Since I was a kid, I seemed to always picture myself doing 1 of 2 things: being a teacher or a writer.
I’m not exactly sure why I pictured myself as a teacher; it’s not like I was super-ecstatic about school or anything. But, I always saw myself as the cool teacher, probably a math teacher since that was my best subject. I was the teacher that most of the kids liked; they actually enjoyed my class and even learned some things. I kept things real—and amusing—while I taught. The students got something out of my class. They’d even say “hey” to me in the hallways when they saw me. Maybe it’s just watching all those movies about school like Dangerous Minds or Lean On Me that brought on those thoughts. (Maybe it was deeper issue of just wanting to be liked. Who knows?) I’ve even had some people tell me that I was a good teacher/tutor. I don’t know about that.
A writer. Now this is one that I can see and understand. I’ve always had a liking to books and even read books as a kid. But as I grew older and high school rolled around, reading books became a thing of the past. My interests in other—cooler—things became more dominant. I remember as a kid, my dad would be in the family room watching TV or doing some kind of paperwork, and I would pull a book or two off the small bookshelf we had and thumb through pages as if I knew what I was doing. I would pretend that I was working or reading. The books weren’t even fiction or anything like that. I think they were textbooks of some sort that probably had something to do with classes he had taken. In any case, it was more about the feeling—and wanting—to grab a book and venture through its pages even though I had no clue what it was about.
Even after high school had come and gone, I still didn’t get back into reading books. But, the thoughts of seeing myself as writer remained. Many times I would see myself sitting in and extra bedroom that was made to be an office and pounding away at a typewriter or laptop. The room was usually on the second floor, and I’d pause sometimes to just look out the window and watch the squirrels playing in the trees or the ducks glide across the still lake. The clouds would slowly move across the sky as they constantly transformed into various shapes. There was a constant sense of peace outside—and inside as well. Sometimes the thoughts, ideas, and creativity would just flow and other times there would be a struggle just to get past one sentence. And through all of this, I was usually on my own. For some reason, that just seemed like the right… circumstances for me to write in.
When my thoughts would envision me as an established writer, I would see myself taking vacations—or getaways—to really hone in on my book or whatever I was working on at the time. I would have certain—regular—places I always liked to visit or work in. Of course, I’d have my place up in Vermont in the winter season. It was a quaint cabin in a small town that sat next to a lake. I always find myself near a lake. It could possibly be at a bed-and-breakfast place too. This would be one of my favorite getaway spots. Another place would be somewhere in the tropics—definitely near a beach. It could be a cabana or a nice but modest hotel. They would know me there; I would be a regular resident every year. And we can’t forget about Paris. I can’t see me as a writer and not consider an occasional jaunt to Paris! Again, in all of these places I was usually on my own. It just seemed easier that way.
All these thoughts (and more) would always stay with me throughout the years—sometimes more often than others. I never took it too seriously and never pursued it. I figured it was going to be one of those things that would remain in my imagination; it probably could never happen. It was an aspiration that was more of an apparition.
In a hurried effort to establish a decent future for my family—a wife and 1 kid at the time—I was fortunate enough to graduate high school a year early. Yes, you read that correctly—I was married as a junior in high school. Since all I needed to graduate was 12th grade English, my “senior” year took place during the summer of ‘91 to accommodate my enlistment into the military the following February. Fortunately for me, most of the writing that we did that summer was poetry which best suited me. See? All that rhymed effortlessly. Okay, back to my story…
Unfortunately, I somehow did not save the poems from that summer. I regret that greatly now. C’est la vie, right? We didn’t write any short stories that summer either, which was probably a good thing seeing that my very first attempt at writing a short story did not go well.
I was in 8th or 9th grade, and we were given the task of writing an original short story on anything we wanted. Needless to say, I froze up with serious writer’s block right from the beginning. I could not, for the life of me, think of a single thing to write about. Then I was hit with this wonderful and creative idea. I put the pen to paper and scribbled out my first story. It was great: it had good characters, an interesting and intriguing story, and it even contained a somewhat morally-sound theme. I turned in my paper feeling accomplished—nervous, but still accomplished. My first story.
After the teacher read the story I had written, she called me up to her desk for a discussion. During the (long) walk to her desk, my accomplished feelings left me and the butterflies began frantically trying to escape my stomach. I tried to subdue them the best I could and remained fixed on being poised. I reached the side of her desk as she held the paper in her hand; she sat there a moment looking at me before she spoke.
She explained that as she was reading my story, it reminded her of another story she was familiar with—more specifically, a movie she had seen. In quick summary, the story was about a guy and a girl who would go around robbing banks. But instead of keeping the money for themselves, they would give it to those less fortunate… the poor. She went on a little further about the similarities in the two stories: mine, entitled “Modern-Day Robin Hoods”, and the movie she had seen, entitled “Wisdom”. (I even went as far as including the bathtub scene–a poignant part of the story if you’ve seen it.)
Her next words have always stuck with me; I remember them distinctly. She looked me in the eyes and asked, “Do you know what plagiarism is?”
Kind of, I thought. “No,” I answered.
She briefly explained its definition and the severity of its practice. I rarely felt as low as I did in that moment. She laid the paper aside and assured me that this was not my nature. She knew I was capable of more than copying someone else’s story… that I was creative enough to come up with something on my own. I just needed to believe that it was in me to do it.
I returned to my seat with the (kindly) instruction to give it another try. I brainstormed ideas. In hindsight, I believe the greatest obstacle I had in finding a topic was trying to find a good topic. I was so focused on trying to write a great story, I didn’t let myself relax and just write a story—good or bad. I finally came up with an idea, although I will admit that it was inspired by another movie—but this time the story was original.
Thus, “The Ice-Cream Duo” was born. Apparently, it was a sort of Batman and Robin thing with ice cream and super powers. I don’t remember the details of the story other than its title. This was one of my lowest experiences as a writer—one I try to forget in a sense—but it will be a moment I will always remember. Again, I wish I would have kept the story. It would have been nice to look back over it.
Despite the semi-humiliating state I briefly found myself in, I did learn a valuable lesson: Always use “wisdom” when writing—the quality not the movie!
Hand Held Writer >>>>> Andrew Hildreth