I was censored for the first time when I was eight years old.
It was the first time my writing broke boundaries. Pushed limits. Made someone uncomfortable. And for it, I was scolded and disciplined. Has my soul ever recovered? Well, if it had, I wouldn’t really be writing about it at age twenty-nine, would I?
Mrs. Talbot was my grade school teacher down in sunny St. George, Utah. If you haven’t thought about visiting St. George, your grandparents probably have. It’s a huge retirement community because of its warm year-round temperature, and it’s just a couple hours away from the glimmering cesspool of vice-traps known Las Vegas. But that doesn’t really matter. I just wanted to tell you how much I dislike Las Vegas.
Anyway, St. George was unique in that it had a dinosaur dig just outside of town. St. George is rich with sandstone, which I guess records and dinosaur preserves dinosaur tracks better than most other rock. And since little kids love dinosaurs, it seemed like a great idea to take us on a little field trip.
So, we went. It wasn’t far from the school–less than a mile. As far as I remember, we walked there instead of taking a bus.
The dig wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. I was picturing something out of the opening scenes of Jurassic Park, with archaeologists stooping over the dirt to brush way dinosaur bones just peeking above the surface. Nope. It was more like a modest collection of rocks that we got to see from a short distance. We didn’t get to handle them. There wasn’t anything striking or sensational. Just a bunch of rocks with some hard-to-see fossils engraved in. I was disappointed.
We walked back to the school. When we came back, we all shuffled into our desks and Mrs. Talbot assigned us to write a journal response on our experience. Just one paragraph. I remember writing something like this:
“We went to see the dinosaur tracks. I did not like it. It was boring. I would not go again.”
The class turned in our journals and Mrs. Talbot went to work grading them as we busied ourselves with some other work. After a few minutes, she called me to her desk. When I reached her, she folded open my journal and pointed to my latest entry. Her face was pressed into a frown.
“I won’t accept this,” she said. “We’re so lucky to have this kind of thing so close to us. Go back and rewrite it.”
Uh, excuse me, what? You want me to write a lie just so it can reflect your own opinion, madam? Am I understanding this correctly? There’s a quality value to each an impressionable eight-year-old. What difference did it make to you if I liked or disliked the dinosaur tracks?
Perhaps she was intimidated by my towering prose daring to speak the truth. Maybe it made her sweat to know that one of her pupils was thinking for himself in bold and original ways unbecoming of a child. She clearly saw it as a threat to her power. I had to be squelched. Restrained. And she did it in the best way she knew how–a firm scolding with the implied threat of a time-out. I was cornered. She had the upper hand and she knew I knew it.
I took my journal back, scowling, and dragged my feet to my desk. I rewrote the journal entry. “We went to see the dinosaur tracks. I did like it. It was good. I would go again.” Then I turned it in.
There. She won. Perhaps the battle, but not the war. She didn’t know that I would write a spiteful blog post about it twenty-one years later. She didn’t know I would later have a formidable command of the English language and the audacity to broadcast her tyrannical deeds. But I did. And I have.
This war is not over, Mrs. Talbot. If you wish to surrender, you can buy every single one of my books and leave raving reviews for them on Amazon and Goodreads. But until then, I will probably never write about you again because you were actually a pretty good teacher and I have no other negative things to say about you. I hope you’re doing well.
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