Short update!

So fluctuating confidence is a thing for me, but by this point I’ve done enough that I’m able to consistently remind myself that I’m not lacking in accomplishments. I have been producing content in the form of short stories, oral performances, and a good chunk of a rough draft of a novel. Yes, I worded that intentionally.

I am working on things, and I am gonna get off my ass and come here to talk about it once a week. I want to hold myself accountable, as well as motivate myself to continue this momentum. It’d be pretty fucking embarrassing to come here week after week with my hands in my pockets going, “Um, well folks y’see, it’s been a really busy week, and…”

No. I have got shit to do and it’s time to get to work.

I have Shut Up & Write this Saturday—actually, I forgot to register, so I’ll sleep in and write at home. In my office. With the silly, colour-changing lights I like so much. I’ll put some music on the google home and increase my word count.

I’ve been looking at Patreons, wondering how and why I might want to make that work for me, and I’ve decided to put one together. I’m making myself a commitment to set that up and come talk about it more next week.

It’s part of my plan to motivate myself to express myself through poetry a bit more often. Lately, if I’m feeling a particular way and it gets dialed up to eleven, I tend to put down a few lines and then look away and pretend they didn’t happen. Probably because the poetry I wrote in high school was absolutely overblown and florid and saccharine. Well, hopefully I’ve developed some taste since then, and a weekly poem isn’t too much to offer people in exchange for money. It also sets up some structure (more motivation, yay!) and gives me a place to potentially share tidbits I’d rather not put out for the entire public to view. Only interested, paying parties.

Um, but like I said, I’ll talk about that more next week. Ideally with a video is what I’m thinking.

That’s probably enough to get done in a week’s time. Stay tuned for the update! I swear!

Comedy and storytelling

I had a blast at Tinder Tales last Saturday! I arrived early with some friends, enjoyed a nice meal with a couple of cocktails, then joined the other performers downstairs. The mic was not in service, but I learned how to project back in high school so I wasn’t nervous about that.

Thus began my crash course on the differences between comedy and storytelling. I am still processing some of the finer points, and there is a huge amount of overlap in this particular Venn diagram. I’d like to take a workshop on comedy, or read about it, do something to expand my knowledge and help clarify these new thoughts.

I sat back and appreciated the performances, laughing along with the crowd, which was a very warm and friendly collection of faces. Then came my turn.

“This is less of a Tinder tale and more of a Scruff story,” I began before launching into my performance. You know how it goes: you meet a guy for drinks, you have a chat, you find out your ex lives with his ex. I got some good laughs, and I even saw some sympathetic looks as I went into more vulnerable parts of my story. I don’t know if I stuck the landing so much as slid to a stop, but I felt good on the whole. I know I’m being my own worst critic here, but it’s helpful to think of how I can do better next time.

Thank you to an amazing audience, including several friends; your support means everything to me! Thanks to Adelade LaFontaine for producing, Monica Hamburg (catch her show Pornomedy) for hosting, and to the hilarious performers who got up and told their tales. A special shout-out to Heather Hurst (@ForceOfStature on Twitter and Instagram) for looking at a table of three bearded men and asking, “What is the name of your podcast?” We had a good laugh after the show when I told her they were my people.

I’m pretty sure I’m a storyteller and not a comedian (or perhaps some hybrid creature?), though I do enjoy the relationship between tension and laughter and I would like to learn how to better manipulate said tension. So it’s practice, practice, practice and on to the next story!

I don’t have anything in the works just yet, so it seems like an opportune moment to return to my long-neglected novel. I’ve got Shut Up & Write next weekend, I’ve submitted a total of three chapters to two writing groups, momentum is building and I need to harness that energy and let it take me as far as possible.

Another first

I’m not freaking out, you’re freaking out!

In a mere two days, I will be performing at Tinder Tales for the very first time! I’ve run through my story enough to figure out which words sound awkward together and which beats I want to really hit. I might have an ending, but I’m not too sure on that yet.

The ending is crucial. I want something that will close the story and let the audience know that it’s over before I bow my head and return to my seat. I’m not looking to tie everything up with a nice bow, but there needs to be a certain resonating thought that signals the story is over.

It hasn’t happened every time, but usually I come to the event with a clear idea of how I want the story to end. It may not be memorised word for word, but I know more or less what I want to say and I try to make my way there naturally.

All this to say, I have a vague idea of where I want this story to land, and a little over 48 hours to refine that idea without over-rehearsing my story. Come out to Lord William Pub on Saturday night to see if I stick the landing!

A moment of calm

I’ve reached the end of the Confab Storylab, culminating in our breakout performance at the Freestanding Room. It was a great night of awesome stories in an intimate space, I was able to feel fairly laid-back even though part of my brain was screaming about how much improvisation I was about to attempt (like, a lot).

It worked? I had to ask for some outside opinions, naturally; I got caught up in the flow of the story, went off on an unplanned tangent, and wrapped it up as neatly as I could. Telling a story seems to happen in a breathless rush with me, though I don’t feel like I sped through it at all. Those minutes go by in a flash, then I’m bowing my head and retreating to my seat to enjoy the heady rush of a story told.

One of my fellow workshoppers shared a story that centred on the Main Deli, so a few of us went down the road for smoked meat and latkes. My first. Yeah, I’ve been in Quebec 11 years, lived on the island for three and a half, and still had never gone for a smoked meat sandwich. What kind of a Montrealer am I?

A Montrealer-in-progress, obviously.

Since that night, not a lot of work has been done on stories. I have Tinder Tales coming up May 25 at Lord William Pub, I should probably run that by a few people and get some feedback. I have a submission deadline in my calendar for a nonfiction contest organised by the Malahat Review, and a vague notion of what to write for that. QWF’s Shut Up & Write is starting up again, and I am keenly aware that the last session earned me nearly 4,000 words of my novel. I can’t expect that every time, but my word count has not increased in (gulp) months and I need to change that.

So many stories

April has been a fantastic month.

The Confab Storylab has been rolling right along. giving me new tools and tricks to play with in my storytelling. The more I advance with these techniques, the more I understand that I am going to have to try things different ways before I ultimately settle on my way. As someone raised gifted with a huge fear of failure, this is mildly terrifying.

Luckily, workshops like these provide a safe environment to fail in. I told a story that I had barely written a rough draft for, and got a page full of notes on how to develop it. Last week, we were asked to take a familiar story and improvise part of it. Going off-script is taking a huge leap outside of my comfort zone. I like my lists, I love my threes, I enjoy hand-picking sensory details that firmly plant my audience in my story.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover I do less floundering than anticipated. It’s not pretty, but it’s very real, and that is often the more desirable trait in storytelling. Watch me get lost in a moment on stage while I search for words to bring you into it with me.

May promises to be exiting as well! The storylab is putting on an intimate breakout event where I’ll get to experiment a bit. I am also performing at Tinder Tales on May 25 at Lord William Pub. Who doesn’t love awkward dating stories? I’m excited to share one of mine (oh, there are many!) with a room full of strangers.

Working hard

I have been giving 100% at my new job, and any new learning experience is mentally exhausting, so there has not been much writing going on. I’ve done some editing for my Confabulation performances, but nothing much apart from that.

My gut reaction is to feel bad for my lack of productivity in terms of creative work, but ultimately this isn’t a useful line of thought. I’ve still come so far in such a relatively short amount of time, I can allow myself to put things on pause while I focus on establishing myself in my new workplace. Once my job becomes more routine, I’ll have more energy for creative endeavours.

Despite not having touched my novel, I have been keeping busy with stories.

I’ve joined another storytelling workshop, this one part of Confabulation and presented by the wonderful Matt Goldberg. There are a lot of familiar faces, and I’m really excited to see what we learn from each other and Matt in the coming weeks.

I was invited to participate in Confabulation’s Audience Favourites show, bringing back my very first performance from December. Having told a couple more stories since, I found ways to improve upon my earlier performance, as well as the text itself.

It was a night for feelings! Each of the other storytellers brought tears to my eyes. You could feel the entire room with them during their most powerful moments, there were these stunning silences. I opened the second half with my own emotional story, reliving the feelings I was relating, keeping them just under control so my voice didn’t break. It felt amazing.

A refreshingly tearless experience was Taylor Tower‘s retelling of a story she had showed us in workshop, and getting to see it told live was an entirely separate experience. I already knew the twists and turns, but a masterful performance has you right there with the storyteller each step of the way, even when you know what comes next. I was delighted.

There is also something to be said about being in the room while a story is being told. A recording cannot capture the energy of an audience waiting with bated breath to find out what happens next. Tension is nearly tangible, silences and dramatic pauses ring out, it’s magical.

So the novel has been set aside for a moment, but there is still a sizable stack of pages on my desk and they aren’t going anywhere. I’ve taken a break before and been able to get back into the voice this book needs. I just need to look over the outline and read the latest chapter and I should be able to carry on from there.

Back to work

I meant to come here and catch up sooner; I even brought my laptop down to Vermont in hopes of catching up with my writing life. It’s a bit harder than I remembered to get things organised when starting a new job, and packing up and leaving for a few days means I can’t bring all of my writing stuff with me.

I did manage to critique a piece for my gay writing group, but mostly my evenings were spent going to bed early and listening to the howling mountain wind. Vermont was beautiful, Stratton was lovely; but that wind. I declined to buy earplugs at Jean Coutu before we set off, so that’s on me.

Just before leaving for Vermont, I got to tell another story at Confabulation. Twice. The Shortest Story is an annual event, and having experienced the frenetic energy once, I can’t wait to do it again.

It was awesome to chat with other storytellers and hang out backstage. As always, it’s a pleasure to listen to what everyone shares, and I got to see most everyone else’s performances. There’s no theme, so we got to hear a bit of everything.

A really interesting thing about getting to tell a story twice in one night is that I got the first crowd’s reaction, and figured out what to play up or draw out. It’s easier to relax when you’ve already told your story once and it went well. And I had a drink in the green room during intermission, so by the time I got up to tell my story again, I felt amazing and I think it was better than the first time.

Now, between that and work, I haven’t made much time for writing. I met with both my writing groups this week and received wonderful feedback that asks the sort of questions I’m too close to come up with myself. I’ve scrawled all over the print copies for the eventual revision, but I’m still firm about saving that for later. I still have a lot of ground to cover with the rough draft, and I have to balance that with work now.

I cannot possibly express just how relieved I am to finally be receiving incooooooooome. Unemployment loses its charm extremely quickly.

February up and left

Where did February go? Time for a retrospective.

I started off freshly unemployed, and at the beginning of the month I was still riding the high of putting my foot down and making a decision for the sake of my own good. I had tons of free time, perfect for getting lots of writing done!

I feel like I wasted a lot of that time loafing around, but my calendar begs to differ.

I had my first meeting with a new writer’s group, this one comprised entirely of queer men. Since I make up the entire gay section of my previous writing group, I felt the need to seek the opinions of folk who are a bit more familiar with my subject matter. This isn’t to say I’m leaving my first group! I need as much feedback as I can get!

I slayed at my last Shut Up & Write, managing over 4,300 words in two and a half hours. I was buzzing and eager to get home and print up the new chapters and add them to the manuscript pile. I submitted one of them to the queer writing group, with a specific question of how much sexual detail is too much? This rough draft is extra steamy, I’m looking forward to hearing what they think of it.

Then I pitched for next month’s Confabulation, a special challenge as the stories are only two minutes long. My rough draft was shorter than usual, but still clocked in at nearly five minutes. Oops. It’s fun to make big cuts, though, so now it’s under the time limit and I’m ready to rehearse. Not too much, though; I aim to tell a story, not recite a bit of nonfiction.

I also started a new job, so my income woes will soon be over! I want to lament having less time to write, but my chequing account is sobbing, so it seems silly to complain. I’ll just have to include writing time in my schedule, maybe bring my laptop to work and set up in a café for an hour or two once a week. Or come home, fix myself a nice tea, and hole up in the office. There are options.

In fact, I’m off to Vermont next week for work, and my laptop is definitely coming with. Job by day, writing by night. Both of my writing groups meet the week after, though, so I’d best print up the pieces I’ll be critiquing and get to work on them.

I hit a bit of a wall with my French story: I got excellent feedback, then realised that I made the all-too-common error of losing myself in time while telling a story. I wrote out a reminder for the corkboard: what happens in the story is in present tense, what comes before is past, and anything beyond the scope of the story has to be in future. The me who is sitting at the keys and writing now gets confused about that, though.

I got overwhelmed by all of my spelling errors and the daunting task of changing tense for a couple pages of French text, so I abandoned it for the moment and did other things. It’s still there, I know I can tackle it, I just had a bit of a freak-out in that moment. It’s fine. I’m fine.

A story about love

January began with a ton of work on my novel: two meetings of Shut Up & Write with the Quebec Writers’ Federation, writing dates with my friend Lisanne, submitting to my writing workshop again. To keep from getting burnt out, I also like to take time to work on side projects, and since I’d told myself that I’d pitch to any Confabulation theme that inspired a story, I haven’t stopped.

February’s theme was “First Comes Love…?” and what love story is more important to me than the one that had me pick up my life, learn another language, and settle over a thousand miles away from home?

I got the news on my way to work after Shut Up & Write. Lisanne got to see me jump up and down on the métro like a fool, then we parted ways and I worked my last shift at Mohawk Barbier. I had the pleasure of workshopping my story with Deb VanSlet, who I had just seen perform a story at January’s show, “Rites of Passage,” so I knew I was in good hands.

This is a story I have told countless times in countless ways, because everyone wants to hear how a boy from the heart of Cajun Country ended up relocating to Montreal, where the winds blow as cold as -40 (it’s the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit) in the dead of winter. In its simplest form, boy meets boy, boy visits boy, boy learns French and gets married and moves to another country. Heartwarming!

Of course, real life is a bit less bright and shiny—I am divorced, after all—but for a moment I did feel that way, and looking back I really feel an overwhelming fondness for a choice that has led to so many amazing experiences. It was lovely to call on those memories and relive that bubbly beginning, and to share it with a room of strangers.

There’s something magical about it, and that’s why I’ll keep pitching and keep sharing stories.

In other news, I attended my first meeting of the Violet Hour Book Club, where I said basically nothing, but enjoyed listening to others talk about queer literature. We had read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, which stunned me with its beauty and heartbreak and world so greatly removed from my own. I can’t wait to find out what we’re reading next.

My writing workshop also met for the first time this year! I’ve done so much work on the novel that it was hard to remember what I had submitted; the new first two chapters. Just like back in the day with Yggdrasil, I started the story a little too late, and needed to go back and establish some things. So these were the first two out of eight or so chapters that detail Simon’s time in Montreal before he flies down to Louisiana. I have some characters to flesh out, some scenery to paint in greater detail, and some voices to differentiate. It was great to get feedback again, especially the comments highlighting what I need to fix. I mean, it’s also great to hear what people think I’m doing well, but it’s those blind spots that make beta readers essential to any project.

Upcoming projects include a couple of submissions I’m eyeing, each of which would require me to write a new piece. I’ve got a concrete idea for the one with the later deadline. I’ve also drafted a story for Enfabulation, donc c’est en français and doesn’t that scare the shit out of me, but there’s a first time for everything.

I have already been a member of the QWF for an entire year, most of which I’ve been active, attending events and meeting people and participating in workshops. What a year it’s been. Maybe I’ll have to write about that next; I love my cheesy little inventories of what I’m grateful for and blah blah blah. I’m a sap, I just have to dose the moment with a sufficient taste of sarcasm before things get too saccharine.

Now how do I have Simon tell Fabien some version of the story I told last Saturday? 🤔

Momentum and mountains

One of my most common excuses for not doing writing is that I don’t have a decent place to write. Since September of last year, I have a home office, but it hasn’t felt like an inviting place: there have been boxes and recyclable bags left unpacked since the move, the bare walls make a horrible echo, and there’s been a spare monitor at my feet when I sit at my desk.

No more.

I’ve been tackling various parts of my home in the past few days, finally claiming these spaces instead of leaving projects unfinished. I alphabetised my DVD rack and pared down my collection to what fit on the shelves. I mounted a painting, a canvas, and a poster. I came into my home office and emptied boxes.

One of these boxes was filled with a stack of papers that I had basically packed that way, the mountain on top of the file cabinet. Tax documents for annual income, investment and loan statements, the instruction manual for my toaster oven. Luckily, I bought hanging folders and labels years ago, so I started sorting through the pile, making a new folder whenever it was necessary (FIVE just for writing!). In short order, the mountain had been ground down and sifted into separate containers, clearly identified, easy to find if need be.

I had started with a simple task, and let the momentum from that carry me until the office was nearly done! I did take a break to eat something—this the result of ONE cup of coffee—and instead of returning to the physical stuff, I updated my CV and came here. Still time well spent, imo.

These are all things that I could have done at any time during the past four months, though I expect my neighbours are grateful I don’t typically use the hammer after dark. It just seemed like so much, and the thought of even starting with one tiny thing felt impossible. I at least had to clear a space and take down a box and grab a marker… it becomes easy to make excuses, easier to maintain them, even in the face of guilt.

I gave myself the benefit of having started and completed other projects, like reorganising my DVDs. I also put on an energetic playlist and had caffeine singing in my veins. I may have a box, a pair of rollerblades, and some paper garbage to take care of; but that seems like nothing against the mountain of papers I’ve already conquered. I’ll get it done.