This week, I'm writing about a trip to Europe I took in 2011 and the process has got me thinking a lot about memory. 2011 doesn't seem that long ago. Some of the outfits I wore a that summer are still hanging in my closet. They still fit, they still look new. In the grand scheme of things, five years is a very short time.
When I first started looking back on that summer so much seemed clear. On the surface I remember it very well. If, today, you dropped me down in front of my old apartment in Prague, I could probably still find my way to the Town Square, and the Square itself would look almost exactly like in does in my memory. Some of the snapshots in my mind are close to perfect.
But then I tried to describe a room on the second floor of a building on a street somewhere in Prague, opposite a Czech ice cream parlour. And all I can remember is that the ice cream parlour had a funny name. Something that became a sexual innuendo when translated to English. And I can't even remember what that joke was...
It's one thing to remember the essence of a place, like that room on the second floor. But it's a whole other thing to remember a place well enough to recreate it, to paint a picture of it, to make sure that your audience can really see it when they read about it in your book.
I sat in front of my computer with the cursor flashing and I closed my eyes. The windows were on the right, facing the ice cream parlour. The stairs were opposite. The bar was next to the stairs. It was dark. Music came from somewhere.
That's all I've got so far.
Perhaps I found this lapse in memory all the more frustrating because modern technology has made so much of my memories superfluous.
If I can't remember exactly what the Old Town Square looked like, I can do a Google Image Search and in five seconds I've got my answer.
If I can't remember the details of a conversation, it's okay: that conversation likely happened over text or Facebook chat so I can pull it out of the archives and recall it verbatim.
If I can't remember the route we took from Berlin to Brussels, all I have to do is pull up a map of the European train system.
I can even use Google Maps to stand almost anywhere in the world and note what I could have seen and from which angles I could have seen it.
These things don't always stay 100% accurate as the world changes, but I've managed to find a lot of ways to avoid relying on memory alone.
But now I am faced with a real old-fashioned challenge. There are no tools or tricks to help me recall the inside of that notorious room. So what shall I do? I'm not sure yet, but I think it's time to get creative!