Improv 101 — Being Somebody Else

Every year, when I meet the new class of high school kids I teach improv to, I always give them a lecture. Most times I’m teaching it’s a gauntlet of “what game is he teaching us this week”, but the first week is always different, because I mostly just talk. About me. You might think that’s asinine or narcissistic, and well, maybe it is, but I think my story with improv is important.

I was always the introverted kid in class. Okay, I am the introverted kid in class, but in high school it was even worse. I was so bad I would be reading fantasy novels in my theatre class any chance I could, as long as the teacher wasn’t talking. And yeah, I got my book taken away by multiple teachers over my high school career. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly fast friends with anyone I met.

But then my soon-to-be improv coach started coming into the class as a guest teacher. He’d teach imrpov games just like on Whose Line is it Anyway?, and I loved when he came because then we’d get to play improv. You’d think the story ends there right? I jump on stage, come out of my shell through improv, then I started teaching, right?

Well, no. It took a lot more work than that. I wouldn’t even go on stage to play games when he asked. I just liked that he was there because I enjoyed watching improv, not because I wanted to do it myself. Me? An actor? Yeah, okay buddy.

A few months go by, and he eventually states that he’s recruiting students for an improv team. Nothing school related, but we would be joining a non-profit that helps high school kids perform on stages (most often by singing, but well, that part of the story isn’t really important). Against my better judgment, I signed up. I could watch more improv that way, at least.

And so, Kollin the audience member was forced to become Kollin the improviser. I’m not going to pretend I was the best on the team, (in fact I would argue against it), but my best moments tended to last the longest in our minds.

After a few years of our improv team doing great and going strong, old faces leaving and new faces joining, our coach told us he was moving. We had two options: hold our own or quit while we were ahead. We made the mistake of trying to hold our own. The only people that were left were just out of high school, after all, and neither of us had the resources nor the charisma to lead a team of teenagers.

But, I did accept the mantle of improv coach. And so Kollin the improviser became Kollin the teacher. Freshly graduated, I started joining my coach as he went into the high school to teach, and when he did move, soon it was just me.

A few years of that and here we are. An introverted Kollin standing on stage talking to a bunch of high school freshmen about what improv is. This is only the first half of the lecture, but I think it implies a lot about what improv can be. Yes, I’m still the introverted guy who won’t speak to a stranger unless spoken to. But through improv I’ve gained the ability to don a mask. The mask of who Kollin would be if he was extroverted. I wear it well. It suits me, in a way, and though I can’t wear it for long, people are often surprised when I tell them I’m introverted. I’m still working on being able to pull out that mask in non-teaching environments, but it’s the only time that version of me is really comfortable.

Improv really helped me find myself. For some people, it takes them out of their shell and they blossom into an entirely new creature. Sometimes it’s just a confidence shift. I think I might of changed the least of all the people from my improv team, but the new skills of being able to pretend I’m slightly different versions of Kollin would make people think I’ve changed a lot.

Improv changes you, but it’s always positive. I’ve never seen anyone negatively impacted by the experience, and though I’ve certainly seen people so embarrassed they’ve cried, they really did learn a lot and had some profound personality growth because of it. Improv is one of those things that I think everybody should try for a while. Even if it’s just a simple college class later in life.

Me — Unlocking Your Own Secrets

I’m a very introspective person. I’m constantly thinking about things and framing my experience into sizable chunks, and a lot of my life is characterized by the need to constantly improve myself and my personality.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that we as people do things for the wrong reasons a lot, even when we ourselves don’t realize it. I’m constantly trying to better myself, but I often misdiagnose the problems in the first place simply because knowing who you are isn’t always simple.

Let’s imagine a person, we’ll call him Jack. He’s very extroverted, pretty attractive, gets along with everyone. The kind of person that goes to lots of parties and has a huge social media presence just because they’re so sociable. Jack has a problem, though. He never makes time for specific people. He’s too busy hanging out with and being everyone’s friend. He might say he’s too busy with other friends to actually spend time on any one person. His best friends are just the people that he hangs around most when he goes to these parties.

But what he doesn’t realize about himself is that he doesn’t make actual, meaningful connections with people because he’s scared. His mom left when he was a kid, and he never understood or overcame that. He doesn’t want to get close to anybody because he’s terrified that if he allows himself to be vulnerable, that person will leave him. He may not realize it, but the brain has a way of doing things even if you’re not aware of it.

I’m not going all Freud on you, I promise. But even when we try to learn why we are the way we are, we may not be able to find a solution. You have so much baggage surrounding your life that it’s hard to parse what is and isn’t relevant towards for determining the reasoning behind your behavior. It gets even harder when we rationalize actions based on false information to unconsciously hide ourselves away.

I wish I could know every objective truth behind me and my actions. It’s a lot like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle of your brain, only you don’t know what the picture is supposed to look like, you just have a pile of pieces with no edge to work with.

But when you tell a friend about your troubles, they’re not looking at the information the same way. They don’t have all the baggage that comes with your life, they’re just thinking about the information you give them. Imagine them watching you struggle to put this huge puzzle together and they say “Dude, the box is right here, why don’t you just look at it?” The answer seems so simple that it’s hard to believe, but the more you think about it, the more you realize they’re right.

Of course, this is what psychologists and therapists are for, but sometimes a good, close friend can do the same thing.

Self discovery is a quest never finished, but it’s a much longer journey when taken alone.

Me — Being Independent

I love being independent. That isn’t to imply that I am completely independent. I’m a college student still living at home, after all, but even from high school at the latest, I never liked the feeling of needing others.

I lived relatively close to my high school (within a half hour’s walking distance), so whenever anyone was late to picking me up, I’d just walk home. I have no idea why this is. I would walk home with relative certainty that somebody is coming to pick me up just because I could. I hate asking for money or asking people to drive me places, because I like to hold onto as much agency of self as I can.

Psychoanalyzing this part of myself has never come easy, but if I had to guess as to the big reason this is, it would be that I’m the youngest of six, and have never had my own private bedroom. That simple fact restricts some life styles, and the fact that my roommate is so vastly different from me as far as lifestyle and preferences certainly doesn’t help. He likes artificial light, I like natural light. I’m a morning person, he’s much more nocturnal. That sort of thing.

Everyone says that “if my life wasn’t the way it is it would be much better”, but I do think there is some of that going on here. I don’t like recording audio narrations of my stuff because either he is asleep and I don’t want to wake him up or he is awake and making noise. I would probably be doing a bit of yoga, too, because I bought a mat for one of my college classes and I’ve found it to be relaxing, but the room is small, and I would rather it be a night activity than a morning thing. So if I were to do it I would be taking up all the space in the room.

I don’t like having any factors in my life dictated by those around me. I feel that when you have to rely on others they let you down (or the mere presence of other people makes things convoluted, assuming the task is a simple one).

As I said, I don’t really know the “why” for this line of reasoning. On one hand I don’t think it would be inaccurate to claim that I dislike needing help. (Boom triple negative, try to wrap your head around that sentence. I certainly won’t.) But I think that paints a picture that misrepresents the truth. I don’t mind help if it is for the purpose of my own betterment and growth. It’s actually pretty difficult for me to articulate, though.

It’s also a double standard, because I like helping people. If you put two of me in the same situation and explicitly put one in charge, the other one would hate it.

You know what? This post doesn’t even mean anything. I hate writing about myself and then just start talking about what it feels like to be a human with emotions. I’m sure most people like to feel independent. This just ended up being another ramble-y post that doesn’t stick to one topic or even have any relevance or novelty. So, you know, quality content. Here you go.

Me — Outside Perspective

I’m a very introspective person. I used to be really into the MBTI Personality Test, and back in high school and a year or two after that I considered myself INTJ, because it fit me so well. I never learned the “functions”, because it didn’t interest me and it seemed like a chore to understand it. A good friend of mine knows a good deal more about it, though, and has since told me that I’m probably an INTP.

Now, I won’t go into a lecture about what MBTI is or what all the different functions are, because I admittedly am not that fluent in them myself, (and I also don’t believe that categorizing a thing as complex as people into a few things will ever work all the time), but I will say this. INTP’s strongest function is Introverted Thinking. Here’s a summary of what that means (taken from personalitygrowth.com)

People with Introverted Thinking want the world to make sense in a logical manner. They form an internal framework of how the world works. It is constantly being modified and improved through life experience and experiments.

Introverted Thinking’s goal is to create a web of knowledge in which everything is interrelated.

For example, someone with introverted thinking can find out how a car and all its parts work by relating it to some other system, such as a computer.

They have the ability to find commonalities in seemingly unrelated things.

Introverted Thinking is also great at troubleshooting. Someone with Ti can analyze something, figure out where the problem areas are, and fix them rather quickly.

I am always in my head thinking and adapting. I would say that for any given big event in my life, such as getting a car, completing college, moving out, etc., I devote a good amount of thought to every day. I’m constantly framing, organizing, and planning my day in both the short term and the long term. But this is actually not what I wanted to talk about in this post. This is context.

Because what has really fascinated me lately is that even with how much I as a person think about myself and try to psychoanalyze myself in a myriad of different ways, people can still see me better than I can just be watching and listening. I find that this is true for everything in life.

I can read another’s writing and point out every tiny little flaw as well as the glaring issues. I can critique character motivations and promises to the reader as well as mark grammar mistakes and missing (or extraneous) commas. But I cannot do that with my own work.

This is both interesting and depressing, because often in my writer’s group, I might come up with amazing changes to somebody’s scene. I’ll say “Instead of the characters having this conversation at home, it should be at the bar, because it will increase the tension and it will also make more sense when Character Y stumbles into them and everything falls into chaos.”

I’ll watch as the writer’s eyes light up and they say “Whoa, yeah, that’s an awesome idea! Thanks!”

The reason I find this frustrating is because I wish I could do that while reading my own work. I get bored with my writing a lot of the time, and things stop working, but I can’t read it and see what I would imagine to be glaring issues that are as easy to solve as the issues in other’s writing. It would be incredibly pompous for me to say that I want another me to read my work from the outside, but really I think that’s something we can all work on. My problem is that I’m in my head so much that I can’t get myself out of it. I find it impossible to read my own work as an editor because I always read it as the writer.

And to pull away from writing, I’ve thought “Z fact” about myself for a year or two now, but have been struggling with the why. Why do I think this way? Why am I so attached to what is logically an insignificant problem? Well, I was explaining this to that same friend the other day and he said that the answer I had been telling myself was wrong. And that the real explanation was “W fact” (I can’t use X fact, because it makes me think of X Factor).

You know, that last paragraph is awful and ambiguous, but I’m not going to delete it. I think it needs to live in shame for how awful that was. Let me try again, with examples. Let’s say there’s this huge waterslide. We’re talking 60 feet high or more. I want to be the sort of person that goes on over and over again, because it looks like it should be fun. But I can’t, because I’m not a strong swimmer, or the slide looks unsafe, or whatever.

But when I’m explaining this story, a friend might say, “Wait, you said 60 feet high? Dude, you’re afraid of heights.”

And then I’ll think, “Oh, yeah, that makes way more sense.”

It’s amazing that it really doesn’t matter how much you think about something, because sometimes all you need is for somebody to look at it from the outside.

Rambling over. See you next Monday!

Me — Constant Improvement

I try to live my life in a state of constant improvement. I didn’t like that I called myself a writer when I didn’t write, so I started a blog. I didn’t like how I dressed, so I changed it. I’ve noticed I can be a narcissistic jerk sometimes, so I stopped… Okay, I’m still working on that one.

Point is, I try to fix everything I don’t like about myself over time, tackling one thing at a time. For the new year, I wanted to read a chapter every day and fit in some meditation time, too. (I had been doing the latter for a good month or two, though.)

But as it so happens, my schedule is pretty tight. I’m 100% busy from basically Monday 8am to Wednesday 10pm. So it can be pretty tough to fit that sort of thing in. Last Wednesday, I allowed myself to skip a day of reading and meditating.

Problem is, I literally haven’t done either ever since.

I’m not that broken up about it, though. I don’t feel like mediating was really doing anything for me. That probably means I was doing something wrong (because a few times I started drifting off to sleep). It did help me learn to just stop overcoming short term anxiety, but that’s basically all I use those techniques for now.

As for reading, it’s still just really hard. I don’t know what it is, really. I’m such a slow reader, and it makes it extremely hard to want to read. And audiobooks are amazing and all, but I’m actually a visual person, so sometimes I will misunderstand or skip things entirely with audiobooks because I’ll accidentally tune out. Oh well.

Does that mean I’m doing a bad job with improving myself? I mean, maybe. But I’m also doing a bunch of stuff still, so dropping a few things doesn’t feel terrible. On one hand, writing (and narrating) a short story every week. I’m also prepping for a big project, which I’m still debating on whether or not to post on the blog (I probably will, but I make no promises).

I know that a lot of people will say “Dude, chill, you don’t have to be productive 200% of the time. It’s not good for you. Take some time to unwind once in a while.”

The problem with that is that part of me feels like I am relaxing a lot, and I just give off the vibe that I’m extremely busy. I would love to get inside the head of the average Joe for a day just for some perspective. How much is my drive to become better is unnecessary?

I’ll admit—I almost didn’t write today. I know nobody is reading this, and I don’t blame them. It’s no cool fantasy story. But I think writing even when it’s hard builds character, and the last thing I want is to get into the habit of skipping blog days just because I’m tired or have nothing to say.

Tune in Friday for content that won’t be a waste of your time!

Review — My Biggest Problem (400)

Instead of doing a conventional Review post, I thought I would make the Daily Dose’s 400th post special by talking about me and where I’m at. “Isn’t that a Me/Life post?” you ask. “And shouldn’t you talk about this next Monday where the May Update should be?” These are both fair questions, but I’ll actually be reviewing myself today. My personality. Looking at my life, and especially where I can improve. It’s good to reflect every once in a while.

First things first, I’ve gone through a lot of personal growth since I started this blog in February. And it’s all amounted to me being confident enough for me to introduce myself to people as a writer and not feel like I’m just pretending. It’s only a matter of time before I publish now, and that is really important. But I’ve talked about my growth there before.

Six years ago, I was an introverted elitist. I didn’t talk to anyone because I assumed strangers were beneath me. In fact, everyone was beneath me to a certain extent. Talking to them would just be a waste of time. But then improv came along and I came out of my shell. I’m still introverted, still a little narcissistic, (but I try to express that part in simple confidence these days). I teach high school kids. Being in public and socializing with people I don’t know well takes energy, but I can do it.

But I’ve pretty much spent my entire adult life lonely. I’ve spoken about this vaguely and briefly before, but when I’m talking to my few friends about this, I often describe it as the one source of failure and frustration in my life. Safety is a privilege I’ve always had, success is (in my eyes) inevitable, and the only thing I’m truly lacking is a feeling of attachment. If anything, I should be thankful that it’s the only real problem in my life, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s prohibiting me from being truly happy with where I am right now. It’s a bit difficult to describe, really. I’ve boiled it down to this: I want to feel like people are personally invested in my life. I know friends and family care about me, but I don’t really feel as though anybody is genuinely interested in anything I’ve done or tried, and this feeling isn’t exclusive to my writing.

Yes, you could just say I’m looking for a significant other. That’s bound to curb the loneliness away, but really, I just don’t have any close friends at all. I have friends I’ve known for a long time, and friends I know I can talk about anything with, but none I really spend quality time with to make a true bond. I don’t feel as though I would have lost anything if I packed my things and moved across the country without telling anyone. I doubt many people would even notice, to be honest.

This is the part of me that needs the most work. I’ve talked to a therapist about this, and the conclusion we’ve come to is simply to talk to strangers even when I don’t want to. In fact, I’ve gotten all sorts of advice on “how to make friends”, but knowing what to do and taking action are two different things. I’m afraid of becoming friends with somebody I don’t actually like and forming social obligations, really. I have gone out and done social activities I wouldn’t normally do in order to fix this problem, but it still feels fake.

And unfortunately, I think all of this is starting to affect my writing. The number of times I have gone to bed at a reasonable hour in the last two weeks is zero, mostly because I’ve stayed up late doing writing that should have already been done (this post included). The worst part is, even the writing I do get done is meaningless. I simply don’t have anything to say these days. I have nothing to teach with the Learning! Posts, and nothing to new to talk about in the Review posts. The only thing I can talk about is me, and all it amounts to is whatever this sounds like, which I assume is pointless whining.

So, I imagine this means I need a break. It’ll be the first one since November. Two weeks every six months isn’t bad, and it will also give me time to breathe as I focus on schoolwork as well as some (much needed) free time. My constant fear of failure is driving me to make irrational decisions, putting production and writing over personal health, and it’s time I recognize that and put a stop to it.

All that said, this is the last post for a while. Two weeks, I imagine, but it could be longer, so I make no promises. But exciting news is on the way. Until next time.

Life — Appearances

For me, one of the more frustrating things in life is that it is impossible to know what you mean to other people. You can’t know what they think of you, what they like about you, or anything related towards you. You can ask them, of course, but any info you get that relates somebody’s opinion about you to you will be at best second-hand information. You can’t get in their head and know what they think.

This is frustrating for me because I like learning things. Everything, really. I like learning what we don’t know, too. So it’s always annoying to me when I encounter something that is impossible to learn. That said, appearances are very important. Whether or not we notice it, people make judgments and actions around us based on what we look like and who we appear to be, both physically and socially.

This is one of the reasons I changed my sense of fashion. I used to wear a t-shirt and hoodie every day, and that served my purposes just find. Clothes were just something that was necessary. I barely even looked at the shirt I grabbed before putting it on in the morning.

Then, I started taking myself seriously as a writer. I didn’t like the casual shirt and hoodie combo that says “nerd” to everyone. I’m okay with people thinking of me as a nerd, sure, but I don’t want that to be anyone’s first impression of me. So I got a coat, and now I wear it with a collared shirt every day. As far as a typical “dress code” is concerned, I went from casual wear to what I would say is midway between business casual and business professional (if I wore a tie it’d be business professional).

So, I have no idea how my change in appearance has affected the people around me, both strangers and friends. I can guess that I look more professional to people, as that is the point, but on an individual level I can’t tell.

On a more social (rather than purely physical) level, I also want to present myself professionally. When I’m talking to other people, I always follow the same rule: Present yourself in a strong, positive, but not arrogant light. For example, I tell people I run a blog, that I’m a writer, and that I teach high school kids. The image these facts present to people won’t be quite accurate, because many will make assumptions that are not true. For example. when I say I teach high school kids, one may assume that I’m a literal high school teacher, which I am not. At best, I’m a “guest teacher”, but I don’t have a teaching credential or anything that would qualify me as a formal instructor. Am I lying to people? No. Am I intentionally misleading them? Sort of. I didn’t say any word that could be considered untrue, but the picture those facts paint is one of a more “professional and successful” me than the real me is. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all.

When you’re trying to get into virtually any field, presenting yourself as a better person than you really are serves multiple purposes. The first and most obvious one is that in order to get people to give you what you want, you need to convince them that you don’t need it. If quality assurance is what I’m looking for, I’m not going to buy from a little girl’s lemonade stand when I can buy it from a store. I wouldn’t want to take the chance that I might not enjoy it as much. It’s the same thing with everything. People won’t want to hire applicants that are unsure of what they’re doing: they want potential employees that are experienced and carry themselves well.

Another reason why putting on a professional persona helps is that in a way, it helps you become that person. If people treat you as a successful person, they will be more positive and encouraging, and thus your job will get easier. It’s a lot easier to play the part of a professional that knows what you’re doing when people treat you that way.

You may be reading this and think I’m trying to tell you to lie to people and tell them you’re better than you really are. Absolutely not. Lying will never get you anywhere you want to be (unless you’re really, really good).

All I’m saying is that when you are given the opportunity to talk about you (in an interview, with a friend, even non-verbally like through clothing,) don’t be upfront with your flaws. If people ask about them, that’s different. When people ask me about my writing, I tell them I’m not published. I’m not ashamed of it, but it’s not something I tell people right away, because then their view goes from “author” to “wannabe”, which is detrimental to my career. People will look at you in a different light if your shortcomings are less apparent, so make them dig for it if they have to.

You don’t have to change yourself all at once, either. Even if you just go from wearing t-shirts to button-up shirts like I did, it still has a significant impact. And even if it doesn’t stick long term, it doesn’t hurt to try.