I plagiarized a book when I was Kindergarten.
I re-drew the illustrations, inserted my own version of the narrative, and assembled the pages for my teacher to review. I was proud. I didn’t have any concept that this was wrong – and at the age of 5, why would I have had any such concept? No one expects a Kindergarten student to be able to compose a short story, let alone understand integrity in authorship as well as copyright issues.
I do remember a very freaked out teacher calling my parents, apparently ready to go public with the news of the child genius in her classroom. The story was about a bunny who has a pretty egg that breaks, upsetting the bunny at first, but then leading to an exciting twist in which the egg turns out to have hatched into a baby chick. That is some pretty intense drama for the early elementary set, I will tell you. Anyway, everything came crashing down when, at some point, the truth came out. I don’t remember if I mentioned it first, or if someone else figured it out. But I do remember the strange feeling of shame and awareness that washed over me as I received my first lesson in intellectual property.
So, I was no longer the child genius destined to become the world’s youngest famous author. But all agreed that I could still tell a story and write pretty freaking well.
Sometime around the third grade, I proudly announced to my classmates that I would be a writer someday. I must have talked about it a lot, because I still remember the teacher having us go around the room and say out loud what we wanted to be when we grew up. Before I could answer, all the other kids blurted out, “She wants to be a writer!!!”
Of course, back then, my idea of great writing was informed by short stories and beginner novels for children. I didn’t want to go out and play; I wanted to sit inside and read in bad lighting. I would go to the town library, check out 20 or more books at a time, and read them all in a few short days. I will never forget a distraught little girl telling me not to carry so many books out of the library, because then nothing would be left for story time (I never stayed for story time; I much preferred to read at home, alone and at my own pace, rather than sit in a circle and listen to a librarian tell the story in her own voice).
As I got older, I discovered video games, and lost some of the voracity of my reading habits. If the Internet had been around back then, who knows what would have happened. But something else happened, as I progressed through my public school years and eventually found myself in college: I shifted my desire to write, for a living, to recognizing that writing was simply a skill that I could put to work in a *real* career—psychology, perhaps, or something sociological, as the human mind, politics and societal order were all concepts that fascinated me at the time. By my twenties, I had scrapped any remaining shreds of my childhood plans to write and publish creative works for a living. Ironically, I attended Bard College, one of the most liberal of the liberal arts schools in the Northeast, and one that attracted creative types in droves. But I resolved to be a lawyer, and to put this creative writing nonsense behind me for good as a silly hobby.
And with that, I resolved to kill off an element of my being that perhaps deserved a chance to live just a bit longer, although I could not have seen it that way at the time. Maybe it was the fact that I was surrounded by so many feverish young creatives, desperate to get published, at least be noticed; maybe I was insecure over forever being known as the Kindergartener who plagiarized a story about bunnies and Easter eggs—or maybe my financial circumstances had just hardened my heart toward the creative life, in an attempt to protect me from the pain that would inevitably surface if I gave up material comfort for the poor life of a struggling artist.
I think some of the pain I have endured has actually taken the opposite form: the pain of abandoning my creative and artistic nature for the sake of security. I have no regrets about the way I have spent the majority of my productive, career-oriented time over the past decade or so that I have considered myself an adult, in the education and training sense of the word. But I do feel that if I were to die now, my life would be over but unfinished.
My last major creative project was bringing my two children into the world. The possibility of a third child is not entirely out of the question, but is also not a current goal. In fact, I would go as far as to say that, at this point, my husband and I are operating under the default assumption that we will NOT have another child. Most days, this thought is in the back of my mind. I’m waiting for some kind of emotional response to the conclusion of my fertile years, and thus far, none can be found. It is possible that this is the natural way in which my physiology is now signaling me to prepare for a new season of life.
To make a terrible analogy, my next baby will take the form of my first serious attempt at creative writing since, essentially, childhood.
Until my next post, please keep me accountable. Expect an update, and call me out if I fail to provide one. Because if I should fail, it will mean that I have succumbed to the siren call of the comfort supplied by the unrealized life of an artist. However arrogant, I nevertheless can conceive of no ending more tragic.