So, okay, fun fact. When I was a freshman in high school… let me preface by saying my dad sent me to a private school and, like a bad organ transplant, it didn’t take. I was miserable, the student body hated me, I hated them, it was awful.
Okay, so, freshman year, I’m deep in my “everything sucks and I’m stuck with these assholes” mentality. My English teacher was a notorious hard-ass, let’s call him Mr. Hargrove. He was the guy every student prayed they didn’t get. And, on top of ALL OF THE SHIT I WAS ALREADY DEALING WITH, I had him for English.
One of the laborious assignments he gave us was to keep a daily journal. Daily! Not monthly or weekly. Fucking daily. Handwritten. And we had to turn it in every quarter and he fucking graded us. He graded us on a fucking journal.
All of my classmates wrote shit like what they did that day or whatever. But, I did not. No, sir. I decided to give the ol’ middle finger to the assignment and do my own shit.
So, for my daily journal entries, over the course of an entire year, I wrote a serialized story about a horde of man-eating slugs that invaded a small mining town. It was graphic, it was ridiculous, it was an epic feat of rebellion.
And Mr. Hargrove loved it.
It wasn’t just the journal. Every assignment he gave us, I tried to shit all over it. Every reading assignment, everyone gushed about how good it was, but I always had a negative take. Every writing assignment, people wrote boring prose, but I wrote cheesy limericks or pulp horror stories.
Then, one day, he read one of my essays to the class as an example of good writing. When a fellow student asked who wrote it, he said, “Some pipsqueak.”
And that’s when I had a revelation. He wanted to fight. And since all the other students were trying to kiss his ass, I was his only challenger.
Mr. Hargrove and I went head-to-head on every assignment, every conversation, every fucking thing. And he ate it up. And so did I.
One day, he read us a column from the Washington Post and asked the class what was wrong with it. Everyone chimed in with their dumbass takes, but I was the one who landed on Mr. Hargrove’s complaint: The reporter had BRAZENLY added the suffix “ize” to a verb.
That night I wrote a jokey letter to the reporter calling him out on the offense in which I added “ize” to every single verb. I gave it to Mr. Hargrove, who by then had become a friendly adversary, for a chuckle and he SENT IT TO THE REPORTER.
And, people… The reporter wrote back. And he said I was an exceptional student. Mr. Hargrove and I had a giggle about that because we both knew I was just being an asshole, but he and the reporter acknowledged I had a point.
And that was it. That was the moment. Not THAT EXACT moment, but that year with Mr. Hargrove taught me I had a knack for writing. And that knack was based in saying “fuck you” to authority. (The irony that someone in a position of authority helped me realize that is not lost on me.)
So, I can say without qualification that Mr. Hargrove is the reason I am now a professional writer. Yes, I do it for a living. And most of my stuff takes authorities of one kind or another to task.
Mr. Hargrove showed me my dissent was valid, my rebellion was righteous, and that killer slugs could bring a city to its knees. Someone just needs to write it.