I observe it happening, and my brain keeps track of everything — the wins, the losses, the drama, the bliss. I register how I feel; I can speak to how I feel (at length to my therapist and friends); but I can’t experience my feelings.
I have a best friend named Aaron, who travelled the world to find himself. He used to run PR for major NY entertainment clients in a 9–5 job he dreamed of having, until the reality proved a waking nightmare. So he invested early in Bitcoin, did well enough to quit his job, and travelled for years to Bali and India to learn about himself. Along the way, he developed a passion for the Tama-Do school of sound healing and studied with the master of the movement, Fabian Maman, in Switzerland. He spent months all by himself, cultivating intimacy with his mind and heart and fears and intuition. He repaved his path in life, and his journey inspired me to seek my own way. I left my steady job in 2016 to freelance as a teacher, writer, and performer, engaging in my own solo odyssey into the unknown.
I met the healer/witch/intuitive therapist in Encino, California. My friend David had gifted me a session to meet with her while I was out on the west coast. She and I talked about feelings and problems and the past and future for about an hour. Then I got on the table for her to work her magic.
I’ve come to realize: my feelings are not necessarily true.
I’ve noticed how often I have a negative thought or feeling, and after some time, it passes. I forget why I even felt that way in the first place — what triggered that sense of unease, or uncertainty, or unwell.
I’m staying in my childhood home over the Winter Holidays in Northern California. I’m 31 years old now, and my earliest memories come from this house.
It’s morning on the day after Christmas, and I just meditated on the porch. There’s no one around but a deer on the hillside, wary of me as it nibbles grass. The only sound is the far off hum of cars driving on the 101.
I’m a Capricorn, and my brain runs on pragmatism, even when it comes to mysticism. I’ve been wrestling with it for years now, and I’ve come to believe that the only practical option that makes sense for my heart is to believe in a higher power. To trust that some greater, wiser force is conducting the reigns of my life. That everything’s meant to be and is happening as it should.
I saw my mind like a department store, and I was the security guard in the middle of the atrium.
For once, I could see my problems labeled clearly: There was the department of Distractions. There was the bodega of Crippling Anxiety. There was the greeting card store with a sale on Comparing Yourself To Others. There was the fast food court with News about our country falling apart. There was the Responsibility and Task Management desk, control panels blinking with notifications. All these stores in my mind, open for business, ready to set the tone for my day as I woke.
I believe in sudden prophecies told by a best friend on a moonlit midnight in Switzerland.
“You’re challenge right now, Prince Philip,” Aaron said, “is going to be dealing with Patience.” We then got into a shouting match over the Senate testimony into Russian meddling in our election and whether America was just a shell country run by secret Russian capitalist overlords.
I’m flying home tomorrow to NYC from a three-week trip abroad. I’m grateful for this time. Gratitude is not an emotion I’m very good at experiencing. I’ll taste the epic highs of a moment and then forget what it felt like minutes later. And when the moment passes, and I’m no longer on top of the world, I get unhappy. In the solitude of traveling by myself these three weeks, I’ve had time to think about this.
A two-person scene is hard enough in improvisation.
Add more people to the equation, and it gets more difficult to manage. When the lights come up on four or more people, I remember the advice that Mick Napier taught me back training at The Annoyance: think more of the same. Rather than finding points of differentiation, aim to bring your disparate characters in alignment over the context of the situation and how you all feel about it. While an eight-person monoscene with eight disparate points of view can be done, it isn’t easy to improvise!
However, I want to take a closer look at and unpack the dynamics and methods for three people improvising together in a scene. In general, three bodies in play tend to align in common relationships, and there are both pitfalls and strategies we can employ to heighten each dynamic.
Unless I am trapped in some god forsaken town without a gay bar, I’m done with online dating/hook-up apps. I hereby swear them off for good.
I’m done with Grindr and Okcupid and Squirt and Scruff and Tinder and Thrinder and JDate and Feeld and Bro and Match.com, and I would be done with eHarmony too if they didn’t think my sexual orientation was a choice.
I am done with profiles designed to show curated trappings of us at our self-selected best. People are messy, and I’m more attracted to the bumps on the seismographic of someone’s personality than the smooth first impressions they try to make.
There is a person I may be in love with. I met him a month ago, and we’re as close to a real-life version of fairytale soul mates as I’ve experienced. I knew it from the first time we hung out and got into a long discussion about Jodorowsky’s Dune. Now we’re friends for life, after just a couple months of knowing each other.
When you meet a new person and invest yourself in him or her this much, you create a mirror. You can see yourself anew through this person’s eyes — from the first impression you make to the soul you bare as you let down your guard. You reveal the dirtier parts of yourself in the reflection— the cold sores, the longstanding fears, the hangups, the hopes you’re afraid to admit, and specifically for me: the bitterness I carry.
I believe in the maxim: never date someone with your same name. It must be cursed from the outset. I’m not referring to cursed as in your future family-in-law confusing who’s who when asking for “Philip” to pass the green beans at Thanksgiving. No, it must be a law of nature that two humans of the same name shall never intertwine, lest catastrophe befall both.
What makes people laugh? I believe it can be boiled down to an equation:
Surprise + Believability = Laughter.
The most obvious answer is Surprise. “I didn’t see that coming! Who ever thought he’d do that? Woah! Can you believe that’s how it went down?!” We laugh when we are caught off-guard, our anticipations subverted or paid off in an unexpected way.
My first reaction is to panic. I woke up today with nothing on my plate until the evening. Same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next. I’ve never been so not busy in my life, except on vacation. When I’m on vacation, I allow myself to be OK without things to do. To be OK with no-doing. But outside that context, those empty swaths of calendar terrify me.
I flew to Tel Aviv and Berlin last month. I taught improv in these cites to pay for the trip, but the experience was all about dancing. I danced harder than ever in my life in these magical cities. And I had great sex with the most beautiful people.
Oh, do not worry!” Sofia, the owner of the hotel said, as my friend Aaron and I stepped into her elevator without a door. I reached out and skimmed the interior facade of the building with my hands as we rode upwards. Aaron joked out loud that this elevator would never fly for American hotel safety standards. “Never!” Sofia agreed, throwing us a devilish smile.
It was the morning of an improv gig I had booked in Oberlin, Ohio with my show Happy Karaoke Fun Time. I did what I do when I’m traveling, which is to log into Grindr as soon as we arrived. A man named Ben messaged me. Ben was a stocky, muscular guy whose photo looked the part of a corn-fed farmer bro from the great Midwest (I found out later he was a graphic designer living with his mom). We started chatting, and he was interested in meeting up for a hook-up on my one night in town. We traded pics; I liked what I saw, though he only sent one out-of-focus face pic of himself in a foggy bathroom mirror. I could have pressed for more photos, but I wasn’t being too picky. I was on the road, and I was horny.
He asked why I was in town. I mentioned my improv gig, to which he responded, “Oh, well, I’m hilarious in my downtime.” This seemed a very unfunny statement to me, but I wrote back, “Nice.”
He replied, “Ha yep. We will jive pretty good then.”
I get bored easily these days. I percolate between writing my thoughts down or just thinking them endlessly. My attention span is short. I’m smoking too many cigarettes. And it’s not even nice out yet.
I read too many lists on “How To Be Happy and Productive” on Medium.com. I check my stats on socials every hour for a little hit of dopamine because someone noticed me. I log into my email obsessively, waiting for someone to need or want me for something. I’m on my phone in parks.
It was a bright, cold morning in March, 2011 in Chicago. I had just had the best improv audition of my life at The Second City. I skipped, high on life, back to my 1992 BMW 525i car in the perfect parking spot I’d found right outside the theater. I started the engine, and the radiator exploded in a cloud of fumes and acrid smoke. It ballooned outward from the front of the car. A jogger ran right into the cloud. She coughed and stumbled to the driver side window. She started screaming at me for poisoning her lungs. She threatened to sue me. I shouted back, “It’s my car, not me!” She flipped me the middle finger and jogged away.
The car was totally dead. And, as it seems to happen in my life, I’d gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a split second.
The metaphor I want to suggest is that your improvised character is a wheel, with the center of that wheel being the first thing you say or do as your character, and the spokes being the context of the scene.
The first thing I do when I teach improv classes is ask the group to get into a circle.
I count how long it takes them. The average for a group of 16 students is about ten seconds. The quality of the group’s movement is lethargic, meandering, hesitant and a bit dismissive of the need to make a circle in the first place. Why do we have to do this…aren’t we adults?
I don’t like magical thinking. I don’t like getting my hopes up for something that isn’t feasible or attainable. I value action steps. I believe in possibility but don’t like wishing on a star. I want to wish on a business plan. You can blame this on me being a Capricorn at heart, though my astrological chart is complicated.
But there’s one place in the world where I suspend my disbelief and buy into everything I’m promised: Korean spas. I go crazy for Korean spas.