Sunday, July 03, 2005

spellbound and contest memories

One of the best documentaries I’ve seen is Jeffrey Blitz’s Spellbound – a film I’ve wanted to watch since it was nominated for the 2002 Academy Award for Best Documentary. The film follows 8 young people on their road to the National Spelling Bee, each one struggling with the weight of parental and cultural expectations, as well as the burden of being one of the 9 million competitors in a contest that can have only one winner.

The masterful documentary, more invigorating and involving than the recent spate of reality TV shows, makes no judgments and reveals the very heart and character of the people it follows as they deal with tremendous personal stakes. One of the parents likened the contest to a form of child abuse, and it is evident why. Months are spent in preparation, drilling words at a rate of thousands per day, at 8 to 9 hours each day. By the time the finals in Washington were underway, Nikki and I were emotionally invested, more so than any film we’ve seen so far this year (we were spelling along with the contestants and both got eliminated with “Apocope”). If you can find this, get it. You won’t regret it.

My wife and I are very competitive people, so we ended up laughing and comparing notes about competitions we’ve done somewhat well in when we were younger – all of them seemed to of vast import then, but are just funny trivia now.

Nikki won the Philippine Spelling Bee competition when she was in the 6th grade, while I bowed out during the quarterfinals of the Quiz Bee sometime in elementary school (the question was: “Before money was used, what system did the native Filipinos use?” My answer was “Trade”. The correct answer was “Barter”. I protested in all my high-pitched fervor to no avail). She won the Seventeen Magazine Short Story Writing Contest when she was 14 and was 1st runner-up in Miss CSA in 1986. Me, I won the gold medal for Extemporaneous Speaking in La Salle when I was 10 years old during the year that the deteriorating orbit of the Skylab satellite was a concern (that was the topic I drew). We both won other assorted writing competitions. Later on, I was the first Philippine National Champion for Magic: The Gathering; Nikki was the Finalist (#2) in 1998 and she went on to represent the Philippines in the World Championships in Seattle, along with the National Team. And to this day we continue to take a no-holds-barred attitude when we play against each other in any game.

In the current context of our lives, none of these little awards particularly mean anything, but I think all these contests and competitions helped shaped how we think and respond to the challenges of life, business, parenthood and all that.

My poor daughter is going to have a hell of a time dealing with her "Go!Go!" parents - already, I beam with absurd pride when she comes home with a stamp on her little hand that says "Good Work!".


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