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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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I Won’t Forget To Put Roses On Your Grave

Plagiarism is in the air. Fareed. Jonah. And I’ve heard some writers, in the wake of these revelations, wonder if their own prose is squeaky clean. If they haven’t “accidentally” been influenced by other works and if they’ve inadvertently taken another writers words. I went to a parents’ breakfast at my kid’s school the other day and cheating was a big topic. The head of the school said that most of the cheating occurs among the best students. NOt the kids trying to get a passing grade. But those trying to be perfect, to get an edge. I don’t really know if cheating and plagiarism are rampant, but I don’t think that it happens inadvertently. You know your own writing like you know your own hands. Stealing other people’s words is the lowest of the low.

Cheaters, liars, plagiarists. You got any stories?

57 Responses

  1. I couldn’t answer your last post, Betsy. I had a BIG answer, but I couldn’t answer.

    The beauty of today’s question is that it’s never occurred to me to worry about plagiarism, even with my daughter and son, both grads of Yale and then advanced degrees from Harvard. Would never even occur to them. Nor to me.

    Something to be grateful for.

    p.s. THINKING OF QUITTING WRITING.

    • Your children obviously had a good example to follow.

      P.S. PLEASE RECONSIDER.

      • There has to be a way to make this work without so much suffering. I am trying to learn to allow life its own flow and direction, but I don’t have to tell any of YOU that it’s quite a challenge.

        Thanks to all who piped up. Time for a martini on the front porch, staring at the cows. That’ll make me feel better.

        And, well, reading. To hell with writing. The glory of reading.

    • Re: your P.S. No, you won’t. You shouldn’t.

    • Quitting isn’t an option. Read five books and call in the morning. Seriously. Give yourself a month off and then set out to write a limerick a day for a week. You’ll get back to what you want to say, to the stories you want to tell. Otherwise you’ll feel like your world’s stopped turning. xo

    • I don’t ever want to get to this point and I worry constantly that one day I will. Give the rest of us hope that it’s gets to this point but only for a little bit. Say this today and tomorrow, tell us you were joking.

    • Here’s to you, Jody. The porch/martini/cows/reading cure. Sounds damned good to me. Cheers! Hang in there.

  2. I’m an English teacher…have I got stories? Ha! I even tell my students ahead of time that I’ve been reading their writing all year so I KNOW how they write…not to mention the fact that I know how to work Google. Either they dot believe me or they’re that desperate.

  3. I remember like it was yesterday. I was up through the night, working on a paper for my high school history class. I got so confused by what I was trying to write that I ended up copying directly from the text book. A few days later, my teacher (a rigid man with an even harder reputation) handed me back the paper and said softly, “This is the kind of stuff that can get you thrown out of here. You have until tomorrow to correct this.” In the margins of my paper he had indicated with a red pen which pages I had stolen. Silly girl that I was, I had written them verbatim. I’ll always be grateful to that man. He made a humiliating situation bearable.

  4. I don’t get this whole ‘plagiarism of self’ thing. I’m a dunce at this stuff but if you copy from yourself isn’t it just repeating what you already said? In fiction that’s just lazy writing, readers pick up on repeated phrases; it’s boring and smacks of ineptness. But, don’t experts have to rely on what they have already stated, I mean they are experts, they can depend on and restate their own facts, or can’t they? I’m so confused.
    Why anyone would actually copy anothers work is beyond me because of the ease of fact checking. If you do it and you know you’re doing it you’re an ass, it you do it and you don’t know you’re doing it you’re a stupid ass.

  5. I don’t give a shit. Fuck the pearl-clutchers and their fainting couches. The only problem with plagiarism is getting caught; that’s why there’s a rash of revelations, because digitalization. Half the classics would disappear from the shelves tomorrow, if only we knew who stole what–but there’s probably a downside, too.

    Lie, cheat, steal. This isn’t the sacred fucking fire of the six virgin daughters of Mukuru. We think we’re so important, in all the wrong ways. We’re ghouls and voyeurs. We mock the cow-eyed lady at shul and describe our fathers’ withered cocks, but heaven forfend we lie and cheat and steal. If it makes ten bucks to buy our kid a Magic 8-Ball that he’ll use for three days, what else matters? We’re so unbearably pure and fragile.

  6. I might not tell you all I know, but don’t count on me to lie – takes too much effort to keep track of all those tales. Never cheated in school, on tax forms nor on resumes and Google details in my WIPs ‘just in case’. At this rate, I have secured an eternal seat in Last Place.

  7. I’m a mimic. It’s how I survived moving every year as a kid. Changing continents, coasts, city mouse to town mouse. Cadence, theme, slang — I pick it up like so much cat hair. (I stole that cat hair thing from Lisa Golden, see how I am?)

    I would, though, find it more tedious than picking bed bugs off a midtown mattress to actually copy someone’s shit verbatim. Jesus. I can’t even bear to copy my own crap over. It’s always changing, shifting.

    As for those poor little grade-grubbers, wait until they find out what a 4-point buys you out in the world. An upside down mortgage and a mouthful of ground molars.

  8. What do you call it when you don’t even recognize your own words six weeks/months/years later? Happens to me all the time. I see something wonderful and think it’s written by someone else, only to find out that it’s mine. My crappy stuff I easily recognize. Do I write well only in some kind of trance, or what? Where does it come from?

  9. Fourth grade. Mrs. Tapley flunked David Clark and me for missing the exact same problems and having the exact same answers. I know I wasn’t looking at his paper, so there’s really only one explanation for what happened, but Mrs. Tapley wouldn’t hear it. I’ll never forget the injustice and I’ll never forgive cheaters.

    • I’m guessing Darling David claimed he had ESP? Mrs. Tapley’s memoir might be a good read, too – just another reason to appreciate teachers.

      • She’d probably devote a chapter to proper sneezing. Another lasting impression she left on me, which I suppose I should actually thank her for, was to reform my achoo into a delicate thing that hardly disrupts a sleeping baby, much less a group discussion of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

  10. I was never game enough to cheat. Lord I haven’t a clue if my brats are cheaters, or even good ones. Everyone in Italy (please stop generalising will you) tries to cheat the system.

    But with writing, nah! I would never. If I’m on a first draft I don’t even like sinking into a novel because I’m afraid of copying cadences and flow. It ain’t my thing and where is it supposed to take you?

  11. I won a national plagiarism contest, ha ha! It took more than two weeks of passionate, obsessive effort. I managed to include lines from many of my favorite authors and/or novels; also E.A.Poe’s The Raven. If I could do it over again I would include something from Nabokov, just to be in his rarefied company for a moment. I would also eliminate two lines. But I was moments from the deadline and couldn’t think straight anymore. Done right, plagiarism is exhausting.

  12. Well, as Little Miss Superiority, I often believe my own fiction and think I write better than anyone else. Why would I cheat?
    Plus, in this age, your gonna get caught.

  13. When I taught at a community college, I had students who plagiarised so poorly that they had to be called on it. To my shock, the notion that taking words directly from the text and using them as though they were your own seemed new to them.

    At a regional university, students often would not answer a short essay question without attribution. If they took from others, they were stealthy.

    As for me, I don’t want what isn’t mine. I do, though, listen to others and wonder what a character of mine might have done, and sometimes that generates an idea. Some of my stories are gonzo, in that events took place, and some of the people in the stories are real, and the writer was a participant. But the words, and the way the story is told, are as original as I can make them.

  14. Stealing ideas is worse than stealing words and it happens all the time. Boy wizards, aliens, vampires and zombies; all just good westerns with a different setting.

  15. Not only do I never cheat, lie, or plagiarize in my writings, I compose all my works in a special alphabet and unique language I create ad hoc as I go along. You would not recognize the letters or words or even be able to recreate the sounds, so I have them translated immediately by a powerful computer program available in the cloud. Any resemblance my writings, in their pristine state, may bear to any language ever used by any sentient being, is either purely coincidental or is a function of the program’s algorithms, for which I cannot be held responsible and must refer you to the programmers, whoever they may be.

  16. My son used to email me his college term papers. One time I wrote back: “My god, this is the most brilliant essay I’ve ever seen. Are you sure you’re not working for The New York Times? You need to quit school and go to work.”

  17. I cheated on my Driver’s Ed test. Then I failed the actual driving test.

  18. There would be no such thing as cliche if everyone’s prose was squeaky clean.

  19. I think there’s a categorical difference between plagiarizing and allowing that one’s influences seep through.

    Then there’s the problem with Rembrandt. (I just went to the show, Rembrandt in America.) No way of really knowing. Not really.

    A friend of mine who teaches at the University level tells me his students seem to have no concept of the fact that plagiarism is wrong. They are not offended at being caught but that that A that is legitimately theirs for finding the best paper to copy and turn in is denied. He says there’s at least two generations that have been told they are wonderful, brilliant, talented, perfect and expect to be granted the accolades with no work backing it up. I don’t know if any of that is true.

    As far as plagiarizing oneself. I look at all my work as rehash. The same events, conversations, obsessions, passions, happenstances, relationships that propel me over and over. If that’s wrong I’m fucked.

    Is any of this related to the question?

    • Your friend is right. But I’d say it’s not necessarily that they don’t know it’s wrong…they know it’s wrong…it’s a mix of they aren’t sure when they are plagiarizing and they don’t care. They seem to think changing or omitting a couple words makes it their own. I 100% agree with your friend’s take on the rest of it. I had a student who was completely incensed and complained for months over an assignment he got a zero on…even though I was able to show him three websites he’d copied verbatim for each section of plagiarized material. He muttered about my unfairness every chance he got.

  20. PS Betsy, I love this song.

  21. I had a high school teacher who once read out of a book and a student’s paper at the same time – swapping off between the book and the paper without stopping. It was line for line the same thing (dumb, but true) and a blatant example of plagiarism. He looked out at us, and said “You know who you are, you know what your grade is, no need to speak to me about it.”

    That’s all I got.

  22. Well, as I always like to say about the proper punishment for those who plagiarize–and you may quote me: ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’ ‘Nuff said.

  23. The worst thing is reading something you wrote many years ago and wondering if you stole it because it’s damn good.

  24. I, of course, did maudlin love poems in high school and loved Millay. I put some of mine handwritten in a hard bound book which I cannot find now. But anyway. . .

    I read an Emily Dickenson poem many years later and thought “Whoa. Did I copy that idea?”

    Don’t even remember reading her before.

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