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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
BY LOUIE CASTILLO | Clearwater Central Catholic
I have always considered myself a good reader. I was whooping pop-up books by age 3, had conquered Harry Potter by age 12.
But my reading ego was quickly smashed as soon as I stepped into high school English class.
Apparently, according to the teacher, there were hidden meanings in literally EVERYTHING. The colors of a room suddenly were important because they reflected the character’s mood. A white man hitting a black hat could reflect racism in the American South. Perhaps if a character wears a green shirt it could reflect new life in the same way a black dress could reflect darkness. I’m not saying that the author didn’t mean it, but maybe, just maybe, he just likes the color black.
My head was spinning much like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch. All these symbols, symbols, symbols!
So just like this conniving green shrew, I hatched an evil plan to take my English teacher, Anita Huenke, down a peg.
She was game. I would write a short story and give her a quiz to see how it felt when I rubbed it in her face that she had misinterpreted a line.
My one-page story was titled Unfulfilled, about a man struggling to write a report for his job. Simple enough, right? I also added descriptive elements (blue curtains, tulips etc.). I asked the following questions on the “quiz.”
1. Why do you think the story was titled Unfulfilled?
The correct answer: Because the main character wants to be a writer.
My teacher got that answer right. Fair enough.
I’ll get her on the next question.
2. Do you think there could be an underlying message in this story? If so what is it?
The correct answer: No.
My teacher thought differently. She believed this story spoke to all of us who lead monotonous lives, where we can make a healthy income and still be unhappy because we are unfulfilled in our lives. Okay, that answer made a lot more sense than mine, but I’ll surely get her on the next one!
3. What are the roles of the curtains and tulips in the story?
My answer: The tulips represent procrastination, but the curtains were simply there to give the room some color.
My teacher said they were there to represent the beauty that the main character had missed due to work. Okay. That makes a lot more sense as well.
4. What do you think the author was trying to say through this piece?
My answer: I simply wanted to tell a story of a struggling author.
My teacher said the story was saying that we as humans should focus less on wealth and society’s view of happiness, but instead seek happiness for ourselves. She also believed the story said we should take more time to notice the beautiful things in life, such as tulips.
Okay. I prefer answer B.
By looking for symbolism between the lines, my teacher, for one wonderful moment in my life, had turned a short story that took me about an hour to write into a brilliant piece of literature.
This little exercise hit me across the head. While it can be annoying, teachers making you find symbolism allows us to recognize more of the beautiful things in life, things authors may or may not know they are writing about.
So I’ve come to believe the world needs symbolism, reading between the lines, and English teachers who make you do it.
Without these, the world of literature would be a very boring place.
Taking a draw from a fresh Marlboro, pouring himself a chilled gin and tonic, the disgruntled writer sat at his typewriter, fingers poised to do the sacred dance across the keyboard that had for so many writers produced so many masterpieces. From this sacred waltz of fingers and keyboard Huckleberry Finn emerged, War and Peace evolved, The Old Man and the Sea had been born.
But there was nothing for him.
The blank page stared at him, as deathly and white as the frozen tundra facing starved and frozen explorers of the Yukon. He couldn’t bear it, the thought that nothing would come, that he’d be left with this blank page. What could he do to make it so there was no blank page?
He could use force.
Forcing his fingers to connect consonants and vowels and phrases and make a sentence. Why bother though? Forcing something like this would be akin to forcing a free spirited human into a cubicle every day. To force this would be to force his will upon himself, in a sick, twisting way raping his mind, making it perform tasks it didn’t want to, or simply couldn’t, do.
There’s no fairness here.
Why can’t he write a masterpiece? The letters are all there, he just needs to connect them in a way that will move people. That will shake people. That will cause people to cry, cheer, laugh, vomit, something! It will cause something, dang it! He will be responsible for the toppling of towers, the start or ending of wars. This masterpiece of his will bring people together, spur revolutions. Move over Gandhi, I will start my own movement! I will have paintings done of me, presidents and rulers will fight to shake my hand, there will be no more room for the former pantheon of wordsmiths, only me.
The ash from his cigarette was the only thing on the page.
Taking a deep breath, he took one brave plunge and hit a key.
Okay, not so hard, try it again, there you go!
He sat back to admire his work. But soon his old nemeses, fear, doubt and writer’s block, struck him. Desperate for something to occupy his mind, the author paced the room. He never noticed what a brilliant shade of blue those curtains were, and those leaves on the plant, had they ever been so green? Why had he never before stopped to appreciate these tulips his mother had sent him? Oh, but it appeared they are dying, they must fight to receive sunlight and force their stems into an unnatural angle that kills them.
It matters not, though. He resumed his post at the typewriter.
His finger came down hard against the key.
Yes, there you go. You’re doing it! Hit the key again, and again, and again! Yes that’s it, good! Soon the masterpiece will be complete!
The author sat back to admire his masterpiece:
“This Quarter’s Stock Projections.”
You can feel the mountains moving.