Living in the grey
My therapist challenged me to live in the grey as my tendency is more of a binary nature. As he said it there was something that stirred within. A small light came through an even smaller crack from inside my protective mind.
Of course, I’m aware life is not a series of binaries. Humans aren’t just statistics, numbers, and data. The irony here is how I thrive in the grey even believing I live in it. That stir within also caused me to press pause on that belief. The reality is I lived in it, in fact, I was a mere visitor.
Many find the art of improv difficult because of how grey it is. They look for how-to manuals on scenes, formats, and approaches. It’s impossible to create such a manual when so many variables are involved. Yet the grey is scary so they keep trying.
Who is on this team? How long have they been together? Where are they performing? How long is the set? Do they have strong communication skills off stage? Is anyone dealing with something deeply personal right now? What format is being put up on stage? How big is the stage? What’s tech like? Is there a coach?
Those are just a smattering of variables we handle in improv. There are so many more. You know, just like life! Committing to improv is committing to living in the grey. Even enjoying it. You cannot inspire others to find their greatness within if you are uncomfortable with the grey. I loved being in grey. It became part of who I am.
Who am I?
That is what the grey is about in this conversation with my therapist. Because who I am is complicated and improv as part of my identity was my salve, my religion, my hope all because I was able to live in the grey. Not just live there, strive there.
The theater, improv, my team, performers and students were a chosen family. The family that doesn’t come with emotional baggage. I suspect for so many this is true. We have this chosen family and it feels easier to be free and authentic to the point that you believe that is your truth no matter where you go or who you encounter.
This version of grey, this version of you, is smoke and mirrors. The smoke and mirrors of improv are the agreements to put our best foot forward every time, authentically listen to one another, support the choices each of us makes, smile and rejoice in the breakthroughs and triumphant we experience, and when we fuck it up, well, we are still supported. We have a soft place to land. We might get called out on behavior but who we are at the core doesn’t get questioned.
It’s easier to do all these things in an environment created purposely to be a container of joy, discovery, play, and most importantly safe. While it’s smoke and mirrors it feels so real you want this to be the truth. Need it. Cling to it. In many ways, it is the truth. An opportunity for just a single moment in your day where you can pretend the other things don’t exist. There’s no crushing weight of responsibility about kids, jobs, significant others, mortgages, student debt, credit card debt, and all the other tiny daggers that pierce the skin day after day piling up and waiting in the dark.
Living in the grey of improv means getting curious instead of judgmental, having courage and taking emotional risks. It feels as if it has become second nature and in fact, parts of it seep out into your real world. Thing is it's not the whole picture of your real life. It's you staring into a funhouse mirror and you just didn’t know it.
How wonderful would it be to have the grey you found in the funhouse actually live in your own home or with loved ones? I suspect it’s pretty great. That’s where the binary sets in. The black and white world it would seem I actually live. Improv allowed me to be reminded daily of the grey while also allowing me to ignore the wounds never attended too. It was a salve and when improv was ripped away the ointment of grey ran dry. The toxins of binary oozed steadily back into my life.
Toxins from experiences long before adulthood, bumps, and bruises because of adulthood, struggles I talk openly about as a parent and navigating a long-term relationship with another human being. All of it tangled and waiting. No matter how much I wanted to ignore the binary beast she found ways to infiltrate, expand, and ultimately take over.
Remember when Po finally obtained the Dragon Scroll to only learn it was empty because he had the power inside all along? I thought improv was my Dragon Scroll and yes, I just used Kung Fu Panda as an allegory to my life!
But this isn't a children’s animated movie so I don’t get to live fast forward via montages or possess the power of editing to make the time more manageable. My journey like every human being is on the slow road of life. Not always smooth, never a straight line, and messy.
That’s why grey is so important. To adapt and course-correct as necessary. Important and easy aren’t synonymous. To undo neural pathways and networks is hard even painful. To look into the eyes of people you love deeply and admit you are struggling. Staring at the kids you created and raised from across the room worried if they’ll turn out alright in spite of you. To take emotional risks. Without the grey, the options become restricted and void of hope.
The word hope lives in the grey and thus is difficult for me. My brain for so long has done nothing but want to protect me and now I’m saying thank you and it’s time to allow some more of those cracks of light to open and let the grey in the form of hope back into our world and my brain pushes back. Binary becomes loud and the images of past painful experiences flash behind my eyes like a child playing with their 3D custom viewfinder.
This is the path. The slow journey I walk. I am not expected to swap out all the reels at once to the viewfinder and instead, I slowly cover them with a filter of grey and even slower than that replace them. Look in the mirror of reality and recognize how black and white, right or wrong, this or that I’ve become and whisper it’s okay.
I can let go and live in the grey. I am the scroll.