Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hang Around for a Bit and Watch Me Lose My Mind

When I was a kid, my sisters and I used to make fun of my mother's habit of mangling names. For example, Bob Burke would be called "Bill Bark" by my mother.

"Bob Burke, Mom!" we would say, laughing and shaking our heads. "Bob Burke!"

What little smarty pants we were. She should have locked us in our rooms overnight with only bread and water until we learned more respect. I know now how disrespectful, how full of sass we were. I know that because my own children are now doing it to me.

And it's not funny being the one who mangles names. I have this uncanny ability to screw up people's names, no matter who they are. Now, when I look in the mirror not only do I see my mother, I now hear her voice. My biggest embarassment is that I often call some ordinary citizen by a celebrity name. So, I now refer to Jennifer Andrews as Julie Andrews. My children howl with laughter, shaking their heads.

They're this close to being locked in their rooms with bread and water.

I've been thinking a lot about why this is happening. Sure, some of it might be age. OK, a little itty, bitty, tiny part might be age. But I think the biggest culprit for me is the number of distractions and my perpetual multitasking.

I worry that this problem will affect the quality of my work. Mangling names in print is a definite no-no, but it's already happened.

I've been doing some research on how the brain functions, and what I can do to get a better handle on my name mangling and forgetfulness. The key is getting rid of a lot of bad habits and honestly, going back to doing some things the way I used to, especially when it comes to doing one thing before moving on to something else. (No more talking on the phone while printing something out and cleaning out my e-mail.)

According to Corinne Gediman and her book, "Brainfit," there are some things I can do every day to make my mind sharper and improve my memory. I'm only going to list five, because until my mind gets clearer, I won't remember to do more than that:

1. Work a jigsaw puzzle. I'm supposed to work it as quickly as possible and then write down how long it takes. In a week, I'll try it again and see if my time has improved.
2. Go to a movie, and then tell someone about it the next day. I'm supposed to provide names of the actors and the general plot. Maybe my bad habit will reverse itself and I'll start calling George Clooney by some average George's name.
3. Take a walk and really observe everything around me. When I get home, I'm going to write down something I had never noticed before, giving as much detail as possible.
4. Do errands without a list. Currently I have notes to myself on every flat surface of my home. I'm going to try to focus on just one shopping trip and remember everything without a list. I'm trying not to panic at the thought.
5. Read something I don't have an interest in. I read a lot already, but there are some things that don't get my interest: my son's car magazine; instructions to any appliance in my home; and a new age book that's very popular right now. I'm going to start reading stuff that I'm inclined to pass by.

Do you feel your memory is getting worse? What do you do to "troubleshoot" memory or concentration problems?



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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What's in a Name?

Penelope Trunk, who was kind enough to blog about my new book, “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy…and How to Avoid Them,” pointed out that while she liked the book, she wondered about the name Bruzzese. “What’s up with her name?” Trunk wondered. “Who has any idea how to pronounce it?” (http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/06/13/workplace-etiquette-and-the-art-of-selling-it/#comments)

“If you want people to talk about the stuff you do, you need a name people can say,” Trunk wrote.

First, let me say that Bruzzese is Italian. There’s been a gradual Americanization since it moved from the old country, but when I took it as my married name more than 20 years ago, I was told that it was said “Brew-ZEES.”

As you can imagine, Trunk’s remarks generated plenty of responses, ranging from the outraged to those who agreed with her. Trunk further explained her thinking, writing that “when your success hinges on people being able to pronounce your name, I think a name might need to serve a different purpose than just cultural identity.”

Trunk’s post really got me start thinking. Did my success hinge on people being able to say my last name? I began paying much more attention to people I was exposed to every day through the media: Anderson Cooper, Barbara Walters, Charles Gibson. But then I also noticed who these people were talking about: Barak Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Renee Zellweger, Martina Navratalova, Rudolph Giuliani and Ellen DeGeneres, to name a few.

So, even though my unpronounceable last name has become a topic of conversation, I understand now that I need not worry. After all, as far as difficult names go, I’m in pretty darn good company.

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