Remember Mrs. Mattila? I do, too.

Mrs. Mattila was my 7th grade social studies teacher. She was a compact lady with a round but beakish face. Like an owl! Gah. Been trying to figure out what animal she reminded me of for two decades now. Nailed it. Finally. She went through a stint, or maybe it was always, I don't remember, where she would have a bunch of doozer words written on the white board when we came in to class. "Doozer words", as described by my son's 2nd grade teacher, are words we don't use very often, and because of that, often don't know what they mean. I'm assuming "doozer words" are respective to your age and/or grade level. Since the ones on River's spelling homework the other night were e-he-he-he-zeeee.

I liked that Mrs. Mattila challenged us in that way. She put them up there. She'd ask us if we knew the definitions (we didn't) or could guess (we couldn't, at least not often). If we got it, she'd toss us an entire Hershey's bar. The times a Hershey's bar actually got chucked at a kid were so few and far between, it was just assumed that the chocolate was gray and chalky. We'd sure as hell eat it if we got lucky enough to get one, but the doubt was there ...

I learned the word "palaver" from her white board method. Also, "pontificate" and "epicaricacy" (which is totally a word though blogger here is trying to tell me it isn't with it's stupid red underlining. We live in an age where spelling no longer matters and grammar is tucked up inside the smelly armpit of late night intoxicated slurring! give it up google). 

She'd write. Then we'd talk about it. And thus tonight I say thank you, Mrs. Mattila. You are a substantial historical contributor to why I write the way that I write today. Which is kinda like this (blog) and not at all like this (published).

I don't write stories. Well I do. But I hate them. And so don't finish them.

I don't write poems. Because unless they rhyme, I don't want to read them, let alone write them.

I don't write songs. I HAVE written some songs. And I HAVE gotten drunk enough around a campfire once to sing them in public. Once. But we don't talk about these things.

I write like my 7th grade social studies teacher taught me to write. Put something out there, that may be familiar, may not be, and then let's talk about it. The capacity to write things down, ideas, language, music is like tricking the air. Let me explain.

Before we learned the art of written language, everything was said out loud. Words carried across the air between one mouth to two ears -- multiplied a million times over throughout time. Now how many of those words were lost? How much floated up into the air before it could reach someone's ears? The air got them. But when we began to transcribe our thoughts and our language we actually tricked the air. We hung on to something that it could no longer lay claim to. We claimed it, and then we began to progress much more rapidly as a species.

Good or bad, over-population, environment domination or the iPhone, people have gotten SMRT. Because when we write things down, we can then have conversations about them. And from those conversations, we can write down new things, adapted from that earlier thing. And ultimately, it may take us nowhere beyond just a really fascinating discussion about the brilliance of science food (to be cont'd) but it also might take us to progress. Whatever that may be.

Progress exists even if it's only inside your own head, your mind having noticeably shifted from one place to another within a set amount of time. That could be progress. Unless it's inebriation. Then it's just you progressively more inebriated.

I am so very grateful that I get to write for my job. I get to be more or less my voice (though moderately censored) and write blogs, chat with 46k customers, try to squeeze targeted keywords into 34 characters or less, and conceptualize mass emails with pretty language and snazzy subject lines. I love it.

But I'll admit I want more. I want to reach a larger audience.

I don't write to get likes on facebook. Or to get re-tweeted. But I do write, partially, to get comments. To have a dialogue about something fun, or inspiring, or compleeeetely stupid, or possibly, trend-breaking. And then if that dialogue becomes something that gets fatter and fatter and begins to bust at the seams, then pops out and spills over the waistband and becomes so gigantic, so obvious, so can't-not-talk-about-it-ish, well that there leads to progress. Or again, at the very least, something really fun to write down on a napkin. But where it doesn't go is pfffft, to the air.

The great oral tradition is sacred. It's breathtaking and beautiful. It's like knowing how to read a topographical map even when the GPS is close at hand. It keeps our hearts genuine, our stories constantly evolving and character-rich, and welcomes new voices and old voices. But to keep some of the thoughts that might otherwise escape if left completely to the whims of oration, you gotta write them down.

One day I came into class and the words were on the board. Including this one. lepidopterist

Mrs. Mattila called on me. I had no fucking idea what the answer was. I said "butterfly collector." Then giggled. She raised her pale eyebrows high into her wispy blonde head, extended the dry erase marker in my direction with a knowing point and said "You ... get a Hershey's bar." Then she tossed it to me, like an owl flinging a dead mouse to her owlet. I assume it was tasty, and not gray and chalky. But I honestly don't remember.
This dashing lepidopterist is an installation at the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. Write that down.


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