Archive for the ‘improv’ Category

A Novel Update

In November, I was racing my writing word count for NaNoWriMo against our decomposing pumpkins.  I didn’t win (write 50,000 words) but I did scratch, claw, hunt and peck my way to 20,136 words which is more than I expected in my 3rd week of having the flu. Those 20,136 words are the beginning of the second novel that takes place in the same world as the first.  I made some important discoveries about that world that will help inform the first as well…if I can get myself buckled down to do some serious writing.

But alas, the pumpkins continue to lead the way.

I’m at an interesting place with my novel…I find myself working on the ending while there is still a big, gaping hole of “what happens HERE?” in the middle.  I realized that I was fighting working on the ending because…well just because that’s what was happening in my brain.  Even though I went into this whole novel writing experience without a plan (or a plot), somehow I ended up making up some rules for myself about how writing is supposed to progress at this point.

The pumpkins decompose the way they do because of nature. Laws of nature and all that.  Writing a novel however has no laws and I don’t help myself by making up rules that don’t help me write.  Really I’ve spent a lot of the last two weeks or so not writing all the ideas, images and scenes floating around in my head because they aren’t from the part of the story I thought I should have ideas, images and scenes about.

Bring on an improv moment!

It is time to throw my hands in the air and shout “I failed!” (a classic improv release for my non-improvising readers) and “again!” (another shout-out that improvisors use to embrace failure as a learning experience).  And then to give myself the time and gift of letting those ideas, images and scenes take shape on the page so I can play with them, flesh them out, edit them down, rearrange them or whatever else my imagination gives me to do with them.


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I wrote this one back in November and never hit “publish”…so here it is now:

As a new improvisor, I remember being awed by how quickly experienced improvisors created stories and brought them to life. They were just so fast. I certainly could never do that.

As I became more experienced in working with stories and re-engaged with the joy of making things up, I started to learn how quickly my own brain worked to create stories AND how one of the many challenges of co-creation is to simultaneously allow stories to blossom in our imaginations and to discard them in response to what someone else says or does.

I became fascinated with the process, with how we are storied creatures. This is what humans do; we tell stories. We are made for it. Our brains are wired for it. If someone asks you to use the words cow, spoon and river in a sentence, you’ll do it by creating a very brief story. I immediately see a cow floating down a river with a spoon around her neck. That’s what my imagination offers me. I’m  curious about that image…I’ll have to see where that story goes.

As a drama therapist with and interest in narrative therapy, I’ve had many opportunities to explore how stories function — both to hurt and to heal — in people’s lives, including my own. Again and again, I’ve reawakened to that early improv-based discovery — we create stories fast.  Improv has helped me become more aware of the process and also the rate at which we discard our imagination’s offerings because they are not good enough, funny enough or some other reason. (Really? A cow on a raft on a river? That makes no sense, there’s no story there.)

As a parent, sometimes my story-ing is wonderful and helpful at imagining what might be going on in LP’s world.  Other times it gets in the way.  When I don’t realize that I’ve created a story about her experience and am missing her expressing her actual experience, we are often bound for a clash or a visit to tantrumville.  Truly, nothing sets off my girl like the phrase “I know…” even if it is something I do know is true for her.  She is sensitive to that turn of the phrase and I think the meaning underneath it — that I already have a story about her that explains it all.

A recent life example:  LP had her first dentist visit last week.  She was a trooper and for the most part pretty curious and engaged. Until the tooth polishing. She tried to climb out of the chair so fast it was hard to catch her.  After a bit of coaxing (and  a promise of a red balloon), LP was willing to lie on top of me on the chair.  The dental hygienist said (and I echoed) “It’ll go real fast” and LP fought her hands away protesting.  It took some work to help calm her down and then LP said, “NO. Not fast, slow.”

Oh. Yes. That is her telling her story, expressing her needs. I would want it to go fast so of course that was the story I told myself about what LP wanted. However, LP is different she wants it to go slow. And with the dental hygienist going slowly she was able to have every tooth polished and when it was over, she seemed quite proud about that.

Our innate story ability is a beautiful, amazing thing AND as parents who have such influence over our little people’s worlds it is important to take moments to check-in and see if the story we have about them matches their reality.

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Playful Eating

I realized  that in true grown-up fashion, I was making saying “yes”  too complicated.

LP was in horse mode at lunch the other day (which she has been for most of the day recently except  for breaks when she is an otter or a rooster) and wanted to eat grass for lunch.  So I made her pasta and used some food coloring in the butter to turn it greenish and then added some chopped spinach. She seemed pretty happy with it although I don’t think much was eaten (she likes her leafy greens fresh from the earth, anything even slightly cooked gets a pass from her).

A playful twist on food is often a hit…green eggs (a la green eggs and ham, although mine often come out more olive green) are popular with LP, as is any food that ties into her current imaginary world.  So while sometimes I get inspired to create an “urchin” out of a cracker with hummus and dried lentils for my otter, I realized that at this stage of the game she’s happy to use her imagination. She seemed completely delighted with me putting down a plate of turkey and cheese for lunch while calling it urchin.  Hmmm…no fancy food effort on my part with a happy result and food for discussion for our meal (always helpful, I struggle with mealtime chat on a daily basis).

So I’ll accept her offers of what she wants to eat as she stays in character for meals and I’ll make offers too that fit in with her play. Sometimes my “yes!” will be in the form of creating something to eat that represents that and sometimes it will be in form of imagining along with her….which is a little easier on the cook!

This post is part of the Moms’ 30 Minute Blog Challenge over at SteadyMom.

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#1 Being playful is not the same as being happy.

As an improv performer and teacher, I knew that play felt good but when I wasn’t “in the zone,” my work as an improvisor often suffered (and of course I would go home and rehash every minute of it over and over again).  Using improv in life is similar in that when I can get the improvisational flow going, it feels great and when I can’t…life feels quite a bit more flat.  That flow is easier to find starting from a happy place.

AND yet…I was surprised and grateful when my knowledge of improv allowed me to stay playful (or at least have playful moments) while struggling with PPD.  I was so overwhelmed with sadness and feelings of despair and then here was this incredible gift.  My knowledge of and experience with play was useful;  truly, it was a lifeline that helped me feel connected with LP even in the haze of PPD.

I continue to rely on improv principles and activities to keep life playful when the going gets tough.  It is SO MUCH easier to be playful when I feel happy but I’ve learned that I don’t need to be happy to be playful. AND play often lifts my spirits, even if it is temporary.

#2 I sometimes feel self-conscious about being playful

I’ve been professionally playful for over a decade — teaching improvisation, working as a drama therapist and just plain bringing my sense of play into every day life.  Yet I can get in my head and self-conscious about public expressions of this playful self that is the real me.  It is easy to be playful at home with my family or when my professional role calls for playfulness. More difficult is keeping that sense of play alive in my daily life when the worry voices nibble at my awareness.  Even being a playful parent in public can be a challenge sometimes. There is such a culture of judgment of parents that even if no one is judging me, I’m imagining they are! And that sure does get in the way of feeling playful

#3: My playful and your playful are different…AND that is GOOD!

In general, I’m a quiet person. And so much of my playfulness shows up in a quiet way.  I often have a little bit of envy of parents I meet who can  rally a group of kids and energize them into active, group play.  Suddenly everyone is rolling on the ground with laughter or in an amazing game of tag.  That parent is usually not me.

I am I think my strength is drawing out shy kids or in smaller interactions (1 or 2 kids). I like to observe the play that is happening and find places to say “yes!” to ideas and be an aide to bring those ideas to life. Play comes in all shapes and sizes AND when I see a big person playing in a way that I enjoy (or envy), I can work to stretch myself and see what happens if I practice a different kind of play.

Do you have a playful confession to make?

This post is part of the Moms’ 30 Minute Blog Challenge over at SteadyMom…just made it in at the 30 minute mark this week!

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One of my favorite parts of improvisation is making up songs.  And parenting offers many opportunities to make up songs with your small people.

Now many, many folks are naturally drawn to make up songs to babies and then get a wee bit self-conscious as their kids get older.  Part 1 of this series of posts will focus on some warm-ups that can get you into (or back into) a singing groove.

1) Sing what you would say

Or to use the fancy opera word — use recitative.  Yup, sung speech. Doesn’t get more simple than that. (And if you like that…you can get dramatic and move into playing with your voice to create an aria. Imagine singing out “It’s time for dinner! Time for dinner! Time for dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner….diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnneeeeeeeeer!”)

2) Take a favorite song and alter a few words:

Twinkle, twinkle, little book

How I long to take a look

I wish I could read you now

I’d even read you to a cow

Twinkle, twinkle, little book

How I long to take a look

(I sing this as I look longingly at my library books…and read LP another round of hers)

When you feel comfortable with that, keep the whole tune but make up all new words.

OR use the tune and replace it with all animal noises.

3) Use karaoke music tracks and sing your own words to them (this is particularly great with music you don’t know)

4) Make up one sentence and see how many different ways you can sing it…as a country western song, a blues song, punk rock, and so on and so on and so on.

This post is part of the Moms’ 30 Minute Blog Challenge over at SteadyMom.

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Yes, yes, yes! The City of Emeryville Guide is out and it is official. I’ll be teaching two classes there this Fall. Both classes — Improvisation & Personal Development and Playtime for Parents — are inspired by the work of parenting and improvising these past few years.

Here’s all the info including how to register:

Improvisation and Personal Development

This fun and interactive one-day class will explore how the practice of improvisation increases confidence, optimism and interpersonal skills. Join in this one-day journey of personal exploration through improv and rediscover how your creativity can transform your life. No prior improv experience is necessary and shy people are welcome.

Class# 1367

Date: Saturday, September 25th

Time: 10am -5pm

Location: Emeryville Recreation Center

Cost: $125

Playtime for Parents

Parents often hear about the importance of play, yet sometimes feel uncomfortable jumping into action with their children. This two-part class for parents uses improvisation to create a safe and lively environment to explore play. Have fun in class and take home new ways to engage your children.

Dates: Sundays October 3rd and 10th

(there is a misprint in the Emeryville Activity Guide…above are the correct dates)

Time: 1-4pm

Location: Emeryville Recreation Center

Cost: $80

Register for classes through the City of Emeryville

Link for Fall 2010 Activity Guide


From this page, you can get to Online Registration.  Search for classes by Activity Number. Improvisation & Personal Development is #1367. Playtime for Parents is #1368.

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LP’s favorite thing in our wee garden this year has been the carrots.

Unfortunately, most days she does not want to eat the carrots (and does not want anyone else to eat the carrots).  I’m really not sure why because this girl will eat anything that she can pick herself — tomatoes and peas, of course but also radishes, kale, and okra.  For whatever reason, she’s decided that the carrots are to play with and not to eat. There has been more than one meltdown when I wanted take a carrot or two to use for dinner. Our friend T who was visiting for a few days had coaxed her into eating a carrot and there was much added pleasure in the carrot experience.

Until she picked this one.

I was excited about it. Look at it!  It is totally cool! I was all ready to jump into exploring the way the five carrots had grown together. LP pretty much shrugged and was ready to move on to something else all together.

I was puzzled.  I watched her play with other things while T and I marveled at it and took a bunch of photos.  She did make her way over to us and then took the carrot off for her own exploration…and eventual snack.

I wonder what her thought process was. My best guess is that she had an expectation of what was going to come out of the ground and when that expectation was not correct, she needed a little time to regroup and let the expectation go. She needed time to be able to say “yes” to the unusual carrot.

When I think about the experience in that frame, I feel so empathetic because even at my best, I have trouble switching gears when I have strong expectations.  Even when I really, really, really want to say “yes” because the new, unexpected thing looks fun or delicious or intriguing, I need time to make an internal shift.

It was a great reminder for me to not push too hard or fast when I think something is “interesting.”  The wacky carrots were still wacky and wonderful 15 minutes later.

This post is part of the Moms’ 30 Minute Blog Challenge over at SteadyMom.

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