So last night at improv class (#5 of 6 in the Foundation 2 round, but really it’s #11 in total) I played a character at a bus stop who, whenever talking to the person on his left, would place his hand on the knee of the person to his right, and vicey-versy.

I also helped to prepare a championship pony for a race, and queried my fellow stall-mucker as to what they did with all those flowers after the race was over, and we decided they must put them on horse graves.

Then David (a fellow student) & I were attached at the hip, rowing towards a large tentacled beast who was trying to murder our mothers. We rowed backwards toward it, flipped around with lightning speed, drew our lances, and severed the tentacles. We then tossed said tentacles at our mothers and demanded that they find a way to cook them.

I got lots of laughs, a few compliments, and the question “Do you study this stuff or does it just come naturally to you?” So, much to Shorty’s delight I’m sure, I am in fact tearing up Foundation 2. I love it, it loves me, and I’m desperately waiting on Foundation 3. Won’t be able to start that one until after the wedding (and then only if I won’t miss the last class for the honeymoon; otherwise it’s a January start). I’ve essentially been in classes for 3 months… last night made a total of 33 hours in this. I’ve spent another 3 hours or so since then watching live improv. Next week then would pretty much round it out to 40 hours. Best. Work-Week. Ever.

As you can tell, I really can’t say enough about how much fun I have doing this. With my blog as my witness, I WILL find a way to make this an even bigger part of my life. Maybe I can even make a living at it. (Though I’ve mentioned that as a possibility in the past, R will still have heart palpitations when she reads that.)

And YOU are coming to see me on stage. Stay tuned for details.

Am I On To Something?

To borrow lyrics from Jason “Geek in the Pink” Mraz, let me be lugubrious witchoo. (Editor’s note: lugubrious means sad, but I think Mr. AZ intended it to mean something like loquacious. In spite of his intentions, that’s how I intend that lyric to be read. Ahem.) WARNING: this is heavier than usual. Buckle up.

Sitting on the bus today, listening to my iPod. I was near the back, facing the rear of the bus, and was sitting in that pod of 8 seats that’s just before the back row. I’m one of 11 people in that area, the other 10 of which I can see directly, thus they constituted my reality during the trip to the Embarcadero. Of the other 10 people, 6 of them were also listening to iPods. Two others were both reading this week’s issue of The Economist. The remaining two? Glued to a Blackberry or some such heroin-like device of connectivity. Not a single person looking around the bus, looking outside the bus paying attention to the slice of meatspace we’re weaving through, sleeping a few more winks on a coffee-fueled Monday.

This is not new to me. In fact, I perpetrate this attitude on a regular basis. But the following interaction (which barely qualifies as such) is what set me off this morning: Dude #3 (iPodder) that sat directly across from me gets up for his stop, and Dude #2 (connected man) looks up at him as he gets up, sizes up his shirt, his pants, then his shoes, and goes directly back to the emails he’s receiving from other addicts. As I see this, I realize that Dude #3 has just judged Dude #2. At the very least, #3 has compared his own fashion sense to the soon-to-depart #2’s, and has drawn some conclusion.

When I asked myself “Why does #3 feel compelled to do that?” I realized that it was not due to some primal survival instinct. When I say ‘primal’, I’m getting at the fact that at no point did #2 do anything to threaten #3 or cause #3 to raise hackles. Yet this act of comparing/judging happens all over the place. I even realized, after observing THIS interaction, that I myself had committed the exact same type of evaluation when I got on the bus. (This is a lower-minded activity than observing the isolating activities in which my fellow busizens were engaged, yet they share an ilk.)

Then my world blew up.

I realized that, while not physically threatened by #2, #3 was in fact suffering from an insecurity about himself that caused him to evaluate #2.

Wait, before I get into this, let me just put it out there that I believe that we all suffer from insecurity. Disagree if you must, but consider it as you continue to peruse.

Where was I… ah yes. #3 insecure about #2. While my initial reaction took more of an “Americans as consumers” angle, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it goes back to something very primal indeed. #3, as most of us are, is afraid of death. Not in the sense that he feels compelled to avoid all danger (he certainly wouldn’t get on the number 1 bus were he a germaphobe or agoraphobe or a claustrophobe), but in the sense that he knows, deep down, he will someday die and his life will be summarily judged by those that knew him/loved him/hated him. Leaving the questions of afterlife aside, I consider this a universal truth: we will all die, and we will all be judged by the size, shape, color, taste, smell, depth, significance and solidity of the hole we create in the fabric of life when it happens.

Some cultures accept/deal with that better than others. My conjecture is that #3, facing that judgment, wishes it to come out as positive, as touching, as polished as possible. He is concerned that his judgment need be better than that of #2. This, for lack of a better label, is an American way of thinking. Keep up with the Joneses, bigger better faster stronger, duty honor country… whatever your banner, the vast majority of us (myself included) are nearly obsessed with having, being, providing the BEST that we can, ALL that we can. These maxims are, by definition, comparative. Hence our propensity to compare.

Before I continue, let me also put it out there that I believe in fewer universal truths than Ben Franklin. I’m the first guy to agree with someone that what I value, what I hold as RIGHT and WRONG, as TRUE and FALSE, is quite probably the exact OPPOSITE of what someone else holds; my Rights equal their Wrongs. (If Newton were more of a philosopher, or better yet if I knew a Newtonian philosopher’s work that applied Newton’s third law of motion to the karmic cosmos, I would quote that person here… alas, I am in need of education.) So even when I say something is Right for me, Wrong for me, Bad, Good, Evil, Sexy, whatever… I by no means superimpose them on you for any longer than you’re reading about them. Live and let live, no?

Now, the point (finally, eh?): we are comparing ourselves to death. Literally, figuratively, seriously. What matter be it that #3 had nicer shoes or better hair than #2? In fact, I sort of believe as I mentioned above that there really is no ‘universal’ nicer, better. #3, had he concluded that he was less than #2 in fashion sense, might have winced. Might have felt bad about himself. Might even have changed his behavior/wardrobe/significant other because of this particular instance of the evaluation ritual. And for what? Because he believes that, when he dies, I will show up to eulogize that, without question, his fashion sense was greater than that of #2? How could #3 know whether his funeral-goers will agree? What’s better fashion sense to one person is quite probably much much worse fashion sense to another. To the extent that it’s possible for those two opposite-believing individuals to be at #3’s funeral, #3 has placed a value on ‘better’ that he quite possible cannot achieve.

We (again including myself) tend to compare each other to ourselves, to one another, to some ideal or standard, and one could cite the above logic to argue that it’s a complete waste of time because you’ll never know (save for the example of being the only person doing the judging or comparing). To the extent you can be self-disciplined, self-aware, self-valued, and likely fairly less afraid of death than the rest of society, your logic would hold (at least to you) and you could be declared “right.”

So why do we do it? If it’s all useless, worthless, valueless, how did it come about to be so apparently a universal (at least American) tendency? Because, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t know if we were doing well, if we were making progress, if we were getting better, if we were successful. We wouldn’t know because we rarely place value in our own sense of worth – we find it hard to believe that whatever clothes I choose to put on (or not to put on) are the “right” clothes. It’s hard to believe that whatever career, whatever car, whatever zipcode, whatever life we select, that is the “right” one.

Though I would argue that I’m CRAZY for not knowing that, because I’ve just convinced myself that I can’t know what ANYONE ELSE THINKS IS RIGHT, therefore the only standard left to compare myself to is myself!* And if that’s all there is to compare against, they are in fact one in the same! =. = = = = =. They are EQUAL. I would never be wrong. I would never be insecure. I would not fear my own funeral, because the only opinion of my life that I can know is my own, and that opinion is defined by my life itself. They are singular.

Okay, I’m down from the soapbox. I’m not a logician. I’m not even a lawyer (a.k.a. poor man’s philosopher). Poke the holes in my theory, start a thread of invectives against this semi-Nihilist attitude, send me white powdered donuts. And know that if I were really a student of this school of thought, I won’t care, and society would call me crazy. But is my hypothesis here (or my adoption of it as a moral guiding my reality) really any crazier than #3 going through his day and changing his behavior to meet some standard he can’t possibly know? It may be slightly more socially acceptable, and certainly something that’s easier for him to justify to his funeral-goers, and if you place value in those things, #3 beats me. If you don’t, however, then maybe, just maybe, #3 and I are equally off our rockers. Except I’m right, and he’s chasing phantoms.

Don’t be surprised to read that I got this from Improv class. Because, in improv, whatever you pick up off the table is exactly what the rest of the world saw you pick up off the table; you can’t be wrong. It may not be funny, but it is powerful. Improv, on occasion, is both.

*Note: an obvious exception to this is if you aspire to be someone else. However, this is self-defeating. You will never be someone else. You are who you are, and someone else is who someone else is. You can look like them, talk like them, dress like them, go totally Tyler Durden about it… but physics dictate you can’t be the same person.