Monday, August 13, 2012

Origin Story

Words are pretty fucking great.

I mean look above this. They're totally kicking that kid's ass.

Dumb jokes aside, I digress...

"Swear words are for people not smart enough to think of other words to say."

A Sunday school teacher once told me that.

Sunday school teachers told me a lot of wrong things when I was a child, but that may be the most wrong thing.

Even swear words are kind of amazing.

I was aware of words for the first 11 years of  my life. I mean, I learned to speak, read, and write, but I never gave much thought to them.

I also mispronounced most of them thanks to being born in the deep South.

I said ‘minner’ (rhymes with ‘dinner’) until I was 13 and realized the small fish was actually a minnow.

Then I realized that’s why they named the goddamn boat the SS Minnow on Gilligan’s Island.

This post should be titled Digressions.

Anyway, I finally discovered words through 6th grade vocabulary sentences.

Every week, we had a list of 10 vocabulary words to learn, and part of the process was writing sentences with the words. Everyone, including me, wrote 10 individual sentences every week, and it was pretty boring. One week I decided to connect my sentences into a story.

My teacher, Mrs. Hardin, who I owe a great debt to, loved John Grisham novels. I loved to read as well, and was at an odd point in picking books. I thought I was too old for Goosebumps, and Roald Dahl, so I had started reading Stephen King and R.L. Stein’s teen series of horror novels. So, anyway I was trying to be more “grown-up” in my tastes.

Oh, that’s what adults read: John Grisham!

So, I started reading John Grisham novels…and I didn’t really understand all the law jargon, but I kept reading them BECAUSE I’M MATURE, DANG IT.

So, when I thought of writing a story with my vocabulary sentences, it made sense to write a lawyer story.

After I turned it in, Mrs. Hardin called me to her desk.

“This is very, very good. I like your creativity. Could you read this to the whole class?” she asked me.

“Thank you. Yes, ma’am.”

So I read it for the class. They were less impressed than her, but they still seemed to enjoy it.

Mrs. Hardin ended up calling me out of class 3 more times that day to read it to her other classes.

Kids were asking me if I was going to write another one next week, so I did, and I tried to expound on the original concept. I wrote more than the 10 required sentences, and I began using kids in the 6th grade as characters.

The biggest laugh I’ll probably ever get for any of my writing is the one I got for writing that Patrick Farmer killed Adam Donnelly. That’s great and sad all at the same time.

Every week I’d write a new lawyer drama and read them to all of Mrs. Hardin’s classes.

She kept a log of whose name I had used, and I would have a new batch of names every week until everyone in the 6th grade had been featured in my stories.

The most important thing about all of this was the fact that I learned the importance of editing and proofreading. I would change sentences, add sentences, and change the wording in the middle of reading them.

Mrs. Hardin told me I had a gift with words, which is something I’ll never forget.

Since I was good at word, I began to stalk, hoard, and covet them. I began to explore words beyond our vocabulary book. I wanted to always have the right words to communicate what I saw in the world. It’s a losing battle I’ve been fighting since I was 12.

Sadly, I don’t have any of my lawyer stories anymore, but my mom was cleaning out some folders a few weeks ago and found a story I wrote in the fall of my 7th grade year. I was supposed to write about meeting a historical figure, and for some reason I picked Elvis.

I had a similar experience to 6th grade after writing this story. I was called out of class again, this time by Mrs. Thompson, who I also owe a great debt to.

“I heard that you were quite the storyteller, Mr. Phillips. Would you mind reading this for all the classes tomorrow?” she asked me.

“Sure! Thank you so much.”

“Mrs. Hardin also asked that you read it for the entire 6th grade.”

I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I was going back into Mrs. Hardin’s class to read to the kids a grade below me.

She told them that I’d be a great writer someday, and that they could say they knew me way back when. 

I can never pay those ladies back for what they did for my confidence and how they shaped the next 11 years of my life.

It’s especially nice considering that my story SUCKS.

It’s not even adorably incompetent. It’s bad, but I’m sharing it anyway.

Here’s the vaguely sexist, awkwardly paced, and misformatted mess exactly how I found it:

                                                 ELVIS PRESLEY 

            One night I had a strange dream about Elvis Presley, and it went a little something like this. A bright light flashed and nearly blinded me. I jumped out of bead ready to fight whoever was standing there. There he was with a guitar in his hands and curling his lips, Elvis Presley!
“Thank you, thank you very much,” he mumbled. “Ho-ho-ho-how,” I managed to stammer; “How are you here?” I questioned stupidly. He stared at me with a puzzled look. “I-I-I mean you’re dead.” “I’m not dead” he groaned, “I thought everybody knew that.” “well if you’re not dead where were you?” I asked. “I just went home to hunka hunka Mars” he sighed. “That’s why you don’t trust a woman, Hound Dog. I told Prescilla to tell everyone that,” he moaned.
        “Why did you come back to Earth?” I asked. “ Because I got so lonesome, baby. I got so lonesome I could cry,” he sobbed. I knew just what to do.
First I went and got a car magazine. “Take a look at this,” I said pointing at a new model Cadillac. “Wow,” he whispered in awe. Then I let him listen to some new rock-n-roll. “This Clapton man is a genius,” he complimented.
            After that I asked him, “I’ve always wanted to play the guitar, so could you teach me?” “Sure, Hound Dog,” he answered. I practiced all night long When we got finished the sun began to peak over the horizon. “I guess I need to be heading back to that Heartbreak Hotel in the sky,” he sighed. “Thanks for everything, Hound Dog,” he croaked. “You’re welcome,” I croaked back. “Hey, listen,” he sighed, “ since you’ve been so nice to me I’m going to give you my guitar.” “Really?!” I exclaimed. He gave a nod yes. Another light flashed, and I woke up. I opened my eyes and looked over in the corner, and there was Elvis’ guitar. But that wasn’t the strangest thing that happened that morning. When I was eating breakfast I caught a glimpse at the newspaper. It said: This morning an Elvis impersonator bought a new Cadillac, and then drove it into outer space! I just grinned and shook my head, because I knew it was no impersonator; it was the real person.




All joking aside, let’s look at a few things:

1.) I clearly only knew 2 Elvis songs.

2.) It’s also apparent that my complete knowledge of the man came from Full House. 

Eric Clapton was most definitely popular while Elvis was still alive.

4.) Who the fuck would consider Eric Clapton “new rock-n-roll” in 2001?

5.) I most definitely didn’t know how newspapers work.


Anyway, I wouldn't blame you for thinking that I posted this to be cute, but I really didn't.
I did it because, even though I was the poet laureate of Stevenson Middle School, I still sucked.
It was nice to be reminded that I wasn't the prodigy that I liked to think of my self as in retrospect. It's also nice to see that I've grown a lot since then. 

I still haven't mastered words, and I never will, but they're still amazing to me.

I guess you love what you can't have.

Thank you.


  1. HEY! There's a run-on in that photo. Where's the editor of that advertising campaign? We need to have a talk.