Someone told me once that the first rule of improv comedy was to never say “no.” I never confirmed this was true, partly because even if wasn’t completely true, I liked the logic.
If you’re watching Whose Line Is It and someone says, “Hey, let’s fly to Italy right now!” the only proper response is to hop on a green foam triangle that your partner hastily selected out of a box of props and fly to Italy.
The way it was explained to me, which I’ve thought about a lot despite it being probably obvious, is if someone says No, motion in the improvised plot stops and dialogue becomes explaining and negotiating and thinking out loud. When everyone agrees in advance to say Yes to everything that comes up, there’s room for things to happen. There is necessarily action, which inevitably leads to strange and awkward situations.
I’d filed this away under Obvious Life Lessons I Won’t Actually Do Anything With And Which Probably Make More Sense If They’re Applied with Judgement And Nuance Rather Than Dogmatically. It pops up anecdotally in conversation from time to time, and even in my own thoughts when I’m trying to get out of my own way to accomplish some mundane task. But otherwise it’s barely affected my thoughts or actions, any more than knowing certain foods are good for me or that sleeping less than 8 hours a night for years at a time probably has serious health implications.
I realized this morning that it’s also how dreams work, at least for me. I remembered tidbits from some rambling but pointless dream where I was just going around and doing things and it had been somehow refreshing. Even if I’d had one of those angsty dreams where I’m just waiting in lines, I realized in the dreams I not spending a lot of time pondering waiting in line or talking about maybe going to wait in line, I’m right in the middle of quietly but actively doing it and observing the results.
In waking life (I first wrote “real life” and corrected it for some reason), if someone entered a room and said, “Let’s drive to Chinatown to meet some guy you don’t know” to me and two people I didn’t know, the very next thing that happened would probably not be driving. When the same thing happens in a dream, we’re already in a car in Chinatown and looking for that guy. Never mind that the Chinatown we arrive at is unlike any I have ever seen personally, or that the people I’m with are as unknown to me as the person we’re looking for. Everyone said Yes, and now things are happening.
I suppose this explains a lot of things I do in real life; like it explains the music I’m attracted to and the books I prefer to read and the way I handle day gig work most of the time and the ways I want to spend my free time.
It also explains how I end up squandering some of my free time, mired in indecision or inaction. How often do I wake up on Saturday with aspirations of road trips and other grand undertakings, and by 3pm I haven’t started any of them because there were too many good options to choose one and there’s suddenly the relief/curse of not having enough time to start any of them for the day?
I suppose I tend to only count stuff as “going on” when I’ve decided in advance the way it’s supposed to happen. A carefully executed day trip? Things are happening. Dog barfs grass on the floor? That’s not life happening, that’s just a thing that’s interrupting the other things that are supposed to be happening.
Insert cliche John Lenon quote about life – of course dog barf is Things Happening! Just participate, he reminded himself. (Again.)