I took my first improv class in 1998. I was hooked. The thing that struck me most after taking those first few improv classes was why the rest of the world didn’t operate under the same principles that made improvisation beautiful. If it worked on stage with a bunch of strangers – then why not the real world?
I was fortunate enough to turn a wonderful hobby into an important part of my life, and partially a career. Almost 15 years later, with hundreds of shows and countless teaching hours under my belt, I am still struck why the rest of the world doesn’t embrace the principles of improv.
For years I wanted to write a book that would present the magic of improvisation in a way that unpacks its practicality for the rest of the world to see and learn.
Her book is Improv Wisdom. I was so impressed I had to reach out and see if she would be interested in being featured on the site. Of course, she said YES!
Travis: Patricia, “Yes” to me means purpose, and it is also the cornerstone of improvisation. In thinking of yourself, what does YES mean to you?
Patricia: For me YES is about Reality . . . YES takes me to a clear look at things as they are rather than how I want them to be or about my fantasy. The world of YES, the mind of YES is a celebration of what is actually going on. And, the discipline to use the YES muscle is always about coming back again and again to what is real. What is now. What is happening. When I say YES to my immediate reality (in a scene or in life) I accept whatever it is with an openness.
Saying YES does not mean that I necessarily like what is in front of me, but it does mean that I must enter it and accept it. I think one of the biggest lessons in improv is about acceptance. To enter this world I must accept my partner’s ideas (and build on them . . . YES-AND), I must accept my own ideas . . . using what my mind brings me without judgment or criticism, and I must accept what Reality brings me and work with it. No turning my back, no running away. YES invites me to face reality, or as I like to think of it Reality.
Travis: You seem to be so clearly living your purpose right now. When did you have a good sense you were living your calling?
Patricia: I discovered the notion of purpose beginning in 1987 when I began to study the paradigm known as “Constructive Living,” a concept coined by Dr. David K. Reynolds, a teacher of mine.
The three tenants of CL are: Accept Reality, Know your Purpose, and Do What Needs to be Done. With this philosophy one is invited to consider PURPOSE instead of the commonly asked and answered question about “What am I feeling” or “what do I feel like doing.” Feelings change like the Japanese sky . . . purpose is a much more useful and reliable guide for living. I ask and answer that question dozens of times a day. It’s my guiding star: “What’s my purpose now?” And purposes come in all sizes: small and large.
Right now my purpose is to answer these questions as faithfully and helpfully as I can. Once I’ve done this, I will turn to see what my next purpose might be. It might even be “to relax” and watch some television. I don’t know right now. I wish I could say that I am always living “on purpose” . . . while that is certainly my goal, I fail at it on a regular basis. It’s very easy to get caught up in distractions and such.
Travis: Ah yes, the distractions. I am sure even you must deal with your own challenges.
Patricia: What you won’t hear from me is the complaint: “I’m just SOOO busy.” I have been careful to arrange my life since retiring from Stanford in 2005 to stay off the BUSY, BUSY, BUSY treadmill I see around me so often. I believe I manage time realistically and use it generously. I don’t feel hurried.
But I do find myself plagued by the fear of wasting time. I do waste time but try and turn it around when I notice. Another issue is my own selfishness. I have been enjoying the divine leisure of a retirement calendar and more often than I’m pleased to admit I chose a purpose that is self-serving (watercolor painting, trolling the Internet, shopping, even cooking.) I am easily distracted.
Travis: So, you obviously have become skilled at overcoming the obstacles. What is your approach?
Patricia: I don’t always succeed. So, it’s not fair to say I’ve overcome them. I struggle with the challenge of writing a second book. And, I have all kinds of fancy excuses why I haven’t settled down into the discipline of doing this. I have TONS of new writing but it’s not organized into the second book. I must say that I’ve been so pleased with what the first book has accomplished and at the response from readers that I am reluctant to write something else. I hate wasting people’s time. In many ways I feel that Improv Wisdom includes all of the useful knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years. It’s said in a concise manner and, I hope, clearly. So, I consider it as my legacy.
Instead of writing another book I spend time everyday doing something that will forward this book in the world. It has been moving slowly and steadily by word of mouth over the years. I visit blogs and thank the bloggers almost every day. I answer every email and send handmade bookmarks to readers to thank them. So, I’m working on this question, but I have yet to solve it.
Travis: When I see someone so clearly living their YES – I want to know their discipline or routine. Do you have a routine?
Patricia: My morning routine involves making my bed the first thing I do to straighten the room for the day. I usually make a pot of tea and check my email and Facebook messages first thing. Then I go to Curves, my women’s gym to do a half hour workout and get my creaky old body working for the day. Then the day begins and I improvise!
I say YES to any promises I’ve made or commitments. These days I’m involved in a community of artists who exchange hand made postcards: the Etegami Fun Club. So, I may do a painting to send to someone. Your question brings up an important issue for me, and I need to establish a routine that regularly brings me to my writing work. Thank you for suggesting this.
Travis: My pleasure. Another one of my favorite questions is knowing where the inspired get their inspiration? Where do you go to feed your YES?
Patricia: Inspiration is everywhere I look. My husband is a selfless worker who does so much for others. He inspires me. My readers and students inspire me when they tell me that improv has made an impact on their lives. There are writers who inspire me. Steven Pressfield’s new book, TURNING PRO was inspiring recently. Nature inspires me. Your questions are inspiring. I do not lack for inspiration. And, counting the days of my life provides a kind of motivation. I will turn 70 in December of this year, so I need to get cracking on some of these purposes.
Patricia: I appreciate the chance to share these ideas with you. Thanks for the great questions.
To find out more about Patricia, and especially to purchase a copy of Improv Wisdom, click here to visit her site!
Patricia is living her YES, are you? Take the YES Test to find out.
Want to live more YES in your life? Find out more about the YES 101 program that inspired this site. You can start now!