“If we could recall everything, we would be as incapacitated as if we could not recall at all; a condition to remember is that we must forget.” — William James

The mind is a funny place. And it is. A place, that is.

There is this technique called the “memory palace” that can be used to help us store a lot of things inside of our minds. You picture places that look like places you’ve been, where you can tuck away memories, stories, ideas, and many other things. You can use that mental image as sort of a map to hide and retrieve these things.

The Greek poet Simonides created this technique. One evening, moments after leaving a party, he watched the building he’d just exited collapse, crushing everyone inside beyond recognition. He was later able to recall the layout of the entire room and in doing so, the exact location of each person, helping families locate their lost loved ones. Through this tragedy, he discovered that by imagining a physical space, he could carefully arrange images inside of it and remember enormous amounts of information. Also, he probably never went to another party again.

These palaces can be old like that bowling alley you used to go to as a kid. Or they can be sprawling and full of cat hair like your Aunt’s house. Or they can be cozy like your childhood bedroom. Or they can be tidy like your Mom’s kitchen. Someone once stuffed 70,000 digits of pi in their pantry. That’s a lotta pi.

Our memories are pillars on which we base our reality. They help us navigate the world—but sometimes we get stuck inside them. I have many palaces in my head; this is but one of them.

Let’s party.

Photo by Justin Bettman, collage by Vinny DePonto. 

Vinny DePonto in Mindplay at Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Jeff Lorch