April 17, 2015
I'm a rules person. I like to know the rules, I like it when people follow the rules, and I like to enforce the rules. I'm not saying I'm proud of this, but I do know this about myself. (There are, of course, exceptions, but for the sake of simplicity, I'll just fess up to being a rules person.)
Tonight in improv, I was that rules person. I got a little bunched up last week over people wanting to know the purpose of activities before we did them, or trying to constantly analyze or compare, but what I realized tonight is that I'm just as annoying, but about rules. I see rule breaking, and I want to fix it. It's not my job in improv to fix it. It's my job in improv to embrace it.
I didn't figure that out tonight until I was leaving, of course. I went to class despite being sick. I tucked in against the wall and watched. (So I didn't even have a chance to fail. Last week's goal averted.) Before going, I knew it might be hard for me not to interject. To just observe. It was. And the several times I did interject, or comment, I regretted it. I didn't just lightly regret it, but at the end of the night I left feeling ashamed and a little broken. I'm that person, I thought. I'm that person who can't keep my mouth shut, who always has something to add, who steps in to what should be in the instructor's domain. (This isn't new knowledge. This is old stuff. I've been that person probably all my life. And although I'm aware of it, I just keep...on...doing it.)
And it really bothered me. Last week, I felt like I failed because I didn't let go and get in there. This week, I felt like I failed because I overstepped my bounds and made people feel either annoyed or badly about themselves. They've probably already let go of it, I thought, and I probably should too.
But then I thought something else. Okay, I thought, my challenge for next week is no constructive criticism. No helpful hints. No gentle reminders. "I love the way you ___" or nothing at all. Pick out the bright spots.
When I was religious, I liked the idea that is wasn't my job to judge people. That was God's. Just so, it's not my job to judge people in class. That's for the instructors. My job is to embrace my fellow players and everything they do. One of the students today brought in a thought from a class he took over the weekend: Everyone is a genius. No matter what I think my next idea was going to be, whomever I'm working with is a genius, and what just came up is the best possible thing that could have happened.
I'm not saying it's going to be easy. My job is to judge less, and I'm just wired for it. Judge, judge, judge. (Yeah, pretty sure I'm not alone in this. And there are tons of reasons it makes sense to judge, but we'll leave that for another conversation about evolution or psychology or sociology or whatever.) Myself, and others. The judging gets in the way. It gets in the way of flow.
So there's my challenge. And a way to be more present. That's my present, to me. I hope I like it....
But before I close, let me wax poetic a bit about what it was like to be tucked into the wall. People in this class are super nice. Just a real pleasure. I sat and watched while people did a goofy warm-up, making funny noises and motions and stretching out their mouths and eyebrows. I sat and watched while people tried things they'd never done before. I sat and watched while people experimented with ideas they'd never had before. During an exercise in which you have to walk briskly around the room pointing at things and calling them something else (e.g. touch a chair and call it an elephant), I was called Statue of Liberty, ballerina, hooker, and puppy dog. (Yes, commence with the jokes. Take your pick, and very funny.) This was all pure joy. The two newbies who couldn't make class last week were amazing. Just stepped right in there. I was impressed by the lack of hesitation and self consciousness, the inventiveness, the willingness. After some games, people would say, "That was hard," but it didn't look it from where I was sitting. One of the newcomers said, at the end of the night, I just realized that with improv we leave the rest of the world out there. None of the rules apply. All the rules we're supposed to follow (a-hem), all the things we're supposed to do or be, the ways we're judged, we just leave it out there on the other side of that wall. That's pretty cool.
Yeah. That's pretty cool.
April 10, 2015
Failing at Failing
I joined an improv class tonight. It's an eight week class and I realized yesterday that I will miss *three* of those eight classes next month, and had about a day and a half to debate over whether to do it anyway.
I have a couple reasons for wanting to do the class.
1) I like acting and did improv informally for a while many years ago. It's been in the back of my mind off and on that I would give it another go.
2) I reconnected with some Ice friends who have done improv and was inspired by a couple things, both personal and professional. One of the goals that I set at the end of last year was to spend some time this year involved in improv.
The professional: Applying principles of improv to science communication is kind of a thing. Since I like improv and do and teach science communication, I wanted to be part of this thing.
The personal: A friend was talking about applying improv principles to real life, mainly in relationships of all sorts. Make the people around you look good, give gifts, listen. I was thinking improv would also help me to practice being present and attentive. When I asked for more details on the class, the description included being okay with failing. And I though god, yes, I need to learn to fail. I mean, I know how to fail, but I need to learn that failing is okay. I need to learn to be okay with it. I need to practice being okay with it.
So, even though I'm going to miss three out of eight sessions, I decided to go ahead with the class. No time like the present.
Here is the series of texts I sent to a friend in the half hour leading up to the class:
(6:31) What if I don't really like the other people in the class? What if it's lame?
(6:31) What if I don't get anything out of it?
(6:49) And I'm nervous!
(6:49) What if I'm just not on or into it?
(6:49) Then I won't get anything out of it.
(6:50) And I forgot mints!
(6:52) Found mints in my glove box. :)
(6:56) I'm wearing purple pants.
Big surprise, I survived. But I failed. In a way that doesn't even feel like a good way. I failed at failing! I didn't even fail on the "stage"--I failed to get on the stage. I can't fail if I'm not on the stage. The last game was freeze tag, which you've seen if you've seen just about any improv. Two people play out a simple little scene with big gestures, another player yells freeze, they freeze, the new player taps one of them on the shoulder, takes the same position, and starts a totally different scene. I kept waiting. For the right moment. For the right inspiration. For whatever. In the meantime, all the scenes were going on too long because people weren't calling freeze and jumping in. Rebecca, the organizer, who I did improv with long ago, was mouthing to me from her perch as the only audience member across the room: Freeze. Say freeze. Say freeze. Because if you're not playing, you're not a team player. I wasn't a team player. Rebecca picked up an imaginary brain out of her real head and set it tidily next to said head: Stop thinking.
So, I've got a lot of work to do. Stop thinking. Start playing. Stop judging. Start being. Stop editing. Start creating.
I feel like I failed tonight, even though I'm supposed to be embracing failing. Everyone else got out there, repeatedly, even the first-timers. I did maybe two scenes. With cold feet. Funny thing about improv, there are rules. There are things to keep track of. There are pressures. And the pressures are to be aware, and to listen, and to stop thinking so much. But to tap into that creative space, we have barriers to get past. One of the rules is to avoid asking questions because that leaves us at the surface and not committing. When we ask a question (What are you doing?) we're not creating, we're waiting to see what someone else will come up with. This is considered bad etiquette, partly because it's not interesting for the audience and partly because it puts the burden of decision on your fellow player. But it also robs you of the opportunity to create. In a place where it seems like there should be no rules, or etiquette to follow, we have rules and etiquette to force us to that scary, vulnerable, risky, exposing, and liberating space. We could fail. But fear of failure is what makes us truly fail. I feel more sheepish about my paralysis, about not getting out there tonight, than I would if I did something stupid. This is exactly what we're trying to break through. Not failure, but the fear of failure.
Okay, that's it. Next week, I'll do better.
April 8, 2015
Seeking Financial Advice
I just looked over my finances and did some calculations to see how long it would take me to pay off my student loans.
Bachelors degree: Paid off long ago (thank goodness)
1st master's degree: No debt--science, got and lived off my stipend (thank goodness)
2nd master's degree (yes, 2nd... hey, I'm not the only one): Debt up the ying-yang
I don't know where my head was for that second master's. I was feeling ambitious and idealistic and since I chose the local, state school over the expensive, hoighty-toighty, across-the-county private school I just didn't look closely at my finances. I figured with in-state tuition, it couldn't be that much, and also assumed there was no financial aid available since it was in humanities. Wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all, I could have applied for a TAship or RAship my first year, which I had no idea about. I blame both myself and the program for lack of communication. But second of all... I just didn't really keep tabs on my finances. That's a huge shame-on-me. And now I'm paying for it. Literally. (And, of course, I accrued as much debt as I would have at the hoighty-toighty school, but over twice the amount of time, which kept me out of the workforce longer.)
I really, really, really hate debt. I can't pay off my debt nearly as fast as I'd like. (And by as fast as I'd like, I mean, you know, like... now.) So I'd like to find some additional sources of income. Writing, maybe photography... Maybe I could write for some money in the evenings? It would have to be something not super taxing, since my day job is pretty full-on. But man, it would be nice to get these things up and done. Any ideas? Investments? Hard labor? Odd jobs? I can be odd...