Women in Improv: Power

Note: This post is inspired both by #yesallwomen and a conversation I had with a female improv student who wanted advice on what to do when a male scene partner makes you uncomfortable on stage.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic if they differ with my own. I just kind of have OPINIONS on being a female in improvisation.

Improvisation is the most democratic form of comedy. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, physical ability or disability, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, the improviser creates his or her own reality on stage.* The improviser is not at the mercy of a script someone else wrote.

In college, I had a conversation with a (wildly talented) female comedian who was in a sketch group. She felt like she got edited out of shows. They didn’t usually include her writing and any time she appeared on stage it was as mom or wifey. This kind of thing doesn’t have to happen in improv because you’re the writer, the editor, the performer, the set designer, the whole thing.

If you are in an established group, the hope is that you enjoy and respect each other. In fact, I will go so far as to say that some of the best men on the planet are improvisers. I think it attracts guys who are smart and funny who listen well and are genuinely fantastic. That has been my experience working in groups. You know each other’s personal boundries. However, in a class environment when you are paired with strangers, this mutual understanding is not a sure thing. You want to hope that a guy will pick up on cues if a lady is uncomfortable when he gets randy and that he modifies behavior. You want to hope that.

But here’s the incredible thing about being a woman in improv – you can have a machete in your backpack and threaten his life if he doesn’t back off. Or you have a laser gun that turns men into cows. Or you are a super powerful wizard and know like a million spells including ones that render men respectful.

I mean, we don’t want to Michael Scott our way through life, but the point is this – IT IS MAKE BELIEVE! It doesn’t exist! That means you have power. You have so much power.

We should make the stage a safe space for everyone. As a community we should all agree to not be jerks. The #yesallwomen hashtag has been painful and illuminating for me. Just thinking about how much crap we put up with and don’t think twice about on a daily basis – it’s awful. Here’s something cool though – you don’t have to put up with crap on stage. And if someone gives you a hard time for not “yes anding” something that makes you uncomfortable – screw it. You are the priority. The only wrong answer is being a jerk.

My opinion about women in improv – we are powerful. Power is beautiful. Use it.

amy-poehler-book-cover-h724POEHLER POWER

 

*As with all performance, this is compromised if you have a disrespectful audience – and lord knows I’ve performed in front of bachelorette parties.

** If you are a potential bachelorette party goer reading this, please have mercy on the performers. We do think you are special and hilarious and we hope you’re having a good time. Just, you know, be quiet during the show.

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Being kind to your body-out loud.

Women who have struggled with their weight do this thing sometimes, and I do it too.  I make off-handed comments about the imperfection of my body .* It’s a pretty obvious defense mechanism. I think, deep inside, there’s a piece of me that feels as vulnerable as I did when I was in fifth/sixth/seventh grade, when my body didn’t exactly conform to the clothing my mom and I bought at Marshalls or TJ Maxx. I’d spend all day wondering if everyone thought I was a gross chub-monster who had no right to be wearing anything but a full-body tarp/poncho hybrid.

70s-dresses-caftan

Everything that ever happened in those years – success, good grades, friendships, hair catastrophes, depression, crushes – it all happened against a constant drumbeat of self-doubt. And it all came from feeling insecure about my rapidly changing body.

That was before I knew that people, in general, are too caught up in their own business to even care what you look like, unless they are being mean. And if they are being mean – they probably have a whole story you don’t know about. And it’s probably a tough one.

But today, even as a happy adult who feels personally fulfilled, I can fall back into the trap of body insecurity. I can sometimes say things out loud, or type things on the internet that poke fun at myself. I’m trying not to though, and I’ll tell you why. My kid.

I don’t have any control over what she’s going to experience during her school days, but I can try to give her the gift of a mom who only ever expresses joy and appreciation about her body. I want that to be the norm in my house.

Here are a few things I can think about to help that process along.

  • My arms are strong and I can hold that kid all day. I would if she’d let me, but she doesn’t let me. She’d prefer to run around.
  • The milk from my breasts fed and nourished her for the first year (and change) of her life. THAT’S A LOT OF MILK, THANKS BREASTS.
  • You won’t catch me in short shorts, but my legs let me run after her, or for myself.
  • My belly made room for a human being inside it. That’s flexibility.

Sure, motherhood has a big something to do with this line of thought. All I know is this – the best thing I can do for my kid’s perception of her body, is to love my own and show appreciation for what it can do. The worst thing I can do is verbally abuse myself.

I know that I can’t manage her experience, but I want her to build science fair projects, have crushes, decide if and when she ever wants to take dance class – with nothing playing in the background but the steady beat of confidence and optimism, and the quiet knowledge that she’s perfect just the way she is. Me too.

 

* Healthy eating, exercise, all that good stuff, is vitally important, this is definitely not designed to contradict that. Still on Weight Watchers, still counting those points, still want a cheeseburger…

Getting Personal: Laurel Snyder’s Keynote

For my friends and readers who aren’t in the kidlit world, NESCBWI is the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s an incredible organization and they put on a fantastic conference this past weekend. Workshops, speakers, raviolis, and catching up with my writer-friends in person? Pretty amazing.

final-HThis year’s theme was “Create Bravely” 

My favorite part of the weekend was the keynote address by author Laurel Snyder. If you’re like, “That’s a familiar name…but I can’t pinpoint it…” it’s probably because she also contributes to NPR on occasion. Her name may occupy the same cerebral storage pod that keeps words like:  “Lakshmi Singh,” “Kai Ryssdal, ” and “Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

The big idea: A writer has to look bravely inside themselves and write from the fear, triumph, friendship, and the love that only they have felt.

But to unpack that, the part that really set bells ringing in my mind was when she put up a slide with three photos. The first was Laurel as a teenager, a little angry looking, with a mushroom haircut and black clothing. The next was Laurel as a grown woman on stage wearing a flowing dress and joyfully playing a ukeleli, the third was Laurel at home being tackled by a beautiful baby boy.

Light bulb.

The specificity of images like those, that is personal. No one in the world has lived her life, had that particular mushroom haircut and that particular angst. Even if she was  just a kid whose parents split – one of many- she’s the only one who lived her own situation, in her city, with her music collection, and with her mom and dad. Same for the moments of joy. That’s where she writes from, and in some ways writes about, and that’s why her voice and her stories are so authentic and important.

Every single author in that room – every author everywhere, has their “list of things”. The true, personal things that make you you. That’s the jackpot. That’s where the writing should live.

This took me back to middle school. I was trying to grow my bangs out and wearing a baggy hoodie every day – just looking forward to the 25 minutes we got for SSR. Reading Brian Jacques and the REDWALL series and having that be a sanctuary in a relentless storm of awkwardness.

Laurel asked us to identify who our reader is. For her, she writes for her younger self – and I think I do that too. I didn’t realize it, necessarily, but it’s a powerful thought. The only good stuff is going to come from a place that is unique to you, and each one of is made of a million authentic moments.

I returned home so ready to create and so inspired by everyone I met. Creating stories for kids – this is important stuff, you guys. I feel really honored to do it.

 

 

 

Mirror mirror on the wall – how dare you, sir.

Spring is here! I’m like 99% sure! I can tell because I can’t find weather-appropriate clothing and have needed to put sunscreen on my fair haired baby’s chubby cheeks twice already.

After I gave birth last February, apparently a few months occurred. It’s hard for me to say  how much of March-December 2013 was real and how much I hallucinated for lack of sleep. Like, did Matthew McConaughey’s career trajectory really improve the way I think it did, or was True Detective just a fever dream from hell? I may never know.

Anyway, recently, the little love of my life is turning into a legitimate toddler and sleeping like a human instead of a robot that runs on milk and sunlight alone. The ramifications of this are huge. I’m sleeping more and seeing a bit more clearly. This change in perception holds true for mirrors and scale numbers.

As I’ve previously posted on Facebook, I’ve re-joined WeightWatchers. I joke about it, but I’m actually feeling really pumped up to get in shape and enjoy the warm weather. With nursing, etc, the ruling principal around my diet was – if it’s here and non-toxic I can eat as much of it as I want. Now that we’re moving past the nursing phase, I gotta reel it in, and it’s really not so bad.

Remember fruit? Guys, and vegetables? They are less exciting than leftover chicken wings and mashed potatoes, but it turns out they can do the job. I’m only 2 and a half weeks in, but as of right now I’m on track and ready to go.

Keep it vernal.

woodersonL-I-V-I-N

 

About a year later…

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Boston Marathon bombing lately because it’s almost been a year. For those new to the blog, I was a block away from the explosions last year with my then eight-week-old baby.

Tragically, last night, two Boston Firefighters were lost in duty and their incredible bravery hits home once again. It feels like punch in the gut, a personal loss. It reminds me of last year.

This is the first trauma I’ve ever dealt with, and it poses challenges I couldn’t have predicted. The panic feelings when I hear a story on the radio, or walk past the sight, for example. Also, my complete inability to access empathy for the suspect in custody – it’s not like me, but it’s real. I reach for that empathy like I’m reaching for my wallet, but all I find is an empty pocket. Experiencing true fear does unexpected things.

But even in those moments, I appreciate the distance. I appreciate the year of healing that our city has undergone.

Boston, the way I see it, is just like a spunky, loud-mouthed five year old boy on the playground*. He talks bigger than he can act, but it makes him kind of  lovable. Last April, he got the crap beat out of him and ran to his mom’s arms. As he sobbed into her shoulder she whispers, “Hey. Hey – what are we?”

“Strong,” he whimpers between hysterical gasps.

“What are we?” she asks again, his chin in her hands.

“Strong.”

We weren’t. We were scared, hurt kids, but we started saying “strong”.  It made me feel better. It helped me to heal – to some degree. And whether I like it or not, that day pulled a strong string around my heart and wove it into the fabric of this city.

My thoughts today are with the Firefighters and their families. We owe a lot to the people who keep us safe and put their necks on the line for their fellow citizens. Boston, it turns out, is a pretty small town.

 

 

 

*OK, so if I’m characterizing cities I’ll make New York a 12-year-old girl who just got back from a summer abroad and owns like 17 scarves all the sudden and keeps taking photos and whining about trans-fats.

Mom’s broken, baby’s a Gryffindor.

A short list of times I’ve felt broken in the past three days:

  • Looking online at baby clothes, I cry
  • Hearing a snippet of Mr. Rogers on NPR fund drive,  I cry
  • Watching Pharrell perform “Happy” on the Oscars, I cry
  • Being out with friends, seeing a missed call from the babysitter, trying not to cry because I’d like to at least give the impression that I am a functioning adult
  • Watching the little bean nap, I cry
  • Thinking about watching her nap as I type this list….you get the point.

I’ve been trying to figure out these emotional surges and intensities. This child makes me so happy, why am I always trying not to cry? Why is it so hard to bear? I think I figured out the answer and it’s way simpler than I could have imagined. Love. Duh.

Being this girl’s mother is like being hit by a monster truck of love, and it’s nonstop. It’s terrifying. How can one little person be in charge of so much emotion? But she is. As she’s growing up, her personality is really starting to shine and I CAN’T DEAL WITH IT. Yesterday she walked through Barnes and Noble with me, holding a pink gardening shovel and pretending to dig holes in the carpet. When she sees her Dinosaur book, she roars. She had more fun wielding a straw as a magic wand during breakfast yesterday than I thought was humanly possible.

accio first pancake

Totes a Gryffindor.

My heart hurts. OUCH ALL THE TIME.

And that’s just the happy. There’s also the teething, tears, and head bumps that send her screaming. We’re feeling all of it together.

I’m over-empathetic by nature, and seeing the world through her eyes is a wild, wild ride for this mom. So, I feel kind of broken because the way I “work” is no more. The old systems have been made obsolete, and I’m living in little bean’s world.

When I got that missed call the other night I was at a loud bowling ally with a bunch of people. One of my friends asked if I was OK and I just responded, “Yeah. Motherhood has broken me.” It sounded dour, but this is what I meant. It’s broken, for sure, but in a good way.

ACCIO NAPS!

Triple Toe Loop of Passion

This Valentine’s Day I want to talk about love. Russian love. The kind that glides and twizzles and poses.  I want to talk about the most mysterious, fringed couple I’ve observed in pop culture in a long, long time: Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.

volsozhar_trankov2_psga6iw5_qrld5w6mWhat are you LOOKING at, Maxim, you graceful devil?

I haven’t caught much Olympic coverage this time around, but last night I was able to catch up on the pairs figure skating finals and NBC did a profile of these two snow bunnies. Before you go to IMDB, Tatiana did not star on The Office as Angela Martin, and incredibly, they aren’t even related.

Here are just a few things I learned between viewing the profile, and doing a little background research:

– She is from Kiev

-He moved to St. Petersburg at 15 and lived in an ice rink because he didn’t have anywhere else to go

-They have a dog together

-He categorizes their relationship as “romantic” AND “platonic”

-They spend all their free time together

And, come on.

RR2p92c7

There’s something fascinating about the whole pairs figure skating dynamic. There’s so much intimacy and sensuality involved in a lot of the routines, but it’s not like they’re all couples! Some are probably gay. Also, I mean, these guys are brother and sister:

Chris+Reed+ISU+Grand+Prix+Figure+Skating+2013+ajLrRyXpgUulThe Reeds from Japan. Brother and sister. Come on, mom, what were you trying to do here?

I enjoyed watching the Russians’ routine, as nightmarish as it was (Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack and their final pose was, yup, a cross). They have a beautiful, exciting-weird chemistry. You guys, they bought a dog and they are having sex with each other through intense gazes constantly.

Remember how he used to be a homeless 15 year old with ice skates? Now he has a gold medal, a funky ponytail thing, and his best girl to throw in the air.

Oh love, oh costuming choices, oh twizzles!

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Writing Toddler-Brave

“A thing is about to happen here that has not happened since the Elder Days. The Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong” – Gandalf

This quote comes to mind when I see my 11 month old daughter moving around lately. Yeah, I’m comparing my beautiful girl to an anthropomorphized tree. Stay with me for a minute.

She’s always been a go-go kind of girl, but you can tell now that she’s feeling the power. She’s taken a few teeny steps and her confidence is sky high. My father watches her most afternoons and yesterday he created a Les Miserables-like barracade to keep her in the safety of her play area. I watched her grab a heavy wooden stool and pull it out from underneath an exersaucer like the damn hulk. To give you context, that would be like a regular sized person managing a picnic table.

She’s taken one or two little spills but it’s not really slowing her down. She wants to explore, to throw her weight around, to see what her strong little gams can do. She knows no fear.

So, I’m terrified.

If you watch Sherlock, you know how he can look at someone and a lot of white text appears on the screen – all the things he’s able to tell about a character just by looking at her “cat lover, size 10, long term boyfriend, etc.” – That’s kind of what I’m like with worst case scenarios. I can look at a laptop cable and see at least 35 ways that this child could hurt herself with it. All the scenarios swarm like flies and 35 is a low ball figure, obviously.

But I wanted to take a minute and think about what she’s feeling right now and how cool that actually is. Do you remember a time when you felt strong and invincible? It’s hard for me to conjure up that kind of memory. But this kid is moving through the world with the expectation that everything is awesome and she’s discovering new ways to manipulate objects, transport herself, and express herself every day. It’s amazing!

When I’m drafting, I want to try to be a toddler-writer. Just go for it! There’s no REAL staircase for you to fall down, so see what’s happening in that dark room Mom doesn’t want you to go into! Is that a cliff? How far can you hang over it? YOU ARE INVINCIBLE! Eat that dust-bunny, fool!

Revising might be a different story all together. That’s the time for adult thoughts, foam padding, and baby gates. But I’m really trying to un-childproof my brain for getting a first draft on paper again. Little baby bean is quite a source of inspiration.

And constant anxiety about her physical safety. That too. But mostly inspiration.

Being good enough for baby in 2014

I want my daughter to:
– Exercise for joy, to feel good and healthy
– Eat things that make her body function at its best
– Feel excited about her talents
– Nourish her relationships and her creativity
– Be free from unnecessary anxiety and guilt
– Know the difference between things that deserve energy and things that don’t
– Spend alone time when she needs it
– Have a bulletproof sense of self that is grounded in love
– Be stoked about any projects she’s taking on
– Be kind to everyone (including herself)

I hear that kids learn by example. So, this is my 2014 to-do list.

Faves 2013

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and also BOOOOKS!

Here are some of my favorite things I enjoyed in 2013.

Music:

Volcano Choir, Repave: I was filled with sad when I listened to Volcano Choir’s first album last year because I kind of hated it. I really want to love any project that Justin Vernon is involved with. My expectations for their second release, Repave, were low. But, VOILA! Vernon is back in business with sweeping, gorgeous, heart-wrenching soundscapes. It’s cinematic. It’s enveloping. Listen.

Sarah Jarosz, Build Me Up from Bones: When someone born in the 90’s is this talented and accomplished it is a little obnoxious. But that aside, if you enjoy singer/songwriterly brilliance with a relaxed, bluegrass inspired feeling – pick her up.

Books:

Ocean at the End of the Lane I listened to the audiobook read by Gaiman and it hogged a huge amount of space in my mind for weeks after. I asked for the hardcover for Christmas so I can re-read it over and over again. This sometimes terrifying story uses magic to uncover the most truthful depiction of childhood emotion and memory I’ve ever read. I was dumbstruck.

The Expeditioners: – Pubbed in 2012, this book is middle grade adventure done really well. Beautiful art. Exciting world. Yeah!

Movies:

Catching Fire: Catching Fire was not my favorite of the three books by Suzanne Collins, but holy guac, it’s my favorite movie so far. This particular piece of Katniss’ journey was really enhanced by the movie treatment. I think because it happens less in her mind than the first part of the trilogy – so I didn’t miss the first person intimacy the way I did in the first movie. It was big and flashy, but really well acted and adapted. I can’t even wait for Mockingjay.

A Place Beyond the Pines: What a weird movie! I loved it. One of my friends called this film “Shakespearean” and I kind of get that. I love that it followed a non-linear path and maintained all its humanity. It was also the first movie date that my husband and I had after baby was born, full disclosure.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug: Obviously.

Miscellany:

The Hobbit, Special Features (on the extended edition blu-ray. Yeah, we bought the extended edition even though the movie was seven hours long. That’s the kind of household we are.):

The-Hobbit-image-the-hobbit-36116872-1024-576

PETER JACKSON IS A GENIUS AND ALL THOSE KIWIS SOUND SO COOL AND OMG. Seriously though, the creative process that went into the creation of this film is a fascinating study. Artists would routinely spend days creating a costume, or an animation, and then it would be used just for inspiration, or thrown out all together. But they didn’t care, because the only thing that mattered was making the best possible movie. It made me think about the precious, silly way I can be about my words and paragraphs. Going to try to take lessons from the amazing folks at WETA in 2014.

But this year, one release exceeded all expectations. At once gorgeous, hilarious, brilliant, and SQUISHY – the best of the best of 2013 is:

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 1.38.54 PM

Emmeline the incredible! Honestly, I’m so grateful for this little bean. She made 2013 a year I will never ever ever forget.

Happy New Year!!