Sunday, March 16, 2014

Build Your Own Designer Memory Palace

What if you could remember your entire grocery list just by retracing Peter Seller's steps in the house he goes to in the movie "The Party?"  
(Artwork by Federico Babina. Here.)

Or recite the seven ancient wonders of the world by "walking" through your favorite apartment on The Selby?
(Photo by Todd Selby. Here.)

Or remember Charles Dickens' twenty major works (15 novels, 5 novellas) by taking a mental tour of Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"?

I know, I know, it sounds too weird to be true. 

But with a memory palace, you can -- and I'm going to tell you how.

A memory palace is a mnemonic technique invented 2,000 years ago by the ancient Greeks that uses your brain's superior spatial memory to memorize information. 

It works like this: You think of the layout of a location you know well -- your house or apartment, for instance. Then you "attach" whatever objects or items you want to remember (i.e. your to-do list, the American presidents) to specific places within that location. When you want to retrieve your list, you take a mental walk through your memory palace and "see" everything right where you put it.

[There's a great TED talk about it HERE by Joshua Foer. Watch it and be gobsmacked.]

Why am I so sure it works?

Because in forty minutes, me, the person who can't find her keys in the morning and who routinely leaves her sunglasses in restaurants, memorized all 37 of William Shakespeare's plays in the order they were written. 

Even more impressive, so did my 12 year-old son.
And he has zero interest in Shakespeare.
But when he heard me reel them off, he got jealous and wanted in.

The book that taught us how?
("The Memory Palace: Learn Anything and Everything, 
Starting with Shakespeare and Dickens", $3.33. HERE.)

"The general idea with most memory techniques is to change whatever boring thing is being inputted into your memory into something that is so colorful, so exciting, and so different from anything you've seen before that you can't possibly forget it."

Here's the best part, though:
For design-minded folks like you and me, who carry around a treasure trove of unforgettable spaces and layouts in our brains already, who says our memory palaces have to be places that we've actually explored in real life? 

Why not use the charming English cottage you saved from that magazine?

Or the layout of the S. S. Belafonte from "The Life Aquatic"?
 ("The Life Aquatic.")

Or how about a location from your extensive literary wanderings?

Holly Golightly's apartment in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"?
The Marchmain house in "Brideshead Revisited"?
Odette's Oriental-influenced apartment in "Swann's Way"?

How fun would it be to "visit" Gatsby's West Egg mansion when you need to remember your shopping list? I can see it now: "Look, here's the pile of colored silk shirts that Daisy wept over, but how strange, they're completely ripped to shreds! Oh, I remember -- craft scissors."

For more information on how to build your own memory palace, here are some helpful articles and links:

Click HERE.

Before you go, do you have a favorite location from a book, movie or magazine that you would use as a memory palace?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Geek-end Getaway

Two weeks ago, I went away for a long-anticipated weekend to Palm Springs with my friend Jeanne. (I have to plug an amazing performance she gave recently with Eddie Vedder -- ever wondered how Julie Andrews would sound singing The Rolling Stones "Shattered"? Click HERE and wonder no longer.) We had been plotting our escape for months and had finally managed to coordinate the schedules of our respective husbands and sons so that we could slip away for thirty six hours and indulge ourselves.

"You all ready for our geek-end getaway?" Jeanne asked as I loaded my bags into the car.

Geek-end getaway

I had been wondering what to call it. Instead of bathing suits, sandals and embroidered caftans, our suitcases were loaded with laptops, iPads, digital writing tablets, creative manifestos (this, this and this), and our comfiest clothes.

Our dream weekend had nothing to do with yoga, mountain hikes, massages or mani-pedis -- and everything to do with recharging our brain cells.

This was going to be a learning vacation. Our goals?

~Inspire each other creatively
~Provide each other with constructive feedback on personal projects
~Trade sources of inspiration (What books/magazines/music/videos were obsessing us?)
~Learn new apps (Which ones could we not live without?)
~Brainstorm without limits

Heck, if we were really on a roll, we might not even leave the room until Sunday checkout. (We didn't.)

Two of my favorite discoveries from that weekend?

1. The Noteshelf app ($5.99) which lets you create amazing layouts and collages just like the ones you see in design magazines like Domino and Lonny -- great for people like me who don't have Photoshop. 

You can create your own little notebooks from the covers provided or do like I did and upload photos from the internet to make your own custom ones. (I found some good old book covers HERE.)

Here's one of my books devoted to collages of favorite fabrics and patterns. I find that putting them together like this is a super helpful way of seeing what works together and what doesn't.

Here's another book I made to explore an embroidery series I've been working on. Noteshelf makes it super easy to choose the kind of paper you like, upload photos, add text and draw. Bonus: They have good type fonts like Gill Sans and Bodoni (the two I used below). Type fonts make a HUGE difference in giving personality and character to a layout.

Here's another one I made for various random ideas.

2. The other app I am absolutely in love with is Procreate ($5.99) It lets you sketch, paint, draw and create virtually anything you can imagine. I could go on and on about this app -- it's intuitive, easy to learn (be sure to download the free user guide) and as simple or advanced as you want it to be. I can't see myself ever getting tired of it.

And it has one specific feature I'm crazy about: It lets you write directly over a photo. You know, like Garance Doré does.

Remember the post I did last week with all those hand-drawn titles over the pictures? I made them all with Procreate. I just uploaded my photos, chose the style of "pen" I wanted, and drew right onto the iPad with my finger.

The upshot of our geek-end getaway? 
Brains were stormed, ideas were generated and the groundwork for great future projects was laid. 

Here's a photo I snapped of the hotel as we were leaving on Sunday -- it was the first time I'd seen the grounds since check-in. I bet it's a lovely place to spend some time outdoors. 
(Colony Palms Hotel,  2/9/14.)

Next time.

“For my belief is that if we have five hundred a year and a room of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality…then the opportunity will come and [we] will be born.”

~Virginia Woolf 


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