Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Muscle Memory

About a year after James graduated from NYU, and maybe a couple of years before I started Brooklyn College, we had a little indie improv team.  Our name was Albatross Applesauce, and we performed a total of three shows.  We rehearsed plenty.  We worked with coaches and on our own, and one day someone - probably James - was like, it's time to start doing shows.  I would have been happy to just keep rehearsing until the end of time, but, he was right, it was probably time.  We did a one at The Creek and the Cave, in Long Island City, then one at a place I don't remember, and then one at this crazy divey bar in the East Village called the Tiki Room.

The show was terrible.  It was barely a show.  There was no stage, and the "audience" wasn't so much "paying attention" as "wondering what the H was going on while they were trying just trying to drink their damn beers, for pete's sake".

The next day, or maybe the day after that, I sent an email out to our team (there were six of us, counting James and myself) with a kind of gentle "good job" and some thoughts about our next rehearsal/performance.    I called the performance "successful", in my exact words.

Well, that word, "successful" caused a complete implosion.  Andrew started it off, emailing back saying that maybe he didn't want to be involved with performers who thought that that show was a success (this from a guy who started every single scene talking in this weird, froggy, I think supposedly "funny" voice.  but whatever).  Pat followed, saying kind of the same thing, then Preshant.  And then, we just didn't have a team any more.

It's not like I didn't see it coming.  It wasn't a great fit.  And teams break up all the time.  I wasn't annoyed that the team disbanded, but I was surprised at the way people responded to the word I'd used.  I'm not an idiot.  I knew that was a terrible show.  It was a bad venue, and we weren't funny.  Frankly, none of us were (none of us, Andrew).  But it was successful because we did it.  Because we all trekked over there on a cold Saturday night at like, ten o'clock, and freaking did it.  That's what made it a success.

James fired back a pretty impassioned response to our former teammates, but I just stayed out of it.  I felt badly that they didn't understand me.  Not that I felt badly about what I'd said, but I felt badly that they didn't get it.  I sort of pitied them.  Because, if they felt that our performance was a failure - valueless - then they had a very disappointing road ahead of them.

Amy Poehler says, "Be okay with writing really bad stuff for a long time - just keep doing it.  The act of doing it, the muscle memory of it, is more important than how it is.  That's why improv was so instrumental for me, because you would do shows every night, and they would suck every night, and one night they'd be okay, and it would sustain you for another year."

When we were in New York doing Indivisible  a lot of people asked what the plan was for it.  Like, what was the next step with it.  And, there isn't one.  Maybe James will seek publication for it somewhere, but, we did it simply for the sake of doing it.  Because getting stuff done is good practice for getting stuff done.  I believe that many roads lead to Rome.  I don't believe that they're all direct routes.

And I think I live a more peaceful life because of this.  Not everything has to be perfect, or "successful".  The next play I do doesn't have to be my big break.  The next essay I write doesn't have to catch the eye of the editor at Salon.  I'm just going to keep doing things.  And, eventually, I'll get to where I'm going.

And, interestingly enough, parenthood is actually a lot the same.  There's a lot of room for frustration, because there are a lot of apparent failures.  Whole days start to resemble that show at the Tiki Room.  I'm up there, putting on a show, and Edie's drinking her beer and getting a new tooth and just NOT. INTERESTED.  And instead of putting her to bed and crying because we just didn't connect, I put her to bed and tell James about the one funny thing that happened when she got rice in her ear and wouldn't let me take it out, and then I watch some Murder, She Wrote, and go to bed, after a successful day.  Because she's alive, and well, and because calling my day a success doesn't delude me into thinking it was perfect.  But it does make me excited to try it again.


  1. Someday when I'm a parent, I'm going to read this over and over again.

    And while I'm pursuing theatre. And while I'm writing. And while I'm living my entire life.

  2. Val. You are the best. Sometimes, I try to hold back how wonderful I find the blog-you (beacuse let's face it- I don't really know you-you) because I'm worried you will get creeped out.

    And I loved this so much. I remember when an improv team I was with did a show for a credit union for their Christmas party and it was awful. Really, really awful. But we got paid, and then we laughed about it for a long time. Well, most of us laughed about it.

    The point is, I am with you on the whole "succeeding" thing. Failures are a part of life and I think living a life is a success in itself, eh?

  3. I found this post because Carrie linked to it, and I thought of the exact same Credit Union show we did which really was so terrible. But when I think about that show, I think about the moment I jumped on stage and became a temperamental safe, which was probably one of my favorite things I've ever done on stage, and I'm like, YES. Even though the rest of the show sucked, I had one good moment that makes it worth it in my head (I also remember Brant practically screaming, "WE NEED AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION OR THIS DOESN'T WORK.")

    Anyways, I don't know you, and hopefully this comment applies, and isn't weird. Thank you for this post, because it's really good and true.

  4. Val,
    Amen to the comments above. Thanks for voicing something Jesse and I were trying to get at in a discussion last night. Thanks for your blog.

  5. I love it when someone can write something that you've never thought of before in that way but when you read it, you feel you knew those things in your heart all along. well done, thanks babe.

  6. wonderful. really, truly. this post could be that "big break".

  7. This is awesome. Do you remember that I was in NY that day and saw the Tiki Room show? I had just come from work, was wearing a suit, not drinking a beer and the only two people I knew there were busy performing. I might have been nearly, but not quite, as uncomfortable as you were. But it was a successful night because I got to see two of our best friends doing something I hadn't seen them do since college. Success all around.

  8. I really like learning how you think and seeing that we have this in common. At least on my good days I feel like this.
    Thanks for posting.

  9. Val, You have amazing perspective! BTW I loved the Edie story. It reminds me of so many (succssful) days.

  10. Val, You have amazing perspective! BTW I loved the Edie story. It reminds me of so many (succssful) days.