This week I’m in Maine with my family, and I took a yoga class at the local Y. I didn’t know what to expect, but I assumed it wouldn’t be a very advanced class. I was right. The teacher, a middle-aged woman with a refreshingly curvy body (refreshing because let’s face it, it can be disheartening to take classes from women who look like Cameron Diaz), led us through 30 minutes of gentle stretching, followed by about 20 minutes of sun salutations and standing poses, and then 10 minutes of relaxation. In my classes back in New York, there’s no stretching, and anything like a warm-up is done in about 120 seconds. It was so refreshing to be gentle with myself, to relax, and let my challenge be letting go of stress, versus the physical challenges of an advanced class. In other words, it felt great to be a beginner. I’ve been so inspired by the experience that I’m planning to start taking basics classes again when I get back to the city. I always loved a more gentle flow, but somehow, after all these years of practicing, I thought I belonged in intermediate level classes. I think I was wrong.

I wrote about the idea of going back to the beginning shortly after I moved to New York, when I was facing an improv scene in a new city. I talked about how humbling it was to have to take Level 1 improv classes at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) after performing in DC for almost 5 years (you have to take UCB classes before you’re eliglble to audition for the theater). I was genuinely excited at the prospect of being new again.

But I have to tell you, on the improv front, being a beginner again has sucked. I’ve felt like I’m in stasis, unable to progress with my craft. Mostly, I think it’s because I’ve had such a hard time finding people to perform with up here — so much depends on chemistry. But also, the style of improv UCB teaches just doesn’t feel inspiring to me.

Then, the other week, I took an improv workshop with Kevin Mullaney, the former artistic director of UCB who now lives (and performs) in Chicago. He was back in town for the Del Close Improv Marathon. His workshop (3 hours/day for 4 days) was like a breath of fresh air. His curriculum was very simple, and was focused around core improv skills like agreement. He gave us a lot of opportunities to flex our muscles and create scenes, and I felt this latent part of myself coming back to the surface — the part of me who’s an actress, not just a comedian. Oh, how I’d missed this style of improv, where you use emotion and character to get into a scene, instead of just ideas, ideas, ideas. It was the kind of improv I’d practiced in DC, the kind I loved. I felt like I was coming home again.

I was happy to be a beginner when I was doing something I loved. And I think that’s it: When you’re doing something you love, going back to basics means letting yourself fall in love with it all over again. That gentle yoga class reconnected me to the feeling I had when I first started practicing yoga — the pure, restorative relief. Ditto the Mullaney workshop: I was discovering the joy of improv all over again, of losing myself in a character, connecting with my scene partner and discovering our scene together. The UCB experience hasn’t clicked because I don’t love the kind of improv they do. I’ve been a true beginner there, learning a new style of play, and it hasn’t been rewarding because at the end of the day, that style of improv just doesn’t inspire me.

Not all beginnings are joyful.

I’ve been in New York for about a year and a half at this point, and I feel like there’s part of me that’s just exhausted. Spent. I wrote about the feeling here, on Tastee Pudding, the blog I started right after we moved. Looking back, I wonder why I stopped writing that blog… it was good. I subsequently started several others, before deciding to just blog here on That’s a lot of discarded beginnings. I think sometimes, the thrill of a beginning is addicting. The rush of creation. The hard part can be sticking with a thing, seeing it through.

Then, of course, sometimes you stick with a thing, and you wish you’d cut bait earlier, because it’s all wrong.

There are no right answers, really. All we can do is keep trying. Stopping, starting – holding on, letting go. Like a yoga practice, we move mindfully, we breathe, and we do it again. Like improv, we make it up as we go, we commit hard to our choices, and then we make new choices. And over time, we make a life.

Part of me wishes I’d cast my lot with a different improv theater here. It’s not too late, and I know I’ve learned a lot from UCB, even if I haven’t enjoyed it all that much. But I so miss being on stage… I’ve got a new indie team, and we’ll see how it goes. I just feel frustrated that I haven’t made more progress on this front in a year and a half. The Mullaney workshop taught me, I’ll never make progress if I’m not inspired. Follow the inspiration.

What’s something you’ve started lately? Something you’ve stopped? How do you feel about those decisions?

See also: My friend Christa writes about beginnings on her blog, Christa in New York.

The photo above is by Flickr user Doug Ellis.

4 thoughts on “Beginnings

  1. Oh Sugar, thank you SOOO much for alerting me to your post. So much here, where to start . . . First, I haven't been bloghopping in ages – nice to reconnect – and I'd plumb forgotten that you are an actor, too. Though I'm fine with a script, I absolutely ADORE improv. (Did I tell you that I'm the Managing Director for a theatre company in Georgia?) Since we moved to NC, I've just decided to embody improv as my lifestyle, as the way I approach life. We'll talk more about that later. Maybe.Anyway, isn't it interesting funny that I posted that on Facebook asking what you've learned from dropping things and picking them back up and here you are writing this? So much of our connectedness is undeniable of late. Anyway, yes, being a beginner . . . there's something so freeing about allowing myself to go back and be a beginner, to fall in love with something all over again . . . or fall in love with a different facet of that something. AND YET there's the rush of beginnings. I share that near-addiction, too. I love the organizing, the what if-ing, the excitement of starting up. Maintenance mode is not nearly as much fun for me, and it's why I stop prematurely sometimes. I tell you what, though, Sugar, earlier today I was thinking about how I long to show up for something every. single. day. I crave that kind of deep connection that can only come from showing up regularly. Daily, actually, since writing comes immediately to mind.Writing is one thing I do NOT like to start, and starting again is what I have to do every time I let myself stray. So why do I do that? I've recently been visited with the theel (thinking AND feeling) that it's self-loathing – I'm not worthy of enjoying something. I haven't earned enjoyment. That sort of nonsense, so my real question becomes: how to go from self-loathing to self-loving?Okay, more of a comment than you bargained for. Obviously this is a big wrestle for me right now. Thanks for pointing me here to your good work. XO


  2. Jeanne, I'm so glad to reconnect 🙂 I miss the Reverb project and the sense of community it provided! Looking forward to doing it again this December. I relate to so much of what you say… the addiction to beginnings, and not so much with the maintenance. Things lose their sheen after we start them, sometimes. Why is that?? I'm not a commitmentphobe… I've been with the same man, whom I love madly, for 17 years. But with some creative projects, it's like they start to feel stale only a few mos in. I think I have such an aversion to sticking with something "because you should" — after a lifetime of too many "shoulds" — that maybe sometimes I go too far the other way, as a reaction to that. Argh. It's hard to figure it all out, isn't it? It helps, though, knowing I'm not alone :)As far as avoiding what we love due to self-loathing… I know this feeling well. I usually avoid yoga instead of writing, although I definitely fell off regular blogging for a while there. Maybe the answer is to force ourselves to do what we love most — to make it a "should" — so we can't hide from it. Maybe we just have to tell ourselves, "THIS WILL MAKE ME HAPPY AND SO I WILL DO IT." No ifs, ands or buts.


  3. Yes, I think you're onto something here. Friday afternoon past (every now and then I just love sounding classicesque or something) I was admiring this woman in the grocery store checkout line, and I found myself theeling "I don't want to be skinny so men will find me attractive, I want to be skinny so I'll feel vibrant." I declare that little bitty shift made a world of difference. It's like you're saying: maybe we have to nudge ourselves – at least at first. I want, for example, to do yoga. (I'm still at the 15-minute beginner mark.) I love the way I feel afterwards, but do I show up every day? Shoot, no. Seems so incredibly silly, doesn't it? Stupid, even.As for commitment, that's not my issue either. Congratulations on your 17 years, by the way!And as for connecting, I have a little something that's hatching under the hood over here. Will hopefully go live in the next week or two, so stay tuned.All this dropping and picking up or not picking up . . . there's no pat answer or remedy or even explanation, is there? Sometimes it's freeing to let yourself be a beginner; other times it feels dreadful to keep going back to the beginning. Sometimes it's best to just walk away; other times it means the world to have picked something back up. There's no rule book for this – just our own good intuition taken on a case-by-case basis.Wanting to hear more about your improv adventures, Sugar . . .


  4. Jeannie: First, I can't wait to see what you're hatching. Second – you're right that ultimately, "There's no rule book for this – just our own good intuition taken on a case-by-case basis." It's the best we can do. Take care!


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