Getting it Back Together

It had been over 18 months since we had done any real life improvisation together. Would we remember how? The date for doing it kept getting altered. Maybe I was secretly relieved. If we met at all, we’d chat and the time would slip away. The improv – politely waving at us to get our butts back in the rehearsal space – was left hanging. And it was easy to let it happen. I wondered if others were feeling as I was. Frustrated, yes, but also a part of me was thankful for the reprieve.

I’d been here before. I know this beast. It’s the Procrastination Monkey. Its favourite food is fear. There’s the fear you won’t be as good as you wish you’d be, not as good as you remember. You will freeze up or fly away. You won’t work well with your team. Or you won’t work at all! You’ll have become too broken in the interim, or too mended, or too full of banana bread. You won’t be able to make people laugh. You won’t be able to make people feel anything. You won’t feel anything! This thing you think you love might not love you back. It might not be what you love anymore and you might have lost yet another thing you thought gave your life some meaning in this weird mash of experiences we call a life…

So while all this spiral is playing out, Procrastination Monkey is having a fucking ball! He’s swinging on light fixtures, he’s howling at passing cars, he’s moulding ‘stuff’ he shouldn’t be into spheres to fling. Oh… and he’s going to fling it. No doubt about it. He’s all over the shop. And while he’s on the loose, nothing is getting done.

Procrastination Monkey is the creature getting in your way when you put off pretty much anything. You name it: making that phone call, studying for that exam, applying for that role of Superintendent of Getting Things Done. You could just do it now but then Procrastination Monkey has other ideas. Noisy, destructive, messy ideas.

Procrastination Monkey and I are nemeses of old. Even this morning he popped up as I was grappling with the motivation to write. I’d woken up at 7.30am and had breakfast by the time my alarm went off. There was plenty of time to get some yoga done and get to the keys. And even so by 11.30am I was still not writing. I’d filled that time with a lot of chatting and faffing. Procrastination Monkey knows what I like and he’s all over it, crashing his cymbals together, keeping me from doing the thing I got to do. And there are things we really do, got to do.

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”

Doris Lessing

What she said… considerably better.

This quote appears at the beginning of improvised theatre company Parallelogramophonograph’s book on narrative improv entitled ‘Do It Now‘. And hey, they are a group that has getting things done, down. From the very start of the pandemic, they were putting out shows like nobody’s business. They were like wild cats tearing into online performance, trying out technology, shaking up genres and keeping it fresh over and over again. They hit that ground running, grabbed that ball and didn’t stop. It provided so much inspiration to tired souls, like me, trying to keep the light alive within us in those dark days of isolation.

When our group were trying to navigate rehearsing online during the lockdown we were inspired by Parallelogramophonograph’s shows. We experimented ourselves with different forms. I attended a Zoom room class with Roy Janick and Kaci Beeler and learned their Grimm’s Fairy-tale format. Here a peasant family gather around a campfire telling each other tales. Each one have their own unique perspective that influences the story being told. I still laugh remembering our group navigating that form. We were a motely crew with various props at our disposal, tussling the narrative and the time lag between us. I was so excited when I got to use my wooden martial arts sword but kind of disappointed it didn’t fit in the screen frame. To everyone else I was holding a fancy stick.

Online improv can be such a salvation. As we all go through pockets of time where we can’t meet in the flesh it can be very refreshing to know there are other options for keeping the improv fires burning. But for me at the moment, real life improv has become a possibility so I am noticing how the safety of the screen has become a comfort to hide behind. Procrastination Monkey is that you? I don’t know who you are referring to. Shriek, shriek, clatter, crash, smash.

If this weird time we are living through has taught us nothing else it has been, sometimes you have to go slow and be kind to yourself. Being kind to yourself is really important. But what if sometimes being kind to yourself, is actually grabbing the ball and running your ass off? What if being kind to yourself, is saying yes to that show, even though you’re nervous? What if being kind to yourself, is getting back into that rehearsal room and doing what you’re really meant to do?

Last night I got to improvise with our troupe again in real life and I realised how that thing I was meant to do, I had to do now. Because I can. And for me, it was better than I ever remember it. Sure we were rusty, but still it was more vibrant, more alive and more satisfying. I felt like I’d grown into this space, without being in it. Now I really felt I belonged there. And that crashing monkey in my head had to put down his shitty cymbals and let me get on with it. Because that’s the thing with Procrastination Monkey. The only way to stop his noisy irritating behaviour is to do that frigging thing and to do it frigging now… preferably before he starts with the flinging.

If you’d like to find out more about this beast I call Procrastination Monkey, you might like to try this TED talk by Tim Urban here.

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