Today’s Teachings

You just heard a hard word.

You’ve received some bad news, or been privy to the negative expression of an onlooker or someone close to you.

You participated in an event, or facilitated a show, or ran point on a project, and when it ran its course, the end brought to you harsh critiques, less than savory feelings, and a whole heap of negativity for you to sit and stew with.

Could I Stand Alone?

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Malibu Beach, CA

I was participating in one of my church meetings Sunday morning when a gentleman stood up and spoke about a personal question: Could I stand on my own if I needed to?

Whether in or out of a religious context, this question fascinates me. I love mysteries. I love finding new things out about myself. I love bringing to the surface new strengths and weaknesses and then exploring them to find and develop my opinions on them. I love seeing how they impact my life, both actively and passively, and then how I choose to incorporate them, either consciously or subconsciously.

With Our Powers Combined

I used to make movies. Ten years working on local Utah sets, many of them my own, in capacities ranging from actor to working behind the camera in producer or assistant director roles. I won awards in college, fell in love with the creation and seeing a project through to the end, and I developed some meaningful relationships. But, there came a day when I needed to hang up the hat and move on.

The Nature of People

Current events have had me in a flux.
“Is he right?”
“Is she right?”
“Does it matter?”
I strongly consider myself non-political. Not because I don’t care about topics, or because I don’t have opinions or beliefs to share, but solely because having compassion, understanding, knowledge, experience, something to say, or any other plethora of addendum, isn’t enough anymore.

First Impressions

I vaguely remember my first introduction to improv comedy. It was my second year of high school and my second year of theater. Ever. The year prior, the school had forced upon me a theater class second semester. I had no say in the matter. And, somehow, unbeknownst to everyone but God and universe, I became hooked.
A local improviser went around to a bunch of schools offering a one night workshop. At my school, we had so much fun that a bunch of us started practicing and improvising after school at each other’s homes, and we even were invited multiple times to perform on “professional” stages in our city with other high schools. We had so much fun.
I had never expected to like theater. Before this, I had no idea anything like improvisation existed. I knew stand-up comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby, and I knew sketch comedy like Saturday Night Live, Monty Python, or Mad TV. But taking an idea and creating something from nothing…the thought had never crossed my mind.
I loved it. Everything about it. I loved the energy my friends and I had when we played the games. I loved that every time we performed, it was different. I don’t do much theater anymore, even though I honestly love it, because deep down I think I have a hard time with the same old performance every same old night.
But I’ve been performing improv for ten years now, and it has enriched my life in marvelous ways.
There are so many things I could say in this first blog, but they will have to wait. There is something far more critical and personal I want to share, that I hope will set the tone for the comedy and blogs to come.
Comedy saves lives, my friends. Comedy saves lives.
It’s commonly accepted, even if not fully understood, that art is a reflection of the soul. And not just the soul of the creator, but those who can be vulnerable enough to have an experience with it. And when improvisers get together to jam out, they give of themselves in every scene, with every character, and every joke. They are allowing the audience and their fellow performers into their lives for a singular moment, willing to put it all on the line for a laugh and a smile. To me, this is beautiful art.
Let me give you a quick timeline. I started improv when I was sixteen or seventeen, at a time when I had an identity, but I wasn’t sure how deep my character went. My parents got divorced my senior year, and comedy quickly became a foundation for my emotions. Then, after high school, I had nothing to do with improv until I was twenty-three and recently divorced. My soul hurt, and once again God and the universe put it in my path. I started performing with a group, then after a few years managed that group, and now I’ve been there over eight years.
During those years I’ve been burnt out twice, plus a needed break three years ago. Every time I was burnt out I kept saying that it was because of others. Both times, after honest reflection, I found the problem in myself. Once I was able to see humility, I returned and was welcomed with open arms, realizing both times how much I needed the laughter.
The needed break happened when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I was one of her primary caretakers, and she lived for seven months. I had some laughter in me, but nowhere near my familiar limit. But, all those years of comedy helped me handle this time with honesty, humility, and yes, laughter and smiles. When she passed on, I rushed back to the stage and my family of friends. I told them how I felt, and how much I needed them, and they once again welcomed me back with hugs and strength and then proceeded to bear me up during performances until I had it in me to stand on my own again.
Every time some powerful force has entered my life, good or ill, God and the universe positioned comedy to be right there with me. I don’t believe in coincidences, but I do believe in the power of choice. This is why I view comedy to be so powerful, and one reason that improv comedy makes such an impact in my life.
Every single show is different, but can only succeed because of trust, confidence, bold choices, and teamwork—that’s putting it simply, but those four are vital components to every show. Comedy is fashioned from extreme circumstances. It exists because of how one person chooses to relate to life, people, nature, work, ideas, feelings, and themselves, and then how they present these aspects. Bold often equates to funny in comedy.
Improv comedy is spur of the moment, on the spot, no previous meditation taken, and no script used. Yes, the performers train and workshop the games and skills necessary, but each new audience with each new suggestion creates something they have never done before. This art of such raw creation that yields an honest response with laughter, smiles, and hooting and hollering is so powerful.
Powerful enough to change lives.
We used to have a member of our troupe, who at the time was helping us out with our show’s technical needs, give us some feedback in our notes after a show that has resonated with me since. Now, not to diminish the nature of the words, but he shared this with us many many years ago, and I confess to only remembering the theme of his words, and not the individual words themselves. He became serious and paused a moment after getting our attention. When he lifted his head to look at us, he asked, “Do you guys realize what you have here? Do you know what you do for people?” We weren’t prepared for the dramatic touch, and couldn’t find a serious answer to his question. So we stayed silent and listened.
“You guys give people hope. You give them what they can’t get on their own. There is light here that might save someone looking for it in their life. You save lives.” There was no mistaking his sincerity. No need to make a joke or quip to dispel awkward tension or energy. I can’t speak for the rest of us who were there that night, but those words hit me hard. Up to that point, I’d never given much active thought to it.
But I do now. Every show I’m in, and every time I teach improv to someone else, this becomes part of my delivery. But not because my friend said it. Because he said it, and I knew exactly what he meant. I could go back through my life, tracing the path with ease, and find all of those moments and the corresponding light of improv that connected to it. I could discern the truth of good comedy in my own life. That is why it has stuck with me.
Not everyone understands improv, and I don’t really care if they do. Everybody has their thing. What I care about are those people who I get to interact with, who may be struggling. The difference for me over the years, is I work hard to make sure I’m handling their vulnerability, whether known or not, with care, love, laughter, and smiles.
I personally know many, most of them friends, who have survived life because of improv. And I thank all those I don’t know for their willingness to be a part of it and allow me a chance to giggle and laugh with them.
This is the radiant light that is improv comedy.

The East Wind Blew

A blue flower grew alone. It only had itself. Solitary, stark, contrasted against a mountain. It cultivated at the base, where the mountain’s roots stretched and dug into the forest, creeping to retain that which it never had. But the flower maintained.

Endless days, counted by wind, rain, sun, soil, and disease; the blue flower knew these intimately. The mountain, grumbled, watching the blue flower survive. But why? It wasn’t because the flower stood up to the mountain. Plenty of life outside of the forest challenged the might and presence of the great point; no, something more than just life had irked the mountain.

But the flower wasn’t worried.

The mountain once sent an emissary to the blue flower: a spec of dust, drawn from deep within the mountain’s heart. It brought age, force, stillness, and warmth. These were things that the blue flower had never known.

The spec first had to be broken apart, then forced from the mountain’s chest and drawn out into the air. The active air was something the spec had never encountered. It was baffled, intrigued, and affronted, to see such a thing existing. Why would anything choose to exist outside of the mountain?

It floated down, drifting on uptakes and drafts. The wind played with it…caressed it…held it in a fragile embrace. No pressure. No darkness. Almost as if greeting a friend, if the spec had ever considered such a notion before. But the lull of the breeze tranquilized it. And then the forest appeared.

When the spec first saw the forest, it wanted to hide. The wind picked up, whistling through the branches, charging forth with a scream and a tear that perplexed the spec. Where once had been a repose, the spec encountered lust. It only knew the cold, the damp, and the still, where order prevailed and rhythm dominated. Such chaos was a thing for the roots of the mountain, or perhaps the peak. But to find it hear…how?

Transfixed by its own demise, the spec couldn’t stop. There was nothing to hold it back. Nothing to end the slope. It had been drawn from the heart of the mountain; it was the most prized quality the great monolith possessed. Now it would be enshrouded by chaos and pulled into the storm forever.

There would be no return.

Stillness left. Force was sapped away. Warmth purged by the breeze, and age confounded with intoxication. That was until something interrupted the execution.

It took a moment to realize…it took a moment to accept. The spec had stopped. Indeed, it had stopped. There, in another foreign embrace, it had found refuge and peace. Two things that it had believed only the mountain could provide. The wind tore for it. The raging sounds quipped as they blew by. But the spec had been saved and had no more time for chaos.

But who or what had pulled it from destruction? Who or what could claim to hold the mountain’s heart? There would be rejoicing. There would be praise. If the spec could just retreat home, there would be a treasure for the one to see it done.

A shadow bent over the spec. A pungent aroma filtered out the maelstrom. The spec felt close to life, but again, a different life than before. Then it saw the blue flower.

“My poor little friend,” the blue flower said, “you have worked tirelessly against an avalanche. How you survive is a blessing and a miracle I will remember and treasure.” There was sadness to the blue flower’s essence, but also faith, patience, and age. Yes, there was also age. “Tell me, how far have you traveled to be here, and where can I direct you thither?”

Such an unexpected introduction, and from the enemy of the mountain, no less. Was this fortune or consequence to end up indebted to none other than whom it was sent to parley? The blue flower and the mountain had never before exchanged words, so the spec felt confident in its mystery. But to what end was it now involved?

The spec needed to think. And it needed to postpone.

“I am an emissary, as old and ancient as the rock from which I came. While aged, I am barely born, tossed about like a beginning.” Truth, yet subtle. An art of stone the spec knew well.

“Then my friend, it is a pleasure to shelter you. I am a learned student of beginnings and aged in my own right. Though, to one of born of tombs, I can’t claim near enough age to challenge. Perhaps, there is ought we can provide for one another?” The blue flower’s sadness was palpable, and a desperate plea clung to every word. The spec paused, confused, as it thought itself to be the one in dire circumstance. Mayhap it could provide something in return, keeping its true nature hidden. All parties could be happy if mystery remained intact.

“Speak on, my savior,” the spec announced. “You have pulled me from the jaws of anarchy itself, and I would that I could do the same.”

The shadow of the blue flower departed centimeters as it faced towards the mountain. “I am an orphan, my new friend. Long was I in the chaos you fear, only to be brusquely deposited here. I have made a life, and friends, in my time, but my situation sadly is not my own. My fear, my aged companion, lies in the behemoth that stands before you. If I may ask, have you met the mountain in your travels?”

Uncertain. Unknown. The spec dwelt in territory unscouted. To lie would betray, but to tell the truth would undermine. What to do? “Blue flower, I have heard of the mountain.” Would the flower sense the hesitation? Would intent become clear?

The blue flower…wilted. Visibly, and tangible, to all with the bearing to see. The spec hadn’t noticed before; the regality, the humility. The longing. All gone, fallen to the dusk of the mountain. The spec lost heart and hurt for the blue flower.

“Spec, you see before you a misunderstanding. I have a strength in me that belies my wish. This mountain curses and curls around me, beneath me, and above me. I stand alone, the forest stretched out safely behind. I never…I couldn’t…desire this to be my place, and yet it is. And I survive because I must. Yonder mountain confuses me with misintent; I know this to be true. You, who are kin to the durable, I would plead a truce on my behalf.”

The immense weight of misconstrued casualty pressed upon the spec with more being than the importance of the mountain ever did. In the blue flower’s vulnerability, the spec felt its essence. It could envision the existence below the slopes, always at the mercy of the peak but finding solace only in the integrity of itself. This blue flower fought for love and camaraderie, not for prominence and property.

The spec empathized. An experience it never had cause to do before.

“My disheartened friend, lift your petals high. I, as it happens, am on my way to the mountain now. It would bring me more joy than you could know to be your benefactor this day,” the spec shared with a ferocity of purpose.

The blue flower angled back to where the spec resided, safe and secure in its petal. And paused. Then, with a renewed light, the petal exposed itself to the sky. “I never prayed to have this, for fear of who would be sent. I never wished for solace, for fear of ignorant complacency. I could ask how you came to be here, but I will not. I don’t have the strength. But your willingness to carry me onward would bring peace to a heart long stifled in grief. I still won’t wish, but I will see you to the mountain.”

Such purity. Such trust. No guile could be found in the blue flower, and no cause for the spec to suspect foul intent. Instead, reality dashed the moment to pieces, imprinting on the mind of the spec the memory of the torrential wind, and its selfish chaotic will. It would never reach the mountain again. Void and daft was their companionship, and naught but ash. The spec buried itself into the feathery exterior of the petal. Defeated, finally, at last.

The petal moved, pushing into the light and back into the warmth. “We are one now,” the blue petal resonated. “I can see you to that mountain if you have the will to journey. Well. Do you?”

“Yes, blue flower. Yes. With every piece of my being. But you do not possess the movement to accommodate, and I am at the mercy of the wind. We are in vain.”

Presence refilled the blue flower. “While you have survived in rock, I have survived in chaos. Chaos is singular, but survival is not. I am not alone. To see you to the mountain, I have another who can provide. See, soon the eastern wind comes. She and I have long provided for one another, and to bear you aloft would be easy for her. Tell me you’ll try.”

The spec accepted. “Yes, wise one. I will try. Gratefully and happily, I will succeed.”

They waited. And they waited. And they waited.

Chaos compounded, hoping to dishearten and dampen their spirits. But together they prevailed against the wind. The forest shrieked and called to them, ghostly and dangerous. But together, they prevailed against the horror. The mountain itself belittled them, sitting in ignorance until comeuppance came to pass. But together they smiled in defiance.

And then the warmth of the east wind blew.