Monday, December 31, 2012

How improv saved 2012

Washington Improv Theater, "Seasonal Disorder" run, Dec. 2012. Photo by Xavier.

Thanksgiving 2012, 11 p.m. New Mexico time. I was sitting in my married friends' guest room in Albuquerque, with another friend in the next room, thinking about our long, casual, laugh-filled holiday thanks to pervasive giddiness about being together in person again and also to board games like Taboo.

For the first time since I'd stepped off the plane, I was in silence. Posts had flown around social media all day on what everyone was thankful for, but I hadn't really participated. Not because I wasn't thankful for anything (I certainly am; read how my dad so beautifully summed it up), but because I wanted to push myself beyond the obvious blessings in my life and pinpoint a source or cause of gratitude I hadn't adequately acknowledged yet.

I thought back through my year. It included: a breakup, my grandfather's death, a parent's brush with cancer, family employment turmoil, up-and-down dating, increasing work ennui, and all-around transferred stress from friends and family who were unanimous in their analysis of 2012 as "a pretty crappy year."

The year brought a torrent of tears and many sleepless nights, for sure. But as I flipped the mental calendar pages and examined their throughlines, one bright thread emerged: humor. And not just any humor, but improv specifically.

Thanks to improv -- an activity I started in January and kept up throughout the year -- I feel faster on my feet. I am more relaxed in the present moment. I am more accepting of the unknown. I make people laugh, and in doing so I like to think I'm alleviating both our burdens, even if only for the span of a 15-minute set.

Thanksgiving giggles, Nov. 2012. Photo by Kristy.

Improv gave me an outlet. It gave me perspective. It gave me optimism and silliness and a renewed belief that life is not a vale of tears. It resurrected my childhood sense of play, and with it the personal understanding that we can add light or darkness to this world, and that I prefer to add light. Improv showed me that joy walks in on laughter's back, and humor helps invite them both in more often.

So for the as-yet-unknown 2013, I am already thankful:

Thankful for my silly, sarcastic, steeped-in-cheesy-vaudeville-humor family.

Thankful for my witty and clever friends who keep me on my toes.

Thankful for my coworkers, my classmates, my audience members, all of whom laugh with me and for me.

Thankful for my funny and friendly community of improvisers who took me in without condition and generously, unknowingly, lifted my spirit whenever I needed it most.

Thankful for levity.

Thankful for balance.

Thankful for giggling.

The work ladies are not impressed with this post. Nov. 2012.

Prayer #235: Laff Track

Life has dark corners, but it has wacky ones too. Thank you for switching on the lights in forgotten rooms and reminding me that laughter likes to hide -- and be found -- in unexpected places.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

A note on the end of the world

So close, yet so far. Photo by Anthony Citrano, flickr

Tomorrow, it is said, the world will end
and with it go long DMV lines,
taking off your shoes at airports, trying to
speak with the service reps in India.

Tomorrow, we've been told, the world will end
and take along its heartbreaks, large and small --
its dying kids, its bloody wars, the fears
that seep and creep beneath our dull routines.

Tomorrow. That's the date the world will end.
Yet so will evening walks and long road trips,
first kisses, last goodbyes, the million songs
we've yet to hear or write or partner up for.

Tomorrow, it is said, the world will end.
But not for me. Not for the hope I hid
under my bed, or for the joy I stashed
in mason jars last fall. And not for love.

Never for love.

Mere worlds cannot end that.

Prayer #234: Appointment

God beyond all day planners:

Deign to work in terms I understand, and circle a date for me when I can start fresh. Except ... not completely fresh, mind you, because I didn't know anything when I started the first time around, and I had to learn as I went, and I'm pretty sure that's where I ran into trouble.

Except ... maybe not completely in the know, either, because I have enjoyed discovering life as I go (for the most part), and I run into adventure as much as danger (for the most part), and I like to think there's more of that in store.

So ... circle a date. Not for a reckoning or a rapture, mind you (that seems a bit extreme), but more for an evaluation. A touchbase. A "hey, how you doing, what's next" sort of thing.

If it's on my calendar, I'll be there. I hope You will too.

Until then ...


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Fire is the only fruit of Winter"

Photo by 0olong, flickr

Today's text comes courtesy of Khalil Gibran, poet and mystic:

The Life of Love XVI: Winter

Come close to me, oh companion of my full life;
Come close to me and let not Winter's touch
Enter between us. Sit by me before the hearth,
For fire is the only fruit of Winter.

Speak to me of the glory of your heart, for
That is greater than the shrieking elements
Beyond our door.
Bind the door and seal the transoms, for the
Angry countenance of the heaven depresses my
Spirit, and the face of our snow-laden fields
Makes my soul cry.

Feed the lamp with oil and let it not dim, and
Place it by you, so I can read with tears what
Your life with me has written upon your face.

Bring Autumn's wine. Let us drink and sing the
Song of remembrance to Spring's carefree sowing,
And Summer's watchful tending, and Autumn's
Reward in harvest.

Come close to me, oh beloved of my soul; the
Fire is cooling and fleeing under the ashes.
Embrace me, for I fear loneliness; the lamp is
Dim, and the wine which we pressed is closing
Our eyes. Let us look upon each other before
They are shut.
Find me with your arms and embrace me; let
Slumber then embrace our souls as one.
Kiss me, my beloved, for Winter has stolen
All but our moving lips.

You are close by me, My Forever.
How deep and wide will be the ocean of Slumber,
And how recent was the dawn!


I write this post in a semi-dark church. Not a quiet church, though. The baptismal font in the center of the aisle is gurgling, the Hispanic Heritage Group is celebrating in the foyer, a fellow choir member stops by to say hi.

I am here waiting for practice to begin. I am here escaping the misty gray chill so typical of a mid-Atlantic December day. I am here trying to stay awake after a much too-late night of improv and socializing, and I am thinking the slumber of winter might not be such a bad thing after all.

I learned about this poem at a chorale concert a couple weeks ago in a song called "Winter" by Z. Randall Stroope, based on Gibran's text. Those lyrics, however, are modified -- a gentler version of Gibran's bone-deep melancholy that makes it seem like the poet merely has seasonal affective disorder.

What strikes me about the original "Winter" text is its palpable grief -- its mourning at separation, its loneliness, its desperate plea for a peaceful end. Spring, Summer, and Autumn all get conjoined to happy occasions, but Winter is reserved for death. It is a somnolent thief, snatching everything "but moving lips."

But "Winter's touch" isn't all bad. It has brought the narrator and his lover together one last time. It has prompted them to reflect on the life they've shared. It has illuminated with a flickering fire "the glory of [their] heart."

In this respect, Gibran might as well be speaking to God as to a lover. Because it's not always a matter of keeping the dark and cold away; it's about inviting the warmth to your side and letting it hold you.

Right now we in the Christian tradition are in the Advent season, where we wait through the darkest point of the year for the coming of God. So it does me well to remember, as I sit in the semi-dark church with winter squeezing in through the cracks, that even if fire is the only fruit of winter, it's a damn good one to have.

Prayer #233: Come Close to Me

The letter has yet to arrive. The phone has yet to ring. The carrier pigeon has yet to collapse in fatigue on the porch. But I know it's coming with a message meant only for my eyes, and for that I wait at the drafty back door, wrapping my sweater tighter, keeping watch.