Fill Your Day With Obsession

For a while I’ve been obsessed with finding something to be obsessed about. Ironic how that works, right?

Since childhood, I’ve recurrently experienced short-lived obsessions about the use of the word “irony.” How the hell do you use that word?

I’m over it for now.

But seriously, I think I’ve found my obsession — at least for now, though I can see this lasting a while. Since high school I have been notoriously going in the directly opposite to my heart, I guess just to see how bad it could get, to see if I was missing out on something.

Now: I’ve figured out that that method sucks, and I’m ready to follow my heart.

I’ve also always been attracted to things I’m terrified of, because I supposed they presented a challenge.

Now: I’m ready to mix love and terror. What does that mean for me? Improv.

I love laughing, and when I was a kid I loved becoming different characters. I used to love playing house. In elementary school, I used to love doing improv in class — it was a great creative outlet.

Then, I turned away from it.

Now, it terrifies me because I’ve accumulated so many layers of defense mechanisms and being creative in improv means letting all those come down.

I’ve got a tug-of-war between love and fear happening, and each side is pretty strong. It’s the ultimate battle. If I abandon improv now, I’ll experience a tug from each side every once in a while, in real life, and it’s likely that no one will win because it will be such a slow competition. If I keep going with improv, I will be exhausted, but one side will win — and it will be love, because love always wins.

Is this nonsense? This is the kind of stuff that goes through my mind.

Anyway, there is so much more to say about learning improv than I ever imagined, and so I’ll need to write about it, or else my mind will become very foggy. Some things might not have an obvious link to improv, but the following is what I thought about after working on scenes with other students today.

1. I need to do way more improv so that I just don’t have time to be nervous. It’s a simple concept, but it should work. If I just keep doing it, I won’t have time to reflect on my mistakes, on my wounded ego, on every detail I could have changed. Although obviously you want to be critical of yourself to improve, I don’t think it’s necessary to pick out everything that went wrong, especially in the beginning. Improv is first and foremost about “play” and “fun,” and it no longer becomes fun if you berate yourself too much for mistakes. Berating assumes that there is a right and there is a wrong, and then it becomes more about the audience than about yourself. As it turns out, when it’s no longer fun for you, it’s no longer fun for the audience. I have trouble shutting my mind off, so I think the best thing for me to do right now is to immerse myself in improvisation as much as I can so that, again, I just don’t have time to think.

2. I think I should see hitting rock bottom as a good thing. I think it will be necessary; I need to go there before I can start to climb up. I had some pretty awful scenes today, and I’m still alive. Bad scenes can be pretty traumatizing, but I think the key is to view your fellow improvisers as people who are supporting you in your learning. For me, this is hard to believe, but believing people have your best interests at heart, I think, is not only important in improv but also in life; if you automatically assume people support you, you are more likely to open up to others and make meaningful connections with people.

3. I should give myself a word (object, character, relationship, action, emotion) and challenge myself to quickly write a story around this (keeping in mind my potential physical movement on a stage), identifying the “who,” “what,” “when,” and “where” early on. I could also do the same thing out loud, in monologue format, or while pretending there is another person in the scene. I could do faces in the mirror, challenging myself to look as though I were experiencing a particular emotion, so that I can learn how my face works. I could write dialogue. I could do more word association, challenging myself to extend these words into sentences or stories. I could pretend another person in a scene said a line, and I would have to take the scene from there, like in real improv-life. I could try to pay attention to the objects I create in a scene, and handle them as though they were real. In short, I need to train my brain to think fast.

4. I also need to train my brain to trust itself. Too often I’ll get an idea, immediately shoot it down and start looking for something else. I need to believe that my creativity can make something out of nothing, but also allow it to be nothing, if that’s what it is.

5. I need to give myself goals, like the ones above, so I can think more about improv than about myself.

2.1. I wouldn’t have gotten all these ideas for improvement if I hadn’t failed and realized I needed improvement to begin with.

6. There is something about improv and improv people that really forces me to be genuine. I don’t completely understand it yet, but I’m finding my nervous habits either melting away, or being batted into submission.

7. I discovered more deeply today why I smile when I don’t need to. I involuntary start laughing when I make a joke in a scene, which is a no-no, because I fall out of character in doing so. I realized that if laughing after my own joke in a scene is falling out of character, then sometimes laughing at my own joke in real life is falling out of character, becoming less believable, too. I realized that I laugh in case others don’t because I want to be liked, because I don’t want to be pitied when my joke fails. For some reason, in real life, it’s embarrassing when a joke fails, but in improv, it’s not — you just keep going. Real life could learn a thing or two from theatre.

8. I also smile too much, sometimes, and even though I get good results from this (people seem to approach me more), it’s very exhausting. At first, in improv, I was smiling less, and once I started smiling more, people started smiling back more often. I tried to figure out what the smile was adding, and how I could achieve that same effect by other means. I think what it adds, very simply, is proof that I like other people and will not harm them. In most situations, this could probably be achieved in an easier way; for example, making cookies or some other kind of selfless act. I think that would make me happier, and I would smile more as a result, and it wouldn’t be so forced. Just like at the family reunion — I felt like I was smiling too much but I didn’t know how else to express my love for my great aunts. And then I thought: “I could make them a painting of all their siblings!” And I think I will. They understand paintings and the effort and love that goes into them, and I can paint. So I think it would work. Even just thinking about this makes me feel more aligned with who I am.

9. Getting rid of bad habits is a good feeling, but it also feels very naked and vulnerable. I’m learning that I need to find my strength from myself, and not what I use to create a mask. I also need to use my energy to become stronger, and not to create that mask.

10. I need to learn to be funny because it’s fun and it makes others happy, and not because it makes people like me more — it does not necessarily do that.

11. One of my problems is being authentic, another is making friends. I think that both of these problems exist because I want them not to be problems so, so, so badly. For some reason, that’s how it works for me. But anyway. Like I said, improv showcases all of my flaws, and this is happening in front of exactly the kind of people I’d like to be friends with. In one way, it’s really hard because I feel doomed, but at the same time, I think that because these problems are so strongly problems here, they are getting solved faster.

I’m melting away painfully, but becoming the authentic me is very nice.

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