When Your Story Flips Upside-Down

Topsy TurvyA high school acquaintance recently pulled me into a Facebook group for people who grew up in Los Alamos – my tribe! They have posted pictures of historic scenes around Los Alamos and a lively forum-type discussion has sprung up about who remembers what and how. A fascinating sort of collaborative story is emerging with a type of shared, collective memory, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

One of the members is a retired LAHS chemistry teacher who arrived soon after I left. At some point I posted this comment:
Was Mr. Etherly still there when you arrived at LAHS? Or Mr. Cooper? Mr. E taught all the chem classes except the one I took from Mr. Cooper my senior year. I did not understand all the fuss from Mr. Etherly's students about how hard chemistry was. Mr. Cooper made it sooo easy! Then I took Chem 101 in college and had a seriously rude awakening. Alas! Mr. Cooper was a delightful man, and I always thought of him when my kids began watching Mr. Rogers. But a chemistry teacher he was not. Fortunately I was not meant to be a chemistry major, so no harm done, at least to me.
With gentle kindness, she replied that she had the highest regard for Mr. Cooper, and his students had loved him. “He was a fine teacher,” she said. Several of his past students agreed.

That’s when my mind went into spin mode. I felt a bit awkward and … confused. I pondered. I journaled. What was true? Was Mr. Cooper really a bumbling beginner who had been unable to control his class? Had I missed something? Suddenly I realized that not only had his class been genuinely fun, but everything I remember about chemistry traces back to his class, not the one at Texas Tech. Mr. Cooper made chemistry come to life and seem approachable. How many teachers can do that? I suddenly recognized his gift. He allowed the natural leaders in class to emerge, and let us feel engaged with it at our own best levels.

Then I remembered hearing that Chem 101 was a washout class at Texas Tech, intended to thin the herd and deter all but the most robust students from pursuing careers in science and engineering. That may not be all bad. In fact, it served me well. For a brief few weeks I actually considered majoring in chemistry. It did not take me long to see the folly of that decision.

When all was written and reflected upon, I realized that my attitude toward Mr. Cooper had been wrong-side out, and I owe both him and his compassionate colleague a debt of gratitude.

This group has sparked several re-visions and trance-formations in my Story, beyond many that have already occurred (see Your Own Magic Crystal Ball . Writing memoir becomes especially challenging when memories and perceptions are in such flux. Power tools for continuing to analyze and re-evaluate experience, then anchor it in story are especially valuable at times like this.

I collect power tools for life writers that are fun to use as well as enlightening. I will share a few of my favorites in February in Soaring High, Digging Deep, a three-week NAMW teleclass. This class will be an ideal opportunity to connect with others who may be helpful in shaking loose the shackles of assumptions and memory habits you’ve become accustomed to. Click here for more details and to sign up.

Write now: about a long-standing assumption you’ve had about someone . Challenge your beliefs about the person and see how they may change. Look for any silver linings in the cloud – or perhaps feet of clay in someone you’ve had on a pedestal that may have been a bit high.

Photo credit: Jason Rogers


SuziCate said...

I've had that happen where I've thought one thing and then someone has awakened me to see things from a different perspective. It's always good to see things from all angles.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Learning to play this game is ever so useful, and it's easy to learn. Practice asking yourself, "How else could I look at this?" or "How would (name the person) be likely to see this?" Using a journal is a good way to develop the skill, because writing keeps you focused and concentrating. Eventually it becomes second nature.