Tagged with " memory"
Dec 14, 2011 - Psychology    4 Comments

No, I will not answer in the form of a question: Reverb Broads 2011 #13

Reverb Broads 2011, December 13: What are three things you are better at than most people? (courtesy of Catie at http://catiecake.wordpress.com/)

I sure wish any of these three things were people skills. I wish these abilities could be leveraged to make the world a better place. But they’re really not. They don’t even make me particularly likable in many circles.

My first superpower is proofreading. I come by this skill genetically; my mom is the Supreme Goddess of All Secretaries. I’ve been proofreading for her since I was eleven years old. I’m also a grammar nazi, the kind of person Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots, and Leaves) calls “a stickler.” And I’ve had a lot of fantastic English and journalism teachers who did unusual things, like make me memorize all the articles* in fifth grade.

I see spelling and punctuation errors like Haley Joel Osment sees dead people: They’re everywhere. Moreover, I usually see these mistakes within about three seconds, even on a full page of text.  Local TV ads, signs in grocery stores, and small-town papers (even large-town papers, more and more) make me flinch instinctively. There have been books (usually paperbacks are worse than hardcovers, for some reason) that I have been unable to finish without a marking pen in hand; my mom and I have both offered to various romance publishers to proofread for free, just to keep ourselves in trashy novels. And every time I let a publication go out that I haven’t given a pass, I inevitably find a dumb error, which really doesn’t help my general control freak-ness.

But if you ever need to hire an editor for something important, even just a résumé or wedding invitation? I’m your girl, and I work cheap.

My second superpower is quiz shows. I’ve written before about my weird feats of memory; in short, I’ve got a mind like a steel trap for trivia, and a sieve for useful things. And I’ve got a knack for abstract thinking — the more oblique the clue, the better. This combination allows me to be good enough at Jeopardy! that I was regularly kicked out of the lounge in my college dorm when it was on, but to graduate a few hundredths of a grade point shy of wearing honor cords. I can solve Wheel of Fortune puzzles without any letters. I’ve been told by more people than I can count on two hands that I would be their lifeline on Millionaire. I deserve Carl Kasell’s voice on my answering machine. I do, in fact, know Jack.

Finally, my third superpower is reading aloud. Frankly, I rock at this. I’ve got some mutant skills in this area: I can read text I’ve never seen before upside-down at full speed, which would make me the Most Popular Children’s Librarian In The World, if I wanted to be. And when I read aloud, I make it a full-on dramatic event. With me, you get different voices, accents, and a panoply of emotions. If it says, “She screamed,” I can make it sound throat-shredding without even getting that loud. If the character has a head cold, ids goig do sound lig id. Glaswegians sound like Glaswegians; goats sound like goats.

I don’t only do this for my kids and their classes at school. I’ve probably read a dozen books (including every word of Harry Potter) and a thousand articles aloud to my husband. Sometimes, as in the case with the Master Li and Number Ten Ox stories, reading them aloud in their entirety is just more coherent than reading out context-less passages every time I laugh aloud (which is almost every page). And sometimes, it’s because I want to fully convey my shock and outrage. He’s very patient with me, and I’d like to think it’s a value-added service.

In short, I’m a pedantic, overly dramatic know-it-all. But I’m the best one you know.

*a, all, an, any, both, each, every, few, many, more, most, no, several, some, that, the, these, this, those, which, and all number words like one, two.

Oct 20, 2011 - Psychology    7 Comments

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Last week we got a letter from Connor’s teacher informing us that he would be receiving an award at the first student assembly of the year, on the 18th, at 1.40 pm.  Since Cam and I are blessed with flexible work schedules, we resolved to be there to witness his always-entertaining surprise and cheer him on.

So, on Monday, Cam picked me up from work at about 12.30; we snarfed down a burrito together by way of a lunch date, then headed over to the school. We breezed in at 1.40 on the nose. I saw one of Connor’s classmates in the hallway, where she hailed me with a big smile: “Hi, Connor’s mom!” (I love it when they call me that.)

“Hi, Lila!” I replied with a big smile of my own. “Why aren’t you in the assembly?” She kept smiling, but she gave me that look — you know the one. The one that says, “And the person I know is actually an alien.” At that moment, the principal came around the corner, saw us, and grinned.

“You’re a day early,” she said.

Honestly, what could we do but laugh? “Better a day early than a day late,” I said, trying desperately not to look as stupid as I felt.

Here’s the thing: I’m smart. I’m not bragging, or saying anyone else isn’t. But I’m pretty clever. I’ll also say that I test well, and I’ve studied a lot of things for a lot of years. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with my capacity to get by in everyday life.

This isn’t a “common sense” issue. As a child, grownups frequently said that I had loads of “book smarts,” but not a lick of “common sense,” whatever that meant. They also said I was “intellectually advanced, but socially backward.” To me, these things now mean that somebody should’ve been screening me for Asperger’s Syndrome as a child. I’m not 100% sure that’s my deal, but those platitudes were used to spackle over a lot of struggles I faced as I tried to interact with a world that didn’t follow the rules I’d been taught or the examples I’d observed.

In the Middle Ages, scholars used a mnemonic device called a “memory palace” to expand their capacity to remember texts in an age before easily duplicable books. I’m in awe of this technique and its users, because I know it’s beyond me. If my memory is a structure, it’s the haunted Victorian house on the hill outside town, its windows broken, shutters hanging by one hinge, siding peeling and falling away where frost and wind have pried stealthily over the seasons. Once, it housed a hoarder of the most random, eccentric sort: she frequented libraries, church rummage sales, abandoned schools, failed campaigns, futile protests, forgotten ancestors, buried archives, ancient cemeteries. There are gestures at organization — rusty file cabinets, ingenious labeling systems, half-implemented folder schemes — but if anything, they may only complicate the process, like removing something from its usual place “for safekeeping,” only to lose it because it’s not where you normally keep it.

The practical results are twofold. The first is the bifurcation of my available memory. I’ve got the usual short-term surface area that everyone’s got, which is pretty much like a very large refrigerator door/corkboard/Post-It wall. Then there’s what I call The Processor. It’s basically deep storage, and if I want something out of it, it works like the old European libraries used to. You have to write down what you want on a little slip of paper, give it to the scowling old lady behind the desk (who’s not at all convinced you deserve to be there at all), and wait patiently for the workers to bring it back from the shelves in their own time, so sit down with your silly pencil and white cotton gloves and shut up, you ungrateful American.

The Processor occasionally results in odd and embarrassing outbursts, as it turns up answers when you least expect them. My poor parents have been experiencing this longest. It usually happens for me with trivial knowledge, though not always, and it’s always something that I immediately know that I know, and feels like it’s on “the tip of my brain” but just can’t come up with. This feeling persists quite strongly for hours, even days, until with what feels like an audible pop, out comes the answer, so forcefully that I have the almost uncontrollable urge to shout it, no matter what’s going on around me.

The second effect of my messy memory palace is this: I’m pretty sure that my brain is at capacity. It can hold no more. If something new wants in, something old has to come out. You can feel it eject, even hear it: poit.

Unfortunately, though, what comes out isn’t always old or useless — it’s frequently the thing that just landed, and as such, might really be important. So, the new pediatrician’s phone number? Oops, there go the 5 things I need from the grocery store. Have to change my email password to meet some new security standard for work? You better hope your birthday isn’t anytime soon, because it just got kicked right out of my mental calendar. No, it’d be nice if I could shed all the words to “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls — I mean, seriously, who’s got the balls to sing THAT at karaoke? Or my high school long-distance boyfriends’ addresses. Or all the lines for the first half of the movie Heathers (but only until after the 1st Heather’s funeral). Nobody needs that stuff.

But that’s not what gets evicted from that creaky, collapsing house on the hill. It hardly matters that fibromyalgia sends banks of fog rolling through like weather systems. And I wish sometimes that one of my sensory things didn’t mean having perfect, focused, vividly visual memories of such a large percentage of my life. If that house has ghosts, those reels play out in the rooms and down the halls at random intervals. Still, like every messy room, every disastrous desk, every once in a while, it yields the most surprising treasures, the most unexpected gems.

Mostly, though, my memory just leaves me kicked out of the room for ruining trivia games, and a day early for school assemblies.