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I used to be smart. What happened?

August 2, 2008

I used to know a lot of important stuff and a lot more unimportant, unrelated bits of information that I’m sure will not come in handy to anyone, except if you are a game show guest or writing a novel. 

I used to be smart, but one day I was watching Cash Cab, a tv reality game show.  The fares answer questions for money while riding to their destination somewhere in mid-Manhattan.  I read the newspapers. I watch the 7 o’clock news.  I pay attention to Jay Leno’s monologues to be up on the really important highlights of the day.  But I miss half Ben Bailey’s questions.

In college, I entered trivia contests and believe it or not…won.  I won geography contests…this makes my husband roll over in laughter.  I won spelling bees, but now I have trouble remembering how to spell hors d’oeuvre.  Gee, that word will forever look like it is spelled wrong.

In high school my friends actually thought I was cerebral.  I liked talking about literature and cut my teeth on Sidhartha, Nietzche, and Marxism.  I was enthralled by Machiavelli’s The Prince.  The denial of morality in political affairs and the justification of craft and deceit in pursuing political power came as cerebral jolt to my naive teen outlook of the world.

I used to be smart.  I knew who the 16th president was.  And what year George Washington became president.  I knew how to spell Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and now I have all I can do to pronounce it.  In the years since earning my graduate degree, I began a long, slow slide into a mental lethargy. 

Around age 35 I started teaching college English.  It is then I realized how ignorant I had become.  I entered motherhood a couple of years earlier.  I had traded in my grasp of concepts and thought for expertise in diaper rash, flash cards, and walks in the park. 

I watched as my expensive education became obfuscated by the distraction of babies crying,  mundane chats with neighbors, and house cleaning.   It was like quicksand.  Once I stepped in, it was hard to pull myself out, that is, unless I was Bear Grylls in Man vs. Wild.

I depend on Google to remind me of the details of chronological history, names and dates and have to quickly scour literary SparkNotes.com to jog my memory about plotlines, characters, and themes.  I can still add 2 plus 2.  Thank heaven for small favors. 

As I fast approach my senior years, will I my life be reduced to toggling between watching “Wheel of Fortune” and playing gin rummy?  Will I pick up a Danielle Steele novel instead of a book such as “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch?

What do I attribute my cerebral void?  It isn’t all about aging.  It is about life’s choices.  At the time, I wasn’t aware how my choices would shape my present.  If Dara Torres (42 year old Olympic athlete) can make a comeback on the swimming circuit, I can too, especially now that my children are leaving my home to start their own.  And while I am creating a wish list here, I wouldn’t mind reclaiming my twenty-something body. 

I have a stack of books to read. I have the Internet.  I am ready to become an information junkie.

So, Ben Bailey.  Next time I’m in NYC, I will be looking for your cab.  I’ll be ready for you.


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