Tag Archives: relationships

“And I will try to fix you.”

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Please, don’t, Coldplay.

Sometimes people don’t want to be fixed.  It negates the validity of how they’re feeling.  I’m really shitty at not-fixing people – the eternal optimist in me wants to make everything okay, to find the silver lining, the light in a bad situation.

But my teacher made a really good point.

If someone goes on stage and says that they think they’re too overweight, you can’t tell them, “Oh, no really, you’re fine.”  That was their gift to themselves and you – this character either has low self-esteem or is incredibly blunt and comfortable pointing out his own defects.  And you’ve just deprived him of that character trait and yourself of the opportunity to play with that character.  You’ve essentially negated what he’s said.  And where will the scene go from here?  “Oh, yes I am.” “No, really, you’re not. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” “But I am.”  Someone will have to win, and although I’m sure we’ve all had those conversations in real life, they’re better off-stage than on.

If a fellow improviser goes on stage and says that she thinks her husband is going to file for divorce, you can’t say “Oh, I’m sure you’re overreacting.”  Sure, you are endowing this character with a trait they possibly didn’t know that they had, a gift.  But you’re also saying “no.”  You’re denying them the chance to see how this would play out to affect their character and their character’s relationship with yours.

I know it’s our tendency in life to try to make things better – we’re actually a very pro-social species.  But sometimes, people just need to wallow.  Sometimes, they don’t want to tell you what’s bothering them – they just want you to hug them.  That will make it better.  Or perhaps they need to work through their issues on their own and you’re depriving them of some agency.  The best way to fix something is just to let the person know that you’re there should they want your help.

And thank God for the things that are not fixed.  We’d be so boring if we were all perfect.

 

Dig deep into relationships.

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That’s the rule for the month of May.  According to my improv teacher:

“If you don’t enjoy people, if you don’t want to find out about people, then this is not for you.”

She meant improv. I mean life.  She had a really good point.  If the other person on stage doesn’t mean anything to you, then why are you there?  Why wouldn’t you just get up and walk away?  If you don’t want to find out about them, and find out about yourself in the process, what are you doing?  In improv, you need to need the other people on stage.

Thank you (so sincerely) to the people who are my people in life.  The people who I need and who need me.  Thank you.

Also, um, the writers at Grey’s Anatomy and I should team up.  Seriously:

“At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, all we really want is to be close to somebody. So, this thing where we all keep our distance and pretend not to care about each other, it’s usually a load of bull. So we pick and choose who we want to remain close to, and once we’ve chosen those people we tend to stick close by. No matter how much we hurt them, the people that are still with you at the end of the day, those are the ones worth keeping, and sure sometimes close can be too close, but sometimes that invasion of personal space, it can be exactly what you need.”

Be vulnerable.

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In improv, you’re supposed to play characters as a thin veil of yourself.

Instead of playing a doctor as I would expect a doctor to act from my vast array of experiences (i.e. my own doctors, Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs), I should play Liz-as-a-doctor (i.e. Liz if she was given the responsibility of determining someone’s treatment plan, Liz if she was sleep deprived and trying to understand a complicated medical thing.)  This makes the character more real – instead of being a walking, talking prototype, the character is a real, earnest, genuine person who you could imagine interacting with in real life.  I can only speculate how a doctor would respond to making a wrong diagnosis, but I can imagine vividly how I would feel about screwing up my data analysis (oh, grad student Liz.)  Using that emotion (the feeling of having screwed up as a PhD student) to compel me forward in the scene will be much more sincere and engaging to the audience than seeing me mimic what it might be like to screw up the job of an MD (of which I have no experience.)

Playing scenes this way, close to home and the heart, is the focus of my Level 3 improv class at iO.  A lot of people in class have an issue with playing scenes this way and my teacher has to continually push them: “How does this make you feel?”  Why do they have such an issue with it?

Vulnerability.

People don’t like to be vulnerable.  Being vulnerable makes us weak.  Vulnerability gives people the opportunity to see what makes us tick, but they could use that against us.  But being vulnerable also makes us humans.  It shows that we need other people (after all, we’re an innately social species… of course we need other people.)  Being vulnerable lets us connect to other people.  Being vulnerable shows that we’re willing to trust others – “I know you could hurt me, but I am willing to open up to you anyhow.”

One reason why we’re hesitant to be ourselves on stage is because we don’t want to go to deep in front of an audience of strangers. We think to ourselves, “Oh, surely I can’t play ‘heartbreak’ sincerely because I might risk touching upon my own experiences with heartbreak.  I might let others see how much I was hurt.”  (Personally, I find it exhilarating to do this, but that’s because I’m weird and love to do things that terrify the hell out of me.  For instance, I’m afraid of heights and going skydiving this summer.)

I have this theory that every time you interact with someone – your boyfriend or girlfriend, your mother or father, your neighbor, a stranger on the street – you give them a piece of you (metaphorically) that you can never get back.  But you do so willingly, in hopes that they’ll give you something in return.  You take the risk, you trust someone else.

In improv, it’s the same way. You give a piece of yourself to your fellow improvisers and to your audience.  You trust them to invest in your scene, to make you look good, to believe your characters.  You trust that they will only make you love improv even more.

On stage, make statements about how you genuinely feel.  Be authentic.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  The scene will not know depth that makes it believable – the scene will be a caricature with two cartoon actors.  I know heartbreak sucks and it’s scary as fuck to take another stab at it.  I know asking for help makes you feel small and incapable.  I know sometimes your decisions don’t work out the way that you planned and admitting those mistakes means admitting confusion and possible defeat.  But in real life, we have to make statements about how we genuinely feel.  We need to open up and be authentic with the people that we care about.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

Our ability to be vulnerable makes us beautiful.

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Author’s note:

Writing this post, I googled “vulnerable improv” and was (a bit naively) surprised at how frequently the topic has been discussed. (Even though this idea is new to me, it’s clearly not objectively new.)  Here are a few:

http://thefiz.biz/Vulnerability%20in%20Improv.htm
http://forum.austinimprov.com/viewtopic.php?p=73000
http://www.yesandspace.com.au/?p=2008
 

This post was partially inspired by this great TedX talk, here: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

I think it’s ironic that I haven’t told you what else inspired it – for fear of putting too much of myself (of being too vulnerable, perhaps?) on the www.

An introspection: vulnerability explains why the people that I improvised with in college became some of my closest friends.

And finally, I leave you with this quote:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” – CS Lewis


What’s so bad about questions?

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My improv instructor makes a buzzing noise whenever we ask a question on stage. BEEHHH! Wrong.

Okay, so these are the types of questions that you don’t want to be asked on stage:

I don’t want to be held accountable for having a good, spontaneous answer to those questions while I’m in front of an audience.  But in life, these conversations are actually interesting, and you have the opportunity to think through your point of view.

You can learn a lot about people from the questions that they ask and the answers that they provide.  I get that by asking questions, you put a burden/responsibility on the other person.  Maybe the other improviser hasn’t yet decided what their mother thinks of their tatoo, or in real life, your little brother hasn’t decided where he’s going to college yet (“So stop asking me, Liz!”).  But in a way, by asking a question, aren’t you giving a gift?  An opportunity for that person to share a little piece of themselves?  If they don’t yet have an answer to the question you asked: you’ve given them a friendly environment in which to hash it out.  Questions let people put their world-view out there to maybe impact someone.  We influence each other more than we are aware – for instance, letting others know that you think voting is important might inspire them to vote as well.

In college, my then-boyfriend wrote a play.  The main character’s girlfriend was loosely based on me (original, I know).  Honestly, he did a pretty good job of characterizing my mannerisms and way of speaking.  So good, in fact, that I became self-conscious when the actress that was playing her complained to my playwright boyfriend: “This character is so annoying!  All she does is ask questions!  Doesn’t she have independent thoughts of her own?”

I do!  But I love learning about other people.  Sometimes I still get self-conscious – when I catch myself in question mode, I think back to that offhanded remark.  I don’t think I should be penalized for my insatiable desire to understand where significant others in my life come from, their stories, their background, their opinions, their characters.  Plus, by asking questions, I’m making statements: “I am interested in X. Tell me what you think of it.” Or, “I am interested in you. Please tell me more about yourself.”

I’m in the questions camp.  Don’t be a dick about it on stage or in life – respect others’ opinions and realities, and don’t make them do all the work (be ready and willing to open up, yourself).  If you utilize questions as another way to build relationships and explore new possibilities, then questions shouldn’t be prohibited.  They’re just another tool you have at your disposal.

Invest.

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Nope, I don’t mean financially.  I am not qualified to give you financial advice. (Hell, I need a little bit of help on that myself.  Do you know how difficult it is to figure out taxes if your income is a graduate student stipend?!)  Invest in your relationships and the lives of the people you care about.  

I’ve heard many an improv instructor say these words.  But this statement is a gift that keeps on giving: each time I hear it, I unearth a new meaning/life lesson from within it.  My most recent exposure to this statement was in an exercise in my Level 3 iO improv class.  We were performing two-person scenes where the improvisers had to focus on a specific task but could not discuss it.  So, for instance, two women were conducting an alien autopsy.  WHAT?! If I’m conducting an alien autopsy, my first impulse is going to be to discuss how disgusting I find its guts – to tell the other improviser on stage how this situation makes me feel.  That’s a statement, right?  Check! Done! Rule abided.

Okay, sure, that’s a statement, but that violates the constraints of the exercise.   Instead, the two improvisers were coworkers who were chatting about how annoyed they were when their sisters ignored their texts and phone calls.  They acted like the alien autopsy was no big deal, because it wasn’t a big deal to those characters.  Rather, they invested what they were saying to each other, and grounded the scene in their connection, rather than in some environmental detail.  It made the scene more interesting to watch.

In life, there’s a lot of merit to making statements.  It helps people see where you’re coming from, which facilitates relationships and understanding.  But you can’t just walk around making random statements.  You’d sound like a robot.  (Image robot voice) “I am a graduate student. I do experiments. You are my friend. We are getting coffee.”

Make statements about how you feel, what you love, what you hate, and what you think about what the people you surround yourself with love and hate.  Make statements about your goals and dreams.  Make statements about the things that make you a dynamic human being.  That way, people can invest in you.

The other day, I was talking with my good friend, G.  To my embarrassment, I had no idea what a typical day in G’s life was like.  I have a basic understanding of his job, and I know some of the people that he hangs out with, but for being such a close friend, I felt like I should be able to recall much more about him!  Am I really that terrible of a listener? I typically pride myself on my listening skills (although my memory is abysmal.)  But no, I actually know a lot about G.  G is a very good example of someone who makes statements that make him a dynamic human being.  G loves improv and wants to make it as a professional improviser.  He loves getting to know people new people.  He appreciates his family more than most people I know, but in a very subtle way.  He is not afraid to be himself, even if it puts him in a vulnerable position.  In fact, I think he prefers the excitement/raw connection inherent in that exposure.  He holds his friends in high esteem.  He is a people person.  G used to be frustrated by status.  G doesn’t like when people are half-ass committed to the things he loves.  G makes dynamic statements about himself, and because G is someone that I care about, I invest in him and those statements.  They tell me a lot about who he is, and guide my behavior and thoughts regarding him.

In life, what you do doesn’t matter. There are thousands of PhD students, improvisers, Chicagoans.  What you do doesn’t matter.  It’s who you do it with.

(Tell that to your significant other.  They’ll get a little twinkle in their eye.)

A psychology-heavy reflection on human connections

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Making up for lost time by updating more than once in one day!

Consider the following situations:

  1. A young woman, a “friend” of mine (please note the oozing sarcasm), is terrified by the mouse she saw in her apartment.  Her under-dog landlord is swamped with petty-requests from tenants.  Young woman continues to tiptoe around her home near tears, landlord feels stressed by to-do list, mouse stays warm and probably well-fed.
  2. Students in my program are exceedingly anxious about our comprehensive examination. Professors dismiss concerns with “proper tactics” for dealing with the test. Students no less anxious because professors didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know, professors annoyed that students’ anxiety still interfering with work.
  3. My boyfriend is newly recovered from a cold. I am going out of town for the weekend.  He doesn’t want to hang out. I am upset that he doesn’t want to see me before I leave, he is upset that I don’t remember that he’s sick.
  4. I am super giddy about the happy state of affairs with said boyfriend.  Single friend doesn’t like being reminded that she is not in a relationship. I talk about Y and am upset by lack of enthusiasm, friend is sad about her current status and frustrated with my lack of awareness.
  5. I’m visiting where I used to live for one night only.  Number of friends who want to see me > number of friends I have time to see.  People are upset that we did not hang out, I feel overwhelmed by demands.

Let’s do this Jeopardy-style: “All of these scenarios have this in common.”

What is empathy gaps?

One of my friends, N, studies empathy gaps.  In social psychology, empathy gaps are the biases by which we evaluate another person’s situation.  An empathy gap is a cognitive inability to understand the other person’s situation due to a difference in emotional states between the perceiver and the observed.   Typically we talk about empathy gaps in the context of medical decision-making.  When a doctor and a patient work together to come to some agreement about a patient’s care plan, each is affected by the process differently.  To the patient, his or her life may be on the line, he or she may be feeling physically ill and weak, and the whole process may be overwhelming.  The patient is in a “hot” emotional state, or in a state where his emotions are so visceral that they influence his decision making processes and other higher-order functions.  Conversely, the doctor is in a “cold” emotional state: this patient is just one on her to-do list for the day, she’s been through this protocol more times than she can count, and she’s thinking about how she will avoid traffic to make it on time to her daughter’s play that evening.  The doctor isn’t necessarily a cold person, she is just unlikely to be dramatically influenced by her context in the way that the patient is.  When these two individuals encounter one another, they have a hard time understanding one another, which makes for difficult and sometimes poor decision making.  Now that I’ve given you the elevator speech on empathy gaps (hope I did it justice, N!)…

My gosh, these are everywhere in real life, people!  I guess I should have expected that – the fundamental attribution error describes our human tendency to overestimate the effect of personality variables and underestimate the effect of the situation.  (That homeless guy on your street corner? He’s a loser, right? Or maybe he just has been struck with some really terrible luck and has no social support network to help him get back on his feet.)  We are awful at truly empathizing with people.  It doesn’t make sense to me – we are more like each other than we are alike to any other living thing on this planet.  If we can see appreciate the power of the situation on our disposition, why do we fail at perceiving it in others?

It turns out that when we think about the beliefs, values, and intentions of other people, a similar part of our brain is active as when we think about our own beliefs, values, and intentions.  The human mind is a black box, honestly a mystery to anyone who is not ourselves.  But it is essential for our function as social beings to at least somewhat understand what others around us are thinking, and how that is going to influence our behavior.  (The kid on the playground: “Is that bully going to punch me?” A young child: “Is Dad going to feed me now?”  Your boyfriend: “What did I do wrong?”)  So we try, and not entirely fruitlessly.  We think, whether consciously or not, “If I were this person/in this situation, what would I do?”  And we assume that they are like us, and form our perceptions/expectations about their behavior accordingly.  I guess what I don’t understand is, if this is the way our brain is neurally dealing with other people, then why do we not behaviorally deal with them in the same way, and avoid some of the items in my list (above)?

This is where I’ve come to rely on improv.  I don’t know why we haven’t learned to accommodate for our glaring errors in the case of empathy gaps, but I think I found a way that might attenuate them.  By truly respecting the other people in our lives, by acknowledging that this upcoming surgery is a big deal to the patient, even if it’s not to the doctor, by making the patient feel like a superstar before he goes in for surgery because his concerns were all well founded and he was right to express them – by doing all of these things, we can connect on a more intimate level, one which fosters understanding and cooperation.  In improv, when we make each other look and feel awesome, no one is a star and no one is a straggler, but the group as a unit is a success.  I’m holding tight to that philosophy each time I encounter an empathy gap in the future (and I’m getting better at picking up on them!)

RESPECT. 

“To discover things about our relationships”

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So, the month of “Yes, And” has come to a close.  But of course, not without its challenges.

The challenge I’m about to describe is something that I struggled with even when I conceived of this project.  The question at hand: will playing by the rules of improv really make a difference if I’m the only one playing?  Isn’t improv all about cooperation and support?  And therefore, doesn’t it take 2+ people playing by the rules of improv to have it work?

As I mentioned in my last post, saying “Yes, And” isn’t really about being a “yes-man.”  It’s about supporting the decisions your scene partner makes, and contributing to the continuation of the scene.  In other words, it means don’t deny on stage (but we like to frame things in a more positive light).

Yet this happens occasionally.  There are varying levels of skill and experience in the early levels of iO classes.  Some of us are brand new, others of us have a particular type of experience (like my own with college improv), and others are fully trained actors/improvisers looking to tune up their mad skillz.  Needless to say, breaking the “rule” of “Yes, And” isn’t uncommon for beginners; we’ve all been there.  It’s like when you were in 1st grade and you wrote “s” instead of “z” and your “g”, “p”, and “q” all sort of looked the same.  Eventually, you learn what the heck you’re doing (although I wonder what assumptions about our language alien life forms would make from my 1st grade assignments.)

The learning process is helped by people correcting you.  The other day in class, an improviser was playing an old woman.  Her young, energetic counterpart mentioned her ornately decorated walker and she replied, “This isn’t a walker! It’s a wheelchair!”  DENIAL.  Luckily, our instructor took this as a teaching moment.  But I’ve been in scenes where there is almost this impassable wall of denial from the other actor (either a newb, or a professional just having a bad day), and you can’t just stop a scene to use it as a teaching moment.  What do you do in those situations? Faced with constant denial, you should still continue to support.  But that can be exhausting and exceedingly difficult.  Once I was in a scene where I played an enthusiastic young housewife opposite a grumpy old husband.  When I tried to get dinner out of the oven, he told me I wasn’t making dinner. I played confused – “Oh, silly me!”  When I said our dog was hungry, he told me we didn’t have a dog. Eventually, my character had eroded to nothingness, except for the assertions that he put upon me, because every time my character made an assertion about her reality, it was denied.  Now, this could have turned into a game, but that was not the context or intent of this given scene (and it takes two to tango/create a game).

A lot of times when I ask questions in here, I’m really musing to myself and it’s either a rhetorical question or I already have decided upon the answer, but I’m actually asking you, my readers: how do you handle constant denial in a scene?  (I hope this is not something that any of you has much experience with.)

Anyhow, this maps onto real life, I promise.  I am seeing this guy right now, Y.  Y and I enjoy each other’s company mutually, and in approximately equal amounts, but sometimes I can’t help but feel like I am putting more into this than he is.  I let him know when I’m thinking of him, I initiate our hang outs, I enjoy giving him presents (not necessarily of a tangible type, but tokens of my affection: back rubs, praise for his accomplishments, etc.).  I am fairly certain he is as into me as I am into him (I think, or at least hope, that I’m unbiased), but I can go days without hearing from him. I’m a Leo. I need attention. (Yes, I know that horoscopes are not very scientific and as a psychologist I should not subscribe to them… but whatever.)

The thing is, I enjoy giving.  I like letting him know how I feel about him.  So these aren’t entirely selfless actions.  But they’re still signs of support.  And like in improv, what do you do when that support isn’t necessarily being returned?

A) Play a game (advice from a female friend: “If you ignore him, he’ll realize how much he misses you and fight harder.”)

B) Drop him (advice from a male friend: “If he isn’t what you want, look somewhere else.”)

C) Keep on doing what I’m doing anyhow

Maybe you can come up with other options, but this is what I came up with.  I was honestly planning on choice A, and then if that didn’t work, resorting to an ultimatum/Choice B.  But the thing is, let’s be real, I like this guy.  So, in what was a rather hard decision for which I constantly doubted myself, I followed the rules of “Yes, And” and chose C.  That’s right – I am committed to this project! 🙂

You know what?  It paid off.  What would I have done if Y hadn’t returned my support?  I don’t know that I have an answer for that.  (Refer to the above not-so-rhetorical question.)  But here’s the key point: he did.  Support, support, support.  If the person you’re supporting is anyone who is anyone, they’ll step up their game and support you too (which explains why I was hard pressed to think of scenes of completely constant denial.)  It may take them a while to come around, and they might not meet you dollar for dollar.  But people realize if they’re being supported, and I guess it’s almost a natural response to support in return.  I should have realized that some of the rules of improv are more implicit than I made them out to be.  After all, social psychologists talk often about how, as an innately social species, it is in our best interest to support the group/those around us, because if everyone is supporting everyone and working together, then we all survive to reproduce (evolutionarily speaking, this is the piece de resistance.)  They talk about it as the selfish gene which makes us a social being.

When my improv teacher took that teaching moment, she summed up by saying, “The reason we agree with one another is to discover things about our relationships.”  This month, by saying “Yes, And”, I’ve discovered a lot of important things about my relationships (platonic and romantic), about my environment, and about myself.  The key is to agree with what you’ve got; don’t resist, don’t deny.  “Yes, And” it.

Sometimes the best way to say “Yes” is to say “No”

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I know – ‘wait, what?’  But hear me out.

This week has put me into a variety of unanticipated situations in which playing the “Yes, And” rule by the book simply would not have worked.  It’s much easier to say yes to an opportunity (i.e. going out with some friends, helping someone with their work load) than it is to say yes to a concept that you wholeheartedly disagree with.  Think of your hot-button issues: abortion, gay rights, government spending, Obamacare, etc. Although two characters in an improv scene would be expected to share the same stance on these topics (because people don’t enjoy arguing about them in real life, let alone paying to watch it happen on stage), in the real world it’s much more likely that such conversations elicit tension (although that may be an overstatement).  I cannot accept that applying the “Yes, And” rule means that I should say “Yes” unconditionally and toss my convictions to the curb.  How is that good advice for life?

Sometimes on stage, it’s more important to “Yes, And” the improviser than it is to “Yes, And” the character. Consider the following improv situation:

Joe: “You have it in your pocket!”

Ryan(immediately, flustered, clearly lying): “Nu-uh!”

Regardless of what “it” is, by the character of Ryan effectively saying “No, I don’t,” the improviser playing Ryan is saying “Yes, I do, and I am lying/don’t want you to know about it.”  Try another one on for size:

Rebecca: “Send him to jail! He’s the murderer!”

George: “No, please! It wasn’t me!”

Even though George said “no,” he played a genuine response to the situation at hand. That is, he said “Yes, I accept that you are someone with the power to send me to jail,” to the improviser playing Rebecca and he added “and I thoroughly dislike this idea because I am innocent.”

We can “yes, and” the situation or the reality of our partner without necessarily agreeing with everything that they say.  Take, for instance, my recent discussion with my friend, K. I haven’t talked to K in a while.  Certain life circumstances and a lack of exposure to alternative viewpoints have led each of us to become more polarized in our opposing opinions on said hot-button issues.  So, when we inevitably stumbled upon discussing them, I was uncomfortable. I just wanted my time with K to go well; I didn’t want to cause any disturbance because I was excited at the rare opportunity for us to interact.  By the same time, I’m trying to make sure people know the real Liz (see my previous post) and I also feel strongly enough in my opinions that I wasn’t willing to blindly accept K’s points.  But should I challenge them? Aren’t we supposed to avoid that in order to foster good relationships/improv? What’s the difference between challenge and conflict?

Conflict is being closed-minded; it’s hearing only the weaknesses of K’s arguments and ignoring their strengths.  Challenge means accepting that regardless of whether I like or personally agree with what K is saying, it is her reality.  She is not simply saying these things; instead, they are core tenets of her unique K-ness (which I adore).  I am not going to change her mind, and she won’t change mine. But if we are respectful of each other’s right and ability to make an informed decision, we can learn a lot more about one another as individuals.  For example, although I disagree with protesting outside Planned Parenthood, I understand why K is personally so passionate. I understand that this “protest” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be on television. And I understand better some of the very real reasons why people, in general, might be upset with Planned Parenthood. I hope that K heard my points as well; among others, that regardless of where you stand on the issue of abortion or sex-education, Planned Parenthood offers a lot of health services for people (men and women!) who would otherwise not receive them.  Maybe there’s some ideal middle ground, but I’ll leave that planning to the policy-makers and entrepreneurs.  By agreeing to disagree while still acknowledging the disagreement, the tension between K and I almost entirely dissipated and remarkably, I felt closer to her than ever.

Here’s a more humorous example.  It’s best to “Yes, And” with a “no” when a friend inconveniences you and feels bad about it because there is no point in making him or her feel worse. So the other night, my friend Y gets sick after a night out of drinking and fun.  Folks, we’ve all been there.  And I am indefinitely indebted to the people who have taken care of me when I’ve been at my worst (you know who you are.) Okay, watching him vomit is not how I expected/desired to spend my evening, but there was no way that I could have just let him suffer on his own. I don’t know how other people react to sick, drunk people, but I cannot imagine a situation in which I wouldn’t take care of that person, given that I have the capacity to do so.

Of course Y felt awful the next day, thanking me and apologizing profusely.  How productive would it have been for me to respond to Y’s “I’m so sorry, I’m such a jerk” statement true to “Yes, And” form?  Not very.  In this case, my natural response (“Please don’t worry about it, it’s fine”) was an indirect “no” (“No, you are not a jerk and have no reason to be sorry”).  But it was an expression of support, which is what “Yes, And” is meant to do anyhow.  I did not say yes to the situation.  (Dear Y, please let’s not do that again. Thanks, Liz).  I also did not say yes to the sentiment.  (Dear Y, I could never think you were a jerk. Best, Liz).  But I did say yes to the relationship I have with Y.  (Dear Y, I’ve got your back, because we’re friends and that’s what friends do. Yours, Liz). I think I even was better about including the “and”!  (Dear Y, Yes, I have your back, and this is the type of person I am. Take care, Liz).

“Yes, and” is meant to facilitate cohesion in scenes and amongst improvisers. In my life, it has fostered more cooperation and empathy.  I find this to be particularly the case when I’ve “Yes, And”ed with a “nope.”

The “And” is imperative

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Turns out the “Yes” isn’t the difficult part of “Yes, And”ing. It’s the “And.” For me, at least.

I’ve been trying to be consciously aware of when something is being offered to or asked of me, and then to proceed with saying yes. Honestly, saying “yes” hasn’t been too difficult for me so far. I am definitely a people pleaser (from a large-ish family that makes sport of arguing, I have very easily adopted the role of peace-keeper).  For instance, when offered the opportunity to assist a professor with some extra work that he was not going to be able to handle, I was delighted to say yes. It’s a win-win situation because this makes his life easier, and is a great professional opportunity for me. When a friend invited me to her birthday bash at a hockey game in a few weeks, I initially pussyfooted around. ‘Do I have enough money to go? Will I even know what the heck is going on?’ (You can kick a touch-down, right? Oh, well that’s my extent of knowledge of sports.)  Then I thought to myself,  this is your friend, it is her birthday, and you will take advantage of this invitation to have a good time and make her happy.  Yes! I will go.

It’s the “and” that I’ve been having trouble with. In an improv scene, as I said in my first post, it doesn’t really do anyone any good if you’re simply saying, “Yes.” That puts pressure on the other person to be the sole contributor to the scene.  Part of the “and” means reacting; giving the other improviser on stage a real, genuine reaction that tells them how you feel about what you’ve just said. For example:

Mary: Claire, I made out with your boyfriend last night.

Claire: Oh my gosh, isn’t he just the best kisser? I’m so glad that other people find him attractive, too!

Depending on Claire’s delivery in this pretty ridiculous example of a “Yes, and”, Claire has told Mary something about herself. Maybe she’s insecure, and just wants her friend’s approval. Maybe she is proud that she could snag such a cute guy. Maybe she’s so confident that he has eyes for no one but her that her boyfriend’s infidelity doesn’t phase her. Maybe she and Mary are such good friends that they share everything. Whatever, you get the picture. The point is, Claire accepts the reality that Mary made out with her boyfriend, and then gives Mary something to work with/tells her how she feels.

For some reason, I have difficulty with this in real life.  I just love learning about other people (hello, psych person), and can’t help but ask probing questions or do things that will let me learn more about the people with whom I have relationships. For instance, it really doesn’t matter to me where we go to dinner, so I say “Yes” to whatever option is suggested. I want to get to know a new friend, so I say “yes” to his movie suggestion, or “yes” to her going-out plans.  But I don’t add anything about what television shows I normally watch. I don’t say, “and after that bar, we can go see an improv show!” and show what I do for fun.  Am I subconsciously worried that they won’t want to hear/know? (Oh, golly, let’s not dive too deep into Liz’s psyche here. I don’t think that’s the issue anyhow, because I try not to waste my time with people who don’t!)

This is all so ironic to me, because I don’t feel like I have any problem with opening up in real life and sharing about myself (heck, I even have a blog!).  Maybe it’s just that I am so engulfed by trying to be supportive to them/understand them that I forget to open up about myself, too; I forget that they’d appreciate that. A while ago, I was reflecting to one of my friends on how supposedly open I am (hmm, if I am going to keep referring to random friends, it’s best to give them names by which I can refer to them. Let’s call him V). V said, “Um, Liz, not really. I don’t know anything about X,Y,Z.” V isn’t the only one who has felt like it was difficult to get close to me because I am so other-person centered.   My sister constantly complains about how I know all of what is going on in her life but she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in mine.

Funny enough, an improv instructor’s words of wisdom for me were, and I quote, “I think the feeling of imbalance when trying to create a character while also being supportive and open to your scene partner is common, especially among women (Liz’s aside: I hope to later discuss gender politics in improv, but for now I hope that really thinking this suffices.) For you though, I would err on the side of selfishness; being supportive seems to come very naturally to you.” I’m not tooting my own horn by this; I really think this is a weakness of sorts, something I need to work on.  So, this is going to be something I really emphasize in the next few weeks of the “Yes, And” rule. People want the “and”, because where can the scene (or in real life, the relationship) go from there?