The year was 1994.
Or possibly 1995.
I was in ninth grade and not particularly enjoying it. I had this English teacher, one I won’t bother naming and who I’m pretty sure is dead anyway. I’ve heard the stories people tell about the supportive and inspirational teachers they had, the ones they bring up whenever the conversation turns to the importance of education and the all-around awesomeness of our educators.
Well, this English teacher wasn’t one of those kinds of teachers. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had a teacher that “inspired” me. They were all disappointing. Except maybe one: my eighth-grade science teacher. He was the only teacher who taught a class I actually looked forward to, and not just because he was the only teacher on whom I had a goofy teenage crush. I came across a photo of him recently, and let me tell you, Young Roy had good taste.
But I see I’ve gotten off-topic.
One day, this English teacher gave us an assignment. We were to write a paper based on a specific theme, something in the vein of “where do you see yourself in 20 years?” I think they make kids write this stuff so they can identify the dissidents while they’re still young. At this point in my school career, I’d logged quite a few hours on the old Apples in the school’s computer lab and filled many spiral-bound notebooks writing silly and not-so-silly little stories, often several in the span of a single study-hall period. There was no question that I enjoyed writing, and I felt like I was pretty good at making things up.
So when it came time to write this paper, I figured I’d demonstrate my talents for this teacher of English. I wrote something that began with me time-traveling to meet my future-self (even in those days, my writing tended toward science fiction). As I recall, the story ended with some sort of chase scene as future-me helped present-me get back to my time machine. I was certain that my classmates weren’t going to hand in anything quite so entertaining.
I vividly remember the moment this English teacher handed my paper back to me after he graded it. As I stared at the big red letter “C” on the top of the first page, he laughed nervously and said “yeah, you got into a bit of storytelling there.”
I had (perhaps intentionally) misunderstood the assignment. What he wanted was a simple essay. All facts, no flair. The higher-scoring essays probably went something like “In twenty years, I will be a fireman” or whatever the heck a “normal” ninth-grader would want to be. And I, too, could’ve gotten an “A” if I’d just stuck to the rules and turned in something boring that I would’ve hated writing.
I’ve tried to imagine how that situation may have unfolded had he been a different sort of teacher. Might he have given me a few words of encouragement? Could he have at least recognized the interest I’d shown in fiction writing?
Anyway, that was the moment I knew I wanted to be a writer. It could be that I started looking at fiction-writing as subversive, something that would piss off the squares. But mostly, and unlike many other things in my life, I believed I was good at it, the opinion of my ninth-grade English teacher notwithstanding.
And here we are, 25 years later, and I still feel the same way.
And yes, this is entirely true. While I may be good at making things up, I don’t always make things up.