Sunday, May 22, 2011

Life lessons via improv

First of all, Tina Fey's Bossypants is a great book. I enjoyed it cover to cover. Not least because of reminders of people, places, and things (Greg-the-bicycle-helmet-guy, Davis St. El-Stop, and Heartland Cafe's sweet potato fries) that were part of what made my life in Evanston/Chicago memorable.

But really, what I want to share with you is Ms. Fey's
The Rules of Improvisation
That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat*
These four rules echo some of my own personal philosophy with regard to success, dealing with challenges, making it through the day.
The first rule of improvisation is AGREE.  Always agree and SAY YES.  When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created.  So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger.  You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt.  But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” Then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas Gun.
As Fey states, this isn't going to work in all cases.  BUT, leading a life where the first answer is "Yes", and then dealing with any complications that arise from this seems that it would lead to a far more adventurous life than one where any suggestion is met with a definite, obstinate, recalcitrant "No."

I'm not advocating saying yes to everything. Many people, myself included (and I'm really going to try to change this) have set their default answer to "No."
    No, I don't want to try the brussels sprouts.
    No, I have no desire to go to the store with you.
    There's NO way I could bike 40 miles in a single day.
    No, I will not help you rob the bank.

What I am advocating is setting the default to "Yes." It seems that if our initial response is to accept the things and events presented to us we open ourselves to ever larger experience.

    Yes, I will try the brussels sprouts. By saying yes to one of the first things my now-husband cooked for me, I showed I was open to adventure with him. Also, I found a new vegetable that I really like.
    Yes, I will go to the store with you.  You never know what you might see on the way to, at, or from the store.  Maybe today's the day with the unannounced sale on those wish list things you've been longing for.
    Yes, I can bike 40 miles in a day. If we go slowly, have some rest stops, and carry plenty of water.  Our bodies are usually capable of much more than we give them credit for.  And how good does it feel to walk into work the next day and say, "I rode from home to that place 20 miles away and back again yesterday."  Oh Yea.
    No, I will not help you rob the bank. But before I said "No." But I thought about it.  At the very least I thought about why you might need to rob a bank.  Also, it's a wee bit flattering to have something thing I could help them rob a bank.  Or, at least, I'm going to assume it's flattering.  The true answer might be that I'm just a good patsy.
The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND....To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute.  It’s your responsibility to contribute.  Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.   Your initiations are worthwhile.
If you're going to come to the party, the least you can do is bring a bottle of wine or bag of chips.  I also think this is part of what makes these rule a challenge.  It's easy to say simply "yes" or "no".  We are often content to let someone else find the adventure so that we can just tag along for the ride.  It can be scary to try to contribute.  But try anyway AND learn from the experience.
    Yes, I will try the brussels sprouts.  And I think they would look nice on this antique plate.
    Yes, I will go to the store with you.  And let's create a realistic plan to acquire those wish list items.
    Yes, I'll bike 40 miles with you.  And if we take this path I heard there's a great burger place along the way.  Let's have lunch there.
    Nope, I'm still not going to help you rob the bank.  However (a sort of and) I'll help you find a legal way to acquire those luxury goods you so desperately want.
The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS.  This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers. 
In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution.  Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out the obstacles.
This seems to fill right into line with my Wallow With a Purpose philosophy. It's important to spend time evaluating the risks and obstacles, but don't stop there.  My high school math teacher* was always willing to help students through problems on our homework. However, she would only help you if you tried the problem first and could tell her where you got stuck. She forced you to find figure the sticking point and then helped create a path past it.  

THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. ... In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents.  And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident.  I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.
No one is going to be always successful. Falling flat on our face is what teaches us we stronger than we thought.  Be brave enough to try anything.  To say "yes" first.  To add to the pot. To bring your own ideas into the mix. Some concoctions are horrible, but some are greater than the sum of their parts.  

*improv will not reduce belly fat**
Thank you Tina Fey.


*Yes, I had same math teacher for all four years of high school.

**Actually, it might.  Research shows (here, here, and here for starters)  that stress raises cortisol levels in the body.  Cortisol seems to be related to the storage fat in the belly.  So, if these Rules help reduce the stress in your life, they could help narrow your waist line at the same time. I'm just saying.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The nut doesn't fall far from the tree

I am my mother's daughter.

Mom, me, Great-Grandma B, Grandma F.

My father and my husband are more than willing to remind me of that on a regular basis.  And admittedly there seems to be a genetic predilection for alphabetized spices, properly folded towels, and overall control-freakishness.

And, quite truthfully, I am proud of this.  In fact, there are times I wish I had some more of my mother's traits.  She seems to be able to maintain a calmness and pleasantness in the face of adversity that I just don't have.

Well, some adversity.  She's good in retail and office situations.  It might just be because every one is scared of her.  When she's at home, with a limited audience, she's not always so collected. Apparently as a youngster I came into the barn repeating my mother's admonitions to the calves she was attempting to teach to drink from a bucket.* Apparently she was convinced they were made of excrement and lacked intelligence. Yes, toddlers talking about the shitty dumb calves is rather cute.

Yet, here is my question. Likely 99.999999% of the troubles I had with my mother were based on me talking back.  Where did I learn this?  Clearly I must have had a good role model.  See, I'm thinking I learned it all from her.  So really, shouldn't she have been glad to have created a child willing to speak up for herself instead of constantly chastising her for that?  I suppose we'll never really know the answer.

Still, and all, I'm glad my mom is my mom.  I'm glad she's at least partly responsible for making me who I am today.  If only I could remember why.**

Fall 2010

*It's a bit of a trick to teach a calf to drink from a bucket.  The general trick is to lead her mouth to the fluid by allowing her to suck your fingers.  The problem is that the calf believes that butting her head is a good way to get said fluid.  So, the calf butts her head and the teacher's fingers end up painfully trapped between the bottom of the bucket and the edges of the calf's teeth.

**One trait I do seem to have escaped is my mother's tendency to not remember things.