We can all write and do so – letters, e-mails, birthday cards, to-do lists etc. Our letters contain stories – what happened, when we were on holiday or went to the doctor’s last. Some of us keep diaries, which might be more or less imaginative or fanciful, as well as factual. Some of us even try to write short stories and the more ambitious of us even a novel. Many novelists, indeed, began in this way.
WL is an old friend, who re-appeared recently. She has written a couple of technical, professional books; but no fiction. She took it into her head to try to write some fiction. This piece entitled ‘The Humiliation’ was the result. BC suggested it be posted it on the Blogsite to encourage others to have a go. BC finds it particularly interesting, because of the relationship between the story and the commentary. See what you think. Feedback welcome. Similar attempts at writing are also welcome.
“Frozen leaves glint as the sun rises”
I knew it wasn’t bad. Secretly I suspected it might be quite good. Even mum sensed my concern. After all, it was the first piece of homework submitted at senior school. A big thing for an eleven year old who thought, but wasn’t sure, she might be smart. She looked at it without any comment. That was surely a good sign – no corrections, no sighs, no worries.
Autumn – a poem. The best time of year. In my mind, I could sense the colours of the falling leaves, the first signs of winter on bare branches white with frost. I could feel the crackle of electricity in the oh-so-cold, oh-so-dry air, first thing in the morning. The words came easily onto the page –they felt good, they felt right.
Monday morning and the column of classmates trailed into class. Desks assigned in alphabetic order. The sage-on-the-stage at his position at the front of the room – a pile of marked assignments beside him. I couldn’t help it. My pulse quickened with that terrible feeling of a heart pounding at the back of the throat. Surely it would be good news – a tick, maybe two ticks, maybe even a “good work”, there for me to see in red ink on the page.
“Lee, Come to the front of the class”. Silence in the room – eyes on me. My alphabet colleague scrapes his chair back to make room for me to move. That walk to the front. A burning face, red with confusion and fear. My poem on the top of the pile, passed to me by the sage. “Read this out loud”. Haltering words, a tiny voice in a classroom of strangers. Finished – relief – time to escape back into the alphabet, but wait.
“Now, if you would be good enough to tell me and the class where you copied this from.”
In 1974 I became part of the big educational experiment. The first year in our county to move into the comprehensive system. Which school I attended was to be dictated by where I lived rather than what I had achieved on an exam (known as the 11+). So I went to the secondary modern – a school where teachers had previously only met students who had not passed the entrance exams. The experience I related above was simply the result of an education system not being ready for a massive change. If I had been five years later… Teachers have a profound impact upon us – they did for me and I believe even in our modern world they will continue to affect us and our children.
Comment by BC
I really enjoyed reading this. I am also surprised, given how short it is. On top of that, I am not keen on short stories, in contrast to novels. So…what exactly engaged me?
First, the story line itself – the pupil’s expectation as opposed to the teacher’s judgement. A tension is built up and then resolved.
Second, there are some nice little linguistic touches – ‘wasn’t bad’ and ‘might be smart’, ‘sage-on-the-stage’, for example.
Third, the context provided by the Commentary. The story, then becomes an experiential instantiation of the high-level changes in the education system.
Fourth, it reminded me of my own educational experience. I passed the 11+ and went to a grammar school. Public education has been the making of me (such as I am).
Here are some questions, which WL might like to think about (or not). She might even consider writing another story or amplifying this one. Or indeed writing a rejoinder to my comment:
I am not sure about the title or maybe the relationship between the title and the story. The story does not really deliver ‘humiliation’ in my view – ‘disappointment’, ‘upset’ maybe. Consider changing the title or pulling through Humiliation more distinctly.
How come Mum did not remark on the quality of the poem? A back story here maybe?
Some doubtful linguistic touches – ‘trailing columns’, ‘scraping chairs etc.
How about writing the poem in question? We are curious?
So….how did you respond to the teacher? It would be nice to be told.
Re-write the story – at greater length or with a different tension trope.
Expand on the Commentary to give us a deeper understanding of your views on the educational system. You obviously felt/feel strongly about it.
Turn the Commentary into an essay on you, your development and the educational system of the times.
Relate 8 to your application and withdrawal to do a PhD at UCL.
Relate 8 and 9 to your professional life, with special emphasis on research versus practice and project management and book-writing.
Thanks again for the contribution!