Limited Brain Capacity

I think I’ve uncovered the secret to how I’m surviving these days.

Or at least an excuse for forgetting/slacking on things.

I’m going with…Limited Brain Capacity.

Someone, somewhere, said that we only use about ten percent of our brains on a daily basis. Someone somewhere else called that person a big fat liar. I say that they’re both wrong.

These days, my brain feels kind of like an iPhone. Once you have so many apps, photos, videos, songs, etc. on an iPhone, it gives you that “memory almost full, delete some stuff” message. For me, that’s how I’m getting by.

For instance, lines. Last week’s rehearsals were pretty disastrous and I totally blanked on lines, several times. So much so that I was given the option to do the whole show on book. The day of open dress (Wednesday) I took my car to get it fixed, and in the two hours I was given to wait for it, I basically blocked out everything from my mind – state capitals, shopping lists, possibly even the names and ages of all my cousins – and just focused on sweeping out those megabytes of info and sweeping in the lines. Effectively making me a line-bot, or in layman’s terms, an actor. By the time I got to rehearsal that night, I was feeling confident. I did a quick line-thru spit-back thing with Marc, and we managed to get almost all the way through the play with me messing up only a handful of times; and by messing up, I mean completely losing focus, not merely getting words transposed, which happens sometimes to the best of actors. Kat asked me how confident I felt in doing it off book, and I answered affirmatively, and that night I managed not to screw up too badly. Before the next night’s performance, I hadn’t had much time to look over the script, and at two points got completely stymied – not enough to slow down the whole show, but so much so that I needed some saving. Friday afternoon I had a bit of time to look over lines, and that night I believe I gave my best performance, only screwing up a line or two in scene three. There was also another factor that was keeping me on my toes, but that’s for a later post. Saturday night kind of got lazy, with one of my (very few) line flubs causing a whole page of scene one to be skipped, but other than that, a near-perfect acts two and three.

Since then, I’ve not thought much about my lines, but I’ve been extremely careful in managing where exactly my brain is, given that we’ve got a pick-up rehearsal scheduled for Wednesday and three more performances until we close on Saturday night. After that, I will be free to forget. But not until then.

Due to Thanksgiving travel and general play fatigue, I’ve been missing both of my regularly scheduled dance activities, kabuki and ballroom. Ballroom’s kind of a lost cause for me this semester – I’ve resigned to saving it for next semester – but kabuki, one of the things I thought I was doing pretty well in, has become a victim of my Limited Brain Capacity. Seeing as that I’m auditing the class, I can really pick and choose exactly what I want to do. I’ve chosen to do no written work at all, seeing as I don’t have the extremely hard-to-acquire out-of-print textbook, and only focus on studying the performance and improving my own. The final will consist of:

  1. Sword cadence
  2. Fan dance
  3. Bannai
  4. Combat sequence
  5. Monologue (Sukeroku or Agemaki)

The easiest thing for me to remember is Bannai, since it’s basically a short monologue with gestures. I was present in class for the majority of the sword fighting and fan dancing, so I’ve retained most of those. I did miss a few classes where some new moves were added. Today I did the fan dance and I was surprised at how much I had forgotten. Like, even some of the beginning moves, the easier ones, and the sword cadence as well. For the combat sequence, I learned everything up to the final two moves, but since there’s an odd number of students and I’m the only auditor, I’ve been sitting out. The professor, however, told me that if I want to try for the final, I’ve got my pick of partners. Depending on how many people want to go twice, I might be very popular. However, I haven’t practiced it for a while so my memories of the combat routine may have fallen out of my brain along with the rest of the fan dance. As far as the monologues – I’m not even going to try. Lines for the play plus Bannai plus…all the other academic and non-academic stuff I have to remember and use on a daily basis have pretty much caused me to defer any other new information up to the Cloud.

Speaking of academics…

I have finished all assignments for one of my classes, and have blocked it out of my mind completely. For American Drama, all I have left is a final exam, so other than leafing through the plays for the past few weeks, all knowledge from that course has been shifted to the Cloud as well. This leaves me with Cruelty, for which I have one paper due Thursday (which should be in my mind but is not as I have not yet started) and Restoration, for which I have turned in my first draft, so until I get it back tomorrow with comments, is out of my mind. Other things like laundry, eating, cleaning, bathing, reading for pleasure – these familiar fuzzy thoughts are re-materializing, if only for a short while before Cruelty-Restoration-my lines for the play come back to me from the Cloud.

If this isn’t making any sense to you anymore, that makes two of us.

Basically, my point here is that my brain can only take in so much new information at a time, especially info that must be memorized and performed. That’s one of the reasons I don’t miss acting – more on that later.

But in the long run…what does this mean for my brain? Is my ten percent drying up? Am I using more of my brain? Or are my brain cells just having a massive orgy and reproducing at lightning speed?

Because my brain is a curious creature, it went and Google Searched “limited brain capacity finals week.” The first hits were scholarly articles, which I would love to read but my brain does not want to. Next stop on the crazy brain train: Wikipedia. Looking for an simple yet concrete answer, I stumbled upon Baddeley’s model of working memory.

In short, these two guys Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch came up with a system of how our short-term memory works. This model, created in 1974 and amended in 2000, consists of three main areas of focus:

  1. The central executive is the portion of the short term memory that organizes all of the trains of thought; it’s literally the depot. It’s the center in the brain responsible for multi-tasking. Mine is working very hard at the moment, the “notes” function thinking about all the work I have to do and the fact that I have three washer loads that need to hit the dryer and that I need to put on pants and shoes before I can go to the laundry room to do that, as well as playing an mp3 in my brain for a soundtrack (currently, that fan dance song from kabuki class), the video/camera/photos/facetime registering all the colors and symbols on the computer screen, and somehow, through all this, my motor skills, enabling me to type at a relatively rapid speed to put words on the screen without constantly needing to look at my fingers for guidance. Effectively, we’re all multi-taskers by nature.
  2. The phonological loop takes in and interprets sounds and words, so that we may repeat them back. Right now there isn’t any background music or noise, so mine’s got a respite, but reciting lines over and over and hearing them cued to me every night acts sort of like a “voice control” function in the brain. At least that’s how I’m interpreting this concept at the moment.
  3. The visuospatial sketchpad allows us to navigate through our lives, literally. It’s why we don’t have to concentrate so hard on walking, because it can draw internal maps so that we can take advantage of the first two elements of the short-term memory while doing a task such as walking, and not running into walls or tripping and falling over. (sidenote – eight finger knuckle crunch at this moment – this must mean it’s getting serious). This allows me to navigate my apartment, the theatre building, and the stage. At the same time, it helps me go through my blocking, both for the play and for the kabuki dances. This area, my “maps” function, exerts itself pretty heavily these days, with a need for knowing floor patterns essential to my survival as an actor and a kabuki performer.

So what does all this mean?

Basically, I’m not a lunatic. I do have issues to figure out and I’m navigating them to the best of my ability, but as far as me putting things on shelves in my mind, it’s totally appropriate. Right now, my brain is working overtime, but relief will come soon, in the form of tasks and obligations being finished.

But I can’t think about that point in the future too much, lest I drop my internal iPhone in Olestra, causing a need to visit the always helpful-but-not-helpful Apple store and unexpected fluid leakage.

…well that got graphic very quickly.

Eew.

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