Improv #11: I’m Mrs. Bright Blogs

*Knock knock*

“Who’s there?”

“The Bright Side”

“The Bright Side Who?”

“The Bright Side Who Doesn’t Actually Exist”

“Oh. Then I guess this is just another dissociative conversation with the bully-in-my-brain, then?”

“You catch on not quickly at all, don’t you? Also, your joke sucks.”

I’m fairly sure the first rule of building a blog audience is “own your domain name so you can engage in SEO and promote yourself across social media.” I failed that rule the moment I set up my account because I was too afraid to pay for an anonymous blog with a non-anonymous credit card. I also do not have the spoons to maintain more than one social media site, period.

I maintain a free site even though my lack of spoons has gradually led me to dial back on the other paranoid hoops I used to jump through to maintain anonymity. Part of my expression of a PTSD sense of foreshortened future is a fear that, if I did dare to make that all-of-$36-dollar annual investment in a domain name, I’d immediately go broke. I would be inviting the wrong kind of irony magnet. Then, my audience accustomed to something simple like “lavenderandlevity.com” would all abandon me as soon as continuing to follow me required the modicum of effort to bookmark “lavenderandlevity.wordpress.com” again. If you follow me while I use the free version, I suppose you’ll probably follow me on a paid version. But, would those who would only follow a paid version ever bother to reverse course? Do I really even want followers for whom I have to write witty, engaging content all the time? C-PTSD says just stick with free: I’ll never have to fear inevitable future rejection from potential future financial disaster. C-PTSD is dark.

Which sucks because…

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Improv #10: Seven Things for Self-Care

*Knock knock*

“Who’s there?”

“Seven”

“Seven Who?”

“Seven Eleven…”

“Dude, you can’t fool me. I know there’s only seven of you. When I’m seeing eleven then maybe I’ll believe I’m as think as my friends drunk I am. Now bring me my black coffee and tylenol delivery stat!”

There’s an Improv game called Five Things that seems to be fairly universal. The basic gist is that you sing a little song and then ask the person next to you on the spot to come up with five (or seven, or eleven or whatever arbitrary number) of a certain category. It’s a warm-up game to get you thinking in odd ways.

It’s also a song that will lodge itself into your brain forever. If you don’t believe me, watch here. You get bonus points if you stay on beat and/or come up with wittier or more advanced versions for your answers. For instance, to start you might ask for five types of vegetables and only be able to think of “potatoes, carrots, peas, turnips, and celery.” Later on, you might get a little more inventive: “Mr. Potatohead, Veggie Tales, Carrot Top, The Jolly Green Giant and Sweet Pea.”

I do not seem to have self-care lodged in my brain in the same way. Between the double-vision fiasco, being mentally frozen in the 9th Circle of Hell and general ADHDness, I have been kind of terrible about my self-care this past month. (Don’t worry! No real alcohol or mind-altering substances were involved in my lack of self-care. Line games are just things that have also become permanently lodged my brain.)

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Improv #9: In-city-cure attachment

I’ve lived in a lot of places in my life. Enough that I’ve only ever stayed put long enough in my adult life to be called for jury duty once, during graduate school. I’ve lived on both coasts and in the middle. I’ve lived in cities I’d go back to in a heartbeat if a job presented itself, and I’ve lived in cities that I ran from as fast as humanly possible.

I’ve said repeatedly that any place I live in that isn’t the 9th Circle of Hell is home, but I’ve also said that home is nowhere. Each city has been a steppingstone. It has been something impermanent to be enjoyed for a few years and moved on from when career or family beckoned ever onward. I’ve never fully believed that I’d ever stay in one place long enough to truly settle down, even as I carefully chose my current city with the stated hope of finally finding a way out of the 9th Circle of Hell for my family situation for good. I look forward to the day in a few years when I can legitimately say I’ve lived away from the 9th Circle of Hell more years than I’ve lived in it, but it would take a very long time to be able to say I’ve lived in any one place longer than I walked the cursed ground of my childhood.

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Improv #8: Dramatic Irony

*Knock Knock*

“Who’s there?”

“An indecisive person”

“An indecisive person who…?”

“I have no idea. Who would you like me to be?”

I just finished my first level of Improv training advanced enough that we actually get formal feedback from our instructor, who is a member of the main performing troupe for the theater, and a written evaluation which goes to the next class if we’ve successfully made it into it. (I did, for those wondering. I can legitimately say I didn’t influence that decision, as you will learn if you read this post all the way through, though that’s not necessarily as good a thing as you might initially expect!)

You know how they say art imitates life? My art is dramatic irony at its finest.

According to my instructor, I’m actually a great performer when I’m leading. I offer up creative narratives with a lot of humor potential, I willingly offer side support, I seem to have a good sense of how to create relatable characters with genuine emotion –  though I should play more with being the high-status character instead of always the low-status character – and my next instructor should encourage the class to engage with what I offer because I’m a strong leader who drives scenes forward when others do follow.

The problem comes when others don’t follow. Even though “Yes, And” is the foundation of Improv, failure to “Yes, And” – or just “Yes, Anding” in a thoroughly unexpected fashion – is a thing that happens often enough that I need to learn how to play off of it as strongly as when I do generate consensus. At the beginning levels, there can be a failure to accept an opening offer because the actor just isn’t experienced enough to recognize it. At the more advanced levels, since many actors that make it that far come from a theatrical background, many will just see my offer and raise it anyway because they think they have a better idea. If I ever do make the main troupe, I will be playing against audience members who will often offer complete non-sequiturs simply because they legitimately don’t know what “Yes, And” even means.

If my initial gambit is accepted, I’m decisive. If it isn’t, I’m too often indecisive and reorient the character or emotion I was exploring to be in consensus with whatever the other person(s) offered up.

Some performers get told they need to be more open to emotions or to improve their object work. Some just get told, “hey, be willing to share the stage a bit more.” Most performers get feedback that they need to remember to “Yes, And” more frequently. Me, however?

I get the feedback that I need to remember that there can be too much of a good thing. When an actor gets on stage and goes a totally different direction from what I initially was exploring, I need to remember that it is possible to “Yes, And” and still be decisive in who my character is and how they feel. “Yes, And” means that I have to accept whatever new facts are offered without disagreement. It doesn’t mean my character has to agree with them or come to a consensus on how they feel about those facts. If my character just lost an eye in a war (actual scenario from one of our sessions) and the entire rest of the characters react indifferently, I need to not be afraid to commit even more to how my character would react to that level of additional betrayal after such a life-altering event instead of instinctively deferring to the other characters’ opinions. The best humor comes from the audience recognizing authentic reactions to universal life experiences played out within fantastical and weird situations. It’s inherently funny to see my character decisively show his hurt and frustration because we all know that feeling, even if we can’t quite express it in such an over-the-top way…

So, I need to have the confidence to act high status and lead even when others don’t follow, I need to act decisively and I need to be true to who my character is even when others try to paint them as something else? Sure, why not?

It seems appropriate that I’d discover that I do have the potential to go all the way. The only thing standing in my way is just that pesky “resolving the central conflicts of my life born of experiences that shaped me long before I had any say in the matter” bit. Never ironically call Improv trauma therapy: you’re daring the universe to “Yes, And” you on it…

P.S. – as in real therapy, there is homework. Mine is to find situations that are fundamentally safe – not work, obviously – and practice coming to snap judgments, expressing them loudly and just sticking to them despite opposition. Bonus points if it’s a different decisive decision than what those who know me well would expect and if I don’t tell folks what I’m doing so they can’t inadvertently make it easier on me by giving in too easily.

My first decisive expression of this is that I’m going to my About page and removing that bit where I invite constructive criticism. My instructor also told me he had a feeling that – of all the class members – everyone but me would offer at least some justification of why they felt they deserved to go on to the next level regardless of his judgment about their readiness. I’d just say “whatever you think, you’re the expert.” Part of being decisive, however, is defending my right to my creative voice. Improv is subjective, and future instructors might not always rate me as highly as he did. That doesn’t mean I should automatically accept their judgments as gospel. So, given that advice, at this point, I’ve decided that my blog is what it is. If you don’t like it, go read something else. Art is subjective, after all. 🙂 )

Where’s Whoopsie #11/Improv #7: Potty Mouth

What can I say? It’s been a bit of a $h177y week. Trauma guilt (see comments on that post if you want to hear about the new turd that dropped this week) is a dirty job. Dirty jobs call for Dirty Jobs.

I’ve been watching a lot of reality t.v. this week because that’s where my brain is at. I have been gravitating towards things that are less about people – because eff people – and more about the situations they are in: Naked and Afraid (survival skills), Deadliest Catch (crab fishing) and Dirty Jobs (hopefully self-explanatory.)

I just learned from the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs that, in the historical Middle East, bedouins would consume fresh camel dung as a treatment for dysentery. Apparently, it was kind of like an old-school fecal transplant: top up the substandard human gut bacteria with some powerhouse camel bacteria and kick dysentery’s @$$ before it kicks your own. (Note: this only works with fresh camel dung. Using the older stuff just leads to more problems!)

I buy the concept. I do have to wonder who in history, however, first came up with that idea in the era before you could test such things in a sterile lab environment without any actual consuming required. Who was that human who first looked at the wrong end of a camel and asked, “I wonder what will happen if I eat the things that came out of this animal’s butt? Oh, hey! Maybe it will make things no longer come out of my butt!” This feels like it should have become a cautionary tale for a girl who claims to be down to try anything once that there is sometimes such a thing as being too adventurous.

That said, our assignment for Improv class this week is to be incredibly mindful of how we do everyday activities. Like, how we don’t grab a wine glass with a fist like a cup. We don’t even truly grab our cup like we often pantomime that we grab our “cup.” We actually flip our hand upside down and hold a wine glass underneath the wide part of the glass. We do ham-fist our mugs, however. It’s the little details like these distinctions in object work in Improv that really distinguish the professionals from the amateurs. Realistic pantomime is so much more believable than sloppy pantomime. Immersion is so much more fun for an audience than constantly breaking the Fourth Wall. Our assignment is thus to slow down and really pay attention to how we do the things we do each day. Mindfulness: it’s not just for trauma drama anymore.

Given that it is also IBS Awareness Month and I have already once legitimately performed in a scene wherein I was acting as someone straining on the toilet* for most of the scene, I have to wonder how far I should take the method acting?! Is there ever a point in bathroom humor where the pantomime becomes a little too uncanny valley? I mean 10-25% of us have been there. Probably more of us have if we’re spoonies. Ehlers-Danlos and other disorders come along with gut motility issues as a buy-one-get-one-free.

Is it funnier for an IBS-sufferer audience member to see the pantomime done well? Because on stage, at least, it isn’t them languishing in the compromising situation? Or does it just make it sadder to see it done wrong anyway? An actor doing it wrong implies they don’t have the lived experienced to do it right. It implies that even after the actor completed a specific assignment in which they observed how they completed everyday activities, they still never had the opportunity to “experience” what realistic bathroom distress looks and sounds like? I’ll never know. I have had the recent opportunities to observe the real situation in action. I “pushed” my limits in the name of accuracy on the throne and on the stage…

However, if there is a line for realism in Improv potty humor, I’m pretty sure that it stops somewhere around camel dung as a treatment for dysentery. The fact that I now know that fact might very well show up in one of my Improv scenes someday. We are encouraged to draw inspiration wherever we can. I will not, however, be observing how to pantomime that action realistically.

Happy Saturday everyone. Hoping your week ahead – like your stool – passes quickly and isn’t too hard to handle! In honor of IBS Awareness Month, which has periwinkle as its color, “digest” these three offerings and find the mistakes. There’s a periwinkle-and-brown Where’s Whoopsie for the awareness campaign, and I include two others that have brown and yellow. Because why not? When have I ever quit while I’m “behind”?

*For anyone wondering: the Improv game in which I engaged in some potty-mouth humor was a freeze-type game. Actors waiting in the wings would watch a scene until the on-stage actors naturally contorted into some sort of crazy physical pose, then they would call “Freeze.” They would tag out the actors, assume their poses exactly, and start a brand-new scene starting from whatever those poses suggested. I had been partially squatting and looking angry – about to rush a dude in a bar – at the time freeze was called. The replacement actor went with the other obvious solution for what two folks near to each other, squatting, and looking stressed could be. The new scene with him and me involved him coaching me through a “difficult food baby delivery” like a Lamaze coach. I just had to “go with it” it, as they say…

Improv* #6: A Meetup Group with Social Anxiety Tries to Walk into a Bar…

How to Make Friends
Source: XKCD

…The bartender says, “We don’t serve folks with social anxiety here.”

The groups shrugs their shoulders and replies, ‘Well, if that diagnosis doesn’t work, how about depression, PTSD or ADHD? We’ve got a few options for what to call ourselves…’

The bartender shrugs, “One of those ought to count. Come on in.”

You probably thought I was going to go with the ending where they all shrugged their shoulders in relief and walked away because they didn’t really want to be in public anyway, didn’t you? Well, I was trying not to be cliché. After all, I tried to go to a meetup group for folks with social anxiety last night. At the time I thought of that joke, it seemed like the obvious ending was just a mental loophole giving me permission to chicken out. Chickening out at the last minute, even mentally, didn’t seem like the best option given I had three hours left to keep myself psyched up to actually go and “be friends at people.”

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Improv #5: Meta-Analysis

Image result for I rarely have a thought by itself ADHD
Source (as best I can tell): GAGfm

This post was supposed to be about physicality in Improv. It was also supposed to be titled The Body Keeps the Score. It is neither of those things because it turns out even a girl with ADHD can’t truly have an original thought. My brain can’t stay inside the box, but it certainly can stay within the bounds of the total accumulation of all of the centuries of human thought. Unless the author is writing in their native cuneiform, even the next Great American novel will most likely share overarching plot themes with thousands of other plot elements throughout history – and that’s okay!

As my new Improv teacher describes it: “You remember that movie about that guy and that girl? And they seemed like they were good together and you thought they’d get together? Then something happened, and they didn’t get together – but then they did and it was okay? What was that called?” There is nothing original under the sun, and we’re encouraged in Improv to tap into universality for comedic effect. Improv encourages us to mine tv tropes for concepts to explore in a pinch.

Realizing I’m not that original after all is why this post is no longer about physicality in Improv, which was the topic of the first session of the next series of classes that I finally started this week, but is instead about the use of call-backs, Chekhov’s gun and strategic use of Breaking of the Fourth Wall to meta-analyze my own motivations for talking about physicality in Improv (and/or life) instead of exploring physicality in Improv (and/or life.)

It’s also a good example of why you should never look a gift call-back in the mouth, of what stream of what unedited stream-of-consciousness ADHD thinking looks like, and, of course, of pressing the punchline in general.

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Data Minding

I first intended to post about the fact that statistical algorithms can pick out individuals with various mental health diagnoses from the type of language they use on social media last November, but I lost my hyperfocus on the topic almost immediately after I read the original media blurb about a new study. I also forgot to ever read the study itself, which was sad because it should have been right up my alley. (In my defense, I was probably exhausted at the time. I usually am.)

I suppose in hindsight there was nothing stopping me from writing the post after November – when I finally remembered it existed – but I’d have felt like a failure as a blogger. I mean, aren’t bloggers supposed to produce semi-current content for their readers? I’d also hate to disappoint any of my readers who might be statistical outliers, but apparently statistical algorithms can also pick that out.  At least online, I’m not the only one with the attention span of a gnat. Articles over a month old are ancient in the blogosphere. Got to play to my audience and pretend I’m aware of the passing of time.

I truly thought my chance had come and gone. I could have cried with relief when another article came out this month referencing similar research about the language used by individuals with mental health diagnoses on social media. Sometimes I do get a second chance to make a first impression. (I will confess my own self-regulation of my own science ideals vs. science practice hasn’t improved since November. I haven’t read the original research cited in this new article, either.)

I managed to get a timely post up, and I know that – this time- I won’t disappoint my readers. I posted extremely relevant content and I intentionally set myself up to succeed…

…by failing forward. I mean, after all, I did just manage to write the most statistically obnoxious – I mean “optimal” – example ever of a social media post by someone with ADHD above. It should trigger as many automated flags as possible during data mining that I truly have the diagnosis that I know I have. I was, however, only diagnosed in adulthood.

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Improv #4 (well, sort of): Trumpocalpse

I entered the columnist Nick Kristof’s Trump poetry contest. It closed October 8th, and no one has contacted me from the New York Times. Last time he did a poetry contest, he published the winners about a week after the entry date. I’m assuming that means if I had somehow won, I’d know by now.

That’s okay. I didn’t enter thinking I’d ever actually win. That wasn’t the point. Actual National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellows entered the last one, and I’ve only written two real poems in my life (of which this is one.) I mostly just liked the idea of venting about how horrible things are in humorous verse, and the topic came to me when I read the column.

I called it Improv practice, since there are talented Improv artists who can write limericks on stage and make up song lyrics. I might like to be one of them someday if I manage to get through 601 and still think I’m ok enough at it to try the musical Improv class. I did semi-sing in a 101 class Improv game called Emotion Chorus. It basically involved having to rhythmically chant something about a topic of the audience’s choice in an emotional tone assigned to us by the instructor as part of an acapella chorus. I got “loving,” and the topic was “Donald Trump.” This meant I ended up making googly eyes and cooing “nuclear war” in a longing tone.

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Improv #3: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life?

The bully in my brain hasn’t yet wised up and rescinded the strange exemption that it seems to have granted to Improv, but the migraines have.

The previous week was a five-out-of-seven migraine days week. This week has been the same. That’s 5 days * 2 weeks equals 10 migraine days. If this continues next week, I will squeak into chronic migraine territory for September while well-managed medically. While this has been my norm for much of my life, it hasn’t been for a while.

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