I prepared this piece several weeks ago, mainly as a journal entry that I wasn’t sure I’d post. But hell, why not? It’s ultimately an expression of gratitude to living.
Two months? That’s all it’s been?
Hard to believe. I’ve felt everything from elation to (so mild it’s not really fair to call it) depression in my short time here; the elation from my creative comedic pursuits, the depression from my (currently) surrendered role as an educator. The latter, I’ve realized, cannot last much longer. I’m a teacher. I want to be one, and that want is so strong that it bleeds into need. The former, I’ve also realized, must endure. You might say two months is a curiously short time to “figure things out” like this, but let’s be real, I don’t pretend to have figured anything out. All I know now is this: I’m an educator, and I’m an improviser (albeit an unskilled, inexperienced one at this point), and I have to integrate both into my life. Wherever I am.
Wherever you are?
I don’t have to be in New York City to be what I am. I already am what I am. NYC is a bountiful improv community, as well as an education one, but my ambitions in both arts aren’t bound to this city. The training and experience I’d get here is top-notch, but I’ll make my way wherever I am.
So you’re just giving up on NYC already? Again, it’s only been two months. It’s okay to struggle and feel weird and uncomfortable and unmoored. Figure out ways to anchor yourself here and now. It sounds like you’re going, “well, when I have [insert ideal situation], I’ll be okay.” The truth is, you’ll still be you no matter the situation, so the situation – and anything external – isn’t going to save you.
I get that. I’m not looking to be saved. I don’t expect my situation to change me. But I do want to be in control of my situation. I was starting to lapse into a bit of despair about NYC as a trap I’d set for myself. Because I was looking at my experience here through my presumption about how others might perceive me, I was worried that leaving NYC would make me a failure somehow in their eyes. And since I made their eyes my eyes, I saw myself as a failure. In advance. It was a strange, alienating feeling.
I’ll give you the old cliche then: people only care that you’re happy. If you’re not happy here…
It’s not even that I’m not happy here. And I don’t think happiness is even the goal. What I’m lacking is purpose, community, the satisfaction of being of use and of service to others. The improv thing feels totally selfish right now, which I’m okay with. This was an intentionally self-serving move so that I might better serve others later by expanding into a fuller form of myself. I feel that I’ve done that, or rather, I’ve opened up the path to get there. But I don’t want to grow in one way and let the other parts of me deflate. I want a synthesis of my personal evolution.
Is this just a narrative you’re trying to write so you can feel some control?
Probably. But that’s not a terrible thing.
If it’s just protecting you from the unknown and uncertainty…
I quit teaching and moved here, tried stand-up, threw myself into improv…it’s not fear motivating these revelations.
Let’s not pretend like you moved here. You’re staying here.
So what if it’s just the transition to actually being an adult here that’s pushing you back to some comfort zone, e.g. teaching?
Teaching isn’t a comfort zone as much as an essential identity.
What’s the difference?
Comfort zones create stasis; an essential identity – or maybe I should say existential – is an evolving reality. I don’t care how I label it, I just know that I want to grow as a teacher and an improviser at the same time. They aren’t mutually exclusive activities, and I don’t need one or the other to be “my thing,” so I don’t feel compelled to commit to one completely at the expense of the other.
What does this have to do with you not giving NYC much of a shot?
A shot at what exactly? I’m not trying to be famous. I want to be a more complete me, and that’s not something NYC, in itself, will ever give me.
So you’re ready to leave?
I’m not committed to staying, if that answers the question. I’m not eager to leave, I don’t necessarily want to leave, but I’m not saying no to leaving if I feel it would serve me best.
Okay. So what do you miss about teaching? How recent did the urgency to get back to it (already) emerge?
The election made my heart swell. I wanted to be in a school community, serving others.
Does it have to be a “school” community, or is that just your default because it’s all you’ve ever really known?
It’s absolutely my default, but it’s not like I was ever unhappy or unfulfilled in school communities. I thrived in them. So it doesn’t seem problematic that I would turn to it as a possible anchor.
Why not turn to the improv community here? You’re learning in two theaters, you have several different class cohorts now to which you could turn…why not lean on them?
I don’t know. Although we share the values and spirit of improv, there’s a thread missing that would tie me closer to them.
What if you’re just not willing to work to create a new thread? You’re used to education as your social glue. What else might connect you deeply to your peers?
Maybe I want education to be the glue. And maybe I want improv to meet education more fully.
What if your improv peers feel similarly? You’re not reaching out.
Why are you so insistent on NYC?
I just want to make sure you’re here and now, as you said. Because again, it sounds like you’re imagining school as something more romantic and ideal than it is. You left teaching for a reason, right? This is like breaking up with someone, remembering them through a lens of purely positive nostalgia, and then desperately wanting to get back together with them simply because you’re afraid of where you’re headed, which is always uncertain, but your brain fills in the uncertainty with possible – nay, probable – loneliness.
I understand that as a conceivable psychological crutch, and if I’m doing that, so be it. I don’t regret coming here. I don’t regret not teaching for now. But I do want to get right back into education as quickly as I can.
Education is so broad, and NYC is so big. Opportunities are plenty.
Yes…and then I remember what a woman recently asked me during an interview. After explaining to her why I came here in the first place, and why I wanted to teach again already, she asked, “Do you consider yourself a failed comedian?” Without hesitation, and before I could think about it, I said, “No. I’m an enlightened improviser.” If I were to analyze that critically, I could easily call myself out for arrogance. Or delusion. Really, I just knew that. Not that I’m enlightened, but simply that improv has provided me with greater clarity about myself. Just as there are no mistakes in an improv scene, I haven’t failed in this journey. Failure would only come with inauthenticity, which could mean following a voice that no one’s given me. If I truly feel and know that I belong back in a school, and if I truly feel and know that I need to keep improvising, I’m succeeding. I’m being authentic.
So what’s next then?
I beat on, a boat against the current, floating forever free in the present.
No, like concretely.
I’m wrapping up improv classes with the Magnet theater throughout December (improv levels 1 and 2, sketch level 1), and then I’m headed to Florida for a few weeks before a 2 week trip to Ecuador.
Don’t worry. It’s just a vision quest.
What are you on a gap year? Don’t most white people do that vision quest self-discovery shit through European backpacking?
This is a year of intentional experimentation. All I knew as an adult was life as an educator, so I need to explore what’s possible outside of that potentially constraining qualifier, “as a(n) _________.” I don’t want to get stuck as any single thing, so I need to experience being more than Lou, teacher.
That said, I will be in full job search mode come February.
As a larger, more dynamic self.
Will I be included?
All of me is already welcome, essential. As Luke Cage learned, “always forward. Forward always.” We move together.