I find this image interesting. Highlighted is the last page and a half of a 10,000-word doc I just finished after seven weeks of writing.


It’s intentionally unclear. I was looking just at the colors. The yellow is an interview, green is the main narrative, purple is backstory, and blue is the subordinate narrative. I spent today and yesterday writing and rewriting this section, moving text around. The highlights were to help me keep track of what I was doing, and it just happens to paint a very clear representation of the structure of this section.


Today I finished the Level One course at Improv Olympic in Chicago. My teacher was the amazing Craig Uhlir.

I was introduced to some high-energy warm-ups, which usually concluded with Craig saying something like, “That was some awesome pointing, clapping, making weird noises, etc. You guys are killing it!” I’m already planning to use one of these as my next get-to-know-each-other exercise whenever I get back into teaching English classes somewhere, maybe as a week two or week three class exercise once people have done a bit of writing and are ready for a weird release.

The level one course builds toward what’s called a Harold. That’s what we were doing today: a series of sort-of connected scenes during which actors carry on improvisational conversations, frequently tagging to replace each other to change a scene or running across the stage, called an edit, to end a scene. Groups of scenes are separated by games, which are intended to provide the group with lots of raw information from which scenes can be inspired. Games can be word-association or, my favorite, the monologue.

I especially enjoyed the monologue, telling unplanned stories for several minutes, such as:

  • my power washer running away with the deposit check
  • receiving a haircut and unwelcome sexual touching by my next-door neighbor
  • watching my sister’s dog dangled off a balcony and then somehow accidentally throwing another neighbor’s dog down the stairs
  • receiving a threat that I might be fired from my job as a college English teacher if I didn’t report the Math teacher’s affair with a student
  • etcetera…

All of these monologues ought to be written out and performed elsewhere though I recall now performing the haircut anecdote several years ago at Story Club. I used to tell the story of accidentally (it was, I swear) throwing a dog down the stairs sometimes to my English classes if it seemed I had an open-minded group, comfortable hearing crazy stories by their eccentric professor.

So, yes, improv was a good experience. I certainly found myself “in my head” (as Craig would say) too often. It’s hard to play pretend when you’re self-conscious of the fact that you’re playing pretend. I’d find myself sometimes on stage thinking, ‘This is stupid…what am I supposed to do now…and why am I doing it…and when can I sit back down?’ But fortunately that didn’t happen too often. Usually I was able to embrace the experience, play off others and add to the energy and humor of a moment.

The philosophy of Improv Olympic can be summed up in one brief phrase: “Yes, and.” If someone says something – anything – it’s your role to accept that line and to build on it. A musician friend says that’s similar to how his band approaches songwriting. Someone offers a chorus or a line of verse or a chord pattern or whatever, and the others get excited and try to turn it into a “kick-ass” (again, as Craig would say) song.

So, I appreciated Craig’s positive energy. Hoping to take the level two course this September, and even if I’m too busy to continue quickly, I can imagine ways that the level one experience will support other activities.

here: say

Next week, I’ll be at the InsideOut Gallery in Traverse City, Michigan to tell stories about my life 15 years ago when I was in Paris full-time. I’ll be there for the storytelling series here: say. The theme of the show is “Passport.”

Here’s the summary of my upcoming presentation:

James Berg had no interest in France. He couldn’t speak the language. He had no legal status there. He didn’t even like the French, but he was in Paris working in an office underground, a cave stuffed with desks and computers and dozens of lost souls from all over the world, an undocumented migrant workforce in khakis. His goal, like that of his young colleagues, was to find a way to persuade the owner, a wealthy, temperamental entrepreneur who lied about everything, including his pedigree and even his name, to fulfill a simple promise and pay his salary.



Love Electric

I finally got myself out of the house on a Sunday, took a stroll down Broadway Ave. and reached the Green Mill in time for the Marc Smith’s Uptown poetry slam. I used to come here from time to time when I lived in the neighborhood before moving north to Edgewater.

Here’s a recording of my few minutes on stage. Near the end, Marc says there are a lot of working-class intellectuals like James wandering the streets of Edgewater.