My 2011 Masters dissertation on spontaneity was entitled “Can Scorpions Smoke?” – a question that came from a particularly blank moment I had in an improv scene whilst doing my research.  A fellow performer suggested that I should make that the title of the dissertation and that’s where it all began!

The majority of my dissertation was written on the back of reflecting in great detail on 150 seconds of my life that I had journalled, recorded or videoed to see if I could identify what enabled or constrained my ability to act in a “live” and spontaneous way in my work.  (The 150 seconds was inspired by William Blake’s suggestion of “seeing the world in a grain of sand”.)  I was amazed at how much information about myself I was able to distill from such a short period of time – in particular, three big patterns of behaviour/habits that inhibited my spontaneity in my work and in my life in general…

1) Power, status, the need for affirmation and my own sense of self
I realised that I sensed an increased risk of being spontaneous in situations where I perceived a large power differential through some of my habitual projections of power onto particular people (especially older ‘wiser-looking’ males or more ‘senior’ people in organisations).  I realised that in these situations, instead of being my spontaneous self that I would ‘script’ my interactions to maximise my chance of receiving affection and to have my sense of self affirmed.  This of course had the opposite effect and I’d be less likely to show up simply as my spontaneous self when it would be most helpful.    I also developed a deeper understanding that power and status are not things that people have but are things that people do that are reinforced by others acting into it.  A social patterning rather than a physical scaffolding.

2) Trusting my own spontaneous self
I realised that part of what inhibited me was my fear of not knowing.  Not fully trusting my spontaneous self – part of me that I probably last trusted when I was around 5 or 6 years old and somehow was taught that this wasn’t a good idea.   I realised that, as Keith Johnstone once said, getting over my own fear of being perceived as “mad, bad or wrong: was key to starting to trust myself and realising that my spontaneity was inhibited by my efforts to come across as sane, good and right!  Through my improv classes and experimenting in my work I’ve became better able to start to trust my spontaneous self more and realised I’m not actually as mad, bad or wrong than I may have feared.  Either that or my natural mad, bad and wrong-ness is actually quite helpful for others.

3) Trusting the body and senses
I realised my habit was to try and think myself out of trouble.  To rely on cognition and logical rational thinking to navigate through the messiness of life.  Through writing this dissertation I came to realise that this is the one way to guarantee getting stuck.   After some wonderful conversations with body experts and gestalt psychotherapists, I began to realise how intelligent the body is and how, when trusted, it can be a source of great personal awareness.  I learnt that the body and the senses are naturally spontaneous and that trusting them to take the lead, be that in the workplace or in an improvisation scene, is a great way to get unstuck and allow something new and creative.

And as to the BIG question whether scorpions can smoke or not?  A wonderful response from the London Natural History museum answered that one…

Our ref: IAS 2011-1969
Dear Mr Chapman,

Thank you for contacting The Natural History Museum.  The answer to your question is no, scorpions can’t smoke. A large scorpion would be able to physically a) grab a cigarette in its pincers and b) move it towards its mouth. For more details about scorpion anatomy and names for body parts, please read Wikipedia article here:

However, the scorpion wouldn’t be able to c) inhale and exhale smoke from the cigarette, because scorpions have a different respiratory system than ours. The ‘lungs’ (please see Wikipedia article for book lungs here: are situated in the abdomen, not in the cephalothorax. They don’t communicate with the mouth. Scorpions don’t inhale anyway, as the insects do inflating and deflating their abdomen. The book lungs work fine without a ventilation system.

I hope you will find this information useful.

Best wishes
Florin Feneru

Identification and Advisory Service
Angela Marmont Centre for UK BiodiversitThe Natural History MuseumCromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, U.K.