bunt sign

Thursday, June 1, 2000

Even though I made a big deal about bringing the cable line into my office, most of the time while I'm working the TV set is turned off. If it's on, I don't get much work done. I didn't get much work done today.

I noticed in the listings that ESPN was carrying the final round of the National Spelling Bee, and since that is the arena where I had my brush with fame at the age of thirteen, I thought I'd just turn it on and see what was happening. After I won my modest little regional contest in 1962, there was nowhere to go. I don't know if the national spelling bee wasn't held in those days, or if some competing organization sponsored it, or if Washington was just too far away to send a junior high school student from Santa Rosa. Whatever it was, I had my moment of glory and faded back to obscurity.

Those of us who won our school bees were given lists of words to study, a blue booklet with yellow pages. These were just someone's idea of difficult words to spell, and there was no guarantee that the words in the contest would come from the list. Studying was something I was good at, but the fear of failure was always the best motivator. I'd made the top five in fifth grade and come in second in sixth, so now, as a seventh grader, I put myself under intense pressure to win. And it was exhilarating to win, but the whole process took a psychological toll. I didn't even enter the next year's spelling bee.

The last time I watched the National Spelling Bee, I remember feeling sorry for the kids in it. I thought they were pathetically anal and probably undersocialized. While that might have been true, it's not what I saw in the kids who participated in today's competition. These children were wonderful. I saw determination, humor, intelligence and self-confidence, in degrees I never had at that age. It's a good thing, in other words, I wasn't thrown into the wolves' den. I was a bit too fragile to survive.

On the other hand, even the best of the spellers I watched today would likely have been the first voted off the island in the new CBS series Survivor. If you can't help the group start a fire or catch rats, you could be gone. A weak link is not tolerated, but skills can take a back seat to personality. It's a ruthless competition in which sixteen marooned people depend on each other, right up until the time they're forced to turn on each other.

What a great concept.

When I heard about this show a few months ago I was horrified. But I couldn't keep from watching it. The blending of people of various ages and their different approaches to group dynamics made for interesting theater. There was palpable tension between the youngest members, in their twenties, who seemed to be on the island on a lark, and the older ones, in their sixties and seventies, who wanted to discuss and organize and get down to work. Youth sometimes skated by on physical strength while age was left behind in frustration.

I'll probably watch again next week, just to see how the remaining islanders get along. And, of course, to see who's the next to be dumped.

I have to say, though, that the first member of the Survivor cast to be evicted from the island was very serene about it, and I saw a similar composure among the spellers as they were eliminated. There were few tears shed as the kids trotted off the stage with a sigh and a shake of the head. I was impressed with the poise they showed, on stage in front of television cameras and judges who had the words on a sheet in front of them.

The survivors in this group were the ones who used clues and reasoning to solve the words they didn't know, or were lucky enough to get words they did know. You could see their minds at work, and the joy they brought to the endeavor. I didn't get the feeling that any of them were held back by fear or anxiety. They wanted to win, but the competition itself was more fun for them than it ever was for me, even in victory.

I did some shopping today, but this time it was out of necessity. There was nothing frivolous about what I got, but I had to wonder. Why is it that no matter what I buy, some assembly is required?

plumber's helper

It worked, though, and on the first try, I'm glad to say.

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Latest recommendation:

Kris, Imagepool, May 31, Moving Haze

Congratulations to all the first quarter Diarist Award winners, especially Patrick and Saundra, both of whom have helped and encouraged me in my own modest endeavor.

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