Thursday, June 28, 2007

Maybe it ~is~ because of that song!!

When I was in 10th grade, I failed my “Honors English” class and had to attend Summer School. I was going through a “rebellious phase” […that never quite ended ;-) ] and my poor attendance outweighed my high test scores. I was mortified at the time but now I realize that this was the best thing that ever happened to me.

On that first day of Summer School, my teacher Mr. Starr, who was not very pleased with the path I had taken, presented us with a book that was roughly the size and shape of a paperback edition of an unabridged Dictionary. It was a complete overview of practically every English lesson I’d ever had from 1st to 9th grade. He informed us that he was appalled that we had managed to fail a subject based on our native language and that his mission that summer was to ensure that this would never happen again to any of us.

Gone were the hopes of spending my summer days lost in literature and creative writing. Why I was so sure that summer school would resemble Honors English, I do not know. I soon found out how wrong I was when we started with the basics… and I mean basics. On that first day, we covered nouns, verbs and adjectives. The whole thing seemed like a waste of my time at first but I had fun with it and sang quite a few “Schoolhouse Rock” songs to my teacher’s chagrin.

To make a long story longer, I had an epiphany the day Mr. Starr walked into the classroom and wrote the following on the blackboard:

“A woman without her man is an animal.”

This was met by hoots from the boys and a protest from the girls (I’m sure I was one of the loudest) but Mr. Starr was about to change my life…

See, I had always loved to write, but I also hated it (I still do to some extent). My disdain stems from the fact that I have the ~worst~ handwriting in the world (I’m a lefty) and I don’t know how to type… properly. I graduated High School in the late 80’s and our curriculum slipped through the early cracks of the computer age. At the time, I didn’t see a need for me to take a typing class because I had no intention of becoming a secretary and typing was seen as a “vocational” class. As an “honors” student, I wanted to spend my elective credits on Drama classes, not typing… Quite the ironic twist, eh Mr. Starr? ;-) From a very early age, I felt inclined to make attempts at descriptive writing (I smell another blog post for this one) but my hands (and my grasp on language at the time) were nothing but endless sources of frustration…

But I digress…

After Mr. Starr calmed the class down, he explained to us that punctuation is so much more than following rules. Punctuation exists to create comprehension.

You may be thinking, “Well, duh.” But his next action, to me, was profound.

He said, “I am going to make three little movements with this piece of chalk that will change this statement completely.” …Dot…Dot…swish…

When Mr. Starr stepped away from the board, the statement now read:

“A woman: without her, man is an animal.”

I know now that this is an old device and there are many variations of it… but to me, in that moment, it was as if someone had unlocked a door….

I have a tendency to get lost in “existential thought” and that day, my entire brain floated right out the window in contemplation of symbols. The letters of the alphabet are nothing but symbols. Punctuation? Symbols! If taken from an existential point of view, this entire blog is meaningless (and that can betaken in more than one way, judging by my lack of readership) hee hee! ;D

What I mean to say is that the only meaning letters and punctuation have is the meaning that we assign to it. Comedian Steven Wright was pretty popular around the same time this story took place and he summed it up best by saying “Why is the Alphabet in that order? Is it because of that song?”

Taht’s why we can cplmetoley jbulme the ltertes of a wrod and sltil udnrtsenad it as lnog as we keep the frsit and lsat lrtetes the smae.

The fact that this (A) sounds like “ay” or “ah” or ways that I cannot spell out to make you comprehend with out more symbols is truly an amazing thing! Seriously, try to spell out how the letter “A” sounds when used in a word like “flat.” If you didn’t know that, how could you pronounce “ă”?

I find the symbolism of communication utterly fascinating. Thanks Mr. Starr! While I may not recall everything you taught us that summer, I never stopped exploring, I’m constantly rediscovering and I’m learning something new all the time.

More l8ter… ;D