Have you ever heard of the Memory Palace? It’s a memory trick to help you remember lists of things or whatever. Here is how it works: first you imagine a place you know well and then associate everything on the list with some place in the memory palace. Then you just walk through the house, mentally, and remember everything on the list.I’ve never tried it before, but it sounds promising, so here goes. I don’t have a palace, so I’m going to the house I grew up in, which is in Grand Falls, Newfoundland. I can picture it perfectly.
Here’s a typical grocery list for us:
- Swiss cheese
- Sandwich meat (ham, turkey)
- Orange juice
- Paper towels
Now, I have to run through this before I go to the store, so I can make sure I remember everything. Try it with me. Are you ready?
I walk into the front door and my sock goes squish in a bowl of lukewarm dairy.
“Who left a bowl of milk on the welcome mat?” I shout. And why aren’t I wearing shoes? I don’t add. That’s not the sort of thing you think of when you walk into a memory palace.
My sister Anna walks in from the kitchen. “Oh, I left that for a stray cat I befriended. I named him Caterwaul.”
“Mom’s allergic to cats!” I shout, suddenly irrationally angry. “And you never knew Caterwaul while we were living in Newfoundland.”
Anna rolls her eyes. “Hey, this isn’t my memory palace.”
I have to continue. I’m leaving for the grocery store in twenty minutes and I have to memorize this list. I walk into the hallway and see a dozen eggs lying on the old-fashioned hot water radiator. They’re all different colors and one of them is growing and sprouting legs. I peer at it closer and closer until it suddenly screams in my face and jumps off the radiator, doing a double back flip.
“Aha!” it yells and starts to fling slice after slice of bread at me. A whole loaf, in fact, while screaming unintelligible words.
“What are you saying?” I ask.
“Russian curse words.”
“I don’t want to buy Russian bread!”
The egg rolls its eyes. “Crybaby,” it mutters. It tries to walk away but steps in a piece of Swiss cheese that is lying in the hall. Its foot gets stuck in a hole and it topples over and rolls slowly away. Its eyes glare at me with every rotation.
I walk into the living room. The TV is having a heated shouting match with the armchair. “You’re a turkey!” the TV shouts.
“What a ham!” the armchair counters.
“You’re a turkey!”
“What a ham!”
“Come over here and say that, butterball!” the TV bellows. “I’ll cut you! I’ll slice you thin and serve you with cranberries.”
“I’d like to see you try it. I’ll smoke you in hickory, you fat swinehock!”I leave them to their argument and walk into the dining room where horror greets me. The table is the site of citric surgery. An orange is lying there, its peel laid open and my older sister Sheila cutting into its flesh with a scalpel.
“No pulp,” she whispers. “No pulp.” Juice covers everything. She looks up suddenly and smiles, then reaches for some paper towel to wipe her hands. “We’re almost out of these.”
“What are you doing?” I practically shout.
She looks at me like I’m crazy. “Nothing.” Then she smiles again. “Want some orange juice?”
Epilogue: I made it to the store and remembered everything I needed to buy. However, I did accidentally swear at the cashier in Russian and fell down in a fetal position when I got to the juice aisle. My conclusion: the memory palace technique works if you think you are strong enough to handle it.