punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Another childhood memory that bugs me

So, one of the things I started doing early on was counsel younger kids. In 6th grade, I was part of a program to help 1st graders in learning how to read. One of these exercises we did was a "creative writing" class that was merged with my 6th grade class because my teacher thought it was a good idea for extra credit. A few students joined me and the other "peer counselors" for getting a bunch of 1st graders to write a story.

Early on, I knew the value of a creative work to its writer. Thus, when I got assigned "Travis," I sat with him for about half a day, helping him write. Travis was obsessed with the Hulk. I didn't read comics much, but I knew who the Hulk was and what he was famous for. So I helped Travis with his story about the Hulk. I knew he was only about 6, so the while the story was simple, the only editing I did was to flesh out the sentences. The story went something like:

One day the Hulk was angry. He got so angry, that he punched down a building. Then he punched a giant dinosaur. Then he punched himself to the moon. Te got very lonely on the moon, so he punched himself back to earth. Then he ate cake. Then end.

I forgot the actual text, but that's the gist of the style. Typical first male grader, whom I remember was obsessed with the Hulk's ability to punch. I recall the ending about cake was kind of funny in a nonsensical way, like how Monty Python would end a skit. We had a good laugh about that when I explained how humor worked, so we kept it in after a few other suggestions, among which involved toilets (again, a boy). I thought we did a good job, and Travis provided illustrations. In general, we had a really good time, and later on Travis would still wave and talk to me even when I was 18, walking home from a D&D game.

But our story was not well received. The first indication something was going wrong were the other stories. There was one girl who had a story like this:

When I was a younger woman, I would wile away the days of my youth in a field of daisies. Father was ever so strict, but I always managed to find more time outside on the moors than I spent inside with my studies.

It was a fine spring day when I realized that my horse could communicate with me. Her long mane would gently flow in the late afternoon breeze and as I rode her bareback, I felt I could carouse her simple thoughts and understand the equine nature of philosophy as it applied to my life which would prove to be so far much longer than hers. Oh, to have those days again!

Okay, it probably wasn't THAT sophisticated, but that's how it felt. My first thought was, "That's not how a first grader would write! Obviously, the bored little girl behind her had a story about a talking horse, and you managed to pad it out to three pages of that fluff." I recall even to this day the elements of, "Why would a 6 year old reminisce about her youth?" and how many stories from girls were about horses.

The next story was more of the same. And all the little kids looked really bored because they had to sit through 10-15 minute stories that were obviously not their own. I wondered just how much of it they wrote, and I felt like they had been gypped. Sadly, when mine came up, it was all of a minute, with pictures, and followed by silence. Luckily, Travis was too into his story being read to get subtle clues like awkward silence.

I got a C.

The reasoning that was given to me was that I had not "spent a lot of time helping him," (come on, 3 hours is a LONG time for a 6 year old's attention span), using already invented characters was a cheap shortcut, and how the story was rather immature. I had the rebuttal, "I was told the assignment was to help him write a story, not take his plot and write my own." I was told that it was not the spirit of the writing exercise; it was a writing exercise for me.

"Then why was it extra credit for volunteering?" I asked. "I was the one who brought the program to you, this is what our group always did."

Silence. I got upgraded to a C+ for my efforts, with a hinted warning that it was just extra credit anyway.

"Aw, heck," as my friend Neal would say at the time.

I don't know why this still bothers me. But I feel I still did the right thing, because Travis had a great time and stayed friendly to me until I left McLean some 6 years later. I don't know whatever happened to him, but if anyone who grew up ion McLean knew a Travis who lived on Southridge near Great Falls, I'd like to know. He'd be about 33 now.
Tags: childhood, writing
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