I used to have a spectacular memory. I remembered everything: lists, conversations, details, names, embarrassing stories.

But now I am getting old, and my memory is getting all Swiss-cheese. Proper nouns are the first things that seem to be getting jettisoned. I can’t remember the name of the eldest son of Pandu in the Mahabharata. I can’t remember the name of the character who begins “Anna Karenina” with his very entertaining dream of “tables who are women.” I can’t remember the name of the actress who played Katniss in “The Hunger Games”!

So I am trying to rely on mnemonics, for what little good it will do me.

One is “the house.” Picture the floorplan of the house you grew up in. Now: walk around the house, in your mind. Put something you want to remember in each room. If you go back later (in your mind), you’ll find those things there.

This works pretty well for me (when I remember to do it). My childhood house had a long hallway, with rooms on either side, and I put things in the beds, and in the toilet, and on the sofa in the living room.

Also there’s the Peg Bracken method: flagpole, underwear, tricycle, pig.

A flagpole is vertical, like the number one. Underwear come in pairs, like the number two. Tricycles have three wheels. Pigs have four legs.

So let’s say you want to buy butter, and yogurt, and flour, and ground beef.

The flagpole is flying a flag made of butter. The underwear has a big picture of yogurt on it. There’s a big bag of flour on the tricycle. The pig is eating a big trough full of ground beef.

I’ll stick with the “house” method, thanks.

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

4 Responses to Mnemonics

  1. starproms says:

    Yes the house would work better for me too Loren. You are not alone with the names thing (as you know already). This is something we all struggle with. My ex went out with his friends a couple of weeks ago, for a drink and a get together in the pub. During the evening they struggled to finish a conversation containing name. J told me there was always something one of them couldn’t remember and the others tried to help. For example: Do you remember that film? What was it called? You know the one with ‘what’s his name’ in it. In the end they gave up. The truth is the brain gets full up. There just isn’t any room left in it. That’s my theory anyway.

  2. starproms says:

    ps I use the house thing in a slightly different way. To me the house is a castle, with a flag (of St. George, naturally) flying on the top. That is where I go (in my mind) when I don’t feel well. In there I can recover and get well. I go in there and rest. When I feel a little better, I sit outside the castle walls, in a deckchair facing a medium strength sun. All is perfect in there. Just an aid to recovery. It works for me and I can recommend it.

    • I like that. I have a couple of places I go in my mind too: one is the little grove of apple trees that grew next to my parents’ house. I loved those old apple trees, and sometimes I just go there in my mind and look at them. They make me calm.


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