Living in an alternate world

I am a big fan of speculative fiction — and I could easily write a long, long post about the rabbit hole of internet fascinations that appear when you google that term — but long story short, it’s because books and films and television set in another world or time give us a chance to step out of our actual lives and engage our imaginations. When we do that, we open up to possibilities in our present, actual world that we could not see before.

“God damn you all to hell!”

Or, as TV Tropes eloquently puts it:

One of the greatest strengths of Sci-Fi and Fantasy is that they can convey real-life situations in a new context by showing everyday problems, humanity’s greatest challenges, and even social commentary that’s ostensibly free of the prejudices and preconceptions that weigh them down in Real Life, giving us a more detached view of a given problem… as if we were aliens visiting Earth, or rather Earthlings visiting World of Weirdness.

In a way, it’s similar to why I got into acting when I was a kid. I was shy, but when I stepped onstage I could step into another persona (for instance: this one), and access parts of myself that had previously been unknown. That’s something any actor does: they put on a costume and do their hair and step into a heightened space, and become someone else for a while. I think this is something we could all benefit from doing.

In fact, we all do it a little bit: we get a radical haircut to jumpstart a big change in life, we apply darker, bolder makeup for going out at night, or we step into one persona for work, and then another one when we get home and change out of our work clothes.

I thought it would be fun to take this a step further, to stretch our brains and bodies and see what might be hanging around in our unconscious. So on Sunday I’m leading a workshop exploring alternate worlds and alternate lives. We’ll draw pictures of our alter egos, imagine our superhero and supervillain selves (and more importantly, their outfits), recreate/revise a seminal moment from our past, create a new world, and apply sci fi tropes like “gone horribly right” or “the [adjectival] man” to our personal lives.

the_invisible_man_by_stevedore

I am very curious to find out what happens. It raises so many questions and I can’t wait to see how we answer them on our feet: if you could invent a new world, what would it look like? What keeps us from inventing that world now? What can you learn by embodying your opposite self? What can you learn by embodying your worst or best traits, by taking them to their furthest extreme? If you changed one thing in your past, what else might change?

Come by and find out with me! Details are here.

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How to Fail, part 2

We had our workshop last Sunday and it was a great success. Meaning, we failed fantastically. Here are some of the things we did – and good news, you can try these at home.

WORST FEET FORWARD

We picked our least favorite body part, and instead of hiding it, we drew attention to it. (Interestingly, for most people the body part of choice was their belly. I know for me, it felt cathartic to stick my belly out instead of sucking it in, to take pride in its softness). Try this when you’re walking around your house by yourself – emphasize the body part you usually hide, and see how it feels to show it off.

I APOLOGIZE

We apologized to the group for everything we had done wrong this week, big or small.

I think this exercise is especially powerful for the ladies. If you’re a strong, smart woman, I bet you spend a lot of energy stopping yourself from apologizing. It’s good to stem the tide of reflexive apology, but it’s also nice to give yourself room to go the other way. Clearly we have a great need to apologize, so why not get it out of the way? Apologize for everything, even if it’s not your fault! Apologize profusely, apologize way too much, apologize from the bottom of your heart.

To do this on your own, try this: get some paper and write down everything you did wrong this week. Made the coffee too weak? Forgot to call your Mom back? Snapped at your partner? Felt like the vibe at work was weird and maybe it was because of something you did? Write it all down. You can use this format if it helps:

I apologize for _____.

I [wasn’t thinking / didn’t prepare / got angry…] and I [messed up / bungled the presentation / hurt your feelings…].

I apologize about that.  

When you’ve filled up a page, read them out loud. Add in “I am so, so, so, so sorry” or “please forgive me” when/if appropriate.   Then rip it out and throw it away. You’re done! Apology accepted.

BAD POETRY

We wrote bad poetry, which included odes to phlegm, folding chairs, red leather chaps and the winning entry:

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If you want to write bad poetry, it’s easy: pick a thing (could be something abstract like love, or mundane like a granola bar). Write ODE TO [THING] at the top of a sheet of paper. Now write the worst poem you can about that thing.

Some techniques to try: bad rhymes, going on way too long or not long enough, stating the obvious, reveling in self-indulgence, making bad jokes, using “I” as much as possible, dragging a metaphor into the ground… there are SO MANY WAYS! Start and find out what your personal worst is.

BIG PROBLEMS / STUPID SOLUTIONS

We brainstormed stupid solutions to big problems, like racism, climate change and feeding hungry kids.

IMG_20150406_142052 (1)

You can try this too, with either a big global problem or a problem in your life. Pick the problem, set the timer for 5 minutes, and come up with as many dumb solutions as you can.

Here’s an example from my life: a problem I’m experiencing lately is how to get my 19-month-old son to sleep at night. Here are some stupid solutions:

  • I could write a 5-page essay on the merits of sleep and read it aloud to my son
  • I could perform an interpretive dance every night called “Bed Time”
  • I could walk outside in the middle of the night and cry to the heavens, “WHY?!!!!”
  • When he wakes up in the middle of the night, I could just cry with him
  • I could give him a shot of whiskey [remember, these are STUPID solutions, not things I would actually do!]
  • I could play him these ‘power of positive thinking’ tapes someone gave me
  • I could find a boring financial podcast and play that on repeat
  • I could post a question about it on facebook [full disclosure, I know this is a stupid solution because I have done it]
  • I could make flyers that say HELP ME GET MY SON TO SLEEP and post them around town with my phone number

You get the idea.

FALLING

We practiced falling, and then practiced doing a big confident walk across the room with a spectacular fall in the middle.

If you want to fall right, here’s how: count to ten, and do a slow motion fall so you’re on the ground by the time you get to ten. Then count back from ten to one, and get back up on your feet in slow motion.

Do it again, but with a five-count. Now do it to a count of 3. Look at that! You’re falling!

BAD ELEVATOR SPEECH

We ended the workshop with super awkward, meandering, oddly confrontational elevator speeches.

Want to try? Imagine someone you deeply want to impress. Someone you would love to meet and get a chance to talk to – maybe it’s a leader in your field, or the boss of your boss, or the hot guy you keep seeing around town.

Now imagine that you walk into an elevator in a building, and GET OUT OF TOWN. They are standing right there. Now is your chance!

Imagine what you would like to say to them in the two minutes you have in the elevator – the words you would use, the way your body would move, how they’d look at you.

Now stand in front of a mirror, and do the opposite of that.

Say exactly what you would NOT like to say, using words that you would not like to use, doing things with your body that are embarrassing or awkward or weird, and imagine their face looking back at you in horror.

Bonus round: do your best confident walk, and say the best version of your elevator speech, but halfway through launch your spectacular fall.

There! Doesn’t it feel good to get all that out of your system?


Hey! Want to work some of these ideas out in person? I’m available to do one-on-one sessions, or you can hire me to lead a workshop for your organization!