4.32 Improvising


Sitting in front of my computer, I searched for improv classes offered by Second City. I've done this before, this imagining of things through my computer screen. Always seem to have an excuse. Conflicting dates. Times that didn't work. My inability to justify the expense. This time these items were checked off one-by-one: I could make the dates work, I could now do a Saturday class and what else am I going to spend my money on? With no real excuses left, I realized what the hell was going on all along - signing up for an improv class just scared the shit outta me. I'm no stranger to speaking in public or making presentations to people. Hell, I was a figure skater and had to perform, sometimes wearing quite elaborate outfits that the average person wouldn't want to be caught wearing in the safety of their home. Something was always missing during these performances. I remember having to give a speech for an award my father was receiving. Something about that microphone and all those people froze me up. Like the skating, I became hyper-aware of the situation and the inherent absurdity of making everyone in the room stop and watch or listen to me.

This self-awareness became suffering when having to speak in front of a crowd and continued for a while. A few years ago, I did a week long workshop at the Humber School for Writers and one event was reading a three minute excerpt of your work in front of everyone. Immediately I signed up before chicken shitting out. The section I chose had a sentence written in German. I don't speak German, but I do know how to make things difficult for myself. I did two things that broke my self-awareness. First, I wrote on the second page at the top SLOW DOWN. Second, when I approached that intimidating microphone, I said to everyone, I'm nervous. By saying this, admitting it, it instantly made me even more hyper self-aware, but in a way that connected and grounded me to what I was doing. When I turned the page and saw the words, SLOW DOWN, it brought with it the pacing and focus required. Even the German words turned out okay.

Sounds like I live a life of fear, but I think that fear can also be a healthy motivator. I still get nervous when recording a podcast or doing an interview with someone. The podcast has forced me to be very present because the people I'm dealing with, including my co-host Pj Kwong, are sharp and keep me on my toes. Since I do the editing of the show, I have to sit and listen to my own voice. I understand nobody likes the sound of their own voice, but I find listening to mine excruciating at times. Especially when I'm squirming and all I hear is me saying, um or er or you know or like or sort of or wow. The one that bugs me the most is 'sort of' because I'm not fully taking responsibility for what I'm saying and hope the guest just doesn't notice. I usually do settle down and realize that this is my voice, this is how I talk and in the pauses I'm searching for my truthful reaction to what the other person is saying. I choose my words carefully so sometimes they don't always come out in the right order. Part of my charm.

For the past few years, I've been heavily into comedy. I admire stand ups for their ability to be present and truthful in front of so many people. I don't necessarily want to be a comedian, but I'm curious to understand the experiences they often describe of feeling connected and present on stage.

My office is down the street from a comedy club and I've watched a few open mics. Oh, I could never do that, is what I usually leave saying to myself. But for years I've realized in order to get my work out there, some form of performance will be necessary. This combined with wanting to experience a present frame of mind compelled me to just register for the goddamn class. So I did. Coming back to that fear thing, I'm old enough to see the results of some of my decisions. Experiences I've had that were profoundly impactful did not seem that way at first. It's like I just had to take a step and then I think things build a forward momentum whether I want them to or not. Something else takes over and pushes you to a different level of awareness, both about yourself and the world.

Everyday since I've thought about how this improv class scares the shit outta me. And I'll probably still have those thoughts right up until the first class this week.