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Beth Adele Long Posts

Yes-And

In his commencement address at Knox College, Stephen Colbert talked about the importance of “yes-and” in comedy improv, and in life.

So, say “yes.” In fact, say “yes” as often as you can. When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, “yes-and.” In this case, “yes-and” is a verb. To “yes-and.” I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage.

“Yes-and” is my gospel this year. The good news of how to live authentically, and how to build a life that is meaningful and engaged rather than reactionary and scripted.

Now will saying “yes” get you in trouble at times? Will saying “yes” lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”

The painting featured in this post (painted by my friend Jason) is called “The Woman Inside.” She is that wild, sensuous woman who is fully formed, waiting inside, waiting to be released to the world. “Yes-and” is the key to unlock her door so she can encounter world, and the world can encounter her.

Other Animals

I’m reading Temple Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism. It’s got me thinking about all the assumptions we make about animals, about other people, about ourselves. How little we understand the incredible power and diversity of our own brains.

In both the field of animal behavior and in autism education, the number one mistake is misunderstanding the motivation of behavior.

– Temple Grandin

Walking down to the pasture next to my aunt and uncle’s house to visit the horses just underscores how little I understand other creatures — or myself. I want to rub the horse’s nose; the horse is uninterested. Why? What drives me to walk down to the pasture to connect with another species? What actually goes on inside the horse when I walk up?

And for that matter, what drives me to connect with some people, and flee others? What are the actual dynamics at work? When I even bother to think about why I react to a certain person a certain way, are the explanations I give myself accurate, or do they simply emerge from another layer of assumptions and misunderstandings?

Recently I heard someone remark, “Some people just seem to sit down and ask themselves, How can I mess up my life?” I took offense; no one does that, I thought to myself. And then I wondered, Or do they? Are there some people who actually set out deliberately on a self-destructive path? And it occurred to me that I don’t know. Maybe so.

Horses and dogs and cows and squirrels are other animals, but so are other people. We’re all other animals.

Ashtanga, Kansas

So here I am in Kansas. The town is not “Ashtanga,” it’s actually Louisburg, Kansas. Population 2,576.

However, I’ve been doing my Ashtanga yoga practice at dawn this week, in the gazebo. This morning the full moon was setting behind me and the sun was rising in front of me as I did my Sun Salutations (aka Surya Namaskar A and B, to those inclined towards Sanskrit). The soundtrack was roosters, cows, horses, and the occasional yipping and howling of coyotes. Cool, dry air and the smells of grass and sweet autumn hay.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve not sold my Jeep nor given up my cell phone. Turns out roaming charges ain’t what they used to be (in a good way), so the cell phone stays active for the time being. And the Jeep is getting good use by good friends until I decide whether to sell or drive it back up to Maryland.

In the meantime, I’m visiting my aunt and uncle and my grandfather here in Kansas. My Mom and I drove out last week: 2 days of driving beneath the gloomy blanket of clouds that Hurricane Lee was dragging behind him. The fog and low clouds were spectacular through the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Maryland. Ohio was not as awful as I make it out to be, although you can feel the ache of economic depression even from the highway as you drive through struggling towns and struggling farms. Indiana and Illinois brought 43 miles of intermittent roadwork, which slowed down the trip a little bit, and then things brightened when we got to Missouri and the skies cleared.

Now I’m settled in rural Kansas for a few more days. Grandpa is as quietly clever as he ever was, dropping wry little comments into the conversation and chuckling to himself when a stray comment amuses him. I realize, on this trip, how much of my own wisecracking ways come from my Mom’s side of the family. It’s constant comedy improv.

Amidst all the steadfast Kansas culture, it’s interesting to be doing Ashtanga yoga in the mornings. It’s not as predictable as doing yoga in an incense-filled studio, or even a gazebo on the California coast; it feels all the more invigorating for its unexpectedness.

Besides which, I need something to offset the Kansas country cooking so I can still fit into my clothes when we head back to Maryland!

What You Think You Want vs. What’s Best

I’m typing this on my mom’s iPad. I am delighted to discover that if I have an iPad, I can use it for writing, Internet, phone (via Skype), music player, camera, and eReader. I’d had this idea that in order to travel the world, I’d need to assemble a kit of electronic appliances. Nay nay. No laptop needed. I can probably get by without a cell phone too, thanks to Skype and its ilk.

One slim electronic device and one tiny Bluetooth-enabled keyboard. Back everything up online in case of theft or damage, and voila.

This reminds me why it’s good to hold lightly to lists (manifestation lists, goals, whatever). I had in mind to acquire a laptop and eReader, when an iPad would do more, cost less, and be much more portable, which is priority #1.

The Year of 33

I’m 33 years old. Supposedly the age of Jesus when he was crucified and of Alexander the Great when he died. According to Wikipedia, 33 is also the atomic weight of arsenic and the largest positive integer that cannot be expressed as a sum of different triangular numbers. I have a degree in Engineering Physics, but I have absolutely no idea what that last bit means.

What have I done with my life during this auspicious (or suspicious) year? Well, it’s certainly been a year of changes. I’m moving from the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater area up to the metro DC-Baltimore area. At least it’s still a hyphenate, right? I’m doing well with remission from cancer, hurrah hurrah, although I still gotta get de-ported (as in, having my chemo port removed; a simple process, but one that freaks me out a little bit). After writing one Really Really Bad draft of a novel last year, I’m back to working on the Big Novel that I started way back when I had the Kerouac residency in Orlando. And… well, there are still six months left till 34. Who knows what else might happen.

Here’s my question: how can I move through cancer recovery, creative achievement, a change in residence, with simplicity, clarity, and style?