Perfectionism and Birds

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.” – Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is one of my favorite books on creativity and writing. I came across an article on Brain Pickings and had to share some inspiring quotes (full article can be read here)…hopefully it will inspire you to pick up a copy (this is one you will re-read, trust me)…

“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”

“I started writing when I was seven or eight. I was very shy and strange-looking, loved reading above everything else, weighed about forty pounds at the time, and was so tense that I walked around with my shoulders up to my ears, like Richard Nixon. I saw a home movie once of a birthday party I went to in the first grade, with all these cute little boys and girls playing together like puppies, and all of a sudden I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab. I was very clearly the one who was going to grow up to be a serial killer, or keep dozens and dozens of cats. Instead, I got funny. I got funny because boys, older boys I didn’t even know, would ride by on their bicycles and taunt me about my weird looks. Each time felt like a drive-by shooting. I think this is why I walked like Nixon: I think I was trying to plug my ears with my shoulders, but they wouldn’t quite reach. So first I got funny and then I started to write, although I did not always write funny things.

FotoSketcher - Cedar Key Bird[…]

All I ever wanted was to belong, to wear that hat of belonging.”

“In seventh and eighth grades I still weighed about forty pounds. I was twelve years old and had been getting teased about my strange looks for most of my life. This is a difficult country to look too different in — the United States of Advertising, as Paul Krassner puts it — and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified. I did.”

“I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do — the actual act of writing — turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

[…]

“I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway.”

“My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.”

FotoSketcher - CedarKey Birds“But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.”

“Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.”

[…]

“Hope, as Chesterton said, is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate. Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.

[…]

The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in “The Farmer in the Dell” standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes. You’re outside, but you can see things up close through your binoculars. Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision. Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense. Then you can recognize others.”

birdbybird“To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care. You do not have to have a complicated moral philosophy. But a writer always tries, I think, to be a part of the solution, to understand a little about life and to pass this on.”

“As we live, we begin to discover what helps in life and what hurts, and our characters act this out dramatically. This is moral material. … A moral position is a passionate caring inside you. We are all in danger now and have a new everything to face, and there is no point gathering an audience and demanding its attention unless you have something to say that is important and constructive. My friend Carpenter says we no longer need Chicken Little to tell us the sky is falling, because it already has. The issue now is how to take care of one another.”

“In order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? … Think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world. Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least to have some meaning for a moment. This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of — please forgive me — wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious.”

[…]

“There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness. . .”

“If you give freely, there will always be more. … It is one of the greatest feelings known to humans, the feeling of being the host, of hosting people, of being the person to whom they come for food and drink and company. This is what the writer has to offer.”

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

Bird by Bird is really a must-read, and must-reread, in its entirety.

 

What’s in a Surname?

I stumbled across a web site on surname meanings and it peaked my curiosity. My surname (aka last name) is Darwin. Could its meaning reveal the true meaning of who I am and who I would become? Let’s not get too crazy….but here goes…

darwin-coat-of-arms-98Darwin Name Meaning:
from the Old English personal name Deorwine, composed of the elements deor ‘dear’ + wine ‘friend’. This name is attested in the 10th century, but it was not common; nevertheless it may have survived long enough to become a Middle English personal name and so given rise to the surname.habitational name from Darwen in Lancashire, named from the Darwin river (earlier Derwent) on which it stands. This seems to be a British name derived from a word meaning ‘oak’. (Source: Dictionary of American Family Names ©2013, Oxford University Press)

Hmm…dear friend? Oak? I think I’m a dear friend to many. I like oak trees. I wanted to know more…so I went to Google to search my mothers maiden name, Runcie…since I’m a Darwin and a Runcie. Here’s what I found:

RuncieRuncie Name Meaning:

Although the use of family names originated in China, it was about the time of the Dark Ages that their use came to Europe. Initially family names were used by the landed gentry before coming into use with the lower classes. Often these classes used their daily occupation in forming their name. This was the case with the name Runcie and it is believed that the original name was French, being derived from Rouncy meaning keeper of horses.

An early instance of the name Rouncy can be found in the Burke’s Peerage 1896, “Laurence Rouncy Oxfordshire 1276”. This is also where there is reference to the armorial bearings attributed to the name Runcie, having as a motto ‘By Sea ’ with the crest being ‘ a Seahorse erect Or, holding in the fore fins a Thistle leaved’ shown on our home page.

So it seems I’m a dear friend who cares for horses…with connections to oak and seahorses? Maybe I’m reading too much into this, wouldn’t be the first time. Regardless, it was a fun exercise. The search for the true me continues.

What’s your surname mean?

Enneagram Me This…

Have you ever heard of the enneagram personality types? I hadn’t either, until an email a few weeks ago offering a workshop on it. I haven’t taken a workshop on it, although it sounds interesting. Here is a short definition (thanks to Wikikpedia):

IMG_4472The Enneagram of Personality (or simply the Enneagram, from the Greek words ἐννέα [ennea, meaning “nine”] and γράμμα [gramma, meaning something “written” or “drawn”[1]]) is a model of human personality which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. Although the origins and history of many of the ideas and theories associated with the Enneagram of Personality are a matter of dispute, contemporary Enneagram understandings are principally derived from the teachings of Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. Naranjo’s theories were partly influenced by some earlier teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff. As a typology the Enneagram defines nine personality types (sometimes referred to as “enneatypes”), which are represented by the points of a geometric figure called an enneagram,[2] which also indicates some of the connections between the types. As there are different schools of thought among Enneagram theorists about some aspects of how it is understood, its interpretation is not always unified or consistent.[2]

There are many resources online to learn more…one of the most comprehensive seems to be The Enneagram Institute.

I seem to be…

IMG_4457You are a Type 6 with a 5 wing: “The Defender”

Your trifix is 6w5, 2w3, 9w1.

In enneagram theory, you have one type for how you relate to the world (either 8, 9, or 1), one type for how you think (5, 6, 7) and one type for how you see yourself (2, 3, 4.) Your tri-fix contains one number from each of these triads. They are listed in the order of how strongly they present in your personality.

Your core type (your strongest type) is Type 6 with a 5 wing: Type Six individuals are reliable, committed, and security-oriented. They are natural troubleshooters, and are always aware of potential problems. This makes the Type Six anxious, but the anxiety fuels them to resolve their problems. They can range from loyal to rebellious, depending on where they get their security from – if the security is from within, they can be very defiant… if it comes from others, they can be very cooperative and devoted. When a Type Six is in a growth state, they become calm like a Type Nine. When they are stressed, they can become arrogant like an unhealthy Type Three. You are a Type Six with a Five wing, which means that the committed nature of the Six combines with the cerebral nature of the Type Five. As a result, you often excel at concrete thinking and troubleshooting.

Your second type (your next strongest type) is Type 2 with a 3 wing: Type Two individuals are generous and kind. Twos love others and want to be loved, and becoming close to others is a theme in the life of the Two. This is why Two is often referred to as the Helper type – because they keep coming, time and time again, to the aid of others. Out of all the types in the Enneagram, Twos are the most likely to help someone when they’re feeling down or when they’re being attacked. When a Type Two is stressed, they can become aggressive like an unhealthy Type Eight. When they’re healthy, a Type Two becomes emotionally aware like a healthy Type Four. You are a Type Two with a Three wing, which means that the helpful nature of the Two combines with the ambitious nature of the Three, making you a very driven individual.

Your third type (the least-used of the three) is Type 9 with a 1 wing: Nines are receptive, easygoing, and loveable. Out of all the types in the Enneagram, they have a special ability to get along with others. For this reason, they’re often skilled mediators, resolving conflicts both within themselves and among others. Nines value peace, especially inner peace, very highly. When in a state of growth, Nines become energetic and driven like Type Threes. When stressed, Nines become anxious like an unhealthy Type Six. You are a Type Nine with a One wing, which means that the harmonious traits of the Type Nine merge with the idealistic nature of the Type One. You have an idealized view of the world, and your drive toward harmony is one way to fulfill that dream.

Some words that describe you: relaxed, peaceful, harmonious, generous, helpful, selfless, loving, loyal, reliable, anxious, skeptical.

What’s your enneagram?

Friday Agreements

1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

 

READING CHALLENGE: The Four Agreements

Quitting Caffeine? Really?

Coffee has brought me great joy. I can’t say our affair will ever be over for sure, but we may be taking a for now. Without going into too much detail, I have some occasional tummy aches and my doctor suggests I give up caffeine, just for a month or so. Give it a go…see of it helps. I looked at him like he was the homeless man I usually see urinating at my bus stop. Shocked, appalled, disbelief!

After I calmed down, I thought about all the great things people said about quitting caffeine and the things I myself experienced when I did this (a few times). Oh sure, it’s great after the withdrawal headaches stop. I sleep much better and my concentration seems better too. All the same kind of responses. So I figured, why not, I was only drinking maybe 3 cups max a day…how bad could it be?

I woke up last Saturday and just drank water. The intense migraine headaches started at noon. I took two Alleve to no avail. I was in a foul state of mind, would take any calls or meet anyone in fear I’d rip their heads off with my negative super power mind control. How could something that brought me such joy betray me like this? Caffeine…say it ain’t so you vixen! I took a nap from 3-7pm then went to bed at 10pm and slept like a baby. The next week was OK but sluggish. I didn’t run any marathons or run for senate.

OK…5 days later I started drinking JOE again. Guess I fell off the coffee wagon. It happens. Starbucks is what it is for a reason.

I may quit again if my tummy doc insists but for now its working for me.

Tell me…what’s your experience with coffee (aka the black nectar of the Gods)?

If I Were a Veggie?

Ready for another fun writing exercise? OK, take 5 minutes (just 5) and write about “If I were a vegetable, I would be…” No editing. Write what comes to your mind first. Most important, have fun!

Just to be clear, you are writing about if YOU were a vegetable, not if Chad was a vegetable.

Here is mine (since I’m sure the suspense is killing you):

If I were a vegetable I would be a squash, a yellow squash because that is what I thought of just now. I like yellow, it’s a good color.

Squash is good raw, with dipping sauce. Its ok steamed too, with pepper.

What would my squash name be? Squashy is just too obvious? Or is it? Let us see.

Hello, is Squashy home? Can Squashy come to the movies? Meet our new head of accounts, Squashy, he’s very creative! Oh Squashy, you broke my heart you dumb son-of-a-bitch!! You had enough yet Squashy? You gonna give up yet you ol rubber neck fool!

Oh Squashy, you just take on the flavors of those around you, you got no real flavor of your own, and you’re a mimic veg! Death to Squashy! Long live Zucci!! Zucchini. Zucci?? Really? Oh give it up, green vegetables are so boring.

 

 

 

Another Year Older

Today is my birthday. I am another year older. I feel pretty indifferent about it. I don’t really feel my age, I feel much younger. I guess that’s a good thing? As I write this, I feel like wow, I have survived for 38 years. Not that I have had a horrible life by any means – survived seems so dire. But think about it, this world is a crazy place – I should be thankful I survive my morning commute! It got me thinking, where did all this birthday stuff come from? So I went to Google, and no, Google didn’t invent the birthday. Oddly enough, historical research on the origins of birthdays is inconclusive. Just bits and pieces of history. Back when it was much harder to survive, I can see why a birthday – another year of survival – was so…meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, I think today is meaningful – just not the same way as I would if say I…survived the plague.

Google did help me find some answers (as it always does)…some interesting stuff from good ol Huff Post and writer Todd Van Luling…check it out:

 

Here are seven of the major developments throughout history that have led to you being able to do this once a year.

TK TK gifs

1. Egyptians started the party.

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When pharaohs were crowned in ancient Egypt they were considered to have transformed into gods. This divine promotion made their coronation date much more important than their birth into the world. Scholars have pointed to the Bible’s reference of a Pharaoh’s birthday as the earliest known mention of a birthday celebration (around 3,000 B.C.E.), but Egyptologist Dr. James Hoffmeier believes this is referencing the subject’s coronation date, since that would have been the Pharaoh’s “birth” as a god.

2. Greeks added candles to cakes.

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The Greeks offered moon-shaped cakes to Artemis as a form of tribute to the lunar goddess. To recreate the radiance of the moon and her perceived beauty, Greeks lit candles and put them on cakes for a glowing effect. The Greeks most likely took the idea of birthday celebration from the Egyptians, since just like the celebration of the pharaohs as “gods,” the Greeks were celebrating their gods and goddesses.

3. Ancient Romans were the first to celebrate birthdays for the common man (but just the men).

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The prevailing opinion seems to be that the Romans were the first civilization tocelebrate birthdays for non-religious figures. Romans would celebrate birthdays for friends and families, while the government created public holidays to observe the birthdays of more famous citizens. Those celebrating a 50th birthday party would receive a special cake made of wheat flour, olive oil, honey and grated cheese. All of this said, female birthdays still weren’t celebrated until around the 12th century.

4. Christians initially considered birthdays to be a pagan ritual.

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Due to its belief that humans are born with “original sin” and the fact that early birthdays were tied to “pagan” gods, the Christian Church considered birthday celebrations evil for the first few hundred years of its existence. Around the 4th century, Christians changed their minds and began to celebrate the birthday of Jesusas the holiday of Christmas. This new celebration was accepted into the church partly in hopes of recruiting those already celebrating the Roman holiday of Saturnalia.

5. Contemporary birthday cakes were invented by German bakers.

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Although the general idea of celebrating birthdays had already started taking off around the world — like in China, where a child’s first birthday was specifically honored — Kinderfeste, which came out of late 18th century Germany, is the closest prerequisite to the contemporary birthday party. This celebration was held for German children, or “kinder,” and involved both birthday cake and candles. Kids got one candle for each year they’d been alive, plus another to symbolize the hope of living for at least one more year. Blowing out the candles and making a wish was also a part of these celebrations.

6. The Industrial Revolution brought delicious cakes to the masses.

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For quite some time, birthday celebrations involving sugary cakes were only available to the very wealthy, as the necessary ingredients were considered a luxury. But the industrial revolution allowed celebrations like kinderfest and the subsequent equivalents in other cultures to proliferate. Not only did the required ingredients become more abundant, but bakeries also started offering pre-made cakes at lower prices due to advances in mass production, such as the scene above capturing workers of one of the many Cadby Hall bakeries of the late 19th century.

7. “The Birthday Song” was a remix, kind of.

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In 1893, Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill wrote a song they called, “Good Morning To All,” which was intended to be sung by students before classes began. The song eventually caught on across America, giving rise to a number of variations. Robert Coleman eventually published a songbook in 1924, adding a few extra lyrics that would quickly come to overshadow the original lines. The new rendition became theversion we now all know, “Happy Birthday To You.”

BONUS: Marie Antoinette didn’t say “Let them eat cake.”

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First off, nobody attributed this quote to Marie Antoinette until about 50 years after her death, when French critic and journalist Alphonse Karr claimed Antoinette had said the phrase, but essentially only sourced rumors. Despite Karr’s theory, the phrase “let them eat cake” actually first appeared in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography,“The Confessions.” In the book, Rousseau is afraid to go into a bakery because he feels underdressed. He then muses, “Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: ‘Let them eat brioche.'”

Antoinette was actually just a little girl when Rousseau’s work was written. While it’s possible that she had read Rousseau’s line and was quoting it in the infamous moment (and therefore not making a tone deaf remark about poverty), Antoinette biographer Lady Antonia Fraser, disapproves of this theory.

“[Let them eat cake] was said 100 years before her by Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV. It was a callous and ignorant statement and she, Marie Antoinette, was neither,” Fraser said in defense of the young princess. Marie Antoinette’s name should be cleared!

Let us all eat more cake!

There you have it…some fun birthday history. Now…tell us about your best birthday ever…and all those who comment may just get a birthday cake (or not)!

Creative 20-Minute Writing Assignment

writing-with-penI took a fun creative writing class a few months back and the teacher gave us the following short writing exercise…I encourage you to try it:

Go to a public place, somewhere with enough ambient noise that you can’t really hear specific conversations.  Pick a pair of people sitting far enough away that you can’t hear what they’re saying, but close enough that you can see their facial expressions and mannerisms well.

Observe these people for ten minutes or so.  Jot down notes if you like.  Try to figure out what they’re saying.  Imagine the dialogue that goes with the actions and facial expressions you see.  After your ten minutes are up, sit down and write the scene, dialogue and all.  You have 20 minutes to write it. Go!

Here is the one I wrote:

14883751-couples-in-cafeBen and Emily, technically on their third date, awkwardly sip coffee and stare at the local art adorning earth tone painted concrete walls in a coffee shop each of them has seen a million times and never ventured inside. Still in the fumbling infancy of courtship, they both find it difficult to make eye contact. He pull at the fringe of the cargo shorts he bought his sophomore year at Penn State while she scratches her ankle just above the tattoo removal scar on her ankle. This slight itch reminders her she owes her father money for the procedure which painfully wiped away an image of a kite – a symbol of her sorority days not more than a decade ago.

“It’s true, most Ethiopians are basically on the South Beach Diet – they only eat fruit,” he said.

“Shut up! You are so gross,” she said with a laugh.

“Think about it, it wouldn’t have been as popular if it was called the Ethiopian Diet – but that’s basically what it is,” he said.

He confidently sips his coffee as she laughs at his politically incorrect hypothesis. As her laughter subsides, they both make eye contact for what seems like an eternity. He thinks about where to take her to dinner on their next date while she wonders if he’s any good in bed.

Transcending My Way Through Life

IMG_4461Transcendental Meditation (TM) – refers to a specific form of mantra meditation called the Transcendental Meditation technique, and can also refer to the organizations within the Transcendental Meditation movement and to the movement itself. The TM technique and TM movement were introduced in India in the mid-1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918–2008). The TM technique involves the use of a sound or mantra and is practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day. It is taught by certified teachers through a standard course of instruction, which costs a fee that varies by country. According to the Transcendental Meditation movement, it is a method for relaxation, stress reduction and self-development.

In January 2014, I decided to treat myself by learning Transcendental Meditation…or TM as it is widely known. I had heard good things about it for years from people I trusted, but due to the fee involved to learn, I never pursued it. I had tried many meditation practices over the years and nothing really stuck with me. So I heard  a podcast with Jerry Seinfeld where he talked about practicing TM since the 1970s and how it changed his life. For whatever reason, this stuck with me. Seinfeld seems like a no bullshit matter of fact guy – and that is really how he delivered the TM message. It works, it’s amazing, try it, or not. That was really it.

So I Googled TM in Dallas and quickly found a local teacher who was able to schedule me in so my last class/meeting (4-5 in all) was actually on New Year’s day, January 1, 2014. I took this as a great sign to kick off the New Year. It was a very simple process and yes, it cost some money but monthly installments can be arranged. I didn’t go home to Florida for the holidays so I justified the cost (which was about the same price as an airline flight).

IMG_4464What are the benefits of TM? There are many studies, but all I can share is my own experience. So what has TM taught me? A lot….

1. The ‘zen’ moment I was always looking for during the actual meditation rarely happens – and that’s o.k. The zen moments come to me throughout my day (when I consistently practice TM, 20 minutes, twice a day) in the way of stress relief and creativity expression.

2. I have more patience and clarity. One glaring example I have was my ability to leave a job that just wasn’t working for me. I’m not saying this will be everyone’s experience – but it was mine. Do I owe it all to TM? Maybe not all of it, I had a strong support system of friends to help me through it too. I do believe the TM practice taught me how to deal with this kind of life challenge in a much better way.

3. There is enough time in the day. Sometimes 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening just seems like too much, isn’t that funny? Our minds are always go go go…and endless list of things to do. What can’t wait 20 minutes? This is something I have carried into my work life. No I don’t push things off and miss deadlines, but now I ask a lot more clarifying questions and set realistic deadlines.

4. It energizes me. This was the most surprising part – but especially in the morning – I get a rush if energy that’s (almost) as good as coffee. Yes I still love my coffee, TM energy boosts are just an added bonus.

Have I been perfect with my TM practice? No, and that’s OK because I am making the effort and I believe in the benefits. My first five months of practicing I can’t remember missing a meditation. I set timers on my phone to remind in the morning and evening. I let my dogs have some chew toys and off I went for 20 minutes. These first five months are when I saw the most benefit. Truth be told, the last few months have been spotty. I got a new job, which I love, that requires some travel. ravel can be tricky for me – with all the time changes and busy work to do that comes with travel. But I recently had a check-in meeting with a TM teacher near my house (free check-in meetings for life is a great plus to TM) and it helped me get back on track.

In the weeks I slacked, I saw my patience grow shorter and shorter. I felt cloudy and confused. I get back to TM and that stuff goes away. That’s all the proof I need.

Improv-ing

traits of a good improvisorImprov of, relating to, or being improvisation and especially an improvised comedy routine.

Improve to enhance in value or quality :  make better. To advance or make progress in what is desirable.

For years, various people told me I should take an improv class. I found the thought of this pretty uncomfortable – not terrifying, just uncomfortable. I’m a planner, I really need to know what is going to happen – or at least think I do. But that isn’t how life really works, is it? I knew that uncomfortable feeling meant, for me, that improv was something I should try. Sure, I took acting classes in school – they were always a fun elective. In middle school, I even acted in a local theater group in my hometown of Gainesville (Florida) called Children’s Theater for the Deaf. We put on plays and simultaneously spoke and used sign language. It was a lot of fun and I made some great friends. But this was just fun kids stuff, I’m an adult now – what business do I have taking an improv class? Well, for a guy who is always trying to enhance his creativity – this seemed like the next logical step.

DCHSo off I went to Google to find a local Dallas improv class and The Dallas Comedy House in Deep Ellum popped right up. I perused the site, saw a few funny promotional videos and took them up on their recommendation to come check out a show to see if it was something I was interested in. I dragged my friend Derrick one Saturday night and saw a few shows. I was impressed. It was a packed house full of laughter. Each troop started the 30 minute sets by asking the audience for a one word suggestion to frame up the improv. Lots of words were shouted out – I don’t even remember what was used. I do know this, the shows danced around the chosen word, but didn’t solely focus on it. For example, if the word the chose was “orange”, not every scene had to do with orange. I thought this was pretty creative (I later learned this was something called A to C thinking).

Cut to me a few weeks later taking my first improv class – level one on Sunday afternoons. It was a phenomenal 7-week experience and I learned much more than I thought I would.  Here are few cool things I learned:

Yes, and/I Know Because

These simple words are the building blocks  of every long form  improv scene. “Yes” refers  to the agreement you give your scene partner  to confirm the reality in the scene. (the who, the what, and the where.) “And” refers to the new information you are adding based on what you just heard.   

bossypants-improvWho, What, Where

The sooner you establish the Who, What, and Where at the top of your scene, the better. By getting these details out within the first three lines of a scene, you can start exploring the “why.”  It will be very difficult to build upon your scene if you are a minute into it and still have not determined base reality. 

Be an Expert

When we are making things up in improv, we get to be an expert in everything. Don’t know what’s going on? Make it up. Make an assumption and turn it into a statement for everyone to hear. When in doubt, be an expert: no need to ask questions.

A to C Thinking

The audience suggestion serves three main functions within long form improv. First, the suggestion proves to the audience that what they are watching is really improvised. Since the suggestion is coming from them, it proves the show is not pre-planned. Secondly it gives inspiration to the show as opposed to having you choose from an infinite list of possibilities. Finally, it gives the team a common point of focus. All that said, the suggestion is meant to inspire, it is just that – an inspiration, not “the thing.”  Take the suggestion as “A” which makes you think of “B” and ultimately you initiate with “C.” You may want to jump right on the main suggestion, but it is much more interesting to take the story to “C”. Let’s use orange as an example – oranges make me think of Florida where I grew up, so my “C” could be alligators or palm trees or anything else that may remind me of Florida.

Improv QuoteIn conclusion…Improv class helped me ‘improve’ both my work life and personal life in many ways. It taught me to be OK with “not knowing” what was going to happen. It taught me how to support those I work with. It taught me there are no mistakes.

Are you interested in getting out of your comfort zone and learning a few life lessons? Take an improv class – you won’t be disappointed.