The blogging prompt for day 16 of the March challenge (and yes, I do know it is now March 19th, but if I stop to play catch up, I'll never really catch up) asks me to tell you about my greatest accomplishment.  Well, in the thirty-three years that I have been alive, I have accomplished only two items that I consider great.

I should probably be sadder about that fact.

My first great accomplishment happened in high school.  Academics have always come easily for me, unlike sports, and I've never had to try very hard to memorize facts or to learn how things work.  I always received high grades in school without studying, to the chagrin of some of my friends.  These traits, as well as the fact that I am not in general a driven person have resulted in the sorry truth that I have rarely pushed myself to excellence.  I've rarely tried hard to do something hard for me.  I suppose that is why this particular accomplishment is one that I treasure.

Somewhere between 8th and 10th grade, I decided (quite contrary to my normal comfort-zone-oriented personality) to sign up for a state-wide school competition in the area of Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry.  My school participated in the state-wide competition every year with students competing in many different academic and artistic categories.  My friends had won awards in areas like Original Photography (Kristin, I'm remembering your mighty oak tree with it's unique perspective), and Amazing Artwork (I totally made that category up, but Drew's pointillism pictures totally WERE amazing, and he earned first prize year after year to prove it).  Anyway, most of the kids in my school had their own niches that they competed in each year, but I never did.  Of course, I participated in the choir competition, which we either took first place or placed highly in every year, but that wasn't something I had to work hard for or something that *I* myself earned. 

(On that note [haha], I do remember one year when I competed in a solo competition.  That was early on when I was na├»ve and optimistic -- must have been 7th or 8th grade.  When I performed my song in front of a live audience consisting mainly of concerned parents before we went to competition, I forgot the words, and ended up humming the entire second verse until the words to the chorus finally popped back into my mind.  And I distinctly remember realizing while in the middle of singing to the judges during the real competition that everyone in the room, including me, was wondering WHEN THIS SONG WOULD EVER END.  I never entered another solo competition.)

After a year or two of watching from the sidelines while my school-mates performed, I decided I needed to find something to compete in.  There must be something I might be good at.  Right?  Anything?  I examined every category possible, and realized they all would demand hard work from me.  That held no appeal.  But somewhere along the line, I got motivated to DO SOMETHING.  (It was a miracle.)

I don't remember how I picked the category of Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry, most likely some adult recommended that I try it, and my love of all things dramatic took over.  I remember pouring over photocopied poem after photocopied poem, rejecting them all because they were either too long to memorize or too complicated to read aloud or did not have a good storyline.  I'm all about the storyline -- always have been -- so that's why most poems got rejected.  Finally, the deadline arrived, and I had to choose one.  I don't even remember who was supplying me with photocopied poems to choose from.  Was it Mr. H, or Mr. S, or Mrs. B, or Mrs. F?  They were all teachers of mine at the time.  They must have been frustrated at my constant rejection of their suggestions.  On that last day when I was feeling the pressure of HAVING TO CHOOSE SOMETHING, one of the photocopied poems "Home Burial" by Robert Frost finally told a heart-wrenching enough story to delight my teenaged soul.  Although the length of it frightened me, I signed up to dramatically interpret it from memory at the statewide competition in a few months.

(If you follow the link above to read the poem itself, you will find that Mr. Frost wrote all about a husband and wife who were struggling to reconnect after their child died.  Definitely something a 14 year old could relate to.  [Sarcasm dripping.]  But, hey, it met the dramatic storyline qualification, which was my number one priority.)

In the beginning, I worked at memorizing, but without anyone to push me along, my motivation quickly plummeted, and my memorization stopped somewhere after the tenth line of the 120-line poem.  That's when Mrs. DeGeneste stepped in.  She had been my Sunday School teacher in sixth and seventh grade, but now that I was a few years past her class, she had appointed herself as sort of a mentor/friend/companion to me, and that I desperately needed. 

Seriously, Mrs. Stephanie DeGeneste needs to have a post all her own because she has made such an impact on my life, but that is a subject for another day.

I don't remember how Mrs. D. came to know about my poem, most likely I told her about it during one of our frequent talks, but somehow she decided to be my speaking coach.  She met with me about once a week and expected me to arrive with a certain number of lines memorized, and so I worked hard during the weeks so that I could meet or exceed her expectations.  Her opinion was very important to me.  When I finally had the poem fluently memorized, she drilled me hard on tone of voice, facial expressions, expressing different characters through body language, communicating with hand movements, etc.

The day of the competition arrived, and I looked at the list of students from all over the state who were scheduled to dramatically interpret.  The entire day was filled from 8:00 am to 3:15 pm in 15 minute time blocks!  That shocked me.  I assumed Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry would be one of those little-known categories with only five competitors signed up.  At least that way I'd be assured of a fifth-place finish.  I set such lofty goals for myself, you know.

My name filled the 2:15 time slot, and by lunchtime I felt so sick that I couldn't enjoy the nachos and cheese or the cheesy tator tots that all my friends flocked around at the concession stand.  My voice cracked during the choir competition due to my dry throat, and I ended up lip synching most of the last two stanzas of the song we were singing.  In the crowded hallway outside the Dramatic Interpretation competition room, I stood with my rear end against the cold concrete block wall, put my head between my knees, and begged God to let me pass out so I wouldn't have to walk into the room.  Mrs. DeGeneste, who had been unable to take time off work to travel to the competition, had assured me that she would be praying for me at this moment, and I knew she was asking God to calm my nerves and allow all my hard work to bear fruit. 

I just asked Him to keep me from vomiting in front of everyone when I stood up there.

The dark-haired boy who performed before me had a booming speaking voice and commanding arm gestures.  He was cute too, and I remember being slightly sad that I was too distracted to drool over him properly.  When he finished his poem, I couldn't stop myself from applauding whole-heartedly along with the rest of the standing-room-only crowd, and I felt like a traitor to myself.  But he truly had been so good!

The judges took their time marking their sheets and writing comments, but finally my name was called and I knew I had only five seconds to be on stage and introducing myself ahead of the interpretation.  My knees shook as I stumbled to the front of the room and turned to face the crowd.

I smiled at the judges and made eye contact with each one, just as friendly as can be like Mrs. DeGeneste had taught me, and I felt my spine strengthen and energy overflow in my bones.  "Hello!  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die."

(Not really.  I didn't really say that.  I just couldn't resist typing it.)

What I really said was, "Hello!  My name is Melissa (last name).  I represent (my school) located in (my city), and I will be performing 'Home Burial' by Robert Frost."

I took one infinitesimal step backwards to give me more room to move into the poem later on and dramatically dropped my head, arms at my sides, counted to five and then peered intently up at a 45 degree angle towards something ahead and above me.  "He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him. She was starting down, looking back over her shoulder at some fear..."

I remember holding back real tears when Amy cried, "Don't, don't, don't, don't!" and when she described, "Making the gravel leap and leap in air, leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly..."  The whole scene unfolded in front of my eyes, and I was really there.  Really and truly THERE, in anguish with these two people who wanted to love, who wanted comfort, but couldn't get past their own interpretation of how the other should be grieving.

When the poem finally finished, my head sunk down towards my chest, my body relaxed back from the husband's tense forward-leaning posture, and my right leg returned from the threatening step outward it had automatically made and rejoined my left leg directly underneath me.  My arms dropped to my sides while I inhaled a simple, calming, five-count breath before I raised my head and made sedate eye-contact with the judges again. 

I waited, not quite realizing I was standing in a hot, crowded classroom filled with classmates, parents, and teens from schools around the state all staring at me.  I heard the applause dimly as my surroundings slowly came back to me and I watched carefully for body-language from the oh-so-stern-looking judges.  The sternest-looking one lowered her bi-focals and smiled at me in approval, but the other two remained with heads bowed over the judging sheets their pencils flying.  I knew I was to stand there until dismissed, and suddenly I felt a line of sweat trickle slowly down my backbone and into the elastic band on my underwear.

Finally, the small, gray-haired man in the center rumbled, "Thank you."

That was it? 

I hesitated just a tad before dipping my head in a nod at him and the others and confidently walking all the long way towards the very back of the large rectangular room pressing against hot bodies the whole way there.  My school group was somewhere in the center of the room, but I couldn't get my feet to stop walking.  I hit the back wall and turned left, walking along that wall until I reached the corner, then I turned left again now heading back towards the front of the room.  Finally, I came to a door on my right leading out into the corridor, and I slowly opened it being careful not to disturb the next performer as she squeaked out her introduction.  By that time, my brain had whirred to a halt enough that I knew I wanted to hear how my competition performed, but my body's autopilot had kicked in, and I just needed to get. out. of. that. room.

The air in the hallway felt fresher and cooler even though bodies lined the walls waiting for their turn to get into the competition room.  I pushed my way into a spot against the cold concrete blocks and leaned back letting the sweaty rivulets run freely where they might.  I'm sure the people on either side must have wished they could plug their noses.  I waited out there for the next ten minutes until the girl inside finished her poem and my school group could push their way out of the room while other groups tried to push their way into it.  Some adult handed me a water bottle and congratulated me on an excellent performance.  Other people came around and said nice things, too, but I just wanted to get to a restroom where I could strip down and towel off.  I smiled and said thank you over and over until we finally began moving down the hall towards our next designated spot to compete.

Later that afternoon, all the schools gathered in the gigantic auditorium for the awards ceremony.  My nervousness had completely subsided, and my stomach growled about the lunch and snacks I had foregone during the day.  Even though the rules clearly stated no food or drinks in the auditorium, someone in my group secretly passed out those packets of crackers and spreadable cheese dip that are attached to each other and come with a red plastic stick for spreading.  Rule-follower that I was, I dared to sneakily accept a packet and even open it and try to eat it surreptitiously while the speaker droned on and on before giving out first through fifth place awards in lo, those many categories.

I hadn't really thought about my chances of winning anything up until that time.  My goal had always been to-remember-all-the-words-and-to-not-throw-up-in-front-of-anyone, so when an hour or so later the time came to hand out awards in the Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry category, I simply watched as the fifth and fourth place people walked way up onto the high stage to accept their ribbons and the papers with the judges comments.  I wished with all my heart that I could have been in the room to hear their speeches and to see what they had done so wonderfully in order to get awarded.  I was very curious, but not at all jealous.  Third place was called, and he accepted his award. 

Then the announcer paused.  It was the small, gray-haired man who had been the center judge in the competition room, and he looked up from his notes.  "We have had a most unusual turn of events this year.  For the first time ever, our three judges could not agree on a clear winner.  After all the performances had been heard and evaluated, we had two students who clearly stood far above all the rest, but the three of us had a hard time choosing between the two.  I would like to call the following two people to the stage, please."  He called a boy's name first, and I watched as that same dark-haired boy who I had not been able to fully appreciate earlier step-step-stepped up the long stairs to the stage and stood by the man.  This time, I could fully appreciate the boy's gorgeousness, and I took time to melt into a little puddle in my heart.

Then I heard my name called.

I looked around, not quite sure why my name had come over the speaker system, and a few of my classmates nudged me to get up and go.  Ever the people-pleaser, I slowly lifted my bottom from the chair, still not sure why they wanted me to get up.  The judge called my name again, and I looked up at him startled.

Oh!  He wants me to go up there.

Oh.  OH!  That means...

No way.  That's not possible.

I stood and walked as quickly as I could to keep the auditorium full of people from waiting for me for so long, but I was careful to walk not so quickly that I looked ridiculous, and I climbed the stairs to the stage.  Then I had to stand next to that gorgeous boy.  He grinned at me in greeting before staring straight ahead into the crowd again, and I hope I smiled back.  I really have no idea.

The judge was speaking again.  "...finally decided.  Only a tenth of a point separated the two from first and second place.  And now I present the second place ribbon, which may as well have been the first place ribbon to...Melissa (last name)."


I smiled and stepped towards him to accept my ribbon and judges comment sheets, and I truly was grateful and humbled and amazed that I had won anything.  But seriously, why didn't they just skip the second place ribbon and give us both first place ribbons? I thought.  My usually dormant competitive side awoke as I picked my way down the stairs hoping not to fall flat on my face in front of everyone in the state and returned to my seat.

Back with my school, people leaned forward to pat my shoulders and congratulate me in whispers while the categories changed and announcers switched at the podium.  I leafed through the judges papers, wondering what they thought of my poem.  All three papers had a one-to-five scale in different categories on the first sheet, and then the following stapled sheets gave space to write comments about each of the categories.  All three judges rated fives for me in every category and proceeded to write things like "excellent," "amazing," "wonderful," in the comments sections.  Only one judge on one paper had written, "Could use more side to side movement when switching between characters."

What does that mean?  When I returned home, and met up with Mrs. DeGeneste, I asked her that question.  It means that when I was the man, I should have turned my body slightly towards the left, and when I was the woman, I should have turned by body slightly towards the right to differentiate between the characters.  I thought about that carefully, but then I realized my poem took place on a set of stairs.  Instead of turning right and left for my characters, I had tilted my head and my body up or down depending on who was speaking and where they were standing at the time.  I had even imitated taking a step up or down and raising or lowering my head level slightly at times.  I felt unfairly commented against, let me tell you.

But the truth is, it felt really good to know that I had earned second place in the entire state, and that I had worked HARD to do it.  (For maybe the first time in my academic career.)

(And it felt really bad to know that I had missed first place by a tenth of a point, when the judges couldn't even agree on that tenth.)

It also felt really good to earn my place beside that gorgeous boy who my brain is trying to name Tim for some reason.  I wonder if that was his name and I really am remembering that accurately?  If so, that should gain me a tenth of a point right there, because I guarantee you he wouldn't be able to accurately remember my name today if you asked him!

I hung that second place ribbon proudly in my room and vowed to earn first place next year.  I started flipping through poetry books at the local library in search of my next heart-wrenching tale.  But I never got another chance to compete against His Gorgeousness because the following year this happened.  Suddenly, first and second place ribbons didn't seem so important to me anymore, and I think my school may have even stopped attending those state competitions?  I don't remember ever going to one after that. 

However, the lesson I learned about how good it feels to work hard at something and be rewarded for it stuck with me enough so that when I am faced with a blog prompt asking about my greatest accomplishment, my brain instantly goes back to a time when I accidentally won second place for reciting a poem.
2 Responses
  1. The family Z Says:

    Great memory! I won state one year with a dramatic prose about a woman who keeps refusing the call of God and then gets hit by a car and dies. Although I don't remember all those details, it was a big accomplishment, and I got to compete at Nationals at BJU! I can't even remember how I did there, though.

    I laughed out loud with the story of your solo. I competed with a solo while in upper elementary or junior high, and a judge commented that I would be good in a church choir and I always remembered that comment to mean I didn't have a soloist's voice. These competitions can be scarring, huh?!

  2. Missy Says:

    Haha! Those solo competitions are awful! :-)

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