Posts Tagged ‘words’

Last Thursday night, I did something I rarely do: tuned into ESPN live online – not to watch the Mavs game, as my husband was doing on the other couch, but to watch the finals of the National Spelling Bee. Although I never came close to winning, I am a proud two-time participant in the Bee, which takes place every Memorial Day week, featuring spellers from around the country (and now, apparently, Canada and several other countries).

I started participating in spelling bees in third grade – the first year I was eligible – and kept it up until eighth grade, the final year of eligibility. That’s right, folks. Six years of spelling, studying, looking up definitions (and pronunciations!) of obscure words, and spelling again. My parents were my patient study partners and coaches (thanks Mom and Dad!), and we spent hours upon hours reviewing those words, on car trips and sitting around the kitchen table, my massive navy blue Merriam-Webster dictionary (itself a school Spelling Bee prize) at the ready. (For the record, I still have that dictionary. We haul it out pretty much every time we play Scrabble.)

I admit I wasn’t quite as hardcore as some of these kids. I never spent eight hours a day studying the etymological roots of words, like the girl who won the Bee the first year I was there. I played flute, and volleyball, and did activities at church, and spent time with my sister and friends – so the Bee was never the only thing in my life. But for six years, it was a pretty important thing. I loved it and I worked hard at it, and it dovetailed nicely with my passion for books.

Of course, a major perk of qualifying for the national bee was traveling to D.C. (for free! Twice!) and spending a whole week sightseeing and hanging out with my family and the other spellers. And on Bee Day that first year, I chatted with the guy sitting next to me for three hours. (We then made utter fools of ourselves singing “American Pie” and “She Moves in Mysterious Ways” with a group of friends at the spellers’ karaoke party, and danced to “Stairway to Heaven” at the spellers’ dance. And then we became pen pals and wrote letters for YEARS.)

The Bee was such a fun thing for me – a chance to prove my mettle, build my confidence, and show I’d learned something from all those hours spent reading and studying. (It also became my local claim to fame – there are still people at my parents’ church who refer to me as “that speller girl.”) Even now, I’ll occasionally run across an obscure word I recognize from those years. And my husband is still so jealous that I’ve been on ESPN.

I don’t always remember to tune in to watch the finals – but when I do, I’m always so impressed by these kids. They have courage and dedication and prodigious memories, and lots of determination and heart. And no matter if they get out in the first round, I’m proud of them for being there. Because I know how it feels to spell a tough word in front of a roomful of people, most of whom are older and better educated than you. I know how it feels to toss off the easier words like they’re nothing, and to shake your head over the totally impossible words and then get them right (and, okay, occasionally miss one). And I know that feeling of triumph – even if all you’re conquering is an oddly arranged group of letters.

I still have my Bee polo shirt somewhere. And when someone asks me how to spell a word at work, or I help my team win a game of Cranium by spelling a tough word (backwards or forwards), I still feel a little glimmer of that triumph.

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Recently, I’ve been corresponding with a reader (hi Allison!), talking about our recent life transitions (we’ve both made cross-country moves in the last year) and our love for children’s/young adult books. She inspired me to pick up a series I hadn’t read in years but remembered enjoying: the Melendy books by Elizabeth Enright, starting with The Saturdays. Not surprisingly, I’m loving them the second time around. (They’ve been recently reissued, but I found old editions of the first three, with the cheesy cover art and the same font I remember from childhood.)

The main reason I love these books is the warmhearted dynamic between the four children – Mona, Rush, Randy (really Miranda, but nobody calls her that) and Oliver, who are smart and kind and funny and endlessly creative. But this time around, I’m also marveling at the writing. Much of it is quite simple, but occasional sentences just take my breath away – some because they capture so exactly the feelings of childhood, and some because they’re simply beautiful.

For the first kind, I love this passage from The Saturdays:

“But being by yourself, all by yourself, in a big city for the first time is like the first time you find you can ride a bicycle or do the dog paddle. The sense of independence is intoxicating.”

And this one, from The Four-Story Mistake:

“There was always a long streak of purple or green at the corner of her mouth because she couldn’t remember not to chew her paintbrush while she was thinking.”

For the second kind, there are all sorts of images, just slipped in here and there – “half a dozen chairs clustered together like people after church,” snowflakes that “glittered like tinsel,” or this whole sentence: “Each day the sun shone, the birds lingered, though the trees were turning, purely out of habit, and their rose and yellow and rust looked strange and beautiful above the brilliant green grass.” Or this one: “The woods were beautiful and mysterious; but suddenly he was cold; he longed for noise and warmth and light.” Such simple words, put simply together, but in lovely, unexpected ways.

I’ll never stop loving children’s books, nor will I ever apologize for it. (To that end, two of my favorite series – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Mother-Daughter Book Club – have new books coming out this year. So excited!)

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other words for rain

“[Alice] listens to the rain hammering on the roof of the tent. Chucking down; raining stair-rods. Presumably the Celts had their own colloquialisms for bad weather. She thinks about all the language that should hang in the air up here, centuries of it, the reverberations of a million exchanges about love and war, birth and death, and what to have for supper.”

~Penelope Lively, Making It Up

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Tim Sensing on preaching, at Highland last night:

“Why does [preaching] matter? It matters because we’re the church, and preaching takes place here, among us.”

Sounds like a simplistic statement, perhaps, but I think there’s something here about identity. Preaching matters to us because of who we are. It matters how the words of God are spoken and interpreted among the people of God. If we base our identity as a people on the word of God, we should be paying careful attention to how that word is disseminated among us. We should pay attention to how we speak it, and how we train people to speak it. The words repeated and whispered and shouted out in our midst will have a powerful shaping effect on who we are.

In other news, this is my last week at the DBMM. Strange to think that by next week this office will belong wholly to my replacement, Mollie. It’s been a wonderful year here, working with some of the best people I’ve ever met. I am leaving to go on to new adventures, and I will miss them, but I am leaving well…with a farewell lunch today, a farewell reception, a good track record work-wise, and wonderful relationships. Can’t ask for a better send-off than that.

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Nouns I love that are also verbs


Can you think of any others?

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Scrabble pillows

My dear friend Jon has a knack for finding the most lovely unexpected things. Check out these wonderful pillows from the Bloomberg offices in London:

Valerie and I had a fabulous time brainstorming what the couches in our Oxford houses (or her house in Abilene, fondly known as House 9) would have said. “Oxford,” “gelato,” “Whitby,” “kebabs,” “travel,” “Blackwells,” “Canterbury,” “Aldates,” “open market”…the list goes on…all the way to Val’s favorite, “talent show extravaganza!” I told her she’d have to have a whole room for that one. 🙂

If I had more than one small loveseat in my small flat, what would I want my couch(es) to say? I think I’d want them to say things like “Dance,” “Live,” “Laugh,” “Joy,” “Hope” and “Friend.” Maybe “Stay” or “Relax” or “Play.” What would your couches say?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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a swirl of words

My life is a swirl of words. Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about sisterhood, success, country music, ballet flats, relationships, best friends, and most recently, my experience acting in a church Passion Play. I’ve been working on that article for quite a while today. And…(drumroll)…I just clicked on the Radiant magazine Web site and saw that my article “In the Presence of a Hero” is up! You can read it here.

It’s been an encouraging week for me as a writer. Yesterday I was notified that this article was accepted, and I also won a free T-shirt for telling the authors of Consider Lily, my most recent read, why I liked the book. (It’s classy, smart and funny – quite different from most chick lit – and it actually has a moral. And the protagonist was an English major!)

I’ve also written emails, of course, and taken notes for a couple of profiles for ACU Today and a recruiting guidebook. And I’ve journaled and talked to friends and dashed off a few thank-you notes. Words…words…words.

I love words, of course. They don’t always love me – sometimes they’re stubborn or elusive or just plain hard to work with. But I’m learning that the secret is to show up at the page or the computer. Having ideas helps, but even if I don’t, the simple act of writing something opens up my fingers and my mind. As Julia Cameron comments, “As we suit up and show up each day at the page or the camera or the easel, we have an ‘eye’ that becomes the ‘I’ present in all that we do.” And inspiration is much more likely to strike if you’re working faithfully.

All that to say – Please read my new article! And have a wonderful weekend filled with sno cones and baseball games and rolled-down windows and all the delights of summer. Cheers!

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