Turn emotion into empowerment with illustrator and writer Mari Andrew — all skill levels welcome! Mari’s illustrations resonate with everyone who sees them. He...
Maker Faire NC. I went to Maker Faire NC on June 7. It was my first Maker Faire ever and it was pretty amazing. I was rather overwhelmed by both the number of people and the amount of stuff to see, but I still managed to explore, try new things, and meet new people. At The Bored Zombie‘s booth, I made my first quilt block.
This reminded me that I really enjoy sewing. I also bought the Learn to Solder Skill Badge Kit and learned that essential tremor and soldering aren’t good company for one another. My sister, Mary Elisabeth, made me a set of chain mail earrings with help from the good folks at Split Infinity Jewelry. Fueled by our Maker Faire fervor, she and I promptly went out and bought Aranzi Aronzo’s Cuter Book and supplies for making little felt stuffies, which we then promptly did.
Maker Faire was awesome and reaffirmed my affinity for the Maker Movement. I’ll definitely go back next year, and I hope to check out some local Maker Meetups soon.
Microsoft Office Mix. Have you checked out Microsoft Mix yet? It’s a supercool extension for PowerPoint that lets you make Khan Academy-style instructional videos and share them. I learned how to use this for a project at work. Here’s an example of a Mix I made – to show you how to upload your mix. How meta!
If I were still in the classroom, especially if I were in a 1:1 school, I would definitely use this for lessons students could come back to as often as they needed for reinforcement. I would also use it as an assessment, asking students to make their own Mixes to show me what they learned.
iBooks Author. Speaking of things I would totally use if I were still in the classroom, I learned to use iBooks Author to create incredible multitouch books. I hate that these are exclusive to the iPad, of course, and I hope to one day figure out how to build such things with HTML, but it can’t be denied that this tool is easy to use but also feature-rich. I highly recommend the Lynda.com iBooks Author Essential Training course, if it’s available to you. There’s also a series of iBooks Author for Teachers courses with Mike Rankin that might suit your needs. And Lynda.com does offer institutional memberships, so you might try to convince your school or system to throw a little Professional Development money their way to help you with technology integration.
Content Strategy. At work, I’m responsible for literally thousands of pages of open educational resources. Each of these pages includes a huge amount of information. Content strategy is going to help me organize it all. I’m just dipping my toe into the waters. If you work in any sort of web publishing situation, you should check it out.
Improv. You may have noticed that I stopped writing follow up posts after week 2 of my improv class. That’s not because I didn’t learn anything, but because everything from that point forward was deeper learning about stuff I’d already mentioned. Especially listening. I swear, improv teaches you to listen so hard. Since then, I’ve performed in my class showcase and in something called The Humor Games, which was beastly. From that experience, I learned that being a really good novice doesn’t mean you’re accomplished at something. Other improv performers who have been doing this a long time have an ease on stage that I just don’t yet. I’m game for anything and I go big, which means my improv is usually fun, but some of these performers just blew me away, and competing against them felt really hard. But now I’m taking Improv 201, refining my skill, and learning even more. But mostly still learning that you should really listen, already.
Crochet and Knitting. So this is half a cop-out. I already knew how to crochet. But I’ve been taking Kim Werker‘s Crochet Basics and Beyond on Craftsy anyway, because I wanted to brush up on the finer points of crochet. Already I’ve learned how to make my stitches tidier. I also started Stefanie Japel’s Knit Lab. It’s a great class, but equally delightful to the class itself is the fact that it comes with the Knitter’s Handbook, an amazing in-depth resource with videos, images, and instructions for a variety of knitting techniques.
Thanks for reading all of that! I promise not to wait so long to update you on what I’ve learned next time.
Here’s what I learned:
Listen better. When you’re up on a stage with somebody, and you don’t have a script, you better listen carefully to what they have to say. Because if you don’t, what you say next might not make any sense or flow logically. And while that’s fun sometimes, it makes a story or scene hard to follow. I would argue that this is valuable even when you do have a script. As an actor, it can be hard to remember that the character you’re playing is saying your lines and hearing other people’s lines for the first time, ever. When actors bring the active listening technique from improv (and therapy) into their performances, I think the performances are much more effective and organic.
Be ready to let your ideas go. You might have a plan for where the scene is going, but you’re going to relinquish control of the scene regularly. So you need to know that your plan might never be executed, and be ready to work with somebody else’s plan. Again, this is valuable in daily life, too. I call myself a Type A- personality, which means I’m slightly less neurotic than somebody who’s Type A. I’m still a extensive planner. But I’m not actually in control of the universe, and my plans don’t always come to fruition, and I need to be okay with that.
Everybody hears Darth Vader differently. I’m not going to explain that one. Take from it what you will.
What did you learn this week?
Thanks to my theatre experience and a lot of time spent pretending I was on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, I didn’t come in as a total n00b; on top of that, I’ve listened to the audiobook of Tina Fey’s Bossypants at least 3 times, so I had a grasp of some basic improv vocabulary, chiefly the idea of YES AND.
But I had (and still have) so much more to learn, so my hope is that weekly I’ll do a little debrief here. These will be personal revelations more than improv tips. If you want to learn improv, you need to, you know, do it. Without further ado, here’s some stuff I learned in Improv 101, Week 1.
I can be a good listener, if I decide to be. I talk about myself, pretty much non-stop. It’s a known flaw of mine, it runs in my family, ohmygodI’mdoingitrightnow. When I watch other people do improv exercises (or anything in life at all, really), I tend to think, “What would I do there?” Knowing this about myself, I decided that when I got up for an exercise, I needed to listen to my partner carefully, rather than always having my mind racing on to the thing I was going to say next. I was pretty sure I was going to fail at this. But mostly, it worked. I only sort of skipped ahead to my next thought once really.
Relationships are funny. I didn’t really try this one in one of my own exercises, but stories are always funnier when they are about a relationship between two people with a shared history. So this is the thing I’m going to work on next time, I think – figuring out, in the first few beats, a relationship to my partner. And then being fluid with it, so if it evolves over the course of the scene into a totally different relationship, that’s totally cool.
Specific = funny. I already covered this in sketch comedy, but it’s true here, too. And it’s harder on your feet, when you don’t have time for revision, to get specific. So my hope is that I’ll learn to start specific, which will save me some time in my writing process in the future.
My life is a rich tapestry of pop-culture references. In one scene, I drew on both a B-plot from an episode of Sex and the City and a quest in South Park: The Stick of Truth that is itself a reference to Game of Thrones. I consume a lot of media, in many forms: TV shows, books, comic books, video games – and I really think that whole “If you want to be a writer, read a lot” thing comes up in improv, too. I felt like I was able to get specific quickly, to draw on stories I’d seen in other realms, without outright plagiarizing. Will Hines says you’ll learn a lot from improv because other people will mention stuff you don’t know. I look forward to my classmates letting some of their interests come through in their scenes, so I can find even more stories and facts to go check out.
And that’s just week one! Last thing: Our homework is to find a “Yes And” moment in life sometime this week and share it on the class forum, but I’m doing a little experiment – I’m going to look for a “Yes And” moment every day. And then I’m going to share it on Tumblr.
But more important than why I’m doing it is what I’ve learned. I’m not done yet, so I’m sure I’ll learn more, but here are some of the things I’ve taken away, that aren’t necessarily about the mechanics of sketch writing.
I can sit down and write if I must. I’ve always been that idiot who thinks academic writing can absolutely be forced, but creative writing can only happen when the muse strikes. All of the writing books will tell you that you just need to put your butt in a chair and write, but like many people, I always thought, Maybe that works for you, but not for me. Nope. Turns out it works for me, too. But what I’m writing at that first pass might not be great, and that’s okay, because…
Sometimes the first draft is really the outline, and that’s okay. In addition to taking this class, I’m working full-time, taking a graduate level Digital Humanities course, and just finished performing in an operetta. That means writing time must be squeezed out, and there was one day when I had about 45 minutes to get my sketch done. This meant I didn’t have time for careful planning and brainstorming. It meant the writing was the brainstorming. I weekly send my instructor a note that says, “This is a very rough draft, I’m so sorry, I’m still working out my ideas.” But of course, that’s what drafts are for. In a research paper, you might be able to create a detailed outline before you sit down to write, but you’ve done a lot of the intellectual work already. In creative writing, the writing is the intellectual work.
The best comedy comes from pain. The funniest things I’ve written have consistently been when I’ve taken on something that depresses me. A sketch about how desperate librarians are to prove their relevance – how hard they are working to demonstrate their natural awesome – while at the same time not losing track of how much they really love the work? Hilarious. A commercial parody recruiting teachers to work in North Carolina, taking every change the legislature has made to gut the career and making it sound like an enticement instead? Priceless. Sometimes I actually feel worse after writing these – but they’re still funny.
I’d rather write satire than anything else. I’m very content to view fluff, but I want my comedy to mean something. I’d rather be South Park than Family Guy. (Which is not to say Family Guy is never satirical, but I think if you run the numbers you’ll find South Park is satirical more often.)
Specific = funny. A librarian pulling her pants down to show people her hip tattoo? Funny. A librarian pulling her pants down to show people her hip tattoo of Ranganathan’s laws of library science? Funnier.
I’ve been feeling like I want to take up a new hobby – in particular, an art or craft. I’ve been trying to figure out what it is. I was thinking about origami, but I’m not settled yet. I was also thinking about a decision I’ve made recently: to give up on being an expert. If I have an honest epitaph when I die, it’ll say, “She didn’t work up to her potential.” This was the rallying cry of my teachers over and over again. Which, I have to tell you, says a lot, because in high school and grad school I was pretty stellar. So my potential must be galactic or something.
I just don’t always apply myself. Or, more often, I apply myself, really hard, and then I stop. And it doesn’t just happen educationally, but in my hobbies/personal interests, too. Craft supplies and interests accrete to create a Great Barrier Reef of Stuff-Kimberly’s-Enjoyed-but-Doesn’t-as-Much-Now-but-Might-Come-Back-to-Later.
I’ve decided to call this process of getting super into a thing and then letting it fade into the background an “affinity phase.” I made a little timeline of my life to track these, and while some have distinct periods of activity, others sort of float around and I come back to them from time to time. What qualifies something to serve as an “affinity phase” in my life? The number of books I’ve read, blogs to which I’ve subscribed, or supplies I’ve bought can be a good indicator. The number of people to whom it connects me is another one.
I was watching the Making of Featurette on Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing Blu-Ray. He was talking about whether he’d do another Shakespeare or not, and sort of dodged the question, saying that he wants to do lots of different things. He said he’ll never get very deep into one thing, so he might as well go for breadth. I pointed at the screen and flailed. Joss Whedon gets me, you guys. (In case you’re curious, the Joss Whedon affinity phase of my life extends from 2000-2003; he hangs around but fades into the background after 2003.)
So I’ve identified this phenomenon in my life, named it, and am working to embrace it. My next step is to figure out how to make it work for me. In one sense, it already has – I’m currently working in a job where I get to do a million different things, most of which draw on some core affinity that I’ve had over time (education, web design, writing, editing), and where most importantly, I am expected to and rewarded with praise when I keep learning new things. But in a more personal sense, I feel at sea. I’ve got to figure out how to live with and be happy with this very essential part of my nature even when I’m not at work.
I’m re-treading ground here that Kim Werker covered more than 5 years ago. That’s okay. We’ve all got to figure these things out in our own time.
She wasn’t taking a scientific approach to the whole scenario, though. My grades as I’d been rehearsing the play were excellent, because I’d been forced to carefully manage my time and plan for reading and studying. Now, with my evenings completely unstructured, I regularly told myself that I could study later. And later often meant half-heartedly doing the readings and cramming the night before the test.
On the other hand, when I was rehearsing multiple plays, leading the Latin club, writing a skit for the NC Junior Classical League competition, and creating fan works for Sailor Moon, I was handling it all pretty well.
High School Kimberly has some wisdom to offer to 30-something Kimberly. Since I received a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in 2011, I’ve been carefully guarding my energy, living in fear of trying to do too much for my poor self-attacking body. This month, through a confluence of small accumulating commitments, I find myself working full-time, rehearsing an operetta, taking private voice lessons, serving on the boards of two arts organizations, serving on the boards of two academic organizations, taking a graduate level English course, and taking a sketch comedy writing class. In addition, I’ve taken on the projects in the books One Year to an Organized Life and I Will Teach You to Be Rich.
And in spite of the fact that I feel overwhelmed and occasionally flake out on my responsibilities to the various boards and have a giant mound of dirty laundry at all times, it’s been a great thing for me. I haven’t been this engaged with the world and with life since my senior year of high school.
I really like when people talk about “showing up,” meaning bringing your full self into the experience you’re having – whether that’s work, learning, family time, or something else entirely. For the past 15 years I’ve barely been showing up for anything – out of fear that parts of me will be unwelcome, or that I will exhaust my inner resources, that I will be a disappointment, or that experiences will disappoint me. This month, I’ve been forced to show up. I’ve got too many things going with too little time to do any of them half-way.
I’m learning from this first month of what is bound to be an intense spring semester that not only can I handle taking on lots of things, I can thrive, and I am a better person for doing it.
I’m forever starting new blogs on niche topics. Currently I have them on the topics of craft/design, personal development, reading, and theatre. But I’ve felt a new project coming on, and Monica’s post inspired me. Her advice:
Write about what you’re learning.
I’m learning all the time. It is my favorite thing to do. So here at kimberlyhirsh.com, that’s what I’m going to do: write about what I’m learning. This may fall under any of the categories about which I read. Learning is always bringing in something new, and will always give me plenty about which to write.
So welcome. I hope you learn from my learning!