At the beginning of this year I was in Germany, France, UK, Malaysia, Newcastle and then India, all for interesting reasons, within the space of just over a month.
I spent 5 weeks in India studying alchemical Tai Chi.
A few weeks after my return, I decided to up sticks and, for a while, take a room in Berlin.
Since I’ve been in Germany I’ve
* Been involved in planning and executing a civil responsibility awareness exercise on the streets of a city
* Performed in shows in three new cities, including my first festival slot
* Helped develop a play
* Teaching kids improv as part of a school initiative, including bits in German (a language I never spoke before last summer)
* Taken four workshops with teachers from many continents
All while maintaining my work blog and doing a big piece of work to ensure I’m not just solvent, but profitable for the period. And driving to Denmark. And seeing family.
Next week I travel to Warsaw to teach more improv, then back to Germany joining an event for an incipient international network. Then on to the UK, where I’m taking classes and performing as part of the London Slapdash impro festival. The rest of the summer is undefined, but includes more festival slots, teaching on a German kids summer camp, and maybe buying a van.
I like 2013.
I have had my own bloody relationship with Nixon for many years, but I am not worried about it landing me in hell with him. I have already been there with that bastard, and I am a better person for it. Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.
Nixon laughed when I told him this. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you.”
It was Richard Nixon who got me into politics, and now that he’s gone, I feel lonely. He was a giant in his way. As long as Nixon was politically alive — and he was, all the way to the end — we could always be sure of finding the enemy on the Low Road. There was no need to look anywhere else for the evil bastard. He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death, which confuses the dogs and lures them in for the traditional ripping and tearing action. But it is usually the badger who does the ripping and tearing. It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.
That was Nixon’s style — and if you forgot, he would kill you as a lesson to the others. Badgers don’t fight fair, bubba. That’s why God made dachshunds.” —Hunter S Thompson on the passing of a political enemy - more here
Like its hero “Iron Man” takes false steps, stumbles, and even occasionally crashes, yet quickly recovers its footing.
The reason it’s so nimble is that director Jon Favreau (“Elf,” “Zathura”) and his fleet crew of actors grasp the action-fantasy premise and treat it with the looseness and sharpness of improvisational comedy. (Favreau himself has worked out with The Groundlings troupe in Los Angeles from time to time.) It’s difficult to tell how much of what they’re doing is taken directly from the script (credited to four writers, and who knows how many others labored behind the scenes), but even when they’re reciting somber dialog-bubble exposition, they treat it the way an improv actor would: smoothly feeding information into the scene, building a foundation on which everybody can work, and play.” —Roger Ebert, jamming improv into unexpected places. RIP, Rog.
“Alas,” said the mouse, “the world gets smaller every day. At first it was so wide that I ran along and was happy to see walls appearing to my right and left, but these high walls converged so quickly that I’m already in the last room, and there in the corner is the trap into which I must run.”
“But you’ve only got to run the other way,” said the cat, and ate it.” —Kafka - A Small Fable
In which Alex and I struggle with Indian culture, the cult of factuality and substandard audio equipment. Forgive the occasional garbling and enjoy our Indian intellectual adventure! Oh, and also I rant about The Hobbit for about 20 minutes…
In which me colleague and I talk masculinity, violence, initiation, schooling and sushi.
(& Alex’s posts on it)
Quote entirely lifted from Matt Jones’ amazing blog Magical Nihilism
I’m super excited that Emily Care Boss and Matthijs Holter have released their roleplay framework, Play With Intent, as an open document. It’s a customisable methodology that helps us make up a story as we go along. It can be used in a way similar to ‘tabletop’ play - sitting around a table and describing events - but encompasses acting out events live, using mime objects and environments, cinematic techniques (‘cut to…’) and so on. For improvisers it will feel familiar in some ways to what we normally do, but it can go to very different places and is forgiving of lack of improvisation training.
I played with it twice at the Solmukohta convention in Finland earlier this year, and it was a blast - particularly the first session, pulling off an involving melodrama between a group of people who hadn’t played before, going to emotional places and forming a truly unexpected but coherent narrative, played live before each other. Much credit must go to the other players, of course, but that was the point where I became satisfied that the framework is much more than a set of training wheels for improvisation.
After playing with it I became fascinated with the customisability, and wrote some notes on comedic techniques that Emily and Matthijs have built into the framework. Fun! They are mostly taken from improvisation and clown training, and simplified as much as we were able. But comedy is only a small part of what we’re capable of, so have a look, and be ambitious with your imagination.
Play With Intent is freely available here.
Friends have asked me a question about attention span in different cultures, and what psychology has to say on that. Rather than the quick anwer - I’m not sure - here’s a bit more.
Attention span is a tricky thing to talk about because there isn’t a clear psychological category for it. Instead, there are a few mental capacities that to my mind map onto it:
- Working memory. This is, more or less, the amount of information you can hold and act on in your mind at a given time. Hearing and then dialling a phone number, or performing a task where words are flashed up and every so often you are asked to repeat the one you saw two places before. This is what psychologists are likely to refer to when they refer to a person’s ‘span’, but doesn’t feel like it covers the folk sense of the term. However, it is implicated in another function:
- Resisting attentional capture: the degree to which you can control where your focus sits at any given time. Narrowly defined, this looks at situations like can you keep focus on your reading task as colours periodically flash to the sides of the text, or, more ecologically, can you focus on your revision when cars are honking outside. Working memory and other executive aspects of the brain (involved in planning and coordination) are important here. Loosely, we could see this as distraction. But this doesn’t quite do it, either, because ‘attention span’ seems to involve
- Avoiding boredom and drifting entirely away from an area of intended focus. Rapid disengagement with activities, which is seen in certain groups such as people with ADHD. Clearly some of this is attributable to attentional capture, as constant disruption of an activity makes it difficult to enter a flow state with it and gather that feedback. But it may not be the whole story. Unfortunately I don’t know this area at all well and don’t even know what the cognitive function would be that points to this.
As to what is known about how culture interacts with these capabilities, I don’t know. I do know that it is very hard to measure things, due to non-culture fairness of many tests available in the west, and due to the very nature of test-taking privileging abstraction over other forms of thinking. Some progress may be being made, see Cross-cultural cognition: Developing tests for developing countries
My total guesses would be that - to invent a generic premodern population for convenience - these people would be decent at avoiding attentional capture under normal conditions (environmental sounds not relevant to their aim, eg hunting a specific species), that fundamental working memory is likely fairly invariant as it probably underpins components of language processing, but that some of its manifestations (dealing with lists) would be impaired, and that disengagement from task would probably be typical for familiar and pertinent tasks. But these are just guesses, really. Any thoughts appreciated from other folk.
I pack for a long visit to America to explore improvisation, my chosen field of art.
A book picked from shelf, packed beside two blank notebooks. Hesse’s Glass Bead Game. A 30th birthday present never read, owned for four years next week.
I crack it open in the US. It describes a future society that has developed a system of organising thought, in which seemingly unrelated domains of academic thought are explored through dialogue between multiple players, each idea extended independently before interconnections are discovered and the theses join together.
I watch - first in New York, then Chicago - show after show based around the US long-form structure The Harold, in which distinct situations or themes are explored through multiple actors performing, each situation extended independently before interconnections are discovered and themes connect together.
Weeks pass. Learning continues, book opened in spare moments… it won’t speak to me. I am aware how intensely personal the work is becoming, within a group hot-boxed for weeks on end, training together and socialising together. Right now, the work doesn’t feel like an exploration of academic concepts. It feels like pouring ourselves out for examination. What’s more, I’m aware of how much we have become interconnected, problems, anxieties, tensions, and desires - and how the work that is happening on stage is pulling out and depicting these, naming and so transforming these often stifled energies.
I pick up a book I bought on a whim days before, Nozick’s Examined Life. In the introduction, he speaks simply about why we care about a portrait, made painstakingly from single brush-strokes over time, an examination of an individual that compresses emotion, thought patterns and cadence into visual shape. And the self-portrait is more significant still:
“since we can see the components of our life, including its activities and strivings, as fitting together in a pattern, when an additional and distinctive component such as reflection is added - like adding new scientific data to be fit to a curve - a new overall pattern then results…Therefore, examination and reflection are not just about the other components of a life; they are added within a life, alongside the rest, and by their presence call for a new overall pattern that alters how each part of life is understood.”
Internet vomits so much synchronicity; it loses its bite. Despite this, somehow, the printed word that knows me awakens wonder.