Improv and the Brain’s Domino Effect
As some of you may know by now, I became very much aware of my inability to keep up with my classmates around the second or third grade. Being a competitive kid to begin with, I was thunderstruck that I could not compete in reading. I just could not keep up with the rest of the class. But nobody knew that but me.
Of course this was something you didn’t want anybody to know. I thought there was something wrong with me. Little did I know…I was right! Because of this, from a very early age I kept a very close eye on my behaviors as a result of thinking I’m performing one way when I’m actually not.
This is still an issue today. Even though I became a very accomplished adult I still have problems. Especially when people see the way I write. It could be a text it, could be a letter, it could be a blog, but the stupid mistakes that I make (thinking that I’m doing really well!) seem to make people look at me differently. They want to help me not look stupid. So often when I have to write something and somebody sees it first, I tend to get the same reaction. “Linda please, if you need to send something out don’t send it until I get a chance to look at it first.” I have to take them up on it because if I don’t, I fear the whole world will write me off like they used to when I was in school.
But I had a very profound discovery once that was many years in the making. It’s about something amazing the brain can do!
I’m going to take you back to 1975. It’s my sophomore year of high school and I am already painfully aware of my struggle with anything having to do with writing. In fact I was very preoccupied (unbeknownst to anybody else) with what kind of occupation I could possibly strive for that I would be capable of without being exposed as an illiterate. I was never completely illiterate, I could read some and I did know how to write some. I just didn’t know how to do it properly and I just couldn’t read fast enough or long enough for that matter. So one day in high school I had an epiphany. I thought that maybe if I took typing and became a good typist then I could do something like data entry. After all, all I would have to do is copy what somebody else put down on paper and transfer it to another medium I could do that.
Or so I thought.
I decided to enroll in a typing class and it just so happened that one of my best friends was the teacher’s assistant. I thought it was great having such a good friend in class with me. He would sit at the teacher’s desk correcting papers and I would have my place at my desk in front of a typewriter. Little did I know how much this particular class would affect my life in a way nobody would’ve ever seen coming, including myself.
Eery morning when we arrived we would have to sit down and do timed writing. We would be given something to type up and we would be timed. At the end we would have to tell out loud how many mistakes we made and my friend would write our scores down for the teacher. Every class, the scene was the same. We would be told to stop typing and one by one down each row the names were called and they would have to shout out how many mistakes they made. People would shout things like “Two, four, zero, three.” Then it would get to me. “Thirty-three.” Nothing like a morning dose of humiliation, huh? But wait it gets better.
My friend got such a good laugh at my paper, that when they were collected he would dive into them to find mine and read it while unabashedly laughing out loud at my mistakes. As if that wasn’t bad enough he would eventually take the paper over to the teacher and they would both stand in the corner and laugh at the mistakes I had made. You have no idea what this did to me inside. Constant humiliation over and over again while trying to put on the brave face and laugh with them when really I wasn’t laughing at all. Not even close.
It was because of this I swore I would never touch another keyboard again. I didn’t care if I had to dig a ditch. I didn’t care if I had to clean toilets the rest of my life. I didn’t even want to look at another keyboard again. Every time I looked at one all I could do was see my friend laughing hysterically at my expense. Granted he wasn’t doing it to be hurtful in any way and he would’ve been mortified to think that it would hurt me at all. But the toll it took was pretty deep.
Now fast forward to 1989. I am now living in Los Angeles, having graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, probably because there are no typewriters involved, just creativity. For the most part, that at least was something I was good at. I was doing pretty well. I waiting tables and I could afford my bills. Not by much but at least I was independent. However, there was something on the horizon that I knew was going to compromise me for the rest of my life if I didn’t do something about it…and that something was computers. I knew that they were not just a fad. I completely understood the potential behind computers and this was even before the Internet. Lord knows I never saw that coming. I saw no other choice but to try to get my hands on a computer and do my damnedest to figure it out so that I could at least become somewhat proficient in some way.
My niece worked for a computer company at the time and she was able to get me a computer at an affordable price. Of course I had to go find a computer expert to help me set it up so I went next door and asked my 12-year-old neighbor if he could help me. Soon it was my turn to sit down at this contraption in front of me and of course the dreaded, awful, disgusting, horrible keyboard. All I could think about was how I never wanted to ever touch another one again. But what could I do? So I sat down and I started to type as best as I possibly could, fully expecting it be terrible.
Lo and behold my typing was perfect and effortless and fast!
What the hell?! I had not touched a single keyboard since my last typing class nine years earlier! I swear I never touched a computer in nine years and all of a sudden I’m able to type close to perfect! How is that even possible? I know how hard I tried before to no avail and now I’m typing letter perfect without even trying at all? How?
I really could not get this out of my mind. If I can do this with a keyboard what else could I do this with without even realizing it? What other abilities do I have and how did I acquire them? I began to wrap my brain around all the things I could possibly have done that would translate into my being able to type effortlessly without practice. There was only one thing I could come up with, only one thing I did from the time I was was in that typing class until that day in 1989.
And that one thing…was play! Even though they did not offer improvisation at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I was improvising my ass off all through that school. I would invite people over for study group so I could listen to what they were discussing because my notes were of no use and I didn’t read any of the books. I also had close friends helping me get by. Still the one thing that was consistent over all those years was that I constantly had to rely on my creativity and creative problem-solving. I also realize that these were skills that I had obtained purely through improvisation alone. Somehow, someway my constant creativity and creative thinking created some kind of domino effect in my brain that somehow affected my ability to type.
Random? Absolutely! So what else can I do now as a result of constant creative thinking? Perhaps I’ll never know. But whatever it is I am able to benefit from it without realizing it all because of improvisation and its direct positive effect on my brain.