The Memory Project
Off the top of my head, natural (Johnny Ketchum)

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It began with my attempt to remember all five of Kubler-Ross's "stages" to death. Anger, Denial, Bargaining and Acceptance. I could guess at the fifth (sadness? grief? self-pity), could even remember Cliff Gorman acting them out in "All that Jazz" and saying it sounded like a Jewish law firm. But I could not, with any certainty, pull up that fifth stage.

I recalled that it was once said the brain will always forget one thing in a list. But, in recently committing the original "Seven Sisters" schools to memory -- because I could, that's why -- I found a formula that helped me instantly recall the Seven Dwarves without omitting a single one: subcategories. You see, of the Seven Sister schools, two are no longer single-sex institutions. Of the Seven Dwarves, two have names that don't end in "y." When I broke it down that way, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey, Bashful, Doc came tumbling out, almost without pause.

Emboldened, I tried to name all eight Maryland congressional representatives. I came up one short -- and it was one from Baltimore to boot, although not my own. I started to move on to the U.S. Supreme Court, then decided to stop pressing my luck.

The cause of this madness? Galleys. Because whenever I confront page proofs, I feel as if I'm in the latter portion of the Kubler-Ross continuum, working my way to acceptance. This is the book. It cannot be improved upon dramatically. Here are my writing tics, my worst habits, on full view. I have to let it go.

Whenever I hunker down with my own writing, I regret that I read so much trash when I was young. But I don't regret memorizing anything, even the lyrics to "The Flintstones." I think that rote memorization got a bum rap in my youth, and would be glad to have a few more historic dates rattling around in my head. I wish I had been made to learn more poetry by heart, or taught the mathematical tricks used in the Gilbreth household. (Did anyone else notice the death of Ernestine Carey, co-author of Cheaper by the Dozen, a few weeks back?) I wish I knew more mnemonic devices such as HOMES for the five great lakes. I can name the planets of our solar system, but I stumble on the various sentences designed around them. I can't even remember the little bit of historical doggerel that helps you recite a certain section of Baltimore streets in order. Did Eager Chase Biddle? Something like that.

Not to get too meta, but memories about memorization please. Mnemonic devices welcome, along with supportive advice about surviving galleys.

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