Improv #22/Where’s Whoopsie #25: Middling Management

“If-then statements: ‘If we do X, then Y not?”

“Bread Metaphor –> ‘engage the clients in the discussion'”

What does this even mean?

I have absolutely no idea!

These are actual notes I took about some meeting recently. I give it even odds whether it was work or improv, though, as I’ve seen a couple of presentations on the state of the (virtual) improv theater recently. It’s possible this actually meant something, but it’s also possible someone just really wanted to mention their sourdough starter in as many contexts beyond just social media as possible.

I suppose in an era when everyone needs to signal their thoughts on the social contract, I’d much rather the “virtue signaling” that is all the comfortably middle class and above Progressives showing off their fancy new attempts at bread-making then the “vice signaling” of the right on social media saying their convenience trumps others’ lives.

It’s funny how a few weeks ago, though, I was way more frustrated with all the bread posts. To the point that I was ready to weaponize my Partner just to make a point. Please don’t hate us, but we’ve been making our own bread for a long time. I was the first one to do it, but as my grip strength – and thus my capacity to knead anything – has declined, my Partner has taken it over. He’s been doing it for about five-ish years now? (I think?) So, if I had really wanted to, I could absolutely have just taken a picture of whatever bread he had most recently made during the first part of quarantine (when flour still existed!) and have just quietly shut down any of those other “look-at-mes.” Because whatever bread picture I posted – from Japanese milk bread to no-knead Dutch oven bread, to ‘dinner bread,’ which in our place is when you make a rounded loaf sourdough bread and cut slots in it to stuff random deli meats and cheeses to bake inside and eat as dinner because it saves having to make a second thing on bread-baking days – would still have been prettier than theirs.

Not because we’re just naturally perfect bread makers. Because we’ve been doing it for awhile. And because when you’ve been making bread for awhile, you realize it is both incredibly hard (in that everything affects it, from the humidity in the air to the quality of the flour you use in it) and incredibly easy (in that a misshapen lump of a bread with a giant air hole in it from me trying to do the kneading and failing at its primary purpose usually still tastes pretty good) at the same time. Unless you have a true commercial kitchen, even experienced bread makers will make some hilarious ‘plating’ mistakes even years later, but eventually you’ll get to the point where you can still eat the evidence of your failure. I know well that in bread-making, practice makes good enough, but still not perfect 100% of the time. So, I had pretty good reason to suspect that a good bit of luck, the selection of a well-vetted beginner-friendly recipe instead of one of the many ‘half baked’ recipes that have proliferated on the internet recently and would doom one to initial failure, and/or a few hidden less photogenic attempts, were behind all those initial “look at me, I was perfect the first time” pictures.

As we settle in to our new normal, though, (and I still have no flour with which to make a bread to take a counter-shaming picture of anyway!), I have to admit I’d at least rather all the folks just bragging about how they used their time at home better than I did (because at least it means they are bragging about how they are following guidelines to keep others safe), rather than all the folks bragging about their willingness to kill someone for their right to go to the theater. It may be a touch annoying to see all the folks bragging about how they are all naturally talented at all the many new hobbies they have recently taken up (and how they keep their home clean beyond just a small bit carved out for Zoom), but I’d rather that than all the vice-signaling idiots bragging about going outside with no concern for the welfare of others.

I may now have enough experience with bread making to confidently say that practice can make closer-to-perfect – and that it isn’t one of those “you are either naturally talented at it, or you aren’t” things – but for much of my life I was told that other things I now find fun were all-or-none. And, that I most definitively lacked the requisite natural talent to enjoy doing those things. Especially in school, where my teachers kept wanting to remind me of how the things that I now do for a living were things I really wasn’t any good at because neurodiversity. I will thus always kind of want to bloody the nose a bit of those who scare others off of trying and failing at new hobbies. Or at having hobbies that they might only be ‘middling at,’ in general, if it is fun for them.

It’s my third blogging anniversary-ish. And, thus, it is the third-anniversary of my writing a blog post about how I originally intended my blog to be about getting outside my comfort zone and deliberately doing something I wasn’t ever going to be any good at to learn to deal with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and pass better (among those who care about passing) as neurotypical. It is the third anniversary of my writing about how my entire point in writing at all was to put my words out there to be judged on whether they had the kind of ‘natural talent’ that the bread-shamers of Instagram are claiming.

I had drifted pretty far away from that original conceit by my first blogging anniversary. 2018’s comparable time-period blog post wasn’t even an anniversary post at all (I wouldn’t write that for another three months, in fact.) I was too busy cementing a new trauma memory to worry about old ones. 2019’s ‘anniversary’ blog post also wasn’t directly an anniversary blog post. It was instead about another hobby that I took up originally to please others and ended up keeping for myself. (For anyone who has followed my blog closely these past few weeks, the grandparents of my partner for whom I performed improv last year are neither the Psalm 91:10 crowd, nor the grandparent who was the subject of a discussion about the childhood ACES my father-in-law had experienced. They are the wife of the ACE-giver and her current husband. That grandmother has remarried enough times throughout my Partner’s life that he now has more people he calls ‘grandparent’ than is biologically possible – or easy to give distinct nicknames to on a blog! He has a huge extended family on all of his blood and married-in sides in general, in fact! All are Southern conservative. Some we were still willing to show around our current home in the days when there were places to go to, even if it was a bit silly at times.)

It’s kind of ‘funny,’ in hindsight, that three of the hobbies I have leaned into during quarantine – and over the past three years – are all ones I started explicitly in an attempt to be a better pretend neurotypical and had massive hang-ups about not actually being any good at initially. In the time I have had this blog, I started multiple new hobbies to try and impress a Bully-of-a-Boss with how neurotypical I was to be around, but I ended up getting sent to my room anyway because it didn’t work to his standards. I then ditched that job, went back to a physical office again, handled being weird there by saying “fuck it” and just admitting I have never been neurotypical anyway, got sent back to my room again anyway even though the new job didn’t fire me over the non-neurotypicality because of a global pandemic – and kept the hobbies!

Blogging, drawing terrible pictures that I go ahead and post because art is fun, and improv were all things I initially started because I’d be bad at them and because I listened way too much to that old Bully-of-a-Boss who really didn’t have my or the company’s best interests at heart. I’m glad I stopped doing that in 2019, as in 2020 his own poor choices + that pesky global pandemic meant if I hadn’t left that job first, that job would have collapsed around me!

Somewhere along the line, I guess I decided I liked art, improv and blogging enough to not actually care a) how many followers I had or whether any given post made that follower count go up or down if it was helpful to me to write to figure out what I was actually thinking/feeling/wanting, b) that coloring in Scylla on this post’s Where’s Whoopsie accidentally destroyed all the detail I’d attempted to put into her face because I apparently know nothing about shading, or c) about the fact that I’m only good enough at improv to justify the production expense of one of the side theaters as part of an experimental or off-night show rather than being worthy of the main theater on a Saturday night. I couldn’t have quit my day job for comedy, but I have had enough fun being comedic ‘middling management’ not to care. And, in the end, I have done better both comedically and in reaching actual ‘middle management’ of the type where I’m a boss myself by trying to shove myself into environments that were more suited to who I actually am rather than continuing to try to shove myself into being what environments that didn’t actually want me in the first place wanted instead.

Which is good, because in those same three years, my world fell apart once, and now the world has fallen apart once. And it looks as though the latter might take down all of the ones who were comedically good enough to make a day job of it.

Why do I think notes about ‘clients’ and ‘if-then’ thinking might be about improv, when it logically fits more with my numbers job? Well, because an improv theater that has been closed for two months – and will be closed for a couple more ‘phases’ of re-opening – is a seriously struggling improv theater that needs everyone who has ever been associated with it to learn to crunch numbers pretty quickly or it won’t survive.

One of two things is going to happen in the next few weeks. Either a financial miracle is going to happen and the theater where I performed when performing IRL was still a thing is going to close, or it’s going to be able to eek out its back rent enough to open in a later phase. I’d like to see the latter happen, as it very much sucks that this pandemic is leading to a U.S. new Great Depression (due in large part to the financial as well as health mismanagement of our government!) and is causing all the things I would want to do on a night out (like eat at some great local restaurants or see a comedy show) to go away because their owners can’t make rent. Whether or not I’m in the comedy show, it might be nice to still have some available to go to.

But, from the perspective of my future opportunities to do improv, either option is probably the immediate death knell of my opportunities to get on a stage again anytime in the foreseeable future. The artistic director of the theater was apologetic – but still quite clear – that they have enjoyed supporting indie theater and opportunities for hobbyists and up-and-coming teams to perform in the past, but that those shows only break even or even sometimes require coverage from the core cast. They will need all their shows to be individually profitable for the remainder (at least) of 2020 if they are ever able to reopen again. (And reopening again at all is still a big ‘if.’)

So, basically, I’m ‘middling’ at improv, and all opportunities for ‘middling’ are off the table. The main draw performers will be doing double and triple duty (which they will need anyway for their own ability to make ‘bread,’ so I don’t begrudge them by any means!) to make sure every show is a net positive. All the ‘middlers’ will have to wait until 2021 – if then – to ever do traditional improv again.

Again, I support this decision. I’d like there to still be things to do at all in the after-times, and I would like the creatives of the world to still be able to eat. It does, however, trigger a bit of that old rejection sensitive dysphoria to be reminded in no uncertain terms that I’ve been doing something for three years, and I have not ‘risen’ to the top, as it were. For most of my life, that reminder would have been enough to make me quit improv well before 2021. Heck, for most of my life, I’d have quit improv the first time I was ever part of a troupe that auditioned for a show and didn’t get a call-back. And I’ve have probably assumed (possibly rightly, as I’m a mess at anything where I’m being judged and never do as well at an ‘audition’ as at an average night performing at a brewery for forgiving happy-go-lucky drunk people) that I was the reason for the lack of callback.

Now, I think I’m mostly cool with accepting the fact I enjoy performing for drunk people and charity shows, but don’t realistically have the full ‘talent‘ to perform live again in 2020. I hope there will still be some opportunities to perform virtually, as virtual performances for a good cause have been some of the most fun performances I’ve ever done. Now that the theater has invested in the technical equipment to do all-virtual shows, I suspect (hope) eventually that some of their experimental shows and small-theater shows will still have opportunities to be produced virtually to give the hobbyists a chance to break even on their much-lower technical costs.

I also hope a few less “virtuous” Progressives might ignore the omnipresent internal and external pressure to be perfect and try making some bread when flour exists again – even if they suck at first! Because homemade bread really is quite delicious, and it’s easier on the tummies of those with GI issues. If I had any flour available to me to actually make a loaf, I’d be okay with posting a picture of my next ‘failed’ attempt with some tasting notes to go with it. Because mediocre bread is still tasty bread, and there is nothing like being unable to find flour to remind me of that!

We don’t live in a perfect world. Natural ‘talent’ is never truly natural given socioeconomic discrepancies in time and ability to perfect new endeavors. But it does, realistically, still determine whether a person will ever be able to make rent doing something they love. We don’t quite live in an American Dream world where enough folks always have enough time to practice what they love and make a career out of their passion. So, I simultaneously hope that none of my readers for whom the idea of baking bread (or doing improv) seems completely not financially feasible, overwhelming, or just otherwise “too much” thinks they have to ever bake bread. I’m absolutely not going to turn into one of those other toxic positivity types that have also annoyed me on social media throughout this whole thing, but I will at least say that we put way too much emphasis on ‘talent’ (and on doing ‘what we love’ only for others!) as a society.

There is absolutely no obligation to learn a new hobby during a globally (or personally, because the 2018s of the world happen) traumatic time. It is perfectly okay to have spent eight weeks just trying to survive. It’s okay to stay in after re-opening because you are high risk or broke, and it’s okay to go out (so long as you wear a mask and aren’t an idiot!) It’s okay to be struggling to make rent, and it’s okay to have been spared the worst of what has happened to others during this pandemic/Great Depression without having to feel guilty that whatever is stressful to you “isn’t as bad as others have it.” It’s okay to be privileged enough to have the flour and time to make bread, and it’s okay to be good at it. It’s okay to not be in a place to make bread or take up any new hobby at all.

And, as I’ve learned over the past three years, it’s okay to take up a hobby and end up with “only” a misshapen loaf of delicious frankenbread. Three years and a couple more traumatic events on, I’d rather have tasty ugly bread then no bread at all. I’d rather perform on twitch only then not perform. And, if the theater goes out of business entirely, I’d rather post really terrible jokes here on my blog and maybe consider next steps for what to do about that hobby in 2021 then just give it up entirely right now because I wasn’t ‘good enough.’

At least one of the potential meanings of that ambiguous “if – then” statement about engaging around bread above (that at least fits the spirit of this post, if not the original context!) that I could offer is that, “If you want to do something and others tell you that you suck at it, then they suck too! You should probably just do the thing for yourself anyway, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

In that spirit, have another terrible drawing about Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (which I still have about a whole bunch of other things in my life, even if maybe not quite about being middling at blogging, improv or art anymore!) I drew this sometime around when I unmasked at work in the before-times.

<Image>: A ship tries to sail between Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla is labelled ‘Original Rejection Event’ and Charybdis is labelled ‘Self-Rejection Spiral.’ The caption reads: “Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. From the Greek for difficult to bear…because mythological horrors are nothing to what we can do to ourselves!”

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out my Glossary of Terms


4 thoughts on “Improv #22/Where’s Whoopsie #25: Middling Management

  1. I really enjoyed this post. You wrote a line: “and now the world has fallen apart once. And it looks as though the latter might take down all of the ones who were comedically good enough to make a day job of it.” I loved this.

    Liked by 3 people

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