Thursday, July 09, 2009


During the summer between seventh and eight grade I went to what I fondly refer to as nerd camp. Imagine a college campus filled to the brim with overachievers from all over the country, all eager and energetic despite the moist heat of July in Pennsylvania. This was bliss. Since my math scores on the SAT weren't high enough to qualify me for any science classes, I signed up for a class on writing. For you see, when I was younger I wanted to be a writer.* This is perhaps the natural inclination of any bookish child. I believe the severely bookish wind up wanting to either create the works that bring them joy or want to surround themselves with the works that bring them joy. This does not necessarily mean that every writer or every librarian was once a severely bookish child, but it's probably more likely than you think.

The woman who taught my course is now a full English professor in her own right, information provided through the divine intervention of Google. My TA, however, seems to have disappeared as all I can remember is that her name was Eliza. Just Eliza. She was barely taller than me, with a slight frame, short brown hair and glasses. I want to add in a bandanna and cargo shorts, but I have a feeling that they've been added to my memory after the fact. Really the only distinguishing feature that my thirteen year-old mind has retained is that she was the first woman I ever met who didn't shave her legs. I remember workshopping an essay with her out in the stairwell during a nightly study hall. Perched on the wide windowsill against the black panes, she pointed out phrases on my looseleaf essay. I have no idea what I wrote or what she said, because it took all my effort not to stare at the long dark hairs on her thin pale legs. I sat across from her on the cool stone steps, nodding where appropriate, marvelling at how she must be either incredibly brave or incredibly crazy. Or so it seemed to my thirteen year-old self.

The only other distinguishing feature of Eliza (though, again, not one that's helpful in tracking her down) that I can recall is her favorite word: sluice. Our teacher asked us all to come up with our favorite word and I can still recall the slight smile on her face as Eliza drew out the sound of the world: "Slluuuuuiicceee". She had to define it for the class and I scribbled it down in the corner of my ever-present notebook. I still haven't forgotten it.

I hadn't really thought of Eliza, her legs, or sluices in years until today, when I came across this article. Here poets were asked their least favorite words. I have to say that I'm not a fan of "pulchritude" (also because I'm fairly certain I would butcher the pronunciation), but am guilty of using "chillax". The words listed in the comments are variously heinous and innocuous. Spatula? Really? I laughed at the continued hatred of moist. A friend of mine cringes terribly at the phrase "moist oyster", which is unfortunate as she lives in New England and cannot conceivably avoid either word.

The word I shared as my favorite all those years ago is, like Eliza's last name, forgotten. Today I am leaning towards inscrutable, but that's apt to change as nothing can have the same staying power as sluice.

*I also wanted to be a nun (wore suits and played guitar as far as I could tell). My father suggested lawyer since "you like arguing with me so much you might as well get paid for it".

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