When I was a kid, we were playing with dolls. We didn’t have the Barbie Castle, the Barbie Ferrari, and the Barbie Mobile Home. We used older doll beds and asked our Dad to help us turn them into Barbie beds. Dad also showed us how to build little boats out of tree bark with paper sails, and we had fun to let them swim on our creek around the corner. We played dolls with young corncobs, and we invented all kinds of things to turn them into a fun game for us.

We didn’t have computers and cell phones to play with. In our home stood an old rotary phone. And that thing didn’t save up phone numbers. If we wanted to call someone, we needed to consult our Mom’s old address book or the phone book. It was easier to memorize the phone number than looking it up over and over again. That means, when I was about nine years old, I had stored around 60 phone numbers in my head, learned by heart, ready for delivery on demand at any time. Also, I kept the addresses of most of our relatives in my head, about 30 addresses in several countries; and, if necessary and the relative was quite close, and I liked the person, I usually even stored their birthdays.

By the time I started my apprenticeship at the age of 15, I had learned to type on a typewriter. Also, I was taught to use a teleprinter during my first year of internship. Then the first fax machines were invented. (The ones with these horrible paper rolls you were unable to read anymore after three weeks).

 

We used a computer to gather orders and create delivery papers as well as invoices. But slowly we finally got the first computers to write letters, and I could change from the typewriter to the ‘Stone Age Windows’… to me, it was like Heaven. Finally, I had the chance to write without limits and nearly without the troublesome need for paper.

In 1994 I got my first cell phone, a huge, bulky thing which was hard to hold, let alone to transport. I needed a bigger purse for that machine. But as much as I’m complaining now, it gets worse. The use of that cell phone ruined my memory. I didn’t need to memorize phone numbers. I typed them in, and they were saved and stored. I didn’t need to think anymore about the numbers I had memorized since I was little. I could use the room in my brain for something else.

The huge cell-machine didn’t survive long after that, cell phones got smaller and easier to hold and handle, and their internal memory got bigger. Less and fewer numbers were kept in my head. I grew with cell phones and computers. Addresses, numbers, birthdays, emails, and so on, everything is a part of my computer’s tablet’s cell phone’s memory chip.

By now, I’m at an age where I admit, most numbers that moved from my brain to my cell phone are forgotten. It’s not that I don’t want to keep them in my mind – and believe me, I just hate despise stupid excuses like: “Well, people are moving, or they even die, their addresses and phone numbers keep changing.” I’d rather keep my brain working.

In particular, getting older, I realized that things like birthdays, for example, I had thought about it before with no further problems, had left me. I was asking myself if my brain was getting mushy. And unfortunately, I had to say, yes. It does.

I, therefore, decided to make sure I do keep my brain working as fast as it always did. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget childhood memories; I don’t want to forget birthdays, funny situations, jokes, pictures, friends, numbers, or events. My memory has always been something I could count on. I want to keep that.

A few years ago, I made sure I started training my memory. For example, I’m driving on the freeway, and I see the car in front of me. If I have the chance, I’ll memorize the car’s license plate. If it’s possible I record it briefly on my phone. Then I keep repeating it until I figure, it will stay in my mind until home. Sometimes I have to go grocery shopping or run errands, and during that entire time, I keep repeating that license plate in my head. And at home, I check if I still got it right. I’m proud to report, after all that time of practice, I usually have an impressive ‘strike rate’.

After that exercise worked, I tried the same thing with two, then three license plates; later on, I started using other numbers I see by chance. If I don’t, I invent my own number, or a combination of numbers and letter, write it down and keep it memorized, sometimes even for days.

I also keep practicing mental math as often as I can. Instead of immediately grabbing the calculator on my phone, I first sum or subtract in my head to keep my brain in motion. Crossword puzzles are good training too, but to me, they’re mostly boring. On the other hand, there are a few apps (here is the proof that I would never demonize the technological progress), that are helping with words, word finds or rare words, which not only help with my memory but also support my vocabulary and my writing.

I never had trouble to memorize books or movies, but when I read or watch a movie, I consciously try to keep in mind a few details or ‘minor’ characters.

Most of us writers have character sheets, plot sheets, and whatever else cheat sheets to write our stories. And yes, so do I. It is impossible to keep every detail in mind from every single character I ever invented during a series I’m currently writing the 7th book of. But cheat sheets or not, I still try to keep in mind what I wrote and even work hard to remember all the little habits and quirks of my characters.

It’s not easy since there are more and more characters as the series grows, but still, I want to, first of all, know my characters as I would know my friends. And second: I want to keep my brain and memory in shape.

I know, there are dozens and even hundreds of tests, quizzes, exercises, and ideas around to keep your brain in shape, but that is what I can do for my brain, and I’m feeling fine with it. I don’t want to lose my ability to work, to think, to memorize, and to keep jokes in my head to make me and others laugh.

Some of the most beautiful, touching, hopeful, and even tear-jerking memories are stored in my brain. I don’t want to lose them. I want to keep my brain working full speed as long as it can. And that’s why I keep practicing, exercising, and memorizing. I will keep building worlds, situations stories in my head and in my books as long as my brain will work with me.

Brains are something wonderful, mysterious, and almost magical. In my opinion, there is a reason neither science nor medicine has solved their secret entirely. And if I can keep my secret up and in good shape for another 50 years, I’m going to be a happy woman.

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