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Getting Away with the Grift

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These days, there are liars, cheats, and hustlers galore. Now there’s a new name in the game of grifters: me

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These days, there are liars, cheats, and hustlers galore. Biotech founder and criminal-of-the-moment Elizabeth Holmes finagled close to one billion dollars from very famous folk for her company, Theranos. Ana Delvey, aka Ana Sorkin, aka your friend whose Venmo payment you will be forever waiting on, fooled the entirety of the NYC social scene. Then there’s my favorite fratboy-esque conman, Billy McFarland, the mind behind the viral Fyre Fest. But now there’s a new name in the game of grifters: me. 

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Though I’m not entirely sure why, considering my rough start to literature life during elementary school. My prose at the time was limited to book reports for books that I did not bother reading. Why? Because they were reductive, and I was much too busy ingesting every perfectly salted piece of Play-Dough that came my way. At the time, I also viewed grammar and punctuation the same way I view stop signs: as mere suggestions instead of legitimate rules.

My most lucid memory from first grade was the first spelling test I ever took. Thanks to my premature and unwarranted sense of paranoia, I spent five minutes internally deliberating if “hop,” the three-letter, one-syllable word, was actually a “trick” word and not spelled as forthright as it sounded. Academia couldn’t fool me! In full confidence, I put my No. 2 pencil to the wide-margin, loose-leaf paper and wrote, “ohp.” My Mensa application was submitted shortly thereafter. 

Despite my dismal early attempts at copy editing, I was a voracious reader, probably since I didn’t have cable TV until seventh grade. Jack Hannah’s Animal Adventures ended by 7 a.m. every morning, leaving me hours upon hours to find something to fill my day. So I filled it by reading notable, fascinating, and prolific works, like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Captain Underpants, and the less cerebral, War and Peace.

As a bonus assignment for science homework in third grade, I wrote about an amoeba that became sentient and set out on a quest. I managed to fill two whole pages with the story, yet somehow did not finish the actual assigned science homework. The amoeba story was actually the first piece in my submission packet to the Iowa Writers Workshop. 

In fifth grade, I wrote a poem that got printed in the parish bulletin. Rumor has it that Harvard graduate Amanda Gorman only got signed to read at the 2021 presidential inauguration after I passed on it.***

But before all of that even happened, I wrote my first book. Some (read: none) have called it the “the next great American novel.” But I look back on it with shame, embarrassment, and as a failure in my creative vocation. 

My publisher at the time, Mrs. Columbo’s 1995 Kindergarten class, in collaboration with the Holy Name of Jesus Elementary printing shop, financed my first novel.

To say I was excited was an understatement. When Mrs. Columbo told my fellow kinder colleagues and me that we would finally (FINALLY!) get the chance to share our work, our voice, and our Elmer-glue-eating, still-wearing-shoes-with-velcro-straps perspective of the world, I was elated! 

But with that excitement came great stress. Would my first work be critically acclaimed? Would it skyrocket to the NYT bestsellers list? Would I be able to include words that were longer than three letters? How do I even spell my own name? The pressure was on. And I cracked. 

At the time, I convinced myself all great authors pull inspiration from prolific writers. But I didn’t just pull…no, no. Instead, I hit ctrl +c and ripped the plot from an already existing book, Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. Originally published in 1942, The Little House went on to win a Caldecott Medal, an honor awarded to “the most distinguished American picture book for children .” Talk about the gall of me! My little tater tot brain didn’t even bother to change the title. I was the original James Frey

I was so swept up in the wave of public adulation and the idea of being a lauded writer that I was drowning in my own deceptions. I distinctly remember sitting atop that slide, electric guitar in hand, watching the lies pile up. I couldn’t even play the guitar!

While I have never been publicly flagellated for my crimes against the literary community, I wanted to be open, honest, and transparent and say I am sorry. Sometimes, we humans are good and great and just and right, and sometimes we blatantly lie and sit on a slide holding a plastic guitar and celebrate our sins.

***I started the rumor.

Erin Maher is a writer and Westchester native. She has written on a myriad of topics, including life as a millennial and tennis. When not writing, Erin can be found on the tennis and pickleball courts or lovingly scrolling through pictures of dogs on Instagram. For more of her musings, visit erinmaherwrites.com, and follow her on Instagram @erinmaherwrites and Twitter @erinmaherwrites

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