learning again, too?


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