Sign your name

A popular writing advice says ‘write from your scars, not your wounds.’ The thing is some wounds just won’t heal.

It’s events that have nothing to do with them that tear away the crusts. A media chase after a Slovenian celebrity, Boris Kobal, who signed his name under someone else’s work. Namely, a translated play by a dead author, to which he added four lines of text and pocketed a big fat check. This wasn’t a slip or a mistake. It was a deliberate act of plagiarism.

It’s not that this was the first time an influential person stole someone else’s work. What was new, though, was the way the public found numerous excuses to defend it. Those who did condemn Kobal did so because of his political views, not because of this theft.

One of my favourite writers, Miha Mazzini, has written a really excellent blog post on this topic.

This is where the wound started to bleed. Because about 20 years ago, it happened to me.

I was reading Mladina, a popular Slovenian political magazine, hoping to catch up with the news. The issue I was reading included a collection of short stories that had won some sort of primary school contest.

My eyes stopped on one of the stories, called ‘Barva Drugačnosti’ (‘The Colour of Difference’). For some reason, it felt familiar, like a fragment of a dream caught in real life. It took me a couple of sentences to realise why.

It was familiar because I had written it. It was published in a teenage magazine several years ago. Except Mladina didn’t republish it. Underneath the story was  the name and a photo of a young teenage girl from a small Slovenian town.

To say I was upset would be an understatement. I called Mladina and explained the story was stolen. I demanded an apology from the girl who stole it, for her to recognise the wrongdoing. A week later, they published my letter, but I didn’t hear from the girl or the school, so I looked up her number and called her.

Today, I could have probably called her on her mobile, but back then, families had fixed phones. Her mother, who answered the phone, said this wasn’t her daughter, that it was someone else with the same name. I never believed her. Slovenia is small. It’s very unlikely that two people with exactly the same name and age would live in exactly the same village.

Taking an item without paying for it or downloading something illegally is stealing, yes, but claiming someone else’s work as your own is a despicable, pathetic act that shouldn’t be excused. You don’t do it because you can’t afford to buy something, not even for the thrill of stealing. You do it because you want to have something to show, you just don’t want to put any work into it. You do it because you think your time is more valuable than that of other people.  You do it because there’s always a chance you’ll get away with just an apology. You do it because you don’t care and you think nobody will get hurt.

Here I am, twenty years later, sharing my writing only with those I trust.

Do wounds like this one ever heal?