Back on fifth grade (which makes me 12 years old in this story in 1987; we start our school at age of 7), we had a combined art + grammar/literature class. Our assignment was to draw a picture from one of our holidays/vacations, and then swap pictures with our deskmate, and write a story about the picture we were given, in addition to what I had written about our own story. I had drawn a picture of my rather dramatic ride during my last winter vacation on my farming relatives’ horse, who had decided to make a really sharp turn and run back home instead of where I wanted it to go—down the steepest hill in the entire region, with a tight 270 degree turn to get back to yard; there was no saddle, and I was clinging to reins and horse’s mane and I was SWEARING like a sailor all the way back home, loud enough for everyone to hear a mile away. My friend had drawn a pic of herself and her brother at a beach.
Now, what you need to know about me before I go on with this tale: I was bullied at school, really badly, and not just by students—teachers as well. My 1st to 4th grade teacher was pretty horrible, and very keen about putting down kids who were trying to rise above their station, and I had just gotten a new teacher I did not know well (he was actually a good one, someone who tried to stop other kids from bullying me, but that really did not take root). I was simply too different, from way of thinking to social strata, and quite frankly, weird: I had my head full of science before I got to school, I knew how to read and I refused to do spelling exercises as they were utterly pointless to me, was good at math and seemed to exist in a realm where it was easy to make stories at whim. In addition to this, I was a “tomboy” (*ptoo*—I hate the term), and had no problems with fighting back and mettling my might with people.
Back to the story!
So when our teacher called my name when he returned our assignment papers, I pretty much froze in terror, as I expected a round of humiliation (as I had gotten accustomed under our previous teacher) to occur. He took my picture, and read what my friend had written and then what I had written, followed by my friend’s picture and my story vs. my friend’s story. He asked the class what was radically different in our stories. No one could really point it out, and my ears were burning, and I was wishing that the ground would swallow me forever and that I had done something horribly, horribly wrong.
Our teacher pointed out some passages in my story: I had described the horse “as wide as a sofa, as if she had fattened up herself just to make riding harder”, ascribing a motive to something, and in my friend’s story, I had added elements of a hedgehog eating meats from their sandwiches and terror of finding a snake basking in sun on the blanket spread to the beach, whereas no such things could be seen in the picture, and my friend’s own story described only the contents of her picture and added no elements to story based on my picture either.
Now I could feel my neck burning; my tendency for storytelling had other kids calling me a liar, even if I rarely if ever said that those stories were true, that they were just stories, and so I kind of curled over my desk with hunched shoulders and prepared to be called as liar again.
Instead, teacher explained that in psychological development and maturing this is normal, that people begin to do it in certain ages around this part of life; that they develop an ability to look beyond that moment, and pull it together to create a story. And that my work showed that I was well into that kind maturation, and showed signs of growing up.
I was utterly confused by that. Mostly because I had thought that everyone does it all of the time, except they do it better and won’t get into trouble unlike I do: I seriously cannot remember a time when I had not been doing it, grasping elements from a moment and creating stories out of them. I know that adults of my family praised me when I was nothing but a toddler and told them stories of all kinds and they let me read whatever I wanted to read and I got my library card at age of 4 (since going to library and checking out books was cheapest entertainment poor people could have).
In the end, I did not get bullied for that singling out as an example—I know our teacher meant well, but knowing my classmates, they’d pick any opportunity to pounce on me to get their jollies, thus my reluctance to stay in any sort of spotlight—but I was severely confused about the whole thing for years. Back in those days, creative writing was not a part of curricula; focus was mostly on grammar, spelling and vocabularity, and it did not matter much what you wrote, as long as you did. Our 7th to 9th (which are the upper classes of elementary school, 9th being the last year of mandatory schooling) teacher was an old granny who was absentminded and kind of wishywashy, and my high-school equivalent teacher was mostly interested in preparing us for university studies, and while he was keen about making us read literature greats of my nation, he was less keen about us writing it. The default assumption seemed to be that creative writers don’t need any guidance and should put most of their mental faculties into getting grammar and spelling right, and actually, creative writing is waste of time unless you’re one of the great writers anyway, focus on factual articles instead.
I only hope that this is different today. :/