I used to define myself as a writer. During my prepubescent years I wrote like mad, copying the styles of Ann M Martin and RL Stine, sadly. I had one short story published in my middle school’s literary magazine and that might have been because both my mother and I were on the selection committee. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said “a writer, an author, a novelist.”
But then I entered high school. And met a man who took away my love of books and writing for some time.
My freshman year I had a English teacher named Mr. Selby. He was a young, plump man with boyish features and clean bowl cut. He wore ill fitting khakis and a sweater every day. He was obviously gay, but used the hottest teacher in the school as his beard. I hated him.
I didn’t hate him at first – in fact for the first few months of that year I adored him. He was silly and funny – he read Shakespeare with such energy and showed us a raunchy movie version of Animal Farm. But then he started to show his true colors. I was (and am) a talkative girl, no doubt about that, but I was not someone who would chatter during class. I chose to sit in the middle of the room, not the back and not the front, because I felt like I was trying just enough. But Mr. Selby decided that I talked all the time. He forced me to sit in the very front of the room, on the corner, away from all my friends. He could never pinpoint what exactly I did, except once, and in that case it wasn’t actually me talking but my friend. Even after she admitted her guilt, Mr. Selby said she was lying and separated us.
I admit, it wasn’t so bad to sit in the front of the room. Until we had our first major test. Mr. Selby would walk through the silent rows. He would stop and comment on answers we would be writing out. Then, when all you could hear was the squeak of his soles and the concentrated breathing of the students, he stopped at my desk. He took a deep breath and at the top of his lungs sang “ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOXANNE! You don’t have to turn out that red light!”
I was so startled that I knocked my test to the floor and my pen went flying. Other students choked on their breath. One student let out a tiny yip. Mr. Selby laughed and went silent again. A nervous laughter made it’s way through the rows. Quiet descended over the class again as we went back to our tests. Just as the last nervous giggle disappeared, Mr. Selby once again sang, “ROOOOOOOOXANNE!”
Now, you may not know this about me, but I was never afraid to speak my mind, even to teachers. I was pissed, so I looked up from my test and asked him why the hell he was doing that. Shaking with glee, Mr. Selby explained that he wanted to keep us on our toes. I scowled at him and returned to my test. Another student spoke up, saying that it was too distracting and asked him to stop. He grumbled an agreement and was silent for the remainder of the test.
This happened almost every time we took a test with him.
At the end of the year I was ecstatic that I was done with him. I was already a poor test taker, so his distractions had made me a worse one. I was nervous that the next year I wouldn’t excel in English, that I would be behind. I was devastated when I received my schedule for the next year and there it was: Mr. Selby would be my teacher again.
I entered my sophomore year with a positive attitude. I had read the entire reading list over the summer and had written in my journal daily. I was ready to take this asshole on. Lucky for me, he seemed to have forgotten that he believed me to be talkative, and let me sit in the back with my friend Lauren. We were on our best behavior, for fear that he would split us up.
He was fine for the first few months, only singing during tests every other week. Right after Christmas break, he announced we were reading The Joy Luck Club. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, it is not told chronologically and the stories seem unrelated, though all come together in the end. Part of the beauty of reading this book from beginning to end is discovering how these stories intertwine. Mr. Selby, of course, had us read selected chapters here and there and out of order, as to not confuse us. No one understood that book. (Except me, who defied him and read the entire thing in one weekend, in order.)
During this time, my parents took me and my siblings down to Orlando for a week. It was a week before February break and we would be missing school. My teachers gave me the work I would be missing – Mr. Selby’s pile was unbelievably large, of course. I took one day and stayed home from DisneyWorld just to work on his pile. I finished the entire thing in record time (then proceeded to get locked out of our condo for hours, but that’s a story for another day). When I returned to school I gave him my work. He looked at me in confusion, saying that he never assigned it to the rest of the class so he would not be grading it.
Dumbfounded I left the work on his desk and sat down. I don’t remember what we learned in class that day. When I got home that evening I told my parents what had happened and they immediately scheduled a parent-teacher conference. When they sat down with Mr. Selby he had “forgotten” his grade book and feigned confusion over his assignments. He claimed that he hadn’t “assigned” that work to me, that it had been a suggested pile of assignments. He said he couldn’t possibly give me credit for work that no one else had done/been assigned. My father, a man who gets mad extremely easily, was silent. My mother, the calmer and logical one, stood up, called Mr. Selby a four letter word and made her way to the principal’s office.
Needless to say, I got credit for that work and I got an A.
The rest of the year was tedious. Due to this incident, Mr. Selby refused to let me fully participate in discussions – he would refuse to call on me and often ignored my hand, even if I was the only one who knew the answer. At least he continued to grade me fairly on my written work. After a while I kept my head low and did the minimal. I just wanted to get through the class.
At the end of the year I celebrated never having to have him as a teacher again. He did not teach above the 10th grade. On my last day I saluted him sarcastically and never turned back. I got an A in the class.
Those two years made me hate everything about writing. My vocabulary was horrendous (he never once focused on vocabulary, a fact my 11th grade teacher nearly cried over since it was obligated BY THE STATE). I still read like a fiend, but my heart had attached itself to musical theater. I stopped writing in my journal as a writer and only wrote diary entries about the boys I dated or the fights I had with my friends.
It was sad, to say the least.
When I entered college, I did so originally as a musical theater major then switched to undecided. I had no idea what I wanted to do anymore. During my English 101 class (obligated by my university), we were given 1 minute to write a train of thought from the view of someone we found evil. My professor (who later became my adviser and mentor) approached me after class and asked me what my major was. When I admitted that I didn’t have one she told me that I should be a writing major. I was surprised as it had been years since I had written anything of substance.
Within weeks I was established as a creative writing major. I had never been happier.
I have written next to nothing since I left college. Part of a poem or a paragraph here or there, but nothing of note. I work with books for a living and yet I never find the time to sit down and write. Which is why I am starting to write here. I have a skill, a talent even, and I need to exercise it.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I know I will enjoy writing it.