Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Bifurcating BADGER Tree

by Kerry Blair

I’ve been telling stories since I was old enough to lisp, “I saw a wabbit on Wocking Chaiw Woad!” but I learned to write stories by accident.

Rather, I learned to write because the counselors at my high school filled class schedules alphabetically. By the time they got to me, Blacks, Bellons, and Blairs occupied all the desks in the good classes, leaving us Wolfes, Wilsons, and Wellses with a choice of Journalism or Home Ec. I didn’t want to learn to report any more than I wanted to learn to rip seams or whip eggs. (I like to make up stories, remember? Even then I knew that fiction is frowned upon in journalism -- unless, of course, you’re a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist or presidential press secretary.) But since sewing machines are scarier than typewriters (have you seen those needles?) I took Journalism.

This put me in Room 402 where the BADGER was produced. The staff of the school newspaper was instructed and advised by first-year teacher Marv Abrams, an enthusiastic, idealistic, left-wing liberal. (This in comparison to the rest of the population of Smallville, Arizona where we lived.) The man didn’t even speak English as we knew it. “This,” he said, pointing to a diagram on the chalkboard, “is a bifurcating BADGER tree.” I looked down at my spiral notebook but didn’t take notes. I didn’t know what “bifurcating” meant, but it sounded distasteful if not obscene. “You will develop political efficacy!” he declared. I closed the notebook. I already had zits, I didn’t need a bad case of efficawho on top of them. As soon as class ended I ran to the counselor’s office. Basting seams and/or turkey carcasses was preferable to bifurcating efficacy everywhere.

But I never made the transition from Lois Lane to Suzie Homemaker. (If you don’t believe me, ask my husband. He saw me at a computer just this morning, but he probably can’t remember the last time he saw me at a stove.) I stayed in journalism because A) As I waited to see the counselor I remembered that I love words, and that the man whose class I’d just fled seemed to know an impressively excessive number of them, and B) Home Ec was full. I went back to my seat in Room 402...and stayed there three years.

Turns out I learned a lot of useful stuff along the way to graduation. In the word “fulfill” the fill is full. Philip pines for the Philippines. Get it? I could spell and pronounce “Caribbean” decades before “Pirates” came along to educate the rest of you. I can also pronounce “ayatollah,” but its spelling is a little iffy to me. (Or not. According to my spell check I nailed it on the first try!) Admittedly, the Philippines, the Caribbean, and ayatollahs were as difficult to work into a high school newspaper as they have been into LDS romance novels set in Arizona, so maybe learning to proofread backwards was more efficacious. (My mystery series will make less sense, but it might have fewer typos than Jeff’s.)

The point is that everything I needed to know I learned in high school journalism. And what I really needed to know (aside from how wrong it is to begin a sentence with a conjunction) is that enthusiasm and idealism are contagious. Tree-hugging aside, MEA was the first person I’d ever met who really cared -- cared about his work, cared about the world, cared about “his” kids. By graduation, I still didn’t want to become a journalist, but I did want to become a passionate, devoted world-mover like Mr. Abrams.

If there is a more Herculean or heroic job in the world than teaching, I don’t know what it is. Thank goodness for those who undertake the education of America every day. Thank God (daily, in your prayers) for the gifted, gutsy few who do it with talent, passion, and devotion. They -- more than the politicians, celebrities, and even religious leaders of our time -- shape our future.

So, how does one pay tribute to a loquacious, luminous pedagogue like MEA? I haven’t figured that out yet, but that’s not what this post is about. This is merely a rumination about one of the roads of my youth bifurcating toward a BADGER tree. I took that road and, as Robert Frost will tell you, it has made all the difference


At 7/07/2006 12:17 PM, Anonymous rakrose said...

"So, how does one pay tribute to a loquacious, luminous pedagogue like MEA?"

Make him a character in your novel and then send him a couple of signed copies.

At 7/07/2006 12:54 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Good idea, but I tried that already and the book has yet to be published. I can't even send him the rejected manuscript the way it is, tear-stained and all.

But maybe I could tell him I patterned the madman in my upcoming Nightshade novel after him and send a couple of those...

At 7/08/2006 12:32 PM, Anonymous Scott Blair said...

Having looked up “bifurcate” and both a definition and a pronouncement of “ayatollah” I’m happier. I also found that gives you entries from two different dictionaries, an encyclopedia article, and translations into a bunch of different languages. That made me happy too so I book marked it.

A while back I mentioned to you a bunch of stuff that was in the trunk of my car, you told me that it was everything for a 72 hour kit. Having been taught good things I had unconsciously gathered one. I don’t think I mentioned though that I also had a novel and a dictionary. To whom do I attribute the thinking that put that into my 72 hour kit?

At 7/09/2006 10:01 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

I was sitting benath a tree just the other day when something rather obnoxious dropped onto my shoulder. I now realize I had been bifurcated on by a badger. Yuck!

At 7/10/2006 3:13 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Scot, you can blame your mother for the dictionary and the novel. She would consider them essential to a 72 hour kit. Now that you mention it, I think I'll go add a novel and a pb Book of Mormon to my 72 hour kit. I got stuck in Wyoming during a blizzard once without a book and I swore I'd never let that happen again.

At 7/12/2006 7:34 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

I got stuck in Wyoming during a blizzard once without a book

This is the one benefit to carrying a purse that I've found. Mass market paperbacks fit in them very neatly. Now I can carry a book with me everywhere!

I also keep magazines in my car at all times - for whenever I'm waiting at a light or stuck in traffic or waiting for my son's preschool to be done.


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