Using bullying to illustrate a novel

STILL COURTESY MGM Scut Farkus, the infamous bully from A Christmas Story certainly gave protagonist Ralphie something to overcome.

PHOTO COURTESY MGM
Scut Farkus, the infamous bully from A Christmas Story certainly gave protagonist Ralphie something to overcome.

These days almost everyone admits they were bullied at some point during their school life.

By almost everyone, I mean two-thirds. Of course, that’s not day-in, day-out, like the 12 percent reported. Most of the statistics, on Stop A Bully’s website, point to that period between grades 5 and 9.

Still, I find the 64 percent alarmingly high, but somewhat misleading.

Often times, when people offer up the canned response of “Everyone’s been bullied,” I find it dismissive and it downplays the severity of bullying in schools.

The fact that almost everyone has been bullied takes away from those who get picked on daily.

I should know, I was bullied pretty badly, and bizarrely from grades 5 to 9. Weekly, but you forget as time forges on, and you discover those who were popular in elementary school just peaked too soon, and faded into obscurity by the time post secondary came along.

I never quite understood why I was placed in their crosshairs. I was an introvert, didn’t like much at the time — outside of Cindy Crawford, the Chicago Blackhawks and puffins — and my parents weren’t in the habit of buying my affections, unlike some parents of kids at the elementary school I attended.

Forgive the over generalizing here, but the early ’90s was a period where many parents were getting separated, and the kids were often the collateral damage.

Back then there was little done to dissuade kids from harassing others. And if you didn’t make any sports teams, look out.

There are two moments that stick with me, and I have used them in a novel I’m currently writing. One time, after school, three boys a year older than me, decided to chase me through a forest, throw me to the ground and proceeded to hit me with my own shoe (which came off during the pursuit), and caned me with a tree limb. If it wasn’t for a high school kid walking by, I’m sure I would have received a proper beating.

A year earlier, one of the three was in my split class, and threw a dictionary at my chest, while I was forced to sit down by the other older kids. His angry face contorted before me, he spat, and ordered, “Look up the word loser in the dictionary”.

Meh, life experience. At the time it was agonizing to go through, but pain creates art. And when you’re a writer — a creator — it comes in handy.

Regardless, those on the lower social rung of elementary school managed to get by. Suicide was not reported back then, so we didn’t really know how every kid dealt with it. Some turned to religion, others fought back, and some were lucky enough to have adults intervene.

For me, I escaped further into myself, and wrote. I wrote a lot, and created a lot of worlds on my own. I often joke that if one of my teachers happened to see my writing, they’d bring me in for a good talk at the bare minimum. I wrote thriller and horror, still do, and typically I killed off those who picked on me — quite gruesomely.

The funny thing was, I didn’t really read a lot. I did, however, absorb information very quickly, and my curiosity was never entirely sated. And I always had my nose in an atlas, picking such foreign destinations as N’Djamena, Chad and Cuzco, Peru as my locales. Then the reading began.

The more I wrote, the more I became confident in that being my skill. Would I have ever guessed I would have spent a decade of my life working as a journalist, talking with a lot of the interesting people? Probably not.

Sometimes I wonder if bullying is a necessity. Heaven forbid I say this, but maybe it’s just a way to thin the herd. If kids make it through, find themselves, and forge their identities without the hang-ups, then they’ve succeeded in not letting the spiteful bring them down.

I don’t buy into the idea that people never change. Their foundation may not shift, but it will crack and let something foreign in. A person’s experiences do alter how they make decisions on the surface. Have a kid — that’s one way your decision will change, because it’s not about you anymore. That’s no cliché.

It may feel like a lifetime, having to put up with such childish shenanigans, but you get through it. Now, with all the attention bullying, I feel the word bully has been used so often, its meaning has been warped. One can simply just utter the word, and it has the same strength as calling someone racist, homophobe or anti-Semite.

And so it should.

All the attention to bullying should be happening, but not to the extremes that those who experience it daily, and not once in a blue moon, are not belittled.

For me, the attention to bullying begs the question: Would I have been as creative if I didn’t retreat into myself when bullied?

Probably. But then again, no pain, no art.

 

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About the author

Toronto-based journalist, fighting the power one deadline at a time.

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