Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Here's a story I rarely tell:

In fourth grade, my teacher, (I'll call her Miss Frigh), came to school one day feeling particularly lazy. I don't know why exactly, since she was unmarried and childless, but on this day she felt overwhelmed by the prospect of teaching us kids and handling our unsettling quiddities. So, she put an assortment of assignments on the blackboard to last us the day, while she sat at her desk and filed her nails; read; and most likely drafted a personal ad for the local paper.

Our first assignment was to compose a large paragraph on something or other. I cannot recall what I wrote about and when I finish telling this story, it might seem strange that the topic evades me even now. But let's just say I had to write my plans for the upcoming weekend.

A few minutes after eight, I pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil and set to writing about the most magnificent weekend I was going to have roller skating in my driveway to my 45 of The Human League's Don't You Want Me Baby. About two hours later, I was still writing. And editing. And rewriting the whole thing all over again; this time on another piece of paper because the old paper had accumulated too many eraser smudges. Then, more editing. By eleven o'clock everyone else was bent over their spelling workbooks. Me? I was debating punctuation. Forty-five minutes later, they were grabbing their Smurf lunchboxes and heading to lunch. Me? Erasing a preposition.

Miss Frigh: What is taking you so long? And you're supposed to be writing the answers in your workbook, not on loose leaf.

Workbook?! As if!

Me: I'm finishing the paragraph.

Miss Frigh: The writing assignment!! Get over here right now. You have to turn that in. Do you know how behind you are?

I walked over to her desk with my piece of paper, still staring at a sentence. Miss Frigh started pulling it out of my hand so I tugged it back. Her red lacquered nail leaving a faint red line and giving me heart palpitations. I can't turn it in now, I thought. Not with that red stripe.

Miss Frigh: Amanda! Hand it over!

Me: No. I need to just fix something on it.

Miss Frigh: Too late, you have go to lunch.

Me: Can I come back during recess?

Miss Frigh: No!

It was my first deadline. And, coincidentally, my first encounter with an obsession for perfection. Though it was a struggle, I have since gotten much better.

While reading Gore Vidal's memoir, Palimpsest, I came across a story about Tennessee Williams. And oh could I relate....

"Tennessee worked every morning on whatever was at hand. If there was no play to be finished or new dialogue to be sent round to the theater, he would open a drawer and take out the draft of a story already written and begin to rewrite it. I once found him revising a short story that had just been published. 'Why,' I asked, 'rewrite what's already in print?' He looked at me, vaguely; then he said, 'Well, obviously it's not finished.' And went back to his typing."

Sometimes I wish I had Miss Frigh's address, if only to send her out a revised and more perfected paragraph.

I think she would really appreciate it.

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