I’m going to make a confession. I suck at spelling. My handwriting is also appalling. I actually flunked handwriting in second grade. I had As and Bs in all my other sections, but yeah, flunking the handwriting. (And I blame those enormous pencils they gave us. Yes, a pencil with a circumference roughly the size of a sequoia in the tiny hands of a second grader. What could possibly go wrong?) I can’t remember if I flunked spelling, but I know I didn’t do well in it.
I bring this up because of Christmas cards. Many years ago, I did the whole sending out Christmas cards thing. I can’t remember how many I would send, but it was a metric crapton. And even though my handwriting is horrible, I would hand-address each envelope, try to write something personal, and then try to sign our names legibly enough so that the recipient wouldn’t spend fifteen minutes saying, “Do you know someone named Marvin Spencer? And his wife is called Squiggly line?”
Over the years, I’ve managed to develop slightly legible writing. I can only do this if I write slowly and use a certain kind of pen. (Pilot V Razor Point Extra Fine) And even then its not actually cursive. I have to use mostly capital letters. Indeed, my “real life” signature is little more than a scrawl, but (at the behest of Maureen McHugh) I created a somewhat good autograph for those four times I’ve needed it. (Okay, that was a little lie. I’ve done a couple of mass autographings over the years. There comes a point after about the 100th book where your name ceases to have meaning. It’s both Zen and terrifying.)
The last couple of years, I haven’t sent cards at all. Not because I didn’t want to, but because there were extenuating circumstances. This year, I was sick for all of December. Last year, I was monumentally depressed. Like a lot of people, the holidays for me are a mixed bag. Also, sending cards always felt filled with an endless opportunity for my sad spelling state to be revealed.
I mention this because for a long time, I was terribly ashamed of my spelling. And indeed, I didn’t know that there are lots of people who are perfectly bright and capable, but who are also shitty spellers. The reason I didn’t know this is because a lot of people who are good spellers think that if you’re a poor speller, you’re a moron. And the Internet has allowed this soft bigotry to multiply.
In fact, good spellers are often quite smug about their spelling despite evidence that good spelling isn’t related to intellect at all. Perhaps I’m resentful because, yeah, I was the kid who was always the first out in spelling bees. (And, oh, the pitying stares. From kids who weren’t at half my advanced reading level and who cheated off me on math tests.)
Over the years, I’ve become a slightly better speller. But I still don’t trust myself. I have first readers for everything because I know I’m going to get stuff wrong. Yes, I’m obsessive about spell checking, but spell checkers are stupid devices. By that I mean they will often make suggestions (or even auto-correct) that aren’t right.
The bitterest irony is that I find I often see spelling errors in other people’s writing. And there have been moments when I’ve judged what they were saying because of misspellings. And how douchey is that?
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m really sorry if you didn’t get a Christmas card from me. But at least you didn’t have to wonder who the hell sent that weird card with the terrible spelling and the mysterious squiggles.