Improv and I have gone another round.
It and I never seem to encounter each other without some sort of profound learning moment on my part….By profound learning moment, I mean snot and tears on my part. Oh joy.
Improv itself seems relatively untouched by my unravelling; which, frankly, pisses me off beyond measure. It remains relaxed and absolute, generous and expansive in its purpose and process. I on the other hand, wriggle uncomfortably, muttering at Improv suspiciously, giving it the side-eye. Grudgingly knowing that there is something in it, but wishing it were altogether less tricky to be around…mostly wishing it would sod off because I tend to end up visible when I mess with it. I’m awkward around Improv, shy, clumsy, defended…yet even though it’s not an equitable or easy relationship, I can’t quite bring myself to leave it alone….
I see others dance with Improv in very different ways to my ludding side steps. It can bring them inspiration, unlock creativity, confidence, locate words or actions they forgot they had. I love watching those who are an open channel, willing and able to jump in with an idea, an experiment, I love their lightness, their playfulness, their deftness in the moment. I’m all admiration and envy…
Alex and Karen are leading a Jazz Improv session on Zoom with the Gameshift Partners. Over lockdown we’ve gathered every couple of weeks for Extended Hangouts, where we bring our stuff for each other to try. From zen doodling, to walking, to dreaming and meditation, to discussions on inclusion, climate, purpose in organisations, deep systemic change… we bring and cover a world of topics. It has been a profound thread of learning, connection and community for me for months and I love it and being part of it.
You would think Jazz Improv on Zoom would be impossible. but Alex runs the session at pace, he on piano, Karen on Sax, taking us through experiments that show how equipped we are to create in the moment, how errors and omissions create moments of possibility, how connected we can be – even at a physical or digital distance.
These are the conversations for the here and now, right? The need to be able to respond without knowing what will happen, to take chances. To trust ourselves, to back those around us that are trying. Never has this stuff been more necessary or poignant. Part of me thinks about all my HR/ OD contacts who are heads-down, noses-pressed to the organisational sandpaper, giving themselves a hard time about having The Answer or An Answer and I wish we could find ways to give them time for some of this stuff, these conversations….
And so we work through the experiments and as ever, Improv invites me to dance and I stumble, clumsily and grumpily with it, my reluctance to embrace it the very mirror of a hundred colleagues I know…. And Alex asks for a volunteer for the last experiment and I am resolute that it won’t be bloody me… and at the exact same moment a part of me says: this the practice, step forward, challenge yourself… so I thank my resolution for keeping me safe and I grit my teeth and say Yes.
Alex says he and Karen are going to paint a musical portrait of me. My response is What In The Name Of All That Is Holy Have I Agreed To Here.
I am fear.
I am NO.
I am regret….
….I am curious.
All I have to do is sit on screen and they will play. It’s simple.
It starts with a soft sax and gentle piano chords and I am holding my body tight, feeling spotlit and stupid. I can see the other Partners on screen. I don’t know anyone well enough for this. I don’t know myself well enough for this….At first I can’t hear the music over my own internal guff, my relentless, defensive chattering…but after some moments, it reaches into me and I smile.. the musical response to the smile is bubbling little piano riffs and I start to giggle, embarrassed but I can hear something in this….and it softens again and I think I sound softer, sadder than I know myself to be… and then I know myself to be sadder and softer than perhaps I admit… and the tears slowly rise and it’s OK and awful all at once…..I have my left hand pressing onto my right shoulder, hiding my heart and I cannot move….
In the aftermath, it takes me a while to speak. Others speak and I’m grateful for the space to find my breath and my words…I’m liquid inside – my solid resolute state melted and swilling about. I will reform differently, less rigid for the rest of the day, maybe even the coming days, maybe even always…..It was a gift. An exquisite gift. One I’d recommend to anyone and everyone – sod Christmas socks or Tik Tok… buy your loved one a musical portrait….let them be bathed in notes and kindness…nothing will ever quite be the same again.
Later, Chris sends through some photos he took and a poem…I find the photos almost unbearable to look at -I’m soft and I don’t recognise myself fully….
Oh to be visible when you are so deft at hiding. What a thing.
The session was run by Alex Steele as part of the gamehift partner network. I thoroughly recommend you check them all out