Friday, January 13, 2006

Letting it all hang out

I used to try to fake things with my students. Then I realized that I wasn't really fooling anybody much. The revelation came when at the end of a semester, I miscalled a young man whose name I did know; I really did, but I called him Nicholas when his name was Nathanael. The thing I tried to fool people about is that I am really, really bad about remembering names. It's so embarrassing! If somebody suddenly asks me, "What is her name?" my mind will go blank, even if they are asking about my cousin!

I am so bad about names that I get my children's names wrong! You may think I am exaggerating for effect, but people who know me, know better. I often call my daughter by my sister's name. I very often confuse my son with one of my three brothers. When I first started doing this, I was very worried -- Alzheimer's was first in the news, and certainly popped into my mind (well, it would have if I could have remembered the name). But then, I remembered that my parents habitually called whomever was the youngest child at the time the same name as the cat and dog. They were all down there on the floor, after all! They just called my sister and me the same name that combined her name and mine: Barrettsy. That made me worry less.

Then, I noticed some other people who were comfortable with their memory shortcomings. They simply explained it, apologized if it hurt anybody's feelings, and went on. It took me a good while to build up courage to actually come out in my class and just admit that I am lousy with names. I began doing that a while ago. This semester, I did not make the actual admission in so many words, but I got name cards for each student, had them fill them out and also made them promise to sit in the same seats, after signing a seating chart. I decided actual abasement was not necessary, but neither was deception. I'm trying to steer a middle course, somewhere between.

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