Friday, July 20, 2012

When Words Are The Sticks And Stones

Barbara: Remember on Tuesday when we asked what we would say to our 12-year-old selves if we could (and, wow, thank you for one of my favourite comments sections ever!)? Well, it got me thinking about something that someone actually did say to me in those vulnerable growing-up years, something which changed my life. And not for the better.

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.

54 comments:

  1. First off!! The picture!! INSANELY CUTE! xo

    And I love this story, you know why? Because It shifted your reality! That incident gave you a choice. You could turn back or keep going... AND YOU KEPT GOING!!!!

    Used to happen to me everytime I said "I would love to dance". Never got picked in the group. People would just scoff and say "Ya know, you might be to tall for the group......we wont be able to take you we got enough students... you'll have to try next time". and there was one time, I think I was 8, when they told me I could dance solo, made me practice and then cancelled my performance, coz this other girl suddenly FELT, that she "had" to perform twice! Thats when my mom put her foot down. Talked to the principal and got my performance back. They all thought, that I would end up being a joke. But guess what? My performance was the BEST in all . Never stopped dancing since. Even now it happens, People scoff when I say I'm gonna dance (Coz they think "I'm tooo fat to dance"). Then I do. and after my performance they look like someone just slapped REALLY hard on their face!
    (not bragging, just saying!)

    Ya know what you are right we are always talking to our 12 year old selves, a lot of times, to get over what happened, to prove that it was ok. And ya know I am waiting for that day when we will talk to our 12 year old self and realize that none of it matters anymore. Its in the past! To remember that everything in your past is a lesson, everything in the present is the result of it and everything in the future depends on how we act NOW. You took the lesson from your past , you acted on it and now youve moved on! And its just a memory that reminds you....that YOU ARE AWESOME!

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    1. Thanks, Shalaka! And I so love how you're sharing with us your experience with dance. I love that you immerse yourself in that kind of beautiful expression. And you clearly have talent! xoxo

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  2. That's so sad, Deb. *hugs you* I think we've all been there to some degree. I remember I had an English teacher who decided to hate me from the day I started and, even though I knew I was good at the subject, I started to doubt myself because of her. Teachers (and adults in general) have the power to crush dreams and trample ambition with a few thoughtless words. But we CAN get over it, and often it drives our determination to prove these people wrong. I'm so glad you did, and I did too. I aced my English exam and I've never stopped loving writing. :)

    P.S. I've missed a few posts due to RL, including the one you mentioned, but I'm going back to read them now. Hmm, what would I say to my 12-year-old self?

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    1. Obviously I meant Barb, not Deb *facepalm* But you can have a hug too, Deb! ;)

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    2. Ha! No worries, I knew who you meant :) First off, thanks for adding your list to Tuesday's post. It's a great one. And secondly, thanks for this: I did become very determined in her class ... and then kinda lost the drive for about 15 years after that (her words always there somehow). Thank god we mature!

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  3. Age 16. 12th grade.

    *hugs Barbara soooooo tightly*

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  4. How awful that a teacher would do that! There are so many uplifting and wonderful teachers out there, it's sad to hear about such a terrible one. It's amazing how such brief throw-away comments can stay with us for so long (she probably doesn't even remember saying that to you!). When I was 11 our substitute art teacher got the class to draw a still life, then put every single one except mine on a board to show the rest of the school at assembly. I was too embarrassed and upset to ask why mine wasn't up there, but for years just thinking about it would bring tears to my eyes and made me question choosing art as my career. I hate to think of a teacher having that affect on children. Thank goodness you stuck to what you loved!
    Totally off topic I had my first trimester scan today and it looks like I have a healthy little active 14 week old foetus. Was so relieved. Not so relieved that it looks like it's probably a boy, was kind of hoping to buy some pretty pink clothes this time. :)

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    1. Samara! Healthy baby! Yay!!!!!

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    2. So so so so happy to hear this news, Samara!! Thanks for sharing. (and PS I think your piece of art just got misplaced...) xoxo

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    3. Congrats Samara. Healthy baby boy or girl.

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    4. Wooohoooo, Congrats Samara!!!! Its HEALTHY, thats what matters! Cool..!!! Let us know soon and we'll be on our way with blue/pink paint, to paint the nursery!

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    5. Congratulations! That's so exciting!

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  5. Awww, Barbara!
    That teacher sucked...

    I always loved writing, too...but maybe I'm too shy...or maybe I am not that talented at all...but every time I try to show strangers my work, it's not good enough.

    That's how my whole life is: not good enough. It has always been like that.

    I don't give up, though...my biggest dream is to walk into a bookstore, and see my book, and somebody (I don't know) buys it....and I will reach that goal! Ha!

    My German Teacher didn't like me. She was so awful, and though she always was amazed of my creative things, I never received good grades. Oh, I hated her...

    Every time I feel depressed and like giving up, I'll think of you and your little story! =)

    P.S. I know - has nothing to do with the topic, but I think you can write so much better in English than in German. It sounds so much better (e.g. you only have one word in German, but you have like 3-4 words in English)...

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    1. You know, the one thing I would say to you, Becki, is that writing is incredibly hard to "get right", don't be discouraged. In fact, my biggest "regret" about this incident is that I stopped writing for so long -- so I could make all those years of mistakes and trial and error. Keep at it. You can certainly write. And if you love it, you should explore it!

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    2. WOW! Barb, I am SO SO PROUD OF YOU!!! All of those years were the making of you. You really are an AWESOME writer! Mwah! <3

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  6. First off sometimes revenge is worth it. :) I would find that teacher and let her know how successful you are and always have been. I am sorry for all the years you lost due to this teacher's ignorance but so glad you kept going. You are truly gifted and I am glad you are now sharing it with all of us.

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    1. Thanks, Madge. And great opening line :)

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  7. Awww, that's a cute picture of you as a kid ^-^

    Also, your teacher was definitely wrong and i'm glad you never stopped writing.

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  8. I'm going to be as nice as I can when I say this. Sometimes school professionals do not know what they are talking about. (I apologize if I offend anyone....but both of my parents are teachers).

    The school psychologist told my parents when I was little that I had a learning disability and needed to be in special ed. They didn't listen. Not to brag or anything, but I'm living proof that I am fine just the way I am. Good for you and not listening, Barb! :D

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    1. My sister is a beloved and wonderful teacher, so I'm sure no teachers will take offense (although it wouldn't be the worst thing if a few choice ones considered their effect). You ARE living proof, Kelly!

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  9. BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO! I think Deb said it best..... "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."

    I LOVE your HEART SO MUCH DEB!

    I firmly believe that, "Life only gives us what we can handle." It sure doesn't feel that way all the time, but what rises from "it" is priceless.... when we are not victim, but rather victorious!

    Thank you for sharing your VICTORY WITH ALL OF US!!!

    LoVe LoVe :)

    XOXOXOX
    Seana

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    1. "Life only gives us what we can handle." So true, but sometimes I wish life would take a break, go on vacation, something! ;)

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    2. Steph! I've certainly uttered those words in my time.

      Seana, as always, thank you so much for your own dear and wondrous heart. And I do love to think of this as a "victory"!!

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    3. Ohhh you will LoVe this one too.... "if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain" ;)

      xo
      Seana

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    4. Oooh, never heard that one, Seana! That IS a beaut. xoxo

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    5. I firmly believe that, "Life only gives us what we can handle." - i used to believe in that too but I have to say this year my faith in that statement has taken an almighty knock . last January my mom got bone marrow cancer and 6 weeks a go my dad had a silent stroke (a stroke with no symptoms) that left him with multi infarct (vascular)dementia . i could handle mom or dad being ill but not both together . like steph says i wouldn't mind life leaving me and my family alone for a while either . if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain" is very true though !

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  10. All I have to say, Barb, is THANK GOODNESS you didn't listen to that teacher!! Teachers who spew nothing but stuff like that to students really just stink!

    On another note, I'm sure y'all have heard about the shooting in Colorado last night/early this morning. Totally devastating. Let's remember to send some good thoughts their way. :)

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    1. Oh, Holly, that has been top of mind today. Absolutely devastating. It especially haunts me because my own daughter was at a midnight screening of Batman last night. I know it's a random event, but it does make you shudder and mourn.

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    2. It does, even to the point of not feeling safe in somewhere like a movie theater.

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  11. Awesome story! especially now that we know the outcome and we all enjoy your writing so much!

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    1. Rereading my comment now and realizing that I could have phrased things so much better..... You know I meant that it was awesome that you didn't listen to that teacher and are now loving writing for a living and sharing this story with us : )

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  12. I really like these stories where people have continued to do something against the odds they are given. I have to admit that I have let go of all that kind of dreams. I had realy vivid imagination when I was a child. I could watch out of the car window to the cenary and see adventure (dragons, unicorns, living trees, faries, you name it) and be entertained for hours. I think I just have been told one too many times to snap out of it and grow up. Oh, boy I must sound really bitter sometimes. But the point that I was trying to make is that I am happy to read about these things that people are able to do and follow their dreams. It gives me hope that I will gain back my imagination one day. I have tried to exercise it once in a while, but no results yet.

    I too believe that we are given only what we can handle, but I still wish that the one using the ladle would use some common sense... Sometimes it is okey to eat the dessert first!

    One point that I almost forgot. We as adults don't even fathom how deebly we can hurt young minds because we are living in the adult world. The world is so different to young teenager than to an adult. Maybe one day we will learn what is the best way to teach the younger generation without harming them.

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    1. You know how I "got my imagination back"? I used to improvise fairy tales for my kids. Just let my mind wander and create stuff. Sometimes it was pretty banal, but sometimes I came up with really cool little adventures. The girls didn't care, they always loved them. And the improvising took the pressure off the stories being "perfect" and really freed me up to go wherever I wanted to go with the story. Maybe try it with your niece???

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    2. Hih, I already do that. My fairy tales start with choosing three things. Then I create the story around the three things mentioned. :))

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  13. I am just in shock at the cruelty of it. Teachers are not supposed to make any student feel inferior or superior to another. Absolutely crazy. I have had a few teachers that tried this with me, but I didn't let them get away with it. I am shy and quiet, but I stand up for myself. About a year ago I had a professor that gave me a really low grade on a paper. Really low, the lowest grade I have ever got on a paper, and this wasn't even an English class. Well, I looked over it again, looked at the instructions she had given, looked at my notes and it just didn't add up. I even took it to my English professor for help and she told me that there was no reason for me to get such a low grade. The paper was really well done and she didn't see any huge errors. Basically, my other professor made up mistakes. I met with this professor after class one day to have her point out what she thought was wrong with my work and the things she pointed out were not in her instructions nor anything that is required to write a well-documented literary analysis. I let her know this and I also let her know that my area of study is English (she did not know this before). Well, I had to keep that grade, but on the next paper I got a perfect score and did very well on every assignment in that class for the rest of the semester and she even asked me to submit some of my writing to the department for review for this thing they had going on (not sure what it was called).
    I also had a teacher in elementary school who thought I was stupid because I did not do well in her class. Turns out that I just didn't like her. Every year after that I was at the top of my class!
    I am sorry that you had to go through that, Barbara. No one deserves to be treated like that, especially by a teacher. I would never do that to my students.
    Happy Friday!!

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    1. You know it's funny, but when I replayed my experience over in my head later, I truly felt the wrongness of it and the specificity of it. She had some idea in her head that she was trying to accomplish and thought she was doing the right thing, no matter how wrong she was. I think your experience is totally the same.

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  14. Congratulations on your victory over the odds, Barbara!

    I'd never really thought of it as talking to our 12 year old selves but it is so true. There is a constant battle with those early thoughts, feelings and memories that need to be shaken for us to achieve things and be happy.

    I know that for me my insecurities peaked something shocking at that age and I've been blessed enough for them to have abated a good amount, but every now and then they re-emerge a little and I have to have a rather forceful conversation with myself. Or a "I'm not listening to you!" moment =).

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    1. Thanks, Aimee,. And, yes, it's crazy how old hurts can suddenly re-ignite as if they are happening RIGHT NOW. Coming to terms with past events (over a loooong period of time ;) ) does clear away that pain -- if we work on it and love ourselves...

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  15. that story kind of reminds me of my maths teacher in 1st to third year of secondary school . she was a brilliant mathematician but because she was so good at maths she had little or no patients for me as I was so bad at it !

    seriously though what that teacher did to you barbara was so horrible . yes in school everyone is better at some subjects then others ( as i mentioned my worst subject was maths , i failed every maths exam i ever sat , my best subject was history. )there is no need to rub a child's nose in what they are bad at. i am sure a little help and encouragement would go a long way.

    really well done for being able to give that teacher a mental middle finger and go on to become a brilliant writer . it is not easy to overcome such a bad experience at such a young age .

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    1. just re read what i wrote and i think it need a little clarification . i hope i did'nt suggest you were bad at your english class . i did not mean to . i should be a lot more careful with what i type !

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    2. Ha! I so did not read it in a negative way -- but you are sweet to clarify! And I do think if a teacher/mentor doesn't have anything nice to say just for the sake of it, they should keep it to themselves. BUT I also really believe in constructive feedback and I have become a much much better everything thanks to that. "Constructive" not "destructive".

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  16. Your story is a great reminder to me as a teacher. Being careful of who i single out either directly or through omission has a lasting impact on a child. Focus on what is good and beautiful about each child and they will respond in kind.

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    1. I agree, Lisa. Especially when they are young and impressionable. That said, as I say above (points to the Linda response), I have also grown and blossomed thanks to careful and dedicated constructive feedback. And it is something that I treasure and value -- and always have! For a teacher, being able to give good constructive feedback is as much a gift as being nurturing. And I am sure you are an awesome teacher!

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  17. Not to be overly-Freudian about it....I suspect this teacher may have seen the aspiring writer in you, and all the possibilities that lay ahead for you. And some meanness, jealousy, envy, presented itself from a far corner of her unconscious....and she stepped on your dreams. It is so sad the consequences of such actions by a teacher. When I was 12 my teacher took every opportunity to pick on me, for no apparent reason. I could do no right and she blamed me for things I didn't do. It took many years to silence her in my head, and not experience, all over again, the bitterness when I tell the story. Happy writing Barb. You do it so well.

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    1. Thanks, Jo Ann! I appreciate the kindred spirit in you.

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  18. Some people just aren't meant to be teachers. My idea of a teacher is one who inspires, encourages, assists when necessary, and introduces something new into your mind. This woman basically shut yours down for a long while. I hope there came a time when someone confronted this teacher and said, "Hey, you're doing it wrong." But I doubt it. Perhaps she was made to eat her words someday. By your writing, you certainly have her eating crow.

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  19. Some people just aren't meant to be teachers. My idea of a teacher is one who encourages, inspires, assists, and feeds new information with which to encourage and inspire. This woman effectively did the exact opposite. I'd like to think someone eventually approached her and said, "Hey, you're doing it wrong." I doubt it, though. Even if they did, I don't think she'd listen. Perhaps she looks back and wishes she could eat her words. You have certainly accomplished enough to feed her some crow.

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    1. Thanks, Dawn. And, yeah, I think her actions were so subconscious that I doubt she regrets it. But I do hope she grew out of that behaviour. I do think that's possible. xo

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  20. thanks barbara for not taking my comments in a negative manner . i was concerned it could come across in that way . i certainly agree with you too that pointing out a mistake or talking about something that has been done wrong may be needed , but let it be done in a constitutive manner . the more i read that story the more i think that Jo Ann is right . she was jealous of your talent or trying make herself feel powerful.

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