Creative Civility

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
by LuAnn Schindler

Last summer, I had the pleasure of serving as the Youth Director for the Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk, Nebraska. Youth from across the country attended the workshops. The Brave New Workshop, an improv theatre group from Minneapolis, taught sections covering improv and sketch/comedy writing.

As a parting gift, the group presented me with a token of appreciation - a book titled Return to Civility. It's written by John Sweeney and The Brave New Workshop. I flipped through the pages and when I returned home from the week-long camp, I placed it on my bookshelf, where it's sat ever since, pages unopened and appreciated.

Earlier this month, my husband and I were in San Diego for an anniversary present / vacation before farm life consumes all his summer hours. We attended a comedy event and, although I would like to say I actually heard some great comics, I can't. It isn't because they were bad; that's definitely NOT the case. They were hilarious! I couldn't hear everything they said because three people sitting several rows behind us were talking throughout the performance and shouting phrases to the comedians, which, due to explicit content, I am unable to type in this blog. OK, I refuse to type it because it was downright rude!

When we returned home, I happened to pick up the book and started reading. The project came about because of a similar situation experienced by John and his wife.

It made me start to think about creativity and civility. How often do we fall into a rut and feel like we aren't accomplishing anything? How often do we post a comment on a social networking site that sounds like we're whining, when instead, we should be celebrating our successes and even our failures? How many times do we read a contest critique or a rejection note and complain about the honest evaluation we've received?

As creators, as writers, we need to embrace our civility. The first lesson in the book says:
Be the "yes person" for those around you.
When your friends, family or coworkers have an idea, need to talk, want feedback,
or just need a listener, be the "yes person" --the person who listens with an open mind and always says "yes, I can see your side of it"
or "yes, I can help you with that"
or "yes, I can see how that might work"
or "yes, I am listening."
I agree, but I also think we need to be the "yes person" for ourselves. Sometimes we need to grant ourselves permission, listen to our inner critique, and then serve as a strong listener for our fellow writers.
Being an artist - spoken-word or written-word - is a tough business. Practicing civility will make our job easier.


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