Thursday, June 02, 2005

Spelling bee morphs into media darling

Spelling bee morphs into media darling: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. National Spelling Bee, that ultimate anxiety fest for brainy schoolkids, has morphed into a media darling, inspiring a novel, a documentary, a feature film and a Broadway musical."

I remember spelling bees - I remember hating them. I remember standing in front of my middle school English teacher, my friends, and the girl I thought I'd marry and I remember my fingers making figure-eights in my sweaty palms behind my back and waiting for my word. I remember everyone else got the easy words.

As I sit here trying to unlock those suppressed memories, I think spelling bees created my fear of public speaking. It's supposed to be easier to speak in front of your friends and family - bullshit; you have to see and talk to these people afterwards. A kid - too young to appreciate envisioning everyone in the room naked - watching and listening as your friends spell and misspell word after word. You see their struggles, you see how they ignore everyone in the room as they ask the teacher to repeat the word, and then you see them stare at the floor, ceiling, and the room's back wall where his backpack hangs from a hook, anything to avoid looking at everyone else. You see disappointment after your friend misspells a word and then a look of orgasmic peace as he/she walks back to his seat, out of the spotlight. The line in front of the class gets smaller; less faces for the audience to juggle. The audience growing larger with every misspelled word. Your name is called, you step forward and for the next month, you try to spell a single word in front of your friends, scared you won't spell it right and scared you will.

Years after these experiences, I think I should I talk to a shrink. It traumatized me. Standing up there time after time, misspelling these words in front of the only friends I would have for the next half-decade or so, it's no wonder I'm scared to death of being laughed-off stage. I tremble now just at the thought of it while giving some future, random eulogy.

At least during my spelling bee days in elementary and middle school, the teacher's "no, you spelled it wrong" was immediate. There was no pity silence, no forced enjoyment just to last through the remaining speech. At least the ridicule was instantaneous to avoid further embarassment.

Watching the NBA Western Conference finals games on ESPN, I've seen the advertisements for this year's spelling bee. Even those made me uncomfortably nervous, and those were just cut-and-pasted clips from previous competitions. No wonder America has such a fascination with these events - it's a trainwreck. The winner deserves the national attention probably moreso than any other competitor; the losers deserve free therapy.

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