The Waste Land
Back in the day – way back when I was in high school, many of the high schools had Forensics – speech and debate competitions. They were a big deal back then. I HATED public speaking – FEARED it, hated it, trembled when faced with it… No way would I be a part of that!
I was a senior in high school. We had just moved from the thumb of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula – the U.P. It was a different world, and my new school was small, settled on a hillside that overlooked hills and valleys and forests. Thin, winding roads led up to the school. I used to look out the large school windows and become lost in a world of beauty and nature – so picturesque. Many of the men in the community, at that time, worked in the mines. The name of our school was National Mine. This is just to give you a little background.
I was a senior in a new school, very different from what I was used to. Because our senior class had only 29 students total – our teachers knew us well. Even though I was new, every teacher knew me and each of the other students. Every student knew all of the other students. They even knew and commiserated with the younger students in high school.
My English teacher was a very “proper” lady, well versed in Shakespeare which we studied as well as other great works such as Lord of the Flies and Grapes of Wrath… I wish I could remember the teacher’s name, but my mind has gone blank on this great teacher. This teacher was also the coach of the Forensics team and the drama teacher. The seniors were putting on a play. I did not audition. But my friend had a main part, and wanted me to join the play along with most of the other seniors. So I went to play practice with her. A student was absent, and so I filled in and read the part during the practice. The English teacher took me aside and said I should have auditioned for the play. Though all the parts had been dispersed, I joined the play – helping backstage…
The Forensics team was being formed. The English teacher asked to see me after class. She told me that I had a “gift” for speaking, and she wanted me to be on the Forensics team. My teacher told me that she had already selected the piece that she wanted me to do for competition. I did not want to do it, but because I respected her so much and she seemed determined to make it happen – I did join the team.
My teacher said that she had wanted someone to do the poem that she had selected for me. We would have to practice and work on it because it was not easy. I looked at the title – The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. I was going to read V5 – What the Thunder Said. I couldn’t even understand the poem, let alone read it with emotion or lack of emotion. But my teacher discussed the poem with me and helped me discover the meaning behind the poem. She talked me through each line and worked with me on my delivery.
It’s funny that I remember very little about the competitions. I know I did well, not state winning material – but well. What I do remember is the poem and the work that went into understanding it and delivering a great work by a great author. Practice sometimes meant repeating a line over and over again until I could portray the meaning of the poem with my voice.
Today I still hate public speaking even though once upon a time a teacher believed that I had a “gift.” So the Forensics experience was not a waste land. It was an opportunity for growth, and would go on to serve me well as I began my own teaching career. Sometimes “a waste land” can turn into “a land of milk and honey!”
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