Keith Johnstone, a pioneer in the improv world, said improv is like driving a car using the rearview mirror. We live and respond to what's happened, not what's going to happen. You can't plan it out, you can't come into the scene with the whole thing figured out...it’s going to change...always...that's why I love the phrase "bring a brick, not a cathedral.” You bring one idea, your partner brings an idea, and that's how you build. Improv at its purest is an organic response between two people to the last thing being said. Acting is reacting and not anticipation and for some reason this reminded me of the past few years and how those experiences, good and bad, shaped who I am today. I always tell students in improv...discovery vs invention...your past, your experiences, your memories are all you need to do good improv. Be real, tell your story...your memories make up the stories you you create on stage. I'm up late right now helping a very good friend delve through some memories and issues that she's having to work on and it made me think of my own memories, my own little chair in the corner of my own little room...the next couple posts will be about memories and agreements we make with ourselves, but this one is an essay I wrote a few years ago and thought it applied to where I am...so here ya go...
It’s a crazy, hazy, lazy moment and me and my memories sit down for a spell. Well “sit” is a strong word. A wrong word. A forced word. That’s what my memories did. They forced themselves on me like some over zealous fratty at a two-for-one drink special at the local watering hole.
They invaded like some no it all Nosey McNoserton who that thought their idea was better than my idea and that my idea needed their ideals in order to for my little ideas to be a big idea.
Those memories barged in breaking down my carefully constructed walls…walls I made to protect myself, walls constructed to keep the tsunami of dumbassery that I normally allow in my life...these walls that I thought were made of solid construction but then BAM...memories come bursting through the walls yelling “OH, YEAH!” like the Kool-Aid Man and those simple words remind me that I'm not good enough and then, seeing the mess it made,Kool-Aid Man slowly backs away while a hole I didn’t want and/or need leaves me open to a passing, gawking world that can clearly see what a sideshow freak I am.
My memories leave me with an after thought, an after jolt, an after cut. I thought I had this all boxed in. I thought my thoughts had drained away like a slow moving stream of water that had washed the dirt away from my tired and filthy life.
Drudged through mud and dragged through dirt and through dust and through particles and through nothing but all clinging and hoping to create a new skin that feels unwanted and unneeded. A new skin that, rather than being pinkish and soft like a new born, has the scars and the stories of a ravaged old man wanting anyone or anybody to listen to his stories so he can be remembered. To be what I once was, to be a someone, a somebody. So he can be valued. So he can be a memory that people remember fondly, rather than a trainwreck that jumped the tracks and derailed what could have been. So rather than be the man who made it, I'm remembered as the man who missed it all...the memories of the forgotten
Oh, that’s right. Memories. Like the corner of my mind, but this corner is cleaned, swept and put away until a moment. Self doubt, self loathing, self sabotage. A decision for the dark side of self. A decision pulls back the facade or better yet the cheap ass sheet that was thrown over the mess of the corner of my mind to hide the mess while company comes over unannounced and everyone pretends to not notice the mess in the corner of my mind. but they know, I know, we knew and nothing is new but the same rabbit hole my memories have become.
People walk and people talk and people mock the smallest parts of who they think I am. They don’t know me and if they did they wouldn’t buy what I’m selling. They wouldn’t cry to what I’m writing. They wouldn’t laugh at what I’m creating. That's my fear. That's my irrational projection of my insecurity. That they would stare. They would wonder. They would see behind the curtain and realize I'm no great and powerful wizard but a man who's trying to work magic only I can see. Who is this impostor that dresses himself like the one we “know”? Curiouser and curiouser, and curiouser and finally the me, the curiousest finds himself stuck in a rabbit hole that no chick named Alice can even relate to.
A rabbit hole of my own making. I dug. I picked. I separated. I made my hole, which I now fall into. That chick named Alice fell into a hole that someone else made. It was someone else’s problem. It was someone else’s fault. But this? this hole that I find myself falling into? This new world? I created it. I made it. I forged it. I dug. I picked. I separated. I made my hole which I now have fallen into.
Whoulda. Shoulda. Coulda. The three fates of my Scottish moor. Promised that then would become a thane and I’d rule as no one has ruled before. If I woulda done this I’d be king. I shoulda done that so that I’d be king. I coulda done this and I’d be king. Out. Out. Out. Damn spot. Out. Out. Out. Damn hope.
I look back to this hole, I fall. A rabbit hole of my own making. You remember that one? The one I dug. The one I picked. The one I separated to make. Yeah. That chick Alice ain’t got nothing on me. She fails to look down, to see what could be. I fail to look up to see what might have been. I fail to see my fates weaving and cutting and building. I see what woulda been. What shoulda been. What coulda been.
Alice sees a rabbit with a watch; I see my memory with a broken ass clock that I can never fix. Alice sees a hatter that’s as mad as the world; I see my memories making my world as mad as a hatter. Alice sees the ground coming up rather right quickly; I see my memories sliding further and further and further away.
It’s a crazy, hazy, lazy moment that becomes my memories. What now? They leave me with this mess to clean up. My kingdom of whoulda, shoulda, coulda. My kingdom of what once was, what should have been was is now a kingdom of shreds and patches.
I don’t like this ending. But, then again, I didn’t like the narrative that put me here. The words that became paragraphs, that became chapters, that became my story, the comedy/tragedy that brought me here. The ending that shoved me here.
My ending. My beginning. My hole. My whole. My memories.
Let’s start this whole thing over. I was kinda rude. Where are my manners, memories? Sit down. Let me get you a drink and we’ll remember it all. They way it was but more important...how I've changed the narrative and crawled out of this damn hole and into the light and now it’s time to make some new memories. The great thing about life that I've learned over the last few years during my vision quest and battle with depression and anxiety...you don't like something, change it...job isn't what you like, change it...relationships, change it...I've basically been almost homeless for the last 2 years and to quote Tennessee Williams, I've relied on the kindness of strangers...well, friends who let me stay with them, motivate me, help me financially...I was unhappy with myself, so I changed...got rid of toxic people, chased my dreams, got my dream job and it didn't work out like i wanted to but I still did it...the small things in life add texture to the beauty of your story...now I have a job I enjoy, a part-time job I'm excited about...I have my own place to live and I have friends and people in my life that mean the world to me. I'm rewriting my narrative and if my dumb dumb head face nose can do it, you can too. I always told students in improv class, “Don't like how a scene is going? Then, simple. Reinitiate and start over...create new memories. I believe in you.”
jeff Jenkins is an award winning comedian, actor, writer, producer and director and writes about how improv comedy helps him in his ongoing battle with depression and living his best improvised life.