Part I: Of all the Seasons, Autumn is the Most Dangerous


"And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land: I. Burial of the Dead

I always thought it was a curse, you know. That inescapable link between place and person, between object and memory. 'My present is tainted by my past,' I thought; 'It can only ruin my future.' I tried to stop it, and it never worked. Everyone has memories of places, and a place will always trigger a memory for everyone; it's just that I could never make it stop. I always thought it was a curse.

Hannibal by Thomas Harris discusses a mental development idea, known as a Memory Palace. Within one's imagination, one creates a palace - an elaborate mental image that one may walk through. In Dr Lecter's case, his palace is filled with artworks and artefacts that, when recalled, enhance the ability to remember. For example, he wishes to remember a particular verse of The Lady Of Shalott, so he envisages himself walking through the memory palace to the master bedroom, where there is a copy of John William Waterhouse's oil painting of the same name. The picture is a mental cue; it triggers his memory sufficiently to remember the entire poem without faltering. They key is training your mind to compartmentalise information, and it works astonishingly well. It is said to prevent memory loss in old age.

Reading Hannibal, I finally discovered: Sydney is my memory palace. I can close my eyes and walk from end to end in my imagination. Within my head lies the entire city in minutiae, an empire that only I control. In my mind, I can run along Macquarie Street and remember watching the Olympic Torch brought into Sydney; I can stop at a hundred different stores on Pitt Street and recollect a different day each moment. Every street belongs to me.

Little by little, I took the city back. I divided the city into little squares and reclaimed them, one by one. Every place that was untainted by him was mine, and I built it solidly into my memory palace of the city. George Street, Market Street, Bridge Street, Margaret Street, and soon the areas, Broadway, Haymarket, Chinatown, The Rocks, Wynyard, were all mine, and Brian Kinney and his memories were forced to retreat into little enclaves of the city where I could fight his legends on a tiny battlefront. I reclaimed the city. And that is how I reclaimed autumn.

He couldn't have autumn in York Street, and he couldn't have autumn in Parramatta Road. But he had autumn in Cleveland Street, so I went to Cleveland Street and created new memories, as many as I could stand. In my memory palace, I buried my old memories of him in a graveyard near the sea. If I ever need those memories, I can always walk back there and call them from the depths of my mind.... but I doubt that I ever will. They are out of sight.... and slumbering in the mind.

Do you see now why I am so joyful this autumn? For the first time, autumn is wholly mine; I'm not fighting for it anymore. I can relax and enjoy the beauty of the moment, and not think about consciously laying memories one upon the other. Once upon a time, it was as though my memories were autumn leaves, and I could not step through them without scattering about the fragile past. Now they are like the dead roots of a winter tree: though I never see them on the surface, they are composting under the ground and creating rich, dark earth where new things can grow.

Autumn is now my favourite season; I have worked hard for it, and I am reaping the rewards. One day I will travel to the fields of wheat and run through them as far as I can. And in my mind, the memory palace of Sydney will expand to cover that too, so that whenever I close my eyes, I will be standing in a field of wheat that glimmers like gold into eternity. And all of autumn will be mine, and I shall conquer spring.

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