Twenty years old Ammara was sitting near the stove for an hour now. Her whole body was drenched in sweat. It was the mid of July and the scathing heat was at its peak in a small village in Swabi…
I can recall with painful accuracy the times I spent writing the letters of the alphabet over and over and over in first grade. I made the B’s into people, adding hair and thick lips. They were kind and chubby and loved to bake cookies for their kids. The P’s were skinny and a little mean, usually wore glasses with thin gold chains, and silently judged all the other letters.
I swear, I created whole universes for those letters to reside.
I did it because I was so devastatingly bored with the process of transcribing them over, and over, and over.
The teachers thought I was insane, or at least inept at both reading and spelling. My mother would wring her hands and ask me when I was going to learn to read and write. I was in the lowest reading group and kept falling asleep, my neck unable to bear the weight of my exhausted, heavy head.
The problem was not my inability to read or write, I could do both just fine. It was the crushing boredom of those repetitive exercises that killed the most important thing in my world both then and now: my imagination. Eventually, a specialist caught on to what I was doing, noticing it wasn’t an inability to write the letter “B,” but rather making that letter into a cartoon out of tedium.
My mother laughed uproariously when she found out and virtually overnight I catapulted into the most advanced group in the class.
I never stopped writing but absolutely refused to approach it in any rote manner ever again. Those drills showed me what I inherently knew language was not: static, dull, and banal.
Decades later, I became an English teacher myself and vow to never subject my students to diagramming sentences, simplistic textual questions rooted purely in recall, or the idea that there is a “correct way” to interpret a poem, prose, story, or any kind of writing, really. Any and all of these practices, to my mind, exist solely for the purpose of destroying a developing mind’s ability to comprehend the inexplicable and profound art of language and words, the indelible aspects of these that make a reader’s skin crawl or tingle, or create a tenderness that…
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