Expressing Yourself

The Importance of Expressing Yourself

As improvisers, expressing ourselves is what we do. We do not have a choice: We are born this way. It’s no accident we are drawn toward the performing arts: sketch, stand-up, improv, and acting. These are the way we express ourselves.

For me, the need to express myself is part of who I am at the core. It’s the thing that keeps me alive; it’s my oxygen. When others try to shut me down, they are suffocating me. When I’m told I can’t say something or I shouldn’t say something, I feel like I can’t breathe, like they are trying to kill a part of me.

For years, I never quite knew why I loved teaching improv so much, even after all these years, but something that happened last month made me realize it’s because it gives me the chance to encourage others to express themselves, and there is nothing that is more important to me.

Recently my world changed when my father died. A few months before my dad’s death, I had asked him how I could help him prepare for his death, and he told me to speak at his funeral and make it funny.

But after he actually died, my family did everything they could to prevent me from speaking at his funeral. My family tried to ignore me, guilt me and emotionally blackmail so I would not speak. I’m not sure what exactly they were afraid I would say, but they said things like, “We don’t trust you,” and “save your negativity for your blog.”

At the eleventh hour, the night before the funeral, a peace agreement was struck between me and my mom where she agreed that I would be speaking at the funeral along with my brother and my sister, and we would each get three minutes. Nine minutes total to sum up my dad’s 81 years of life.

When I got to the church in the morning, my pregnant wife, Lauren, and I were ignored by my family and then blindsided by the priest, who told me that the plans had changed and now nobody was going to speak at the funeral. My brother and sister gladly threw themselves under the bus so I would not speak, and of course, like was true during most of my childhood, my mom was nowhere be found.

To say I was angry was an understatement. I went ballistic, postal, into a full-on black-out-rage. I stood up on a wooden church pew and demanded to speak, and then began reading the eulogy I had prepared as people were still filing in for the funeral.

Out of nowhere, a stranger in a dark navy suit tackled me off the pew. I hit the ground and he would not let go of my legs. I heard one of my loving family members yell out “Call the police!” Some of my friends started chanting, “Let him speak! Let him speak!” The cops showed up, and the church now had the same hostile energy as a Trump rally.

The priest rushed over trying to calm me down asking me to come down off the pew, so we could talk. The choice for me was clear: Either I was going to speak or I was going to get arrested. It was the bravest, craziest and worst day of my life. More words were exchanged between me and the priest. I saw terror in peoples’ faces. I know I was scared shitless. The priest, either listening to God or fearing a riot, agreed I could speak. He gave me three minutes, and said I needed to speak right then, before the mass started, as people continued to pour into the church.

When they realized I was going to speak, my whole family, including all of my nieces and nephews, cleared out of the church like I was some sort of terrorist with a bomb.

Only one of my brothers stayed to listen as I hobbled up to podium to read my eulogy with the help of my friends and even Lauren’s parents joining me on the altar. I did the best I could as I try to read the eulogy. I had read it to Lauren earlier that morning at home and it had made both of us cry, but at this point, my heart was racing, my voice was hoarse from screaming, so let’s just say it did not have the same effect it did when I rehearsed it at home.

It’s been almost five weeks since the funeral where I created a scene in the same church where I had both my first communion and confirmation, and now apparently my bar mitzvah. I am still feeling shame, anger, hurt and deep sadness. I think I may be suffering the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am not only suffering trauma over that clusterfuck of my dad’s funeral, but I’m also suffering trauma for an entire life of not being allowed to express myself in my family.

But in the aftermath of that experience, I have discovered a new appreciation for what I do as an improv teacher. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to help people to get to express themselves. I have taken this for granted. As improvisers, the need to express ourselves is who we are. We don’t not need to apologize for it, only to nurture it, for what we have is a gift that is as precious as gold.

7 replies
  1. Molly
    Molly says:

    Sadly, what you fail to recognize is that your siblings share the gift to express ourselves as well. We have stepped aside to let you speak, feel and be funny our entire lives and have never resented you for it, until now. Your siblings, your nieces and nephews, your in-laws and your mom are all suffering in ways you can’t imagine because it is always about you. If you had tried to stay calm the week prior to the funeral and emailed us a copy of what you were going to share things could have been different. But, instead, you did it in your way, and your memory of things, as usual, is your story of how you perceive life, not ours. I love my family more than anything and that includes you, but for now your family needs to work hard to repair the hurt and accept that we were not allowed to share our thoughts because you needed to. The son that only shows anger toward his family and, especially his dad, had to speak and now your family will have to continue to silently grieve when they actually share your gift to express how they feel. I send up prayers for you, Lauren and baby girl to be and hope that maybe someday you will remember the love and laughs you experienced growing up Carrane. And, even more, may you remember that you were blessed with a mom and dad who loved you more than anything and actually let you have a voice, over and over and over again. And still, even with your ongoing anger and negativity their love for you never wavered because you are one of the lucky ones, born to parents who love you no matter what.

    Reply
  2. Gail Friedman
    Gail Friedman says:

    Good for you. This story broke my heart but I am very happy that you were so brave. That took so much courage.

    Reply
  3. Royce Hawley
    Royce Hawley says:

    It’s interesting to read a comment from the opposite point of view. It’s unclear exactly how allowing Jimmy to express himself excludes everyone else from expressing themselves. But yes, allowing Jimmy to express himself means it will be from his memories and his perception, just as it would have been for anyone else who expressed themselves.

    Obviously there’s a lot of family history that we readers won’t know or understand. But I understand family dysfunction, and the comment from a family speaks volumes about the atmosphere of Jimmy’s formative years.

    Reply
  4. Liz
    Liz says:

    Jimmy… I think you need a new therapist. As someone who grew up in a similar family, I’m sorry that you didn’t get everything you needed growing up — but that doesn’t give you the right to hurt everyone around you like that. That was uncalled for.

    You’re missing the signs that your family is trying to give you, that you’ve become the kind of person who caused you so much pain in the first place: someone who believes there is literally nothing more important in the world than himself. To think they’re persecuting you is another manifestation of that. They’re not trying to be mean or ruin your life; to make yourself the center of their universes like that is unfair and kind of gross. They’re trying to protect themselves from the emotional “terrorist with a bomb” that you are.

    You need a better therapist, someone who will tell you the truth: it sucks that you got hurt, but you’re using that as an excuse to do pretty inexcusable things. If you don’t figure it out, you’re gonna be the kind of dad you hated so much, and this cycle will repeat itself.

    Deep breath, let it go. Enough already.

    Reply
  5. Pam
    Pam says:

    WOW!!! Jimmy, you are incredibly brave! I’m so glad I finally read this post. The title prompted me to flag and save your newsletter. Thanks. I needed to read your example of self-expression in the face of family members’ fears, prejudices against you, and desires to silence your voice.

    Reply
  6. Ayesha Tariq
    Ayesha Tariq says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, and that you had to fight to express yourself. <3
    I keep getting blown away by your honest. Thank you.

    Reply

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