When I was a kid, getting sick and staying home from school wasn't entirely bad.
Sure, you had that trusty box of Kleenex or puke bucket at the ready, but for me, it was a rare opportunity to enjoy the myriad pricing games on The Price is Right or the checkout chaos of Supermarket Sweep. It's obviously not particularly enlightening television, but when you're down and out and half-conscious, the flashing lights and exotic prizes and general mayhem are an appealing distraction.
I was in middle school when the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? phenomenon drew me in, even though at that age, I wasn't much use beyond the softball questions.
In high school, I could usually get home from class in time to watch Jeopardy! and, here and there, started correctly answering tougher and tougher questions (or, I suppose, questioning tougher and tougher answers.)
Yeah, I was a dork growing up.
There's a competitiveness that stems from being the "smart" kid in class, one that intensifies as you gradually become a smaller fish in a bigger pond. It was easy to get locked in as Alex Trebek provided the clues and easier to violate an unspoken agreement with my dad that we wouldn't blurt out an answer until it was revealed. Since it was a naturaland encouragedidentity to slip into early on, it was something to lean on. Sure, I played some sports and had other interests, but I thought of myself as the kid who handed in tests first and still aced them.
That was at the point when you were still just learning, for lack of a better term, stufffacts and figures, names of things, and the building blocks for further education.
Those early-years tests felt a lot like a game show, vying to get the correct answer. (I still flinch over answering in class, not once but twice, that Latvia was where folks spoke Latin.)
In recent years, without cable or an overwhelming desire to find illegal Family Feud recordings, I turned to quiz website Sporcle to get my fix for validation. You can be challenged by the computer (which is essentially trying to score above the average score for that particular game) or can play any quiz straight up. During downtime at home when we're wiling away on our laptops, my fiancée will ask "Are you Sporcling again?" and nine times out of 10, I'm tapping away figuring out where the American states are located without being provided any border outlines or trying to put the events of Toy Story in proper order.
Certainly, a majority of this trivia is trivial while only bits and pieces are things that would have ever come up in a classroom.
We're hearing lately about the importance of keeping an active mind in warding off afflictions like Alzheimer's Disease later in life, and perhaps it's possible to justify using 20 minutes to complete a logic puzzle determining the order in which various Thanksgiving meal items were eaten.
Author Marie Marley wrote on Huffington Post in 2015 that her own experiences volunteering and with her own partner led her to doubt the claims that activities like crossword puzzles could fend off Alzheimer's or slow its development in people already afflicted, though her deeper dive into the research found one sceptical study and nearly a dozen that touted the benefits of puzzles.
But even so, an intense interest in these games with no monetary prize and only a potential health payoff that's (hopefully) decades down the line still feels a little selfish. It's certainly procrastination at some points, but generally feels like more than just that.
In what must have been fate, as I was kicking around the idea for this column, I saw a thread about naturally smart kids from Miami writer Valerie Valdes retweeted into my Twitter timeline and it expressed how I was feeling to a T.
"... Praise is a fleeting high, and when you get too much of it too early, it takes more and more to get your emotional fix. And the older you get, the less praise you probably get, because frankly fewer people give a shit, and just being smart only gets you so far," she wrote on June 7.
That's not to say that I or any other students weren't acknowledged for more than just grades or smarts—hard work and effort were recognized and we were challenged to explain how we got an answer instead of merely stating it. And that's also not to say I feel unappreciated for my work in adult life.
But a growing brain is looking for those quick hits of success and knows the most direct way to get it.
The lesson, I suppose, is to find ways to focus on new things, on learning and curiosity instead of seeking a reward for what I already know.
And maybe that needs to start with getting Netflix to greenlight Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader: 3,000-Word Essay Edition.