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How Improv & A Leg Lamp Saved My Marriage

By Allison Hardin, Carolina Improv Player

I was a Christmas light curmudgeon.  There, I said it out loud.

I was a Grinch about garlands and a Scrooge about colorful strands of Christmas lights.

When I was a child, we had the most magnificent trees.  We (my two brothers and I) would decorate the tree with the ornaments that had our names on them.  Figuratively, and literally.  Sometimes both.  After my youngest brother played the nutcracker in his kindergarten Christmas play, all nutcracker ornaments belonged to him. When Johnathan started playing drums, all musical ornaments were his.  For me, it was an assorted bag of ballerinas (until age 8, when I quit), and firefighters (my first job out of college).

Every year, my mother would buy us each a special ornament with the year on it, marking time.  When I moved out into my own house, I naturally thought I would be taking my ornaments with me.

Not so.

Mom was not ready for me to be out of the house and argued that taking my ornaments would “break up the set”.  There was no arguing, so I stubbornly returned to my home to do the best I could.  Considering I was still on a tight budget, all I could afford were clear globes, white lights and red ribbons.  It was simple, but it was also beautiful.  I learned that I could still make a holiday happen and I fell in love with the simple design.  I started replicating the pattern every year.

The year that I married Bobby, we were so poor that we could only afford a wreath, but I changed that wreath with the simple lights and ribbons, proudly showing my new husband my handiwork.

“That’s nice.”, he said.  Nice?  NICE?  We had a chat about how his mother (recently passed) and father had always made a big deal out of Christmas decorations.  Colored paper, ribbon, tinsel — all the good stuff.  Needless to say, he was underwhelmed with my minimalist design.  I couldn’t find the words to tell him how the simple decorations were part of my independence.  So instead, I pouted, and put my foot down.

As we moved around with his job, every holiday brought simple white lights and (eventually) our childhood ornaments.  I resented the loud, colorful lights he would bring home for the outside of the house, and his enactment of “executive privilege”  over the outside.   Over the years, my iron fist around Christmas lights led to more conflict, and eventually, a general malaise about Christmas from my husband.  I knew it was my insistence that led to these conflicts, but I did not know how to let them go.

Call it fate, or serendipity, that I found a theater offering improv classes.  I knew I could use the methods in my public speaking skills but didn’t know how much it would affect my life.

So here is where I tell you how improv saved my marriage …

The main theories of improv are, “Yes, And” and “Make your partner look like a rock star.”.  “Yes, And” teaches us to accept what comes in life and send it back with some kind of heightening or additional information.  The other theory is simple: make your daily goal about making those around you look like rock stars.  On stage, with two people out to make each other successful, success happens.

Sometime after I started improv classes, I had an opportunity to visit the A Christmas Story museum in Ohio.  This is our family’s favorite holiday movie, so I was thrilled.  In the gift shop were all kinds of Christmas Story ornaments and the like — things I had kept from our house so that I could show off my independence.  It finally hit me. Showing off my independence was not working within my family to let them shine like rock stars.

On the sale rack was the tackiest thing I’d ever seen – a six-foot inflatable leg lamp!  Yes!!!  It was perfect and it was on sale!  Before I could overthink it, I bought the lamp, and took it home, victoriously, to my husband.  I laid it at his feet, beaming.

He glared at me. I’d never seen him so mad.  I thought I had done well, but he looked at me accusingly as he said “Why bring that home if you won’t let me display it in the yard?”.   I smiled and said, “But you can.  I’m giving you this gift, not only for you to display, but as a surrender.  Whatever you want to put inside, or outside, is fine with me.”

A big grin slowly crossed his face, getting bigger as he saw the magnitude of the lamp.  My son squealed with delight.  I knew I had done the right thing.

From then on, my husband’s outlook on Christmas is much happier.  He looks forward to decorating, and starts inside, as soon as he makes room on our credenza for his University of Georgia collectibles.  From bulldogs to leg lamps, he’s got it all.

What’s my ‘and’ to this ‘Yes’?  A happy husband is better than a grudge.

Bah, Humbug.