I am not an expert on memory, or am I? A few years ago I decided to learn Japanese because, as an English Second Language teacher, I wanted to “put myself out there” and see how hard it was to learn another language. Of course I didn’t want to make it easy on myself by choosing a language based on Latin characters; hell no, I wanted to learn hiragana, katakana, and kanji (Chinese characters) and grammar that is basically backwards to English. I quickly realized how sluggish my brain had become, as I struggled to learn hiragana and understand basic grammar while the 20 somethings in the class absorbed it instantaneously. As you get older, your memories begin to fade, but you can defeat this slow drip by utilizing memory techniques such as writing things down, repetition, and visualization.
The first one, writing things down, is the most obvious. We write lists to help us remember what groceries to buy, names, addresses, birthdays, and “to-do” projects. We write notes in University to help us remember key points in lectures, and the better the notes, the better we remember the information. The same is true for travel writing. Simply writing it down helps you remember the stories. Some people take notes and I used to write after returning from vacation, but I actually find it even more beneficial to write when my memories are fresh. In our most recent vacation to Japan, I was about two days behind events. I always found the time after every few days to sit outside and write my story, often with beer or sake an arm’s length away. It’s a great way to kill an evening when you’re tired from too much sightseeing.
Another method to assist memory is repetition, which is how I’ve been trying to learn hiragana and katakana. Sometimes pure, bald memorization through tools like cue cards and online quizzes are best. The same applies for vacation stories: the more time I devote to them, the better I remember them. I usually read them over several times to edit out mistakes and, by the end, I’ve memorized both the stories and the events well. Of course, once the story is written, I can refer to it over and over again, which I’ll discuss in my next post.
The final memory trick is association. Experts tell us that it’s easier to remember information when associating it with images. In hiragana the syllable “ku” looks like (<) and the associated picture is of a bird’s beak singing “ku-ku.” (Not all visualizations are this obvious!) Restaurant servers also utilize this trick to remember orders. Travel writing is great for this, because you’re often photographing places and things while living your stories. When I write stories, I’m making the visual associations in my head, so when I look at photographs these memories come flooding back. Travel writing makes you seek out these visual associations as well, such as Peter Tosh’s crypt and Cambodia’s Killing Fields.
Travel writing helps you tell stories, fill out your sensory experiences, and remember your experiences, but there are many other benefits still to discuss. I would love to hear about your experiences.