Reflections: Letters, life lessons and obsessions

Oh, how I miss the smell of library books.


(Photo: Women of Color in Tech/Flickr)

Him: Are you obsessed? Seriously. Are you getting paid to do that?

My significant other asks me these questions whenever he sees me in the zone for hours on end: back pillow, MacBook on lap desk, legs criss-cross applesauce, poor-postured slump, fixated with words on the screen.

My delayed response is usually…

Me: Uhm…maybe. No, not yet. Huh?


I’ve known I was fascinated with words and letters since an early age. I recall a particular experience in second grade that let me know that I may be better with words than I thought. It was a typical sunny morning in November.

I sat attentively as my teacher began writing on the chalkboard in capital letters T-H-A-N-K-S-G-I-V-I-N-G.

She then instructed the class to write as many words as we could using only the letters in the word. It would be a timed exercise and the person with the most words would win a prize.

I picked up my pencil and started the exercise. It was an interesting assignment, and once I got the hang of it, I cultivated a nice little list.

For illustrative purposes, it was something like this:

  • as, at, an, in, kin, tin, gin, sag
  • hang, sank, skin, thank, thanks

Sometime later, after morning recess, my teacher beckoned for me to approach her desk. She handed me my Thanksgiving word list and a handwritten note and instructed me to head to the principal’s office.

I didn’t sweat it, even though I had no clue what the note said. I knew for sure I wasn’t in trouble — teacher’s pets rarely are. I bounced down the steps and over to the main building. I approached the Dutch door that led to the principal’s office and greeted the secretary. She smiled warmly, took the note from my hand and paused. I was then escorted by her and/or some other office staff member to a side room adjacent to the main office. There, I was given a piece of paper and pencil, and asked to do the assignment again.

I gladly obliged, re-did the assignment, and likely added a few extra words to the list (practice makes perfect).

The remixed assignment was completed and I returned to class. It was only later, after sharing the day’s events with my mother, that I understood what happened. It was assumed that I had generated too many words in such a short amount of time and must have cheated off of a peers’ paper. The trip to the side office was to see if I could duplicate my original efforts under close supervision.

All of a sudden I was being nominated to represent the school in local spelling bees. I was no Akilah, but it was a good confidence builder.


I had a similar experience when, during the first week of middle school, I was called to the front of the class by my teacher and asked some questions about what I had written in my journal for the daily warm-up exercise. I don’t recall his questions or my answers, but he immediately sent me to the main office, again with a note. Later that day, a call was made to my mother letting her know I would be re-classified as a gifted student and would have a whole new class schedule by the following week.

College life was more of the same. I started as a Business Administration major and was bombing out pretty badly in the left-brained classes (bombing out for a straight A student=C’s). After two years of falling asleep in Accounting and Math Analysis for Business classes, I was facing Statistics — the thought of which shook me to my core.

Around that time, my Macroeconomics professor stopped me on the way out of class as he returned the day’s pop quiz.

“I don’t know if the numbers are for you, but you write so well. You should consider exploring your writing skills.”

For me, this was the equivalent of a teacher’s note. I figured I’d forgo the embarrassment of having him send me to the registrar and make a decision. I changed my major from Business Administration to English Literature at the end of my second year of college.


After college, when I started adulting, I went on to demonstrate my love for letters and word wizardry on Lingo as seen in this snippet from the show.

Word Nerd for the win!

To this day, I love a good word game and am quick to share a screenshot of my 99-point word score in Scrabble all over the The Gram.

I am grateful to my second grade teacher for the inspiring assignment, to my foundation, Normandie Christian School for the lesson in ethics, and to my mother for all those weekend library trips.

Oh, how I miss the smell of library books.

Until next time…

~i.am.mai (that’s a palindrome)™