Friday, March 4, 2016

Guest Blogger: Janet Rorschach

[From 1976-1983, I taught English and directed plays at Holland Hall Upper School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was twenty-four and had negligible experience. I didn't know up from down about teaching, but during those years, a handful of students changed me irrevocably. Over three decades, one way or the other, they've found me. I recently invited them to become guest bloggers, reflecting on something about their high school selves.

From the Class of 1982, Janet was a spitfire, a firecracker, a spotlight with no dimmer switch. I could give her any role, from impish fairy to bitter southern mother, and she was completely, impressively convincing. Despite the fact that her offstage manner was overall quiet and kind, she had a powerhouse sense of purpose onstage. When a scene required her to slap another actor, they decided to go full on instead of choreographing the movement. Did she ever! Back then without a performing arts center, our plays were performed in The Commons, and I believe that shocking crack of her hand lingers to this day in the rafters.]


“I want you to write an essay, about anything, about the things you learned in life. Tell your stories about high school, college, wherever,” Karen Henry Clark wrote in an email several months ago. Leave it to her to perpetually give me a daunting task.

I’m the woman who sweats over one sentence for YEEEEEAAAAARRRRRS! An essay? Like high school, I’m negotiating. “How many words? Can it be double-spaced? How bad will my grade be if I turn it in late?”

Time to tackle this. 

The Wonder-Full Wonderful

Wanna know what I learned? People, if you wanna know about the obvious, come talk to me. Subtlety, nuance. That’s someone else’s business.

Oh yeah, and let me tell you this: After years of learning, I believe I have undiagnosed dyslexia and dyscalculia. Why? You should have proofread this essay before I submitted it. OY! THE RED! Words looked as if I were eating an alphabet salad...tossed with extra dressing to glom up the leaves! I’m just sayin’, God bless spell check.

Something else I learned. I cannot run away from what makes me ME. 

Honestly, I have run as fast, as hard, as aggressively as any person can. There is within me the perpetual hope that I shall be better in the next phase, as I shed a personality like a piece of old clothing going to Goodwill. I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad, but when you are clinically depressed, survival means you cling to the hope, remember to change your underwear, and take your meds. It’s a bonus day if you get in the shower and use soap.

If you were to ask me about my high school days, I would tell you I purposefully forgot most of it. 

Yes, I used the word purposefully. You see, it was an awkward, uncomfortable, marginalizing, lonely time. I was filled with teenage angst, bewilderment, and frustration because my body and mind were behaving so weirdly, while unrequited love sent me into sleep deprivation because the boy I was madly in love with pined for someone else. I constantly felt out of sorts, at war with everyone and everything, including the universe.

It was a time that almost every person I know went through. It could be described as zit-faced, hormone-driven child trying to become an adult before even knowing what that word meant, but doing the best anyone can with the information at hand while being laughed at and derided. It was as if four years were spent with a kick-me sign perpetually plastered to my back, coupled with my skirt bundled around my ankles displaying inside-out underwear stitched with the label “Monday” and “Janet’s.”

There are still people in my life who try to shame me about the person I was then, as if growth doesn’t occur and that my behavior needed explaining and their forgiveness. That baiting makes me angry and I don’t like being baited or angry. I don’t have time for shame. And I’m done with arrogance and bullying. So, when they start to tell me how much I was hated in high school, I respond with: “I’m so sorry. I really don’t remember what you are talking about. What do you think about this new cookie recipe I’ve developed? Gluten-free. I’d really like your opinion on THAT!”

When my mind decides to journey to those years, having long since dumped my year books in the garbage--I told you, I know how to run away like an Olympic Champion!--I turn on the small video player in my head. 

There is Craig Benton practicing his calligraphy; Karen Henry Clark, so over our idiocy, she runs full-bore into one of The Commons’ columns and, like the best of the silent comediennes, falls backwards spread-eagle onto the floor; David Rollo corralling his choir to sing with a passion only he understood; Ted Sloan smoking his cigarette in that ebony holder of his, while planning to stir trouble amongst the students in his gleefully evil way.

Briefly, I miss those moments. 

There, on the page, I swipe away the splash of salty water that represents so many fading things, experiences, and people. Not fading, but pieces of my past falling off onto the pavement and being left behind as I move on.

The realization that I live my life constantly filtered through a sieve of depression sadly does not soften my inner critic. It says, for an easier life, I should be like others, not make waves, and certainly not draw attention to myself. HA! Like that’s going to happen. HELLOOOOOOOO!

I am part of the 1%. Call me oddball, outcast, loner. I prefer artist. 

I chose independence over having a family. I chose to define my life, my rules, my ethics. I will anger you, disappoint you, and confound you, and none of that matters to me. I will delight you, challenge you, and cheer you, and none of that matters to me. I am not being aggressive here. 

Feel what you feel. 

Think what you think. 

I am simply moving on. 

All I’ve cared about is that I always have a choice. Although my process is not for everyone, making choices propels me closer to my version of freedom and peace.

I return to the title of this essay, The Wonder-Full Wonderful

I didn’t learn only in high school. I’ve been learning my whole life and it hasn’t stopped. Everyone of you is The Wonder-Full Wonderful. Each of you has given me a gift: knowledge, imagination, passion, wonder, humor, strength, hope, forgiveness, patience, love, respect, anger, exasperation, derision, urgency, pain, loneliness. You have challenged me to think, broken my heart, and comforted me when I hurt. I am amazed at each of you and the grace that carries you through life. You have shown me what it means to live, to truly embrace what moments I have left. 

Life requires courage, curiosity, and the need to fail.

And I have failed. 

I have failed brilliantly, picked myself off the ground, turned away from the ledge, nursed my wounds, kept carrying on, and know that even my worst day is precious.


Janet Rörschåch, chef, food stylist, artist, and writer, teaches online cooking for Escoffier, walks her dog Leo, and is looking for a new place to live. How does Iceland sound?

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  1. I love this. I get such a sense of who she is now, and how she felt in high school. Smart, articulate, and fast, how I remember her. I imagine her food when she cooks is vibrant and colorful and has wild, unexpected, vibrant flavors! Keep carrying on, Janet!

    1. Remarkable students like Janet helped me learn when to get out of the way. What a gift she still is.

    2. Remarkable students like Janet helped me learn when to get out of the way. What a gift she still is.

  2. I wasn't a high school teacher but if I have ever stimulated such as Janet in only one of my pupils I will have succeeded...

    1. My fingers are crossed tightly for you to know such success.

  3. I have just reread this for the umpteenth time to only now realise I didn't comment. What? So not like me... I haven't officially met Janet in person - yet. I adore her and wish I had one-tenth of her writing talents, never mind the cooking, creative, courage... I could go on but then I'll be gushing.

    1. Even when she was a teenager, she was gush worthy. I promise.