In Review…

I can honestly say that 2019 was a tough one. I struggled a lot this year, and I can openly changingsay that it took a whiiiiile for me to get back to a sense of solid ground. And let’s be real: there will be ups and downs in life anyway. Hills and valleys. Light and dark. And although I wasn’t living in a dreamworld that life, my life, was all roses, this year presented a tunnel of darkness and deep emotions that seemed really hard to navigate. Here are some lessons I learned and am continuing to learn on this journey we call life:

  1. Speak. Even if it’s one person that holds your confidences, who helps you wipe your tears, who assures you that you’ll make it through that tunnel: say something. Let them know you’re barely holding on. I’ve been blessed with that person, and also others who intuitively hold me a bit tighter when we see each other. Those folks may not know the details of what I’m going through, but can sense that I need them. Even in an embrace.
  2. Exchange. My constant goal is to pay it forward. Be the person I needed when I was down. Be there for others as they were and are there for me.
  3. Write. Although I didn’t do a lot of fiction writing this year, I wrote a lot of my feelings down. I needed to work my way through them. Here’s to catharsis.
  4. Hope. It’s not the easiest thing to hold to the heart, hope. Especially when disappointment seems to reign and push you into deep negativity. My bestie and I were discussing this recently and she asked, with all the efforts I’m making to look ahead and not behind, whether I have any hope left. “A little,” I said. “Hold on to that,” she replied. I intend on doing just that.

A brief year-end review. I plan on doing another one as we drift closer to 2020. But I need to say the following: I’m so grateful to my awesome God, my wonderful family, and my dear friends who helped me to remember the light waiting at the end of this weird, endless tunnel I found myself traversing. If nothing else, with everything I witnessed this year, there was something incredible in there: the divine. 

How was your 2019 (so far)? I’d love to hear about it.

Contests.

I recently submitted a few of my pieces (two short stories and a poem) for some writing contests. I submitted them with the reminder to myself that 1) I’m not the only writer in the world, and 2) there’s a high likelihood that I won’t even place, because see #1. I should tell you that I don’t doubt my talent for a second; gone are the days when I would compare my writing to every one else wielding a pen and/or a laptop and wonder why I couldn’t evoke emotions like Writer A or describe scenes like Writer B. For years and years now, I have wielded my pen/dusty laptop quite confidently, as every writer should. But it was also important to provide myself those two reminders because This Square Peg definitely likes being real and honest with herself. This foils disappointment and eternal irritation with judges who clearly don’t have eyes.

All that said, I received an email yesterday that with 375 entries submitted, I wasn’t selected as a finalist for the poetry contest. And how did I react, being that I gave myself those two reminders? I glared at the email and muttered to myself that I would never participate in that contest again. (It was my second time sending something to this literary festival.) And, yes, I wondered if the judges had eyes. And yes, I almost threw my phone on the ground. Of course, some time later, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at

phone
Yep.

myself–because as a writer, moments like that par for the course. They just are. Writing is entirely subjective. Person 1 may think my collected words were borne from the divinest of clouds. Person 2 may wonder why I didn’t choose basket weaving instead of writing as something to fall in love with. (And may wonder why I insist on ending sentences with prepositions.) When you think about the variety of writers and styles and then we all enter contests with each other? Kind of incredible.

However: for a few moments, more than seconds, I entertained my anger and my irritation. Yeah, I’m a writer, and I’m mostly a realist, but I’m also quite human. So there you go. But eventually, I bounced back. I told myself to cool it, to seriously stop flirting with throwing my phone whenever something doesn’t go my way, and to remember that I write for one person only: myself. When I’m happy and content with the work I produce, all is well. The icing is when my readers feel the same way. No contest needs to tell me any of those things.

But if those short stories don’t do well…kidding, kidding.

Tell me: in life, how do you deal with disappointment?

The History Test: Random Memory #3

Let’s just get into it, folks. (See other random memories here and here, if you’re wondering what this random memory thing is about.)

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was in a pretty interesting History class. Interesting because my teacher, Mrs. G., was probably one of the more quirkier teachers I’d had in a long time. She was excited about almost everything, pretty corny, and fairly melodramatic. It didn’t take long realize that I loved her to pieces. Why? Because, overall, she was firm when she needed to be, an open lover of learning (especially History, naturally), and just fun. And guess what? That was me as a student: I loved the discipline of school, I loved learning, and I loved fun in a classroom. There you go. But this random memory isn’t a love-fest about my old teacher. It’s about something significant that happened in Mrs. G.’s class.

It was test day. When it came to any class that wasn’t Math, I studied hard. No, seriously, hard. Not only did I want to do well, but I had a deep love (still do) for History. So I wanted my A. Anyway, I took my test and felt pretty confident about it. The next day, Mrs. G. asked me to stay after class. I remember gazing at her in confusion, like, stay for what? To be praised for my A? Like, did nerds stay after class? Because I was a nerd and an obedient one, at that. Further compounding my confusion, she asked another student to stay, as well. We’ll call him N.B. So N.B. and I were sitting there, waiting, wondering. At least I was. Once class was dismissed, Mrs. G. stood before us and, in hushed tones, announced that she felt that one of us had cheated on our tests.

I almost laughed.

I regarded her, half-smiling, waiting for her to pronounce judgment on N.B. After all, everyone knew that he didn’t even try to be a good student. He was more famous for starting fights in hallways than studying. When she remained silent, I felt my oxygen depleting. She was waiting for one of us to admit to it. But did Mrs. G. seriously believe that I had cheated? Me, who took rabid notes during class? Me, who laughed at her silly jokes? Me, who did my homework faithfully?

Even worse: N.B. then says, at the top of his lungs, that it wasn’t him that cheated. My heart racing, visions of my intense studying running through my mind, I also inform Mrs. G that I didn’t cheat on the test.

Mrs. G: Well, someone cheated.
Me: It wasn’t me.
N.B.: It wasn’t me.

Eventually, to settle the issue, she requested that we each re-take the test. Notably, she sat us far, far away from one another. (In case you haven’t guessed, N.B. sat next to me in class.) I nearly pounced on the paper when she handed it to me. Minutes later, I handed the completed test to her and almost near tears, walked out of class. If you guessed that I told the story at length to my friends, decrying the injustice of it all, you would be right. I was incredulous that one of my favorite teachers would believe this about me.

Later, I received my test back. I got my A. We never spoke about it again–until the last day of school. A bunch of friends and I went back to her class to say goodbye at the end of the school year. Needless to say, I certainly didn’t plan on joining the chorus of goodbyes and we loved your class; I intending on merely standing there and giving her the stink eye for not believing in me. But that plan didn’t work. Perhaps it was the bravado that came with almost being a junior. Perhaps it was because I was still pretty hurt and angry and confused. Whatever it was, I waited for a lull in conversation and came out with it. “Mrs. G, why did you make me re-take that test?” I questioned. She smiled. I’ll never forget her reply. “I knew N.B. cheated off your paper. Only you would give me the full answer for a question and give me more information in parentheses. His answers were identical to yours, so it was clear he had copied off you. But the matter needed to be settled.”

A million years later, today, I finally get it. I truly didn’t get it back then, but I accepted her reply and we made up. Now, however, it’s quite clear: it was important not to openly accuse this young man of cheating. It was important to give both of us the benefit of the doubt. And that’s the bottom line. In the end, it didn’t feel great at the time, but looking back, I realize that she did believe in me. Means a lot, even now.

Lessons in Frenglish

Let me explain my relationship with the French language. In 7th grade, I was in a class called International Foreign Language, where we were basically given a smorgasbord of different languages and cultures to learn about. French, Spanish, German. Needless to say, I quickly fell in love with French. Can’t really explain it; maybe it was how it sounded, the chateaus, the croissants. By the time I reached 9th grade, where I could finally choose which language to study, there was no doubt: français all the way.

Sigh. My high school French teacher had this on the wall. Gazed at it way more than the stuff on the board.
Sigh. My high school French teacher had a poster of this chateau on the wall. Gazed at it way more than the stuff on the board.

However. There’s a difference between hearing that lilting language and learning it. I came to despise verb conjugations and masculine vs. feminine. All I wanted was to move to Paris and communicate with the proprietors of various boulangeries. I didn’t sign up for passé composé and conditionnel. (If you speak French, congratulations for knowing what I’m referring to, and you feel my pain, don’t you? Or do you, le traitor?) But guess what? The love was too strong. I couldn’t leave. Deep down, I didn’t want to. Year and after year, I sat in the next-level French class (somehow passing, might I add), convinced that the same remedial part of my brain that couldn’t get Math was stopping me from comprehending the mechanics of this language. Yet I was still hopeful that I’d join the ranks of the kids who were now practically fluent.By the time sophomore year in college came and it was time to take a language course, the Stockholm Syndrome returned. I signed up for French like an automaton, forgetting that those conjugations and verbs weren’t going anywhere.

Enter Professor Oliver Morgan.

Prof. Morgan's twin.
Prof. Morgan’s twin.

He looked like Tim Matheson. I suppose that’s what stopped me from dropping the class. (This Square Peg freely admits moments of superficiality.) He was also charming, had a wry and cool sense of humor, and was a great teacher. I couldn’t stand him. Read on. I could see it his eyes: he was going to teach me French whether I liked it or not. He wasn’t going to throw his hands up in defeat like my French teachers in the past who couldn’t get me to speak in anything other than present tense and short phrases, which therefore allowed me to rest on my laurels and gaze at posters of chateaus. He was going to woo me with stories of his French wife and their bilingual children who spent 6 months of the year in France. He was going to call on me and force me to speak to him only in French. And because I saw that determination in his eyes, how he ignored my scowls and sarcasm, I found him highly irritating. In the end, I supposed that determination and his handsome face worked. I started paying attention in class. My comprehension improved somewhat. I passed tests with more than my ability to remember vocabulary words. Because essentially, that was it, the problem I had from the beginning: I could remember all the words. I just struggled to put them all together and in the correct tenses. Finally, in Senior Year, I took my last French class. Guess who the professor was? We had a much better time together.

Last year, I met some new French-speaking friends who, to my everlasting shock, marveled at my “perfect” French accent. I almost collapsed. I told them of my past struggles. They waved it off and continued complimenting me and said to stick with it. Whaaat? Following that, some friends and I went on a trip to Montreal, where I stunned myself by conversing with people in my usual Frenglish, but–wait for it–more French than English! Again, whaaat?

One day, my dream of living in France will come true. I, too, will walk to the local bakery and order mountains of baguettes like Professor Morgan’s children. I figure that living there and being immersed in the language and culture will cause a miraculous loosening of my brain and tongue, releasing all the French hiding in the medulla since was I was 14 years old. Until then, Frenglish it is.

Oh, other lessons I learned: 1) try, try again; 2) don’t give up; 3) eat lots of sweet bread.