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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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When I Get That Feeling

When I was in the 11th grade, I read the Hite Report among a number of other books in a campaign to learn what I feared I might not experience. In my quest for “knowledge,” I learned a few things I had not known. At that time, I wrote a poem for my creative writing class and in it I used the word “masturbate.” Fair enough, except I spelled it “masterbate.”

My teacher, Mr. B., a man who did not look good in the double knits he favored, wrote the following in the margin, “Dr. Freud?” I had, by this time, also read enough of Freud to know what he meant. He called me into his office to talk about the poem. He had rectangular glasses that were always askew on his mostly bald head and a beard he trimmed as stiff as my father’s shoe shine brush.

Friends, why couldn’t the history teacher/tennis coach call me into his office and whisk me away in his lemon-colored TR6 the way he had a senior with long blond hair and a great stroke? Mr. B. wanted to know what I meant by the poem, by that word. I wish I could have screwed up my courage and said, “fuck you,” or “what do think I meant?” or “is that a boner in your tan polyester slacks?” but instead I just shrugged, mumbled, and left.

I am interested in stories of humiliation at the hands of writing teachers.

20 Responses

  1. Dear Betsy,

    The comment that sticks with me was scribbled by a not-very-nice creative writing teacher from San Diego State University, who wrote what I took as a very insulting comment in the margin of a poem I worked very hard on (and yes, you can giggle that I said, “hard on”). She wrote:

    “This almost seems to be a real poem.”

    I don’t say things like to people on whose work I now pass.

    Dan Tricarico
    Editor, LITSNACK

    P.S. You’re one of my favorite writers in the world.

  2. “If you’d ever had reeeeal sex, you could write this scene better.”

  3. Mine’s not humiliating, just strange. I wish I had something better.

    One of my sentences in a YA ms started with “For a minute I thought…”

    The teacher (actually a seasoned editor) noted in the margin: “A teen wouldn’t say ‘For a minute.’ Better to use ‘For a brief moment.'”

    She may have been right, but if any of the teens I’ve known talked like that; they might as well have worn Kick Me signs on their backs.

  4. Junior year of college, I got into the one of the English 382 classes that was “harder” than the other. None of the professors who told me it was “harder” told me the reason it was hard was that the professor was a jackass who was bitter about his own literary career and would therefore spend the entire class time mocking, berating and otherwise doing everything in his power to discourage his students.

    He would take anyone’s prose and read it in a mocking tone of voice that made you wonder what the person was thinking when they wrote it, and it was especially humiliating when it was your own, but shortly I realized he could do the same to Faulkner or James Joyce and their writing would also sound ridiculous.

    I responded to that by writing the first draft of the novel (over ten days) that would eventually become my second published novel. So it wasn’t all bad, but looking back, I can see that I felt this man was destroying me. The day he retired was a great day in the lives of aspiring writers everywhere, even though they don’t know it. 🙂

    • Wait just a brief moment here (hi Bonnie!) you wrote the first draft of a novel in ten days? Whaaaaa? How?!

  5. The worst thing I ever heard didn’t happen to me, thank God. But I have always remembered it. I was in a writing class and a student submitted a story where the syntax was just all kinds of weird. And the teacher asked him, “Excuse me, but is English your first language?”

    It was.

  6. I ended a story with, “Wouldn’t I? Wouldn’t I?”
    My English teacher said my hustler character should’ve said, “Would I not? Would I not?”

  7. A writing instructor’s comment on a just-recited poem:
    “Did you have anything in mind?”

  8. That story makes me feel a little oogy in my pants.

  9. Oh, oh…I just thought of one.

    In college, I had a real jerk for creative writing. He hated everybody except the girls with big boobs. I was built like a boy, so no dice. One day I got my assignment back with a big fat red F scrawled on the first page and the comment “Poor penmanship.”

    I stayed after class to discuss what I thought was a pretty decent story.

    Me: I was just wondering why I got such a bad mark.

    Jerk Teacher: Because your penmanship is so bad.

    Me: But I typed it.

    Jerk Teacher: Well…um…this is for all the other papers you’ve handed in this year that I couldn’t read.

    Me: Oh, okay. Thanks.

    I can’t believe I was such a loser!

  10. what a bastard. i’m referring to the tan polyester panted creep.

  11. I think this was meant as a compliment, but I felt humiliated anyway. Our seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Bush-horn (hyphen mine), announced one day in front of the whole class, pointing directly at me: “This young man knows more about diagramming sentences…than I do!” I turned bright red. It was my Algebra teacher, though, who said that I asked the stupidest questions. I always thought they were good questions. I’ve got a questioning mind.

  12. Mine was in freshman year of college. I was experimenting with sharing for the first time. I’m sure it was quite disturbing. My professor asked me to meet him for a drink and proceeded to tell me I was an intelligent girl and could have a bright future if I’d just get my head out of the clouds. All I heard were the old tapes playing – don’t tell anyone, cover it up and gloss it over. I was so humiliated I clammed up and didn’t write anything creative for 2 decades. Looking back, I was a total sex kitten but didn’t know it. He probably would have been more than happy to help me come… down to earth.

  13. Humiliation at my own hands is my thing. the straight man to my own undoing every time.

  14. When I was a Freshman in college, I took a class from an instructor who was sexually obnoxious. I was young enough to believe that he was a typical representative of the wide world of writers, so I switched my major to accounting. Thank goodness another professor set a better example, and I did graduate with a degree in English. I must admit, though, that those accounting classes have come in handy in the business aspect of my writing career!

    • Good you got back to what you loved. I ended up writing my thesis in international finance. Hated it. But the university did publish it. If only I could translate that to my genre.

  15. In eighth grade I was absolutely stripped of the word “I” by my English comp teacher. Turns out this would be a problem writing memoir later. Then, in high school, my sometimes sober, sometimes tipsy creative writing teacher lamented to me why my (first person) journals were so lively and engaging but my fiction was so flat. Wasn’t there anyway we could get that voice from one place to the other? Yes. By writing memoir.

  16. A Triumph TR6 was the first car that I bought after getting my driver’s license. Did you know that the windshield wiper fluid reservoir could be hooked up to a whiskey bottle and re-routed into the dashboard? That’s how I erased the humility from my memory — and it’s worked ever since.

  17. My teacher told the class that reading one of my stories made him feel like he was standing at the back fence chewing the fat with the neighbor.

    He meant it as a compliment. But since I thought I was being so literary and mysterious, I took it to mean he was comparing me to a gossiping fool.

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