Copyright 2004 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
Crank's Corner February 5,2004
My stepdaughter called the other day, excited about the college
classes she has begun to take. The instructor in her Interpersonal
Communications class had been talking about secrets, and was struggling to
recall a quote by Benjamin Franklin, when Ashley piped up with "Three
may keep a secret, if two of them are dead!", stunning her teacher with her
esoteric knowledge of an obscure quotation. She knew the quotation
because I'd used it in one of my Morse Code necklaces, jewelry I make by
spelling out humorous sayings in dots and dashes, with beads. Ash liked the
saying, and it stuck in her head, ready to pop out when she needed it. This
was a perfect example of what my husband likes to call brain lint.
Have you ever watched Jeopardy, and surprised yourself by knowing
the answer to some odd question about opera or African geography or the
Roman Empire? It was nothing you needed to know, or thought you knew,
or had any use for in your daily life, but there it was, lurking in one of the
dusty wrinkles in your brain. Hubby likes to say that I have a very wrinkly
brain, and it must be true, because I seem to have a greater than ordinary
amount of brain lint. My house has dust bunnies and cat fur everywhere
because I'm not a good housekeeper, and it follows that my brain hasn't been
washed recently, either, and is full of junk that seems useless to most people.
Useless, that is, until you want to be on the winning team in the
Trivial Pursuit game at your family picnic, or you're stumped for the final
two answers on your Sunday crossword, or you've bet your brother ten
bucks that Rod Stewart didn't write the song "The First Cut is the Deepest,"
but you can't remember who did. When those things happen, it's suddenly
"just ask Linda, she'll know!"
I never set out to keep a fund of odd facts stashed in my head; it just
happened, somehow. When I don't know something, I tend to try to look it
up, and I often fall victim to the "things I learned on the way to looking up
other things" syndrome. After a while, I usually forget whatever it was that I
looked up, but I remember the odd thing I learned on the way. For example,
I have no idea what word I was looking for in the dictionary when I learned
that "nargileh" is another word for a hookah or water pipe, derived from the
Persian word for coconut, because that's what they were originally made
from. And knowing that has come in handy at least once since I learned it,
probably for a crossword clue.
Most people actually know more than they think they know, otherwise
Jeopardy wouldn't be such a long-running and popular quiz show. The
trouble is that it's hard for a lot of folks to access their stored knowledge,
because they trip themselves up by thinking they don't know it. They choke
on tests, only to have the answers pop into their heads as soon as they leave
classroom, or they miss a question because they think about it too hard,
instead of going with the first answer that comes to mind. People
underestimate themselves and mistrust "knowledge" that they can't pin down
as having been learned at a specific time and for a specific purpose, treating
it, instead, like the fluff that gets stuck on the screen in the clothes dryer,
something to be wadded up and tossed aside.
I, on the other hand, have a box full of dryer fluff; I've heard that it
can be used for making specialty paper for art projects, or that one can put it
out on the bushes in the springtime, so the birds can use it in their nests.
Chances are that I won't do either of those things, and will just throw the box
away when it gets too full, and start another one. My head is like that box of
fluff, full of brain lint that I might use some day, for some reason. Sure, I
forget things; I don't have anything remotely close to total recall, and even
my wrinkly brain has only so much spare room in it for "unnecessary"
knowledge. I figure that, if I forget something, it's because my brain had to
make room for something else. Besides, I hate dusting, and I enjoy having
some brain lint handy to rely upon, in a pinch.
The nature of brain lint is such that you don't consciously realize that
you know something, until someone asks you a question. The other night, I
wasn't thinking about Buckminster Fuller until the Final Jeopardy answer
was something like "he helped the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary
define the word 'dymaxion'," but, as soon as I heard it, "who was Bucky
Fuller?" floated out from some dim corner. So here are a few bits of
information that don't count as brain lint for me, but that you might find
useful some day, once you forget that you know them: there are three
teaspoons in a tablespoon; fishing for eels is called "sniggling", and antique
cookbooks recommend using a calf's head for bait; a zax is a tool for
trimming and puncturing roofing slates; when Roy Rogers used to record
songs, the name of his back-up band was The Sons of the Pioneers. Don't
try to remember this stuff, because it's not really important. Just let it settle
quietly into the drifts of your brain lint.
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