The Joys of Inexperience

I’m finding a huge amount of joy in the game piece photography project I’ve undertaken recently. In part, I think the satisfaction I’m experiencing is due to having low expectations on myself as a photographer.

As Twyla Tharp says in her book The Creative Habit, “inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.”

Should I be shooting these on my phone? Is this lighting okay? It’s kind of out of focus, but I think it looks cool. So I share the photo on Instagram, and it gets out into the world before I have too much time to judge myself.

I’m going to try to bring this fearlessness back into my improv–an art form where I have more expectation on myself now that I’m a teacher and coach. With improv, a lot of people say they want to be able to “not think” but for me that translates to “not judge.”

I’m pretty good on stage about not letting self judgement get in the way of my performance. I’m grateful for the training that I have and know that I am a better performer for it, but sometimes I miss the joys of inexperience when I was fearless on stage because I didn’t know what to fear.

IMG_0293
Shadows.

A Pro and a Con of Fitness

Lately I’ve become pretty fit. I go to the gym three times a week, run outside the gym, and eat a paleo-inspired, protein rich diet that helps me build strength. Much has been written about the challenges and benefits of maintaining fitness. Here are my observations:

  • PRO of Fitness: I can buy kitty litter in 35lb pails. I feel like I have superhuman strength when I carry a pail from my car into the house.
  • CON of Fitness: My armpits have become weirdly difficult to shave. They’re hollower so have to hold the skin taught with one hand while I try to shave with the other. Difficult to manage.

My armpits are patchier than they used to be, but when I carry kitty litter, I feel like a superhero. Tradeoffs.

Here’s a pic of me during a run. Still trying to determine for myself whether gym selfies are a pro or con of fitness.

sarahrun

Checking In Four Years Later

Four years ago today I left academia. This blog first served to help me process that transition so I wanted to check in on this anniversary.

What’s happened in the last four years? I’ve succeeded in establishing a new identity–a performer, writer, and teacher who helps run a comedy theater and training center. I’ve produced a ton of shows and performed in many. I’ve studied writing, acting, and comedy extensively. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with a bunch of talented people and to help others realize their creative dreams on stage.

I still struggle with figuring out exactly what I want to do–trying to set big goals and achieve them. I still deal with stress, anxieties, and frustrations. There are still parts of me that are sad and wish things had worked out in academia (although I recognize that I would have needed to be a fundamentally different person). I’m glad I still have the opportunity to be part of an academic community via my husband.

In the last four years, I’ve cried way less and laughed more (a byproduct of my new career). I’m much happier, and it started the day I left. Like a point of discontinuity, my happiness jumped.

Would I advise leaving academia? It’s definitely a case-by-case situation. Me: yes. My husband: no. For him, academia is awesome! But what I would advise is this: if you have the opportunity to make your life significantly happier, try to take it even though it’s scary to make the leap.

From Wikimedia Commons

Get to Know Me at 23* #YesAllWomen

I’ve been encouraged by the recent outcry against misogyny that’s fallen under the umbrella of #YesAllWomen. Here’s my #YesAllWomen story, which originally appeared on my Xanga in November of 2005.

Last night I went into the city for a concert… I was intentionally looking pretty hot for the occasion.  As I was leaving, this young guy at the bar smacked me on the butt.  I turned around and said, “that was inappropriate.”

 

He replies, “Come on, you know you wanted it.”

 

To which I quickly and firmly reply, “No, I didn’t.”

 

I was very proud of myself.  This was definitely one of my best feminist moments because I was so on the ball and direct.

I’ve been composing this post in my head for about a week now, but I’ve struggled to post it because I keep wanting to qualify the story in some way. I’m going to resist the temptation to do so now.

*Excerpts from my Xanga that I posted on during my senior year of college and first year of graduate school.

Reconnect with things you love and find yourself

It’s hard to become not something when you’ve been that something for a long time. It’s hard to break up with your first career. For the record, it wasn’t demography, it was me, and I hope someday we can be friends.

But for now, like the fallout after my first serious romantic relationship, I’m left wondering what went wrong and whether I can ever commit myself to something again. Can I say with conviction that I’m a something like I stated I was a demographer?

I’m not not a demographer now. I still know a lot about demography and am intrigued by demographic questions, but I’m not practicing. Thus, the label chafes a bit.

The process of redefining myself started months prior to my departure from academia. It was during the crying time that I began to search for something that I could become. I looked back to what made me happy before I started down the road to academia and pinpointed college as a time when I shut down my creative endeavors and lost touch with a fundamental part of myself.

Writing was the first way I reconnected. In the spring of 2012, I started attending one of Atlanta’s storytelling shows, Carapace. I wrote stories about my life and performed them. I shared my failures, my triumphs, my insecurities. I’d always seen the past as a fixed thing, but storytelling taught me that the past was much more fluid. I could choose how to tell my story. I’m choosing how to reveal it to you now. I’m empowered. I’m a storyteller. I’m a writer.

I’m an improviser. I asked for improv lessons for Christmas in 2012. I felt stupid putting it on my list, scared of revealing this desire to my family. Fear has held me back from a lot of things. In college, I would practice sometimes with Ohio Wesleyan’s improv troupe, the Babbling Bishops, but I was too afraid of rejection to audition to be a member. In my first improv class at Dad’s Garage, the instructor asked whether any of us hoped to perform improv on stage someday. I didn’t raise my hand because I didn’t want to admit I had that goal. I didn’t want to fail. Luckily, improv is a great way to learn to accept failure, celebrate it even. I failed, I learned.

I perform with two improv troupes now: Shark Party and !mprov (pronounced Bangprov). I’m writing a mathematical romance novel. I’ve performed at many of Atlanta’s great live lit and storytelling events including CarapaceNaked City, Stories on the Square, The Iceberg, and Write Club Atlanta.

I’m an improvisor, a storyteller, a writer, but it’s difficult for me to define myself by activities that don’t pay. I’ve long judged art as an impractical pursuit while secretly wanting to be an artist.

After I started writing my novel last July, I would get depressed whenever I went to a bookstore. Shelves full of books that inspire wonder in my reader self spell doom in my writer self. There are already so many books! (And loads more that never got published.) Why would mine matter? What contribution could I possibly make?

I’ve always been more comfortable as a big fish in a small pond.

Approaching the problem from a demographic angle helped to quell my despair. Yes, book writing is a risky endeavor. The numerator, the number of people who are super successful, is small. The denominator, the number of people who pursue it, is large. I may never get published. I may never make money.

But there is something to be said for being part of the denominator even if I never make it into the numerator. Writing a book is hard – plugging away at it every day, trying to keep the story consistent, wondering if I will ever finish. So while shelves stocked full of books intimidate me, they also give me hope. If millions of people have chosen to do this despite the difficulty and succeeded,* then maybe I have made a good choice – not necessarily because my book will have a big impact but because it brings me joy. I’m part of the community of writers, storytellers, and improvisers who pursue these often monetarily unprofitable endeavors because they enjoy it and because they can entertain others by doing it.

I’m an improviser. I do this for myself. I do this to make people laugh and make people feel things, sometimes things that scare them.

I’m a storyteller. I do this for myself. I do this in hopes that sharing my burden lessens the weight others carry. I do this so we all fell less alone.

I’m a writer. I do this for myself. I do this because I think falling in love is one of the best things in life and romance novels allow the reader to experience these emotions vicariously. I do this because I think love and sexuality should be celebrated.

I’m an artist. I create things. I do this because it makes me happy.


*Google estimates from 2010 indicate close to 130 million books exist. Regarding my use of the word chosen, presumably a small number of authors did not choose to write books but were forced to. Some might take this footnote as evidence that I’m still a demographer. I probably am.

I’m afraid to just do it

I attended some really great writing workshops at the Tucson Festival of Books this past weekend.  One of the main themes to come out across panels was how fear holds us back.  

I’m often afraid.  

I haven’t posted on this blog for two weeks not for lack of content or lack of time but because I worry about making things just right before I post them.  I worry about saying something that will come across as unintelligent or controversial.  I worry about saying something that will come back to haunt me years later.  I worry that something I post will go viral.  I worry that no one cares at all about what I’m writing.  

I worry.  But I’ve found that the best way of addressing my fears is often to just do the thing I’m afraid of.  

So I’m just going to do it.  That is, I’m going to reflect on the importance of just doing it improv and writing.  The principle isn’t complicated although it can be difficult to implement.

In improv, if you find yourself talking about doing something in a scene, just do it.  For example, if you start planning a party, fast forward to the party.  The audience would rather see someone jump out of a cake than hear you talk about someone jumping out of a cake.  Action! 

In writing, I’ve come across this when authors are plotting something their characters will do.  For example, in a lead up to a bank robbery, the characters might discuss how they are going to carry out the robbery.  My inclination is that it is better to move most of this detail to section where you show the actual bank robbery unless the conversation highlights some important character traits.  Again, action!  

In both of these cases, the hesitation to take action is rooted in fear.  Can I really jump into this pretend shark tank on stage?  Can I really write this scene where the bank robbers’ plans get foiled?  Fear holds us back from committing to our choices.  

So I’ve just done it, but I’m still a little afraid.  What’s fear holding you back from?