Image courtesy of Horia Varlan. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Next weekend, I begin round two of improv classes. I will no doubt continue my fine tradition of walking the thin line of complete mortification at my own failures while also being secretly quite pleased when things work out (improv, my personal life, whatever). I am very much looking forward to it.
The first time I took improv classes, my main takeaway was that even if I sucked–and I was very, very sure that I did–it was okay. I could fail and it would be fine. I could fail badly and it would be fine. Nothing would eat me. And as completely cheeseball as it is, that has stuck with me in the months since.
Since I first took classes, I’ve continued with my volunteering at that improv theatre (I’ve quit writing about it because “this weekend I sold people tickets, drank beer, and hauled trash” is only compelling fodder for so many entries). Most nights that I’m there, I sell tickets to folks. When I started that volunteer position, I was actively, painfully terrible at it. I blushed and stuttered and couldn’t tear the ticket stock right. I was very sweaty. It was mortifying.
But I stuck it out, and kept coming back each week. The people who work at the coffee shop next door to the theatre know my face now. Some of the improvisors wave hello. The other volunteers know my name. And, a few weeks ago, one of the other volunteers told me that she was pleased to see how much better I’d gotten at working the box office since I started. (I am also much less sweaty now, which is a bonus.)
It dawned on me that I had kept failing at selling tickets for long enough that at some point in the middle there I had gotten kind of okay at it. I can banter and shout folks down and tear the tickets without dropping them (or at least keep talking to cover when I do). At some point I figured out that no one actually pays attention to the words that come out of your mouth when you’re saying them in customer service cadence, and it doesn’t matter if I stutter.
If I had done things in the other order–started volunteering before taking the classes–I might still have stuck around. But I would have spent weeks and weeks and weeks doing mental scab picking over how I had screwed up that week. And I haven’t, and it has been so, so nice.
I was thinking about all of that last night, as I chatted with my TA from my original improv class. I told him I was finally taking the next set of classes, and he seemed pleased. He said that the class teacher had always talked about how strong my offers were, and that I had a knack for it, and he hoped to see me perform at some point. It was an incredibly kind thing of him to say.
And it retrospect it is a great reminder of how completely bad I am at judging my own abilities at things. I was convinced during most of that class that I was the weakest performer in it. I was non-physical and quiet and my characters weren’t strong. I could not convincingly pretend to chop someone in half with a battle axe.
But apparently that wasn’t what my teachers noticed, or at least isn’t what they remembered when chatting with me later. In memory I came out all right.
If 2013’s lesson was to sop being so tense about screwing things up, perhaps 2014’s will be about noticing that half the time I’m not even really failing that badly.
(I’m still pretty sure I suck at battle axe, though. Alas!)