I have a feeling that my first stop in Chicago wasn’t one that many other librarians visited. I didn’t pick up my conference materials or check into my hotel. I didn’t wander through the new modern wing at the art museum or indulge in my first hot dog. I didn’t go anywhere near McCormick Plaza.

Instead, I went to a tattoo parlor.

For me, Chicago is all about improvisation. That’s how I first came to the city–as an improviser, a very overwhelmed 19 year old who tried to take in the wonderful performances at Second City and iO to hone my own craft. So it’s fitting that some six years later I’d return to this city and get a tattoo of one of my improv philosophies: yes, and.

Saying “Yes, and” in the improv world is about accepting the offers you’re given, always making your scene partner look good, and adding more information to advance the scene. Saying yes at conference is very much the same–it’s about embracing the opportunities provided (and the responsibilities that go along with them), supporting your colleagues, and keeping the momentum of the conference rolling.

I’ve said yes a lot in Chicago. Liveblog an event with a day’s notice? Sure. Attend a board meeting? No problem. Traipse all around the city looking for a Hyatt because I have zero innate sense of direction? I need the exercise!

Saying yes is also about letting your plans change at the drop of a hat, much the way they do when you walk onstage. This is what leads to life’s little happy accidents, like getting half price tickets to watch Paula Poundstone (and some other very funny women) knock your socks off, or meeting an author you didn’t know you loved, or realizing a speaker might be just perfect for your next event.

Onstage, saying no can derail a scene. It might be funny for a split second, but it can make your scene partner look bad in the long run. At conference, on the other hand, saying no just might be the secret to your survival.

It’s so easy to get swept up in the excitement of a great panel or productive committee session and feel like you’re ready to go change the world. And you are–trust me, you are going to change the world–but you’re also going to go home and pay your electrical bill and burn some cookies and have a bad meeting and get the flu.

Life gets in the way of good intentions. No matter how many hats you wear at conference, no doubt you wear at least half a dozen more at home and at work. It’s crucial for your own life and work–as well as the work of YALSA–that you prioritize and remember that saying no is also an option.

Particularly if you’re already someone who dives into tasks with enthusiasm and produces fantastic results, your fellow YALSA members are going to want you on their committees and task forces and panels. Often your interests and needs will overlap, everyone says “Yes, and,” and life rolls merrily along. But just as often the fit isn’t right. Saying no doesn’t mean you’ll never be asked again, it doesn’t make you a bad person, and it doesn’t mean the sky will fall. Saying “No, but” can be just as important as “Yes, and.”

What did you say yes (and no) to in Chicago?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.

3 Thoughts on “Yes and No

  1. A provocative post, m.k. thanks!

    It took me a very long time to say NO to things! An important piece of saying “NO, but” for me, has been, “…you can ask [name] instead.

    I said YES to going to a meeting that wasn’t in my radar, and met a LOT of valuable contacts. I said YES to meeting someone who I follow on Twitter. And was sad to say NO (but ask me tomorrow!) on Sat to friends who wanted a nightcap, but I got in early and got to sleep in and recharge enough to get through the last two days (and yes, I caught up with them the next night).

  2. I love this post! I blog about theatre, but only for the past two years, so I only recently learned about “yes, and” as a definition for improv. Paradoxically, blogging about 2-5 live theatre shows per weekend while serving on a YALSA selection committee has made me very good at saying “sorry, no.” I related completely to both parts of your post.

    In Chicago, I said “yes, and” to a reading at Quimby’s bookstore by James Kennedy, the author of THE ORDER OF ODD-FISH. I had been introduced to his quirky, imaginative use of language and his hilarious live presentation skills at the “Genre Galaxy” YALSA pre-conference. James gave each of us a little square of paper with subway directions to Quimby’s. My concierge told me that that neighborhood, Wicker Park, was where all the hipsters live and that I would fit right in. (I am laughing again, remembering.)

    I made it out there, ate some yummy sushi before the reading, and then had a great time with James and his friends, family, and fans at that very unusual bookstore. I said “yes” to that little adventure, but “no” to the set of horror movie victims/action figures that seemed to be calling my name from a Quimby’s bookshelf. I sort of wish I said “yes” to them, though, even if they did cost $18.

    AND I made it back downtown in time to attend the Booklist panel on Abraham Lincoln books for youth, which was my original plan for the evening and which moved me to tears.

    Yes, I was exhausted when I got home from ALA, but no, I would not have missed any of it for the world.

  3. I said “Yes” to staying up until all hours on Friday night to go to a blues club with my daughter who just happened to be in Chicago on a business trip at the same time. Even though I got up at 4 a.m. that morning and had to get up again early the next morning, I said “Yes,” and I loved it!

    I said “Yes” to going on a very long walk with another librarian, Penny, who I had only communicated with through a YALSA listserv. I said “Yes,” and loved it!

    Yes, I learned and experienced many new library-related things a my very first ALA but the extras are the icing on the cake, aren’t they?

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