Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Memory: Mis-reading On Purpose

My memory is an odd thing. Some memories from childhood are clear as a bell to this day, some memories from only a few years ago are absolutely gone. My brothers are often baffled that I remember what I was thinking when I did certain things as a kid. My mom has encouraged me to start writing down certain memories, probably mostly for my family's entertainment. Here's one from when I was in elementary school.

I was a big Calvin & Hobbes fan from an early age. I developed an extensive vocabulary at an early age because of this, though I mis-used words all the time. Also, most of the words didn't lend themselves to my normal everyday topics of conversation, so I would try and recreate the exact context of the strip with someone else so I could use a word like "revoked" and sound smart.

But this story isn't about my vocabulary weirdness, it's about Calvin's green-leaning. Watterson has always included very pro-green messages about pollution and animals and such. This message of recycling, saving water and saving the rainforests was also reinforced by my public elementary school from about 3rd grade on, as I recall. I'm not sure what made me adopt my own conservation mindset, but at that age, the idea that there were bad guys cutting down forests and jerks throwing their trash everywhere, and that we needed to stop them was an easy sell. When I first discovered all the cool animals that lived in South American rainforests, the deal may have been sealed. I loved poison dart frogs and ocelots, so Go Earth! Down with loggers! Down with pollution!

This leads us to some prayer night my folks were having out our house one time. There were a couple other families with us there. There was only one other kid that I remember, a girl about my age, but I didn't know her very well. We all wrote down prayer requests and then passed them to the person next to us, then we went around praying for each one. My request was something about saving the earth. I even included a line from Calvin: "We've only got one Earth, and it's got to last us a while." Well, the lady next to me who had to read my request couldn't read my writing, apparently, because she struggled through it and translated it as "'We've only got one Earth, and it's got to lost us a while.' Well, Lord, you know what he means..." I was really annoyed. My handwriting isn't messy! You really couldn't read "last"? Come on!

So then it was my turn. I held the note of requests that belonged to the girl who was my age. Her handwriting wasn't that great, but it was her spelling that was really awful. We must have been in at least 3rd or 4th grade at that point, and I was (am) quite the spelling snob, so I was even more disgusted by her lack of skill. The trouble was, I could understand her message completely! I deciphered it quite easily. I thought, how can you not read my message, with its perfect spelling, grammar, and punctuation, yet I can decipher this affront to the English language with ease? It didn't seem fair that, in front of the group, I was going to look like the dunce who couldn't spell, whereas this girl was going to look normal. So I did a really jerky thing. I acted like I had to struggle through reading her note for the prayer. I still read it completely and understandably, and didn't add, "Well, Lord, You know what she means...", but I really poured on the pauses and effort in my voice.

Kind of a butt-face.


Nobody said...

I have a couple shameful memories like that which are seared into my memory from that age, but otherwise a lot of my elementary years are a blur.

This recollection of yours seems especially devastating because the only person it hurt was yourself. Surely no one else realized you were being disingenuous but you've had to relive it over and over ever since.

The most embarrassing thing is when I'm reliving an immature moment but it happened yesterday instead of 15 years ago. Ouch!

On the topic of the failure of recent memory, I always embarrass myself in front of my friends when I tell them they must see some movie that's out and they say, "I saw it with you!"

I can never remember who I've seen a particular movie with. I tell myself it's because I see so many, or because I'm so engrossed in the experience, but whether or not that's true it always looks like I'm just a terrible friend.

Ryan said...

Ha, yeah, I've done that too. "Ian, did you ever see Hot Fuzz?" "I was sitting next to you, dude. You wouldn't shut up about the movie for months, and begged me to go." "...Oh yeah! That was awesome, huh?"

Do you ever compulsively revisit embarrassing memories? Sometimes I can't help it, and you'll be able to tell because I'll wince dramatically and seemingly for no reason.

Matt said...

As a terrible speller, I was a bit hesitant to post a comment, but I figured I would embrace it, and post the following in an effort to prove that the ability to communicate doesn't always rely on precision and accuracy.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.

**how ironic...there was a typo in my first comment. /sigh**

Ryan said...


I wonder if it matters whether all the letters are there or not, though? Because the girl from my story (I remember this specifically) added and dropped letters for several words. It's easy to read "leter" as "letter" in context, but does "lteer" read as "letter"?

Nobody said...

Do you ever compulsively revisit embarrassing memories?

There are a couple episodes from my alma mater, circa 2002, in which I really put my foot in my mouth and swallowed it, which I can't shake and, in one case, still feel pretty guilty about.

I have often revisited them but that's partly because they just make a great story. Email me privately if you're not sure what I'm talking about.