Shame. Confusion. Discomfort. Complete and utter embarrassment.
It was a comment that I’m certain she has forgotten saying. But not me. It’s etched in my mind forever, and it’s only recently that the pieces of that particular puzzle fit together and I realised that it was a comment that actually heavily influenced the trajectory of my early adult life.
As a child, I loved to write. Fantasy, fiction, journals, songs, diary entries, words, words, words. A teacher announcing “you have a new project this term” filled me with joy and excitement. Research! Notes! Words! Sharing! I was a storyteller. I told stories of Orangutans, of what it could be like to live in Japan, of Models walking the catwalk (it was all about Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista back then!), of Russian exchange students, of English children playing in grassy fields, and of little field mice having adventures through woods and meadows (oh so original!). I watched my own father, a journalist, write a published book and tell stories. I longed to see my own book published one day.
As I grew older, my love of words blossomed. The writer within me lapped up the timeless tales from Enid Blyton, Jane Austen and Shakespeare. The two things I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’ were an actress or a writer. Both storytellers.
When it was time to choose subjects for my final year of school, with a desire to give birth to the stories that were bubbling away inside me, I excitedly added English Literature to my list (as well as Drama, Visual Arts and Psychology).
I must pause here and paint a little picture. I feel there are two important things to note:
Firstly, I believe that the books chosen in a school syllabus are for the most part, incredibly uninspiring for teenagers.
Secondly, teenage Amelia was curious, but also incredibly playful. And chatty. If there was a conversation to be had, I was there – even if it was in the middle of class time. FOMO was my middle name. But despite being told several times throughout my school years that “she has potential if only she just focused” or that I need to “stop being so easily distracted and talking in class”, I still to this day think that I was just a young girl who was finding her place in the world. As all young people are. We are not only learning how to write prose, figure out fractions and the decipher the history of the dark ages, but we are learning about who we are. What we enjoy, what we are good at, what excites us, what we desire and value – all beyond what our parents have taught us. I believe children and teenagers need to be supported in that growth, rather than stifled.
I wasn’t a ferocious studier, but I did care about the majority of subjects I had chosen. I wasn’t aiming for super high grades, I had no university preferences, and I may not have liked all of the books in the curriculum, but I did want to learn.
I eagerly entered Year 12, looking forward to it being the final year of school and curious as to who I would be at the end of it all.
“Amelia, I think you have A.D.D,” my English Literature teacher exasperatingly told me early on in the year. In front of the entire class. After telling me for the second (or maybe third) time to stop talking in class.
My face quickly flushed. My hands and neck immediately felt clammy. My posture sank. But I smiled it off. I didn’t know much about A.D.D back then – but I knew enough from her tone to know that she wasn’t paying me a compliment.
I may have plastered on a smile and laughed it off in front of everyone, but inside, a fair chunk of my creativity and confidence collapsed within seconds.
I quickly lost interest in words. The pages of the books in English Literature became tiresome and dull. If one of the books were adapted into a film, I watched that instead, or didn’t read it at all. The bitterness I felt towards my teacher festered away. I just couldn’t be bothered anymore.
Whilst I was acutely aware of the way that situation made me feel at the time, I wasn’t particularly aware of my sudden disinterest in learning. If I did make any links, it was that I was growing up, and suddenly socialising became far more interesting than study.
I forgot about my desire to be a writer. But I never, ever, ever forgot that comment.
It’s only now, with age (and a little wisdom) that I see how those carelessly thrown words effected me. They knocked my confidence. An old-school attempt to embarrass me into submission? Perhaps. But I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she should never have said them.
That comment – simple words put together with a powerful undertone – had a really negative effect on me at a very vulnerable age, and it’s taken me quite a while to heal the knock to my confidence. For most of my adult life I didn’t feel brave enough to continually work at something that meant anything to me, for fear of being ridiculed.
Of course I did write again. I started blogging 9 years ago, after the birth of our daughter, and my desire to tell stories never really left me. The passion and belief in myself just lay dormant and suppressed for a long, long time.
I often wonder what would have become of that young woman, had she had the support and encouragement of her teacher. I’ll never know the answer, which is completely ok, and in many ways I believe that everything happens for a reason and my life to this point has been exactly as it should have been. No regrets.
I dug deep into why I wasn’t consistent with my writing late last year, and since that big hit of clarity, and finally healing those old wounds – my determination has kicked into overdrive. I do this work for that girl. The young girl who dreamt to have her own book sitting proudly in a bookshop and a byline gracing pages of magazines. I continue to show up at my desk for her.
It’s actually influenced my parenting too. Because I never, ever want my children to feel that way. My daughter is a lovely little chatterbox, like I was. I celebrate that in her. She has a beautiful voice too, and sings loudly… a lot. Even when I am tired and grumpy, I let her sing (sometimes through gritted teeth and deep breaths), because I never want to be the person to diminish my children’s creativity and passion, or put down the things that made them who they are.
To that teacher – I have no idea where you may be right now, but know this – you will see my name on the cover of a book one day. And that alone, my friends, will be the big middle finger salute that my rebellious 35 year old self finally has the courage to deliver.