Saturday, November 22, 2014

Essay: Shlubby Improv

by Pam Victor

The word "shlubby" is stuck in my craw. Recently, New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley reviewed the ground-breaking improvised Off-Broadway show Blank! The Musical. It was a rave review. However the words that linger bitterly for me is the part when he says, "My initial hopes were not high. The deceptively shlubby-looking cast seemed as if it, too, could have been chosen at random from the audience."

Shlubby-looking? I have had the great pleasure of meeting only one member of the performing cast, Katie Dufresne, and she's so naturally sexy that I achieved instant lady wood when we made eye contact. Looking at photos of the rest of the cast, I don't see any that I would kick out of bed. Shlubby-looking? Do I have a shlubby-lovin' kink that's just now been discovered or is Ben Brantley seeing something that I'm missing? If "shlubby-looking" means astoundingly talented improvisers, actors, singers, and humans, then I'm definitely going to start prowling the shlubby-looking porn sites from now on.
Back row: Matthew Van Colton, Douglas Widick,
Andrew Knox.
Front row: Nicole C. Hastings,

Katie Dufrense, Tessa Hersh.
Photo by Jenny Anderson
for Broadway World.com


I'm reminded of a class I took with a Broadway actress who was exploring improvisation as a way to expand her acting skills. After a while of working together, one day she said, "You know, the thing I love about improv that is so different than Broadway is that everyone looks so .... so ..." I cringed as she searched for a word that wasn't insulting. I don't remember the exact working she latched upon, but it definitely was insulting. Something along the lines of "shlubby." Not attractive.

Yes, we are an average-looking bunch. Because that's part of the job! A vastly vast majority of the improvisers I know are incredibly intelligent. And because life is a yin-yang motherfucker, incredibly intelligent people don't often also get to be conventionally, incredibly attractive too. And thank goodness because we couldn't do our job if we were overly blessed with the pretty stick. 

Tonight, I may be called upon to convincingly play a toddler, a football coach, and a three-toed sloth. All in the same show. When I get dressed for a show, I look in the mirror to see if I pass what I call The Hobo Test. I know I could always play a person who looks like me, but could I also play a hobo in this outfit? I'll assume a hobo position and see how things hang on me. If I don't buy it, I change my clothes. An improviser's job is to represent real life onstage, and we can't do that if we look like a super model 'cause that ain't real life. (Unless you're a super model. But even then, you ain't livin' a real life, sister, and you know it.) I'd challenge Angelina Jolie to a sloth-off any day of the week. I'll give her a three-toed head start. And even so, she'll eat my dust. 

But are improvisers shlubby? I don't think so. We look like human beings. Because our job is to be human beings. I think Ben Brantley has been hanging around with movie stars and sparkly Broadway babes too long. He has forgotten the beauty of a God-given nose, the soft lines of eyes who have seen the world, the arched brows of a person who knows what it feels like to be on the bottom rung and doesn't intend to feel it again.

The improvisation world is exploding right now. Shlubby bullshit aside, Ben Brantley also wrote in his review of Blank! The Musical, "Suffice it to say that duets, quartets and even sextets — in which conflicting desires resolved themselves into harmony — sprang into credible, ludicrous and utterly familiar existence. The eventual product brought to mind 'If/Then,' the current Idina Menzel vehicle, and Jason Robert Brown’s '13' filtered through sources as different as 'Gypsy' and 'High School Musical.'"

Meanwhile on the west coast, American Theatre's critic Jason Rohrer recently reviewed a show at L.A.'s Impro Theatre, a job he approached with dread. He writes of his argument with his editor upon getting the assignment, “'Improv?' I protested. 'College students in silly hats? Don’t you have a real show for me?'"

Then he saw the show.

Afterwhich he wrote, "Longform improvisation, properly executed, is a feat expanding the definition of human potential. Dilettantes need not apply. Besides character-oriented performance elements like emotional and physical dexterity, a performer must master the theories of intention; the use of space; the function of theme; the purposes of exposition, plot and story. It takes decades to become proficient in this art, which exemplifies the ephemeral, before-your-very-eyes nature of the theatrical experience itself."

Yes, after decades of incubation (and doing the hard, hard work), the world of improvisation is expanding exponentially. In our mecca of Chicago, iO Theater and Annoyance Theater recently both opened bigger and better theaters. UCB-LA did the same. TJ and Dave and my friends in Boston's Big Bang improv just returned from their own, individual highly successful, whirlwind tours of Europe. Even in my tiny corner of Western Massachusetts, we've seen tremendous growth in just the last year alone. Things are achangin'. And I suspect that in the not too distant future  as slick producers figure out how to put financially advantageous improv shows onstage and screen, we will lose control of the improv train. It's going to get away from us, my friends. And I pray to the Great Goddess of Improvisation that no matter how far afield this artform travels, may improvisers always remain wonderfully shlubby.


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Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs  "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Read all her nonsense at www.pamvictor.com


Thursday, November 20, 2014

The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#15: Limping Along)

by Pam Victor

[The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment is my one-year challenge to make a living through creative pursuits. Read all the updates here.]



I can already tell that I'm not going to make my meager $1,334 goal this month. I knew months like this would come, and I am reminding myself that a couple months ago I made enough to cover these lean ones. It's not a huge deal, but still ... blerg ...

My homeschool kid-teaching job ended this month and won't start up until early January. So that hurts. And one of my improv classes started (and thus paid) late last month, and the other one starts (and thus the checks get deposited) early next month. So this is a mean, in-between, lean month.


I've put out a bunch of unsolicited "Hey! I should teach a class for you!" emails. And I'm continuing to cogitate on other what-I-love jobs, like voiceover work, which would be feasible and fun. I guess it's a good time to figure out how to make money through writing too. I'm a little stymied in that area. Since I'm pretty maxed out for evening teaching gigs, I would like something else during the day. And I'm finding that I'm spending a lot of time working alone from home, so it would be nice if that day-time gig were in the world with actual people with pretty, round, non-virtual faces. I guess I'm speaking it aloud here in order to put it into the universe. As my dear friend and wise woman Joscelyn said, "Closed mouths don't get fed."

It's hard not to feel a bit  anxious during these phases. Every job involves so much ingenuity and perseverance to make happen, and it's discouraging that things aren't flowing more easily.

 Time to pull out one of my life mottos:

Ok. Time to go back to work. Off I go, limping swimming along ...

*
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Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs  "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Read all her nonsense at www.pamvictor.com

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Essay: Life Sucks and Then You Die

by Pam Victor

Every morning, I wake up thinking about the futility of life. I've never been a graceful greeter of the morning dew, and I'm definitely not getting more chipper in the morning with age. No, I wake up an existentialist and becoming gradually more optimistic as the day progress. By 10pm, I'm in love with the world and all God's creatures. After a couple hours of  this renewed hope in the future, I hit the hay and the whole cycle starts again. Cue to my alarm clock and the thought, "Life sucks and then you die."

This morning, I decided to hop on the train of pessimistic logic. Life is meaningless. We are doomed. The human race is a spoiled milk long past its expiration date. Ok, so what then? Here I am with my feet on this shit-hole earth. What is the best way to make this most of my time before we're all blown to oblivion or drown with the rising tides or simply disintegrate from lack of intelligence and culture? And here's what I got:

Ease the burden of other people. Make other people's lives better. Pay it forward.

Look, I'm no Mother Teresa, for fuck's sake. Much as it embarrasses me to say this, I don't volunteer at soup kitchens. Though we do try to be as generous as possible, we don't have enough money to give to charity out the wazoo. I'm not even always such a friend indeed to a friend in need. But what I can do is try to say yes when I have an opportunity to make a difference. (As long as it doesn't inconvenience me, of course.) So I will probably throw $20 to sponsor your run for cancer or whatever. I'll put $10 towards your Kickstarter, most likely. And every year, I put some time into raising money for the high school I graduated from, a small, private school for supposedly "gifted" kids in Michigan called Roeper School. Roeper is the place where the lucky square pegs go to live after giving up on the round holes. 

Life sucks and then you die. But at least I can help a former outcast nerd be captain of the basketball team or "non-prom" queen or star of the musical. Because  if my $20 helps that kid's life suck a little less, then maybe life is not so futile after all.




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Zen of Improv: The Hardest Easiest Work (Part Two)

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about the mind-expanding, groovy side of improvisation and other hippy shit. 
You can find all the pieces here.]

“Wu wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of ‘going with the flow’ that is characterized by great ease and awake-ness, in which - without even trying - we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.”

From the article
5 Wisdom Lessons Learned from Yoda

The first part of The Hardest Easiest Work skated along the surface of the idea of approaching improvisation as an acting of non-doing, which isn't about not doing but rather about opening ourselves up to not trying. If we indeed seek to improvise in a state of non-doing (aka wu wei), we’re performing naturally and in the flow without any effort. Sounds like a piece of cake, right? In fact, several improvisers I’ve interviewed, including TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi, have said that improvising is, in their exact words, “easy.” In fact, recently Jason Shotts, of the glorious two-person show Dummy said in our Geeking Out with… interview, “Improv can feel magical, but it's not magic. It's a conversation. It's easy!”

And to that I’ve often wanted to respond, “Fuck. You. In. The. Eye. Easy?!?! EASY???? I’ve spent well over a decade focused on learning how to improvise well, and I’m only just now beginning to begin my journey. Easy? This shit is HARD, man. It’s work. I’ve spent thousands of hours and dollars learning to do it. How can it be easy??!?”

But saying fuck you in the eye to my Geeking Out with… partners is not conducive to having more Geeking Out with… partners, so I’ve learned to bite my tongue and translate “easy” in my brain for “ease-ful.” That is, full of ease. Without effort. A super fucking hard “easy” if you ask me. 

While I find it hard to directly teach someone how to "non-do" improvisation – that is, how to perform in an effortless way, in the flow, full of ease -  I can give my students the feeling of being in an effortless scene, so they get to know what that “wu wei sweet-spot” feels like and learn to recognize the pleasure of standing for a moment in the beatific sun-ray of the Great Goddess of Improv.


My friend
Laura Patrick of The Ha-Ha's
standing in the light
Hopefully, you have had experiences of that blessed sweet-spot, when you’re taking the joyride (TM Susan Messing) with arms outstretched in absolute pleasure, as the scene guides you along with no effort at all. That magical feeling. I really want every new improviser to feel that sweet-spot, so they recognize it when they start to feel the warmth of the “beatific sun-rays” in a scene, so they can go towards the light. (In a good way, not in a "I think I just died" way.)

Because that’s when improvisation feels the most delicious and effortless and incredibly fun, isn't it? I love being in a scene and thinking, “I can’t wait to find out what happens next!” as the Goddess is behind the wheel and I’m just along for the heart-expanding ride. That feeling of surprising yourself with the words as they fall out of your mouth. The magic of “Yes, and …” leading to the discovery of something beautiful created together with other improvisers and the audience on the razor’s edge. Though the razor’s edge feels as cozy as a flannel nighty.

(Woah. Sorry about that improv porn sexy time moment up there. Hope it was as good for you as it was for me. Ok, where was I? Oh yeah. The wu wei sweet-spot …)

Recently, I lead an exercise in class in which folks had a simple, un-actorly conversation onstage, with the secret objective being to give students experiences of effortlessness and ease-fulness onstage. It was inspired by an exercise TJ Jagodowski taught in a workshop, and I’m sure he’d think I’m teaching it wrong. And maybe I am. In any case, I’ve cooked up my own version that serves my purposes even within the limitations of my fallibility. Suffice it to say, in my exercise, the participants have a natural, un-improviser-y conversation onstage. Real. No jokes or heightening or setting the who/what/where or whatever. The last time I did this exercise, my students’ conversations  were compelling and natural and honest and, as it turned out, often funny. By the end of the class, these newly-hatched improvisers had just presented forty-five minutes of Good, Solid Scenework. (Their conversations were really scenes! Surprise!)

One of my favorite moments was when two students were improvising a scene in which they were chatting in a bathroom. During one small moment, one improviser (a guy) peeked under the “toilet stall” his stage partner was in, causing her to reflexively squealed in embarrassment. That moment was BEAUTIFUL! A totally honest reaction. Unplan-able. Totally authentic. Completely natural and uncontrived. Effortless. Spontaneous. And, like a cherry on top, we all laughed. Little moments like that are what improvisation is all about to me. A brief moment in the sun-ray of the Great Goddess of Improvisation. Amen.

I shared my reactions as we debriefed after the scenes, and one of my students cried, “But we weren’t even improvising!”

Aha!

It's so simple. So complexly simple. Improvising is the hardest easiest work around. 

[When you read this, replace “practice” with “improvise:”]

“Let this or any other time you practice be your time for letting go of all doing, for shifting into the being mode, in which you simply dwell in stillness and mindfulness, attending to the moment-to-moment unfolding of the present, adding nothing, subtracting nothing, affirming that ‘This is it.’”

From Wherever You Go, There You Are:
Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life
by Jon Kabat-Zinn


So easy, right? Fuck. Me. In. The. Eye. 


* * *
You may want to check out 

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?
Like the one with Jason Shotts where he says,



*



Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."  Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" in Western Massachusetts.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Scrumptious Improv Quote: TJ Jagodowski (If You Can Get to the Point)



Read more scrumptiousness 
in all three interviews 


 * * *
Catch up on past improv geek-a-thons:
Geeking Out with...Dave Pasquesi of TJ and Dave
...Scott Adsit of 30 Rock
...Colleen Doyle of Dummy

and many more!

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Check out some groovy shit in Pam's new series
The Zen of Improv.

And "like" the "Geeking Out with..." FACEBOOK PAGE please.




Pam Victor gets to talk to great minds of improvisation in the "Geeking Out with..." interview series. Pam performs  "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of this series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Currently, Pam is co-writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Pam performs in Massachusetts with The Ha-Ha’s, The MajestersThe Shea Comedy Players, and with the cool cats at ImprovBoston. Get all her nonsense at www.pamvictor.com. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#14: Necessary Self-Delusions)

by Pam Victor

[The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment is my one-year challenge to make a living through creative pursuits. Read all the updates here.]

"Confidence is 10% hard work and 90% delusion."
- Tina Fey

You have to be at least 90% delusional to work in any creative field. You have to delude yourself that you're not wasting your life, no matter what your parents tell you. You have to delude yourself that you're not pissing away your cum laude from Smith College. When you get onstage, you have to delude yourself that you're not some two-bit hack. Every time you stand in front of a class or write an essay, you have to delude yourself that you have something worth listening to, and it's not just a gooey stream of caca, marbles, and bottle caps pouring forth from your mouth and fingers. To get anywhere at all, you have to delude yourself that the impossible is possible.

We pretend, and therefore we are.
What?!
Just me talking about improv for a
mili-second with Tina Fey
when I accosted her at 30 ROCK.


Over the course of this Experiment so far - actually, over the course of my entire creative career - I've had to buy 110% into that whole menu of self-deception in order to have the confidence to make any of these jobs happen. Pretty much 95% of the time that I've gotten onstage, it's in a job that I booked and produced myself. I'm not saying I'm such hot shit. On the contrary, I'm saying that I am very rarely invited to perform in a show. (I try very hard not to think about whether this trajectory has anything to do with my talent and desirability as a stage partner.) Way back when, as a newly hatched improviser, I waited in vain for the resident improv troupe to cast me. When they didn't - because why would they? - I ended up putting together my own team and booking my first show. (Actually, it was in the reverse order: I booked our first show on a whim, then hastily put together a team.) Fast-forward a dozen years later to this weekend -  when I get onstage this Saturday, it's in a show that I conceived, produced, directed, promoted, and, not coincidentally, perform in. 

Maybe this trend is just my lot in life. Maybe it's the way things go for some people. Maybe I'm a big, fat loser without an ounce of talent who nobody wants to play with??? Who knows? All I do know is that the vast majority of the time I have to bust my ass to make the gig happen, beat the bushes for more gigs, create opportunities where none existed before, ask for the inconceivable, get shot down, dust myself off, ask again. (Again, I'm not hot shit. Not by any means. Just desperate, determined, an delusional.) I wouldn't be able to get out of bed every morning if I didn't buy into the lie I tell myself that anything is possible. And then spend the day working hard making it so.


*

It's the beginning of the month, so a time to look back at the previous month. I made my monthly goal of $1,334 (plus a little) in October because I got paid for a six week-long teaching gig. Here are all the jobs I got paid for in October:
  • Facilitating two workshops
  • Producing a show
  • Teaching a workshop to a local college improv team
  • Teaching the next round of six-week improv classes
  • Managing my improv troupe for Sept. and Oct.
  • Performing in four improv shows
I am so very not in the Tina Fey-level tax bracket, but even so, that last one never gets old. :)

Ok, I gotta go. It's time to screw up my courage to send out resumés for jobs that don't yet exist...


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* * *

Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs  "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Read all her nonsense at www.pamvictor.com

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Zen of Improv: The Hardiest Easiest Work (Part One)

By Pam Victor

What can I try to do to be a better improviser?” This question came from a student of mine recently, and I laughed, knowing she was taking her first fall down the rabbit hole of a lifetime’s quest, the same one many of us will spend the rest of our lives slip-sliding down. I would put down good money on a bet that your top five most-admired
I've met so many
of those best people
down the improv rabbit hole.
improvisers still ask themselves that question from the bowels of the rabbit hole. “What can I try to do to be a better improviser?”


When my student asked me this question, I instantly knew I didn't have a pithy answer that would satisfy her. And the kick in the ass is that the only answer I have is one I barely understand. Because as far as I can tell, the only answer to how to try to be a better improviser is not to try to be a better improviser. Not to do. In fact, to actively (Hello, irony!) not-do.  

While we were writing Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book (And hello to you too, brazen self-promotion!), David Pasquesi was the one who most effectively taught me about the Zen idea of non-doing, which is a technique he and TJ Jagodowski explore quite exquisitely, in my opinion, in TJ and Dave. You’ll get to read about it in more detail in the book; TJ has a quote in there about effortlessness that will make you jizz yourself. (And hello to you, unnecessarily nasty-girl promises!) But the basic take-away I gleaned from my time with TJ and David is that the show is just fine as it is and any effort we put forth will only fuck it up. We can’t TRY to be funnier. We can’t TRY to be better listeners. We can’t TRY to be more skilled improvisers. Any trying we do ends up looking clunky and unseemly to the audience. Instead, the idea is to approach improvisation as an act of non-doing. Which is different than not doing anything. It’s about being fully present in the moment unfolding gloriously onstage. It's about opening ourselves to improvising well. It’s about not trying. I guess, it’s about just being.

If you'll patiently entertain the following woo-woo moment, we’ll leave TJ and Dave for the Taoists (or Daoists) and their concept of non-doing (Wu wei), which is "the action of non-action." (Excuse me while I probably blunder this explanation because it’s a pretty fucking big concept.) Non-doing involves the effortless doing, which you cannot try to pursue. Like many high school students before me, to understand this concept I turned to the simplicity of Wikipedia, which summarizes Laozi's explanation of non-doing in the Tao te Ching, "beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony ... behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way. The goal of spiritual practice for the human being is, according to Laozi, the attainment of this purely natural way of behaving, as when the planets revolve around the sun. The planets effortlessly do this revolving without any sort of control, force, or attempt to revolve themselves, instead engaging in effortless and spontaneous movement."  

Go ahead and replace "spiritual" with "improvisation" (and I guess you should take out "Laozi" because I'm pretty sure there isn't anything about improv comedy in the Tao te Ching). Ok, now re-read. And weep. Because the goal of the type of improvisation I’m interested in is to perform in a purely natural way and behave in a completely uncontrived way without trying to control or force the scene. Playing in total harmony. Improvising effortlessly and spontaneously. "One way to approach this concept," according to the wu wei wisdom of Wikipedia, "is by eliminating unnecessary action, and doing what merely needs to be done." A dog trick as massive and elegant and simple as the planets revolving around the sun or a heart beating or a daisy blossoming.

Holy fuck, you guys. I’m so screwed.

Because to try to improvise, I have to not try. And in order to do that, I have to decrease the stuff that pushes me into trying too much, like fear that what I have already isn't enough. In order to train improvisers who will become more wu wei capable than I, the big message that try to impart to my students is we all are enough. YOU ARE ENOUGH. You have exactly what you need already the minute you step onstage (and in the room and into the universe). To hit the wu wei sweet-spot, we have to get on board with the idea that we have enough to improvise well right this moment without trying to do anything. In some ways, that's a no-brainer because I know for a fact that you, dear reader, are a unique person. You have some crazy-ass, true stories and compelling life experiences. You are pretty damn entertaining just telling your own truth. Your uniqueness makes you interesting to me (and the audience) by just being you. In the words of people far, far wiser than I, "There is nothing funnier than the truth" (Charna Halpern and Del Close, Truth in Comedy).

If you buy that this wu wei stuff, then you don't need to take the stage with a toolbox of clever jokes or kooky characters or ha-ha-hi-larious premises. At our most natural and effortless, we each bring enough to the stage to happily improvise successfully, even (maybe especially) when we're onstage folding sheets or lying on the beach or chatting across the back fence. In some ways, the hardest job is to trust in ourselves and each other that we already have everything we need to improvise well. And to trust in improvisation. Wu wei. Wooooo wheeee!


A Scrumptious Improv Quote
by David Pasquesi


* * *


In the meantime,

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?
Like the one with Mr. Pasquesi where he says 


*



Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."  Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" in Western Massachusetts.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#13: Coffee Virgin No More)

by Pam Victor

[The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment is my one-year challenge to make a living through creative pursuits. Read all the updates here.]

"If you don't drink coffee, what do you do when you're tired?" incredulously asked Sasha, my coffee enthusiast friend.

I stopped to ponder her question for a few moments before answering, "I guess I just feel tired."
Photo credit: Coffee Quests
(Nice coffee review blog)

"Huh."

Except for a year in high school when I lived in France, I've never drank coffee in my life. Though I do tend to poo-poo our culture's generalized coffee fetish, I don't have any great philosophical objection to coffee. I didn't drink it because it didn't make me feel good. I'm a delicate flower and coffee felt too intense for me. My beverage of choice throughout growing up was orange juice, which seemed to do the trick. (Thank you, hyperglycemia!) Then OJ stopped feeling good, so for the last couple decades I've woken up naturally, though not gracefully, throughout the morning and enjoyed a cup of tea with lunch. 

This summer, I had an opportunity to revisit espresso, and I enjoyed the nostalgic taste of youth and France. The pick-me-up and mental alertness was nice too. Hmmm ...

Recently, the biggest side effects of the "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment has been stress, exhaustion, and a generalized feeling of being stretched too thin. I narrowed the cause down to the fact that I was working most evenings. Before the Experiment, around 8pm every evening I collapsed onto the couch in front of the TV and next to my dear husband. I've long said these evenings were my favorite time of day, the recuperative reward at the finish line of a long day. But evenings are when the paid jobs are so those TV couch potato nights are gone now. And it's taking its toll.

This week is fairly typical. The evenings look like this:

Sunday - See my daughter playing Witch #2 in an immersive
My Witchy Kid
production the Scottish play at her high school.


Monday - Couch time with my man!

Tuesday - Rehearsal for show next weekend.

Wednesday - Rehearsal for show this weekend.

Thursday - Teach improv.

Friday - Halloween celebration with a gal pal. (Normally, I would be teaching another improv class.)

Saturday - Perform in a show!

Sunday - Stay home at last. (Husband might be at a practice with his band though.)

Over the past week, I've been sitting with this issue of needing to restructure my rest and restorative time, hoping that a solution would arise. I've been asking, "How can I shift my feeling of relaxation from evenings on the couch to other experiences?" This is what I've come up with so far: 

  • I've started to take more advantage of the three mornings each week when I get to sleep in, letting go of the guilt of snoozing until 10am and enjoying a couple slow mornings each week. (The guilt part is a challenge.)
  • Though I don't usually take weekend's off - a habit formed from working from home and in my "spare" time most of my adult life - I've started carving out some conscious relaxation time during the weekend. Sometimes that just looks like thirty minutes with a cup of tea and the New York Times on Sunday. Sometimes it looks like taking the rare nap. I'm trying to work up to crashing on the couch with an afternoon movie some day. (I know. I'm obnoxiously Type A.) 
  • I've started being more conscious about screen time at night. I've given up late night web surfing, instead rediscovering the joys of reading good fiction in bed before falling asleep (a habit that had fallen away when Facebook came into my life.) 
  • I'm trying to exercise and practice Alexander Technique more regularly. I fucking hate exercise, but I'm trying to be better about it. Again.
  • I've learned to appreciate the evenings at home with my husband. Gratitude for small gifts!
  • And coffee. I've started drinking coffee.
A couple days ago, for the first time in my whole damn life, I bought my first canister of coffee for myself. I was shopping at Trader Joe's and they were offering samples of their Five Country Espresso Blend. I took a little cup - the taste of France! - and on a whim, I put a canister in my cart. 

This morning, I enjoyed a cup of café au lait soya. My mouth tastes all coffee-ish and I can feel the acid reflux, but I'll be alert enough to teach my class tonight. Coffee cherry popped.

And I'm already eagerly anticipating catching up on The Good Wife and Scandal on Monday night...


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Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs  "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasq