Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Old Grey Brain Just Ain't What it Used to Be

You probably remember memorizing things when you were in school. From times tables to Shakespeare, for those of us in the boomer years, memorizing was commonplace.

These days, schools are not as much into having kids memorize things. I suspect that by the time my youngest grandchild graduates from high school, there may be a law against forced memorization.

I must tell you that I was pretty good at memorizing back in the day. I can still recite "The Swing" by Robert Louis Stevenson word for word. If I remember correctly, I memorized that poem in the first or second grade.

I can also still recite a lot of the Shakespeare quotes I helped my older brother memorize and a lot of other mostly useless other stuff learned in the past.

Almost 30 years ago, I had to memorize tons of material related to my job, under threat of being fired. It's amazing how well you can learn under pressure.

Most people don't know this, but postal workers all over the country once had to memorize what's called a city scheme. The city scheme is a listing of which carrier carries which streets or portions of streets.

In our city, there were about 1,500 separate memory items to learn when I started at the post office here in town. Many were portions of streets carried by more than one carrier.

After we learned all of these memory items, we used the knowledge daily while keying mail moving across the letter sorting machine at a rate of 50 to 60 letters per minute so we really had to know the information.

Different people learned the scheme different ways. Some used mnemonic tricks, making up words using first letters of each street name.

Others, myself included, made up stories about each route. Each story contained the names of each street on the route and references to any specific blocks.

It's funny how the mind works. Over the years, some of those stories have stayed with me better than things I really needed to know.

Fast forward to the here and now. Tomorrow I will take my final test on a city scheme that I'm currently learning - or not learning, as the case may be.

The problem with learning something really well is that it's really hard to unlearn it. The scheme I'm working on is the first one I learned.

I used every trick in the book to learn that scheme. I drove around that part of town on my days off, linking streets together in my mind by their location.

I made up stories and recorded them to listen to on my way to work each night and as I went to sleep each day. Until I began relearning this scheme the new way, I remembered nearly every single street the old way.

Did I mention that I did all of this memorizing while taking care of my three-year-old and infant daughters? My girls are grown now with kids who are older now than they were back then.

The photos at the beginning of this blog are me in elementary school and me with the two girls, around the time I was learning all of that stuff the first time around.

But, to paraphrase a song, the old grey brain just ain't what it used to be. My poor brain is way beyond overload. I've created stories for a few of the routes, but most have too many streets to remember this way.

I've used a few mnemonics, but not many. Mostly, I've just 'thrown cards' during my training time using the case and little computer-generated scheme cards provided.

Near the end of the training time, I got to take two pre-tests. Out of a test deck of 100 random cards, you can only miss five.

That might not sound too hard, but it's tougher than it sounds. Did I mention that as I'm learning this new stuff, I've also been learning new stuff to go with my current job?

So, two failed pre-tests later, I'm hoping that the final test which I'll take later today will bring a passing grade for this old grey brain.

My hat's off to all of the college kids out there who can cram in a single night and pull an 'A' out of the hat. Keep your fingers crossed, say a prayer or wish me luck.

Pass or fail, I'm still the same person now that I'll be after the test is over. Check back in to see what happens and if I pass the test this time.

Until then, I'll take what I can get when I can get it and do the best I can to face each day with a smile on my face, a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart.

Blogging Grandma Sandy signing off for now.

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