Friday, July 29, 2016

Maybe I Shouldn't Have Abandoned This Project


In 1995, I wrote a rough draft of what probably would have become the longest personal essay in the history of the written word. I titled it *Al, the Prowler, and the Siege at Dodge Boulevard*. The project was a memoir recounting “events” that I either, willingly or unwillingly, had participated in or had witnessed between 1961 and 1978. The time frame stretched from my first semester in college to the years when lived in an apartment complex off Speedway Boulevard in Tucson, Arizona.
A lot of memorable and sometimes crazy things happened during those times. There were days when I felt as if my friends and I were characters in some weird sitcom. Today, many of those things would be fodder for blog posts (and probably will be), and a few of them would be fodder for a reality show. Happenings included (but were not limited to) ditzy teenagers, local bad boys, a phantom prowler, a real prowler, crank phone calls, police reports, a couple of subpoenas, and a busted window.
I abandoned the project about a month after I started it.
I had completed the first draft when a man who had once been a good friend of mine died. I put the essay away and didn’t look at it again until a few years ago. Once in a while, I take it out, thinking that maybe I should finish the story.
I woke up about 3 a.m. today and started thinking about why I wanted to write that essay. In 1995, the message I wanted to get across is this: Sometimes things (and people) are not what they seem to be on the surface—or what you dearly or desperately want them to be. Sometimes the people who are supposed to love and protect you are the ones who are trying to hurt you. And sometimes, someone you don’t think cares about you at all really does give a hoot about you in their (the new gender-neutral *their*) own weird way.














Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Not Really Plagiarism


I hate plagiarism. However, I did not hear or read the recent speech by Mrs. Trump or the previous one by Mrs. Obama. So I can’t comment about the current plagiarism accusations and explanations regarding those speeches that are floating around the media.

But the kerfuffle did remind of something. Of course you knew it would.

Way back when I was a participant in an article writing workshop at the University of Arizona, a classmate “borrowed” a few of my ideas from an article I wrote for the class. She included them in an article that she had published in the student paper. Some of the words she used in her article were similar to the words I used in mine.

What a coincidence. A couple of friends who read both articles wondered how she could do that. They urged me to bring the similarities to the professor’s attention.

How could she borrow my ideas from a class assignment? Well, every participant in the workshop had received a copy of every other student’s article to critique. That’s how it’s done in university-level writing workshops.

I was upset at first, then angry, then amused. I mean, isn’t imitation the greatest form of flattery?

In hindsight, the considerate thing for her to do would have been to tell me she liked some of my ideas and planned to include them in her news feature. She really didn’t have to ask if she could use them. Ideas are up for grabs.

I let it go and didn’t bring the similarities to the professor’s attention. After all, it wasn’t as if she had published my entire article word for word under her byline. If that had happened, I would have gone to the professor—and to the director of the creative writing program.

Fast forward ten years.

I moved across the country, to an economically depressed area. I found a job at a big box store that was about to celebrate its grand opening. In order to drum up enthusiasm for the event, the store held a poetry contest for its employees.

I wrote a parody of the Night Before Christmas and won first prize. After I won, I learned that another employee had parodied the same poem. Although I didn’t know that until after I won the contest, I felt bad about it. If I had known the man wrote his poem based on that work, I would have chosen another theme for my poem.

I apologized to him saying, “If I had realized you did that, I would have written something else.”

He said, “No apologies are necessary. You deserved to win.”