Howl with the wolves

One of the best characters in the TV Show Californication is an author called Richard Bates.

He’s a complete lunatic. But what makes him so entertaining is that he accepts all offers.

When someone comes to him and asks “Can you help us smuggle some drugs into the rehab center?” his answer is “Sounds like an adventure, let’s go!”.

Later at the rehab center, when everyone starts acting crazy after taking drugs he comments “Howl with the wolves!” before joining in.

Offer-block-accept dynamic is something I’m learning a lot about from improv.

Bad improvisers block all the time and make dull offers, if any.

Watching someone block offers is boring and disappointing. Playing with someone who blocks your offers is incredibly frustrating.

Imagine Richard Bates responding to the initial offer with “Nah, I’m busy.” or to the later one “Look at these weirdos.”.

Vibe killers is good name for people like this.

Blocking makes you feel higher status. This is why it’s the default mode for most people.

It’s also a lot safer. Most people block until they have certainty about what’s going to happen.

But blocking makes you a boring person to be around and sucks the energy out of your interactions with others.

Great improvisers on the other hand accept all offers and make interesting offers all the time themselves.

Watching someone accept all offers is incredibly fun. Playing with someone like this is amazing.

And once you’ve been sensitized to offer-block-accept dynamic, you start seeing it everywhere in real life, not just on stage or in TV shows.

Life is a lot more fun once you start accepting more offers and start making more interesting offers yourself.

As Keith Johnstone notes in Impro:

“People with dull lives often think that their lives are dull by chance. In reality everyone chooses more or less what kind of events will happen to them by their conscious patterns of blocking and yielding.”

Importantly, offers don’t have to be big invitations to go on an adventure of anything like that.

For great improvisers almost anything is an offer they accept.

For example, when someone yawns you can of course simply ignore it.

Or you can say “Rough night, huh?” which is potentially the start of an interesting conversation.

Humans like responsiveness.

A lot of what humans do and say is phatic.

Phatic language and actions serve to establish contact, not to communicate information.

They verify the possibility of communication, exchange information about status, and to assure oneself that we can be heard.

They react, therefore I am.

Alan Watts theory is that “cue signals” are essential for our Sense of Self.

In olden days, when a telephone conversation was recorded, it beeped at fixed intervals to remind both parties that this conversation is being recorded.

In the same way, our selves rely on signals to reconfirm that things are happening to the same entity across space and time.

When you block offers, no matter how tiny, you deny people the confirmation of their existence, of their connectedness to the rest of the world that they’re craving.

And it’s just as problematic when you never make offers yourself.

A stoic demeanour and lack of expressiveness make you difficult to connect with. You’re not giving others anything to work with or respond to.

Making offers can be as simple as sharing an observation or expressing an emotion.

Written on April 13, 2024

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