Write Your Own Story
Last Saturday night, I attended what was, quite possibly, the best improv show I have ever seen.
Maybe I’m biased. Maybe it was because I was invited to be Storyteller’s special guest that night – a weekly show inspired by the Armando Diaz where local persons of interest are interviewed on stage and scenes are created from their stories. Maybe it was because I had the opportunity to share memories of getting my wisdom teeth taken out, the first (and only) time I smoked, my accidental cat, and my girlfriend’s clockwork, middle-of-the-night pee schedule. I even discovered, through storytelling, that I have a tendency to obsessively call my mom.
A lot of Saturday’s magic started with this blog. It was one of the main reasons I was asked to be the guest storyteller, and it was a wonderful reassurance that this blog is valuable – that people are getting something out of it. Is there better motivation than that to keep improving it?
But five months ago, there was no I’m Making All This Up. Five months ago, when I started writing, I would never have guessed this blog would still be a thing. Yet, here we are, ironically, because of Storyteller, the very show I appeared on last week. You’ll see what I mean.
It all starts with the why – why this blog came about. The reasons are threefold.
- FIRST, I was asked to coach the wonderful Nefarious Bakers, an independent team that: gave me a chance to teach, provides a constant source of inspiration, and volunteers to be my guinea pigs each week. When I started working with them, the team was huge. 12 people. It was rare that everyone could make a practice, so I started writing short summaries of what we covered. Those notes started turning into two page documents that started turning into blog posts.
- SECOND, I was bored at work. The summer months were slow and I had to find ways to fill the day. There are only so many things you can read on Facebook, Buzzfeed and Pitchfork. I channeled that time into writing those two page summaries for Nefarious Bakers, and once I started posting them publicly, the downtime at work was ideal for consistently writing and publishing.
- THIRD, I was a bitter and entitled boy.
Around the same time that the first and second things were happening, a small, select group of improvisers had been invited to be part of an elite show. That show was Storyteller. But I was not on that list. At the time, I felt like I should have been. I looked at my year-and-a-half improv resume – two independent teams, a house team, a coaching gig, several pick up teams, great attendance at shows and around the theater – and I believed that I was good enough. Looking back, however, I deserved to be passed over. I was not ready for the opportunity. Steve Raines said it best in his interview:
“Avoid every bit of entitlement. It doesn’t belong in this world. Improv is honesty, listening, support, pouring gas on other people’s fires before your own…”
When Storyteller was first announced, I got jealous. It’s totally normal to feel those feelings. You process them, say you’re being silly, and then you use them as motivation to work harder and prepare yourself for the next opportunity. Or you go overboard and start a dumb blog.
I negatively channeled those emotions into this platform. In a way, ‘I’m Making All This Up was born in an effort to prove that I was just as good as anyone else. In and of itself, that’s a really dumb reason to start a blog. I put a ton of effort into my first few posts. They were very technical and covered topics I understood well. I tested concepts in my coaching sessions and then transformed what I learned into 800 word essays that were founded on resentment. But once I started publishing articles, once it started to spread, and once I found my own voice, all of that bitterness subsided. In its own way, the blog transformed me.
With each post, I started to feel better about what I was doing. I started thinking more critically about how I could support the community. I started trying to figure out how to spread improv and the lessons I’ve learned to people who aren’t as familiar with the art form. Magically, the jealousy vanished. I started interviewing improvisers, I started writing more about how improv teachings can improve your life rather than technical posts about input X, output Y, I started to find ways to use my writing to pour gas on other people’s fires. In August, right around the time that I was letting go of the bitterness and resentment, I interviewed John Langen, and he said something that stuck with me:
“You gotta be kind and humble. Neither of these things come easily to me. I have to mediate on them daily. But I will tell you, on days when I’m winning at being kind and humble, those are the best days I have.I still get jealous of other’s success sometimes. We all do. It’s just how you deal with it that counts. The days when I am kind and humble and supportive are the best days. I looked back on my improv resume at that time and realized I had no right to be jealous or bitter or feel entitled to anything.
- I was on two independent teams, but I still had/have much to learn. I was far too focused on using those teams to prove that I was good rather than focusing on the joys of performing.
- I was on a house team, but one that had recently formed. We were still finding our voice.
- I was asked to coach, but that was at the same time Storyteller was announced. I had not had time to learn through teaching.
- I was on several pick-up teams, but I was a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I was giving away my time and not focusing on how I could make one or two teams really excellent. I had yet to learn how to say “no but…”
- I had great attendance at shows. But what the f? Why did I ever think that would earn anyone a spot on a cast list?
All of those bullet points are basically a longwinded way of saying that I was not intentional about my improvisation.
Just as anyone can go to the gym a few times a week and lift weights, I was just doing improv. I was just showing up. But the guy at the gym who goes three times each week and has an arm day, a leg day, a core day, who focuses on certain muscles and trains them, he will be much stronger in the end.
In the past six months since Storyteller’s inception, I have eliminated all teams except for my Harold team and my independent team, Minstrel Blood. That way, I can focus on giving my all to those two teams. I can grow with my teammates and really understand the team’s style of play. I can save my energy for those practices and shows rather than burning out by spreading myself to thin. I push myself to explore new ideas on stage and in practice, focusing on those concepts before moving on. I force myself to post on this blog twice a week, even when I’m busy or don’t feel like it. I am trying to be more intentional with my time and how I use it, in general, but especially in improv.
There are only so many hours in a day, a week, a month, a year. When you start being more intentional with your time, you’re more able to focus on writing your own story. You’re able to find your own voice. In the beginning, it’s great to say yes to everything. In that way, you’ll discover your passions. But when you feel a strong pull towards something, that’s the time to start cutting back and dedicating more time to things that you love. Through experience and pursuit of that passion, you’ll find joy, and ultimately, mastery.
Everything has come full circle. Being a guest in Storyteller last week was even more meaningful, more rewarding, more personally inspiring than being in the cast. It was a joy – the best show I have ever been in despite not actually doing any improv. I cannot thank the immensely talented cast enough for bringing my stories to life, for inviting me to be a part of the night, and for helping me write the next chapter in my story.
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