It started years ago when I was watching a National Geographic special of Antarctica. As a zoologist, I love documentaries and my brain retains not only the biological facts but the meteorological, geological and physical ones as well. Don't ask me to remember your name, don't expect me to remember your face (even minutes after we've met). Sometimes I wish it was different, but it's how I'm wired. It's a peculiar trait of writers, I think.
There was one memorable scene showing a small ice floe floating miles off the icy coast. Every square inch of it was literally covered in a blanket of penguins. They were layered on top of each other, almost forming a tuxedo pyramid and crowded to the very edges, the claws on their little webbed feet desperately clinging to the slippery surface. It was a choice place, this little floe - a sweet respite from six months of non-stop swimming and feeding, swimming and feeding, swimming and feeding. The camera caught an amazing aerial shot - dozens of aquatic birds making 'beelines' for the ice, homing in from all directions like arrows on a target. A tiny black and white bullseye in the middle of a vast cold ocean of blue.
They were swimming very quickly as well, for they needed to gain speed in order to leap out of the water and onto the ice. So from all angles, little penguins were closing in, taking their aim and soaring from the water onto the ice. Immediately a ripple would carry through the crowd and in a marvellous example of Newtonian Laws of Motion, a penguin would fall off on the opposite side.
It was like a multidirectional perpetual motion machine in black and white. Penguins were swimming, penguins were leaping, penguins were falling. Those in the middle were safe, happily squished between their comrades and becoming almost a part of the floe as they scrambled for a flipper-hold on the ice. The poor fellows along the edges were vulnerable, however - fodder for other, more determined souls in their bid for position, security and a much-needed snooze.
And in one swift, hilarious and humbling moment, I realized this was a microcosm of my brain.
Not a mind palace, oh no. Not a memory castle or mental gymnasium or Roman Room, my brain is a very small ice floe, adrift from the Antarctic shores. Thoughts, facts, ideas and memories are all just penguins looking for a place to land. These thoughts, facts, ideas and memories come at me from all directions, at all times, in all circumstances. I think we're all pretty much that way, but I am surprised at the sheer number of penguins that fall off. Or maybe I'm not surprised. There are an awful lot of penguins.
Some penguins I intentionally squeeze into the middle of the floe. Maybe even penguins that don't deserve to be there, penguins that have less seniority or longevity but obviously penguins that I value more than some random bird like, say, your name. Other penguins, like a birthday, a face, a date, a 'penguin-on-the-list-of-penguins-to-do' - those are carelessly pushed to the edges and left vulnerable to the jockeying of other penguins.
Those penguins are always the first to go when another stronger, more determined fellow leaps onto the slippery stage, causing his buddy across the way to teeter, topple then fall with a splash into my icy cold cranial waters. Life comes along like an Orca or a Leopard Seal, only too happy to devour that little critter as he flounders helplessly in the waves. Sometimes I remember that I had more penguins, but more often than not, I don't. I suppose I don't really care. Like Kerris Wynegarde-Grey, there are just so many things that are more important, like sleeping, dreaming and supper.
I really should investigate the renovation of my memory palace, because as I get older and try to juggle more complex things, I wonder if I might be losing too much along the way. A 'Method of Loci' would certainly help when I scramble to get that much-needed birthday card on the way to the party or trip across a fantastical plot line in that waking-dream state just before sleep. It's a fascinating thought, this memory palace, this Roman Room of the mind and I'd really like to develop it and see where it leads. It's probably a brutally cold journey but a equally brilliant one. Maybe I can build my mind palace out of ice and crystal like the Fortress of Solitude, or Frozen's Crystal Castle or Jötunheim's pre-Asgardian desolation. Maybe it will be inhabited by fantastical characters like Superman or Queen Elsa or Loki. That would be, pardon the pun, cool.
But with my luck, I'll just find more penguins.