When Good Writers Were Bad

Regrets, we’ve had a few…

Being human means having a conscience (hopefully), even if we don’t always listen to it. In League of Strays, the main character Charlotte is tempted by the opportunity to become part of a group which seeks to pay back bullies by bullying them in return. She knows it isn’t right, but…Well, you’ll have to read the story to see whether revenge worked for her and the other characters.

This story will get readers talking. And at Emudebuts, the conversation’s been about times when we did something that went against our own consciences, and what we paid and/or learned as a result. Here’s a peek into our checkered pasts: 

Melanie Crowder

I was nine. I had transferred elementary schools and even after a year or so to adjust, I didn’t fit in with kids there. To be honest–they were mean. They took turns picking on one kid, ostracizing her, and then welcoming her back into the group only to turn on someone new. I had survived my week of misery, and they had moved on. I wasn’t sure how to act. I wanted to have friends, but I didn’t want to be mean to someone else. I remembered too well what it had felt like.

One day at recess, the group was taunting a girl while I stood there and watched. A teacher became involved and he reprimanded us all. “But,” I protested, “I didn’t say anything.” He turned to me and said in a voice straining with conviction that standing by and doing nothing was every bit as wrong. His words stung, and they stuck.

We talk about bullying as if it’s just a schoolyard thing, but it’s not. It’s something I encounter frequently in my adult life. Even now, 25 years later, I find myself checking my actions against that teacher’s words.

L.B. Schulman

There is one teeny little scene on my book based on reality. I guess now is the time to admit it. No, I didn’t make out with a hot sociopath. But I did, with a few friends, mess up a French teacher’s room. It wasn’t nearly as bad as what my characters do, but there was some knocking of papers to the floor and drawing on the walls with chalk. This was when I was 14, pretty much the worse, most juvenile-delinquent time, in my life. But then one of the kids felt so guilty, she went right to the principal. Next thing I knew, I was in his office. And what did I do? I admitted everything, apologized to the French teacher, and offered to clean the cafeteria for a week. Oops, scratch that. OK, I denied it. Every last bit. In the end our principal, who was a bit on the lazy side, figured that it wasn’t worth the effort to figure out who’d done it, so he just dismissed it. I remember feeling several things: one, immense guilt at what I’d done to the teacher, and for lying about my part in it, and two, utter relief that the principal was going to let me go, even though he knew I participated. In the end, that one experience was so powerful that it partly motivated the writing of this book. I remembered what it was like to be a bored, angry teen, and the stupid things I did as a result. Even though I did them, they were a symptom of teen angst, more than who I was or would become as a person. Oh, and I remembered the value of a Get Out of Jail Free card. I didn’t waste it. From then on, I strived to be a much better person.

Mike Jung

High school was a very, very difficult time for me. I was the target of a lot of bullying, enough so that it probably became the defining aspect of my high school years, at least in terms of self-definition. Sadly, there was more than one time when my response to being bullied was to turn around and try to bully someone else. There was one other guy in my graduating class – let’s call him Danny X. (not his real name) – who was similar to me in some ways. He was also a target of our school’s bully population, although I think he actually stood up to it better than I did. It was a mark of how damaged and insecure we both felt that we spent quite a lot of time bullying each other. You’d think we could have become friends, or at least perceived each other as fellow exiles in a land of sadistic immaturity, but no, instead we engaged in our own little war of derision.

One day I decided to put my writing skills to use and create a petition with a single question on it: “Is Danny X the biggest _______ in the world?” I circulated the petition, feeling a mean-spirited enjoyment in the attention it garnered. It came to blows, of course, and whatever else Danny may have been, he was certainly a much better fighter than me. I ended up with a goose egg on my forehead, which eventually healed, and a dark stain on my conscience, which is probably still there. I know why I did it, of course – it was because I was immersed in feelings of helplessness, rage, and self-loathing. Those feelings, particularly the self-loathing, made it sadly easy to lash out in a wholly unadmirable and hurtful way. I’ve regretted the entire incident ever since, and if I could go back in time and do it differently, I wouldn’t hesitate.

Jeanne Ryan

When I was seven, my family visited my grandparent’s home in a distant state. Next door lived a girl a couple of years older who I thought was the coolest. As grown-ups would put it, we “played well together.” We both loved spooky stories and TV shows, so when she suggested we write a bunch of scary notes and leave them anonymously around her neighborhood I was all in.

As you can imagine, the neighbors got quite upset at discovering threatening notes scrawled in child’s handwriting. It wasn’t long before we were busted. Our parents demanded that we go from house to house to apologize. But, sad to admit, I absolutely refused to, crying and stomping and throwing an Oscar-worthy tantrum. Now, as an adult, the tantrum bothers me as much as the crime itself. I wish I’d had the courage to take responsibility for my actions.

Jeannie Mobley

When I was in junior high (as we called it back then), I was a quiet,
overweight, glasses-wearing, book-reading goody two shoes. We lived in
the country, so I had about an hour-long bus ride to and from school
every day. The cool kids all sat in the back of the bus, and pulled off
all kinds of shenanigans, so one year the bus driver assigned us seats.
I was in the second-from-front seat, and whenever one of the cool kids
misbehaved, she made them come sit in the seat with me, where she could
keep an eye on them, and where, presumably, I would be a good influence.
Instead, it gave them an opportunity to pick on me, and they all came to
think of me as the bus driver’s accomplice. I felt like I was being
punished for being a good kid.

Somehow, I finally got to sit where I wanted, so I moved to the very
back of the bus and looked for my chance to prove myself as a cool kid
and not a bus-driver’s pet. That chance came in the form of a fire
cracker and book of matches, that were given to me with the instructions
to light it and throw it under the seats, so it would go off 1/2 way up
the bus. I lit it, but the “cool kids” had, as a double prank, cut the
wick extra short, so before I could throw it, it exploded in my lap. It
blew the cover off of my library book, which appropriately enough, was
GONE WITH THE WIND.

In the end, I was suspended from riding the bus for a week, after my
sister confessed all (except that she had been the one to smuggle the
matches onto the bus.) And I had to pay for the library book. And the
worst consequence is that I have never lived it down with my family.

I can’t say I’m racked with guilt about what I did, although I’m a
little ashamed at having been so easily drawn in by peer pressure. But I
do think as a teacher, I am always mindful about thrusting the trouble
students onto the good students to try to reform them. I understand that
that is torture for the good students, and an unfair “reward” for their
efforts. I also learned that you can’t fake who you are. I am the nerdy
good kid. I have to accept that and embrace it; trying to be someone I
am not tends to lead to disaster.

_______________

Thank goodness for second chances.

How about you? Got any youthful indiscretions you want to get off your chest? Better yet, a lesson learned? It could be such a relief to finally come clean…

L.B. Schulman’s book is sure to spur a lot of conversation around bullying and how to deal with it. Hopefully it will raise probing questions and productive conversation around a topic that’s far too often in the headlines.

Remember, if you want a chance to win a copy of LEAGUE OF STRAYS, comment on any Emudebuts post this week to be entered into a drawing.

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8 Comments

Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Promotion

8 responses to “When Good Writers Were Bad

  1. I had a lot of undesirable traits for a teen–honest to a fault, goody-two-shoes, teacher’s pet. All of these things combined into a perfect storm of becoming a “tattler” when I was just talking to a teacher-friend about something that happened. I never meant to get anyone in trouble. But I did. And I got ostracized for it.

    Anyway, I was bullied unmercifully for years, both in-your-face and silently, behind my back. The taunts even came from two different factions–the wealthy, popular girls and the poor, delinquent slacker girls.

    So senior year I used my writing skills to write a short story that made fun of all the people who gave me such a hard time through high school. No one was spared. It was meant only to be shared with my friends, but someone started circulating copies and by the end of the day, my AP US History teacher READ IT TO OUR CLASS! (Let me tell you, he was the biggest bully of them all!) My name wasn’t on it, but everyone knew it was me.

    While I should probably say that I feel guilty or terrible about that incident…honestly, I don’t. I took people’s true colors and wrote about them in a humorous way, which is why the story made its rounds lightning-quick. What this incident really taught me was that my writing was powerful, it could make people take notice. It was the first inkling that I had what it took to eventually become an author. So for that experience, I’m grateful.

    And yeah, I guess I’m sorry. Maybe those kids weren’t so bad. But we were never friends, so I never got the chance to really find out. That’s what the bully system does–makes enemies instead of friends. And why? Friends are so much better.

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  2. This post is so heartfelt. It draws me in the same way LEAGUE OF STRAYS drew me in–and shows how universal LB’s story is.

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    • L.B. Schulman

      Thank you, Cynthia. That’s a really nice thing to say. Oh, and feel free to confess. I bet there’s a story out there…..it’s therapy blog time! 🙂

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  3. L.B. Schulman

    This post really brings home for me that we all make mistakes when we are kids, and most of us get bullied at one time or another. Also, the mistakes we make as teens are just that, mistakes: We grow out of them and evolve, and they help us become who we are today. Thanks everyone for sharing these heartfelt memories.

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  4. I was far too timid to do anything much – a prank phone call that I ended up apologizing for before it was over, taking a piece of candy out of the bulk bins at the store (and then going to confession over it) – and it was always at the instigation of my stronger willed friends. It’s funny how many of us seem to have been the quiet, shy, nerdy types… and all the time, all those words were brewing inside, just waiting to get out.

    It is so true that the mistakes are the things that you learn from more often than the good things (certainly, they leave an indelible mark). Thanks to all of you for having the courage to share yours. That cannot have been easy. *hugs*

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    • L.B. Schulman

      I think you were just not hanging out with the right (read: wrong) people. If you’d hung out with us EMU’s, you’d be in a world of regret right now. 🙂

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  5. These are all such great stories–I enjoyed reading them all and admire the honesty of my emu-mates here. 🙂 For me bullying began in the fourth grade and went right on into/through high school. I think some of the insecurities I have now can be traced back to those times. It can have a profound impact.

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  6. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Being part of a military family, I moved so often that my goal as the perpetual new kid was always to try and blend in and hope no one noticed me. When we moved from a tightly-knit Air Force base in Germany to sprawling San Antonio, Texas, I had a particularly hard time, because I wasn’t familiar at all with the culture and I stuck out from the others. Before school started, kids always formed teams and played kickball until the bell rang. I’ll never forget the day a group of kids came up to me and said that I wasn’t allowed to play kickball anymore–on either team. I’ll also never forget the day when a kind girl named Jackie Goodman came up to me as I sat alone at lunch and asked if she could sit with me. A few years later, in 8th grade, I was the student body vice president and a cheerleader, which meant that the kickball kids from 5th grade wanted to be my friend. Although I didn’t treat them the way they had treated me, I wasn’t friendly to them at all. I’d finally “made it” socially, and I wasn’t about to let them in. And then the next year we moved halfway across the country, and I had to start all over again.

    Feeling left out as a kid really shaped who I am now as an adult. If I’m in a room and see someone standing off by themselves, I go up to that person and start chatting.

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