Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Words And The Bees.

I think the first time I threw a Spelling Bee, I was in the third grade.

The winner of the class Bee would compete at the grade level, the winner of that would get up on stage in front of the whole school to compete.

I was one of the final few in my class. I knew I'd never spell a word wrong. I never did on any spelling test. Once I saw a word written, my spongy little brain absorbed it and held onto those letters for good.

There was no way I was getting up in front of the whole school. I wasn't afraid of losing, I was afraid of winning and having to go on to an even bigger stage. I wasn't that kind of kid. The spotlight was not something I was comfortable in.

So I flubbed a word on purpose.

Fourth and fifth grade, down to the final three and again I'd toss out a misspelling and get the hell out of there.

My sixth grade teacher saw right through me. I picked a stupid word to screw up; RIFLE. He raised an eyebrow at me as I spelled; "Rifle, R-I-F-E-L, Rifle".

He dragged my ass out into the hall and wanted to know what I was up to. He was a cool guy, he got me, and got my reason for bailing on the Bee.

There were no Spelling Bees in junior high or high school, thank goodness. But during those years I came to realize this ability I had that made spelling so easy for me.

I'd always tested very well, despite not being particularly smart, and only crash studying for tests the night before. I'd write out an outline of the material, with headings and subheadings and numbers and letters and bullet points. I only had to write it out and read it once. The structure of the outline was important, because during the test, I could look at it.

In my head.

Yep. Little bit of photographic memory action going on. Maybe a lot. It really looked like a page in my head that I could read. It felt like cheating.

This little parlor trick served me well throughout high school making acing tests a breeze and producing impressive report cards. Though I tested well, I retained not a whole lot.

College years found me ingesting vast quantities of brain cell erasers thus greatly diminishing my super powers. Tests required more effort, but I could still spell any of my friends under the table. I was usually consulted before a dictionary was opened.

And I still like words. I love seeing an unfamiliar medical term and trying to figure out its meaning. I try to figure out its origins. Pick it apart piece by piece. If I hear a new word, I'll always try to spell it on my own before looking it up.

But I'll ALWAYS confirm spelling before writing the word down anywhere. I shudder at the thought of putting a misspelling in a chart.

Also? If I ever go back to an old blog post and see a misspelled word that somehow slipped past spellcheck, I die a little inside. Even if I know it was only a typo, I am mortally embarassed by it.

So how happy was I Friday night, after settling down with the remote and a glass of wine, to find the Scripps National Spelling Bee on TV? Wicked happy.

On the edge of my seat I was, my fingers flying on the keyboard after hearing the word.

"Definition please?"

And I'd adjust my spelling accordingly.

"Language of origin."

More adjustments if necessary.

"Can you use it in a sentence please?"

And me, jumping up and down, pointing at the computer screen when I got a word right.

I only got a few right. But coming close even made me giddy.

And when that girl won?

Clapping and cheering. That was me.

She totally would have kicked my ass.

I love the fact that I found the best video of the Bee on ESPN. I couldn't embed it, so here's the link .

In case you actually clicked over; aren't these the coolest kids ever? My favorite is the girl who when given the definition to her word replied; "That's boring." What a hot shit.

And here, the proud winner.

I wonder if she's read Bee Season yet. It is one of my favorites. And now I'm off to dig it out of a box, as I find myself wanting to read it again.


  1. i remember reading Bee Season and was reminded how much i loved words. i almost went to a spelling bee, but the teachers thought i wasn't good enough because i wasn't part of the honor roll. they sent THAT kid and he lost *smirk*

    from SITS :)

  2. Ah....that's it!

    I have been wondering why I identify with you so strongly...and that's it. I was that spelling freak, too. I thought there had to be more drawing me to your blog than your humor and your uncanny ability to effectively use the word fuck without it being gratuitous!

    On a related note~ I married a spelling idiot. I love him but the man can't spell 'dog'. We're forever fucked trying to spell things to keep them from our son b/c I am basically spelling while hubby sounds it out. The school years will be interesting b/c once our boys can spell and read, I have to find a new way to communicate with the hubs.

  3. I am also mortified when I read my typos. I am too lazy to do spellcheck each time and I type crazy fast so I really should use it. I love words, too.

  4. I used to be a good speller. When I was in the first grade I was up against all the kids in my school. (Grades 1st-3rd) I was given the word 'once' as in once upon a time, I never stopped to ask for a definition or for them to use it in a sentence. I just knew that I wanted to win the spelling bee so bad that the answer was 'wants'. I spelled "WANTS" not "once". I was mortified and I landed 4th place. Not a trophy, ribbon or anything. I was sad.

    Then, when I was in the 6th grade I was up against grades 6, 7, and 8. I was given the word "knuckle". I left off the first 'k'. I came in 9th place on that one. Sad, sad, sad.

  5. I freak and shudder when I notice a typo on one of my old posts, or worse comments I've left. ACK.

    Bee Seson is in my top ten.

    The Boy has confirmed for me that he has a photographic memory. I betcha Owen has one too.

  6. See? Missing a comma up there. Fuck a duck.

  7. Manufacturer. That word sunk me in the 6th grade spelling bee. Total mind-fart, left out the "ur" somehow. I was a shy kid, so I'll blame the spotlight. I.Was.Pissed. Still stings a little, since I too was always an excellent speller and voracious reader, and could easily derive meanings to unfamiliar words just by seeing them in context.

  8. The important thing is knowing that you COULD have won!

  9. have you ever see the documentary
    Spell Bound?

  10. I am only ok at spelling so I am sure you could out spell me anyday.

    PS have you seen Bad Mommy around lately? Shouldn't Radio be home by now?

  11. Oh, exactly. Except I always had to win. Always. no one got me down.

    oh, yeah, go me...

  12. I love spelling! I could totally recognise what you were saying. I do worry that my spelling is not always as good in English - but I try to look up words I'm not sure about.

  13. this just pushed you to the top of the 'nerd herd' of people i know.

    just sayin'

    being a nerd is HOT.

  14. THAT'S why I love kids so much! Especially the smart nerdy ones. Last year we watched Scripps and my kids were mesmerized and cheering them on.

    You've seen Akeelah and the Bee? Right?

    I may have misspelled that...

  15. Do you cringe when you read all the misspelled words on my blog? GAH.. I suck, and sometimes blogger spell check DOES NOT SHOW UP.
    Love this post... shows a little more of you ;)

  16. Watch Spellbound. I loved it. Those kids are amazing and the degree of work and commitment they put in to it floored me.

    I won my 3rd grade bee. Flubbed my 4th grade one on "spaghetti", the sight of the popular kids in the front row, whispering as I spelled or attempted to so threw me that I could not function. I cried so hard after it was over, and completely threw every subsequent written qualifier for the sake of my sanity. All those eyes on me, gah. I couldn't handle it.

  17. If you get the chance, you should absolutely see the 25th Putnam County Spelling Bee! I was one of those kids that made it to the regional spelling bee and the characters will both crack you up and jog memories. Maybe a flash or two of your own reflection. The original run had Jesse Tyler Ferguson, of Modern Family fame, inhabiting the best role.

    Great Blog by the way, you are a moving author and an entertaining person!


Use Your Words.