One of the features of the Holidailies project is that you can get daily writing prompts to keep your creative fires stoked throughout the month. This is quite an excellent service, but one of which I am unable to avail myself. Prompts tend to bring on heroic bouts of writer’s block for me. I trace it back to Fifth Grade and my general, ingrained stubborn-little-shit-ness.
Actually, scratch that. I trace it even further back, back to Second Grade, when I first learned the concept of “free time.” I’d got hold of the concept of reading in a big way at the tail end of my first grade year, and by second grade, it was second nature to me. In possession of this pivotal skill, I was able to read the instructions of my assignments and complete them at will, often finding myself at loose ends in the classroom. Being as I attended a one-room rural school, the teacher had her hands full teaching ALL of the grades, and informed me that when I had “free time,” I could quietly read a book from the library or write or draw until my classmate was ready to move on to the next task, too. Free time became my favorite thing very quickly. I could get stuck in to the newest Ramona book, could expand my paper dolls’ extensive wardrobes, or could write stories of my own. Free Time was the Best Time!
I regret to report that I of course became single minded in my pursuit of free time and was known to hustle carelessly through my schoolwork in order to eke out a bit more quality time with a library book or a packet of colored pencils. My handwriting was poor under the best of circumstances and positively shocking when I hurried. My long-suffering teacher would call me to her desk to translate my illegible scrawlings and take me to task for my sloppiness. I’d nod, apologise, swear to try harder, and then beetle back to my desk to get back to whatever I was doing.
And so, the stage is set. I was not a precocious child, nor was I especially motivated by grades, rewards, or accolade. I was frankly a lazy, stubborn little pill, and would get interested in one obsession or another and rarely would my interests and the interests of formal education cross. I loved stories and storytelling. My best friend Kerri and I would write scripts for plays for our Barbie dolls to “perform.” My sister and I would collaborate on comic strips. And on my own, I wrote what would now be called fanfiction. About the Pound Puppies cartoon show. I was eight. These things happen, right?
With that sort of focus, you’d think that Creative Writing would have been my favorite subject and as second nature as walking, but you’d fail to account for my basic bloody-mindedness. I just plain don’t like being told to be creative or instructed upon how to express my creativity. My fifth-grade teacher, a well-meaning but ineffectual woman called Mrs. Fish had this dreadful scheme for Creative Writing consisting of a recipe box full of index cards with dreary writing prompts on them. Each week on Monday, she’d pull a card and set us our Creative Writing assignment for the week, due on Friday. At a point during my blighted Fifth Grade year (the year in which I began to rebel at school, rather than just quietly fuck off) I simply quit doing my Creative Writing assignments. I couldn’t figure out anything useful to write about any of the prompts and I just couldn’t see the point. I already knew how to write; I always got good marks on my book reports and essays, and besides, I wrote plenty of stories and poems in my own time.
Of course, you can’t stop doing your schoolwork without it catching up to you, and oh, how spectacularly it did.
Those of you who have been little girls are very likely to have read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls-Wilder. In Little Town On The Prairie, there’s a subplot involving Almanzo Wilder’s sister Eliza Jane, who is working as the school teacher at Laura’s school. She’s a snotty woman who plays favorites and condescends to the children, and before long the student body begins to rebel with mischief, mockery, and rowdiness. The school superintendent ends up paying a visit and The Pigeons Come Home To Roost. Laura and her sisters end up getting a stern talking to by their parents, and they are given to understand that even if they don’t like their teacher, they have to behave and not cause a distraction so that everybody can get the full benefit of education.
Well, my school had a similar Come To Jesus moment. Our teacher, as I mentioned, was ineffectual, to say the least. She was fresh out of college; we were her first (and possibly last) school. She was seriously not cut out for teaching middle-schoolers, and that’s the group she was stuck with. It was not long before we all found ways to pester and try her, and in the horrible way it goes with children, the pranks and misbehavior steadily escalated. It all came to a head during one of the county superintendent’s periodic inspections wherein we were all essentially running riot under Mrs. Fish’s watch. I’d been sent to the board to copy over some spelling words I’d missed, and was deliberately mis-spelling them worse. Two of the boys were having a covert spitball war. The two Eighth Grade girls were openly poring over a Seventeen magazine. Mrs. Holt, he county superintendent, whipped out her clipboard and assuming a prunish expression, began taking notes, tutting, scowling, and looking every inch the ascended teacher herself. We knew there’d be trouble, and so tacitly decided to be hung for sheep as lambs and continued on as we’d begun.
When the Superintendent’s report got back to our parents, emergency Parent-Teacher meetings were arranged. During my parents’ meeting with the teacher, it came out that I had a significant backlog of uncompleted Creative Writing assignments. This meeting, I hasten to add, took place just before our Christmas break. Guess what 10-year-old Michelle got to do for her Christmas holidays in 1987? Yes, something on the order of half a dozen stinky old stale Creative Writing assignments, as well as a choke-a-goat wad of remedial arithmetic problems, fragrantly printed in purple mimeograph ink.
Now, I’ve said today, and I’ve said in the past that I was not an exceptional child. I wasn’t. But I did have a stroke of some sort of diabolical genius while writing my catch-up assignments. It occurred to me that I didn’t have to take the work especially seriously; all I needed to do was turn in one page, front-and-back on the assigned topic. In essence, I realized I could take the piss out of the assignments, and a wee parodist was born. I can’t recall the bulk of what my essays contained. Only one stands out in my memory.
Another back-story digression is required. It’s generally understood that many little girls go through a “horsy” stage. Even if they never own a horse, never ride a horse, never meet a horse in the flesh, they get ideas about horses being rather fantastic. I was never an especially horsy girl, myself, but being a catholic reader, had read my fair share of horse stories. Being, as I said, a catholic reader, I’d read anything with printed words, up to and including some slightly-trashy romance novels one of my Mom’s friends had dropped off for Mom’s benefit. At some point, my loosely-hinged young brain drew a parallel between the glistening-coat-and-rippling-muscles purple prose of schoolgirl horse novels and the smouldering-eyes-and-rippling-muscles purple prose of the romance novels, and that twist of devilishness brought it out in me to write a two page horse story in the most turgid prose possible. Hooves pounded, manes tossed, eyes glinted, and muscles verily did ripple. It was as close to pornographic as could be written by a very backwards ten-year-old, but it would serve.
Didn’t I get an “A” on that stupid essay?! Least deserved grade I’ve ever earned, I’ll tell you that.