Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Tag: improvisation

Life Lessons: Saying Yes to the Positive, and a Big Do-Over

Life is handing me a bit of magic lately. In two weeks, Bob and I will be traveling off to England and Iceland again. Yes, for those of you who’ve followed along, we DID just go to both places last May to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. It’s really almost miraculous that through some really good fortune, we are getting to go again. I’m thrilled and touched at this opportunity.

 

Some of you read along as we blogged, posted and photographed our way through England and Iceland last year. It was a great trip and we had a good time, but there were some flies in the ointment. I weighed over 300 lbs and was in a lot of pain every day, my knees, feet and legs so tight and sore that I couldn’t walk very fast. I limped, and we needed to make frequent stops so I could rest. It was very frustrating. And while Bob and I were getting along, it wasn’t any kind of a second honeymoon trip for us. We had our issues that had piled up on us. And while neither of us knew it at the time, we were headed toward September when Bob would request a divorce, followed by many excruciatingly grief-filled months. It’s been a tumultuous, painful, rewarding and transforming time, so this magical trip is very welcome. And I’ve learned a big lesson, too, just by how it came about.

 

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May 2014 London

 

 

About a month ago, Bob was supposed to have a week of training to earn some certification here in Minneapolis. The day the training was supposed to start, he found out that it had been cancelled, since he’d been the only one to sign up. He called the training company, based in London, to find out where else he could get the training. There were some places in the US he could take it, but it was also offered in London. Well, why not try? The training company said he could take it there, and then Bob went on to ask if they had any apartments they could put him up in. The company said yes, and they agreed to let him stay for free since they’d had to cancel the Minneapolis training. Hmmm… now he had training and a place to stay in London. He only had to convince his workplace to fly him out there. He asked, explaining that they wouldn’t have to pay for his lodging since he already had that covered… and they said yes, throwing in a per diem for food for the week as well. He called me excitedly, saying that we could turn this into a trip to England and Iceland again for the two of us, would only have to pay for my airfare and some of our expenses as we extended the trip into another week, and I could see more of London during the day while he was in training.

 

Of course I said yes. I could hardly believe that something that sounds so improbable actually came together so easily (well, Bob did do a lot of work to manage it all). And I still get teary-eyed thinking about it—to me, this feels like the Universe is handing us a big Do-Over. After such a hard time, we get to go do this trip again, and now we are in a better place in our relationship, and I am certainly in a better place myself. I’ve lost over 60 lbs since then, I’m not in pain, I can walk and move and fit into things so much more easily, and I feel like I’m more in touch with my authentic self. I get another chance at this, I get another chance at life. And I’m so, so grateful.

 

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Tower Bridge 2014

 

The big lesson I’ve learned in watching this all come together comes courtesy of Bob. I grew up learning to be a negative-thinking person. I was taught to look for what will go wrong, to be on guard, to not expect good things to come my way, and to prepare for the worst possible outcome. It’s kind of a survival-mentality, based on fear. But Bob, bless his heart, is definitely a more positive-thinking person most of the time. He’s also good at taking risks. So when the training was canceled, he didn’t just say “damn, that sucks,” like I might’ve. He started looking for a way to make it work. And when he reached for the bigger stars (training in London!), he just kept not being afraid to ask for what he wanted. London? Free apartment? Airfare? He believed it could work, and it turned out, that was enough. Sure he had to also do footwork to make it happen, but the most important thing he did was believe something great and positive could happen. And it did.

 

I’ve been taking improv classes for a while now (scary but fun!), and one of the basic tenets of improv is to say “yes, and.” When you team up to do improv with others, you’re never supposed to negate any ideas that a partner comes up with—you go along with it and add to it. If someone says, “I’m a pink polka-dot dinosaur,” you wouldn’t say “there are no pink polka-dot dinosaurs.” You’d say, “yes, and you make the best dinosaur-sized chocolate chip cookies!” You build on what is given to you and work with it. It creates a positive relationship and makes the improv work better.

 

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Gates of Buckingham Palace

 

It’s a challenge for me to learn to be more positive– in improv and in life. In the situation of this training (if it had been me) my negativity would have resulted in disappointment, not getting the training, or maybe looking for lesser options. But look where having a positive outlook turned this whole situation around—for Bob and for me. It really has opened up my mind, and it amazes me. How can I apply this to other areas of my life?

 

With all the transforming I’ve been doing in many areas of my life lately, I think this is one lesson I can really use and start applying. And lucky us, we will get to reap the rewards of Bob’s “yes and”-ing the situation. We get a do-over, just as we’re getting a kind of do-over in our relationship too. Oh, how can I not cry a little over this miracle, this gift. Happy tears!

(Photos by Bob or Theresa Alberti)

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Bob by hearth in Shakespeare’s birthplace

 

And Now for Something Completely Different

Today I’m taking a break from the Subject of the Month to write about something new. Just shortly after My Life Changed Big-Time, I threw caution to the wind and decided to sign up for an improv class. Improv comedy has always intrigued me– I’ve gone to many performances over the years, I know a lot of people who do it, AND it scares the SH*% out of me. I’m not a person who feels comfortable doing public speaking. Even speaking one-on-one with a person who is a little bit intimidating can make my mind blank out, and I’ll have no idea what I was going to say.

I’m a writer, so communicating on paper comes completely naturally to me. The words flow, and I can free-write a la Natalie Goldberg til the cows come home (which is actually a bit improvisational, writing whatever comes to mind with no editing, and my mind and pen have no trouble with that). But I still remember the complete and utter panic I felt the night before teaching classes on National Novel Writing Month with my friend Sherri at The Loft. I knew my subject matter really well, but I was practically paralyzed and adrenalized with fear before and during the class.

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I want YOU… to sign up for improv

So, when the Community Ed catalog showed up in my mail box, of course I signed up for an improv class! (Okay, logic is not always my strong suit.) Actually, I was inspired by a few things. I’ve been taking a great water aerobics class at the YWCA for a few years, and one delightfully funny woman in her 60s has told me about the improv classes she takes. She has such a joie de vivre and makes our class-time more fun with her brand of silliness. When she’d mention her improv to me, I’d be intrigued but scared out of my mind by the idea. Yet, something in me knew that it might help me with my speaking anxiety. It might help me be more comfortable in my own skin.

Then, after my husband’s crushing announcement, I needed something to grab onto. I wanted something different, something within my control to do, something life-changing in a way that *I* wanted it to be. My life was changing in ways I didn’t want it to, so this would be mine. And I also signed up just simply for the fact that it scared me so much. I have let fear rule and ruin my life for too long. I didn’t want that anymore. So, heart in hand, I signed up.

Going to the first class a few weeks ago was pretty intimidating. I had no idea what to expect, or how we’d learn improv. I was afraid of screwing up, looking foolish, being bad at it. But our young teacher was SO enthusiastic, so happy to be teaching us, and so eager to teach us some basic concepts that fear soon receded.

We played games, silly games to loosen up and warm up.   The 20 of us stood in a circle and were encouraged to jump into the center at random, do some little movement with some sound, and then everyone else would shout “Yes!” and copy the movement. Totally wacky, and soon it became easy to jump into the center because we were all “looking stupid” together. It was PLAY… in a way that grownups don’t often allow themselves to do.

It's okay to be a little corny

It’s okay to be a little corny

We were also learning about acceptance and agreement: one of the concepts in improv is to accept what your partners are doing and go with it. You might have had an idea for a different way for a scene to go, but it’s important to respond to what is actually happening, and go from there. (Hey, this sounds a lot like Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment!)

One of the most freeing aspects of improv for me has been learning to be okay with failure. Most of us in the class are complete beginners, and so, when playing our games, there’ll be moments where someone messes up, and I watch others expressing through their faces and body language the chagrin of failing, even at a silly task in a game. Our teacher constantly reminds us that failure doesn’t matter, it’s okay, we’re all going to mess up, and we need to let go of any emotional stigma around it. We’re here to look stupid and have fun, she tells us. We’re going to blank out. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. She’s had us play a few games that are purposely designed to get us used to failure. In one, we stand in a circle and throw an imaginary ball to someone across the room. The person receiving must not catch the ball– no matter what, it will drop to the ground. The receiver has to pick it up, and the rest of us applaud and cheer the fact that they missed it, and then they toss it to someone else who will likewise fail. It was practice, and we all got into dropping/missing the ball in creative ways. Failure became funny and acceptable.

I’m sure that a lot of people grow up with a stigma about failure or looking foolish. It’s human. I think I got a triple dose of perfectionism growing up, though, interpreting the emotional chaos in my family to mean that I needed to look, act and BE perfect to attempt to have some control over what was going on. I took my perfectionism pretty seriously. Bob reminds me that when I was finishing up my degree at St. Kate’s, I would have panic attacks about failing my classes when I was actually getting all As. In my early 20s, when I made the scandalous decision to all of a sudden move to Colorado to live with a guy, one of my cousins said, “I can’t believe Perfect Theresa is doing something like this.” I had a reputation.

So putting down my shield of perfectionism and getting permission—even encouragement—to fail is rather new for me. And freeing! Really? I can fail and everything will be okay? And I can have fun doing it? Wow.

Sure, I still squirm when we’re doing a mini-skit and my mind grasps for something to say. I wish I could be funnier, like some of my classmates naturally are. But then I try to remind myself that I’ve only been doing this for a month, and my goal is to feel more comfortable in speaking publicly, to just be able to be myself without fear. This is gonna take time, and that’s okay. I’m learning, and I’m proud of myself for doing something scary.

I’m delighted to say that I now look forward to improv class. It’s playful and silly and fun. I feel a little closer to the spontaneous and lively kid I once was. I know it will be $50 well-spent, to start walking down this road of peeling away more layers of false protection, learning to use my voice, learning there’s one thing I can never fail at:  Just Being Me.

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{Photos not credited are in the public doman.}

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