Alternate history

2020-08-12

In high school I took a mandatory history class. We were assigned to write a series of two-page essays. I sat down to write the first one and put some thought, work and effort into it. It was graded at 60%.

I was disappointed. No, I was angry. I didn’t even get any feedback on the essay itself. There were no pointers toward doing better next time. All I had was a bad grade for no apparent reason.

I thought it over and formed a hypothesis that the teacher hadn’t even read it. I figured as long as I was being graded at random, I may as well amuse myself.

In the next essay I put in much less effort, and went ahead and made up a bunch of “facts” to write about. The essay was about World War II, and I sprinkled in some references to battles which took place with futuristic weapons and timelines that were obviously impossible. My friends thought I was crazy.

Lo and behold: I got a 70%! I had identified a direction I could improve in. From then on my essays contained fewer and fewer actual facts, more and more nonsense I dreamed up to amuse myself, and got higher and higher grades. Every essay after that one scored at least 80%.

The teacher only commented once on my near-total disconnect from actual events which occurred in the real world. It did not affect the grade he gave in the slightest.

I never took history seriously as a subject again. Based on this experience, deep down I believe that everyone interested in history is secretly hoping for it to be jazzed up by anachronistic lasers, unexpected alien invasions, and geopolitical conflicts resolved by human chess matches where the leader of each side is the king and the losing team is executed and also loses the conflict in question.

Three lessons to take away from this:

  1. History is dumb
  2. Be careful when dismissing someone’s work without feedback, or God forbid ignoring it entirely. Your opinion may matter more than you realize, and you may colour that person’s experience for many years to come.
  3. Sometimes it’s worth taking things less seriously. If there doesn’t seem to be a way to win, can you embrace that and find a different way to win? How can you have fun and make a story?