Eyes On Your Own Paper

Not sure why my latest journey down memory lane is taking me back to school days. Last week it was the organic chemistry final. This week, it’s the day I knew Didn’t Study Guy was cheating off my papers in high school.

Blatantly stealing my answers.

I told the teacher about it after class, and he told me to write down the most ridiculously wrong answers I could think of.

And the teacher would pass me.

It worked. No more cheating from Didn’t Study Guy, as the teacher moved him to the front of the class.

Soon after, several teachers started using two versions of their tests.

Lately, I’ve been writing marketing and web articles for the day job. Every one of those firms requires a plagiarism check before submitting. And though I’ve attributed quotes and gave credit where credit is due, I still get a little twitchy as I watch that checker circle spin and spin, its AI bots scouring the internet for instances where I may have “copied off someone’s paper.”

Plagiarism is a huge deal these days, and it’s much easier to do than sneaking a peek over someone’s shoulder during an English test.

In a few online writing groups I frequent, authors are losing their collective minds – and sometimes their collective body of fiction – over the plagiarism issue.

One author discovered her books listed for free on a foreign website. Without her permission, clearly.

Another found that entire chapters of content had been lifted and pasted onto blogs and read aloud in podcasts. Without his permission, clearly.

Stolen content.

Back in 2019, Nora Roberts lashed out against this. You can read her reactions to someone lifting her work here.

Sometimes, someone infringes on another’s copyright in innocence – after all, you don’t know what you don’t know. Like a local artisan painting Hello Kitty on a canvas and making a profit at a craft fair. Seems innocent.

Perhaps the same artist also painted Mickey, SpongeBob, and R2D2. But, if money changes hands, that’s a huge no-no unless the crafter has purchased a limited license through some sort of pattern (sewing comes to mind) or obtained expressed written permission. And Disney, Sanrio, and Nickelodeon don’t give out those permissions to us regular folks.

And most regular folks I know don’t have enough set back for legal fees should one of their powerhouse IP lawyers come after them for making a buck off a trademarked image.

If you’re a consumer of entertainment, be mindful of where your money goes – payment should reach the creator (Yes, even if that creator is a billionaire. Don’t be a jerk...).

Pay for your subscriptions. Avoid pirated music and videos.

Make sure the paperbacks you buy have covers…

If you’re a creative, first, understand copyright law. It’s the best way to protect your intellectual property. Nolo Guides are clear and easy to digest on this matter.

Second, if you’re tempted to use poetry, song lyrics, or characters that another creative dreamt up, beware. You’d better have ten lifetimes of lawyer fees saved up…

And last, Be Original!

For example, Little Miss Muse with the chunky attitude, purple glitter jars, and lavender stilettos is mine. You can’t have her.

Eyes on your own paper.

In other words, go get your own muse.


Over my four-plus decades on the planet, my body has come up with various responses to stressors –whether I give it permission for such responses or not. Hives, insomnia, and loss of verbal filters come to mind.

I had my first stress-induced nosebleed during an organic chemistry final at college. And, no. I don’t remember anything from organic chemistry except that carbon seemed to be a big deal, and my professor wrote the textbook, so he expected us to know that material and all the extra stuff he “forgot” to put in the book.

It also occurs to me there may have been more pages to the final exam than in the textbook.

The professor was kind-ish, though. Or so I thought. He allowed us to make notes on one five-by-seven-inch index card and bring it to the final.

One card. Front and back.

Do you have any idea how small I can write when properly motivated? Pretty darn. Pretty darn small.

The kids filed into the auditorium, one of those stadium-seating deals. We scattered across the room, leaving one seat open on either side of us to avoid cheating. Like any of us could see anyone else’s index cards. All of them written in font size -24. I chose an aisle seat, figuring it wouldn’t take me long to fill in and/or flunk this particular exam.

And the professor paced. Up and down the stairs. Across the back of the room. Across the front near the stage.

I scanned the test. Answered what I could from what I knew. Then started the agonizing process of attempting to answer twelve-part questions with my wimpy notecard, realizing quickly that nothing I wrote on that card was of any use. I could hear the flipping of pages all over the auditorium—likely my compatriots realizing the same thing.

Then, on one of his laps up my aisle, the professor stopped. And yelled. Loudly. In my direction.

“What the &%$# do you think you’re doing?” He was staring right at me. I thought.

He climbed a few more stairs until he was even with my shoulder and continued yelling. At the girl seated behind me.

But it was too late at this time for me to relax and concentrate with the drama unfolding behind me. His booming voice continued, accusing the girl of cheating. Apparently, she’d taken her one five-by-seven card and added micro flaps to it. Still one card, but like quadruple the surface area.

She begged and cried for mercy, explaining it really was just one card. He threatened expulsion, ripped up her exam, confiscated her little flappy notecard and sent her bawling from the auditorium. He yelled so loud my desktop shook. My hand shook as I laid my single, non-flappy notecard on the desk so he could see I was a virtuous student.

Some bozo snickered from the other side of the room and, still standing directly behind me, the professor started in on another rant. The room went silent except for the scratching of pencils across paper and a few muddled coughs.

Prof went back to his pacing and scrutinizing, and I went back to the test.

Then it happened.

Drip. Drip. Drip. Directly on page three of the exam. With one hand I squeezed my nostrils tight, with the other I signaled for the professor.

And then he accused me of cheating with the girl behind me. “You just want to go to the bathroom to talk about the test.”

I showed him the test and unclenched the nostrils, blood flowing freely. I asked if he could bring a Kleenex if I wasn’t allowed to leave.

The answer was no. No one was leaving the room without a failing grade. “I’ll grade your bloody test, but you won’t be leaving that chair.” No one laughed this time. I think a couple of girls cried.

So I handed in a bloody test with bloody hands — and a bloody shirt by that time. I think I got a C after the curve, which means I and more than half of the auditorium flunked it anyway.

Some folks complained to the administration about the event. I don’t know what became of the professor. Probably nothing—this was many, many years ago. I don’t know what became of the girl with the flappy notes. I suppose she never tried that method again, though.

Little Miss Muse catches me having another stress-induced issue, much like the overworked gal in the photo. “You need a vacation. From your troubles,” she advises, as she flits around the desk, generally making a glittery mess and toppling over piles of notebooks and to-do lists.

I pause this blog construction to rub my temples. “Will you be accompanying me on this vacation?”

She grins. “Of course.”

“Then I don’t see what good it will do. You’re keeping me awake from two a.m. on.”

“But my bestest ideas come at two a.m. You should know that by now.” She pulls a long, sticky string of purple gum from her mouth and twirls around her chunky fingers.

“I’d have better luck vacationing with the organic chemistry professor.”

“He was old back then. He’s probably dead now.” She blows a grape-flavored bubble in my face.

“Better yet. The ghost of the organic chemistry professor won’t chew bubble gum.”

She doesn’t seem phased. “You wouldn’t do well with a ghost muse. They’re a high maintenance variety.” I don’t point out the cases of grape soda, the closet full of purple high heels and bottles of glitter strewn all over the house. Bribes to keep the story ideas coming.

Albeit at two a.m.

I think I have hives now.

Until next week, may your sleep be sound, may your stressors be few, and may your muses fall silent during your peak hours of rest.

Wrapped Around the Axel

I'm late.

Half the time I write these blogs at least a day or two ahead of time. The other half, I've gotten several weeks ahead, and Web Guy dishes them out to the wide world each Monday.

But I'm late. I was supposed to have this written and off to Web Guy by last night.

It's four a.m. The cats are confused, so I fed them early to stop their swarming. Which means they'll demand their tuna delight gravy edition dinner an hour earlier this evening.

The hubs is about to wake up for work, and he'll also be confused as to why I'm at the desk. Bless his heart, he'll probably start talking to me. Which is a dangerous undertaking even in the eight-a.m. range, let alone four hours earlier.

I'm not a four-o'clock-in-the-morning kind of writer. I'm a two-o'clock-in-the-morning middle insomniac who can mentally wrap herself around all sorts of axels of unimportance until six a.m. Then I'll write about it later.

I like that phrase: Wrapped around the axel. Implying that one can get hung up like an untied shoelace during a bicycle ride and wreck forward progress. When I was a kid, my mom didn't want me wearing flip-flops to ride my bike because I'd sliced my foot on those evil grippy pedal grip thingies. (It's 4:15 a.m., please bear with me. The vocabulary part of my brain is still in silent mode). So I wore tennis shoes and managed to throw myself over the handlebars when the axel ate my shoelace so completely that I became one with the bike.

Lately, I seemed to be wrapped around all kinds of axels — real and imagined. If I'm not careful, I can get hung up on the minutest of details and not deal with big problems.

Especially when thyrodic brain fog sets in. And when life stressors pile up, demanding attention all at once (how dare they not wait in line patiently?). And my internet has been on the fritz, making all of the day-job duties take four times as long.

And now it's 5:24 a.m. Something happened. I went to look up a word and may have gone through a Google wormhole.

Then I laid my head down on my desk for just a second. Or many seconds. I awoke to a cat checking my pulse —Stella Marie sitting next to my head with her razor pigs on my neck. I told her I wasn't dead yet. And please do not call the other two cats in for carcass removal.

I can get wrapped around current event axels – not one thing to control there. I can get wrapped around "what if" axels. What-if axels are great for story construction and plotting, not so much for peaceful sleeping.

A couple of weeks ago, my first-world axel problem was the disappearance of my favorite beverage from every single store in our town. In all forms. Cans, bottles, two-liters. All gone. I ranted about this quite a bit to the hubs, who tried to find some a town over with not much luck. So he brought me a new brand to try.

Gag me now. Canada Dry or bust.

I got grumpy. I complained. I could've spent that energy on something productive, but nope. Let's spin on this issue for waaaay longer than necessary.

I mentioned this to my mom and my aunt as a point of conversation. And they rescued me. Bless their hearts, I now have enough Canada Dry Zero Ginger Ale to last until spring.

Another axel? We have an "End Construction" sign at the end of our road. It's a lie. As a matter of fact, all "End Construction" signs in the state of Indiana are all lies. I got grumpy. I complained way too hard and way too long about this slip of ethics on the part of construction crews.

Bless their hearts, working in this awful heat. I don't envy their jobs, and they seem to be doing a good job. But stop with the lying signs already. We Hoosiers know it will never end…

Devil's-front-porch level of heat can send me axel spinning, twisting, and cartwheeling. I struggle to concentrate or breathe in triple-digit indices. I got grumpy. I complained.

Thankfully the weather has eased up to tolerable and, dare I say it, enjoyable, especially in the evenings. Nice, cool weather and an ice-cold Canada Dry work wonders to unwind my hang-ups.

And now I'm wrapping myself around the axel of whether or not bicycles have axels. They have spokes. Those shoelaces get caught in spokes. Not axels. At least I think, at 5:38 a.m. that that's how it is.

And I was right. The hubs is talking to me. Telling me he didn't sleep until two a.m. because he "couldn’t shut off his brain.”

Twisted around some axel, too, he was.

5:49. He leaves in fifteen minutes. At which time the cats will settle back down, and I will attempt to sneak another 90 minutes before the day job starts.

I will likely require a midday coma to replenish a few brain cells the off-yet-again thyroid has claimed. Hopefully, Stella can palpate a pulse, holding off the feline forensics crew one more day...

Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on Mondays for a new blog or revisit older post on my Archive page. Don't forget to come back on the first Monday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.