Tried Improv for the First Time for My Writing

improv for writing - Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

Just got home from my first improv class. It was a free improv class at ColdTowne Conservatory in Austin I found while googling “free improv classes near me.” On a whim, I decided to go by myself. I did it for my writing. I did it to get out of my comfort zone. I also did it as someone who struggles with social anxiety. And I figure with my naturally awkward and goofy self, I might actually be, dare I say, comfortable?

It was strangely comforting to be there, yet also intimidating, and at moments, highly anxiety-provoking. Especially when it’d be my turn to respond to another person, like a game of telephone that also involved physically re-enacting what the other person did and said with their body and voice. I had never done anything like this before. When anxious around people, I tend to smile and laugh a lot, so much so that my face hurts like that swollen feeling around your cheeks after a visit to the dentist. But fortunately, there was plenty of genuine laughter too, so by the end of the night (it was only an hour-long class), I walked away smiling, relieved I had left my comfort zone, both physically and mentally, to try something so drastically new. And weird. But weird is good, right? After all, this is Austin.

I had decided to try this because I had read somewhere that doing improv helps you with your writing, especially with dialogue. Having to come up, on the fly, with something else to say, riffing on what another person orally lobs your way, is a skill that fiction writers can definitely use. Something that required active use of your imagination grounded with a semblance of reality. Also I learned that there were different kinds of improv, and the one I was learning tonight was some kind of “Chicago-style,” as opposed to “narrative style,” which focuses more on coming up with a beginning, middle and end. That sparked my curiosity, since my intent on improv is to improve my writing, so I may have to try that style next.

Our teacher was excellent, making everyone feel immediately comfortable, having us introduce ourselves with only our first names and an accompanying physical gesture, which everyone in our circle had to emulate. When it was my turn, I was a preschooler all over again, throwing up my hands as if burnt by fire, adding: “I’m Lily!” My cheeks certainly blazed an internal inferno as soon as I said it. And I watched everyone, one-by-one, like dominos cascading, copy me with an exaggerated lift of their two hands, simultaneously worried I was being mocked yet also self-congratulating myself that my physical intro was closer to Kramer from Seinfield — so not a bad start! (When my 15-year-old son found out I was trying improv for the first time and I invited him to join me, he shook his head no. He said something about it being “too cringe-y” to watch. Whatever. His loss.)

I really enjoyed trying improv, and later, chatting with others in the class about why they were trying it too. One guy said he was trying to get into his “right-brain” more, and another young mom said she had worked in tech for years, but needed to add more creativity into her life. There were a mix of ages in our group. Afterwards, we were gifted free tickets to watch three comedy troupes do improv on the same stage we had taken our free class. Watching them perform made me appreciate just how difficult it is to think on your feet without a script or direction yet make the audience laugh. In my case, I almost cried from laughing so hard.

And when I walked away to head back home, my cheeks were sore yet my heart was happy. I realize that laughter combined with trying something completely new (namely, getting out of my comfort zone) helps me grow as a person. Plus I’ve been reading that laughter activates your vagus nerve, great for depression and anxiety. (Another reason to laugh more!)

In the end, I came for the writing, yet left with my heart full and my spirits invigorated. Have you ever used improv for your own writing?

 

 

Write a ‘What’s Going Right’ List

what's going right - Photo by Mark Daynes on Unsplash

Oftentimes in life, it’s easy to succumb to old ways of being, of thinking. Mine tends to automatically go into what’s going wrong. A friend of mine, who happens to also be a therapist and life coach, had stopped me mid-conversation one day over the phone. “Wait a minute, Lily. I want you to focus on what’s going right. Name three things that are going right for you at this very moment in your life.”

That began a new habit of mine, writing out a ‘What’s Going Right’ list when I begin to feel that familiar feeling again — that clenched stomach, constricted chest, those worries of not doing things right, disappointing others, not being enough. When I begin to go into that spiral of doom and gloom, of what’s the point, of overwhelm and lack of bandwidth, I’ll stop and write my ‘What’s Going Right’ list.

Today I woke up this morning feeling overwhelmed. There were only four days left of this year and I still haven’t done all the things I said I wanted to do. There were all these people to get back to–all the DMs, comments, emails, phone calls, texts, Whatsapps. There were all the tasks related to work and clients, not to mention my own personal writing projects and goals.

But then I sat down and started typing out my list. There was so much that was going right. I just needed to remember!

What's going right - Photo by Jacqueline Kelly on Unsplash
What’s going right – Photo by Jacqueline Kelly on Unsplash

What I Wrote:

There is SO MUCH going right in your life right now!
Examples:

  • You just wrote in your novel (5/5) with J this morning
  • You just finished your Morning Pages (surpassing 750 words, now at 1559!)
  • Yesterday your GKI was 4, your ketones at 1.3 mmol/L
  • You know how to fast and know why you should do it
  • Your son wrote a card to you and his dad about how lucky he felt to have you guys as parents on Christmas morning with photos from his phone of your RV life together the past year and a half
  • You’ve blogged 24/28 days so far, only missing 4 days total — the most you’ve blogged ever!
  • Your husband and kid both want to be healthier, all regularly exercising now
  • Your kid actually wants to spend time with you (watching videos, working out, talking)
  • Your stepdaughter loves you and enjoys spending time with you and the family
  • You have a good relationship with all of your family
  • You are blessed with good friends and people in your life
  • You are almost in the best physical shape of your life and you’re only getting older!
  • Your marriage is in the best shape it’s been!
  • You have so many resources you can turn to should you need anything
  • Your kid loves the keto omelettes you make
  • Your kid is thriving — loving high school, his friends, and his new city (Austin)
  • You got to live a real adventure living in a RV full-time this past year and a half
  • Your husband will be FIVE years in remission from cancer next October (2020), thanks to using keto and fasting as an adjunct for cancer in addition to conventional treatment

 

By the end of my list, the feel-good endorphins were hopping around in my brain and I could only feel this:

Life is good!

Try the ‘What’s Going Right’ list the next time you’re in a funk. It’s a great tool to use to lift your spirits and remind you of all the good things going in your life. And guess what? It feels way better than a To-Do list, that’s for damn sure!

 

 

Photo by Mark Daynes on Unsplash

Puzzling Out Life, One Piece at a Time

puzzle pieces - Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

When tackling a 500 word puzzle, it’s easy to be frightened of beginning a new color scheme in the corner. Much more easier to stick to the familiar, what you’ve already tackled so far fairly successfully. So you leave that corner alone. Yet the secret, I’ve found, is to begin anyway. To hold up puzzle pieces of varying hues, comparing and contrasting, trying different pieces anyway. Even if none are anywhere close to a fit, nowhere near the color you had gauged.

For Christmas, a relative sent us a 500-piece puzzle of a painted succulent garden in hues of mint green to ice blue and bright green edged with red.  I’ve been bent over our coffee table for several days, barely able to move as I go through each piece, attempting to put the thing together. Everything else in life is currently on hold. My son and husband helped begin with the edge pieces.

I finally got a system down. The dark greens in one corner pretty much done. Yet the ice-blue and mint-green section has felt daunting. But as mentioned above, I decided to go for it. Even though some of the puzzle piece colors I compared to the ones in the corner were not even close to the shade I had gauged, I realized it was better to know what comes close, and what doesn’t. By holding one color next to the other, I can make better decisions on what to do next.

Of course, it struck me that this was a metaphor for my life. Oftentimes I’m paralyzed with irrational fear, unable to move. I freeze and choke. Whether it’s writing or work, or sometimes even the simplest task of returning messages to another person. I realize that these tiny steps that move you forward are what help you figure out what to do next. Just going for it anyway when you don’t feel like it, when you feel scared, is the most important thing. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not even close to correct, or anywhere perfect. It’s the simple act of just trying that’s important.

Watch this Alexis Ffrench Video to Instantly Activate Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

Watch and listen to this Alexis Ffrench video to instantly activate your parasympathetic nervous system (turning off the fight/flight sympathetic branch) and feel inspired about the possibilities of life. I recently discovered this phenomenal pianist from the UK while attempting to focus for some work-related writing. Now I’m going through every album and video he’s ever shared, wishing I had found him sooner. His music makes your heart soar and nostalgic about what could have been, what was, and what will never be again.

Most importantly, his songs help me calm the f*ck down. (Always a good thing in my book.)

Note: Alexis has a talented daughter who is also a dancer in some of his videos that make the songs even that much more gorgeous.

My Favorite Alexis Ffrench Songs So Far 

“Bluebird”

“Dreamland”

“Moments”

The Impact of Running on Your Mind

Running - Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash

Right before the sun set today, I set out to run. To be quite honest, I didn’t feel like it at all. It felt easier to get lost online in front of my laptop. It felt easier to just sit. But I remembered how great it felt to move my body, to sweat, to feel the crisp air against my skin, the breeze brush through my hair like gentle fingers.

I remembered how my fasting glucose seemed to be lower the following day after a walk or a run. And as someone with prediabetes, battling insulin resistance, I knew how important this was for my overall health. Whether it was metabolic or mental. And I remembered that when your insulin spikes, it activates your sympathetic — fight or flight — nervous system.

So I told myself to “Go outside,” if only for a little while.

I’ve been following None to Run, and was tracking in my bulletjournal the dates I follow the plan successfully. The free 12-week plan helps someone who never runs to someone who does. It’s a gradual program that starts incrementally slow. Today, I was following Week 5, Workout 3 — which had me start out with an easy walk for 5 minutes, followed by 90 seconds of slow running and 1 minute of walking, repeating it until you reached a total of 30 minutes. Tracking my runs helps motivate me to show up for myself. I looked forward to checking off that I hit Week 5. I try very hard not to beat myself up when I miss a day or two.

With each step across the James D. Pfuger Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge, I felt more alive. And when I began running towards the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge and the Hyatt Hotel, it dawned on me how much I loved to move my body, wishing every living human being on this earth could experience the delicious delight of sweat and breath, that these simple elements in life made it worth living. I watched the water reflect the darkening sky as I ran alongside Lady Bird Lake, marveling at the skyscrapers and the trees that framed both sides of the lake. Why would anyone want to end their life knowing such beauty exists? I thought of the beauty of music, listening to Alexis Ffrench‘s “Dreamland” on repeat, enboldened to sprint like a gazelle, as if I were in the Olympics, chased by a predator. I remembered my friend Nan, who once said what motivated her to finish a marathon was the image of a killer chasing after her kids …

As I watched the sun set like orange fire over the rainbow letters of the ZACH Theater, I marveled at the sheer beauty that is life. I could barely breathe. How could anyone willingly leave this beautiful world? How can such profound bliss exist with so much pain and suffering?

 

Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash

It’s Not What You Do. It’s How You Do It that Matters.

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

There’s a line in a movie I just finished watching that I want to share. The movie is The Farewell, starring Awkafina, who is phenomenal in the film as the protagonist who returns to China with her family to spend time with her beloved grandmother, only to hide a pretty big secret from her.

When Akwafina’s character doesn’t get a coveted fellowship she had hoped to get, her grandmother tells her that she’ll be okay. That in the end, it isn’t what you do, but how you do it, that’s important.

That line just struck me like nobody’s business: It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.

In my mind, what resonated as my interpretation of the line is this:

Stop chasing after all the things that you think you need in order to be happy, but instead, focus on how you do it. Going through life learning how to stress less, learning to be kinder to yourself and others is part of that how. What if learning to breathe through the day, to rush less, to enjoy others and not beat up on yourself for all the things you didn’t do, didn’t do right, was the most important part of it all?

There are so many reasons to watch that movie, but that’s the line that’s shouting out at me. And that’s the main thing I want to share for now.

 

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Writing is My Xanax

Writing as Xanax - Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Now that I’ve been aiming to write daily in my blog for at least 365 days since Nov 29, 2019, my writer friend and I decided to meet daily to work on our novels, if just for the tiniest bit. With our work and other life stuff filling up much of our time, my friend, who is also working on a novel, suggested that dipping into our novel-writing at least five minutes on the daily would be equivalent to an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant pill. And she was right! Since the beginning of December 2019, we’ve been doing our “5/5.”

Five minutes of meditation + Five minutes of novel-writing or fiction

We’ve been showing up for ourselves pretty much everyday (except for one time), touching into our novel world everyday. As I’m in the revising process, I realized recently that one character hasn’t been as clear. So working on this one character and putting all the major characters into one scene has been fruitful in helping me work out some knots and gain some clarity about motivations and characterizations. It’s remarkable how just dipping in for simply five minutes into my fiction writing helps me feel more alive, more blissful by the end of the day! Doing something creative like creative writing really helps to calm down my nervous system and bring me to my happy place.

Meditation + Fiction = My Xanax.

 

 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Watched My Kid Play Tetris

Tetris - Photo by Christian Chen on Unsplash

I just watched my kid play Tetris, a game I used to play as a kid with my siblings. First he showed me a video of an older guy, a 7-time champion, vs a 16-year-old kid. Watching the video, and then my kid play the game himself on his laptop was strangely hypnotic, yet simultaneously stressful. But it was good bonding time. It’s hard to believe how fast time is flying by. I still remember watching Sponge Bob, Sesame Street and Yo Gabba Gabba with my kid. Now he rarely wants to spend any time with his parents, preferring to spend it working out with his friends. So I’m taking whatever I can get.

Cleaning the Clutter, Clearing My Brain

Cleaning the clutter - Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

I cleaned out the refrigerator today, really cleared it out, scrubbing and wiping until everything was clean. There was old mayo I had made from scratch now covered with patches of furry mold from when we first moved into our apartment, about the first week of August. No wonder it reeked whenever anyone opened the fridge door. Emptying out old containers and dumping leftovers that never got eaten felt surprisingly cathartic. It always surprises me at how expansive I feel, my mind a little clearer, whenever I clean out something I’ve neglected for quite some time, whether it’s my fridge, purse, or room. The very act of cleaning the clutter actually clears my brain, leaving me with a sense of ease. I really need to remember this the next time I feel stressed.