Inanity Verbatim

“He seems to have a problem with remembering and memorizing.”

These are the words that made my parents twitch and fight to stifle an explosion of, “Are you joking?!?”

I was not, to put it delicately, a stellar student. I did fairly well in first and second grade but other than a bizarre hiccup where I made honor roll one year in Junior High, I spend the vast majority of my time in school just trying to play catch-up in the hopes of pulling those C’s and D’s that had appeared on my progress reports up to some more respectable C’s and a few B’s. It wasn’t easy for me, but not because I found the work impossible, but totally uninteresting.

I should clarify here that I LOVE learning. It’ one of my favorite things to do, and when I have a few precious moments to my self, you are more than likely to find me with a book on First World War Artillery pieces, manuals on how to get more out of your table saw or reading up on the best ways to set up an office server with the new operating system that came out last week. I just love knowing… stuff.

The problem is that I love knowing stuff that I feel is important to me and if what a teacher was talking about fell outside that ring, well… in my head, they tended to sound like the adults on the Charlie Brown TV specials.

Teacher: “Wa-waaawa wa-wa-wa waaaaaaaah. Did you understand?”
Me: “Ummmm. Yes?”

Toss in a hearing condition I’ve had all my life and I was pretty much doomed from the get go. What drove my poor parents and the few observant teachers I had batty was that I could dive into something with no academic merit whatever and it would stick to my frontal lobe like warm gum on a sneaker sole. Let me demonstrate.

Mousebatfolicle-Goosecreature-Ampizantz-Bong-Whappcapplet-Looseliver-Vendetta and Prang.

You have to take my word on it, but I just typed that from memory. I may have gotten the spelling wrong here and there but otherwise, I do believe it’s correct. What is it? Easy. It’s the name of a marketing company used in a Monty Python skit. I’ll spare you the details since nothing clears a room faster than a careful recounting or reenacting of a Python skit, but trust me, it’s in there. Not only have I not seen that skit for easily fifteen years, but the name is mentioned only once during the entire thing.

Once!

And yet, it is seared into my brain cells. I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to… which, I must confess, I don’t.

This might sound like fun, but I have the overwhelming feeling that mental garbage like this is the reason that I can’t ever seem to remember to get my car registered on time or when my wife is scheduled to work tomorrow or when in God’s name is my anniversary!

I find it annoying.
Those around me, I believe, have been plotting electroshock treatment.

It’s an interesting way to go through life, to say the least. There are perks. I tend to be the one who people call with nagging trivia questions that are driving them nuts. It can also at times give me the illusion of being smarter than I feel I actually am. Not bad, really. Where it never stood me well, was school. The rigid set-up, the chapters to read, the homework never quite completed and the utter and total lack of classes on Monty Python, made my education mostly an arduous torture. I can clearly remember counting the number on months I had left of my educational experience… when I was in ninth grade. I can actually remember that! See?! But ask me anything about the three years of Latin class and all you’re getting is, “Gallia est in Europa”

The weird thing is, I love history. I love language. I love… well… learning! Just not learning “The System’s” way. This is where my kiddos come in; Short Stack, at the moment, Lulu Belle, possibly later.

They say that the apple doesn’t land far from the tree sometimes and with him… boy! Do they ever have that old chestnut right. Sometimes with pride, sometimes with worry, I see myself reflected in his little three year old actions and ideas. He can’t remember to wash his hands after I’ve drilled him about nine hundred and thirty four times about this, BUT he can remember that there used to be a plant in the window at a friends house. A house we haven’t visited in easily a year. When we went over last week, what were the first words out of his mouth?

“Where’s the plant?”

It wasn’t a big plant. It wasn’t the only plant.

It was the MISSING plant!

+4 points for observation skills, I suppose.

Ok, ok. So the kid’s good at noticing things, (with the obvious exception of his younger sister whom he mows down with startling regularity as he careens around the house like a bat on fire) but that’s just being visually observant. Right?

How about this one:

Mercury
Venus
Earth
Mars
Asteroid Belt

Ceres
Pallas
Vesta
And a bunch of other stuff.

Jupiter
Saturn
Uranus
Neptune
Don’t forget about Pluto
Eris
And a bunch of other stuff…

Not only can he run through this list like it’s nothing, but he can quiz you on what color the various planets are, if they have rings and which ones have moons. He can also tell you them out of order and which ones are next to which. How? Because of this…

Essentially, this is simply the School House Rock of my children’s generation. Think about it. Remove the folksy guitar chords and soft lyrical voices of the seventies, substitute with amps, electric instruments and vocals by They Might Be Giants, and you’ve got it! Learning never looked so fun!

I don’t know what it is about music and cartoons that makes stuff like this stick, but it works! To this day, I can securely say that the only reason I know the preamble to the U.S. Constitution is because of Saturday morning TV. Now, with kids of my own, we don’t have a TV and don’t plan to get one any time soon. School House Rock is still available on DVD or the Internet, but lets be honest, we watch it mostly out of my own need for nostalgia. I subject my children to it from time to time but when it’s done, Short Stack wants me to pop in the “Science is Real” DVD and watch John and John sing about meteorites, the scientific method or how cells grow. You might suggest that it doesn’t mean much to him beyond the fun video and songs, but I’ve already been commissioned by him to construct his own solar system in his bed room and he gleefully points out the different things that are made of cells as we walk to the store. He gets it.

So, why can’t he remember to wash his hands!?!?

Some day, shockingly soon, it will be time for Short Stack to begin his school career and I for one am truly apprehensive. He’s not so good at focusing, following directions isn’t his strong suit and he’s prone to periods of gazing off into space, lost in a world of his own making. Getting good marks is going to be a challenge… unless that is, it’s what he wants to do. For me, it’s like looking into a time machine, except this time around I have red hair and freckles.

It’s going to be interesting. In the mean time, I just hope they come out with a really jazzy way of remembering times tables and parts of speech. If they don’t, I’m just popping in disk one of the complete Monty Python collection. It might not get him a job, but he’ll be able to quite British comedy at length.

In my book, that’s an accomplishment I can be proud of.

That, and I’ll finally have someone to do the Dead Parrot Sketch with.

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10 Responses

  1. I bet I could still tell you the stats on a purple worm.

    Intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic! Lots of interesting science on this – check out Dan Pink’s new book Drive… interesting stuff.

    • Thanks Hans! I’ll look into that. Oddly enough, reading this sort of thing on my own terms is no problem, but just don’t assign it or I won’t go near the thing. …Or is that what the book is about. Wait… Am I trapped in some sort of loop here?

      And I don’t remember for sure, but isn’t a purple worm about 12 HD? 🙂

      -TP

  2. Get him this book, seems right up your (and his) alley. Brill!

  3. Okay, Mavenish bulletpoints before coffee:

    * “Ampizantz” I think that’s actually “Ampersands” (i.e. a “&”).

    * Maeve’s a fiend for the Electric Car video. So many animals to point at and notify us of, so little time.

    * A is Atom, B is for Binary Code, C is for Cell Membrane. Rachel won’t let me read these to Maeve without supervision out of fear for her future social life. http://www.tiffanyard.com/ohCOOL/ABC.htm

    * On books, I’m sure you’ll remember one of Scieszka’s other famous ones, has The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. He’s also done a great one called “Science Verse” which I got for Christmas a few years ago from Rachel.

    * Purple Worms: Much awesomeness can be found in this repost, Top 10 D&D Modules I Found in Storage This Weekend:
    http://www.wired.com/geekdad/tag/top-10-dd-modules/

    Okay, back to lysing my bacteria.

    • Thank you very much for the corrections, Doctor!

      I should also point out in the spirit of full disclosure that The Doctor is the one who sent Short Stack the DVD in the first place. Talk about a win as far as gift going goes! He also sent Lulu Belle building blocks with a mad science theme to them.

      (Message sent here from the Amtrak Train on the way to Boston!)
      -TP

  4. I can relate to soo much from this post 🙂 Kids are really amazing about the obscure details they remember for such long periods of time. Tamara is much the same and I have a feeling she might develop my habbit of noticing obscure details overlooked by “general population”.

    BTW, did you ever notice how bad students had an amazing capacity of remembering sports statistics from decades ago? Well, we had plenty of those. Some time ago I listened to some pupils on the train to work as they discussed one of the computer games – not only where to kill what but also the story and mythological universe of the game, complete with gods, demons, rulers, history etc. Should they have used just a tiny fraction of this passion and capacity for remembering to study, they would have undoubtedly exceled…

    • The sports stats thing has always amazed me, but mostly because I don’t follow sports to any degree. I’m lucking if I know the names of the major teams an d these guys know how many times some obscure player missed a catch or blew his nose. It leaves me utterly puzzled.

      On the other hand, I love obscure minutia. I just prefer mine to be about more worldly or useful things, but I suppose that’s in the eye of the beholder. I have to admit that I view the video game thing on the same level as the sports thing. I’m not a video gamer, so it tends to wash over me and slide off like teflon. The old, written form of gaming like Dungeons and Dragons or Battletech, well… that’s another story entirely. Is it useful in my every day life? Actually, sometimes yes. It’s funny what we mastered as kids that can come back as an oddly useful tool later on. The problem is, we never know what’s a help and what’s a hindrance until it’s played out.
      -TP

      For me, I

  5. A person’s memory is not their own. You can try to remember stuff, but the memory is going to remember what it likes most of the time.

    • Isn’t THAT the truth! The best illustration of that for me is learning another language. I can speak German (badly) but have words which simply refuse to stick no matter how many times I look them up, with after on time of wondering that the word for “steam engine” was, I can tell you that it’s Dampfkraftmachine. GAH! Not so useful in conversation, really.

      -TP

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