Last Monday, I went to the Soggy Doggy Pool Paw-ty at Roosevelt Park Pool. My sons and I found seats on the bleachers to watch dogs jump from diving boards and wade in the kiddie pool. As I sat there, reveling in the wonderous thing it is to be alive and living in Minot, North Dakota at this very moment in time—I was reminded of my lackluster stint on my school’s Spell Bowl team.
During my senior year, my best friend asked me to join Spell Bowl. They were short on participants, and since I’ve always been a bit addicted to joining and participating, I signed up.
Six years earlier I had competed in the fifth-grade spelling bee and been eliminated during the first round. The word was “volcano.” My spelling had only marginally improved since then, but once a week, I stayed after school to spell complicated words. At competitions I was consistently our school’s weakest speller.
If you’re hoping this will be an inspirational story about how I kept showing up and gradually improved—you’re going to be disappointed. I earnestly tried, but my ability never became anything above mediocre.
The moral of this story isn’t about hard-work—it’s about the power of enthusiasm and participation to turn something that sounds lame into something vibrant and wonderful.
On paper, the Spell Bowl team sounded completely lame: Give up 90 minutes each week to sit quietly, while trying to spell difficult words. You’ll wear ill-fitting polo shirts to competitions—no one really knows how old they are. There are no rewards for participating; no extra credit will be given. There are no prizes if your team wins. The bus you’ll take to meets has no air conditioning. Maybe you’ll become a better speller. Maybe not. No guarantees.
Who wants to sign up?
And enough other people to eventually overflow our roster, allowing me to become an alternate. This meant my score only counted if multiple teammates were unable to compete, or in the event of a tie.
Dull description aside, my single season on Spell Bowl is one of the things I remember most fondly about my senior year. Nothing about the experience stands out except how absurd it was that Spell Bowl became something fun, memorable, and in the quirkiest way—even cool.
Based on the description, it shouldn’t have been any of those things—but it was. I joined, because I’m a joiner. I stayed, beyond necessity, because it was an undeniably good time.
Minot is like Spell Bowl in all the best ways.
It might not seem exciting—or even enjoyable—when first described, but because of the genuine enthusiasm, and willingness to participate in the people who live here, it’s something paradoxically lovely. You can’t quite put your finger on why it’s so fun even though it sounded so boring at first. It’s something you’ll come to look forward to, and maybe even want to stay beyond necessity.
Minot continues to remind me that anything is possible when people get excited and are willing to join in. Minot is like an awkward extracurricular activity that becomes memorable in all the right ways when enough people come fully committed, ready for fun.
Let’s not forget that even the most perfect place, the most exciting-sounding event feel utterly awkward if no one shows up, and those who do are overly inhibited. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be at the lame event that turns out awesome, than the awesome event that turns out lame.
In my opinion, a flash mob will always sound embarrassing on paper, but if enough people attend and go all out, it becomes something worth watching. It becomes viral.
That’s Minot. People are excited to be here and the attitude is spreading. This is a community of participators, ready to join in and try. It’s a place where people show up in droves to let their dogs swim in the public pool, walk the annual pumpkin trail, and brave arctic winds to see the town Christmas tree light up. I’m not from around here, but with my addiction to participation—here I’ve hit my stride. These are my people.
Let’s be people who encourage each other to join. Let’s be the best friend with contagious enthusiasm, spreading fun—even in places that sound dull. Let’s keep supporting good ideas, new ventures, and newcomers.
What’s something in Hot Dish Land that you love participating in? What do you love to tell others about? I’d love to hear from you! Join me on Instagram (@amy_allender) or on Facebook (@amyallenderblog).