I finished this draft for my first Freshman Writing Seminar, "The Personal Essay". I didn't really think of it as a first draft at the time.
It was probably cheating, but since all freshmen were required to take two writing seminars I signed up for "Writing from Experience" second semester. I think they combined the two into one by the time I was a sophomore. I'm sure they wouldn't have done it if I was the only one guilty of smuggling work from course into the other. Hell, I even had a fellow slacker in my section. We both had a few "hey, that sounds familiar" moments when our essays were read aloud.
My old professor Josh Harmon recognized it, too, when it got published in Discoveries, the semesterly Freshman Writing Seminar anthology. I met him at the Green Dragon afterwards to talk to him about it. Fundamentally, it really was a different piece by the time I was done with it, and not just because it had roughly quadrupled in length. It was pretty obvious how much my writing had improved. I figured Josh deserved the credit for that, not the fraudulent Dennis E. Williams (like a knockoff Tennessee Williams) who seemed to offer only ego stroking, not constructive criticism.
I guess I shouldn't complain too loudly. I showed up for the final session of the semester, inconveniently scheduled on Slope Day, and was greeted with $100 in cash for having my essay chosen for Discoveries. I strolled into the classroom ten minutes late, expecting everyone else to be too drunk or indifferent to even show up. Naturally, the whole class was there, staring.
"I should go to class more often," I joked. It seemed like such a setup. How could an engineer have won a creative writing award? There was at least one other student that I thought had me beat hands down, but I guess there's no accounting for taste.
It usually takes having kids of one's own to realize the difficulty of parenthood. Sometimes people never even realize what it is their parents have really done for them. I may never be able to paint a rosy portrait of my childhood (and not just because it would have to be in color), but it's getting harder and harder to distinguish what I used to think of as cruel and unusual punishment from the necessary life lessons of responsibility, hardship, pain, and loss. Now I'm glad I learned so many of them at home (and ahead of schedule); it's much safer than having to find out all alone. With perspective, the things we think of as misery as children really are pretty minor after all. Is it perspective, or self-defense?
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