Improv!

What does improv mean to you? Until earlier this year, I thought “improv” meant being funny on stage with no script in front of a bunch of strangers.

Earlier this year, I was gifted a book by a former coworker, whom I’d gotten to know from the many training courses she’d put together for us. I’d been telling her about my fascination with how people operate and communicate, and she thought I’d enjoy this read.

The author is a former actor who now studies how to make scientists better at communicating with non-scientists. His tool? Improv.

And this is how I learned about all the things you do to prepare for being funny on stage with no script in front of a bunch of strangers. It’s not about being funny. It’s not about being on stage. It’s not about performing for strangers.

It’s about being able to read someone’s intentions, being able to empathize, being able to build on what they’re trying to do, and being clear in conveying what you’re trying to do.

It’s about communication.

How does one learn to do all these things? By playing games. Improv games. Improv games with no stage in sight.

This sounded fun, so I researched some classes and signed up for a 3 hour intro workshop.

I walked into the workshop expecting to spend a few hours playing improv games. In the first exercise, we were tasked with sharing with our partner what we hoped to get out of the class.

I hadn’t considered this. I’d signed up thinking it’d be interesting, probably fun, and a good way to improve my empathy and communication over time.

“I hope by the end of this class, I’ll be able to speak without the filter I run everything through during the day.” It sounded like a lofty goal. How does one break a lifelong habit / skill so crucial to our ability to function in society?

From there we were off. We introduced ourselves with gestures, made up secret handshakes, counted with actions, morphed into nouns and verbs and adjectives. We passed imaginary objects, gifted imaginary objects to one another, interacted as imaginary objects. We planned weekend getaways to Antarctica and constructed profoundly deep words of wisdom.

We played a lot of games, laughing the entire time. Toward the end, we played a game called 3-Headed Expert, in which a team of three people function as one, answering questions one word at a time, one person at a time.

It’s a thing of beauty when you focus and flow as a team. When you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going, but you all manage to push in the same direction. When you drop your filter and devote yourself entirely to speaking as one with your fellow Expert Heads.

We were hilarious. If only you could have seen us on stage. :)

Filterless flow in 3 hours. I suspect there will be more improv in my future.

Our intro games, for posterity:

Watch Me

Came across this just now and it hit a nerve.

It brought up memories of my own high school guidance counselor, who laughed and said dismissively, “Good luck, out of state students don’t have much of a chance,” when I told her I was applying to Berkeley.

I find myself wondering if this a common occurrence with high school guidance counselors.

As for, “We all have to find the people who believe in us,” I agree. It’s incredibly motivating.

That said, I feel strongly that first you must believe in yourself.

When you believe in yourself, doubters don’t matter. You can dismiss them, you can ignore them, you can look them in the eye and say, “Watch me.”

I walked out of my guidance counselor’s office, went to the post office, and put my application in the mail.

– – –

I finally remembered my guidance counselor’s name after I published this post. Out of curiosity, I found her on the internet. She’s now the counseling department head at my high school.

This discovery makes me think of my high school’s motto, “A Symbol of Pride and Excellence.”

We like to display this motto under our school mascot:

This mascot is modeled after a white guy whose last name is Yacubian.

I kid you not.

Oh wait, I’ve already told you this. But now there’s a quality picture.

For Science!

Today, for the first time in my life, I participated in a demonstration.

The same could be said for many of today’s demonstrators.

There isn’t much that can compel me to march down the street in a sea of people. Except science. And facts. And data.

Data is being deleted, facts are under attack, and research is being defunded. By our government. What the hell is going on?

So I marched. I marched for facts. I marched for science. I marched for data. I marched because “Every time Trump signs an executive order, an activist is born.”

Science not silence. We must fight this. We must resist.

But not before taking a break from the crowds after the march before returning to the rally. I am an introvert, after all.

OMG THIS IS SO AWESOOMMME!!!

Wednesday night:

Like this Friday? Okay! Carpe diem! Caren’s words. Agree!

My teammates at work totally understood my “Surprise, I’m out Friday!” the next morning when I explained it was to go jump out of a plane. Super legitimate reason to last minute bail on work, ya?

Friday: Got to Skydive California at noon. We were given some waivers to sign and shown a cult video about the dangers of skydiving.

I kid. That guy is Bill Booth, and he’s done a ton for skydiving. He’s also way less cult creepy in his other videos.

The skydiving center was a bit backed up from earlier in the day, so we went to Starbucks, came back, and watched a few loads drop. It was neat watching people’s landing techniques. I particularly liked how one of the camera guys would come buzzing in at full speed. Just like flying.

Around 3:30, we suited up. They did a quick turnaround load right before us, so we hung out in the prep area and watched our chutes get packed. Fascinating!

At 4, we headed for the plane.

Caren & Me Pre-Jump

That’s Caren’s tandem instructor in the back. I think he likes what he does, ya?

Got on the plane. More accurately, hopped in the prop! My second ever propeller plane. It seemed beefy compared to the Piper I flew in a year ago. I’m glad I had the Piper experience under my belt; one new thing at a time!

Some final instruction before the jump, paraphrased:

“If you can’t breathe, scream! Your lungs will figure it out.”
“If everything goes dark, open your eyes.”

Caren got to go first so my camera guy could capture her jump. “Bye Caren!” I yelled as she approached the door. “Bye!” And off she went!

My turn! I smiled for the camera and off we went! Whoa! Falling feeling! Sky! Ground! Sky! So windy! Ahhhhh!!

The video shows about a minute of freefall with a drogue. I spend most of that time yelling, “OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING THIS IS SO AWESOOMMME!!!” over and over. I noticed how I might find it hard to breathe if I wasn’t yelling at the top of my lungs. But I was, so no bigs.

OMG THIS IS SO AWESOOMMME!!!

My instructor gave the videographer a high five, saluted goodbye, then pulled the chute. Instant calm. Then he handed me the controls. Arms up. “This is fast.” Arms bent. “This is half brake.” Arms down. “This is full brake.” Full brake was amazing floatey peace. Then he showed me how to turn. Left arm up, right arm down to turn right. Right arm up, left arm down to turn left. We turned one way, then the other. HARD! It felt like one of those spinning chair swing rides at the carnival except way faster and way higher.

Chute flying, totally different from free-fall. My stomach did not like it at all! I felt nauseated for the next hour. Nauseated and adrenaline shakey all at the same time.

Everyone at Skydive California was super nice and they gave us free repeat jump certificates for the long wait. Would I go back? I think so! Experiencing this for the first time was amazing, but I think doing it again would allow me to experience it differently.

I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time now. Thanks Caren for finally making it happen!

Dandy

Swung onto Grant Ave. this evening on our way to dinner. Chinatown! My people! Look around and saw… no Chinese people. A lot of tourists, and finally a single old Chinese guy playing an erhu. He was doing it for street donations, but at least he was a Chinese guy playing a Chinese instrument. Then I tuned in to what he was playing.

Yankee Doodle.

Parkour

I was going to say that it was about time I had a post in this blog titled “Parkour”, but it looks like I already do.

Wow, that post was 10 years ago. Now that I’ve learned* how to mountain bike, I can finally take up parkour.

It all started with a tweet:

The ensuing conversation led me to Athletic Playground this morning for a Parkour class. I loved the space, the people, the always-a-forgiving-landing-unless-you-really-screw-up equipment.

We warmed up, then learned how to do rolls and reverse vaults, followed by a mini circuit of obstacles.

I’d never done a roll before. Learning to do one was kind of an epiphany.

I had a ton of fun, learned a bunch, and got a great workout. Pretty sure I’ll be sore tomorrow (Monday). The mark of a successful weekend.

* Learning and mastering are two different things. Just like hockey, mountain biking continues to be a work in progress. It’s the room for improvement that makes it interesting.

Death Cough 2.0

Well this is interesting. I was on my way to recovery, then managed to catch a cold on top of my cold.

Current symptoms:

  • Blowing my nose causes me to uncontrollably surprise cough.
  • Coughing causes me to uncontrollably surprise sneeze.
  • Sneezing results in a need to blow my nose.

Multiculturalism FTW!

If you’ve ever wondered how to make a Tibetan singing bowl sing, or what the Most Awesomest Ugly Christmas Sweater Evars looks like, have I got a video for you!

Yes, I got a Tibetan singing bowl for Christmas. The cultural juxtaposition pleases me greatly. Thank you Steve and Candi!

This bowl gets LOUD! Louder than in the video.

Bonus: Where’s Waldo? Christmas Narwhal Edition. Find the narwhal on my dinosaur sweater.

Underdog

The underdog won tonight.

One of the most consistently dominant athletes in MMA got dominated.

Holly Holm prepared meticulously and executed flawlessly. It was obvious in her performance and in her post-fight remarks. This was no fluke. She earned this victory. It was beautiful to watch.

I had fully expected Rousey to be the dominant one. I tuned in to watch her dominate. Because I like that kind of stuff.

I got what I wanted out of the fight. But wow, what a surprise.

Unrelated to dominance, huge props to Holly for how she carried herself both before and after the fight. Much respect for her willingness to admit that she doubted herself at times in her training, and had to force herself to work on the things that were hard until she got them right.

Unimpressed with Ronda not touching gloves before the fight.

My takeaways from this: No one is invincible. Don’t let success get to your head. Work hard. Work on what’s hard. Work until it’s easy, then find something else hard to work on.

To indulge in a moment of armchair coaching, one more takeaway: Don’t surround yourself with people who tell you you’re doing “beautiful work” when in actuality you’re getting your ass handed to you.

Dominance

“I always root for the underdog.” I hear that a lot.

I don’t, so sometimes I ask why. Usually the answer is something along the lines of wanting the little guy to succeed.

But why? Has the little guy earned it?

When it comes to sports, I don’t often pick a side, as the success of one athlete or team over another has no bearing on my life.

That doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of sports in general. I love watching professional sports. Those athletes are amazing.

You know what I love watching even more? Dominance.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to watch an AYSO beatdown or rec league ringer talent show. I understand that in life not everyone has the same opportunities, and in those circumstances I will often root for the little guy who’s working his ass off. But I’m not talking about everyday life. I’m talking about professional sports, where the best of the best compete.

If I’m going to spend my time watching professionals, I want to watch them execute. Perfectly. Because they can. Because they’ve put in the work, practice, sweat, pain, perseverance, and time. Because they’ve done it and tweaked it and done it over and over again until it’s a reflex. Until they’re dominant.

Consistently dominant.

It takes a lot more to be consistently dominant than to win by chance.

That’s why I don’t root for the underdog. I like to see hard work pay off.

I started this post right after the Rousey/Correia fight. It took me almost a month to finish, but well, I’ve been busy. Busy working hard.