Some Neurotic Literary Baggage

I’m wanting to write a post on my issues and questions of libertarianism and Marxism. But that’s going to take time. In the meantime, the notes I got back on a class paper yesterday reminded me of a couple of instances in my early writing life that I can’t forget and gets me angry every time I think about it. (I should get over that.) Thought I’d share.
Instance 1: 7th grade. Our assignment in English class was to write an ending to a short story that was about a kid who was afraid of the basement and can’t get his parents to believe him. It was so severe that his parents referred to a psychologist who advised locking the kid in the kitchen (where the basement door is) for an hour with the basement door open for an hour so the kid can learn there’s nothing to be afraid of. Eventually his screams stop, and the parents either find him missing or dead, I don’t recall which. We were supposed to write a further ending.

Most kids wrote like a page extra. I wrote another 12 pages. I’d been an avid reader up to that point (I even read the very dense and complex Frank Herbert’s Dune by then, but aside from a brief attempt at starting a newspaper at age 10, I’d never really tried writing anything, until then. So I wrote a pretty dark Lovecraftian Cthulhuesque ending (I hadn’t heard of either by then, but I discovered in retrospect how Old One-like my writing was,) to the story.

Well, my English teacher thought it was great, and said I was “the next Stephen King,” (I had no idea who that was either, then. For some reason I thought he was like Charles Schultz or something.) Except, she made a comment on my “…and it picked him up like a bag of feathers and threw him like a lead weight.” Not the best writing by a far shot, but her comment was a complaint about being a “mixed metaphor.” Well, maybe. But my point was that a mixed metaphor was two different images to create one point. For example, “changing horses in mid-stream,” is a mixed metaphor because the horse and the stream are being used to make a single point about changing course. In my example, I’m intentionally using two metaphors to create two points. The “bag of feathers” is a congruous image to imply how easily it was for the creature to pick the guy up, and the “lead weight” to imply how lifeless and ending-in-a-thudy-feel the throwing was. Two separate actions and two separate impressions. Yeah, the entire process of pick-up and throwing could be seen as one instance and thus it would be a mixed… double metaphor. But I didn’t see it that was then, as now, and she didn’t see my point. Has always irked me.

Instance 2: Even worse is this. I really still seethe about this one (which proves I really need to get some help LOL.) In 8th grade there was an annual Language Arts Fair, a competition for middle and high school students in poetry, fiction writing, essay, etc. I submitted to the English teacher for inclusion a short story I worked very hard and long on. And what happened, I will never quite understand.

Another classmate submitted a story as well, but without the stapled on form necessary to keep you anonymous to the judges. So the teacher, somehow thinking I submitted that story, took the form off my legit story and put it on the other guy’s and sent it off as mine. Of course his story sucked and got nothing. (Each year subsequently I have always gotten a 1st or 2nd place in every story or poem I sent.) I could never get the teacher to adequately explain his logic to me, why if he thought I’d submitted two works, he not just send in the already properly labeled one and discard the one not tagged. I still harbor a deep resentment for that. I thought it was a great story (for a 13 year-old) and while the form of the story (a narrative in diary form from a nuclear holocaust survivor) is nothing new for anyone of any age now, back in 1985 I hadn’t read anything from my peers that interesting of a narrative structure. I would certainly, as I had each year later, would have placed.

Yeah, that was 20 years ago and winning one more LAD fair aware was mostly meaningless then and utterly meaningless now. But man, there are just some things that happen in your formative years that can really stick with you. It was, I think, my first lesson in not being able to trust adults as all-powerful, all-knowing and competent people. It was the first time I ever felt betrayed and cheated. Which I guess is saying I had a pretty good childhood if I can get to age 13 or 14 and not feel betrayed until then. (Or a sheltered childhood.)

But it may also have instilled in me, in addition to an innate mistrust of those in authority as being perfect, a belief in credit where it’s due. I take great pains (sometimes annoyingly I think) to be sure people responsible for things get recognition. A project at work, I make sure if praise is being had that people know who was responsible for the new application or Web page or online tool. I make sure people know when I recognize they’ve done something good, novel, or helpful.

Likewise, I tend to demand (if silently and in my own head) that I get my fair share of recognition as well.