Yesterday Kathie shared yet another piece of wisdom she learned from Improv Theatre people, “Work from the top of your intelligence.” On a surface level, she explained, you just avoid potty humor and frequent use of “f-bombs’ that might get easy laughs but gives no one pause for thought.
Then last night I was engaged in a bit of improv theater myself – giving a talk on gender representations in movies. I’m more concerned about resorting to the hollow highbrow language of social deconstruction, using language of ‘gender identity’ when I’m talking about penises and vaginas.
All the while I have in the back of my mind the novel Sexual Mercy that Paul Savoie and I wrote and are preparing for a fall publication date. We try to balance some nearly slapstick sexual scenes with the depth of meaning sexuality entails for healthy adults? But are we writing to the top of our intelligence?
During the evening talk I use sexually explicit language to offer an analysis of why lesbian sexuality might not be as threatening to audiences as male homosexuality. Everyone’s laughing, all the more so because they know that I’m a priest and they aren’t used to women priests, let alone a woman priest talking about sex in explicit terms of penises and vaginas. I pull back a little; I’m not afraid of scandalizing this audience but am I using what is most precious to me — my faith and my intellect — to get cheap laughs.
Then I recall the improv lesson I was offered earlier in the day: “Work from the top of your intelligence.” The use of explicit sexual language in a deep analysis of modern sexual behavior and attitudes is perhaps, on this particular evening, working from the top of my intelligence. I’m encouraging my audience to lay down their assumption that spirituality and sex are disparate topics, and reconsider the nature of lesbian sexuality. If I were to use less explicit language and examples I would not only risk losing my audience; I might lose my train of thought, lose the precision of this thought, and risk losing my spiritual integrity – playing at piety instead of seeking truth.
So this morning I rethink the spatial metaphor “top of your intelligence.” It might not refer to a high-brow versus low-brow humor (yet another spatial metaphor), but does indicate a quality of effort, as Kathie explained it. We know when we’re working this spiritual and intellectual capacity. It’s exciting rather than the same old routine; it’s creative rather than imitative. Stretching toward the top of one’s intelligence may reveal what is most simple after all.
Going over the manuscript for Sexual Mercy one more time, I’m going to try to remember all this, and edit from the top of my intelligence.