Oil can for the my rusty brain

A short while ago, I wrote a post about feeling my life was lacking in intellectual stimulation.

My formal education ended long ago with a Bachelor’s degree, and while I remain a reader as well as intellectually curious, I could see that in recent times, I was looking more for entertainment than education. I don’t think that was entirely wrong – there are times in my life that I just don’t have it in me for whatever reason, to keep challenging myself. Times when just basically taking care of myself – and dealing with problems du jour or problems l’année – is enough.

I had slowly moved away from self-education. I no longer knew what I knew and what I didn’t. I was aware that math and science were pretty much gone, but overall I had no measuring stick. Was I losing my edge?

I started with taking two online IQ tests. The results of each were very similar – and let’s say I was happy with the number. My wits were still about me. I was going to take a third test to seal the deal, but never quite got to it. Perhaps my gray matter was taxed from all the exertion.

As a book and movie buff, I’m a regular at the library, but I now had a specific mission, and that was to ramp up the difficulty/challenge level of the material.

One of the places I began was a huge SAT book, complete with practice tests. I focused on the tests only – no ” brushing up” or “studying” for me – beginning with the language related tests, which are divided into two areas: Critical Reading and Writing. My scores were fine; Writing was good and Critical Reading was very good. Here’s my “cold test” answer sheet.
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I wasn’t going to even bother with the math, but ultimately tried the math test too, and it was laughable. It’s not that I never did well in math – I did B-student okay – it’s that I quickly saw that the math SAT test was almost entirely based on knowing formulas, and those, save one, are now lost to me. Whereas the math on IQ tests, I realized, is more about reasoning and recognizing patterns – that I can do.

Despite being a lifelong reader, I can’t read as I once did. I’m restless, physically active, and often in motion. When I sit down to read, I’m often distracted; something on the page will start me to thinking, and soon I’m either lost in thought (no longer reading) or hopping up to to go do something. Because of this, I opted to focus more heavily on educational DVDs, choosing topics I knew something about or was genuinely intrigued by. There weren’t going to be no forcing myself into watching The Complete History of Calculus or Nuclear Fission and You (No, these titles don’t exist, at least I don’t think so).

Here’s where I began:P_20150215_151900

I got lucky; there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. I didn’t get around to the LSAT review before it had to be returned (and it’s not like I’m headed to law school; I was just curious what’s on the test), but otherwise I watched them. Some were better than others and I count titles I’d watch again.

I can only gush about the multi-part nine-hour America the Story of Us. The series, had it been on TV when I was a kid, struck me as the sort we’d gather around the TV set to watch. It’s beautiful-looking to start with – what they can do now with film and animation just blows me away. If history had been taught more like this in my time, I might have actually cared. The film relies heavily on riveting reenactments, and highlights historical tidbits I never knew. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the film since my credentials are slim but since it was produced by the History Channel, I generally trusted that they knew their stuff.

Throughout the film, there’s an emphasis on what WE did and how clever and forward-thinking WE were, but I knew they weren’t talking about me. I felt a little guilty sitting in my comfortable chair watching those people take on the British, or lay those ridiculous miles of train tracks linking East to West, or producing goods out the wazoo during WWII, or bringing water to CA through building the seemingly impossible California aqueduct. And all the people who died doing these things, not to mention so much loss of life in so many other ways – loss which would make things better not for those people, but for others to follow. Watching the film, I was struck by how much was accomplished in growing this country in such a short time. It’s boggling.

By the time the film moved to the waves of immigration, it was well along, and it was then, when they specifically mentioned and showed Northern Italians as among those arriving at Ellis Island, that I got emotional. My people had arrived; only now, in however tiny a way, could I feel part of the story.

The film packs a lot in, and can’t cover it all, but my criticism is that it’s too self-praising at the cost of passing over serious problems. The current state of crime, drugs, and race are left out. The issues immigrants and nonwhites face in this supposedly equal and class-less society are short-shrifted. Nonetheless, this is a film I’d watch again.

Memory of the Camps, a PBS film, initially begun but never finished by, surprisingly, Alfred Hitchcock, showed what are likely the most hideous, heinous footage I’ve ever see of the concentration camps. The footage was taken immediately after liberation. It’s shocking, even if you think you’ve seen all this before. I watched because I think it’s important and the discomfort – although that seems too weak a word – it causes me seems small a price. The thing is, this just wasn’t all that long ago, historically speaking. We can’t call it “ancient history” or say “that will never happen again.” Especially when we’ve already got a movement saying it never happened.

I could go on about the various DVDs, but I should probably curb myself for purposes of this post. Let me leave you with the next round I checked out, and the current one:
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I have to say, lastly, two things. One is that I’m feeling a lot sharper, I’m thinking about things. And the second is I’ve noticed WWII comes up frequently, or at least regularly, in my selections; it’s like I keep coming at it from different directions. I think I’ve underestimated its role or place in modern culture/history. I really didn’t know a whole lot about it but I’m paying more attention now that it’s been turning up on the radar. I’m not about to become ANY kind of war buff, but it’s good to fill in blanks in my knowledge.

You know what? This has been kind of exciting for me. It’s good to be back in learning gear.

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8 thoughts on “Oil can for the my rusty brain

  1. Andrew Davis

    Wow. I’m sure in America: The Story of Us they brought up the only way things could have been put together at such a dizzying pace is by the use of slave labor. Many people died, indeed. For my family it was the PBS miniseries back in the 80’s called The Story of English, charting the English language over time, ending with the then current San Fernando Valley girl-speak. I too felt smarter and read more thoughtfully than I do now. I also agree about the elephant dung pile of literature and fiction still being produced on WWII, nostalgic for the last time America could call itself the United States of America, united in a cause, except for that brief period following 9/11. I like your style. Chipping away at history helps me feel closer to my world.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Slave and immigrant labor, absolutely. No surprise in either.

      I am unfamiliar with The Story of English. I am often struck, when watching old movies or even real footage from the past – 30’s, 40’s, 50’s – how different the English sounds from current English.

      I suppose your assessment of the feelings around WWII is right. We are far too divided a country, and the issues are so much more convoluted now, to ever really replicate that time period especially for its single-minded purpose. But then, I don’t necessarily trust how history is presented to me. I could become suspicious of any suggestion that was when this country was at its best and would be an enviable time to return to.

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      1. Andrew Davis

        People used to be more careful with their words. And I believe it runs in tandem with how people used to dress. The more casual in dress we have become the more jocular and flip our language.
        I don’t wish to imply that America was awesome back in the 40’s, but Germany, especially the SS, was a clear enemy this country could agree upon. Admittedly, I am not thrilled with much of my country’s past and present.

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