You’ve tipped the cow, now what? Intentions and what we make of them



It was a first level improv class that really brought this home for me.

Two of my classmates were performing a scene. One was a comedian whose first instinct, naturally, was to resort to comedy.

He decided to initiate with: ‘Wanna help me tip a cow?’, and the scene quickly became about the best strategies to do this.

Our teacher let this go on for another 20 seconds before exclaiming: ‘You’ve tipped the cow. Great! Now what?’

Robbed of his comedic intent, he lost his footing momentarily and let his scene partner build the dialogue.

Despite his fears, what happened next was far more powerful; slowly we delved deeper into the lives of these bizarre characters, their relationship with each other and why they were tipping cows in the first place. Line by improvised line, we discovered the pent-up emotions of two brothers trying to spend quality time doing things they loved together – like tipping cows – to help one of them cope with the loss of his partner.

Subconsciously, the intent of the comedian must’ve been to connect with his audience, but what he had assumed to be his best medium was in fact the one thing holding him back from establishing deeper, richer, multifaceted connections that went beyond a quick and readily forgotten laugh.

This got me thinking:

How many of us are only at the epidermic layer of what we can offer? 

Do our intentions, and what we make of them, coincide with the real, uninhibited, ‘uncontrived’ us?

Or are we forever holding back, victims of our own and society’s expectations of ‘being somebody’ – and all that entails?

I see this all the time in the spoken word scene, and to be honest, most clearly in myself when I think back to when I first started getting (re)involved in poetry.

The original intention I had in writing ‘The unspoken word’ of self-healing was eventually overtaken by something else entirely.

This poem, I thought, was the one I’d use to ‘win’. What, who, how, I didn’t really know, but I knew that it was special, something I wanted to take to a competition.

The thing is though, while ego is always involved in such a transformation, in reality this new ‘intent’ probably reflected a superimposed desire for acceptance and affirmation that I could not at the time seem to gain on my own.

But for one reason or another, I could not do it.

On nights I intended to recite it, my name would not be pulled out of the hat, or I would be sick, or I just simply lost the motivation to go.

And in a way, I am very glad that this happened. Because yesterday, five years after it was originally penned, I got to perform it – at a competition – in the way I had always imagined I would when I first wrote it.

But this time, it was no longer about me.

Instead, the intent was to honour the poem, be percolated in and embody its emotions.

And so for the next three minutes, I gave myself over to it entirely; the poem was the scene partner I lusted over, fell head over heels in love with, fury-fought and lost, and the audience and judges were merely the silent dining room wallpaper bearing witness to it all.

I left the competition with no awards or honourable mentions, but frankly I couldn’t care less, because I had finally discovered something much more worthwhile and meaningful.

You see, just like the comedian, it was only when I dug deeper within myself, beyond my own self-imposed assumptions and definitions of my self worth, and tapped into my creative juices without judgement, that I found my true intention, and through that, the very best that I could offer:

The Unspoken Word:


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