Not only have I learned and continued to learn a lot about myself through literature, I was able to teach my students to see themselves in literature, as well. T.S. Eliot was my teacher; he and I taught senior English literature…together.
As we read and analyzed “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” I would pull my rolling chair to the middle of my students’ desks, sit down, and begin by saying, “Let’s ‘prepare a face to meet the faces’ we will meet.” Then I would tell my own story.
I told them how I was miserably shy, ugly, and insecure as a young girl. I remember playing by myself at recess. I would see the other kids in their little groups playing games like Red Rover while I was under a small tree – alone. I really didn’t know how to begin a conversation with anyone. I was so ugly, too. Not only were my teeth so “bucked” that I could have eaten a corn cob through a picket fence, there was also a gap between my two front teeth so wide that I honestly remember a checker at the grocery store asking me, “When are you growing your other front tooth?” Neither did it help matters that I was wearing a B cup bra before the fifth grade. I was absolutely weird.
I escaped my misery through books, of course, but my best escape was through television. In the1960s, Gunsmoke’s Miss Kitty led the way for me. I was mesmerized by her red hair, her somewhat extravagant makeup, and her “fancy” clothes. She was my first inspiration. The 1970s featured the Sonny and Cher Show. Cher was so beautifully eccentric with her style. I loved both women. In a sense, I eventually became them.
They were strong women. They were not afraid to speak their minds; they were not afraid to be different. As I grew up, I learned to be strong – even if I had to fake it. I learned to be different – even when I felt shy and insecure. I definitely learned to speak my mind.
Eliot wrote, “There will be time to murder and create.” That is exactly what I did. I murdered it all, in order to create the person I wanted to be.
However, I always told my students never to think for one moment that the shy, ugly, insecure little girl does not occasionally rear her ugly head and try to intimidate me. She is still there. I just beat her down each time she tries.
“Prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” I’d tell them how I was one personality with my administrator, one with my pastor, one with my best friends, and one with my family. They were all different faces that I prepared for different people.
So, while “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was not the traditional type of love song, its deeper meaning was about learning to love yourself…even if you had to murder to get there…while coloring your hair red.