Thursday, March 25, 2021

Insults and memories

James P. Gee said, "For humans, memory and retrieval (recall) are closely connected. And retrieval—and the uses we make of what we retrieve—can and does change our memories. Even if a memory was accurate when we originally stored it in our heads, the material we store in our heads does not always stay accurate. In fact, it is often not all that accurate when we originally store it."

This is because our memories are limited and so we're not going to store everything, "only what was salient and relevant to us in the experience.... So, if you and I have had the same experience...we will have different recollections of the event" because "we will each store a highly edited version that includes some things and leaves out others..." (p. 22 of The Anti-education Era).

I think that information is fairly well known. At least, it's an idea I've heard before, but it's always nice to hear experts reiterate something. Today I got to see this play out before my eyes. 

But first a tangent!

Alexander, my sweet baby boy, is now very, very three-years-old, which is rather unfortunate because three-year-olds, as Andrew and I like to say, are the worst. As far as three-year-olds go, Alexander is not so bad, but my sweet, lovable, little shadow has morphed into a rambunctious preschooler who threatens to punch people (?!) and calls them mean names when he doesn't get his own way. As I said, he's actually not so bad as far as three-year-olds go. He works very hard to negotiate life using his big-boy words, but sometimes he's just mean. So we've begun banning words.

When Benjamin was around Alexander's age we had to ban the word "butler" because Benjamin was using it in place of the word "butt," and being plain rude about it.

Alexander knows that words like "idiot" and "stupid" are mean words, so instead of lengthening them (as Benjamin did to ameliorate the word "butt"), Alexander truncated these words to "idi" and "stupey." It kind of caught us off guard at first because he would say, "Dad! You are such a idi!" and we would be like, "Hey! Don't say..." and then realize that he didn't say! At least...not all the way. 

So we've banned "idi."

Not that it really stops him from saying it. It's just added to the list of words he knows are mean. 

The other day he combined the word "idi" with Miriam's name and told her she was such an "idiom," which we thought was hilarious (though we only laughed about it in secret, because we do not call our sisters "idis"). 

He also knows that it bothers me when he calls people mean when they're only...doing their job. For example, if I ask Rachel to help him put his shoes on and he doesn't want her to, she's mean. If I ask him to empty the dishwasher, I'm mean. If Benjamin is helping him make his bed but puts the blankets on in the wrong order, Benjamin's mean. If Andrew asks him to fetch a pair of jammies...mean. See what I mean? 

Calling people mean when they're being mean is one thing. Calling people mean when they're trying to help you or are just reminding you to do the things you're supposed to be doing? Not mean.

So Alexander fixes this by yelling out opposites: "You are such a meanie and a nice-y!"

See? Fixed.

He also calls people "stupey-smart." He has a whole batch of ridiculous, oxymoronic insult-compliments. 

He doesn't really want to be mean, but life is just so darn frustrating sometimes.

Anyway, I wrote about his insult-compliments on Facebook and my sister commented:

Do you remember when you yelled at me that I was so "pertinent" to you?

I of course was antagonizing you and that just made it all the more funny which of course frustrated you more.... I'm glad I'm so pertinent to you to this day.

I do remember that day! But...I remember it completely differently. 

I didn't correct her memory in public because she doesn't love it when I do that. Like, this one time she sent me a picture of my baby (Rachel) and I was like, "Oh, she was so cute!" and then it came out in our conversation that she thought that it was a picture of her baby (Piper) and I was like, "You do know this is Rachel, right?" and she was like, "I don't think so." So I showed her a blog post that contained several images of the same baby in the same outfit in the same location...and all of them were Rachel. 

And then, well, things were tense. And it's possible years elapsed before we spoke again (Months? Definitely. Years? Only possibly). So I wasn't about to correct her memory publicly (especially because I know memories are faulty and mine isn't perfect either...but, honestly, I've been writing about my life since I could hold a I have a bit of a leg up in the memory department because I can always refer back to how I logged the initial memory. Humans are nothing without their tools). 

Anyway, here's how I remember the story:

We were living, at the time, at 49 Deerpath Road, just below the Bow Bottom Trail. I was either 9 or 10, making her 16 or 17. 

(That math took me a ridiculous amount of time to work out, but I know that the year I turned 32 was the year Kelli turned 40 because Alexander was born that year (on her birthday), which means that Abra is 7 years older than me...even though I feel like I've thought my whole life that she was only 6 years older than me (not that it makes a huge amount of difference)).

We were walking down the road, probably between our place and the Franceschi's and Abra was tormenting me about something. She was usually tormenting me about something—what I was wearing, the way I was wearing it, how messy my hair was, the fact that I had dirt under my fingernails, whatever. And I just couldn't take any more of it that day, so I yelled at her, "You are so crucial!"

And then she started teasing me because I'd used the word crucial when what I had meant was cruel, which is true. But, as we say in our family, she should have picked up on my cues. 

I am really pretty good at holding my temper, at being patient, at letting things go. At least in my opinion, but this particular year must have been particularly spicy for me because it's also the year that I yelled, "You're mean!" at my teacher before storming out of the classroom.

In my defense, she was being mean!

We were doing the musical Cats that year and I had landed a speaking role, which I was very excited about (I really liked cats...and Cats). Unfortunately, I also got very, very sick that winter (possibly pneumonia, though we didn't go to the doctor for it?) and I missed a few weeks of school. The whole time I was convalescing I was working on memorizing my lines. I basically had the whole thing memorized. 

When I finally got back to school, my teacher informed me that I'd been relegated to a company role. 

"But I know all my lines!" I protested. 

"But you haven't been here for rehearsals," Mrs. Galeboard (sp?) justifiably pointed out, though we still had weeks to rehearse, which I justifiably pointed out to her. 

"And I was sick," I reminded her. "It isn't as if I was missing rehearsals to do anything fun!"

"That doesn't change the fact that you missed rehearsals."

"But I can learn the part!" I said. "I know I can! I have the whole play memorized!"

"That's wouldn't really be fair to Morgan, though, would it?" my teacher asked, wrapping her arm around Morgan, who, coincidentally, I despised (though I cannot remember if my loathing of her was born before or after this very moment in time). "She has also worked hard to learn these lines."

Fair to Morgan? my mind fumed. Fair to Morgan?! What about me?!

"We can share the part!" I suggested, a last ditch effort, my olive branch. 

The lines were narration (I've rarely been considered animated enough to land an actual speaking part but I have been narrator a lot, a lot, a lot) and could easily be split up, but...

"No," my teacher said firmly. 

She was always firm, cold, uncaring. I truly felt, especially in that moment, but also kind of always, that I hated her. She did not make moving into her classroom in the middle of the year a very comfortable transition. I could bottle things up no longer. Things were going to blow.

"You're mean!" I raged.

And then I stormed out of the classroom to pout (cry) in the cloakroom (which wasn't very far because it was attached to the classroom, it's just a little hallway with hooks for coats, shoe racks for our footwear (Canadian schools required indoor/outdoor footwear when I attended them), and cubbies for our backpacks). 

In the end, she decided that Morgan and I could split the part, after all (it was narration, as I pointed out previously). That whole school (AMC) experience was a mess (it has since been shut down...and is now being used as a charter school), but I did have a good time in the musical, I guess (once I got half of my part back).


Benjamin is 8 (with 9 being just around the corner), which is pretty close to the age I was when I misused the word "crucial," so I asked him if he knew what it meant...and he absolutely did. 

So I guess my vocabulary wasn't very impressive for a 9/10 year old. 

But I'm 100% certain the word I screamed at my sister was "crucial" and not "pertinent" because I remember screaming "crucial" as clearly as I remember screaming "You're mean!" at my teacher.


  1. So I looked those words up and: As adjectives the difference between crucial and pertinent is that crucial is being essential or decisive for determining the outcome or future of something; extremely important while pertinent is important with regard to (a subject or matter); relevant. But they are pretty close in meaning, so I can understand how one's memory might mess with that. Mrs. Gelbord WAS mean, IMO. I was soooooo happy that you told her off! I think I remember telling the principal, Dr. Bienert, not to be confused with the really nice Mr. and Mrs. Bienert at school in HR, that you had told her that and I was glad you did, because she was! Truth.

  2. It's true! They are synonyms, which is why I thought her remembrance was so interesting compared to mine. :) This was also the year I wrote a paper about roaring, boring Alice. I was having a hard time with semantics that year. ;)

    Gelbord. See, I couldn't remember and didn't dig up any old school records to check. Thanks! Remember that time we ran into her at the grocery store? Hahaha! Remember how she snapped at me WHEN WE FIRST MET because I wasn't changing from outdoor to indoor shoes fast enough and she wanted to hustle me down to PE where the rest of the class was? Oi. She made that transition harder than it needed to be, I think.