Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Butterscotch Soul

I was about 12 years old the first time I heard the word recalcitrant. I had to look it up.

I won't judge if you had to go Google it yourself just now, but I would like to point out that back when I was 12 one had to store up words requiring definition in one's head until a dictionary could be consulted. Or I guess maybe some people would just ask what something meant, but I was not that sort of kid. I stored puzzling things in my head until I could solve them, preferably in secret so no one would know that I didn't already know what "from the mailman" or "recalcitrant" might mean. Google would have really helped me out back then. 

One more thing I need to point out is how useless it is to tell someone who asks you how to spell a word, to go look it up in the dictionary. I remember my Grade 1 teacher saying that to kids (not me, of course, because I never would have asked) and feeling angry that it was so unfair to say that when obviously you needed to have at least an inkling of how to spell something before you could look it up in the dictionary. One of my earliest subversive acts was helping other kids spell words. Psst, it starts with a C, not an S.

So. Back to age 12. I saved up recalcitrant in my head until I got home, then got out the dictionary - secretly - and looked it up. On the page was one of those uniquely satisfying discoveries that neatly crystallizes something you knew but couldn't quite put your finger on - ah, that was the word I was looking for all along!

The image that sprang to mind was a tub of butterscotch ripple ice cream: a vein of recalcitrance is woven through my soul. 

Someone asked me once, if I could choose any trait of my own to pass on to my kids, what would it be? I said a good sense of humour, because being able to laugh about things has gotten me through so much. That is a solid answer for polite company, and it really is how I feel. But it's also true that I mine that vein of recalcitrance when I need to not just get through, but to get far. Many of my big leaps in life have been fueled by the power of Oh yeah? Just watch me

Recalcitrant not typically being a complimentary term, I've considered revising my initial mental image to something less universally appealing - say, a black licorice ripple - as if in preemptive apology to anyone who happens to look inside my head and find this trait distasteful. Ultimately I decided to stand by butterscotch: not only do I not need to apologize for it but I contend that, if existing in correct proportion and judiciously employed, recalcitrance can be a delicious addition to any personality. 

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