the original kStyle blog.

Friday, June 04, 2004


I'm watching this year's National Spelling Bee on ESPN (finally, something on ESPN that I actually don't mind watching!) I can't help but be struck by the weird majesty of these children: most of them around twel ve years or thirteen old, all of them awkward in all the average ways and in lots of non-average ones too. They're spelling incredibly complicated words I've never heard of, and most of them are either too short or too tall. They look uncomfortable in every way a person can look uncomfortable, which I guess is understandable since they're standing under a thousand lights on national televison spelling five-syllable words that derive from obscure foreign languages.

But as hard as it is sometimes to not look away (their anxiety is painfully palpable to watch), I'm finding myself adoring them. For they are the supreme social misfits, children who have spent years of their lives studying and studying and studying, probably to the exclusion of all else. (See the great documentary "Spellbound" for a really fascinating view of all this.) But as a former twelve year-old social misfit myself, I see a younger version of me in these kids, not because I was a great speller (though I won my school's sixth grade bee) but because I remember feeling the way they probably feel every day: out of place, living basically cerebrally even though their bodily selves are going kind of insane, and trying to figure out that eternal balance between getting 100 on a math test and figuring out whether and why a girl will ever look their way.

I don't know whether or not they see themselves as strange. I'm sure a lot of kids in their schools do. I'm sure they get picked last in gym and sit alone at lunch, most of them. Makes me wonder whether the spelling is the thing that gets them through or the thing that they escape into. Either way, they're kind of marvelous: Nicholas Truelson, with his uncomfortably nasal voice and crooked glasses, barely even paused just now before spelling" sumpsimus," which I've just decided is my new favorite word.


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