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48. Life practice

March 2, 2012

Tibetan Sand Mandala blog blog tina fey tina fey roller coast roller coaster life is change life is change improv improv improv

In Tibet, monks spend weeks creating elaborate mandalas of colored sand. Upon completion, they systematically take the sculptures apart, and wash the sand away in a river. Or at least, that’s what I learned from Wikipedia, my source for all information that could be, possibly, true. In a similar vein, there’s a story that Picasso drew pictures on the beach –with the specific intention that they be washed away with a wave. Neither Wikipedia or a quick Google search could verify this story—so lets also put it in the category of “who knows?”. Reflecting on these narratives, the recovering academic in me might say “ahhhh…. here we see demonstrations of the power of liveness to resist commodification. This form of always already lost art, alone among ideological productions, eludes the clutches of capital.”

But today I’m wearing a different hat and I’m thinking instead about my improv class. Let me be clear: I’m not heading to Second City anytime soon. I signed up because the writing workshops weren’t going anywhere (this is only Wikipedia true). I loved the workshops I took and left inspired. Awash in creative juices, I was ready to write the magnum opus—or at least finish a short story. But each time, the inspiration quickly faded – and I still haven’t completed a story. Maybe, I decided, I was focusing too much on product, and not enough on process. Improv seemed the perfect solution. It’s fun, it’s fast, it disappears as soon as you create it. Scenes with narrative, character and setting coalesce briefly and then—pop!—like a soap bubble, they leave nothing behind. Life as practice with no consequences.

Deborah Lee Luskin on Live to Write – Write to Live advocates “jack-rabbiting, stalling, and crawling forward…” She writes about the process she has developed for starting a new project: “First, I play computer Solitaire until I see spades in my dreams. Then I clean cupboards. Sometimes, I snap at my love ones, and other times I dissolve into tears. Eventually, I start walking. A hundred or so miles later, I overcome my resistance enough to sit down at my desk.” This might sound a little bit like procrastination. But as she explained it in a response to my comment, it’s more about daydreaming. Letting the mind wander, get lost, be unproductive for a little while.

For me, improv class provided structured unstructured time. Led by the fabulous Laura Derry, we played catch (yes, the kind with a ball) and spoke in tongue twisters, and jumped our status up and down and all around until our brains froze rock solid. And when your brain freezes, in theory at least, everything else opens up. Why, actually, it turns out I am a 19th-century archeologist excavating ancient Egypt. And now, I’m eight and exploring the attic of a haunted house. And now this roller coaster seems to have flown off its track and now….I star at Second City, and is that Lorne Michels on the phone? Why yes, I’d love to collaborate with Tina….

Yeah. It’s a daydream right? That’s what a daydream is. No holds barred.

Often, class was fantastically, blazingly, mind-numbingly fun.

I laughed so hard milk would have come out of my nose (if I had been drinking milk).

So what’s the point here? I’m having trouble concluding this post. Tibetan sand mandalas, daydreaming to write, improv class, and a little academic theory thrown in for show: I want to tie these all together in a tidy package. Where’s the enlightened revelation? What’s my kitchen-magnet one-liner? And—aha!— that may be the point right there. There is no one-liner. There is no product here. This may be the greatest gift blogging has given me (I can’t resist bringing in a new topic here). I started blogging right about when I took the improv class, and it has, to some degree, provided me with the same kind of spaciousness. Don’t get me wrong—I am a neurotic crafter of blog posts, and like so many of us, check my stats obsessively. Still, unlike so many of the other areas of my life, I have no distinct goals with this blog. I’m not trying to make money with it (though, if you would like to make a donation, contact me right away at I’m not trying to get it  “published” in any kind of traditional sense (ditto last parenthetical statement). As you may have noticed, I don’t even really have a hook. It’s a place I get to meander, publicly. It’s fun. Life as practice, though this time with some consequences.

(And she keeps on writing)

Again, I don’t know how to end this post. And again, that really is the point. I actually know where the end is. I know where I get off, if not precisely how or when. I’m talking about the big end here. The Finale. The one from which there are no reprises, no encores. The one that, aside from taxes, is the only thing we can count on in life. But that’s not precisely true. Because the other thing we can count on is that we can’t count on anything. Life is change, baby.  Dream through it, stumble through it,  hike through it, dance through it, but  ride  it, baby, ride. Ride that roller coaster until that last day when you don’t anymore. Work hard. Build it up. Make it pretty.  And when the wave comes, let it wash you clean.

Yours truly,

This Change Artist

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2012 2:35 pm

    Hey, head to Second City. They offer classes to everyone. I signed up a long time ago, and had a blast! Just saying …

  2. Madeline permalink
    March 2, 2012 3:33 pm

    Just started flipping through Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (for research purposes). It’s appalling–for herself and her children she claims not to allow any activity unless it is going to directly lead to medals or some other form of pay off and material advancement. And she trumpets this as a superior form of parenting . . .

    • March 2, 2012 6:14 pm

      I should really read that book – also for research purposes. It was so terrible when it came out, and “tiger mother” became an instant stereotype — always, surreptitiously of course, applied to asian or asian american women.

  3. March 2, 2012 3:38 pm

    This post reminded me of something I’d almost forgotten (funny how much I forget these days, in fact…oh, yes, I’m composing a reply). Years (and years) ago I took an acting class that met for 6 hours every Sunday. It was not a scene study class, where you work with a partner to learn lines and act out scenes from Tennessee Williams and Caryl Churchill (although those are fun, too). We did improvisations for all 6 hours, right through lunch, every Sunday, exploring characters in situations that might change on a word from the instructor. That class didn’t turn me into a professional actor, but now that I look back, I realize that something in what we were doing allowed ideas to bubble up, unbidden. For years afterwards, I wrote nearly every day, and some of it was actually good!

    Maybe it’s time to try again….

  4. March 10, 2012 7:23 pm

    Nicely said! Thanks for your words; they stirred memories, made me laugh, and reminded me how much I truly enjoy the creative process. Pax et lux.

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