Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Early Genius Dismissed

So my dad was in the military and after he left the navy he had trouble settling down to a civilian job. As a result I went to 10 schools in 12 years. Books always saw me through difficult times and I relied on the kindness of English teachers. I wrote quite a few stories while I was in school and frequently enjoyed having my writing read aloud by the teacher. There were a couple of pieces that were not well received. I was accused of plagiarism by my second grade teacher. Her evidence? My story had held my classmates spellbound (It was quite a feeling.)

I burst into tears when I told my mother. She dismissed it. “I know you wrote it yourself. So do you. That’s what matters.” I suppose a 21st century parent would have stormed over to the school and threatened to sue because of the injury to my emerging self-esteem. Since my parents both worked full time, they expected me to handle school on my own.

When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher assigned the writing of a short story. I remember very little about my story except that it featured a girl on a merry-go-round and I wanted to create a sense of how images blurred as the merry-go-round went faster and faster. SoIwrotethenextfewsentenceswiththewordsallruntogetherlikethis. I thought it was inspired. I was sure the teacher would read it aloud.

A few days later the teacher announced that she had graded our stories. She read a story aloud (not mine) and passed the rest of the stories back. Mine had a big “F” on it and a demand that I rewrite it with appropriate punctuation.

“Stephanie, I want to talk about your story,” she said.

She then went on to talk about an Irish writer who wrote long novels that ignored the rules of punctuation, just as my story had. “Nobody understands him because he doesn’t use commas and periods.”

My parents tended to buy Book of the Month Club selections rather than more literary works so it was several years before I realized that one for brief moment my writing had been compared to that of James Joyce.

© 2015 Stephanie Patterson


  1. Fascinating accounts! today that teacher would herself be summoned to the office and had her pay docked! tjstraw

  2. I've heard of writers having to overcome early rejection, but this is really extreme! Yet you persevered, like all good writers do (including Joyce, I suspect). I like to think of punctuation more as a tool to aid understanding than a bunch of rules which allow pedants to heap abuse on us poor ink-stained wretches (did I need a comma there just now?)
    Mike Welch