Silverstein & Shakespeare Know What’s Up

Credit to Shel Silverstein and his marvelous drawings.

Credit to Shel Silverstein and his marvelous drawings.

It’s the eve of the eve of the eve of the day I move to China.

Yep. Move. To. China.

I have faith that it will be a phenomenal experience that I won’t regret. Eventually.

But right now it feels stressful and frustrating. In choosing to move, I need to sell my car—and I’m upside down in my loan. Being a fantastic procrastinator (the name of the book—The Fantastic Procrastinator—I should write…some day…), I decided to wait as long as possible to sell it and now cannot take out a personal loan to cover the costs but rather have to put the balance on my credit card. I should note that I have a huge amount of anxiety around my credit card because I live in fear of being in debt and never getting out. So I play the Debt Dance of putting stuff on the card/paying it off over and over while never really accruing any savings or assets. When I get money, I mostly spend it—on what I consider are valuable experiences like travel,  eating in delicious restaurants with friends, and a Netflix account. But ultimately I end up with a spending hangover, wondering why I don’t learn my damn lesson and pace myself.

I’m not writing this to complain about my financial woes though, but rather my perspective on this experience. I’m sure some people feel much more overwhelmed by even bigger issues than I, and to that I say, “read on.”

Inspirational Ink

Three years ago I got my first tattoo and it took me years to even decide to get it. I was hesitant even after I’d decided to get it. But my second two seemed meant to be inked to my skin, as though they should have been there from birth, and are meant to serve as reminders of how I want to live my life.

The first, “Yes, &”, is an improv rule for those not in the know. It requires your scene partner(s) to accept whatever you offer them and build on it—add more details, make it more clear and specific, etc. It is admittedly one of the more difficult rules to follow because, as it turns out, our natural tendency (and by “our” I mean “my and some of the people I’ve taken classes with”) is to argue, pass the buck, deny, negate, and otherwise be negative. Especially when we don’t like what’s offered to us. For example:

Oh no, I wanted us to be on a spaceship and she just said at grandma’s house! My plan is ruined! Now I will look dumb and my genius idea for a scene just went down the tubes! Stupid me….stupid her…stupid life…I should just quit improv and go live in a box.

Maybe not always that melodramatic, but I think most improvisers have been in a similar thought pattern at some point. When things don’t go the way you wanted or expected, you can get thrown and then freeze on stage, unsure of what to do next, unwilling to trust your instincts because you haven’t had the time to carefully plan a hilarious scene. As any improviser will tell you, however, the most memorable, genius, hilarious scenes don’t come from being carefully planned out, they come from performers taking whatever hand they’ve been dealt—crappy or not—and making it gold. The best improvisers are people who do this, who can take even a terrible offer from a scene partner and make them look like a genius.

The second tattoo is a portion of the following poem by Shel Silverstein:

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
      Listen to the DON’TS
      Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
      Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
      Anything can happen, child,

A beautiful, subtle way to mention how negativity-filled the world often is—and how is easy it is to simply listen but ignore that negative smog. I still marvel at Shel Silverstein’s simplistic brilliance every time I pick up one of his books (if you’ve never read one, you’re missing out).

Shakespeare Knows, Man, He Knows…

I’ll add one more of my favorite quotes, because I’m in an inspirational quote kind of mood today. One of my homeroom teachers in high school wrote a daily quote on the board and I’ve always remembered one by William Shakespeare that she posted. I think most of us agree that Willy Shakes is a pretty smart guy and in Hamlet he wrote, “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” My little high school brain was so struck by this idea that I immediately wrote it down—and then had to sort it out in my head for the next 10 years. Could we truly choose to not think something as bad, and therefore make it not bad? Does our perspective on a situation control the situation itself? I’ve had so many people remark about my moving to China, “Oh, I could never do that!”. To which, I’d argue, maybe you WOULD never do it but you certainly COULD. Just because your brain thinks it doesn’t make it fact (as any opponents of Donald Trump probably will attest).

These habits—of accepting what comes to you and believing in the best despite negative surroundings—have always been the underlying qualities I’ve seen in truly happy, successful people. And, as Willy Shakes ( can’t stop, won’t stop) told us via Hamlet, we can train our brains to think that way. When you come across an obstacle you can do the “freeze and freak out” OR, you can take a few huge breaths, curse a couple of times (if that’s what it takes) and then make a plan to move forward. I’m not arguing that we ignore/deny our emotions—that doesn’t fit with accepting the situation in front of you. You feel however you need to feel. What I’m advocating is that it doesn’t need to suck you down into a vortex of doom in which you resign yourself to life always being terrible. And I say all of this as much to myself as anyone reading it.

My initial reaction to my car situation was “Stupid me….stupid car…stupid life…STUPID!!! I should just quit everything and go live in a box.” But again, too melodramatic, and certainly doesn’t give me any credit for being a capable human adult with a pretty good brain in my head. So I chose instead to look at that ink embedded into my skin and think “Man, this really [FREAKIN’] sucks. But I can’t do much else about it. I’m going to prioritize being on top of my finances and I’ll get myself out of this over time. At least I’ll get all those credit card reward points”.

So, while I don’t necessarily think we can magically remove all the bad from the world purely by thinking, we CAN certainly choose our response—and I say we “yes, and…” the sh*t out of it.


P.S. I’ll be updating this blog as much as I can about my experiences while abroad and whatever life lessons I learn along the way. Stay tuned!!!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Annie
    Aug 20, 2015 @ 18:13:53

    Another great blog post, Kate! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said…I love the “vortex of doom” analogy. We don’t have control over a whole heck of a lot in this life but we do have control over our attitude and interpretations. Fingers crossed that China is going to be every bit you hoped it would be and more.


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