Last week, we brought you the winning fiction entry in the 2008 Voice writing contest, ?Snowmaggedon? by Pamela Wagner.
This week, we’re pleased to publish the non-fiction winner, ?Shut My Mouth? by Adam Thackeray.
Entrants in the non-fiction category were asked to write about any issue affecting freedom of speech.
In ?Shut My Mouth,? Adam’s exploration of self-censorship offers an honest and insightful look at the far-reaching (and sometimes unexpected) consequences of stifling free expression. We hope you enjoy it.
Thanks to the judges for their contribution of time and energy, and all the wonderfully creative writers who submitted their work!
Shut My Mouth
I was the boy who sat at the back of the classroom, praying not to be called on by the teacher. I was the boy who was always afraid of giving the wrong answer, always certain of my uncertainty. So, naturally, whenever questions were posed to the class, I would find creative new ways to avoid eye contact with the teacher: a wad of hard, old gum stuck under my desk would suddenly need my immediate attention; a perfectly timed drop of the pencil would require my bending low for an unnecessary length of time; a shifting of my position behind a classmate would keep me just shy of the teacher’s line of sight; and, sometimes, in extreme circumstances, a combination of these tactics would be essential.
Indeed, I worked hard to keep my mouth shut. As long as I could make myself invisible, there was always another student quick to raise a hand, speak up, and gain all the glory in the process.
In grade four, when it came time to complete my personality test (a test designed to determine one’s inherent extroversion or introversion), it was not surprising to discover that I fell under the category of introvert. Yet, I remember feeling ashamed of the results, and wishing that I had falsified my answers. I had never even heard of the term ?introvert? before that day, and here I was being labelled as one.
However, the one means of reckless abandon I would allow myself in the fourth grade came by way of my vocabulary workbook. In these books each student would write out the word of the day and its definition, then use the word in a sentence of his or her own construction.
With this exercise I had found a miraculous release for my inner extrovert. With these exotic new words I had the opportunity to form wonderful new thoughts that would then in turn be read to the class. Being just a boy, though, my wonderful new thoughts extended only so far as the gross-out factor, often involving some form or other of bodily fluid or function. Many times, my sentences would draw gasps and guffaws from the class, and, of course, I began to savour every moment.
Unfortunately, my teacher, Mr. Niewland, did not fully appreciate my artistic endeavours and warned me on several occasions to tone down my material. Although I was never one to ruffle the feathers of those in authority, I continued on with my ?creative? writing; the response I had been garnering from my classmates was far too much of a high to abandon.
However, it was not long before I was in the principal’s office, threatened with the fact that I had narrowly avoided ?the strap? (a punishment of legendary proportions that had only just been revoked the previous school year). This close call had put the fear of God into me and, as a result, I toned down the sentences in my vocabulary book. Here I had finally found a way to have my voice heard, and it was stifled before it had a chance to fully resonate.
This self-censorship continued throughout my school years and well into adulthood; even now I hesitate too often before opening my mouth. Interestingly, though, my four-year-old son has inherited none of my introverted qualities. I know that when he reaches the fourth grade he will be scoring off the chart on his personality test, attaining grand new heights of gregariousness.
Many times I find myself trying to repress his excessive sociability when, instead, I should be repressing my own repression. I have come to realize that I need to cheer his affability and confidence more often. He has already encouraged his slightly more reserved twin sister to speak her mind?now if only he could encourage me to be so brave.