Writing as a measure of mental acuity


Im glad I got a second chanse to be smart becaus I lerned a lot of things that I never even new were in this world and Im grateful that I saw it all for a littel bit. I dont know why Im dumb agen or what I did wrong maybe its becaus I dint try hard enuff. Closing of Flowers for Algernon

A powerful story I read when in high school was Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon. The narrator, who has an intellectual disability, is the subject of an experiment to cure that disability. The cure works - but only temporarily - and by the end of the story, he is back to his original status, but now with an awareness of his limitations.

Charlie’s writing reflects that growth and then decline in his cognitive abilities. Poor spelling and fragmented sentences both begin and end his tale. Keyes's use of the first person narrative to demonstrate Charlie's mental capacities is pure genius - and probably why I remember this story after 50+ years. 

As an English teacher, I tried to remind my students of the “why” of good grammar, spelling, and composition. “You will be a more effective communicator if you write and speak well!” and “People will doubt your intelligence if your communications contain spelling and grammatical errors.” How many kids were persuaded by my “why” arguments and how many just studied subject-verb agreement just to pass the test, I don’t want to know. But I personally believed in my “why” and felt that as a teacher, I had a mission as well as a job.

As I write this, as I write today, as I approach my eighth decade in only a few short months, I wonder if those who read these words may be evaluating my aging intellectual skills. Thankfully spell checkers have become automatic. Grammar checkers fuss at me now and then. AI has somewhat slowed the appearance of aging in writing, just as lane controls and automatic braking has slowed my driving incompetence.

What AI has yet to do is help me maintain the quality of thoughts, depth of my insights, or the originality of my ideas. The content in writing is, after all, what matters. 

As I look back on my writing history of books, articles, and even blog posts, I sometimes surprise myself that it was actually me who wrote that stuff. Some of it is pretty darned good and I wonder if I have the same writing capabilities today. Much of what I wrote about stemmed from real world problems, changes, and challenges in my work as a librarian and technology director. Nothing like writing about a dilemma in order to help clarify one’s own thinking - and having the audacity to believe others might be interested in some of my observations.

My happy retirement world does not present such challenges. The need to get a contractor to finish a siding job on the house does not have the same degree of importance that library budget cuts once had. I can avoid difficult people rather than figure out strategies to deal with them. I’ve not yet found a mission that rivales transforming libraries with technology that once gave me purpose. The gremlin that is my natural inclination to indolence is no longer trapped in his cave.

Perhaps that’s what senility really is: the loss of mental acuity due to lack of use. So, dear readers, if u deetet a slide in my riting, let me no.

For some reason I keep singing in my head Paul Simon’s lyrics Believe we're gliding down the highway, When in fact we're slip slidin' away