Word Love

My grandmother often reminds me of how early my love affair with words began. She tells me about a time long ago, when I was very small and she was looking after me. She would sit me on her lap and read to me and when she reached a word I liked the sound of, I would stop her and ask her to say it again. I would ask her to show me and she would point to the word, repeat it and then sound each letter out one by one. I would say the word over and over again until I was satisfied that I had absorbed it and then ask her to carry on reading. Until another word caught my fancy, and I would stop her again. I could read before I started school.


Much later, when I was in my final year of secondary school, my favourite thing to do was write essays. Not the debate style essays, nor the journalistic style essays, rather the essays that had one word titles. Glimpses, or Dreams, or Reunion. One word springboards that let my imagination bound and soar. I was a fairly average student for the most part. Good in some areas (languages) and not so good in others (maths). I could have applied myself better, I'm sure, but I don't remember being terribly bothered by results. Whether I got an A or a B or even a D in some subjects had only a fleeting impact on me. Apart from essays. I really wanted As in my essays, but my teacher was tough, and As were hard to come by.

Some of the bright, brilliant girls in my class got As from time to time alright. They had obviously worked out a technique, that I never managed to. Worked out the formula to doing well in the Leaving Certificate English Essay. Oh, how I envied them. But even with all that envy, I didn't think to take the time to figure out a technique that would satisfy the examiners. Instead I would spend wintry Sunday nights closeted in my bedroom, with music blaring from my stereo, composing epic streams of consciousness on foolscap pages, hoping that what spewed out of my head would magically transform into an A and some much coveted praise from my teacher. Lots of the essays probably didn't make much sense and I'm sure many had only tenuous links, at best, to the titles that inspired them. I'm pretty certain they were dark and angsty and typically teenage in style.

As the school-year progressed so too, did I. A few B grades were attained and I was happy enough - but I still longed for an A. And then, suddenly, one week - I got one. And I couldn't believe it. I was asked to read my A grade story out in front of the class and the teacher commented on how dark and debauched it was. Some of my friends snickered because they recognised the recounting of my weekend fun in the exaggerated prose. But I was thrilled. Elated even. It fueled my hunger and I wanted more. I wanted another A. And another!


Sadly, or maybe not, I never got one. After that one glorious day my teacher actually stopped grading my essays. She told me that she didn't know how to mark them anymore. That they weren't Leaving Cert standard. She sometimes asked for second opinions from the other English teachers and they would shrug and say "maybe a B?" and I remember not really knowing what to think.

Was my writing so bad that it wasn't even Leaving Cert standard? Surely I couldn't have fallen so far so fast from the lofty heights of an A grade? I was trying even harder than before, yet still, all I would get would be a red tic and maybe a few spelling or grammar corrections and sometimes a word or two in almost illegible red pen. "Interesting" or "good" or "thought provoking".

When the school year finished, my teacher took me aside and told me I should keep writing, so I started to think that maybe it wasn't that my writing was awful, that it was just different from what the other students handed in. Because I didn't GET what the Leaving Cert examiners were looking for, I had just been writing for myself, playing with my beloved words and maybe developing a writing style. Albeit, an extremely juvenile one.

I still love words, as evidenced by this space here and by the dozens of little notebooks containing snatches of phrases and descriptions of forgotten passersby I have collected over the years. For the first time in my life, I have started to attend a Creative Writing course with the poet Dave Lordan, and I am relishing the opportunity. I am again feeling the joy of allowing my imagination to bound and soar, the delight in finding a word so perfect I want to absorb it, the satisfaction in writing for myself, gloriously ignorant of any expectations. I am enjoying it so much.

6 comments

  1. I always chose those one-word title essays too - and I had one of those teachers in 6th year from whom an A was like gold dust. I didn't get many As. Maybe one, I don't remember. And not in the Leaving. :(

    Isn't it lovely when you can just write what you want, though? Good for you doing a creative-writing course. I hope it brings out wonderful things.

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    1. It must be part of the secret code of English teachers not to be too generous with the As! I had to make do with a B in the Leaving, which I was actually quite proud of in the end as my literary analysis was never very insightful! It is absolutely the best fun writing whatever I want, who knows where it will lead, if anywhere, but I'm loving it :)

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  2. Writing begets writing! A+ for you

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    1. An A+ is beyond my wildest dreams! Thank you so much xx

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  3. A lovely account of your school writing experience. I could say they they didn't recognise talent when they saw it, but perhaps the teacher did when she told you to continue! I'm glad you did.... because now we get to read your tales :) xx Jazzy

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