Monthly Archives: December 2012
Are you someone who likes to feel in control?
But, the truth is, control is temporary, partial, fleeting.
The world is bigger, wilder, and more spontaneous than anything we can box, package, categorize, or structure.
Every time we face a new situation, something different from what we had planned, or an unexpected turn of events, we must respond fresh, with flexibility and creativity, or we risk disconnecting from the world as it really is.
The greater the desire for control, the more valuable formally seeking out training in being flexible is. And there is no greater training for being flexible than training in improvisation.
The Magic of “Yes, and…”
The number one rule of improv is that you must accept whatever comes your way. Whatever material is presented in a scene or a dance or song must be taken as true for the duration of that piece. When someone makes an offer, puts something out there, the first response is “yes”. For beginning players in a scene, it helps to actually say “yes” as the first spoken response.
The next step is to add new material, the “and” portion. This can be a restriction, an obstacle, or a new direction, but it must be an addition. The power of “and” is that accepting what an other person presents in a scene is that the story can develop; in life, it makes the other person feel validated and heard, which enables them to be more receptive to what you put on the table.
In practice, this can be hugely powerful.
I have young kids who negotiate with me all the time. Often, they are missing a piece of information that makes my position more reasonable than they initially presume. If I use any form of but when I counter them, I get into trouble. They don’t feel like I listen or respect them and they dig their heels in to point out that they are human beings with opinions of their own, which they will defend beyond the point of reason if doing so will preserve their self-esteem. If I can remember to respond to their objection with “yes, and…” before adding the new piece of information, I can often get them join me in trying to solve the initial problem instead of fighting to have me respect them.
Simply accepting what is given is a powerful practice.
See what happens if you find yourself wanting to say “but” in a situation and find the generosity to say “yes, and” instead. What do you notice?
Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
Courage, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
We all feel fear.
Fear can be a powerful guide, but we need to interpret it properly.
Sometimes fear is a sign we have identified something dangerous and we need to proceed cautiously.
Sometimes fear arises simply because we are stretching into the unknown. What lies beyond our knowing is frightening simply because it is mysterious. There is the possibility of danger.
Reaching out of our comfort zone is uncomfortable.
I am building a new business. This is pushing me out of my comfort zone in almost every action that I take. I must face the fears that arise and work into and despite them.
To keep moving forward, I will need courage.
“Courage implies firmness of mind and will in the face of danger or extreme difficulty”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary distinguishing courage from related words.
Knowing that I am pushing into the unknown, I know that I am inviting fear. I can expect fear and resistance. To succeed, I will need to remain connected to the goal and firm in my commitments to keep moving forward. I must dance with my fears, become friends with them. I must work through or around my resistances.
My fears around my work must be my guide. If I am not feeling fear, I will know that I am allowing myself to stay in my comfort zone.
My business mentor says that fear is a sign that you are going in the right direction. I believe that is an over-generalization, but given how many ways I want to stretch myself in 2013, my fears will often arise when I am moving towards my goals.
I will need Courage.
Are you pushing yourself into new areas? How do you handle the fear that comes with moving into the unknown?
I am not an unpublished writer, but my non-blog work is not published often. And I am okay with that at the moment. I am seeing improvement in my writing and an increase in confidence in myself as a self-confessed writer. Given that I took a decades-long break from writing fiction, I did not expect to start back up again and be able to make a living writing. I do, hope, eventually to sell my novel and to have more short stories published, but I am not tracking my development as a writer based on the amount of my work that other people have paid me to publish. Not yet.
But, I am watching my development. Not too closely, because I find that stifling.
For the past three years, I have been tracking my progress in relation to what I learn at the Ontario Writers Conference. Conferences that mix panels on the craft and business of writing with networking time and readings allow me to gauge where I am on the continuum from novice writer to award-winning novelist or fan favourite. I believe that the messages that stick with me after an event like that reveal more about me and my stage in the process than they do about the individual speakers. I hear the messages that I am ready for and the rest washes over me.
I first attended the Ontario Writers Conference in 2010. That year, Robert J. Sawyer gave the keynote speech, a lecture based on Robert A. Heinlein’s Rules for Writers, a lecture very close in content to an article you can find on his website. I had just started editing my first NaNoWriMo story and was feeling very discouraged, but I was committed to continuing to write fiction. Although three of Heinlein’s rules have to do with selling one’s work, I could only hear the first two: you must write and finish what you start. The main thought I left with that day was “Keep writing. Make time to write and don’t give up.”
The next year, I was still struggling with revisions of the same novel. I had been studying the art of plotting and had learned many things, but they weren’t showing up in my work. I heard Wayson Choi speak about writing the story that we have to tell, our story, the one that comes out of our pain, and I realized that my novel wasn’t working because I wasn’t allowing myself to write deeply enough into the pain of my own that had driven me to write the story. The work I did the following year was heavily driven by my desire to start writing from a deeper place, to write fearward and bleed onto the page more. And the work got better.
Last year, the talk the message that stuck with me the most was the need to submit my work to the marketplace, to start accumulating rejection letters. I no longer remember which speaker it was who reminded us of the image from On Writing of Stephen King with a nail on which he put reject letter after rejection letter, replacing it with a spike when the nail could no longer hold all the rejections. And so, inspired by that reminder, I have submitted my work more this year than in any other year. It has been tough leaving the current novel, which still contains elements of that first NaNoWriMo piece, for periods to write shorter pieces, but I felt the need to start getting some of my fiction out in the world. And I am starting to collect rejections. But, I am also starting to understand why I am collecting rejections, which means that my understanding of craft has deepened.
Next year, I don’t think I will be going to the Ontario Writers Conference. I went to the World Fantasy Convention for the first time this year, and I found the conversations about what writers are doing or trying to do in the specific genre that I am writing in speak to me more personally than the more generally directed discussions at the Ontario Writers Conference. This understanding tells me that my development is continuing. Getting to World Fantasy Convention is much harder logistically and financially than getting to the Ontario Writers Conference. I really want to go, but I can’t justify it if I don’t keep getting better. So, I have told myself I can’t even think about going to London for the 2013 convention if I don’t have my novel out with beta readers. I’m not sure I’ll manage it for this year, but the thought of celebrating with a trip to a convention is inspiring.
Each conference or convention I go to, I come away with the next step of my development laid out for me. I have heard the teaching that I am ready to learn. And by tracking the lessons, I can see how much deeper I am into the craft of writing fiction.
Do you have a way to measure your progress toward your intangible goals? Please share in the comments. I really would love to know.
In the last few days of the year, I am reflecting on my journey through 2012.
At the beginning of the year, I chose “Ease” as my guiding word for the year. I also decided to “hang on and pretend it’s a plan” rather than making specific plans. Too much was in flux for me to commit to any specific goals.
How did I do?
Well, I hung on and improvised. And things moved forward.
And, I searched for ease where I could find it. Which wasn’t easy in the midst of all my life fluctuations. But, by having brought attention to the issue of ease in my life, I was able to choose ease in some very stressful situations. Not always, but often enough to feel like things were shifting. And, given that the hardest part of adult learning is often catching yourself doing something the old way with enough time to choose a different action, I would say that progress has been made.
I think of 2012 as a transitional year.
We moved. The new house is, as expected, proving to be a lot of work and fabulous at the same time. After spending the spring and summer focused on safety issues, learning how to maintain a pool, and making the backyard fun for the kids, we moved our work inside for the fall and winter. We are in the midst of the winter of wallpaper removal and room reallocation. By spring, the kids will all have new rooms and we will have moved on to the walls and floors of the bathrooms and laundry rooms. After that, there will be the master bedroom to redo completely and the rest of the interior of the house should get a new coat of paint. By 2014, we hope to have put our stamp on every room in the house. And despite the required work, I love the place.
The kids all changed schools. The two who find school fun and easily manageable moved from a private Montessori school to the local public school, and the two who were home-schooling also moved into the public school system. It would not be an exaggeration to say I spent the entire summer worrying about how things would go. And, it hasn’t been perfect, but some time in November, I realized it was working and I could start thinking about how to build my life on the assumption that public school would continue to be the organizing structure of our family life.
It has been a wild ride. We have new neighbours, new school friends, new commitments, and a new schedule. And it mostly works now. Still have some tweaking to do, but life with growing kids means there is always something in flux.
All I really planned to do this year was move and try school for the kids. I did those things.
In addition, I joined the board of a local community theatre, directed a play, blogged every day for a month in March, pushed my writing to a new level, and reminded myself to breathe deeply several times a day.
To wrap up this year, I intend to reflect on how my writing has progressed and what I want to grow into next year and how next year might shape up, including my guiding word for 2013, Courage.
How are you winding up the year? Are you taking time to review the past year and plan for the next, or are you just moving forward, taking life as it comes?
Want less stress in your life and more ease?
Want to excavate your buried creativity?
All while having fun in an affirming community?
Starting in January, I am offering two InterPlay classes a month. These are drop-in classes. No need to preregister. Newcomers and experienced players welcome.
InterPlay is a practice and philosophy rooted in the power of play. It’s an easy to learn, creative process that uses movement, storytelling, and voice —but does it in ways that don’t require particular skill or even nerve. The forms of InterPlay help create a life of greater ease, connection, and health. InterPlay celebrates and creates connection and community. Through this simple form of play, we learn more about ourselves and each other. It is incremental, affirming, and anyone can do it!
TGIF InterPlay: 2nd Fridays 7:15pm – 9:00pm
Friday Morning InterPlay: 4th Fridays 10:15am – 12:00pm
Location: Both Playgroups will meet at Durham Improv’s Oshawa location: 1115 Wentworth Street West, Oshawa. The space is on the 2nd Floor (above “Medigas”) and is unfortunately not wheelchair accessible
Cost: $15 per class or $50 for a 4 class pass (save $10)
For more information, contact Kate Arms-Roberts at 647-408-6133.
Create a Form or Game
One of InterPlay’s greatest strengths is the simplicity of the physical practices. In InterPlay, we call them “forms” because they are guidelines that shape the practice and give it structure. In practice, these forms are similar to what improvisers in the tradition of Second City, TheatreSports, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and other comedy improv groups call “games.” The forms offer a structure that allows freedom within limits. In InterPlay, the forms range from what can be accomplished with one hand or one breath to forms that require groups of people using their full bodies and voices in operatic storytelling. In comedy improv, the games often have rules like each player can only say three words at a time. From simple to complex and sometimes off into the bizarre, these rules provide a structure.
I rebel against structure all the time, but the truth is, I need it. And I never need it more than when many projects are demanding attention. But, it doesn’t have to be rigid or forced. Today, for instance is a writing day. I am only working on writing. I have several projects that require writing, so I may bounce back and forth among them or put in a few hours on each project or devote all day to one project. But, I am not working on website design, room scheduling, arranging insurance, or making phone calls. Yesterday was a day for my creativity coaching projects. Tomorrow I will focus on making Christmas gifts. It’s not a lot of structure, but it works for me. Within the day, I improvise exactly how the day will go, but within the container I have set for the day.
There is a resource that I keep meaning to investigate about form and schedule. Jeffrey Davis over at Tracking Wonder describes his new eHandbook, The Mind Rooms Guide as a method for shaping time. He asked me to review the book as part of its launch, but it arrived on my desk at a very bad time and I have done nothing more than glance at – sorry, Jeffrey. But, I know Jeffrey’s work on helping creatives from his blog and I am looking forward to digging into it eventually. If you have already read it, please let me know what you thought of it in the comments.