If you’ve read more than three entries of this blog, or followed me on Twitter for more than a month, you probably know I’m a juggler. I may have cut way, way back on the amount of juggling I actually do these days, but it’s not something I will stop being.
Today I happened across a reminder that World Juggling Day will be this weekend – it’s set for the nearest Saturday to the 17th of June, when the International Juggling Association was founded back in 1947. I don’t know how I’ll be celebrating on Saturday, given the weird state of home life right now (Mrs Dim’s minor stroke last month, and the unexpected arrival of a kitten this weekend), not to mention that it’s also Father’s Day, which may or may not have celebrations of its own.
But thinking about juggling reminded me of a conversation with Mrs Dim. She’s concerned about her short-term memory issues. The docs assure her that the issues themselves are short-term, and it’s very likely she’ll recover full function in a matter of weeks or months. Mrs Dim is nervous, since so much of her job depends on her memory, so she asked me to tutor her in some of the endless memory techniques I keep researching.
And here’s the thing: I keep researching memory techniques because I have a lousy memory for certain things. Star Wars trivia? Not a problem. Appointments? Names? Pet immunisations? All a blank on a regular basis. Mrs Dim thinks my failure to train my memory despite reading all the books I can find on it is because I don’t apply myself. I think it’s because I have a bad memory.
Yes, yes, I know. Almost every book on memory says “Hey, anyone can improve their memory with these simple techniques! Memory is a muscle that must be exercised!” To prove this, there are testimonials from people who had bad memories before, and better ones after. I’m paraphrasing because, naturally, I can’t remember the exact words, or the names of the books.
Let’s take that muscle analogy for a spin, though, shall we?
I have a full set of muscles, and they are entirely adequate. At school, I competed in Sports Day and was unimpressive. I was beaten in races by kids who exercised to the same small degree I did. If I had trained hard, I could have probably beaten THEM, but I would still have come in behind Neil Ricketts, who ran the 100m in 13 seconds. Had he trained extensively? No. He was just naturally built for sprinting. And casual racism, violence, and bullying, but we’re talking about muscles right now.
I’ve taught juggling and circus skills since I was eighteen (and now I’m forty nine or thereabouts). I’ve only met two people in all that time who could not be taught. And it wasn’t that they couldn’t learn, they were choosing NOT to try, or not to listen, or determined to fail. Don’t know why, and after all these years have passed, I don’t much care. But my point is, while everyone can be taught to juggle, not everyone can be great at it. My first juggling partner, Dougie, was a natural juggler. He could watch a trick being done a few times and pretty much nail it on his first go. He learned amazingly fast, but he was lazy and sloppy in other ways. My friend Mike didn’t learn so easily, but put in much more effort, hammering away at each trick until it was right. I’m somewhere in the middle of the two, but hampered by my own demons of apathy and short-term concentration. What was I talking about?
Oh yeah. So anyone can learn to juggle, just like anyone can learn memory techniques. But some people are going to pick up the props (general term for anything you juggle) and get the idea in minutes, while others are going to need days. And some of those others will have to sweat for weeks to get a simple three ball pattern, while others will go onto numbers juggling, or knives (which are actually easy, but don’t let on!) or fire.
So maybe those folks who tried the memory techniques and became memory masters were built that way to begin with. Maybe the folks like me will sweat away at our mnemonics and lists, and visual guides and hooks and only ever be barely adequate. A lot of these memory techniques, I fell, need a good memory to work. It’s easy to say ‘Place your daily appointments along a mental route you travel frequently”, but I don’t remember the route I travel to work every day. I can’t replay it in my mind like a movie. That’s not how my memory works.
People, I think, are good at different things. We can learn new skills, but some people will be better at some things than other people will. We should be ok with that.