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What Now?





Darrel D. Miller


Shakespir EDITION


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Darrel D. Miller on Shakespir


WHAT NOW? How I am Improv-ing my Life


Copyright © 2016 by Darrel D. Miller





I wrote this for myself and want to share it with you. It is my opinion that most authors are writing for themselves anyway. I certainly am. So you will find throughout this short pamphlet that I refer to myself (because it is a Myself Help Book).


A long time ago, I think I was reading Your Best Life Now, and I realized that ”Why Me?” wasn’t a very helpful question. It never got answered. Not until long after the problem was over. Even then it probably is just something I told myself in hindsight.


When I started studying rhetoric, thanks to Word Hero and Thank You for Arguing, I understood better why, “Why, me?”, isn’t helpful: It keeps you in the past. The only thing I can do in the past is blame, myself or others. Rhetoric seemed to me to be all about the future, where any and all of my choices reside.


That is when I decided that “What now?” was a better question (and the title of this book). All of my changes will occur in the future, as I make choices in the present. It made me feel, for once, like I actually had a lot of control of my life. A lot actually.


For a long time I thought Life, or God, or the Cosmos, was out to get me. Maybe the Devil is, but the others are not. It has taken me a long time, and a couple of therapy sessions, to learn. Some of that education has come from Improv.


I have been interesting in Improv for a long time. The idea of just making something up on the spot has captured me since I stood on a high school stage and improvised a line about a razor (we were doing a Star Trek parody). Truth be told I was improving, though unaware of it, long before that: as an amatuer magician and playwright.


But a more formal education had to wait till a couple of years ago. I picked up Bossypants, and read with delight the two or three pages dedicated to the art of improv. It was there that I picked up the idea that Improv could be the basis for living life (because the author said so).


The clincher came when I finally got some therapy (if you need it get it, and YOU need it).


It was there that I finally decided that life is Improv, and to apply Improv techniques to life. You’ve probably heard them before: say “Yes, and”. And if you read that two or three pages in Bossypants, you’ll get a good start.


Nonetheless, I thought about Improv, and decided that there were more ingredients than just “Yes, and”, that a person need some background so to speak before “Yes, and” could work as well as it does on stage.


So, if you don’t want to read the rest of my pamphlet here are the five things I think are required for Improv to work for you in your life, as it is in mine, because as Bill Shakespeare penned: “All the world’s a stage.”


The ingredients are (in order):


p<{color:#000;}. Trust

p<{color:#000;}. Initiation

p<{color:#000;}. Yes

p<{color:#000;}. And

p<{color:#000;}. Statements, not questions



As I thought about improv the first thing came to my mind was that you needed to trust.


And I hated that word.


It seems so overused, to the point that I didn’t know what that meant.


Of course I trust people, and I’ve broken people’s trust (sorry mom and dad) but what did that mean. So I did what I often do: open the dictionary and thesaurus. This word study helped me get a better handle on what it means to trust.


Here is the definition of trust in my own words:


Trust: to rely on something outside of yourself to do something you need done.


That was the essence I was looking for, especially as a Christian. For a long time I have heard people say “Trust in God”, and wondered what the hell they meant (American coins trust in God too).


That definition also explained a Biblical story for me.


I could never quite understand why Abraham was wrong for having sex with Hagar. Okay, God promised him a son and he got one. Ishmael.


Now I grasped that he didn’t trust God. Actually I got that before, that is a very obvious part of that story. The child was supposed to come from Sarah from the start.


What I did not see was that Abraham did not do the one thing he could do: his wife. That was his job, not the pregnancy. He didn’t do the one job he HAD to do. He tried to create the end result. The thing that was never his to do in the first place.


I got it. “Oh,” I said to myself, “I don’t do my part. I daydream, and try to do the end part.”


A statement from Saint Paul clarified, and probably referred to the previous story, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” Paul and Apollos were not sitting on their collective butts waiting for a miracle. They went out, they acted, in the world, and relied on God for any reaction.


I wasn’t doing that.


Okay, I was, and in most of the rest of my life.


See I, like you, live in and around other people, and guess what I rely on them to do a lot of things. I don’t think, in contrast to American Republicans, I do it ALL myself.


In fact I just moved recently. I relied on a Real Estate Agent to help me buy our new home. I relied on another one to sell my previous home (and my parents – thanks!) While it was hard to be patient while they did their work, I never once tried to do their job. I am a faith, trust, based creature from the beginning.


But trust has eroded in the last few decades as we know more about our culture, planet, and each other.


It is hard to trust in the face of these facts, but trust is the foundation of improv. If you, like me, what to improv you life, then you are going to have to trust, rely, on those around you. Trust me, it is going to be little scary.



I have a good friend who said to me once, “You are really good at initiating. In friendships it seems no one pushes towards the other.” At the time I took it as a compliment (I still do, but i’ve decided that in many cases – with “friends” – I have been initiating up the wrong tree; stories for another time).


I wore that statement like a medal. I thought I was good at initiation, pushing. And I think I was it came to making friendly with people. I like people. I will go out of my way to look you in the eyes and acknowledge you.


However, I came to find out, I am not very good at initiating elsewhere in my life. I rarely actually push.


I was sitting with my older brother, Mike, having lunch at a bar in Fort Collins. He had street tacos I had fish tacos. We were just generally chatting, and he asked me about comedy. It was no secret, to those who are even within hearing distance of me, that I have long wanted to be a comedian. And he said, “So have you gotten up on any stages, practiced at all?” I said no, but at the time did not think that was a problem.


Fast Forward to now. “What was I thinking” is all I can say to myself back then. Performing is the heart of stand up comedy. It is in the name.


But it was worse than that.


I wasn’t even really writing material. Oh I’d jot stuff down, stuff it away, or worse spend hours and hours and days or months on one little funny bit trying to stretch it. Yea, I was wasting time, not actually initiating.


I still haven’t been on a stage, but I performed every day for the last seven months. Everyday. My secret? I had an office job. That’s right I had a captive audience.


It was like a Comedy Central Roast almost everyday. I think they liked the show, they kept letting me come back.


Now I realized Mike was right, you have to practice. And that includes both writing and performing. You have to do both.


And I was stuck. I was performing everyday. But mostly made up on the spot stuff – improv. While I like that I also wanted to try stuff out – build material. I never got to do that there, but I understood something crucial: I didn’t need to spend so much time trying to stretch that funny bit about (memory foam). In fact I need to take all those funny bits – small things – and smash them together. I probably have 100-200 of those. More than enough to put together a routine, and most of them already road tested; at least a bit.


So I did just that. As of now I have for the first time in my life a routine. It’s 5 bits that I currently like and I figure it’s between 3-4 minutes long.


For the first time in my life I feel like I am doing comedy.


And I haven’t put my foot on a stage yet.


The point of the whole story is that I spent a lot time daydreaming, and didn’t know it. I thought I was doing. Thought I was initiating. I was not. Perhaps I am still not initiating since I am not up on a stage, but I am doing something, which is all I can do.


And I know why I daydreamed about this, it is not because doing is hard work. It is, but it is also scary. What if I make this and never get to share it? Why go to all that work?


Nonetheless, on the other side of my three minutes of material, I am more satisfied than I have ever been. I have the cake, anything beyond is icing.



I saw Yes Man when it came out. The premise interested me, since it was about saying “Yes”. Spoiler alert: at the end of the movie the “Yes” guru tells the main character, “You aren’t supposed to say yes to everything.”


So where does that leave a person? I think a better way to say that is “Say yes to anything.” But that needs a little break down, because I am not advocating an open lifestyle.


Its say yes to “anything” not initiate everything. By that I mean that I am open to what happens after I initiate something. I am not predetermining what “success” looks like for the actions I take.


To put it another way: I no longer am interested in writing goals. I like the idea of making daily steps to improve myself. Rather than write: I want to be a comedian. And then break it down into little achievable steps. I just start doing what comedians do: write jokes. My next step is to practice those jokes. And I allow the future to tell me what these will become, rather than limiting the future, and myself, by saying “I am doing these things to become a comedian”.


I may never get the opportunity to perform professionally comedy again (I did once, but didn’t realize it – true story.)


For me what it means is to stay open to where my actions, my initiations, may take me, instead of limiting them to one path. I don’t get to chose the path I am going on.


St. Paul’s statement from above applies, and so does Jesus’ parable of the seeds.


Jesus was talking to some people, his usual schtick, and he had a story for them: “One day a sower got some seeds and scattered them around. Some fell on crummy land, and didn’t grow. Some on fertile land and they produced tons of grain.” Or something close to this.


See I don’t get to chose which land I am scattering on, as Solomon says in Proverbs: “Time and Chance happen to all.”


Saying “Yes” for me is to say “I’ve tried this thing, and I let it go to see what I will get back.”

Most of the time I am disappointed.


That is not to say I should not be trying to find the best land I can seed with my ideas or actions. But I think I have to accept that I could get the best land in the world, and it still may not produce. And by all this I am speaking metaphorically, I have ZERO desire to be a farmer.


And that’s what I think Paul is saying in his statement, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” I have worked myself into a frazzle to do stuff just right (make friends, tell a joke, write an essay) and acted like it is the only thing that matters. When honestly if it doesn’t have life in it, it won’t matter where I scatter that seed.


Yes just acknowledges that I don’t control the effects of my activities. That I may have to deal with things I did not want. And I don’t like that.


I like to think I am in control. It scares me to think at how little control of my life I really have. I can’t decide when I die, get a job (my current problem), or how much money I will make. It is scary to acknowledge that I have no control over these.

Yes acknowledges that lack of control.


And I don’t say yes because I don’t want to be afraid. So it burrows itself into my soul, and that fear traps me, or has for a long time. Fear is why I don’t say “yes”. I am afraid to find out.


Yes acknowledges fear.


And punches it in the face.


Because I realized fear is what is holding me back. It keeps me locked in that cage of indecision. I don’t actually have no control of my life, I am just trying to control things I cannot control. Finally I got the Serenity Prayer’s admonition:


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.


I needed wisdom to know the difference, and the thing about wisdom is you only get it by making mistakes, but messing up. By trying to control things I can’t, saying “Yes” to my lack of control in that area, and looking for the choices I do have.


And those choices are everywhere.

I don’t have a job (at the time I wrote this). I cannot give myself a job.


But I can take a nap, or go for walk, or write this book, or visit a friend, or mope about no job, fix the holes in the walls (no I didn’t make them, for once), or write some jokes, or draw, or ……


My choices and my control are actually endless.


However, it isn’t as fun as the things I want to control. I want to give myself a job that meets all my desires. That pays all my bills. I want to spend my time getting mad I don’t have that. It is something I cannot control at all.


And realizing that is so powerful. I feel like I can shape my life for once, just by making a choice. It is nice to make a choice, and to see that I get to make a choice, and a lot of them. Everyday. If I want.




It is a small word. A linking verb, but so necessary to improv. Saying yes would stop me. Okay, I’ve accepted that I can’t do something, or worse, have to wait for something to happen.


In the meantime, what do I do?


Along comes “and”.


It forces me to keep going. “And” is greedy. It wants more. Kind of like when I tell a wife a story then quit mid sentence. She says “And?”. That’s what “and” does. It is never satisfied. It demands more.


“And” is motion. It provides an expectation, but not a standard. Or “I want more, but am not defining what I want.”


For me I needed to understand the difference between expectations and standards. The Dutch are supposedly the happiest people in the world. According to scientists it is because they have such low expectations. They expect things to happen, they just don’t get trapped into having to have a specific thing happen.


I needed to know this, and every improv teacher seems to echo that idea. We want to “And” something exciting or interesting, and often they will simply tell you, “Just go with what comes to you. The less interesting the better.” In other words: don’t get caught up in what you are “anding” just add to the conversation.


And my life is a conversation. I am part of it. I could over take it (like the other night – sorry Doug) and try to be interesting, but that usually is boring – especially to the other people involved in the conversation.


“And” is additive. I am trying to sprinkle it into my life liberally, because unlike MSG it won’t give me cancer.



One of the things that puzzled me about “Yes, and” was the part after the “and”. Sure I realized that it didn’t really matter, but it would have been nice to have some direction as to what to say.


Bossypants cleared that up.


Before that time I had didn’t have much to go on, but Tina Fey added clarified something I had not known: statements.


Often when I would improv I would ask questions. She mentions that asking questions in an improv set makes the other person do all the work. Which is the opposite of the intention of Improv.


It was then that I knew for sure I had to stop asking questions and make statements – especially in relation to my life. And I don’t mean academically or scientifically I quit, or anyone else should, asking questions.


But I quit asking this question specifically: “Why me?”. At the time, before I ready Bossypants, my question was “What Now?” I have even moved on from it, but I think if you are going to ask questions it is better.


I don’t ask questions like that now because I never get an answer to the first one for sure. Yea maybe sometime in the future, but I wonder how much of that is just me projecting the present onto the past, and not a real answer.


That isn’t all though.


“Why me?” is a question about the past. Thank you for Arguing taught me that in rhetoric the only thing you can do with the past is cast blame. It is in the future that change occurs. So I need to stay future oriented. That is where all my choices lie. All of them have been made in the past, I don’t get a chance to change any of them.


Like Saint Paul says again, “Forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward…”


I haven’t forgot what lies behind, I mull over it, ask “What ifs?” and “Why mes?” and do nothing but blame myself, or more likely, others, for my failures, or, less likely, my triumphs.


Statements cast that blame away.


Statements are future oriented.


Statements forget the past and press to the future.

And it is in the future that all my choices reside.


I want to visit them.


Life is a Mad Lib. That kids game of fill in the blank. I get to fill in the blanks with anything I want, but I have to be able to see those blanks.


They are everywhere.


I am convinced, Life, God, convinced me that life is improv.


And as I improv with it, twisting and turning, swerving and curving, it will bust through my door.


“Ding Dong”


“Who is it”


Candy Gram!”


Opens Door


“Life Shark!”


IMPROV-ING your life

Is about owning reality, so it doesn’t own you. About realizing life isn’t out to get you, in some ways it may not care about you, but you can choose how you want to respond to life, that is the small little bit you get. Grab it and before you know it your life will be amazing, even when it isn’t that amazing.


It will involve fear, but instead of that fear paralyzing you, eating you, it will be like a caged wild animal that howls and tears at the walls, but won’t keep you back.


But first, you have to learn to trust, and there is only one way to do that:


After the fact.




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Read more of my essays at





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See some of my great illustrations


What Now?

This book is about how I first was amazed by Improv, and then decided it was THE way to live my life, in every area of my life. I break down the basics of Improv and then demonstrate how I am using those techniques in my life. From that you should be able to do the same.

  • ISBN: 9781310914577
  • Author: Darrel Miller
  • Published: 2016-05-03 15:35:07
  • Words: 3576
What Now? What Now?