Tall Hobbit Improvisation: Extra Baggage – Carrying Grief

There’s a million more reasons why improvisation is pretty much training to be a good human- but these are some that really helped and challenged me.

Extra Baggage

Carrying Grief

There’s a couple steps that I experienced as the plane took off from JFK airport.

1. Boy, airports are ugly. The layout is terrible and human construction is an eyesore.

2. Oh wow, the lights of NYC are very pretty at night. Everything looks small.

3. This was my favorite step. This was the part where the plane was just high enough to see the way that everything fit together. The street grids, the cars moving like perfectly orchestrated stars. There were shapes in the city and surrounding landscapes that were impossible to see from the ground. You had to have the distance to let it all make sense. It was satisfying to see the loud, messy, confusing garbage ridden NYC laid out beneath me in pieces that fir perfectly together.

4. This clarity does not last long. The lights fade out,, the grids and lines and planning is obscured by clouds- and you can’t quite remember what it was that you saw- what light was where, and what street led where? Then it’s dark. And there’s nothing to see out the windows for the next 18 hours.

There’s a perfect window of distance with which to view your life and the pieces and how they fit together. But, it’s small. And you might miss it if you are looking at the T.V. in the back of the seat in front of you.

***

I had been working on organizing my trip to teach abroad for several years. First, it was Thailand, then I switched placement agencies- then I found out the dates would not work for Thailand due to a scheduling oversight- another year went by. My boyfriend and I prepared again to travel to teach in Thailand- when the agency told us that we could not be housed in the same city, and would not get to see each other at all- which really defeated the purpose of going to another country together. So, the agency told us that there was a position available in Vietnam during the months that we wanted, and that we could live in the same city- I was very tired of putting the trip off and felt like it was never going to happen- so we readily agreed to the change. (After only about half a dozen mental breakdowns due to the change of plans.)

My plan was for this to be a fun trip of self discovery and exploring the world, with lots of temples and me seeing animals and having fun and taking pictures to post online that everyone would be so jealous of. And I would get to go with my boyfriend and we would be great adventure partners and I would be wordly and cool.  I was gonna take pictures with sunglasses on, and I would be smiling and my hair would be messy but somehow perfect.

We were set to leave in December 2015. On July 14, 2015, About a year and a half ago, my little brother, Ryland, completed suicide. (A grief counselor told me to say “completed” instead of “committed” because the diction placed less blame on the individual.) I do not know how to talk about it, or tell anyone. This is for several reasons;

1. No one knows what to say. There is nothing I want them to say, and then I do not know what to say after that either. Everyone is uncomfortable.
2. It is hard to talk about- and I’ve built up a lot of defense mechanisms that help me to continue in day to day life without dealing with it.
3. I do not want anyone to feel bad for me, or feel as though I want them to feel bad for me. It isn’t about me- it’s about him.

That being said, if I want to have any degree of authenticity, then it needs to be said. I do not experience anything the same as I did before he died. Everything I experience is muted through a filter of dissociation, and most emotions are experienced with a wash of fear or a pang of guilt. I don’t know how to make friends or feel comfortable. I don’t know how not to judge everything I do with intense scrutiny.

The trip was put off another year so I could stay with my family as we tried to figure out what the fuck to do.

I had acting work through October and got through it with a deadly precise commitment to the work. My Father moved out of state with his girlfriend and my Mother found a new house to move to. I had had my year planned out. Vietnam for December-May, return to my summer job in June, return to my previous acting contract in September. The trip was postponed and my summer job fell through.

So, I got in bed, and I didn’t really get out of it for a very long time

What I did eventually get out of bed for, was an audition for some daytime improv work in schools.

***

I have always wanted to be good at improv- mostly because I feel like I am really bad at it and it is the antitheses of who I am as a person, especially who I am now. And there are a few things that you need to do, in order to even have a chance at being a good improviser-

1. You need to shut your inner critic the fuck up.
This can seem literally impossible- and sometimes a small victory is just shutting up your inner critic until the end of a show or scene, and then tearing yourself apart. Hey, take it one step at a time.

2. Accept that you are going to fail, and come to terms with the fact that in this context it is okay, even encouraged to do so.
Most people do not like to fail. Most people find it completely counter-intuitive to embrace failure, and feel horrified when someone says “you failed.” After mulling over the consequences of even the most menial actions and words- having the freedom to explore human interaction with an emphasis that failure had no consequences was completely foreign.

3. You have to forgive yourself.
It’s not all going to be great. Or even good. Sometimes you will be garbage. But just because you are garbage SOMETIMES doesn’t mean that you are garbage overall.

4. You have to be supported and be supportive.
You are not responsible for the whole scene when you are up there with your partner/s. And if your ideas and your plans don’t come to fruition, you just have to let them go and move on.  You have to let others help you just as much as you help others.

There’s a million more reasons why improvisation is pretty much training to be a good human- but these are some that really helped and challenged me.

***

I don’t know what we do with grief. I don’t know how it changes or where it goes- and I certainly have no idea what makes it feel easier. It’s not any smaller, now I just try to find ways to carry it with me, instead of inside me.

Obviously, improv does not cure grief, nor is it clinical therapy- but it is an environment to explore and be be positively influenced. And it will give you skills to break habits that keep you in perpetually negative cycles.

As we make distance; temporally or physically, we are able to look back and reflect on the way pieces fit together and patterns of our own behaviors that may have been previously obscured by our own scrutiny. I also hold a belief that the closer in physical proximity we are to the location of an event, the more defense mechanisms and emotional barriers our brain puts up to make us able to cope with and deal with traumatic experiences.

From this side of the world, I can mourn aspects that I was not able to before. I can feel how much it hurt to go back into my old house because it is so far away from me. Because when I was there, actually considering the implications and emotions attached would have rendered me completely useless and unable to set foot in it. This has increased instances of crying in public bathrooms by at least 300 percent, and sometimes the emotional outbursts aren’t premeditated by anything- something just pops up that hasn’t been allowed to for a long time.

This is like the terms and conditions of my travel blog. So, if anyone actually read this far- then you should be fine. No one likes sad people and I feel guilty for putting sadness out to other people (and I also feel guilty when I don’t talk about it, because I feel like I am not honoring my brother the right way.) But I have a lot of sadness and a lot of confusion and these are lenses that I have to experience the world.

But I’m here! And I am trying, and I don’t expect travel to allow me to “find myself” or fix anything- I am really just hoping to see some things that are beautiful.

And also things that make me laugh. I kind of feel like I am doing okay if I am laughing or making someone else laugh.