- James Aichinger
My Story: Where it All Began
Updated: Jun 23, 2019
What do you do when you are told that you will never be good enough? Accept that things weren't meant to be, or stand up and take your chance? I stood up and although initially it may have been for no more than personal pride, it was the start of something big.
It started with a parents evening at my school. I was lucky enough to attend a very good school with caring teachers, thanks mostly to the enormous chunk that was knocked off the fees by a scholarship I won. My maths and science teachers had almost nothing bad to say, I was a model student destined to become an engineer, scientist or maybe both. In all honesty it was because the subjects were interesting to me, where the arts were not.
Then came the English teacher.
“James will never be a good writer, he cannot tell a story and he cannot write enough. But maybe with extra work he might scrape a grade-C.”
There it was, plain and simple. I wasn't good enough.
Loads of people would be happy with a C-grade, especially people recently diagnosed as dyslexic with interminably slow handwriting. But I could feel the disappointment of my parents as they sat around me. They had worked very hard for me to be there, and I was not doing well.
Later that evening my father spoke with me. He is and always was a calm, thoughtful and supportive man, but his grave expression was far worse than shouting. Every sentence felt like a punch in the chest.
We talked for a long time, about the successes of the night and the foibles. But I knew that he was holding out for the big one, just thinking about how best to approach it. In the end he asked what I thought of my English teacher's statement. I couldn't hide my feelings and I didn't want to. I admitted that it had hurt and worried me that she thought I was beyond saving. His solution was simple but dull: write more often.
I think we all fear disappointing our parents, especially as we move more towards being adults oursleves. We look at them and think: how can I measure up? How can I not be them? How can I be better? How can I make my life worth what they have given into it?
And in hindsight my GCSE grades were not the biggest turning point in my life. Just another in the long line of letters that are assigned to us as we pass through the human equivalent of quality assurance. In the end the numbers and letters don't matter. It doesn't matter how smart you are or how much you can memorise, all that matters is what you do with those gifts.
In the end I passed my English exams with A-grade results. I remember walking around school with my results sheet in my hand and almost bumping into my teacher. She expressed great surprise at my improvement and I relished seeing her admit that I had "learnt well for the exams".
And there was the sting in the tail. I was good, but only good enough to pass an exam. Any fool can pass an exam; it's a matter of memorising facts and puking them up again in a silent hall.
I had gotten my grade, but that wasn't enough.
I promised myself that I would prove her wrong, that I would write my book and it would be a worthwhile story. It may not be Shakespeare, it didn't need to be (afterall I don't have a great big wooden theatre to fill every night), but it would be mine and it would be worth a read.
It may not be the most noble of reasons to begin writing (it is after all a petty revenge that's gotten a bit out of hand by this point), but it was the spark I needed. The world is full of people telling you you can't do things. Some of them are quite reasonable; I have never questioned the wisdom of the hostess on an aeroplane telling me that I can't open the door for some fresh air (in my defence I was hot). But when people judge you and say 'No, you cannot and will never be able to do that', that is pure arrogance and to those people I say: take a flying leap.
We are so much more than our traits define us as, and I for one will keep going until that is recognised.