I really don’t know what quality I possessed as a 17-year-old that would prompt my journalism teacher to give me a poster depicting a kitten asleep on a flowerpot with a message about being at peace with yourself. Baffling me even more was the note she wrote on the back:
Posters were Miss Felts’ graduation gifts to the 10 of us, her journalism class. That’s us, below. Can you pick me out? (P.S. I went by my exact middle name, “Sue,” instead of Suzy, in 10th through 12th grades; it was easier.)
If Miss Felts thought I was “at peace with myself,” I’m not sure what kind of Kool-Aid she was in the habit of drinking (seems to me she drank Tab), but I dare say that was not the case 35 years ago.
It is much more the case today.
I wouldn’t say I’m totally at peace with myself, or my life in general, but I have learned that what I used to believe brought peace (the absence of conflict, the outward appearance of competence, “enough” money) is just an illusion.
After having walked my faith journey for so long (all my life, but beginning in earnest when I was in college), I’ve come to understand the things that bring true and lasting peace. (I know that ultimate peace comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.)
Miss Felts gave me that poster 35 years ago – two-thirds of my life ago – because she saw something in me, and I’ve never forgotten its message. I’ve never ceased to ponder the message itself, why my teacher gave it to me, or why, in my yearbook, she said I had been “a great inspiration” to her.
On the contrary, she was a great inspiration to me. (Funny how that works.)
The poster stayed on my bedroom wall – just north of my headboard – until a couple of years after my dad died, when Mom sold the house I grew up in. I didn’t even realize we still had the poster until recently. It resurfaced when we started rearranging some rooms, going through boxes and drawers, purging clutter.
Finding it again was like getting a surprise visit from an old friend.
In high school, journalism was my favorite class, Miss Felts my favorite teacher, and every memory of that time happy.
Maybe she is the reason I had peace – or at least a high school girl’s version of it – for that nine months of my life (plus our time in sophomore English). I was as angsty as any other teenage girl, and Miss Felts was a calming force during that hour every day when we “practiced journalism.”
Or at least she tried to be. With half a dozen boys in the class, most of them pranksters, we didn’t have many dull moments. And Miss Felts could give as good as she got. When one of us whined, her version of “sympathy” was to rub her index finger around in circles on her thumbnail. Something like this:
“You know what this is?” she said the first time she used it. “It’s the world’s smallest record player.” Or sometimes she’d do another finger motion for “the world’s smallest violin.”
Translation: I’m playing sad, sad music for you poor thing.
(Imagine really dramatic music during the above 2 seconds of video. Please imagine that, because otherwise it just looks like you’ve caught me rolling a booger.)
I didn’t set out today to write about high school, journalism class or my favorite teacher – or even peaceful felines in flowerpots – but I guess those things began to converge when I got to thinking about my writing of late. I was reading Stephen King’s book On Writing (I reviewed Part 1 yesterday) and simultaneously pondering my P topic for today. On my lunch break at work, I had written parts of two drafts about “perspective” and was dissatisfied with both. I did a virtual crumpling of the paper. (Don’t you miss paper sometimes?)
Then, for some reason, “peace” came to mind.
As I read the book, particularly the section about good writing and bad writing, that “competent” writers can become “good” writers – and how that can come to be – I realized that I’m slowing moving from being merely competent toward being a “good” writer (at least in my own estimation, which admittedly is often skewed in my favor).
And the reason for that is that I’m at peace with my writing.
That’s not to say I’m satisfied. That’s a different thing.
I’m at peace.
I’m free. I’m unself-conscious. (Well, not really, but less so than I used to be. I still feel the need to qualify everything in parenthetical phrases. I still over-explain. I still don’t trust you enough to get what I’m saying on your own.)
Not perfection. Peace.
Not every day, not every time. But there is evidence that it’s true.
I’m comfortable writing about boogers. (If Stephen King can talk about the newspaper he created in high school called The Village Vomit, I can write about boogers.)
I didn’t say it was good evidence.
Peace is hard-won. It takes practice. It takes deliberate action. (Sounds contradictory, I know. Peace should be a passive thing. But it isn’t. It isn’t. You have to cultivate it. Water it. Give it light.)
I call it peace.
Miss Felts, I’m raising a glass of Kool-Aid to you.
Monday: Q is for … ??? Got any ideas? Toss ’em my way.
Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT