Flotsam and Jetsam

Requiem For a Mall

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Highland Mall

Highland Mall on closing day.


Like most people, I hadn’t been to Highland Mall in ages. In fact I was surprised to read that it was still operating at all. It always looked closed, but then yesterday I read that it was actually closing for good after 44 years. I knew I had to pay a final visit to what had been Austin’s first indoor shopping mall and a surprisingly poignant catalyst of memories. Judging from comments from friends and all the people there yesterday taking pictures and looking nostalgic, I was far from alone in this feeling.

Highland Mall

Highland Mall

For many, there seemed to be a lot of memories of working there at various points or going there as long time Austin residents. For me, its place in my heart was very specific: It was a place I used to love to go with my late aunt, Trish and my cousin, Casey. I’ve written a lot about them before but let me summarize for the uninitiated: they are two of the single most important people in my past and in the very DNA of who I am today. From when I was a kid on into adulthood, there were very few things I looked forward to as much as my time with them. They would come to College Station for holidays, I would spend school vacations here in Austin, which I found to be a magical wonderland because of it. Trish was like a second mother and Casey was like a little brother. My time with them remains a formative and defining time in my life. Last year, Trish went on to wherever our energy goes when our bodies are done here and Casey has long since pretty much ceased being a part of my life (even before he was married with two kids, which I’m sure is more than a full time job) but I still think about them both many times daily. In addition to Peter Pan Golf, Westgate Lanes bowling, going to movies and staying up all night playing video games, going to the mall was one of our favorite things to do and it started at Highland Mall.

Highland Mall

I think there used to be an arcade here once, long ago.

For whatever reason, we loved going to the mall (something that would definitely change in my adult years), and before Barton Creek came along, Highland Mall was practically Disneyworld for us. Spencer’s Gifts, video game and movie stores, arcades, the food court, toy stores, candy stores, ice cream vendors, movie theaters and many boring things we didn’t care about like clothing stores (until later when I thought parachute pants were the coolest thing ever), it was just this microcosm, this entire world and ecosystem all self-contained like some underground science fiction colony.

As soon as I walked in those doors yesterday, it all came back with startling familiarity like I had been transported in time. Even the music echoing through the mostly empty space through tinny, dated speakers seemed trapped in time, and strangely loud without a bustling mass of bodies soaking up the sound. All music I would have heard back then. I noticed a strange preponderance of ELO during my hours there. And yes, I spent hours there. I walked both levels of the entire mall three, four, maybe five times.
Highland03 I touched the work railings knowing very well they may have been the exact same railings we had all touched so many years ago. Used every single staircase and escalator, retracing the steps of so much past. When we would go there, Trish would often go off to do her thing and leave me and Casey to do ours. I remember we would methodically walk the whole mall to make sure we didn’t miss anything. I remembered and retraced some of the exact routes. I took in this ghost mall that once been so filled with such a din of life almost as if it were a living organism. Now there were only a handful of shops, and 3 vendors still sold food in the food court until the last hours of this last day. Many people snapped photos. I had a brief conversation with a stranger who was there for the same reason as I was, saying good be to an old friend from many years ago. You could just see the look i people’s eyes that they were just there, remembering one last time.

Highland Mall

Highland Mall

I think I tried to leave at least twice and then turned around and went back in for another pass. I actually texted with Casey a little bit, which made me smile to have him there a little bit and read other’s comments on my Facebook page about their memories of the mall. I remembered specific tables where I had sat with Trish and Casey enjoying fast food. I considered getting one last meal there but then decided against partaking of whatever happened to be left at this eleventh hour. At one point I saw an abandoned establishment that piqued my curiosity. I can’t remember the name on it but it was non-descriptive. There were signs to “Pits 9-20” and a note about not crossing the orange line without proper safety equipment but that spectators were welcome and encouraged to ask questions. It seemed like it had been some kind of action/sport type venue, but the real mystery that baffled me was this sign:
sign I still have no idea what this means. It’s like some kind of crazy, paranoid, conspiracy theorist rambling. “That’s how they’re gonna get us, man! The robots can diguise themselves as skateboards, man! They’re all around us and we’re just letting it happen, man!”

I’m not sure exactly why we stopped going there and started going to Barton Creek. I don’t know if it was closer to where Trish and Casey lived, or just perceived as a better, newer mall or what, but it seems that was the trend for most of Austin. Highland Mall fell into decline and for whatever reason, time passed it by. I was glad I’d read about it closing so I got the chance to spend this final day there, with Trish and Casey in my mind and heart. I was glad I got to say my goodbyes. As I laid in bed last night trying to sleep, I thought of the mall, empty and dark, finally “asleep” for good. The building or land may will back as part of Austin Community College, but Highland Mall is no more. No more than the memories so many of us will always carry and the little bits of who we are today that were shaped, formed and altered, even if almost imperceptibly, by our time there and the people who shared it.

Highland Mall

Epilogue: Revisiting Barton Creek Square Mall

Middle Earth: Austin

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Elly and I just mapped out Austin as Middle Earth just based on names. Dwarves live on Oltorf. Common Elves on Woodland. High Elves on Riverside. Hobbits on Pleasant Valley. Orcs on Slaughter. Sauron’s fortress in Mordor is in The Domain. The Ents are at Arbor Walk. And there’s a major defensive fortress at Rundberg where the renowned Riders of Rundberg reside. Beware the Balrog in the Mines of Manchaca. Gondor would be The Capitol.

The Startling Realization That I Don’t Have Many “Friends”

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How do you define “friend”? It can mean a lot of different things in different contexts. A conversation with Elly yesterday made me realize that I don’t think I have many friends at all. I have a lot of acquaintances, people I love and care about and who love and care about me. This isn’t any kind of sad sob story or call for validation or anything. It was just an observation that kind of caught me by surprise. I don’t really have many “friends.”

Again, my life is beyond bountiful and filled with amazing people but aside from Elly, there is no one that I talk to or hang out with regularly or frequently. There are very few people that I feel I could easily and comfortably have any kind of deep, open, vulnerable conversation with. I racked my brain thinking of the people in my life that really fit what seemed to be “friend” beyond “acquaintance.” I came up with 5 people and I don’t see or talk to any of them often. They generally have their spouses, families or what not and spend most of their time and energy within the walls of that individual castle.

This is all a strange thing to talk about because I don’t want to discount or lessen the meaning of all the wonderful people in my life or make anyone feel left out or like they mean less to me. That’s not the case. In fact there is an overarching theme in my life of always feeling like I like and value people certain more than is returned and that’s definitely the source of a lot of whatever pain and insecurities I may have. I had an epiphany about a family member who has always meant so much to me and is a part of my DNA and my best memories and it always seemed mutual when we spent time together but I always had to be the one making it happen and over the years I just saw them less and less until I’ve pretty much just accepted that they are not in my life any more and never will be. Almost like a mini death or a living death.

Now another angle of this is that I have never been the best friend in some ways either. I can isolate myself and retreat into my cave and not keep in touch very well. My certain kind of shyness and desire to be unobtrusive and not bother people may come off as aloof, or stand offish. My approach is often too passive which is not always fair to put the onus on everyone else to take the initiative. I find the closest and longest lasting friends are the one who have a similar mindset and are very low maintenance. We can go months without speaking and then pick right back up as if no time has passed. I have no tolerance for guilt trips, or high maintenance people. So I’m sure I have a part in this scenario of “not having friends.” I do not deny any responsibility.

I’m not really looking for answers or anything, it was just something I felt like observing and chronicling. It really took me by surprise because I do feel like my life is full and full of absolutely stunning people but when we really started talking about the details, I was hard pressed to really find anyone who fit the profile we were discussing. I think this is why I enjoy social media so much. It has allowed me to grow and foster many relationships that probably would have faded away without it. The whole social media subject is an entirely different subject though. I am completely pro and for it and don’t believe the whole “it’s bad because people use it as a substitute for real interaction.” I think it’s a handy tool and addition, not a substitution and allows us to actually have discussions and interactions we wouldn’t normally be able to have due to time restraints and life responsibilities. It’s like we are always in touch. A virtual party where we can interact whenever we want or have time.

I don’t really want to get into a social media debate though. I don’t really know how to end this post so here’s a picture I made of Hakeem Olajuwan piloting an X-wing and getting his torpedoes right into the Death Star exhaust port. Nothing but vent!

Luke Olajuwan

Luke Olajuwan

C25K

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I have been appalled with the state of my health lately. I can’t seem to kick my food demons or get on any kind of regular exercise regimen. My willpower and discipline seem non-existent but that won’t stop me from continuing to mount the battle. This is the worst shape I have been in since getting my diet under control around 2004 and dropping 60 lbs. About 30 of it is back. I need to get to yoga far more often as well as stopping regulating my fuel (i.e. STOP SHOVELING SO MUCH QUESO AND OTHER CRAP IN MY FOOD HOLE).

So today I started week 1 day 1 of “Couch to 5K.” What’s baffling to me is that I have always hated running. It was always my absolute least favorite form of exercise ever and something I didn’t want to do unless I was being chased by an axe or chainsaw wielding murderer or a zombie, but then again I probably could mosey away from a zombie without anything really resembling “running.”

For some reason I’m feeling myself drawn to this C25K program. Something about it just feels right at this time. Maybe it’s because there’s some weird sadistic part of me that likes to find weaknesses in myself or things that are difficult for me and instead of avoiding them and playing to my strengths, I like to try and overcome them to become a better, more rounded individual or something.

Day 1 felt like just the right amount of challenge for my out of shape blubbery mass. Challenging but not debilitating or discouraging. I imagine that to anyone in better shape than me (which is probably most people), it would have been a piece of cake. Mmm, cake.

Top 10 Facebook Statuses That Have Had The Greatest Impact On My Life

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I’ve been challenged by the universe to list the top 10 Facebook statuses that have had the greatest impact on me.

  1. All those “top 10 movies/books/African stomach ailments/etc. that have had the greatest impact on you” posts. Man. Remember those?
  2. “Which movie/book/food/tree/color/brand of shoe/Backstreet Boy/number/letter/flavor of Starburst/etc. are you.” I learned a lot about myself.

  3. Sports posts. It’s just like I’m there watching play by play! Whether I want to be or not! It’s like magic!

  4. Weather posts consisting of single words like “RAIN” or better yet pictures of people’s car dashboard temperature readings. Who needs weather sites!

  5. Religion/Politics/iPhone vs. Android/PC vs mac posts. So much civil and insightful conversation leading to more open minds and people changing their views! The snarkier the better! I’ve learned there’s not room for multiple opinions in the world! Like Highlander, there can be only one!

  6. Pictures of food. How did I live so long without knowing what everyone was eating? Dark times, man. Dark times.

  7. Automated posts from other services telling me what people just watched/listened to/or what exercise you just did. I’m glad the robot overlords are keeping me apprised of your every move. Exxxxxcellent.

  8. “Sky is falling” posts. I was completely unaware that every program, website, food, and pretty much everything else was going to kill me and steal my information and identity and was pretty much the most evil thing ever. But I guess it makes sense with the aforementioned robot overlords.

  9. Post about children and pets. Not just any posts about them, but when that seems to be the sum total of someone’s identity and the only thing they ever post about. This way it’s like I’m getting 2 or more friends in one!

  10. Complaint posts. I’m surprised there wasn’t more spontaneous human combustion before people could come to social media to complain about stuff. Like Social media posts. Wait…AAAAAGGGGGGHHHHH

is launched off the bridge into the chasm
the SAR-chasm?
rim-shot

*sorry if this pisses anyone off, it was just a silly idea I had spurred by some of the trending posts at the moment. It is meant completely tongue in cheek.

My Meandering Thoughts Sparked By The Death Of Robin Williams

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I don’t usually comment on celebrity deaths for many reasons. One, they are no more important than the millions of other deaths that occur on a given day (like my aunt, Patricia. Also, the airwaves and internet tubes are usually so overwhelmed and flooded with related material that I see no reason to add to it. However, I’ve realized that whether people know it or not, writing these things isn’t really about the person who died, it’s about us. We write these words for ourselves because we need to do so. To help process our own feelings. And do understand the other side of it. How a musician or actor or anyone of note can feel like a part of you, an influence. An old friend.

However, the suicide of Robin Williams has sat with me in a way that I didn’t expect. Yes, I was a huge fan from an early age as evidenced in this photo:

Heath Clown

A photo of me at a summer drama class

I loved “Mork From Ork” and my Mork suspenders were a prized possession (that’s also the fedora mention in the post about my aunt that she bought me at a thrift store when I was really into the Blues Brothers). I remember sitting in my grandmother’s bed watching his comedy special on HBO (R.I.P. Mimi). I always thought he was brilliant and hilarious. I hadn’t really thought about him much in a long time now though, so the weight of this was quite a surprise.

In the days since his death, it’s sat inside me like a stone. I listened to Marc Maron’s repost of his podcast with Robin from 2010 and it was comforting, and also a little eerie and sad in places, but overall Robin sounded at ease, happy, comfortable and serene. Some have been shocked by the level of details that have been released concerning his death, but I personally, am thankful. For some people, like myself, it’s not about some morbid thrill or fascination with gory details but for some reason they help me process it. It’s just something about the very detail oriented type of person I am. It bothers me when I can’t fill in the whole picture. It’s like I can’t ever really fully process it to closure for some reason. I am one of those people who, upon hearing of a death, immediately think “how?” and want as much information as I can get. It’s probably linked to my highly analytical mind and such. It’s not about morbid thrills.

I’ve written some on this subject previously, regarding the suicide of an old friend here, and some more here. I’ve read a lot that everyone has been writing and it’s just had me thinking a lot.

“Depression lies” is something I read that is so true, but also that, obviously, it’s a very convincing liar. I’m very lucky in that I am someone who is just generally positive and happy and can use the power of my mind and such. However, that’s me. I also recognize that for some, this may be much harder. There may well be physical, chemical imbalances and such. I would never think that someone else is weak or broken because they can’t just “be happy” or “get better.” I know I’m lucky. I do believe that all mental things are just like physical things in that your mind is like a muscle and you can build and strengthen pathways and though processes but it’s not easy, and it’s much harder to track and see progress. You can’t say “Last month I was only lifting 40 happiness pounds with my mind and this month I’m lifting 50!” It can be frustrating to feel out of control of your own mind, but I can tell you from experience that it can be done (obviously, individual mileage may vary). I couldn’t necessarily see the progress as it was happening, but now I can look back and see how far I’ve come in many ways. It’s a long game.

Something else that really sparked my mind into gear was some controversy (as detailed in this article) over The Academy and many other people posting pictures from Aladdin (in which Robin Williams played the Genie) with homages like “Genie, you’re free.” I had seen these as I’m sure they were intended, a warm, heartfelt goodbye with no malice but I had never even thought about how they very well could propagate the notion to depressed people that suicide equals freedom. There is no “freedom” in death. Only death. And the weight, absence and devastation it leaves behind.

Now that being said, I am not here to take a stand on any side. I don’t care whether suicide is “selfish” or not (and frankly, I don’t think “selfish” is an inherently bad word as it’s usually conveyed…it’s just as bad to not love and take care of ourselves enough because we sacrifice everything for others). I’m not here to condone or condemn. All I know is that one morning Robin Williams probably kissed his wife goodbye in the morning, (she also called him her best friend) and then felt like he had to go take his own life despite being one of the most beloved entertainers of all time with a loving wife and daughter and countless friends and fans. I wish I could Quantum Leap into his mind just to understand what he was feeling and thinking but we will never know. I certainly will not be angry or resentful. It’s just sad. I’m sorry that, for whatever reason, he felt this was necessary.

For me, I know I’ve had very dark times in my life when I sort of wished maybe I wouldn’t wake up, but those times are like faded memories for me. Things that I know, intellectually, occurred but yet can’t really feel or understand now that I don’t feel like that. For some people, that’s how they feel about being happy. It feels like a distant memory. Maybe an unattainable dream.

If you take anything away from this, let it be this: no matter who you are, nothing and no one will ever be better without you. Removing yourself from this life will not improve anything or anyone’s life. Your absence will be felt in deeper and farther reaching ways than you will ever know, and yes, that’s a shame that none of us will ever know the depth of our reach and effect on this world or know just how intertwined we all are, but that’s just the way it is. Each and every day, people lose this gift of life that we are given and would give anything to keep it or have it back. And it is a gift, even if it sometimes seems a burden.

You are more important to more people than you will ever know. If you ever find yourself on that precipice, please do something. Call someone. even if it goes against everything you’re feeling in that moment. Call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

And while it’s good that this seems to have everyone talking and thinking about important issues, I’m sure Robin would not want to be remembered in death only associated with depression and suicide. Another good thing that’s come from all this is that I’ve read so many great stories about him and got to know him better than ever through other people’s words (One of my favorite stories was from Norm Macdonald). I won’t think of him and feel somber, I will think of him and laugh and smile and remember what a kind, gentle, generous and big-hearted person he was. Thank you to all who knew him for sharing your stories and memories.

Mork from Ork, signing off. Nanu-nanu.

Just Because It’s Free, You Are Not Exempt From Criticism

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I listen to a lot of Podcasts. I can’t tell you the number of times the hosts have responded to criticism and comments from listeners by basically saying “Hey, it’s free, so quit your bitching.” This bothers me for several reasons. Firstly, it’s basically a big “fuck you” to the listeners that’s basically saying “I don’t really care what you think. You aren’t paying so you have no say in what we do.”

Now, I can see the logic here and it is true. I can do my own podcast any way I want and if I’m putting it out for free, you have no “right” to have input into it. However, here’s the thing: I want you to enjoy it and would genuinely like to know what people like and don’t like and how I can improve it. Sure, no matter what you do, you are never going to please everyone and will always have trolls and ass-hats who don’t really give any useful, intelligent feedback and just say “you suck,” or “eat a bag of dicks.” I’m not talking about them They are sad people who just want to make everyone else as miserable as they are and are jealous of any success and happiness that other’s have. But for people who really care and are submitting legitimate, constructive feedback, I would think that should be welcomed and considered.

I listen to a lot of Kevin Smith’s Podcasts on the SModcast network as well as Chris Hardwicke and the Nerdist podcast and have refrained from sending my personal comments to them because I am actually a fan and didn’t want to be dismissed or looked at as a “dissenter” or jerk who has the nerve to critique a free podcast, when the irony is that I want to help because I like them.

As an artist and a creator myself, I often tell others that the trick is to be open to all criticism while also not feeling like you have to act on everything. You need to be open minded enough to actually take it in and consider it, and then take what you think serves you. I’ve seen others go the other way and get overwhelmed because they feel the need to take every piece of advice and eventually lose their own vision and their project becomes a frankensteinian monster as they try to change everything that anyone thinks they should change and it’s no longer cohesive or true to their vision.

For example, I wrote a screenplay and I got a lot of very good feedback on it. After consideration, I found a lot of it was good, valid and helpful. Some of the other bits may have been good feedback but just didn’t fit the my own vision or the film I was trying to make. Then there was some feedback that I just had to discount because it was obvious that my film just wasn’t for those people and never would be. It’s a tough balancing act. To have a vision but be flexible and open to things that, in the end, may improve it.

This just as easily applies to Facebook or anything “free” (I won’t bother getting into the semantics of ads and such and whether something is really “free,” etc.) Stop using “Fuck you, it’s free” as an excuse to dismiss feedback. Criticism is not always from hostile people who are just jealous because they can’t do what you’re doing. Which brings me to another point: Also stop with the “I don’t see you doing it. If you think you know better, go out and do it yourself.” I think this argument is also a defensive, invalid response.

I don’t want to be an architect. That doesn’t mean I won’t have opinions and feedback on the design of a building. In fact, I posit that feedback from those outside the industry is equally valid. People who don’t see something in such detail with all it’s moving parts and such may have some great feedback you can’t see because you’re too close. You see behind the curtain. You know all the workings. They just see the overall picture or effect which could be very beneficial. Not everyone wants to be an actor/musician/podcaster/etc. But again, that does not invalidate their feedback and in fact may make it more valuable in certain ways.

To be absolutely clear, I LOVE Kevin Smith and Chris Hardwicke. I only mention them because I listen to so many hours of podcasts from them and they can both get a bit defensive and prickly and employ these responses I’ve mentioned here. I do understand it, and have reacted that way myself in the past, but it’s purely an ego defense mechanism. I’ve had constructive criticism I would have liked to have submitted and agreed with some of the criticism I’ve heard them cite and dismiss, but didn’t feel like I could contribute without being dismissed as one of the “uncool kids” even if I tried to present it non-confrontationally in a constructive way.

If you are putting something out into the world, then chances are you want acceptance and for people to enjoy it. Few people create something, legitimately just for themselves, to enjoy in solitude with no care whether others enjoy it as well. So let’s all put our egos aside and listen with an open mind and an open heart. Sometimes what is perceived by the ego as a hostile attack, is a friend reaching out a hand and wanting to help.

The Wonder of the World

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I try to live my life in gratitude, Never taking for granted or losing sight of what I have and all the wonderful things in my life and the world. It’s so easy to adjust our perspective and let our norm become mundane or lacking somehow. My iPhone is a good, if a bit obvious, example. I’ve often thought that if I could go back 10 years, 20 years and show myself my iPhone, my mind would be utterly blown (metaphorically, not literally). It is science fiction come to reality. There is a reason my lock screen is The Hitchhikers Guide To The Universe.

On a less obvious note, the other day I really thought about my keys. What an amazing piece of technology a key and lock is. A little piece of metal cut so uniquely as to open one lock which can only be opened by this magical combination of ridges. It’s really almost as magical as Gandalf illuminating runes and speaking Elvish to enter. A friend of mine also brought up what a status symbol keys really are. It says that you are prosperous enough to have a car or a house or whatever, and that it’s all locked away for your use only, you fascist ass-hat!

Sorry, I got a bit carried away.

I’ve taken up meditation and started using an app called “Insight timer” to time and log my meditation. It’s a really great app with a nice community layer to it. When you’re done meditating it will tell you how many other people were meditating (using the app) around the world. You can send message to people saying “Thanks for meditating with me.” I quite often think how vast our world is and all the things that are going on at any given moment. Right now, there’s almost certainly many people around the world doing just about anything you can think of.

At this very moment people are having sex, being murdered, getting fired, sleeping, shaving, climbing a mountain, watching a TV show, making a movie, vomiting with the flu, tickling a koala, snuggling, writing blog entries, plotting a scheme, eating way too much ice cream, getting married, achieving a lifelong dream, feeling depressed and useless, viewing the quivering fringe of a special doily draped across the piano with some surprise, pondering the significance of short-person behavior in pedal-depressed, panchromatic resonance and other highly ambient domains*.

The world and universe is filled with wonder. Never lose sight of it. With all we know, the fact is we know nothing. Only 4% of the universe is matter. The other 96% is still a mystery to us.

*-Frank Zappa “Evelyn, A Modified Dog”

Firsties!

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I’ve noticed that a lot of people like to post birthday or holiday greetings on social media the day before the actual holiday. I don’t get this. It’s not the event yet. Wait for it. My only guess is the strange internet phenomenon of “Firsties!” The desire to be the first person to comment like it’s some kind of badge of honor.

It just seems like sort of a cheat. If the day before is fine, then why not a few days. Or weeks. Or months.

“Happy birthday for the next 5 years!”
“Merry Christmas for infinity! Whew, glad I got that out of the way. Now I never have to say it again!”

Look, patience is not one of my virtues. I get it. But wait for the day. It’s kind of like if you open your presents on Christmas eve, that seems all exciting at the time, but then it’s kind of a bummer when you have nothing on the day. Same with greetings. Hold out. Ask Sting for Tantric sex techniques or something and maybe you can apply them to holiday greeting. I hear Sting can give holiday greetings for like 6 days.

The Key To Memorization Is Not Repetitive Reading, But Recalling

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I’ve read several articles such as this one (I can’t find the original article that I read about this, but there’s plenty out there) that talk about how the key to memorization is the act of recalling. So repetitively reading a script or passage will only go so far (this is the phase where your brain is loading it into your short term memory) but it’s the crucial recalling of that information that forms and strengthens the neural pathways, so the quicker you put down that script and start trying to remember it, the quicker you will strengthen those neural pathways and have the text memorized. Don’t spend hours re-reading something a thousand times. Only once you put it down and begin actually trying to remember it will you start the important phase of the process.

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