Has anyone read Moonwalking With Einstein, by Joshua Foer? The author explores the world of competitive memorizing, including contests to see who can be the first to memorize the order of a deck of cards. Mental athletes prepare for these feats by associating each card with a person, action, and object. Foer explains:

“The king of hearts, for me, was Michael Jackson moonwalking with a white glove. The king of clubs was John Goodman eating a hamburger, and the king of diamonds was Bill Clinton smoking a cigar. If I were to memorize the king of hearts, king of clubs, and king of diamonds in order, I would create an image of Michael Jackson eating a cigar.”

Thus remembering the order of 52 cards becomes streamlined into remembering the order of 17 images. What strikes me about this is how interwoven the process of story is with the process of memory. Essentially, the memory champions translate small sets of cards into mini-stories that are so absurd that they stick in the brain. The power of the image comes partially from the randomness of the juxtaposition, and partially from whatever symbolic power is embedded in the people, actions and objects that were originally chosen. The more potent those items are to start, the more haunting the image.

It’s interesting to then extrapolate to our work…and think of each story as a series of powerful images, built by words, that we hope will stick in readers’ brains. Or perhaps the images call forth the readers’ own memories as they relate a story to their lives. Or consider the role of memory in creating our stories.

Just a few thoughts to noodle on–when you aren’t busy memorizing decks of cards.