It was 1979 and, as a student in high school, I had to write an essay. I hated doing stuff like this as I was very much an outdoors type of person. I went to school to play – not sit in classrooms.
In any case, I managed to sit myself down for a short period and penned some words together and handed in my masterpiece. The following week, I recall the pages being handed back to me with a bright red “C-” emblazoned to it. I didn’t take it too seriously – a pass is still a pass even if it was straddling that imaginary line and the pages eventually found a place somewhere in the bottom of my bedroom closet.
The following year, it was another class and another teacher looking to extract blood from a bored mind. It was nearing the end of a short summer holiday and this essay had to be handed in first day back at school.
I was sitting on a lounger in the backyard on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The essay was due the next day and the deadline was playing on my mind. To make matters worse, I couldn’t think of anything to write about.
Then I had an idea. I got myself moving and ended up rummaging around in my closet looking at other stuff I had previously written for inspiration. It was then that I came across my essay from the previous year. After giving it a read through, I thought, “yep, this will do”.
So, with pen and paper in hand, I sat on the lounger and copied the essay. Thirty minutes later, it was all done and dusted and I resumed lounging without the weight of a looming deadline. It felt great.
School resumed the following day and I slipped the pages onto the desk at the head of the class and quickly walked away. There was this feeling that I had cheated in some way even though it was my work and no one had said anything about needing it to be original. I now realise our education system is designed with the concept of pass or fail which really has nothing to do with reality. It is just an imaginary construct clearly intended to screw with you if you let it.
A week or so went by and I had forgotten all about it. I was sitting in class when Mr G, a very nice man, came rushing up and stopped just in front of my desk. There was this sense of excitement about him and it put me on guard although I wasn’t sure if I should be worried or not.
“Did you write this essay?” he asked.
“Yes” I replied not wanting to engage any more than I really had to on this subject. I began to wonder if I had somehow been found out; surely not. They couldn’t possibly keep track of what every student writes – could they?
Well as it turned out, Mr G simply turned around and headed back to his desk and a wave of relief washed over me. For a few minutes thereafter, I wondered what that was all about but, not wanting to engage in case I stirred up a hornets nest, I turned my attention to other things.
I didn’t hear anything further about this until I discovered that the essay had been submitted as an entry into the national essay writing competition. Mr G was most pleased it seemed and I was somewhat dumbfounded.
It was the moment that I learned that writing is a very subjective thing. More importantly, it wasn’t some intellectual learning – it was an experiential learning; the type that sticks with you for the rest of your life; the type that completely dispels the illusion of a pass/fail construct.
I didn’t win the competition but it was a respectable result. Mr G was most pleased and the essay did end up being published in the school paper and that year’s school magazine. More importantly, I learned something about life – not too shabby at all. Now, on with the story.
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