Personal Narrative: Harsh Criticism Of My Writing

1672 words - 7 pages

There are certain moments in my writing process, even more than twenty years later, that I can still imagine hearing that sharply critical voice striking a deep and lasting blow as the journalism assignment replete with bloody red ink landed on my desk. “This is all wrong,” were the words my high school journalism teacher stabbed me with as she passed down the aisle pausing only long enough for me to catch a whiff of her nicotine breath. At the very same moment my stomach muscle knotted, my face burned as if with fever, and those four words echoed out of control over and over again in my ears. Notoriously late for class due to her love of smoking cigarettes in the teacher’s lounge (in those days smoking was allowed in school buildings), Ms. B’s entrance into the class on this particular day was no exception. With a flurry of authority, arrogance, and impatience, she appeared before me-the subservient and humble student. Her disdain for my writing was obvious in her written comments on the returned assignment. But it was the spoken word about my writing that intimidated and humiliated me, even to this very day when I allow myself to think back on the incident.

Hearing that my work was “all wrong” in the presence of other students was the worst embarrassment I could imagine as a shy and overly sensitive teenager. I wanted to crawl under my desk and hide. I managed to fight back tears until my retreat to the lavatory at the end of the period. Any confidence I had in my writing died that day. From that moment on my dreams of being a writer were severely compromised. Ms. B had taken advantage of her position of power over my writing. Whether this was intentional on her part or just a case of insensitivity or carelessness has no bearing on the story. The result was the same. It must be that I managed to produce other meager pieces of journalism necessary to pass the course and graduate from high school, (since I’m telling this story as a PhD. student), but my impression of myself as a writer would never be the same.

Nearly two decades later I still realized the implications of this comment. Deciding to return to college to complete my undergraduate work in English at SUNY Albany, I registered as a non-matriculated student for an upper level English summer course entitled Eng 447/The Historical Imagination. Reading the syllabus on the first day of class, my heart pounded as I saw the fifteen-page paper requirement. Driving home that evening following class in a queasy and overly anxious state, I wanted to immediately withdraw and just pretend that I’d never attended the class. I clearly didn’t belong there. I’d tell my family the class was cancelled, or over-enrolled. How could I compete with other students? How could I submit a paper when I couldn’t write? How could I face receiving less than satisfactory comments on a paper I submitted for a grade? How could anyone possibly value my writing at such a large and impersonal institution? All of my...

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