Posts Tagged ‘impro’

The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply.
Kahlil Gibran

When I was a teenager, my deepest desire was to be Someone Special. In my journal, I’d rant and rave about how I was ordinary, average, mediocre, boring, and how I hoped something – anything – would happen so I’d be exceptional.

Today, I still feel I’m ordinary, average, mediocre and borderline boring, and I’m pretty content with that. On some level, I do realize I have skills and characteristics that are not average for my age group and social context, but I always relate them to the global context as individual traits – “it’s not like I’m the only student mom out there”.

This view of being ordinary and average sometimes cripples my blogging. I’ll come up with an idea, and then not blog about it because I’ll think it’s already painfully obvious for everyone else but me. By blogging about it as if it were a whole new concept, I’d effectively reveal my true, average, ordinary and boring self to all the world and Internet to point and laugh at.

Because, let’s face it, the one time I end up blurting out something embarrassing is when everyone decides to visit my blog and leave a *facepalm* in the comments, right?

The thing about the painfully obvious is that it’s not, well, universal. If it were, I doubt the world would have as many wars and conflicts going on as it does. Instead, it’s all in the viewpoint.

A tree standing in the middle of a field is only obvious to those standing at the edge of the field. If someone is standing in the woods and peering toward the field, they might see the tree or they might not. If someone is standing at the edge of the field with their back to the tree, they’ll most likely not see the tree. If there’s no-one to tell people to move away from the woods or turn around, the tree will remain hidden.

And this is where we get to the part of me being ordinary, average and boring. Sure, there are other student moms out there. Other nearly bilinguals. Other Shivanauts, other drama students, future teachers. It’s the combination of those that gives me a unique viewpoint into the things that I’m interested in.

It’s your unique combination of characteristics, skills and traits that gives you the viewpoint where something is painfully obvious to you but still needs voicing, just in case the rest of us are standing in the woods.

For me, this is intimately linked to the “be boring” instruction in Johstone’s theatrical improvisation. Trying to be creative and individual often means you come up with the same jokes, puns and situations countless others have already come up with.

That which is painfully obvious to you is actually the most unique and creative thing you could come up with, because no-one has your exact point of view on life. The shared aspects give us the common ground we need to understand each other, and the differences allow us to expand our individual points of view.

Help us all out of the woods and face the field, so to speak.

Thank you again for stopping by! Keep catching your own unique insightings, and if this post inspired you, I’d love it if you shared some of your thoughts!



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Authenticity is invaluable. Originality is non-existent.
Paul Arden

To honor 10/10/10, I created my five-year-plan i.e. the Time Capsule. I started writing my Time Capsule by writing my name and the date five years from now in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. I’m totally a mind map kind of person, so the format was a no-brainer. I didn’t really want to focus on practicalities at all, so I started with a basic question – what do I want to fill my days with in five years? The answer consisted of four key verbs that became the nodes of my mind map and a series of four posts.

The first node, I Teach, was the topic of yesterday’s post. The next node that blossomed on the paper was the green one.

I Create.

At the moment, the biggest creation I’m brewing is my MA thesis. Despite all the drama, trauma and self-work associated with it – or maybe because of them – I really want to do some amount of research after graduating, too. There’s a certain appeal to processing volumes upon volumes of information and data, slicing it, sieving it, and distilling it into a bottle of This Is What I Found Out.

In my thesis process, I’m knee-deep in analysis. I can’t see the bigger picture yet, but some shapes and flavors are starting to emerge. The creative process is bubbling within me and within the data, and the scent of something not-quite-finished-but-on-its-way is almost tangible. It’s frustrating, it’s hard work – it’s a prime example of the boulder (the video contains the kind of vocabulary teenagers invariably learn first in whatever foreign language they choose to take up) that has to be pushed up the hill.

But it’s fabulous. It’s a chance to actually create new ways of thinking so others don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Furthermore, it’s learning in the most profound way you could imagine. And after learning whatever there is to learn in the data, you have to write a research report to communicate your new knowledge to the scientific community. Awesome.

Creating through research is also intimately linked to teaching. First, by learning through my research I will become better at my chosen profession, assuming I keep researching the teaching situation. Second, the process of planning what to teach and how is very much a creative one. And finally, if I manage to get a position as a postgraduate student at the university, my job description will most probably include lecturing and teaching, too.

Besides research and teaching, I’d love to be able to create on the fields of music and drama. For the most part, I’m drawn to improvisation. Over the years, I’ve become more or less addicted to the carpe diem effect that comes joining an improvisation, whether dramatic or musical. There is something about a good impro that heals the soul. I wouldn’t mind performing, either, but I’d be surprised if I ended up earning my keep as a professional musician or actress. Happily surprised, mind you. 🙂

One more important channel of creativity is my writing and especially the blog. I’m so happy I’ve managed to recreate a relationship with the blog, since there was a long period (at least in Internet time) of blocks and not feeling like writing anything much at all. The blog allows me to process things out loud and come up with new ways of thinking, much like research – but without as much bibliography or analytical rigidity. 🙂 It is a space for me to spitball, as it were, about phenomena that I find fascinating.

(Some of the areas in this node will hopefully become Contribution ones. While doodling my Time Capsule, I was acutely aware of the fact that all the passion in the world won’t pay the mortgage on its own. Since making “I Earn Money” a node in itself was not an option, I drew a yellow bubble between the I Create and I Help nodes. The yellow bubble represents the money people are willing to pay in exchange for the value my contribution creates in their life.)

Why teach? Why create? There’s a strong undercurrent of wanting to help others. Quite naturally, the following node was I Help. More on that in a few days.

Thank you for tuning in! And, as always, keep catching your own insightings!



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Life is all about timing… the unreachable becomes reachable, the unavailable become available, the unattainable… attainable. Have the patience, wait it out. It’s all about timing.
Stacey Charter

For those of you wondering, I do read other things besides Havi’s blog. 🙂 The fact is, though, that her writing inspires me so often that I end up giving you links to her posts a lot more than to any other writers combined. This time, her post about plans inspired me to craft a five-year-plan of my very own. (Truth be told it wasn’t as much the actual post as the word “Time Capsule” in JoVE’s comment – which led me to find another brilliant addition to my feed – that sparked my imagination and pushed me into grabbing my pencil case and a sheet of paper and get cracking.)

I started writing my Time Capsule by writing my name and the date five years from now in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. I’m totally a mind map kind of person, so the format was a no-brainer. I didn’t really want to focus on practicalities at all, so I started with a basic question – what do I want to fill my days with in five years?

The answer consisted of four key verbs that became the nodes of my mind map. Being my life’s passions, I think each node deserves its own post. 🙂

The first node I came up with was the red one.

I teach

Sooner or later, I’ll graduate as a teacher. However, it’s not just the education that pushes me towards teaching. Rather, it’s been the drive to teach that has led me to seek out the education I’m about to finish. Since I’m pretty passionate about communication, it will probably be the core of what I teach.

As an English as a Foreign Language teacher, I want to give students the possibility to actually communicate in the foreign language from the very beginning. Language is a tool for expressing emotions and opinions, influencing others, navigating in social situations and creating a shared understanding of the world around us.

The big, painful task is to convey this fabulousness to students who might not even realize that some people actually speak English. As, you know, their mother tongue. As in, they don’t speak any other language. By the time they finish compulsory education in Finland, most students will have studied at least two languages besides their mother tongue, so learning a foreign language and its culture may turn into a chore, not a gift. My passion is to help them see it as a gift.

I also want to teach communication and social skills using my drama teacher education. Nonverbal communication, listening and awareness of status changes are among the things I want my students to learn. Drama also has a big element of self-communication – reflecting on the things you’ve done and seen is a key part of learning in drama, as well as a key skill in life.

Besides communication, I would love to teach Shiva Nata for a living. In a way, it does link to communication, though – Shiva Nata is to self-work what cable Internet is to communication. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t tried it. 🙂

Furthermore, I have a feeling that the whole “embrace the failures” mentality of Shiva Nata would be an interesting spice to the activities of any improvisational theater activity. I will hopefully have a chance to try out a session of Shiva Nata and impro later this fall, and I will report back as soon as I recover from the experience.

Why, then, do I want to teach? Teaching is inherently linked to the other nodes in my Time Capsule Mind Map – I Create, I Help, and I Love. More on those in following posts.

Thank you so much for reading, once again – keep catching your own insightings!



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Long stormy spring-time, wet contentious April, winter chilling the lap of very May; but at length the season of summer does come.
Thomas Carlyle

Summer has come, at last. So far, it’s been a few days of sunshine and heat wave followed by four days of rain. On the bright side, the plants on our yard have flourished.

Learning a new home

A week ago, we gave back the keys to our previous apartment, and officially transported the last load of boxes to our new home. To our home. We’ve made progress on several fronts, and it’s slowly starting to feel like home.


A few days ago, I noticed there’s a lilac tree outside our bedroom window.

On our yard, there’s a patch where we apparently have some kind of a lily growing. Because it hasn’t bloomed yet, we don’t know which one.

There are several items (both in and outside cardboard boxes) that still don’t have a place.

I don’t know which buses stop at the nearest bus stop, because I’ve always walked to the metro station.

Bit by bit, we’re learning the ways of our new home. As we get more and more things put where they belong, we know more and more about our home.

So far, it’s a half-filled puzzle that we need to complete. A Scrabble game midway through, and our team still has half a bag of letters to place – aiming to get the Q on a triple word score square. 🙂


We visited a friend’s family a few nights ago. I’m one of the godparents of their daughter, 5, so we spent some quality time one on one. We played hide and seek, and then we made a fairytale drawing. I took a piece of paper and a pencil, and told her we were going to create a fairytale, and I was going to draw as we made it up. “But I can’t make up a fairytale!” Don’t worry, I said, we’re going to make it up together.

I asked her what she wanted the fairytale to be about. “Could it be about a witch?” Yes, it could. Was it a good witch or an evil one? “An evil witch who flies around on a broomstick.” And I started drawing.

For the record, I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag on any artistic standards. It didn’t matter. By picture three, I didn’t even have to ask her questions or suggest plot twists anymore – she was on such a roll I hardly had time to sketch the major plot twists. 🙂

After we finished the story (one that involved a magic potion, turning people into frogs, a burning village, a gingerbread house and a girl who first shrunk the witch and then hoovered him/her with a vacuum cleaner), we had filled both sides of a letter-sized paper with drawings. She then wanted to tell the story to both of her parents separately.

Well, first she wanted them to guess what the fairytale was about, but when the witch was mistaken for a giant mosquito and the knight in shining armor for a bunny rabbit (I mentioned my drawing is liberal, didn’t I?), she decided it was better to explain the story.

It took the five-year-old about three minutes to get over the “I’m not sure I can” hurdle. Once we got in the flow, she didn’t care if she was good at telling stories or not. She was doing it.

Grades, perceptions and voodoo dolls.

For a final tidbit, I went to see my study register online for the first time in a few weeks. I had received the credits and the final grade for the study module. I got a five out of a maximum of five! Hooray! I know I worked really hard all spring, and it’s fabulous to see that all the work really paid off. More specifically, I’m glad that I was able to process the trillion things I learned into a format where the mentors could also see I’d learned something.

I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with grades in general. On the other hand, I’ve always had a high GPA as a kid and a teenager, and considered it a kind of a badge of honor. That means I’ve taken good grades somewhat for granted – until my matriculation exam (the Finnish high school finishing exam).

I’d been a good student, especially in languages, and I thought the Finnish exam would be a piece of cake. At the time, the Finnish exam was divided into two different exams on two separate days.

In the first exam, I had a splitting migraine throughout the exam. At one point I couldn’t see what I’d written, because the words were spinning on the page. In the second exam, I had stomach flu and had spent the previous night getting repeatedly sick and thus not really getting enough sleep. Suffice to say I didn’t really perform at my usual level on either occasion.

Since then, I’ve tried to view grades not as an indicator of my knowledge, but as an indicator of what I’ve been able to communicate to the examiner or teacher. The two go hand in hand, of course, but I know that the grade doesn’t necessarily reflect my knowledge or level of learning at all. It doesn’t describe me – it describes the examiner’s perception of me.

This reminds me of a chapter in The Usual Error book (read my review). If the other person has a voodoo doll that vaguely resembles me, I don’t have to react when they stick pins in it. If they talk to me like I don’t understand something, it doesn’t erase my understanding of the topic – it’s their perception that they’re talking to.

In the same way, when I get a rave review or a fabulous grade, I do get really happy, but I don’t have to cling on to it for dear life. I don’t have to fear the day when the compliments end, and I don’t have to keep reminding everyone I meet that I was indeed called this and awarded that ten years ago.

The essence of me doesn’t fluctuate depending on whether I get compliments or criticism. All the compliments and criticism are, in fact, representations of other people’s perceptions of me. And whatever they say, I’m still the one who knows what I can do, what I’ve learned, where I’ve made mistakes and what I should do differently.

And that’s pretty cool.

Have a lovely, sunny/rainy (whichever you’re needing most right now) summer weekend, and keep catching your insightings!



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Never ruin an apology with an excuse.
Kimberly Johnson

Apologies and excuses

A few days back, I and my fiancé had a conversation where I said something abrupt. He was offended, but I felt I had not been out of line, because, you know, something and something else. I forget the exact phrasing, but the bottom line was that I was making excuses. The situation started to escalate, in other words we started to dig deeper into what I said and what he said and what happened and why.

The thing that defused the situation? He asked me why I didn’t say “that sounds like…” instead of the “I thought you…”, and I answered that  I didn’t realize it was that specific thing that bothered me. I managed to dig out an “I’m sorry that I was so abrupt.” His response? “You’re forgiven.” And that was that.

When I think of a similar situation with the roles reversed – i.e. I’m the one who’s offended by my fiancé’s abrupt words – it makes perfect sense that the apology would do the trick. If I’m offended, I don’t want to hear how I’m in the wrong getting offended in the first place.

Instead, I want to hear that the other person did not want to hurt me, that they know what ticked me off, and that they feel bad about making me feel bad. A good way to accomplish that is a sincere apology.

Why was it so difficult, then, to apologise?

One, I didn’t want to admit that I had communicated in a non-constructive way. I was tired and hungry, and we were talking about something very personal where a lot was at stake. I didn’t have it in me to admit that I was wrong.

Two,  from my point of view my argumentation was logical. However, while I was concentrating on my logical argumentation, I failed to listen to my fiancé’s emotions. He was offended, and he had every right to be offended. He had to say it very explicitly before I noticed it. I was focusing on myself, not on the other person.

In other words, I was on my “me me me” -horse and forgot the central rule of impro (that also goes brilliantly with any other communication): help the other person as much as possible. Listen to her, focus on what she’s saying and how, and the rest of the communication takes care of itself. 🙂

Shiva Nata workshop!

Last week, I taught my very first ever Shiva Nata workshop. The crowd was massive – two people and myself. However, we managed to look at spirals, both horizontal and vertical, and go through the logic of level 1 sequences.

We also did a few mirror images and transquarters, so the participants would have an idea of how Shiva Nata eventually links every hand position with every other hand position.

I realized that in a thirty minute session, we would barely manage to scrape the surface, so I prepared a handout. 🙂 True teacher style there. As far as I know, that handout is currently the only existing Finnish material on Shiva Nata. If you want me to email the .jpeg to you, pop me a comment! (You probably don’t want me to publish your email, so I’ll edit it out before I approve your comment…)

The fun part about drawing up the handout was that I really had to think about what’s fundamental. What do I want to convey in the thirty minutes we have? What do I want to include so the participants don’t run screaming at the sight of Frankenstein’s Handout? What do I have to include so the participants can continue on their own after the session?

Teaching the workshop was fun! I had slight difficulties in reading the numbers from right to left. What helped, though, was that I had originally slacked off with reading the numbers out loud, so I wasn’t really used to reading them one way or the other anyway. Neil’s advice about reading the numbers helped, too.

I had to think of a beam of light going from right to left to really visualize the position of my hands and to be able to read them out, but I didn’t screw up as many times as I expected to. In the context of Shiva Nata, I should probably be disappointed with this. 🙂

I’m fairly enthusiastic about teaching another workshop. Even more so since there were several people who told me they really wanted to come to the workshop but had to attend meetings and lectures and such instead.

It’s spring in Helsinki. I wore my spring coat and summer heels today. Life could be worse, all things considered. 🙂

Thank you so much for stopping by, feel free to hang out in the comments and share your own tidbits!



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The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.

Shiva Nata is wonderful and inspiring. It’s also hugely difficult, frustrating and scary. Since I’ve had some stucknesses with my “practice” during the past few weeks, I’m going to share some of them here. My hope is that a) someone struggling with similar problems will notice they’re not alone with it, and b) I’d get some wonderful insighting about what to do.

I mean, I know what to do. Make it more difficult. Challenge yourself. Get completely lost in the pattern. Not rocket science (at least not that part).

For a hugely more in-depth Shiva Nata progress reportage, it’s worthwhile to visit James at Adventures of a Shivanaut – his vivid description of learning Shiva Nata has inspired me more times than I can remember. 🙂

Letting go of control

In Shiva Nata, the key is to push yourself to and beyond the limit where you completely mess up and make a fool of yourself. At least that’s what you need to do if you want to enjoy the fireworks of insightings flowing into your brain.

For me, the difficult part is that you need to let yourself go past the point where you know what you’re doing. The healthy, happy control freak who up until recently used to rule my life is not letting go that easily.

Whenever I don’t know what I’m doing, I freeze until I can figure out the next movement. I guess the more insighting-inspiring way of doing it would be to keep going and find yourself lost, but there is a strong resistance to that.

As I’m writing this, it reminds me of the blocks people often have with impro. When you’re in a sticky impro situation that promises conflict or other difficulties, the first instinct is to deflect the action, start talking about something else, or bring in a whole new storyline. In other words, to avoid the danger.

On one hand, it makes perfect sense, since we normally want to avoid conflict and difficulties. In impro, though, conflict and tension is what makes the drama interesting. In Shiva Nata, the difficulties are what makes the practice work.

And in both these situations, there is no actual real danger. Any danger or difficulty is imagined and perceived. You could argue that this is true in real life as well, but it is certainly the case in imagined dramatic worlds and a brain developing practice where the goal is to fail.

No real danger.

[taking a moment to reread what I wrote and realizing I might actually be making sense here.]

Thank you for stopping by – keep catching your own insightings!



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Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t NEED to follow ME, You don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for your selves! You’re ALL individuals!
The Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!
Brian: You’re all different!
The Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!
Man in crowd: I’m not…
The Crowd: Sch!

Monty Python: Life of Brian

After reading yet another brilliant post by Havi, and the wonderfully inspiring conversation in the comments, I’ve spent the past few days thinking about stereotypes and individuality.

Especially this comment, by Laurel, inspired me.

“We accept complexities within ourselves but we put other people into square little boxes and then discover we don’t belong in any box, forgetting that we’re the one who created the boxes in the first place.”

Then there was this t-shirt print I found while surfing The Onion Store.

And a day’s worth of reading The Finnish National Curriculum about how each learner is to be treated as an individual with their own personal learning history.

I couldn’t help but post about this.

Role and group identities

A fascinating course I took last fall dealt with identity theories. There are several views on what identity is and how it interacts with a whole bunch of things, but the two that intertwine with this topic are the ideas of group identities vs. role identities.

Your group identity helps you blend in. If you’re a Swedish female school teacher, you might identify as a woman among women, a Swede among Swedes, a teacher among teachers.

Group identities give us common ground with new in-group people. The more specific the group, e.g. Norwegian 20-something exchange students in Austin, Texas, the stronger the feeling of belonging.

Role identities depend on the, well, roles we play in different situations. Our Swedish female school teacher, Mona, in class is “the teacher”. At home, she might be “the mother”, “the wife”, “the friend”, et cetera.

Outside her groups, the group identity might also be reflected as a role identity. Among her male colleagues, Mona is “The Woman”. Among her friends, she’s “The Teacher”. In an international school teachers’ convention, she’s “The Swede”.

This is where we run into stereotyping. If Mona’s convention acquaintances have never met a Swedish person before, they might base all their opinions of Swedes and Sweden as a nation on this one person.

So if Mona happens to be exceptionally beautiful, or intelligent, or musically talented, or rude, or has a habit of running late, then that characteristic could get extended to the entire nation by default.


We’re all a delightful jumble of in-group associations that are reflected to others as roles. (To be clear, I’m not talking about roles as a notion of make-believe or false pretense, merely as different facets that are displayed in social situations.)

This is what makes us unique human beings – I’d be willing to bet there isn’t a single other person in the world with the same combination of identities that you have. The simple fact that we’ve been raised in our respective childhood homes gives us completely unique combinations of group identities.

The individual identities may be weak or strong, or they might only become activated in certain situations. I don’t really identify as a teacher when I’m in choir practice – the identity and its characteristics are not that relevant in the context.

This is probably where the whole outsider aspect comes to play, too. When we’re in one of our in-groups, the others seem so much more “in the group” than we do, because we know we’re only maybe 10% in-group ourselves.

What we often don’t realize is that the others are showing their 10% to us and we think it’s the whole deal.

I want to quote Laurel again, because she put it so beautifully:

“We accept complexities within ourselves but we put other people into square little boxes…”

We only see a fraction of the true identities of the people we meet. Even those closest to us have sides we’ve probably never seen. I’ve never really seen my mother at work, having a meeting with a client. If I did, I’d probably still see her as “Mom having a work-type meeting” instead of “an entrepreneur having a routine meeting“. My glasses are tinted that way.

I can try to become aware of the tint, however. If I’m looking at the world through blue glasses, it’s a lot easier to guess the true color of things if I know my glasses are blue. Similarly, I can try and figure out if I’m looking at someone through stereotype glasses, so I can make the necessary adjustments to my behavior.


In theatrical improvisation, one of the main rules is “be obvious“. The more obvious you are, the more original you seem to others, because your “obvious” is not everyone else’s “obvious”.

Related anecdote: I and my fiancé are planning a wedding for next summer. This has caused me to spend countless hours reading wedding forums, listening to wedding planning podcasts, and surfing wedding blogs. (What can I say? It’s become a hobby. :))

The interesting thing is that a lot of people participating the forum conversation are adamant about making their wedding “unique and different”. And most of them want to do that by skipping a lot of the traditional aspects of a Finnish wedding and just throwing a fabulous dinner party with music and conversation for their closest ones.

Don’t get me wrong – if that’s what floats your boat, go ahead. Make the wedding your own. But it strikes me as weird that you’d want to make your wedding unique and original by, um, doing the exact same thing as ten thousand other brides next summer? *sigh*

For the two of us, a lot of the decisions we’ve had to make about the wedding have fortunately seemed obvious – the venues, the officiant, the first dance, the menu. I’m not even stressed about the originality factor; if we make our own obvious choices, the wedding will reflect our personalities and be truly unique.

Thanks for stopping by, keep catching those insightings!



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