After turning in my printed word document, written in a multi-colored cursive font with attached clip-art to enhance its appearance, I was told by my 3rd grade teacher that when I was an adult, I should be a food critic. This strange and specific career suggestion to a 9 year old was prompted by a poem I wrote going into extensive detail about the taste of a hotdog. The hotdog poem, and the somewhat of a compliment it received, was one I took great pride in at the age of elementary school.
This positive reinforcement was a stark contrast to what I had frequently received in the past in regards to my creative excursions. I recall an earlier memory of a teacher strictly reprimanding me for drawing with markers, in what was supposed to be a time for free writing. Mr.Candamil, who had a thick and intimidating French accent, took no prisoners in his second grade class. He grabbed me by the wrist, my Mango Tango orange marker still in hand, and scolded me for my audacity to draw during writing time in front of the entire class. This experience was one, that for the side of me who wished to please everyone, was very upsetting. For the stubborn side, however, being told not to do something I enjoyed lit a fire within me to continue that action. For the continuation of the year, I avoided writing time at all costs; whether that be taking unnecessarily lengthy routes to the bathroom, or strategically placing my book to block myself from being seen drawing. Though it might seem as if I despised writing given this behavior, I actually didn’t mind it; what I did have a problem with, was the way in which it was forced on me from a young age in such a structured and rigid manner. It wasn’t the actual curriculum which did damage to my willingness to participate, it was the way it was presented. The idea of creative writing seemed like a vacuum which absorbed any originality and was replaced by spat out structure in order to please the teacher.
Finding a niche in the world of literature and language arts in school for me came through learning how to comfortably break this mold I was typically put into in school. Whether it was writing poems about hotdogs in 3rd grade, or reading graphic novels instead of cracking open a Shakespeare story, I learned that quality writing and reading were available in formats that school taught me weren’t adequate or as good as “classic literature.”
Something else I learned about myself in this time was my unproportionate proficiency being self-motivated compared to my work when it was required by someone else. A difference between my experiences before second grade, and third grade and beyond were that in earlier years the work I was asked to do was with much force and guidelines by the teacher. This makes sense, given the fact that 7 year olds don’t always have an instinctual knowledge for how to channel the thoughts in their head, but with the liberty of my creativity I was granted in third grade, along with the motivation I received from my teacher to do personal work outside of the curriculum, I gained a completely new perspective. Autonomy, to me, was a catalyst to work for myself, and only myself. While rubrics and rulebooks which I have begrudgingly followed have consumed my writing career since, the work I did on my own had its own set of requirements; complete honesty, and one overseer; my imagination. Knowing that the end result was something I had complete control over, and one that only I would fully appreciate, made creating an extensively more enjoyable endeavor.
This motivation can be seen by flipping through old journals, in which I basically documented my life in frame by frame descriptions. Many of the stories and entries are ones I can vividly remember writing, such as a disturbed and frazzled entry on taking sex-ed in class when I was 10, while others are ones that no longer exist in my memory. The common thread they all share is that they are mostly about my friends, family, and school life, or fictionalized characters seemingly based off of elements from my life. This is pretty telling of not only my priorities as a younger girl, but also the already evident personal investment in the journal. Another thread that stands out in all of the writing is my lack of self-consciousness, as well as presence of pure creativity. Much of the writing in the journal is extremely original and in depth, especially for a young writer. Despite the fact that I still enjoy creative writing, this skill, like many of my peers’, has inevitably worn thin. Maybe the courage in my writing was due to the fact that the journal was one I only had access to, but it’s more likely to me that my younger self just hadn’t been tainted by the disease highschool and middle school has on creative license and faith in original ideas. At an elementary age, writing in a journal left me with no restrictions, and a not yet developed fear of criticism of my work.
Whether we like to admit it or not, none of us are longer privileged with this complete purity of the imagination, as we’ve been through systems where we’ve followed the same process time and time again; receive an extensive writing assignment you have no personal interest in, write the essay on short notice, throw in some quotes from the text you’re reading and cut out all uses of “I” since your opinion isn't truly valuable, make sure you’re following the rubric and add a catchy title to add life to a lifeless assignment. Pretty mind-numbing if you ask me.
While I don’t want to undermine the importance of certain essays, or the work I do at school which fosters creativity in a way which defies usual systematic writing, I must say that reflecting on my years of writing its a bit upsetting to see such a decline in willingness to let my thoughts be completely candid. Even in this writing I’m sticking to a rubric! The evolution of my writing and reading experience is one that I believe many high schoolers can empathize with, and while I’m a person who doesn’t mind an occasional on-demand essay, I often feel as if my 9 year old, hotdog poet self wouldn’t be thrilled if she could see the creative restraints the world would hold her to.