Thursday, April 9, 2015

Howdy partner

I recently read that successful creatives -- like successful people of all types -- tend to have supportive spouses: people who make their lives easier and value the offbeat qualities they bring to the table.

This makes perfect sense.  In fact, whenever someone comes along who seems to like you at your most zany and useless, you should spend as much time around them as possible.  It will be good for your creative life (and your actual life won't mind, either). 

Last spring, Dave suggested that the two of us go camping.  I later learned it was a test to see what I would be like on a camping trip.  As an experiment ten months in, this seemed fair.  What would I be like?  No idea.

Though I grew up in a rural area, ours was not an outdoorsy family.  To experience Nature, we drove through Arizona once a year with the air conditioning on full-blast, stopping only to remark, in 106-degree heat in the parking lot of some McDonald's, "How does anyone live in Arizona?" -- and that was quite enough.

In my twenties, I did go camping a few times with my then-boyfriend.  I enjoyed parts of it, but at some point would burst into tears due to a combination of poor sleep, an enormous pack strapped to my back, and being stuck on the side of a mountain with no relief in sight.  (Reader, I married him.)

Dave understood I was not made to slog it out in harsh conditions.  He guessed that I would be amenable to camping -- in a state park, in Napa, for two nights, with hot showers available, if we could drive into town for an ice cream cone, and if I could bring three hats in preparation for any contingency.  And . . . deal!

He has gone camping his whole life, often with his children in tow, and brings a German ubercompetence to any practical thing he undertakes.  Seemingly within minutes, the car was unpacked, the tent was up, the radio was on, we were eating some sort of delicious stir-fry, and playing (in my case, badly) a complicated European board game.  What?

My one contribution to the evening was a ridiculous idea, pens, and tape.  As I coyly explained:  It was just a little thing I called Camprov.

Camping!  Plus Improv!  Clearly I had been watching too much Louie, becoming overly-fascinated with the "process" of stand-up comedians, who lived their lives in the white-hot fire of truth.  Both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had written glowingly of Improvisational Theater, where the answer to every question was Yes.  I felt I too could be searingly honest and say yes.  Why not?

For my plan to work, however, I needed puppets.

"I brought some paper," I explained.  For the fire?  No: for the puppets.  Aren't you listening?

Per the rules of Camprov, each made a stick-and-paper representation of the other person.  (Dave is generally better at drawing, but my puppet of him was awesome.  He still has it.) 

The idea was that we would improvise some sort of crazy, hilarious "conflict" with the puppets around sunset, and record it on our phones.  I'm not really sure what I was going for -- some whacked out-cinematic hybrid of The Blair Witch Project (shaky camera, trees), August: Osage County (domestic dysfunction), and What About Bob? (therapeutic puppets).

The whole thing was quite silly.  And as a drinking game in the woods, it took some doing.  But it was interesting and made us laugh.  (My kids would have been better at it, as they are nuttier, with meaner jokes.  Their puppets would have killed each other!)

After two days, we went home.  Aside from gathering a few sticks or cutting up some produce now and then, I had done literally nothing to ensure our survival in the woods.

"How was I at camping?"  I asked, genuinely curious. 

He said:  "You were great."

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