Friday, May 30, 2008

Spelling bees, words, childish anger, with a bit of art thrown in at the end

This evening, having the terribly exciting life that I do, I am sitting in the dark watching the National Spelling Bee finals. I am having a very good time watching these children spell words that less than one percent of the population (probably) know. The highlight of the evening was the word "numnah" (A pad that goes under the saddle to keep the saddle clean and to cushion the horse's or pony's back), which the young boy thought was numbnut, didn't believe it could be, asked for clarification and got right.

Hey, this is live blogging at its most exciting! There are three kids left. I'm typing during the commercials. Do I feel stupid? No! I haven't been studying etymology for years with a couple of supportive parents at my side (yes, it appears all these children have two parents).

If things had been different for me in pre-adolescence, I could have been one of these kids. Dick doesn't believe that. He says "those kids have IQs of 180!", but I know differently. No, I don't believe I have an IQ that high, but I also do not agree that one needs to in order to spell well. Okay, (in a hushed tone), it's back on!

There's still three kids left. I'm playing along. I got sinicize (even though my spell checker didn't) and I goofed on aptyalism, which has a silent P (oh, that kid is good!)

This is really exciting to me because I am a nerd. I love words. I have always loved words, not necessarily sentences, but just words. I have been told that I could read at the age of two, but no one thought much of it. I still look at words the same way: I love encountering words that I don't know and trying to figure them out. We didn't have the best dictionary in our house when I was a kid. We had a 19th century dictionary, which was beautiful and smelled great, but it was missing many a word.

Cut off mid-thought - it's all over now. Sameer Mishra wins it with two easy words, esclandre and guerdon. Poor Siddharth Chand got prosopopoeia and missed the I, of all the letters to miss, poor boy must have been nervous. I missed the O. He also had the word aptyalism, which has a silent P. He was cheated for he had much harder words, hands down.

For pictures of these kids, click here. They are my heroes for the evening, and perhaps for days to come (though I'm obsessed with Russell Brand at the moment, but more on that in another post).

I suppose I must supply you with the definitions of the winning words:
Esclandre: My spell check doesn't recognize this word, nor does any online dictionary. I found it in a legal dictionary:
[Anglo-French esclandre, from Old French escandle esclandre scandal, from Late Latin scandalum moral stumbling block, disgrace, from Greek skandalon, literally, snare, trap]
1 : defamation of a person by unprivileged oral communication made to a third party
: defamatory oral statements

Guerdon: guer·don (gĂ»rdn)
A reward; recompense.
tr.v. guer·doned, guer·don·ing, guer·dons
To reward.

Prosopopeia (yet another word the spell check thinks is wrong)
1. A figure of speech in which an absent or imaginary person is represented as speaking.
2. See personification.

and lastly:

Aptyalism :
: absence of or deficiency in secretion of saliva

Oh, I forgot:

transitive and intransitive verb
make or become like Chinese: to acquire a Chinese idiom, form, or cultural trait, or give somebody or something a Chinese idiom, form, or cultural trait

Well, now that we've learned words it's doubtful we'll ever use, we can move on. But I'm not entirely moving on, for I'm still stuck on the fact that Dick doesn't believe I could have been one of those kids. Am I insulted? Yes. Is it because he thinks I'm stupid? No. But he doesn't think I'm that smart. Really, this isn't about being smart. It's about being obsessed. Loving words is a hobby like any other. No one thinks a person who has memorized all the baseball stats for the every single world series is a genius, do they? No, they're just an obsessed person, a bit of crackpot who ought to get out more.

Obsession with spelling is the same thing. Sure, some of these kids may know many languages, but learning language, especially while very young, is not difficult. Once you know a few, they start getting easier. As a lover of words, and a kid who refused to use a dictionary until she was totally stumped, I started to see that words had similar beginnings and endings and discovered the concept of derivation. This lead me to try to read French, Italian and Spanish without studying anything. And surprisingly, I discovered I could, though what tense I was reading was always a mystery. I wasn't that self motivated!

When I was in the seventh grade, Latin was offered and I was all excited. Here's where I get whiney about my childhood (as per usual). For some unknown reason, one needed permission from ones parents to study Latin. Why? Did one learn dirty words or something? I have no idea why this was the case and am still pissed off to this day. My mother absolutely refused to sign the permission form for Latin. "Why do you want to learn a dead language", she asked me. I was aghast! My mother loved words, too. She and I used to play "pretend French" where we spoke in words that seemed to be French but had no idea what we were saying. We had a French-English dictionary and sometimes we'd look up the nonsense we'd said and find that some words were indeed real. I learned quite a bit of French this way, and those words are now part of my vocabulary (see? learning foreign language is fun and easy!)

Well, my mother had other plans for me (or rather, for herself, for she didn't make much of a distinction, poor woman). She said, "Don't you want to go to Paris and speak French? Or how about Barcelona, it's a great city! If you knew Spanish, it'd be even better!" No, I wanted to learn Latin and I was disappointed that ancient Greek wasn't on offer, too. They both are in English schools! What's wrong with this country??!!

No, my mother would not sign. So, I picked the most useless language that you could learn without a parental note: Russian. I do not remember cyrillic to this day and only know how to say "put the pencil on the table" and "you go to Siberia". Any other Russian I know comes from reading and watching A Clockwork Orange one too many times.

Urgh. Childhood disappointments. They are many.

Art note: Cy Twombly "Roman Notes IV" 1970 Lithograph 34.1x27.4 Currently being offered at auction in France. Estimated price: $50,000

I like Cy Twombly. The first time I saw one of his paintings, at the Museum of Modern Art, I believe, I fell in love. It was a bewildering experience, for I had no idea why I felt this way. I still do not. I do not understand abstract expressionism intellectually. It's a wonder I went to art school. I have no words to express my feelings about Twombly. I'm just like any imbecile who says, "I may not know a thing about art, but I know what I like." Now, most folks who say this are referring to someone like Norman Rockwell (no offense to those who do, or go ahead and take offense, for I am a snob and don't give a toss, really).

I react to art in exactly the same manner that I react to music (though I actually may know more about music). I have to feel it in my gut. It's visceral. I can not like something because it's "important". I can appreciate something because it has had an impact on what was to come or how people see (or hear) things or because it's making a good statement, but I don't really care for such things. I find most installation and conceptual work a complete sham. If you've something political to say, write it down or run for office.

Let me tell you this: I dropped out of art school because of this kind of thing. I was consistently being told that my art work was facile but lacked meaning. I liked to draw. I loved the beauty of a good line. I enjoyed still life and nudes; I strived to capture as much as possible with the least amount of fuss. Sketching, to me, was a dirty word.

I also liked to draw tools, for they had interesting shapes. I was also told, over and over again, that I was mimicking Jim Dine. The truth is, I didn't know who he was! Finally, I saw his work and was shattered: it was true, though completely innocent. My paintings looked like near-duplicates of his.

So, I was pushed. Do something that expresses your self, I was told.

I had some boxes of plaster impregnated bandage (I have no idea why). So, one day I took them and made a mold of my tenement bathroom. After it dried, I took a box cutter and cut it into manageable sizes and dragged them into my studio at school. "Ah", said my instructor, "Now you're getting somewhere." Utter bullshit, thought I. I was just messing about.

It made me quite angry, really. So, I decided to push it. I called a friend with a camera and asked him to stand in front of the school. I also asked him to clear the sidewalk. This was 23rd Street in New York City so that was no mean feat, but he did it.
Then, I threw the bunch of plaster bathroom crap out of the window of School of Visual Art's 7th floor studio.

My instructor was in heaven. I then ran down the stairs with two buckets of paint. I poured red paint on the mess. Cllck. Click. Cameras taking pictures. Artist at work! I poured black paint on the mess. More pictures. A crowd!

Then I threw the lot in the dumpster and went home.

At the end of the semester we had a review of work. I took the contact sheet pictures and cut them up. Then, I pinned all the pictures of the "event" around the huge room. The students gazed upon them, walking in awed silence. I sat there, dressed in my pre-goth finery, probably staring at the floor with a look of utter disdain on my face. I was asked questions, many of them, to which I said "no comment".

I got an A+ from the instructor who thought I had a promising career as a performance or installation artist. Fat chance. I quit school on the spot. I can not tolerate bullshit. This is why I am a complete failure.

Now, spelling words is an honest thing to do. You are either right or you are wrong. End of story.


Field Trip Lady said...

Hi, thanks for the post for all of us logophiles.
I'm curious if you realize that you spelled aptyalism 3 different ways in the post, and to be honest, since I can't find it in my dictionary, I'm not sure of the correct spelling.

I also want to put in a plug for the Russian language. Although I'm sure you would have learned a lot from the denied Latin course, it sounds as though you've already got a handle on the Latin languages. Russian, however, is much harder to just "pick up" randomly, and I think if you had learned it under different circumstances, you might have really enjoyed it. It is also the 5th most spoken language in the world, so not totally useless.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post. I had just caught the end of the spelling bee, and I was attempting with little success to find a definition for "esclandre," a word I was intrigued by. "Prosopopoeia" didn't stump me, though, as it is too close to "onomatopoeia," another of my favorite words. I felt badly for the boy who missed it. I'm sure he was disappointed.

Julie H. Rose said...

Thanks, field trip lady! I know I spelled aptyalism wrong once (a typo), but I suppose when I went to fix it, I confused myself. I could delete your comment, but I'm not that kind of person (what kind of person would that be?) Oh, a person who can't admit mistakes, I suppose.

I have noticed that my spelling and grammar are getting worse as I get older. It's awful to be losing ones marbles (well, that's not quite the right expression, is it?)

Field Trip Lady said...

Don't feel too badly. I used the word "attackded" earlier this evening, which isn't really a word. I blame lack of sleep rather than age, or at least, I hope that's what it is.

kristenpaine said...

i was amazed by the esclandre word myself and cant seem to find the definition the judges described on the show.