As my taxi approached the studios of Chicago Public Radio, I reached into my backpack to get my wallet.

The wallet was gone.

I got that sinking feeling you get when you lose something as important as your keys or wallet. With the wallet, there’s the additional concern of identity theft and credit theft: Is some dishonest person even at this moment using my credit cards to pile the latest electronics into a generous on-line shopping cart somewhere?

I dug my hands into the nether regions d2e28a933a3b675b65b78d06d11aa860-2of my backpack and scrounged up just enough money to pay the driver and give him a too-small tip.

I apologetically left the taxi and headed into the studios. I was there to record an audio essay for Chicago Public Radio, and I did a fairly good job of forgetting about the missing wallet, until after the recording session when I came back outside and faced the fact that I had no money and no way of getting money.

I’ve always been a meticulous planner.

In school, I studied consistently and often finished homework well before it was due. I use maps to plan trips—even simple trips to run a few errands. I usually arrive at the airport two to three hours before my departure time.

This structurophilic personality fit well with my education and initial career, both in accounting. It also meant that for much of my life I was not very good at dealing with unexpected circumstances.

But when I took my first improvisation class, at the age of 30, a whole new world began to open to me. In the decade since, I have expanded my comfort zone a little bit at a time through improvisation.

Since then I have performed improvisation countless times on stage. And today I teach those same improvisation classes that changed my life.

One of the things I’ve learned from improvisation is how to deal effectively with unexpected circumstances by applying one of the tenets of improvisation: Yes-and.

At its simplest level, yes-and means that you agree with what your partner has given you (“yes”), and you add something to it (“and”).
In improvisation, you never know what your scene-partner is going to say or do next.

Whatever happens, you react by yes-and’ing.

I’ve also learned in my improvisation that when I am thrown a curve-ball and I simply yes-and it, often the resulting scene is far better than any that I (or even my scene-partners and I) could have planned and executed.

As I stood outside the Chicago Public Radio studios, three miles from my apartment, with no money and no way of getting money, and feeling quite stressed over my missing wallet, I told myself that getting all worked up over the situation was not going to help. I was clearly going to have to walk home and then handle the situation from there.

And I decided to use yes-and’ing to deal with the situation: YES, my wallet is gone, AND that means I will walk home. YES, I’m walking home, AND I’ll walk along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. YES, I’m walking along the shoreline of Lake Michigan AND I’ll snap some photos since I brought my camera with me today.

And what I saw as I walked along the lakeshore was astounding.

I’m not a professional photographer, but I hope that my photos do some justice to what I witnessed that day.

It was the middle of winter, and Lake Michigan had been transformed into a magical winter wonderlake. As far as the eye could see, the water was frozen (at least on the surface), and the sights were stunning.

What would have been—under my former mental regime—a long, worry-filled trudge home, instead became a delightful walk, full of memorable images. And the act of photographing these images made the trek even more enjoyable as I searched for just the right angle for each shot.

I took over 100 photos on the journey. I compiled the best 15 into a photo essay that I’ve since submitted to a literary journal. I haven’t heard back yet. If it gets published, it would be my first published photo essay.

YES, it would be my first photo essay that is published, AND perhaps not my last.

(AND my wallet was on my kitchen counter.)

Ranjit Souri (rjsouri [at] gmail [dot] com) teaches classes in improvisation, comedy writing, and creative non-fiction in Chicago.

 

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