Before we lose it, let's memorise (some) poetry

The hard disk might be getting full


Nivriti Butalia

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Published: Sun 26 Mar 2017, 5:48 PM

Last updated: Sun 26 Mar 2017, 9:52 PM

There was a do at someone's place one of these past evenings when it rained. People were streaming in to the 'house party', toddlers and all. A breeze was blowing and some of us were standing on the balcony swapping ploys on how to remember people's names. There's this familiar drill of mass introductions everyone has to go through when, say, you've walked into a party and there are a number of people sitting around. You've never seen them before. You don't know their names. You maybe don't want to, even. It's awful and pointless because most people's names will slide right out of your head. Unless of course, you're actually paying attention -then it's easier. Hi Gayatri, hi Omar.
Someone said, best thing to do to remember names is ask for their email address. Counter: but that's a bit random, not to forget stinks of 'networking-type-person'. Ask them to spell it, someone else said. A third piped up saying, yea but, how many ways can there be to spell, say, 'Dinesh'? Counter: who knows - maybe there's a numerology angle at play in that spelling, which has caused a double 'n' to follow 'i'.
Till some years ago, before the brain started going to seed, I could remember names easily. It used to give me a kick that I was the family reference resource on what was that cousin called? What was that woman's name who - ? What's so-and-so's dog's name? And pat, I could give it. That doesn't happen anymore. The hard disk might be getting full. Stuff needs to be deleted.
Some weeks ago, I upped my intake of walnuts and blueberries after reading a terrifying account of women in their middle years losing their heads, basically. The writer wrote about a breakdown and working hard to re-train her brain and improve her overall memory by memorising one poem everyday. It sounded sensible to me. So I thought I'd try it. After all, it must do good things to other parts of your head, maybe soul, too - mugging up deep resonate-y lines with great musical words that might return to you when you're looking out of an aircraft window or while blow-drying your hair.
Then there's this lovely TED talk on memory by the journalist Joshua Foer. He talks about the people who he's met with brilliant memories - except that they aren't all that brill; they're just normal memories that have been trained well. He says in the talk, we humans are better at spatial and visual memory. So, if during Earth Hour you switched off and sat in the dark with friends, and if interesting conversations took place, in time, you may not remember the conversation. But you well may remember where person you had that conversation with was standing/ sitting in that candles-and-oil-lamps-and-diffusers-lit room.
I learnt from that talk, that we've got to train our heads better. We've got to feed it with wild, bizarre images, the more outlandish the better. Listen to the talk for the bit he says about a poet in Roman times (ties in with what the woman said about memorising a poem everyday).
In that TED talk, he says, "The idea behind the memory palace is to create this imagined edifice in your mind's eye, and populate it with images of the things that you want to remember - the crazier, weirder, more bizarre, funnier, raunchier, stinkier the image is, the more unforgettable it's likely to be. This is advice that goes back 2,000-plus years to the earliest Latin memory treatises".
As for remembering people's names at parties, I find mentally incanting the person's myself three times - BearRabbit-BearRabbit-BearRabbit, or whatever, usually works. And attach a mental picture. The brain stows it better.

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