Life sometimes means saying yes. It means picking up and heading toward things unknown, paths not-yet-tread softly upon by other people’s boots.
I said yes a lot in my Chicago comedy years as a performer of improvisation and a writer. When improvisation is done well, its effect lies somewhere between beautiful poetry and something surprisingly brilliant written on a bathroom stall door. You don’t have expectations because no one has ever done that exact piece and no one ever will again. The idea is to support whatever your scene partner says and add to it. It’s a way to train yourself to read people and really listen to them, not just wait for your turn to speak.
It’s a pretty pure form of creation, relegated to the present moment. Because humor always follows when people are awake and honest.
I spent five years in dark back rooms of bars, in storefront theaters or on college campuses, creating work that was not widely seen at first. Wearing wigs. Making costumes. We stayed up all night writing scripts. I called friends just to bounce an idea off them, held auditions where we gave fake pretentious directives like, “Can you do that but this time, your motivation is: you are a cheeseburger.” We reasoned that anyone who could have a sense of humor would be someone we’d like to hang out with.
Comedy helped me work through pain, old and recent. It was a filter through which I could explore my deepest self and all my pieces and find the guts to laugh at it. To not take myself seriously. Saying yes constantly to ideas, to creation, was a super fulfilling way to spend a few years of my life.
Sometimes life means saying yes to things unknown. Sailing. Love. Clowning. Jumping out of planes. Telling someone how you feel. Traveling to new places. Things that draw us in when we think, alone in a quiet room, about what we want.
Two weeks ago, my best friend invited me to her wedding in Nepal. Three days ago, I had champagne for breakfast and bought a ticket to Kathmandu. I got a crazy deal (big love to Sky Scanner!) Yesterday, I decided to sign up for a TEFL class (to teach English as a second language abroad).
In 13 weeks, I will pick up my life and move it to Asia for a while. Right now I’m thinking Thailand or Cambodia, but in a few months, who knows? I had never really thought of going to Asia until I realized it makes perfect sense. This teaching certificate gives me the ability to take care of myself and travel all at once. It is freedom and security, appeasing the head and the heart. Sometimes you have to commit yourself to an idea. And commitment isn’t as scary as I thought, now that I’ve done it.
Sometimes life is exploring love or sex or short bursts of relationships that help you understand how you want to be loved and how you would like to be treated. You will always learn from these.
Sometimes (okay, probably just once) you will spend time with a Panamanian circus performer. He will teach you to play his homemade didgeridoo in his art studio and you will speak exclusively in Spanish. He may stare so deeply into your eyes that you both space out in silence. That short time will be enough. You won’t spend the night because in your mind, the evening is already over. It’s not going to get more interesting than a part-time sailor who owns a homemade unicycle walking you home under the stars while he raps a song his dad wrote.
Sometimes, life means letting the fantasy remain a fantasy.
Sometimes life will bring you an English sailor who wears costumes and grabs your hand in a marsh while you talk about life in your respective countries. You will both rant about health care and he will apologize for being too passionate. You will laugh because there’s no such thing. By all means, be excited about life. One day, he will make you tea (not coffee, because he thinks it’s bad for you) in a mug that says I love you (which you will both realize and laugh about) and breakfast over at his boat.
You will say goodbye in a truly epic moment in the middle of the night, literally casting his lines off your boat. You will not make plans to be in touch or be friends on Facebook. And because you don’t know each other well, it will be sad for a few days, but lovely in retrospect. Short and sweet by design. Sometimes you just want someone to appreciate you and what you’re about.
Sometimes you have to own your sh*t and admit that maybe you used to see people through rose colored glasses because you are a romantic. You will stop doing that because no one belongs on a pedestal.
And sometimes life will put in your path people you really care about. People who you most feel yourself around. You remember you must let go of expectation. And you must let them go on their merry way and wish them the purest freedom and sweetest happiness, because that’s what you’d like too. The rest, you throw to the stars to figure out.
More importantly, you remember what you’ve always known: love yourself and just live your big, beautiful life. You don’t dim it down. You keep your mind and your eyes wide open to everything cool that you still have to experience and everyone amazing that you still have yet to meet. The rest is up to life.
I had a year last year. A year where I wasn’t sure if people I love were going to be okay. So I spent a lot more time than necessary worrying about things, feeling like I needed to know how much people loved me because my heart was breaking.
And I got through that year because I’ve gotten through things before and I will again. Because sometimes you have to say no, too. I get that now. To worrying. To overthinking. To trying to make things happen or offering to solve problems instead of just listening. Say no if something will bring you back to a situation you should leave.
But say yes if it’s the kind of thing that tickles that little spot in your heart or gives you that feeling of peace in your soul.
Because it’s uniquely yours, it will be a place no one has been and no one will be after. It may work out and bring you joy or it may be a choice that teaches you something huge. Or you may end up eating gas station hot dogs for the rest of your life, ruing the day you ever tried to take a risk. But I doubt it. Unless you really love those hot dogs. If that is your dream, then I say go for it.
Yesterday I signed up and paid for my classes. Three hours later, I twisted my ankle and am now wearing an air cast. My bread and butter is waiting tables, so I can’t wait to see how that goes. But it will go because that’s what it does. It doesn’t follow rules. That’s life, sometimes.
Author: Erin Johnson
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Luisa Rusche/Unsplash