Story addiction, or how I flunked 8th grade English


Yesterday the Beekeeper and I were headed down to Vegas, he had work and I had errands and it was shaping up to be a busy day. Before the busy could get started, though, there was the three hour drive from here to there. This is secretly the best part. We complain, a lot, about the distance, the time it eats up, oh, and the gas prices are killing us, but really, I get nearly three hours, each way, of uninterrupted, kid-free, almost phone-free, me-and-him time. We have… conversations! :::gasp:::: Not that we don’t talk all the time, but it’s different, you know?

Anyway, yesterday we were driving along and I’d been admiring the spring wildflowers and gazing off into space for several miles when he asked what I was thinking about. “Pivotal moments in my early life as a reader,” I said.

“Seriously?” he said. “Sometimes I wonder about you.”

“Yes, seriously.”

“Okay. Like what?”

So, I started telling him stories about first readings of books and stories that shaped, changed, or completely re-wired me. The Beekeeper didn’t start reading recreationally until adulthood, so he tends to look at my uber-geek childhood with detached alien-like interest. He suggested that some of my more outrageous book relationships really should be documented. In that spirit, I’m going to tell the world how I utterly failed 8th grade English.

First, let it be said that I was never a model student. I have “inherent authority and conformity issues” and “lack of motivation” according to various school counselors. Which means that I saw school attendance as an opportunity to avail myself of resources I didn’t have at home, but I completely failed to grasp the idea that they expected me to pay for those resources by doing whatever I was told. I’m sure I caused a lot of frustration for a lot of teachers. I know they caused frustration for me.

My 8th grade English teacher is almost completely forgotten, which is strange. I usually remember faces and voices, even if the names are gone, but she exists as nothing more than a floating bleached-blond poofy early-80′s hairdo, much like my kindergarten teacher remains only as a pair of disembodied hands forever pulling up my early-70′s knee socks. I know I took the class for the full year, but I can remember only one quarter. The quarter of the “short story unit.” 

Some people can hold their liquor. Some people can resist heinous temptations. Some people, I’ve heard, can pass by doughnuts without even looking. Other people, like me, run leaping and joyful into the arms of their addictions and snuggle in to stay for a while. Thus it was that I walked into English on the first fateful day of the quarter to see a new addition to the classroom. The desks had been moved forward to make room for a full line of long tables across the back. The tables were completely covered with banker’s boxes, each packed full of manila folders. Each folder held xeroxed copies of a particular short story. There were hundreds of them. Our instructions were simple. We were to read three stories each week and turn in reports on Friday. Three stories.

It was about as effective as putting a bag of heroin on the table in front of a junkie and saying “write a report on this.” Yeah. I read every single story. It was heaven. I could not get them fast enough. I was sneaking  three or four to my desk at a time. My first Bradburys. Twain and Poe, Chekov, Vonegut, and O. Henry. Shirley Jackson’s Lottery. Jack London. On and on. I don’t remember them all, not even a tenth, but I remember the feeling. I felt stretched, pulled like silly putty trying to incorporate all those new voices, new ideas. I felt the universe expand, and my place in it shrink but I didn’t mind because my mobility was so much greater. It was one of the powerful moments of my early life, and some of those stories, a select few, I remember with such intensity that now, almost 30 years later, I wouldn’t be able to tell them to you without tearing up.

It was the first time I remember being aware that sometimes a story is just a story, a diversion, but sometimes it is much much more than that.

I didn’t turn in one single report. Not one. I didn’t have time. She was going to take those boxes back, close them up and squirrel them away somewhere in a closet and I had to hurry because I couldn’t stand the idea of missing any of them.

And that is how I flunked 8th grade English and won myself another afternoon in the counselor’s office.

One Comment to

“Story addiction, or how I flunked 8th grade English”

  1. Avatar July 16th, 2011 at 9:35 pm Kerri Says:

    I loved this post. Eighth grade was when I fell in love with short stories, too.

    But I didn’t flunk. Your story is way more interesting. I just got in trouble with my teacher for using bad language (I was trying on lots of personas in eighth grade…)

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