The Bad Influence
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The Bad Influence


I Don’t See Myself as a Writer Per Se

I Couldn’t Even Imagine Writing Without Reading

Photo by Jason Hafso on Unsplash

I do know that I was born this way, and it became obvious as I approached age 7 or 8. I am also a floor person. Most of my life I’ve slept on the floor, sometimes atop a mattress, sometimes on bare concrete without even a sleeping bag. I’ve never favoured a chair or sofa.

Beyond anything else I have to say, here is the most important: Whatever work I do — writing, teaching, coaching recreational soccer or a childbirth class, doing construction — it doesn’t matter what — I disconnect from the thought of earning money. I would find it terribly distracting. For me that’s the Golden Rule. I do what I want to do — these are callings, instinctive, definitely voluntary. They are some sort of primal need or urge[Fred Ermlich]

My parents had a dining room they didn’t use. Everybody ate in the living room. The dining room was empty. It had a bare tile floor. I ended up spending my life on the floor in a general way. Call me weird, but I hated furniture and still do. I don’t own any at all. It was there in the dining room that I began my reading/writing career. Oh, the trouble I created.

I mentioned reading and writing… I probably split my time evenly between the two. What I read informs me, sometimes specifically about what I’m gonna be writing, other times as a prompt. Because whatever I read, I argue with it. I’m anywhere from being somewhat inspired by what I read to being compelled to track down the author and make a response.

Hint: This is why I create trouble. If I argue with the author of a paperback novel, think what I’d do to the average American teacher? Oh, yeah... I get compelled, and soon get expelled.

Here’s an example of one of my self-directed projects. One of my earliest projects was a report on the oceans. Maybe by then I was in junior high school, I don’t remember. I do remember going to the public library and checking out some books on the oceans.

I also went to the UCSB library. (I wasn’t yet a student there and couldn’t check out books.) But I had become skilled at slipping a book into the back of my pants and just walking out. (Of course I always returned the books as quickly as possible.)

In that bare dining room at home I would spread out 7 or 8 books, opened to pages that I’d be wanting to consult. Then I’d start writing. Of course these were ancient times — there were no computers or internet. I was a pen and paper writer. I still am a lot of the time. I have 20 or 30 journals going right now, mostly filled.

Long story short: I got expelled from that class. I think it was U.S. History and Government, in junior high school, but the teacher had been interested in my interest in the oceans (Rachel Carson). The teacher was a great booster of Ronald Reagan. This was my first encounter with a rabid Republican!

I turned in the report, and by day’s end found myself in the principal’s office. There the principal and teacher grilled me. I couldn’t have written this. My father must have done it for me. No, I didn’t have any drafts: I wrote it of a piece, in one sitting. Expelled from class, for the rest of the year I spent that period in the principal’s office. He said the usual, “I have to support my teachers.” He said, don’t worry. “You’ll still get an ‘A’ just as if you were still taking the class.”

He went to great lengths to challenge me with projects to do at home and return my results to him the next day. Some of them were very advanced science or math problems, and some of them I actually had to work on that night at home. Of course, several times he’d asked me, “Did your father, or one of his NASA engineers write this for you?”

God! I sure never really fit American-style schools. Not until college, anyway. Even then, I ran screaming from UCSB in 1971. It was just like high school, but instead of teachers it was teacher-assistants, who were essentially all grad students and largely rabid Christians.

I know this because one class I was taking was philosophy. I knew the professor because I went to his house a lot visiting his daughter. But he just gave dry, boring lectures, then turned the grad students loose on me. I got very low grades that quarter, especially being an atheist, and didn’t return to college until 20 years later.

And that worked out fine. Both Portland Community College and Portland State University were wonderful institutions. The professors were literally world-class, but were not saddled with ‘publish or perish.’ Students were still well-prepared, at least up until about 2001 or 2002. And I was wanted! I was brilliant. I was a grown adult, my joy was obvious, my professors loved my unsolicited extemporaneous papers that I handed them about a week before midterms or finals.

I had to do something nice for them since I refused to do homework. It drove fellow students crazy because now I did no homework and for some reason was excused from midterms and finals too. True story.

Even though this is a response to Itxy Lopez, I couldn’t find a way to submit it to her. The usual Medium alternative of “Make this response a story” was not to be found. I could have self-published it, but I’d prefer that The Bad Influence indulge me and print it. I think they have the best publication by far that I’ve ever seen or written for. Extremely bright writers, many of them a bit crazy or a lot crazy. Scary smart and crazy, just like




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Fred Ermlich

Fred Ermlich


Living in rural Panamá — non-extractive, non-capitalistic. Expat USA. Scientist, writer, researcher, teacher. STEM mentor +languages.