In this episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, you’ll learn the connection between Robin Williams and the most unusable Memory Palace in the world.
At least, the most unusable Memory Palace for me. And you’ll hear about why and how I’m trying to change it so that, even if it can’t be used, I can at least reduce the unhappy memories associated with it.
This week’s episode is based on a somewhat crazy email I sent out to Magnetic Memory Method Newsletter subscribers. For these program notes, I’m providing you that letter in its entirety.
What I’m referring to at the beginning of the newsletter doesn’t really matter. Let’s just say I wrote something a bit harsh and some people rightly called me out on it.
But there was madness behind my methods, and so I took the opportunity to explain the context behind the disruption.
And I think it’s a nice way to begin 2015 on a positive note.
Because when you listen to this episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, you’ll find an idea about how to eliminate negative associations you may have with places that you would otherwise find impossible to use for the Method of Loci in a Memory Palace or any other mnemonic technique.
So without further adieu, here is that newsletter:
The following newsletter won’t teach you anything about memory skills.
But it will tell you about the one place that I will never, ever use as a Memory Palace.
If that’s of no interest to you, now would be the best time to stop reading.
If you’re curious, I’ll tell you a little bit about it.
First, though, a note about the message from the day before yesterday. Some people found it cool and said so. Others found it uncool.
And said so.
I’m not going to bandy around the bush with apologies and the like for those who felt offended. I’ll say only that you have a Bipolar operator at the helm of this ship – or at least that’s the label I given me in the Memory Palace I’ll never use.
What does this mean?
It means that when people say that I’m unprofessional …
Not that being professional was ever my intention.
I’m just some dude who writes about memory skills.
The same memory skills that without exaggeration saved my life.
Since Robin Williams died, I’ve been trying to find a way to say something about it.
And what some people considered yesterday’s meltdown (others heroic), finally provides an avenue.
You see, Robin Williams crushed me, and more than a little. Taking his own life crushed a lot of people, but perhaps the Bipolar more than most.
Not that he self-identified. Carrie Fisher, another nut enjoying the all-too brief blasts of sun here at Club Manic, wrote that he doubted he was Bipolar.
Only, the way she recounts it, he doubted it in a rather Bipolar way.
Anyway, Robin Williams factors into the development of the Magnetic Memory Method in an important way. I’ve talked lots about how I discovered Memory Palaces during a deep depression. I’ve share how this lucky enabled me to keep going through grad school and in the end succeed. And it’s an important part of the original of the MMM.
What I haven’t talked about much, if at all, is how this “Bipolar” journey got started in the first place.
In truth, who knows, but in the most evident way, I once upon a time wrote a poem.
A really long poem.
I still have it.
It was even published in a good old fashioned book.
Anyhow, I stayed up for 5 or 6 nights with almost no sleep writing this epic poem. When finished, I ran around campus with an armful of copies and gave it to friends and strangers alike. I also emailed it to all my professors and their teaching assistants.
Some of those professors expressed concern. One of the teaching assistants took it upon himself to catch me after a lecture. I had a face full of tears, beading at the brim from learning a bit too much about Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale.
It’s a beautiful poem.
Enough to tear your soul apart.
If your soul’s Magnetic, that is.
The assistant told me he’d read the poem. He said it was good in parts, but also extremely sexual. And violent.
Of course it is, I told him. I quoted Shelley. “I fall upon the thorns of life. I bleed.” What else did he expect from a young punk stuffing Romantic poetry down his maw like a butcher grinds pork?
The assistant wasn’t buying it. He thought I was sick and drew a map on the pack of this 30 page poem.
A map leading straight to a hospital.
A hospital in which I would remain for 3 months.
And it would have been longer if the doctor hadn’t mentioned the name “Robin Williams.”
I’ll bet it was part of the doctor’s schtick. He said it to everyone who refused to take their meds.
And yet the name that seemed to be little more than a therapeutic tool to this doctor proved useful. It was an extraordinarily persuasive way to convince me to pull out the poetry blocking my throat and start pouring the pills in.
Here’s exactly what he said:
“If Robin Williams had diabetes, do you think he’d refuse to take insulin? The only reason he survives the same condition that you’re in now and has become so successful is because he takes medication. The same medication we’re recommending to you now.”
I remember the scene well. I was high. Superman-high. I had every explanation in the world for why I could see the alphabet in everything. I knew the code that would unify the world if only the city of Toronto would evict its pigeons. I could break apart the number zero itself if only someone would recognize that I was the One.
Stuff like that.
Reams of it.
Scattered over pages.
Streaming from my mouth.
But with the name of Robin Williams in my ear, came the image of reason.
Because as the doctor carried on, his point was that I could still be crazy, and yet be sane.
I didn’t have to lose the energy, the rollercoaster rides along the rails of sloping ideas. And I could do it all without the piercing knife of dark that always landed.
Sooner or later, the knife of depression always returns to your heart. Picks at the front lobes just behind your eyes.
When you’re high, it’s impossible to remember.
When you’re low, it’s impossible to forget.
Well, the good doctor abused the name of Robin Williams that day, but I guess it’s a forgivable sin. I started taking their fancy little pills, after all, and soon after, they let me leave. Leave the one place I’ll never, ever use as a Memory Palace.
You can mark my Magnetic word on that.
Once out, I didn’t return to university for an entire year. I wanted to avoid the shame of seeing those same people before whom I had danced, inviting them to gaze upon the shores here at Club Manic.
But I got myself back on campus. And there I stayed, going up and down and up again. Superman one day, bumbling Clark Kent the next, never knowing when the super powers might return again.
Until I found Memory Palaces and memory techniques.
Mnemonics have never replaced the pills. Mnemonics never will.
But along with a lot of the other things I’ve connected with memory and tell you about from time to time, Memory Palaces provided a system. It’s faulty, as all systems must be from time to time. But it provides a decent set of checks and balances.
But then a week like last week comes along, and it’s hard.
It’s always hard to lose a giant.
A zany giant, but a gentle one.
Deep, deep sadness in his eyes.
Even when smiling.
Of course, none of this is an excuse or an apology for why I sometimes wind up sending weird editions of the Magnetic Memory Newsletter.
But more and more I’ve become outspoken and public about Manic Depression as much as I am about Memory Palaces.
Look, it’s a stupid term.
Not even Jimi Hendrix made it sound convincing. (Sorry, Jimi).
But the fact of the matter is that there are positive and negative ions that flow through the synapses between the neurons in the human brain.
Sometimes these go fast.
Sometimes they go slow.
In some of us, they go way too fast and then too slow.
Sometimes several times in the course of a single day.
And if there is one thing I can do – and am ethically bound to do – it’s to say something about it.
No, Memory Palaces aren’t the cure.
But they are a form of preparation.
As I’ve been reading post after post about Robin Williams, the advice to the afflicted is to “get help.”
Such advice couldn’t be more right and wrong at the same time.
Because when you’re in the high, you don’t need help. And you make sure everyone who tries to tell you otherwise knows it. The list of proofs in Club Manic are exceedingly long.
And when you’re down, sometimes it’s hard even to speak. It’s easy to paint the mouth, but impossible to paint the scream going on inside.
You’ve got to prepare.
I recommend adding things like the Magnetic Memory Method to the mix.
Not just because Memory Palaces are a great means of keeping yourself centered. Keeping yourself in the now by paying attention to this things you want to memorize in a whole new way. A way that bleeds out into everything you do when you’re watching the world for new Memory Palaces. In this way, Memory Palaces are a healthy part of creating presence in the moment.
The other reason stems from the emphasis in the MMM is on adding relaxation to the mnemonic mix. Meditation if you can. Chilling out, not taking everything so seriously. Letting your imagination be what it wants to be without judging it.
And that message is worth climbing up trees for. It’s worth tossing Magnetic coconuts into your inbox for.
More like anti-professional.
Just the kind of stuff you’d expect from some dude who writes books about memory skills because he knows they can change the world.
I’m hardly the first (yes, there have been crazier!)
I definitely won’t be the last.
But until next time, I remain Magnetic.
Until next time, help someone else learn about Memory Palaces. Teaching a skill is one of the best ways to learn a skill and helping people improve their memory is one of the best ways we can make the world a better place. The more we remember, the more we can remember. And the more we learn, the more we can learn.
P.S. If you know people who might benefit from memory improvement, feel free to use this Twitter link to send them the good news about Memory Palaces and exactly how to build them. 🙂