10 April 2009

I Love Bees

I was in a spelling bee once. I was, I don't know, in the sixth grade, maybe. I did well in my school competition and advanced to the next level. I was pretty excited. I knew I was a good speller, and I thought I might go pretty far.

My mother drove me to a drab municipal building where my English teacher and one of my classmates and I waited in plastic chairs across from three judges. The judges were all elderly women, sitting behind a long wooden table with a printed word list and a portable tape deck. The tape deck was there to record the proceedings and settle any potential disputes.

One of us would stand up, they would read a word, and we would spell it. No audience, no frills--just the words, ma'am.

I went out on "knapsack." I was surprised when they told me I was wrong, because I knew how to spell that word--it's just a silent "k," for crying out loud--and I was sure I had spelled it correctly. I asked the judges to play back the audio tape so I could hear it for myself. I didn't believe I could have misspelled such a simple word.

Well, the three little old ladies had no idea how to use that tape recorder. They must have spent five minutes trying to figure out which button did what, and after they finally managed to stop and rewind the tape, instead of playing it, they recorded over the section we were trying to listen to.

To this day, I have no idea what I actually spelled. Maybe I had a neuron misfire and did, in fact, leave off the first letter in "knapsack." Maybe I was nervous and didn't say it loudly enough for anyone to hear. Maybe I didn't enunciate well.

What bothers me the most--even more than the fact that I didn't win, or that the judges were incompetent, or that my teacher and classmate didn't back me up--is that I don't know what I did that day. I don't know if I made a mistake, and I don't know if I could have avoided it.

I was in a spelling bee once, a long time ago. I've never been in another.



lahosken said...

I made a mistake in my first spelling bee word. (It turned out there was no A in "broth".) The teacher (our first few rounds were in English class) said I shouldn't intentionally mess up just because I didn't want to be in the bee. And he was going to give me another word. I wasn't the first kid to mess up, but none of those other kids got that lecture, that second chance. He was going to bend the rules for me but not for those other kids. I'd already figured out that school wasn't really fair, but I think that was my first inkling that unfairness could work in my favor, if I let it.

Spelling bees: seething dens of favoritism and corruption. And unlicensed brain transfers, sure.

CKL said...

Wait, you can get a license for that? I knew I should have done some more research!