Institutionalized Creativity

I love that someone posted this photo/meme today of all days. We’re discussing English classes or, more specifically, what was your least favorite part of English class? This is for day 5 of the #PNIWritingChallenge – which did and still stands for Potatoes Not Included. Which meme? This meme:


In first grade I had a teacher who liked to put students in cardboard boxes when she just couldn’t deal with them anymore. She did it to the kid that was a biter, she did it to the kids who wouldn’t shut up in class, and she did it to me, the girl who was reading a book instead of watching a rainy day movie.

That’s right. Instead of watching a movie that I had seen many times before, I was reading a book. I was told twice to put the book away. There are times that I don’t react well to authority. Reading a new to me book trumped watching a movie. In my first grader head, I thought I was showing surprising restraint. I could have been throwing spitballs or something like my classmates but no, I was quietly entertaining myself.

And for that I got the box.

I feel like there are some parents from our school district out there with a few things to answer for. I know if I had kids who came home and told me their teacher made them sit in a cardboard box underneath their desk for an hour of the day, I’d be a wee bit upset. Maybe that’s just me.

Honestly that experience set the tone for me and English classes for the rest of my life.

In second grade a group of us were pulled aside from the other kids. There were maybe 10 of us, I think? There may be a picture somewhere. We were the ten kids who read way above their grade level. I think mine was a seventh grade level, and the others were pretty close to that.

When our main second grade class had reading/English the group of us was sent to the library or an empty classroom to read things like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia series. They actually let us choose the books, which I still think is pretty cool. I feel like Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit may have fallen in there somewhere but please don’t hold me to that.

Of that group of 10, half of them went on to the Math & Science center – basically one of our gifted programs in high school – 4 of them went on to live regular lives, and then there’s me, still being the odd one out.

In seventh grade I was reading at a level as high as (and maybe even faster than) my grandmother. For the book report that would equal most of our grade for the year I read Gone With the Wind for my first time. I read it in a week. Yes, one week.

I told the teacher and she didn’t believe me so I wrote a report that blew her socks off. The reason I chose that book? Purely because it would let me say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” in class.

The first line of my report? “‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ is the quote everyone associates with Gone With the Wind and, frankly, it couldn’t have been further from the truth.” The class all went “Ooo,” like I was going to detention. Little did they realize I had found a loophole.

Yes, even then I was a smart ass. I know you’re surprised by this information, dear reader.

In eighth grade I was reading books and writing reports for my brother’s friends who were sophomores. Not only writing them reports, but getting them A’s and helping get them a passing grade in the class.

I had a payment chart: If you wanted an A, it cost this much, a B this much, and on down the line. Sometimes the price was steep. One unlucky soul received a phone call at 7 am on a Monday morning three years after the fact because I had missed the bus, needed a ride, and they owed me. That idiot actually got up and took me to school.

That same kid, if only he knew. I didn’t actually read the book he had been assigned. It was by Le Carre, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. I can’t believe I can remember the title to this day. I read three pages in the beginning, half a chapter in the middle, and the last 10 pages. Then I bullshitted my way through his report. He’s the one who got the A that let him pass the class with a D average.

By the time high school came around, I was straining at the bit to start taking creative writing classes. I was informed that this would be awesome for me, and that I would learn a lot.

I was informed incorrectly.

Due to prerequisites, I couldn’t take Creative Writing until I was a sophomore. I was a 13 year old sophomore, 14 in October, to give you an idea of the whole age thing. And yes, that means I was actually 12 when I started high school. That was … too young.

Creative Writing was a bust. I took that class with a bunch of seniors, and I was one of 2 A’s. I didn’t learn a damn thing except that I can take words like Lufthansa – yes, the airline – and use the way those words sound to create new meanings, with great poetic license. Technically I already knew I could do that, but that class was the first time I put it into practice.

Please bear in mind, I went to one of the top 10 high schools in our state (at the time. I believe it’s still top 20 now). Colleges took note that we graduated from where we did and granted us difficulty points.

They informed me that when I went to college I would be taking writing classes that would challenge me. There would be multiple page essays and Creative Writing classes that would blow my mind, Literature classes that would teach me symbolism and how to write in technical fashion.

Once again I was informed incorrectly.

I took one Creative Writing course in college. It went exactly how the high school course went. The people that weren’t as experienced? well written? dare I say talented? as I received all of the attention and help from the teacher while I sat in a corner, doodling and already having the next assignment written.

Our final assignment for that class was to watch Kubrick’s 2010 and write a paper about the movie. This was right about the time the Internet was beginning to truly take hold. We were still on dial-up through AOL – because that doesn’t age me at all. Christ – and pages took 8 hours to load.

I slept through the showing of the movie in class. I had been up late the night before and remember thinking Creative Writing would be a good time to cadge a nap so I could feel fresh for work later that evening. I didn’t realize at the time that this would be a huge chunk of our grade.

Eventually, I went into a sort of panic mode. I didn’t have cliff notes for this movie, I couldn’t locate a book with the same title, and I had 24 hours to get something hashed out for my final grade.

Someone suggested hunting down the synopsis online and using that to get the job done. This was my first real research ever done online. The Internet was much different back then. One didn’t get ads, there were few hyperlinks, and when it took you to the page, it wasn’t the section you were looking for, merely the page it was on. You had to scroll and search, search and scroll.

The synopsis that I found for Kubrick’s 2010 was pretty detailed. There were photos (that are probably still loading to this day) from the film and some explanation of the symbolism in the movie.

I ignored all of the professional explanations and just made symbolic shit up. I swear to God. To this day I have not watched the movie or its sequel. I put some pretty outlandish thoughts into that 5 page essay and was sure I’d be getting the only failing grade out of our group.

I received the only A in the class and the paper that was 100% bullshit was read to the class as an example of how to write an essay.


That, my friends, is when I gave up on English classes. No more English Lit, no more Creative Writing, no Technical Writing, just no goddamned more. I couldn’t take it. I HATED not feeling challenged. I HATED the fact that I had lied and bullshitted my way through multiple classes over 13 years essentially and received an A in all of them, and never once had I been called out on said bullshit. I should have been wearing boots! I was so full of shit my blue eyes should have been brown.

I get it, I do. Institutional learning isn’t for some people. It can’t be. We’re not all wired the same so we’re not going to learn the same way – or even the same things – in class.

But there has to be a solution out there for the people like me. To this day I check online courses through Harvard and other top tier schools with the thought that they would challenge me. My fear of being incorrect in that assumption has me not plunking down the insane amounts of cash that would be required.

So, yes, I was the kid getting in trouble for reading in class, for reading at recess, for reading on the bus (?). I suppose I always will be.

The flip side of that is that I was also the kid always writing down a short story, or some random poetry.

Ha! Side anecdote of a sort: When we started going to the bars when I was eighteen (small town, no one ever asked for ID) I would hang out in this specific corner of the bar, or a corner booth, and I would write poetry on demand. I helped many a girl blush with compliments and many a guy get laid based on my words. All I asked was for the buyer to supply me with a cocktail. I have to imagine I have some good karma built up from that.

What about you, friends? What was your experience with English classes? Favorite or least favorite aspect? Let’s share, discuss … and maybe, just maybe, y’all can help me past some of my psychological hangups regarding Institutionalized Creativity.

Comments are open, and free!



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