Thursday, 29 November 2012

NaNoBlogMo2 - What We Made (Blog Swap)

For today's entry we are doing something a little different. My friend Julia (with whom I ran the 5K this month) and I decided to do a blog swap today. When I stop obsessing and nitpicking over my entry you'll be able to read it at her website. I highly recommend checking out her blog and reading everything. If you are curious, you can find some of my favorite entries HERE, HERE and HERE. Or, of course, you can start by reading her wonderful entry below.

What I Made
Hello, readers of the blog of Stephanie Rice. I’m her friend and co-improviser, Julia. You can visit me regularly on my own blog, if you like me, which I am not certain you will. Because, if you enjoy the company of Stephanie Rice, you probably have a certain healthy respect for achieving things on a day-to-day basis. You, like her, are probably hooked on hobbies. You can probably sew. You can definitely cook, right? Yeah. You totally love cooking.

I am no such person. You will see. For this blog swap, Steph wrote a piece over at my blog about her addiction to finishing things. I much, much prefer beginnings.

I also realized, thinking about this swap, that I have no hobbies. It’s not that I’m swimming in free time; the fact is, I try to turn all of my interests into permanent states of being. My projects either turn into small careers, little kingdoms I like to rule—as in the case of Sea Tea Improv, which began as taking a class and I now describe as “I co-own and operate a professional improv studio”—or peter out and die in a manner I come to regret. There are things in the world I love—blue whales, letterpress cards, Roman mythology—but at present these things have not manifested themselves in casual-project form. Instead, they skip across the world independently of me, and when our paths cross I am delighted. I don’t own these things and I don’t make them. They are not my hobbies.

Sometimes I ask myself: what have I made? What do I have to show for so many years with a passport tucked into my underwear and an opinion tucked under my tongue?

So I’ll tell you what I did tonight. After a day spent attempting to organize a nationally viable writing contest, after an afternoon begrudgingly lifting weights and posting podcast episodes, I went off to the reading series I run. Syllable began because I thought, “why doesn’t Hartford have a reading series?” So I made one.

I got there ten minutes before it was supposed to begin, and one person was there. I was late because I’m always late to everything, no matter what I do. I threw some chairs around the room and I took out a piece of paper and made a list of the readers. By 7:07—start time 7:00--  all ten of our readers were present, along with three noble listeners there just to watch. We read. I placed Farenheit 451 on the music stand and did my best. Others read original work: a funny piece about contracting Hepatitis C; lists of New Years’ resolutions straight from diaries; a retelling of Adam & Eve; an essay about walking through customs. We read, we read, we read.  The theme of the night was beginnings.

When Syllable began, it had that splash of faddishness to it. We’d have seven readers and thirty-five people there just to listen. Slowly, that fell away. We are left with one little room and one little music stand and some empty chairs. At first, this was awful to me: what I made was not what I’d set out to make. It was so small! And simple! And it was always the same people, more or less—six or eight returning readers and just one or two new readers every single time!

Then I realized what we were actually making: a community. Small and simple and slow to grow.  It isn’t as I imagined, but it means something to these people, and that means something to me. It means I’m filling some kind of space instead of creating my own personal Frankenstein’s monster from my own ambitions.

What we make seems like it’s for us, but it isn’t, really.  What we make quickly changes into what we’re responsible for. And the really surprising thing, the thing that has changed my life here in Hartford, is that it takes so little effort to erect something. People assume most things are ten times more work than they are.  On some days I feel like that’s a secret only I know, and on other days I see that there are quite a few people who know that secret. At times it seems like the people who are getting things done, who are building communities and making impact, are the ones who are simply trying. Any effort will do, for a start.

Two weeks ago I had come home from a conference and had to go, that night, to a medieval-themed Gala. Being me, two hours before the gala, I had no costume at all. Despondent, I resigned myself to being the only person out of the costume at the party. My other half, Greg, and my friend Summar would not accept my despair.  “We’re making you a princess cone hat,” they said.

They pulled out a piece of posterboard and produced a silk scarf from within my apartment. They formed the cone around the scarf. They pinned it to my head.

“It’ll probably last an hour,” they said, “but it’s something.”

The damn cone looked ridiculous and felt every second as if it would tumble out into the night. I walked half a mile with that thing on my head, and pulled a change of dress over it while it was still pinned on my head. I wore it for six hours, feeling every minute as if it would collapse, but it did not. I looked like an idiot and I felt like a million bucks.

Still, it held, that little thing. That paper and silk meant more to my friends and to me than we knew when it was being made. And when its time was over—when I finally pulled it off and threw the paper into the recycling—I was amazed at how it had all held together for so much longer than I’d imagined, crooked and battered as it had become.

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