Is Practicing Improvisation

Composing a life is an improvisatory art, about the ways we combine familiar and unfamiliar components in response to new situations, Mary Catherine Bateson.

In her book, Composing A Life, 1989, Mary Catherine Bateson offers a rethinking of the concept of achievement. Thinking of composing one’s life metaphorically as practicing improvisation is radical rethinking. Practicing improvisation sounds like a contradiction; but is paradoxical. To improvise is “to invent, compose or recite without preparation; to execute something off hand.” It seems strange to practice executing something offhand. Bateson says: Jazz exemplifies artistic activity that is at once individual and communal, performance that is both repetitive and innovative. 

 The practice of composing a life is both repetitive and innovative. Today there is no formula or script for composing one’s life. We learn by doing, undoing and redoing. Many of the basic concepts we used to construct a sense of self or to a design of a life have changed their meaning. Composing a life’s script today that is expected to be lasting or without change is unreasonable.

Positive uncertainty, my decision making strategy, was designed around change, open-mindedness, creativity, intuition and innovation. To me, this sounds like improvisation. Since composing a life involves trial and error, it involves practicing improvisation.

I am 93 years old and composing my future older life. My composing strategies need to be more innovative than repetitive because I am no longer capable of repeating previous strategies. Everyone is composing a future life, regardless of age, which also needs to be more innovative than repetitive, for different reasons. You can’t grow clinging to the status quo; and you can’t learn without change. You need to improvise, to invent.

This reminds me of James March’s Technology of Foolishness*. This was his decision making strategy to supplement the technology of reason. He called it “playfulness”, the deliberate, temporary relaxation of rules in order to explore the possibilities of alternate rules. This sounds like practicing improvisation.

To compose is to make up, to create, by putting together parts or elements. Creating your life is putting together parts and elements creatively, that is at once individual and communal, and that is both repetitive and innovative. This is the practice of creativity and improvisation.

Just do it. 

 *See blog 1-24-16

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2 Responses to COMPOSING A LIFE

  1. Marianne Fontana says:

    At this point of time, I feel as if I am trying to handle all the obligations that need to be handled and don’t have time to think innovatively about the years ahead. All of the things that need to be handled actually have to do with our future: trying to clear the house, meeting with realtors to find out what one has to do to sell, maintaining health, managing emotions about changes ahead. Since I have less energy, it is harder to get all the phone calls made, meetings to go to, meals to cook, reports to read for meetings, and books to read for a book club. And then the fun part is the hours needed to play golf.
    I probably shouldn’t send this since it seems to be blowing off steam rather than being positive about your blog.
    We arrive in California on Oct. 25 through December 4. See you in that time period.

  2. EUGENE UNGER says:

    “Life is what happens to you when you are planning to do something else. “. God says”thanks for sharing “. Rose is back in Stanford for surgery.



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