messing up

Hitting branches

On Sunday, my mono-scene class had its last show (at the Magnet, Level 4 and up get four shows, ‘cos you get to be a better performer by performing). It wasn’t great. When our instructor gave us notes afterwards, one of my classmates started apologizing, and the instructor broke to give us a quick pep talk instead:

Mistakes are part of this. We all want to be perfect improvisers, and we will NEVER be perfect improvisers, none of us. No matter how long you do it, you will ALWAYS be messing up. We’re all trying to climb this impossibly tall unclimbable tree, and all we can do is try to hit a few branches on the way down so we don’t land quite so badly. That’s all improv training is, is learning how to hit branches during our inevitable fall.

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Fixing a downhill scene

Something I’ve been running into for a while— you’re doing a scene, and you realize it’s going down a problematic path. Maybe it’s a transactional scene, or a teaching scene, or an attacking/fight scene, or a plot-heavy scene, or you’re talking about the thing and not about each other, or whatever. But you notice that the scene is having some structural issues.

Now what? How do you fix it?

Thinking onstage is hard. I often resort to very, very heavy-handed approaches that don’t even work— like if the scene is getting plot-heavy, I will literally say, “This is getting a little plot-heavy. Why don’t we talk about something else?”

Or if we’re talking about the thing, I will say, “But this isn’t what matters. What matters is… you.” (Which doesn’t make sense, so I’ll follow up with some desperately clumsy description of either (a) how we’re secretly in love, or (b) how mad I am because of something he/she did.)

I can’t think fast enough to A to C to come up with a graceful segue to shift the tone of the scene in a more favorable direction. Is that a skill that can come with time? I feel like I’ve been handling downhill scenes this same way for a year or so. Are there exercises I can do to work on this specific skill?

 

 

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)

 

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?

Successful actors freeze, too

http://www.backstage.com/news/study-shows-stage-fright-is-common-among-working-actors/

(From 2011: Study Shows Stage Fright is Common Among Working Actors)

84 percent [of 136 successful professional actors surveyed] reported experiencing stage fright at least once in their careers. [Goodman] described the condition as freezing or choking and said it is usually represented by a performance’s sudden collapse, rather than a gradual decline. Anxiety is particularly debilitating to actors, because fear of the future occurs in the same part of the brain where imagination lives, Goodman explained. He likened it to an overloaded computer: It will freeze if it has too many programs open while trying to process something complicated. “Imagination,” he said, “is a limited space.”

 

“All of a sudden I really got stage fright,” [Bailit] said. “I couldn’t figure it out, and I remember looking out, and everyone had a stunned look.” She almost walked off the stage, a move that would have haunted her career, she said. One thing kept her onstage. “I was frozen,” she said.

More-positive thoughts quickly took hold, she said, and she remembered her training: Concentrate on what you’re saying; get in the moment; connect with someone.

 

Experience and success are no guard against [stage fright]. Actors such as Meryl Streep, Ian Holm, and Barbra Streisand also suffered from it after they had established their careers.

 

(I froze in class this past week. Upside: I didn’t break the fourth wall like I usually do. Downside: I froze, what the FUCK, I should be past this by now, why am I not. Other downside: it was our first level 3 class, and I’m ALSO obsessing that my classmates all judged me. Great first impression, right?

So instead of wallowing in self-loathing, I’m trying to figure out: what went wrong? How can I prevent this from happening in the future? Can I prevent it from happening in the future? If I can’t, how can I manage the symptoms? If I can’t, is it a total waste of time to pursue a stage-based hobby?)

Naming things

There are a million ways that doing improv will improve your offstage life, as described here, here, and elsewhere around the internet.

One downside, though, is that I’ve gotten into the habit of calling people by the first name that pops into my head.

“How’s life, Robin?”

“Great, Marty, how ’bout you?”

“Uh. I’m Jake.”

 

Be careful, folks.

 

 

Stop fighting!

An observation about one of the many improv things I struggle with— If you come at me with an accusation, I will always, always fight.

I mean, I’ll accept the reality of the situation, that I did the thing you’re accusing me of, but I’ll be damned if you’re gonna tell me that’s WRONG. I had a TOTALLY valid reason for crashing that commercial jet, and fuck you for saying otherwise.

The problem is: fights rarely make good improv. The scene never goes anywhere– no new information gets added to the scene, you just dive deeper and deeper into the dumb little factoids you started with. It becomes about the facts (which are MADE UP! how can you strive win a fight based on make-believe facts?!) instead of about the relationship between the characters.

The problems for me, why I have so much trouble not fighting, are:

  1. I wouldn’t say I like arguing, but… uh, I like being right. So I’m usually having so much… fun?… trying to one-up my opponent that I don’t even realize I’m doing a terrible scene until like 2 minutes after it ends.
  2. It’s my honest reaction. That’s honestly how I’d handle an accusation in reality. And you’re supposed to react honestly, right?

I’ve got a short fuse. I never thought I’d be able to hold a job as long as I have; I always envisioned myself telling a boss to go fuck himself and quitting/getting fired in a spectacular tantrum. (I’ve come close! Oh did my manager and I have a talk last week. But I digress.)

Lately, I’ve had some opportunities to get screamingly rageful in scenes, and that usually goes over well because “strong emotion” and all, but I’m just like, wince, guys, I have anger issues, please don’t validate them.

Back to the point: ideally, I guess you avoid confrontational initiations, but once it’s out there… maybe I need to learn to just… accept that I was wrong, that I’m the lower status character here. At least sometimes.

Is there a way to do this without being either (a) remorseful (“I’m so sorry, I’m a terrible person for crashing that jet”) or (b) incompetent/clueless (“You’re not s’posed to shut off the engines in flight? Golly, I didn’t know that!”)? Or is one of those two options how you’re supposed to navigate the situation?

Or should I hold on to my “fuck you, I’m right” point of view (thus maintaining the “honest reaction” thing), but steer the conversation away from the subject we’re fighting about?

…I have no idea how to do that, though (in improv or reality).

So how do you handle accusations (in improv or reality)?

 

 

(Oh hey, also, this is my 69th post, hurr hurr hurrrrr.)