Thursday, January 14, 2016
Overcoming Learning Fatigue
Years ago, I remember seeing a Far Side cartoon in which one dismayed student in a high school classroom raised his hand and asked, "May I be excused? My brain is full."
We may be just over the hump for this week's learning extravaganza at SLIG 2016, but my ability to absorb more new information is over. Unfortunately, this is no time to be left with more days than brain cells.
Realizing this dire predicament, I've tried a number of remedies. Coffee was first on the list. (Oddly, sleep came a far distant runner up to this position.) A serious—and equally desperate—carb load followed, making me seem like some 1980s athlete about to undergo endurance trials (hint: raising my coffee cup to my lips is about my most strenuous attempt at curls).
Attempting the good student nutrition route didn't work any better for me. I've had salad, salmon, even broccoli. Yet...nothing. I'm still about to veg out by mid afternoon. Too bad I neglected to bring my swim suit; my more athletically inclined peers—the virtuous health cherubs that they are—seem to have no trouble making it through a full day of learning.
A quick walk in the stiff winter breeze might do the trick, but I'm not very talented at navigating ice patches unscathed. While I'm sure Utah hospitals are among the nation's best, I'm not really considering an extended stay at their stellar medical facilities; I'll confine my walking desperation to the great indoors at the conference hotel.
Whatever shall I do, I wail in my best Southern belle voice. Is there no recourse for someone like me?
Fortunately, among yesterday's sessions were segments presented by CeCe Moore, better known among genealogists as the blogger behind Your Genetic Genealogist, and to the general public as the genetic genealogy researcher behind the magic unfolding regularly at Dr. Henry Louis Gates' PBS series, Finding Your Roots.
Sitting in one of yesterday's DNA classes, while listening to CeCe, two points dawned on me in a visceral way, making me wish I could just jump up and start shouting. (That would have awakened even me—along with a few other classmates.)
The first thing I realized—well, actually knew, but saw again in an even more pronounced way—was that living in this era has gifted us with amazing tools that pull the cover back on age-old mysteries and allow us to see clearly what was there all along, but previously invisible to the unassisted eye. It is like having a sci-fi-worthy magnifying glass which can penetrate deeply beyond the concealing layers of life into the secret cache of research treasure below.
The second point that struck me was that, in that cache of research gold, lies material that is not dead and gone, but still very much alive. In one way, those genes we carry within our own beings are the living tokens of the ancestors we desperately are seeking as the dead people recorded on faded and yellowing documents. Somehow, they still live on, within us. They are what make us what we are. They became us. And now, we can begin to untangle the strands to reveal which ancestors belong to which parts of our family tapestry.
You may be thinking, yeah, I knew that. Ditto. So did I. But it helps to wake up to that fact, once in a while, and claim it as your reality. When you really think about it, it is a reality that can shake you to your very core. It is a powerful realization.
It is, at the very least, a realization tangible enough to jolt this brain-weary student back to intentional consciousness. It's when you are in class to learn stuff that is very much worth learning that that learning fatigue can best be banished.