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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mental Pushups (original title)

Pianta: Reciting the alphabet backwards helps keep the mind sharp

Published 07/18/2013 12:00 AM

As a woman bookended somewhere between a bit beyond middle-age and death, I decided to step outside my familiar, do something really different, reach beyond my boundaries - I taught myself the alphabet backwards.
It took a while and was frustrating at first. ZYXW was pretty easy but once I dug deeper into reverse, I got confused. When I considered the alphabet backward as a single word 26 letters long, I wanted to quit. Maybe if I made a song out of it I thought, until I realized that singing 26 letters beginning with Z and ending in A was a little harder than a solo of M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E.
After many frustrating false starts, hiccups half-way through and restarts, I separated the reversed letters into groups of four; the last had six, and learned them as sets. My brilliant strategy worked. Learning something so familiar in reverse was actually quite easy and filled me with the kind of pride I felt seven years ago after memorizing my locker combination at work.
It was fun teaching myself something which required actual learning, as in study and practice. Exercising my brain is a good thing, it staves off mental-atrophy and I proved to myself I can learn something sort of wacky and cool at the same time. At parties think of how intelligent I'll sound because I can rattle off the alphabet backward. Although at the parties I attend, half the goers doze after dessert; we're not used to being out late.
Years ago I was in the car with my two daughters and my youngest, she was in third grade, started bragging about how smart she was at school that day. So I challenged her horn-blowing, "…but can you say the alphabet backwards?" So she rattled off the whole thing in reverse.
"How did you do that?"
She told me she "saw" the letters backwards. This is a kid who in middle school memorized 201 digits of pi and won an award on pi day, March 14. Now she has one master's degree, a master's certificate and is going back to school for her second masters and best of all she's gainfully employed. For me learning doesn't come quite so easily, but like her, boasting about it does.
Exercising your mind at any age is a good thing and doing mental push-ups at my age is a recommended health regimen. My mother-in-law was a keen thinker and quite astute right up until she passed away at 93. Every time I'd visit her she'd be sitting in her favorite chair with her mean little dog, eating cheese balls and doing word searches. She said she didn't care if anyone liked her dog because she loved him, and he wasn't mean to her, and that at her age she could eat all the cheeses balls she wanted and word searches kept her mind active. She was right and wise.
Shortly after I learned the alphabet backwards my husband and I went to dinner with a couple we've known long enough to be complimentary regarding our accomplishments and accustomed to laughter when communicating our failures. We were sitting at the table talking about safe subjects like politics and religion when I said something like, "...well what do you think of this, zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcba?"
They looked at me like I had grown another head.
"Don't you think that was cool?" I said.
"What was it?" the wife asked.
My husband set his beer down. "It's the alphabet backwards." She's been working on it for days.
"Why?" the other husband asked.
"Well, I thought that teaching myself something that almost everybody else doesn't know is kind of cool."
"Everybody knows the alphabet," he said.
"But do they know it in reverse?"
"Everybody knows the Pledge of Allegiance," he said, "but in reverse it doesn't make sense."
Ah ha, the pledge backward, my next mental health project. Enough said.


1 comment:

  1. A reader shared that she is teaching herself to write with her left hand. That's my next project. I pride myself in my fancy handwriting so it's back to learning all over again.

    My husband is left handed, he says, "There are two kinds of people in the world, those that are left handed and those that want to be."
    Well, I guess he's right...but I'm not going to tell him.