emotions

Tell the mountains

I just noticed that I’m in love with improv right now.

I get on stage, and I do a shitty job, and I walk off giggling and itching to get back up there and give it another go. That was fun, but I coulda done that one thing better, so let’s have a do-over, I’ll get it right this time, yeahhhh!

This has not always been my attitude. In retrospect, I think I have DCM16 and autumn hypomania to thank. But yeah, this is what I’ve been striving for for the past year.

 

So.

Uh.

…Welp, guess we can shut the doors on this blog of improv angst. *wipes off hands and rides into the sunset*

 

(Don’t worry, we’ll return soon with a brand new season of fear-borne existential crises! Stay tuned.)

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I went to a show last week where there were 6 people in the audience, including the director (who was taking notes).

In cases like this, I feel it is my duty to laugh as much as possible, because I am sympathetic to how nerve-wracking it is to perform for a tiny unresponsive crowd.

And as I sat there, giggling as much as I could honestly muster, I realized: part of what I love about watching improv is feeling like I’m a part of it, like I’m supporting the players, like my joy (and expression of it) is the fuel that lets them do their awesome thing.

It satisfies that craving to make the world a better place.

 

…..

 

I’ve realized that I usually play better/more fearlessly with less experienced players— partly because less experienced players often go to crazytown, thus providing me with easy opportunities for honest reactions & calling out their contradictions— but largely because I can see that they’re more scared than I am.

SOMEONE’S got to drive the scene somewhere. And if it’s just the two of us on stage, and if it seems unlikely to be them, then I guess it’s gotta be me.

And so I actually pull my weight and support my scene partner.

When I play with equally/more experienced players, though, I’m the scared one, and I almost always make them lead. I hardly ever initiate, walk on, tag out. I “yes” whatever ideas they throw at me, but I struggle to “yes AND” to build the scene.

In my head, I’m supporting them by not fucking up whatever brilliant ideas they’re trying to accomplish. In reality, I’m only supporting by being another warm body on stage, which is maybe comforting but not particularly helpful.

 

(For this reason, I dream of doing a practice session [or two] where we agree that *I* have to initiate every scene I’m in. Even on days when I decide that I will force myself to do lots of initiations, my scene partner is quicker on the draw and always starts a scene before I’ve quite pieced together a coherent idea. Because this happens pretty much every time, I’ve given up trying. “Go on, partner,” I say, “what have you got? I got an emotion, and I’ll mirror you, but I got nothin’ to say. Initiate for me, I’ll wait.”

Ick. Talk about leaving someone out there.)

 

…..

 

I was asked to do a small show last week with one of the Magnet veteran house teams. One of them had seen me do jams, apparently, and liked the cut of my jibe. I immediately agreed to it, because DUH. But I knew it wasn’t going to go great— I hadn’t done any long form in months, I hadn’t done this specific form EVER, the show was late at night and my brain was foggy… but most of all, I knew I’d be playing with veteran improvisers I admire, and I knew I’d play scared because of that.

Which is pretty much how it went down.

I’m not devastated, but I am annoyed at myself.

…..

 

So. Points:

  1. I am good at supporting from the audience. This makes me feel good.
  2. I am pretty okay at supporting less experienced players onstage. This makes me feel pretty good.
  3. I am not good at supporting more experienced players onstage. This makes me feel bad.

 

Conclusions:

The more experience I have, the more situations will statistically fall into categories #1 and #2, and fewer into #3, and I will therefore feel good a higher percentage of the time. Keep on truckin’.

Failing greatness

WARNING: Not so comedic. Some discussion of suicide. (1) I’m not suicidal right now, don’t worry about me. (2) If you think it might be a trigger for you, or generally uncomfortable, you might want to skip this one.

 

———-

Prelude: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about laziness and depression.

I’m not depressed (probably?). I am lazy and insecure with self-confidence issues.

And I’ve been waffling about hitting the “publish” button on this for a couple weeks. Why do I need to be so open? Is it a cry for attention? Does it belong on this blog? Does it belong anywhere?

…Fuck it, let’s go.

 

———-

Two things I encountered yesterday morning:

  1. A quote from Amy Poehler, as illustrated by Zen Pencils: “Great people do things before they’re ready.”
  2. A quote from Stephen Thompson, towards the end of this week’s Pop Culture Happy Hour (31:13): “People who achieve greatness in all sorts of capacities are obsessive people.”

Neither of those refers to me.

I think it’s normal to see people we really admire (“great”) and analyze: what exactly makes those great people so great? What separates them from the riff-raff? What can I do to put myself on the right side of that threshold? —which is why these kinds of quotes are so prevalent, and why I assume so many people find them motivational.

My gut translation of quotes like that is: “Worthwhile humans have XYZ trait, but you don’t have XYZ trait, therefore you are worthless. Just give up. There’s no point.”

 

———-

Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal does a lot of comics about what he calls “the Blerch.” [link] [link] [link]

I haven’t been getting anything done lately. My Blerch is winning.

It’s always been a battle for me, as I assume it is for most people. (Why else would Inman’s Blerch comics be so popular, right?)

Do most people plan their whole lives around the assumption that they won’t do anything unless they have to do it? ‘Cos I do.

 

It’s why I have a rigorous schedule for improv (when I’m in it; I’m falling out right now [see “Blerch” above]): classes on Mondays, practice group on Fridays, show-watching on Wednesdays.

It’s why I know exactly what days I’m going to run a month in advance— it’s on the schedule, so I have to do it.

It’s why I don’t cook or clean— Nobody’s making me do it, so I don’t.

It’s why I participate in community bands— I know I won’t do any music on my own.

It’s why I won’t freelance— I know I’d be late on deadlines and have no repeat clients.

 

Laziness/Blerchness is the commonest and most shameful thing in our western culture.

Severe depression is its own thing that I have no frame of reference for, but I wonder: what’s the functional difference between severe laziness and mild depression?

 

(Side note on how to combat laziness: Here’s a link I found that suggests breaking the thing you’re avoiding into smaller goals.)

———-

Robin Williams committed suicide on Monday (8/11/14). (He was one of the contributing influences to this “Robin Cartwright” pseudonym I use.)

When the news broke, everyone cried, “I loved [that movie he did 20 years ago]!”

I have no idea what Williams was going through. But if it were me, and nobody had anything good to say about any work I’d done since c.1997, I don’t think I’d be handling it very well, myself, emotionally.

…..

One thing that’s come out of this is that people are talking openly and non-judgmentally about mental illness.

I haven’t seen the line “suicide is selfish” this time around*, which is refreshing. (That line never made sense to me; when I’ve considered suicide, it always felt altruistic, because OBVIOUSLY the world would be a better place without me in it.)

*Ed. The “selfish” thing started coming up later. Dammit.

What I have seen is a lot of “mental illness is a real illness; if you are ill, get help.” Which… it’s more complicated than that, innit?

…..

John William Keedy did a series of photographs about anxiety, and got interviewed by NPR.

There’s a stigma that goes with having a mental illness. It comes with this idea of weakness of will. Which is weird, because if somebody had a broken arm you’d never tell them to will their way out of it.

Here’s the thing: with a broken arm, it’s either broken, or it isn’t. You look at an X-ray, and you know.

With mental illness, there is a whole continuum, and it’s pretty fuzzy. Sometimes you feel shitty and it’s “normal”; sometimes you feel shitty and it’s “abnormal.” Drawing a precise line between “normal” and “abnormal” is incredibly unclear, and has been debated among trained psychiatrists for years, and that precise line shifts from year to year, from DSM to DSM, from one psychiatrist’s subjective opinion to another’s.

I self-diagnose myself as “subclinical pretty much everything.” I show some signs of dysthymia, bipolar II, PMDD, SAD, anxiety, agoraphobia, avoidant personality disorder, etc… but I can leave my apartment in the morning and hold a job, and I am therefore “functional” and not truly “ill,” so it’s hard to justify the time/cost/effort of seeking help.

…And by the time I get to seriously considering suicide, I’m just SURE that I’m fine, and suicide just seems LOGICAL.

Argh.

 

—–

I don’t really have a point, I just wanted to vent.

 

In closing, here are some better and more articulate thoughts about depression to read, if you haven’t seen them yet:

  1. David Foster Wallace writes about his depression (1984)
  2. Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half writes about her depression – Part 1 (2011)Prelude, and Part 2 (2013)

 

Introversion + Too many people in this scene

I’m an introvert. Whenever I take Meyers-Briggs tests, I’m wayyyyyyyyyy over on the introvert side of the spectrum.

A defining characteristic of introversion is that we’re quiet and reserved in large groups. We are most comfortable by ourselves, or talking to someone one-on-one, maybe two. Not a crowd.

I bring this up because I find that I prefer doing improv with just one scene partner, and I get progressively more freaked out the more people I have to play with at once.

Monoscenes, by definition, require interacting with a large group of people at once, which I’m starting to think automatically sets off my introversion/ social anxiety/ agoraphobia/ fear, and renders me useless for improv.

 

…..

I was involved (I still am, kind of sort of? I haven’t officially quit) with an indie team that did variations on monoscenes. I was never really into the form, but everyone else seemed to be, so I went along with it. I hoped that I was just inexperienced, that I’d grow to love the form with time. Hasn’t happened.

Those same teammates have commented that it’s really hard to do a good Harold. No argument from me— all long-form improv is really hard. But to my mind, Harolds— or any forms built from straight-up two-person scenework— seem more straightforward to pull off.

I want to improvise laid-back explorations of two-person relationships. I like those in real life, and I like the idea of improvising make-believe versions of them. No pressure. No crowds. Just you and me having a moment together.

I dunno. Improv is hard enough on its own, so why make it even harder?

 

I do believe that if you’re still mostly failing in the practice room, it’s prudent to be patient and keep it behind closed doors until you’re nailing a slightly higher success rate…. I also believe you can get comfortable being on stage by doing stuff that you have a high probability of succeeding at. Sufficient preparation allows you to build skills, and utilizing those skills drives your success.

(Did I just quote myself? Yeah. Yeah, I did. #arrogance)

Some long forms are more difficult than others. When I get bored of the easier ones, then yes, I’ll move on to something trickier. But I see no reason to jump into something I’m unlikely to succeed at before I’ve mastered some forms that I might actually be able to pull off.

And I’d be more likely to succeed because…

“It’s just so much easier to follow passion than it is to follow…”
“…an obligation.”

(Rick & Lewis)

 

Arrogance vs. self-loathing

As basically every post on this blog can verify, I have issues with self confidence. But I’ve got an ego, too, and feeding that ego feels really good— that’s the whole reason comedians go for laughs, right?

When I’m not filled with self-loathing, when I start thinking, Hey, I might actually be competent at this, or God forbid, Maybe I’m even GOOD at this, I’ll often catch myself and put on the brakes: Whoa there Robin, your last practice was probably unskilled as anything, but you were in an egotistical headspace, so it only felt good. You still aren’t good. You can only improve by addressing your flaws. So I’ll start focusing on all the mistakes I make, and I’ll realize I can’t do ANYTHING right, and I’ll crash right back down to self-loathing.

Self-loathing is an unwanted state of mind, because it makes me question every move I make, which leads to bad improv, which leads to hating myself for being terrible at improv. (Also because self-loathing is generally unpleasant and unproductive in life— let’s not forget there are several reasons why self-loathing is not ideal.) But I don’t want to be pompous and overconfident either.

I’m on an egotistical upswing right now, and I’m trying to fight my natural tendency to seek humility and find a happy balance.

To quote an episode of the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast:

[People always say to me, ‘Self deprecation/ low self esteem] is going to keep me humble.’

And I always say to them, ‘Humble? Not your problem. You don’t have a problem being too arrogant.’ …I will say to them, you know, as a therapist, I’ll say, ‘If I hear you sounding too arrogant, I promise you, I will tell you to bring it down a notch. Not my biggest fear when I think of you, being an asshole-dick-arrogant-schmuck. Not what I worry about.

Mental Illness Happy Hour, Episode 165: Mini Episode: Low Self-Esteem with therapist Dr. Guy Winch, segment starting around 22:16

 

So: go ahead and overshoot the confidence thing for a while. I give you permission, Self.

Overcoming fear: I want to be here

For the past few weeks, I’ve been getting deeper into my current improv philosophy of “just have fun.” Am I making a lot of dumb Level 1 mistakes because I’m not panicking and weighing the pros and cons of every decision? Sure.

But honestly, if the Bill Arnett improvement graph is at all accurate, then I was already doing some of my best work in Level 1, and my current bad scenes are generally better than my Level 1 bad scenes, simply because I’ve been doing this for nearly a year now and those “better decisions” can just sort of happen now, sometimes, if I can just LET them. And I can let them happen if I can just be less afraid.

 

Why am I so afraid?

  • Because people I respect will judge my performance negatively, and they will lose respect for me.
  • Because I will ruin everything for my brilliant teammates if I make one stupid move, and every move I make has the potential to be stupid.
  • Because performances feel like opportunities to show off how shitty I am, the whole idea of which makes me cringe.

 

Are these fears valid?

  • No, people won’t lose respect for you. Sometimes you do shitty improv. It’s okay. If people hate you/ pity you after one bad show, then they don’t understand improv, so fuck them, who put those dickfaces in charge of your life?
  • No, you won’t ruin everything. No mistakes in improv. You may make a choice that makes the scene harder to play, but your teammates are good improvisers, and they can take your choice and make it sing. Mick Napier asserts that the best way to support your scene partners is to make bold choices, so gift the fuck out of your teammates and stop worrying that it’s dumb.
  • …I actually kind of agree with the last one, though. You yourself aren’t shitty. But yeah, I do believe that if you’re still mostly failing in the practice room, it’s prudent to be patient and keep it behind closed doors until you’re nailing a slightly higher success rate. I think this is at odds with the popular majority, and I do agree that actively avoiding stage time will feed your phobias. But I also believe you can get comfortable being on stage by doing stuff that you have a high probability of succeeding at. Sufficient preparation allows you to build skills, and utilizing those skills drives your success.But feeling like all performances are a venue for your shittiness? Dude. With class shows (for example), you’ve spent eight whole weeks building the skills necessary to perform the form! You’re prepared! Chill out!

 

How can I stop being so afraid?

Right now, my anti-fear tactics are:

  1. Play like there’s no audience, like it’s just another no-pressure practice group session.
  2. Don’t spend the time leading up to a show thinking about the show, even if you’re focusing on positive affirmations. One of my teammates once said “being in your head with overwhelming positivity is still being in your head.” (Plus— affirmations don’t even work unless you’re already confident, don’t waste your time.) Go for a walk, give attention to each of your five senses, practice basic mindfulness. Being in your head = worry = fear = weak improv.
  3. Remember that you want to be there!

 

Why do I want to be here?

Because this is FUN. Because I love being silly.

The shows I most enjoy watching are the shows where it looks like the improvisers are having fun. If ME having fun leads to a better show for the AUDIENCE, well duh, my work is cut out for me.

 

(As ever, this is all just rambling personal opinions that I’ve already stated in previous blog posts, just repackaged. My apologies for redundancy!)

Googling self-help (is how I do)

These are some links I’ve been reading lately, with improv in mind:

  • Social anxiety disorder : I’ve never really felt like I have diagnosable social anxiety, per se, but it does a good job explaining how I feel before/after performances. And if it’s treatable, well hey, let’s look into that.
    • “[Social anxiety disorder] is sometimes referred to as an ‘illness of lost opportunities’ where ‘individuals make major life choices to accommodate their illness.‘”

    • “[They] experience dread over how they will be presented to others. They may feel overly self-conscious, pay high self-attention after the activity, or have high performance standards for themselves. According to the social psychology theory of self-presentation, a sufferer attempts to create a well-mannered impression towards others but believes he or she is unable to do so. Many times, prior to the potentially anxiety-provoking social situation, sufferers may deliberately review what could go wrong and how to deal with each unexpected case. After the event, they may have the perception that they performed unsatisfactorily. Consequently, they will review anything that may have possibly been abnormal or embarrassing. These thoughts do not simply terminate soon after the encounter, but may extend for weeks or longer.

    • The main solution Wikipedia offers is cognitive behavioral therapy. I started doing improv as an alternative to CBT. Improv is my CBT. Sooooo if anxiety is making me unable to partake in my therapy for anxiety, that’s a snake eating its tail kinda situation. What’s the solution? More improv? Real CBT?
  •  

  • Mental Illness Happy Hour interview with Marc Maron :
    • What I realized about me is that I have anxiety–almost paralyzing anxiety and panic…. I would become overwhelmed by these possibilities that were bearing down on me, that were being generated by my mind through panic and fear, that I would become exhausted. And I would enter a paralysis. And that paralysis does not look that different than depression. – Marc Maron on not being bipolar, starting around 17:26

    • Can I also take a moment to mention—the fact that this podcast exists, that it started as comedians interviewing comedians about all the ways they’re fucked up—is awesome.

 

So far, this is all just in the spirit of “huh, that’s interesting. And familiar. I wonder how I can take lessons from these things that have already happened to other people and apply them to my situation.”

My “situation” is that I am not deriving a lot of pleasure from improv at the moment, and I am unsure whether this is a surmountable issue or not.

Am I just generally anxious and depressed, and when that fades, will my enjoyment of improv be rekindled?  Or am I done?

Am I consigned to being a mere watcher of improv?

Why do I want this? Is the high worth it? Do I even get a high?

Am I resistant to that kind of a high because— as an only child who is/was a self-centered attention whore (as all only children obviously are), who was self-aware that attention whoring was an undesirable trait, who consequently trained myself long ago to ignore that smug sparkle I feel when someone laughs to let me know I have succeeded in entertaining her– I ignore that joy instead of chasing it?

Comedy is hard. What’s my reward? Is it worth the pain? Is anything?