Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Now Playing

I'm so proud of all of you. Not a single person said "fried mermaid" yesterday.

As author Patricia Madson tells it, audiences at improv performances often shout out strange words in the belief that it's creative and helpful. But really, as she points out, once you've said, "fried mermaid," how much more creativity can you stomach? (Sorry, that's my bad pun, not hers.)

Instead, generous audience that you are, you gave me:

Poison ivy, treehouse
uncle, duck, chew
plow, stream, nut
gratitude, window, play
theater, aspiring, light

Each of them lovely words, each worthy of an entire post. My instinct is to use ALL the words, and to dazzle you with my depth and agility in linking them together. But as sure as I do that, someone will add more words, and I'll be back at square one. Which, I suppose, isn't a bad place to be. It could even be the name of an improv troupe: "Square One...because we're always beginning."

I remember doing improv in Theater class in high school. The words my group received were: cactus, diamond and cowboy. (I think. It's been awhile.) We created a mini-Western, in which I, Polly Pricklebutt, the cactus heroine in distress, was rescued by cowboys who rode bucking black diamonds. There was a logic to it all, and snappy dialogue, and we got great laughs.

What I remember most, though, was the astounding fun of making something out of nothing. To say to the audience: I'm a cactus named Polly...and have everyone believe me! No one batted an eye at cowboys lassoing diamonds and then mounting and riding them. I wanted to live in that world forever.

But I don't. I live in a world where trees that cradle the most intriguing treehouses sometimes have poison ivy curled around their trunks. How to get up there?

Should I cry "uncle" and duck quickly out the back, so no one notices that I tried and failed? Or should I chew up the scenery, crying and wailing, and acting my little heart out, oh, woe! oh, woe is me! until someone comes to help?

I could plow up the neighbor's yard, plant a magic nut, divert a stream to water it, and watch over it day and night, waiting for a different tree, a less difficult tree, to grow. Then I could climb it and lightly step over into that treehouse, as cleverly as Jack in the old tales. I would wave out the window to those below, waiting for their applause.

But who would be there, watching still, after all those careful years? Theater happens in real time. This blog happens in nearly real time. If I post about improv or library cats or gratitude, Google sweeps it up, and carries my words out, where other readers find them, before I have time to even catch my breath. Those readers arrive, bearing gifts, more words. Sometimes, the author of the book you're reading even shows up. (Thanks for coming by, Patricia!)

I don't think there is such a thing as an aspiring writer on the Internet. We all just write and what we write becomes part of the day. What we write becomes part of each other. I honestly had no idea what I would make of your words when I began to write this post. Now I see where I was going:

I do live in a world of cacti, diamonds and cowboys. I also live in a world where there is poison ivy. And now, I'm going to speak up for that ivy, because I had it all wrong. The ivy wasn't a symbol of an impenetrable barrier; it was a metaphor for what spreads. Because I forgot that just because "poison" and "ivy" arrived together, they don't have to stay together. They can get up and find new seats. Poison, you go over there and be helpful, answering the phone at the Poison Control Hotline. Ivy, honey, I've got a job for you: think you can lift me up---up there?

Oh! look! I did use all the words---showy, showy me---and I'm right where I want to be, in the ivy-covered treehouse, with all my friends. Let's put up a sign and spread the word:

Come and play.


  1. Wow. Now how will you top this?

    Sounds like a nifty book--I just put it on reserve at the library.

    And that was so sweet of you to take away poison ivy's stigma.

    My husband and I took improv classes at a local ComedySportz and loved them! I wish we could find a group of people to just play the games with once a week--not with any aspirations of getting on stage (by the second course, most of the students were would-be actletes), but just for the sheer fun of it.

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  3. dear sara,

    wow, that blog post was a world to fly through!

    i especially loved your comment about what we write becomes the day. and the idea that google spreads our words all around as soon as we publish. it's so amazing sometimes to watch the speed of exchanged ideas, especially over the internet. and then we all create with the pieces.

    thank you for your encouragement :)
    now i'm off to find out about your book!

  4. Wow, Laura. I wish I didn't live so far away. I'd definitely be up for some games! I'm jealous that you actually got to take a class. Did you blog about it?

    Julia, welcome! I just loved your snowflake, and all your art, really, so I'm glad to see you here. I had fun creating this post out of the pieces people sent. It was a tiny bit intimidating, but I learned so much from doing it, and isn't that the point?

  5. I wish I could have seperated poison from ivy - but still I am happy to inspire. Check out my blog for the story behind my words - poison ivy and treehouse...

  6. Oh, no, Amy...I just read your blog entry. Yikes, what a battle with the ugly stuff. I was only speaking metaphorically here, which as you know, is much easier.

  7. It's okay - I knew you were viewing this stuff from your computer, not with a bottle of Calamine Lotion in hand.

    As I said before, I am glad to add a little positive inspiration to your poetic mind and not JUST wallow in my own dispair.

    I really enjoyed your take on the words given. They made me feel better about my little fun-filled hospital visit.

  8. Great post! That advice about writing down questions and answering them is a great idea ... wish I'd read that about five days ago, before speaking in front of a bunch of teen girls!


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