By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 23, 2009
Patricia Madson taught Improv in the Drama Department at Stanford for years. Students would kill to get into her class. My friend Victoria Labalme has told me of racing across campus more than once, frantic not to be late. Once the door closed, it stayed closed. Professionals only!
Now Patricia has written a terrific book called Improv Wisdom. I love it. It’s short and crammed with great stuff that we writers, artists and entrepreneurs can use, not just in our professional lives but in the real world too. Patricia’s first maxim is Say Yes. Her second is Don’t Prepare. (There are thirteen maxims and they’re all pithy and powerful.) But my fave is Number Three: Just Show Up.
Just show up. Move your body toward your dreams. Go to where they’re happening–the gym, the office, the yoga class. Be there physically.
I love this maxim because it’s so simple, it’s primal. When a dog wants to go outside, it stands by the door. When a cat wants to be fed, it puts its face right up in ours. What happens? We take the dog out. We feed the cat.
There’s tremendous power is putting your ass where your heart wants to be.
Just go there. Players step onto the stage because that is where things are happening. They show up. Then the magic begins.
The Muse likes it when we show up. Even if we’re terrified. Even if we’ve got nothing to say, if we have no idea what we’re doing. The goddess doesn’t mind. She sees our butt standing before the easel and she approves. Our actions have demonstrated respect for her. We have shown guts, will, determination. We are not candy-asses, we are warriors. The Muse likes that.
When Patricia Madson says “the magic begins,” what she means is that the simple act of putting our physical body in a specific physical space (with the proper intention) sets in motion a chain of events that cannot be seen or measured or quantified but that unfailingly produces immersion or “flow.” By our physical motion, we have crossed an invisible frontier or threshold. On the far side of that threshold lies magic.
We’re Airborne Rangers humping our weapons and gear aboard the chopper. We’re going to war. It doesn’t feel like it though. It feels like a drill. The bird takes off. Every one of us is thinking, “This is just practice. An exercise. The order to stand down will come. Saddam Hussein will hand over his WMD. We’ll be back on base drinking beer in an hour.”
But the formation keeps flying north. We peer below. There’s the berm that separates Kuwait from Iraq. We’ve crossed the border. Holy shit, this is real! We look around the interior of the chopper. Our buddies are armed and trained and ready; they’re real Rangers. So are we. The helicopter lowers; the steel ramp drops. “Go! Go!” We stand up and charge out into the night. Now we’re making history.
Make a list of places that are “hot spots” for you, places where important things happen. Go there. Show up.
Our writing desk. Our rehearsal hall, our studio. If we’re painters and Resistance has stopped us in our tracks, Patricia Madson’s wisdom will break the jam. Put on our shoes. Squeeze into our studio pants. Get out, catch the subway, climb the stairs. It’s so prosaic, isn’t it? But it’s working. The Muse is watching. We’re in the studio now. Lock the door, nuke the coffee, cross to the easel. That tube of paint that we put down last night. Arrrgggh, we hate it. Pick it up! We squeeze a dollop onto our board, mix it, blend it. There’s the canvas. The brush. Our fingers pick it up, smoosh its bristles into the paint, lift it toward the easel …
Now we’re making history.
[This week’s winner is Dana Detrick-Clark for her quote, ” … when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen.” Thanks, Dana. You’ll get a signed Improv Wisdom and a signed War of Art. And thanks, Patricia Ryan Madson, for writing this wonderful book.]