The title of this essay, “Blood on the Page,” refers to the red marks with which teachers slash up a student’s composition to highlight writing errors. A student is returned a paper that looks wounded, bleeding. I like that image. It’s not only poetic and powerful, it’s true. Blood on the page perfectly describes how I felt each time a paper was returned to me as a young student.
I am not an academic. I am a professional writer. I’ve had nearly a dozen plays produced in New York, published scores of short stories and essays in journals, magazines and book anthologies, worked as a reporter for a top New Jersey newspaper, written for television, have had screenplays optioned, written art reviews as well as biographies, and recently published a book of fiction, Sacred Misfits. And all of these writing credits occurred, indeed weren’t even attempted, until I was past thirty years of age. Why did it take me so long to become a writer? The answer is blood on the page.
When I first entered the New York City Public School System decades ago, it had a pretty good reputation. But well before I completed elementary school, the Bronx had collapsed and the schools reflected the decline. Emphasis shifted from teaching to discipline, and then to safety. I never learned grammar.
My acquaintance with grammar was my teacher’s mysterious, red-ink scribbles that admonished me for my lack of it. Grammar was a nuisance, something that slowed down and took away the pleasure from words and their sounds. I thought of the rules of grammar as some sort of invisible predator, ready to pounce and destroy the fun of writing. I just wanted to go ahead and do it, create something personal with my pencil.I loved writing. I was gifted with a strong imagination and nothing gave me more pleasure than creating tales.
Perhaps the most crushing attack to my writing aspirations came during the fifth grade. My teacher, Mr. Mucelli, asked for a writing assignment that was wide open. We could write a letter, a poem, essay, story, anything. I don’t remember the question he posed, but I remember the title of the assignment I turned in, “Mr. Mucelliland.” It was a fifth grader’s satire about his class. I loved working on it. The assignment was supposed to be two or three pages; my composition was triple that. I really liked Mr. Mucelli and was excited and proud to have him read my opus.
The paper he handed back to me looked like a bandage from a massacre. Just about every sentence had a red line running through it with admonishing my spelling and grammatical shortcomings—not one word about its passionate content. I was dying to talk to someone about my writing; the only dying that took place seemed to be the red blood bath that drowned my words.
I devoted my life to stop the hemorrhaging.