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♫“I’m as something as something in something!”♫ Do you recognize the tune? Do you recognize what’s missing?
The syntax is there, but the content is blank. Welcome to my memory. The memory of someone who’ll never grow out of flash cards, for as long as I need to remember, not just structure, but the things that go in it. Whether I’m using them to organize thoughts, or to drill my recalcitrant memory, flash cards are Midge’s little helper. The original flash drive, if you will. Not because a card works like flash memory, but because, like a flash drive, cards are a small, easily-portable way to carry around bits of vital information.
I was a voracious reader in childhood, so I got pretty well acquainted with words, but I’m not a naturally verbal thinker. And, without Google on tap, I’m not detail oriented, either. By the time I reached middle school, memory-work was my nemesis. History class was the worst, because what excites a history teacher is explaining the interplay between events, but inevitably what’s on a history test is dates. Dates. I hate dates. I started forgetting my own birthdate by the time I hit 14. I have a husband who never has to worry if he has forgotten an anniversary – even if I remembered it myself for a change, I couldn’t fault him for forgetting, since I’m the one who usually forgets.
I liked science in high school because science felt like fewer things to remember. You don’t have to remember dates, or quotations, or famous men’s names. Biology comes with a fair amount of memory-work, chemistry with some, physics with the least. It’s not surprising that once I got to college I declared a physics major. When that changed to math, I learned that mathematicians may not have to remember much, but they darn heckin’ better remember it exactly. Good reasoning ability could amount to nothing if you’ve blanked on a vital component in the definition of, say, a “ring”, when “rings” are what you have to reason about. On physics exams, fanciful “definitions” sometimes flew under the radar as long as you otherwise set up the problem right. Not so in math. Flash cards became my friend. Flash cards can’t teach you to reason well, but even a moke like me eventually remembers what she’s supposed to reason about with enough drilling.
Until my shoulder started going and my writing got big, I used little flash cards, a quarter to a half the size of regular index cards. Later, it was full index cards. Index cards are also useful for carrying around an essay before it’s fully organized. You can lay out your essay and “solve” it like a jigsaw puzzle, freeing yourself from the constraint of words’ usual linearity. (You can also stick an index card in the corner of your bathroom mirror, with a note reminding yourself where your shoes are. Yes, I have done this.)
I still have some of my little bundles of flash cards. Some bundles haven’t survived intact and are probably fairly useless, but a fully-intact bundle still comes in handy for reviewing what I once learned. No matter how good you are at fitting ideas together, if you don’t remember what it is you’re supposed to fit together, you’re sunk.
Without flashcards, ♫“I’m as something as something in something!”♫
After enough drilling with those cards, though, even I remember ♫”I’m as corny as Kansas in August!”♫