The reason I want to share this with you now is that it was certainly a turning point moment in my life, but also, more importantly, because I am finally and utterly over it.
Okay, so the words…
I got hooked on writing when I was pretty young. I mean, I loved to perform and direct and had huge plans for local theatre shows or fairs that my friends would help me organize for weeks and which then kinda fizzled out (I guess follow-through was not my strongest suit back then). But, more than that, my precious secret was that I was actually a writer. Scribbling first draft work into a notepad and then meticulously transcribing the story through my little portable typewriter. I amused myself by calling the typed version of my work my “copyright” (copy/write… get it??? Unfortunately, when my parents patronized me with delighted laughter about this malapropism—like I didn’t know what I was saying!—man, was I pissed. And embarrassed.) My coup was when I wrote a 60page novel at 13. No matter that it was a blatant rip-off of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it was my own beautiful creation.
|Barbara at 10|
Two years later, I had high hopes for my English class. We were finally attempting creative writing and I was sure I was a shoe-in to ace it. I would finally bring my little secret to the light. I would be recognized. I would be renowned.
But the teacher had other ideas in mind. She took it upon herself to stand in front of the class one day and list all the people she believed to have genuine talent. As she pronounced the names, I nodded in recognition—yes, she was a great storyteller; yes, he had such a way with words—and waited with bated breath for my own name to be called. But she continued with her list, her eyes scanning the classroom, several times holding on me and then passing on, announcing on and on, name after name, until the names began to lose value—what? him??? He doesn’t know a simile from a metaphor!—until she was finished and ready to direct our attention to other English matters.
But wait! It doesn’t end there. As hurt and humiliated as I was (why are we humiliated by omissions that no one else would even notice?), I swallowed past it and carried on. Until a few days later, this same teacher called me into her office and told me—unbidden, mind—in a calm, clear voice that she understood that when she’d made her “talented writers” pronouncement, she’d noticed that I might have hoped that my own name would be called, but that she was sorry she just couldn’t do it. My memory after that is a blur: I think I nodded and kind of wandered out into the hall, trying desperately to hold it together.
I’m pretty sure, in the end, I kicked some creative writing butt in that class, earning high marks on all my pieces. But I let those strangely pointed words become the mantra to which I pursued (or didn’t) all my writing in all the years after that. I let those words sit on my shoulder and become my cross for so many years that it finally had no other choice but to decay and disintegrate. It wasn’t until the cross was gone that I realized that it was gone.
(I will also allow that years and years of writing practice—and now blogging—has helped to erase the onus.)
And I know we will all be outraged at this teacher’s cruelty (or at least that is the most common response when I share this story—which isn’t often), and we will wag our fingers at her casual damage, and we will pat my back (appreciated but truly not necessary) and comfort me. But I wanted to share this with you because I think, in many ways and in ongoing ways, we are always talking to our 12-year-old selves. Or at least we are trying to. And we ARE changing our personal histories by listening to our older, more mature selves and … well, getting over it.
Revenge is a dish best … left in the kitchen.
Deb: Barb, this is so poignant. I agree that we are always talking to our 12-year-old selves and I love this story. I certainly don’t love it for the pain it caused you, but rather for the lesson it taught you. You did it. You kept doing it!!! Do you know how many people would have never put pen to paper again? In this instance, you do not need to go back and talk to your 12-year-old self. Your 12-year-old self got it, I think. It just took some years of maturing to set it in stone. Well done. You should lay your head on the pillow and say Mrs. (insert teachers name), today I am a writer.