Confabulation

One of the things that I learned about in my storytelling workshop is Confabulation, a personal storytelling event with monthly themes. I had an idea for December’s “Family Stories,” but that event was set for December 8 and the idea was all that I had. Still, I reached out to ask when the submission deadline was, and dove into expanding my idea.

It took me a week to work up to a third draft; I was satisfied enough to submit. By this time it was December 2, so I was not at all surprised to receive a message the next day stating that the event was full. Oh well, better luck next time.

Two days later, I woke up to a facebook message from Nisha telling me to check my inbox. I practically flew out of bed and ran to my computer.

Someone dropped out and I was being invited to take their spot! It’s December 5, the event is in three days. Luckily, I would be workshopping my story with Nisha, so I eagerly awaited her notes while I got ready to go to work.

The next three days passed in a bit of a blur; I read her notes, tried to process them throughout the day, and came up with edits that I would apply as soon as I got home. There would be more notes the next morning. By Friday night, I started to recite what I had and time it, cutting out parts that sounded clumsy, changing the wording to better fit how I speak.

I arrived just before 7:00, was directed to a coatroom where I changed out of my boots, and went into the room. I had been to Confabulation once before at the Centaur; this month’s event was being held at the Phi Centre, and the setup was a little different. Lots of seating, and really fucking close to the stage. I helped myself to some water and chatted with a fine trio of people while waiting for everyone to arrive.

Matt Goldberg explained to me how things would work, took me up on stage, and offered a lot of encouragement. Standing on that stage, even before the chairs were filled, was nerve-wracking, but I appreciated getting a chance to be in that space before it was time to perform. He told me I’d be going third, closing out the first half, and I picked a seat toward the back. Nisha asked how I was feeling, I gave her the short version, and I started working to mentally prepare myself.

I was able to forget my stress a bit as I watched the first two storytellers; I got pulled into their tales, and was able to enjoy their performances. Then Matt is introducing me and I realise I have to pee; I walk up to the stage repeating my thought of confidence, confidence; and as I stand up there before the microphone I notice that my mouth is completely dry and I have to open it and speak.

As at the showcase, the performance passes in a blur. I had to draw out this one pause because my voice was about to break, I was getting choked up by my story. The utter lack of moisture in my mouth was only an annoyance, and before I knew it, I was singing the final line, “There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.”

It was incredible. I knew I’d fucked up in a couple moments, but no one else seemed to  have noticed, or to mind. My workshopmates Amy and Manoosh were there and offered hugs, Nisha gave me a hug, and strangers thanked me for sharing. I had this stupid grin on my face, trying to process this elation and digest this experience, definitely wanting more.

Thank you to Matt Goldberg for letting me step in at the last minute.

HUGE thank you to Nisha Coleman for workshopping this story with me and providing critical feedback and words of encouragement. You’ve been there since the beginning and I was so happy to get to work with you on this.

Thank you to everyone who came to listen, and who expressed appreciation of my story. I learned a lot in writing it, and look forward to discovering more as I mine my past for new stories.

Finally, thank you to my grandfather, Eugene Hebert. I think of you every time I play the guitar.

Lukas Rowland: Storyteller

Monday evening, I got up on stage and told my first personal story in front of an audience. I was given the honour of closing our showcase, where we presented eight weeks of hard work. It was amazing to see how everyone’s stories had evolved from the beginning, and I was extremely proud of my fellow workshop participants.

I was captivated by their stories to the point that I didn’t feel nervous until we were applauding the next-to-last performer. Taylor got up on stage and said lovely things about our work, then she introduced me and I tried very hard to remember the performance tips that we had received a couple weeks ago. I keep repeating confidence in my head, and tried to exude that as I approached the stage with butterflies in my stomach.

I took a moment, and then launched into my story.

I could feel that I was roaring through it entirely too quickly. I sensed two parts of my mind: the story, which almost seemed to have a life of its own; and the storyteller, critically analysing and offering nudges for course correction. Slow down, said the storyteller, and the story complied. I felt myself ease into it, then the storyteller fell silent and I was fully into the tale I was telling.

It was incredible. Having an audience to laugh at the funny moments, or shift in their seats at the awkward ones. I felt that they were with me in the story, and I knew by their applause at the end that they appreciated it. I had people I didn’t know come up to me afterward and share kind words that had me beaming.

I want to thank my fellow storytellers for their support and bravery during this journey. Adjani, Ellie, Manoosh, Arielle, Rachel, Hayley, and Amy; your stories were beautiful and I was so glad to see your hard work bring them to the versions you presented.

Finally, an enormous thanks to Nisha Coleman and Taylor Tower for presenting this workshop. You told us from the very first week that we were already storytellers, but that didn’t really sink in until we all went up on stage. Thank you so much for this incredible adventure! I can’t wait to do this again!

Creating content

Last week, stories were on my mind, but there’s a lot more going on in my writing life. I have a hard deadline for my application for a writing residency in New Orleans; I submitted a piece to my writing workshop that is meant to serve as my writing sample, and got great feedback that I need to incorporate into a new draft. I have until nearly the end of the month, but the piece has been sitting long enough, it’s time to get my hands dirty again.

Another important piece of feedback from my workshop was that the story seems to be starting too late; in the previous first chapter, Simon gets the phone call that begins his return to the South. There is nothing established about his relationship with the South, with Montréal, with his family. These things need to be present in the reader’s mind so that the gravity of his journey south is understood.

Since getting this feedback, I have been envisioning the novel in three parts: Montréal, Louisiana, and back. I have been working to flesh out part one and provide motivation for Simon: why did he leave, why has he never been back, who is he and what is his relationship with his place of birth and the place he has chosen to make his life? His relationships with people are clearer in my mind, I really need to dig into how he feels about Home, and what that means to him.

A lot of these feelings have been coming out as I explore the past in my storytelling workshop. I don’t know how much of the past will end up in the novel, I want it to have the immediacy of being set in a “present” time, the past being referenced in anecdotes or perhaps flashbacks. Still, it has been fun to explore these old memories, and discover how much lies beneath the surface. For instance, if I’m telling someone a story from my past, I’ll recall the major events, but it’s only in the telling that other details I thought I’d forgotten begin to emerge. I’ve been doing a lot of free writing to suss out some of those details.

The main storytelling project will be the story I’ll perform at the end of the workshop, and I’m doing work on that week after week and looking forward to each meeting on Monday night for more guidance and encouragement. I’m excited to perform this evolving tale, I’m tapping into high school experience, speech and debate, band, I’ve been on stage before and felt exhilarated by that energy. Really, it’s just telling a story to strangers, and I do that all the time already.

I attended another schmoozer October 30 in a silly mask I picked up at Pharmaprix: all red and black and clearly designed for a woman, with a matching lace collar and big, red jewels made of plastic. This was a joint event by QWF and ELAN, so there were artists present from many disciplines. I spoke with a translator, a juggler, a musician; we all do the same thing in different ways, and it was nice to spend a couple hours chatting with other creative folk. Maybe I’ll convince myself to bring my business cards next time, and stop telling people, “Well, I haven’t actually written anything yet,” when I really mean that I’m unpublished. Not for lack of trying, this has been a great year for getting myself out there!

Telling stories

So I said the writing had taken a backseat in the move, but that isn’t fully accurate. Before my moving weekend drew to its conclusion, I had the first meeting of a personal storytelling workshop that I signed up for after seeing it in a QWF post. Honestly, I had barely read the description: my eyes seized on personal and storytelling and I thought, “I’m writing a novel loosely based on my life, this could be something interesting.”

I was woefully unprepared for how interesting it would be.

We have explored by listening to several stories in-class, and I also attended Confabulation for the first time to get a better sense of what we’re meant to be doing. The very first homework exercise had me listening to a song from my adolescence in a dark room and crying my eyes out at the rush of images and memories. The second part of the exercise was to free write for fifteen minutes, and in a rush of song lyrics and boys’ names came the seeds of a story.

After a couple more meetings, I had a vague idea about a story I would tell involving a cat and three big, bearded men huddled around her in a veterinarian’s office. I freewrote on that in my notebook (which I have started to carry around everywhere and sort of romantically think of as my spellbook, silly boy) and then I sort of worked that into a first draft as I was typing it up. I sent e-mails to the presenters of the workshop, the fantastic duo of Nisha Coleman and Taylor Tower, here presented alphabetically by way of explaining that they are equally enthusiastic, informative, and encouraging in this terrifying new adventure.

As I had discovered with my latest submission and the beginning of my novel, there is something frightening about uncovering feelings, especially those felt during younger and more tumultuous years, and putting them into a work that is meant to be shared. At the same time, there is catharsis and liberation, a feeling of breathing a heavy sigh and feeling a weight lift up from my shoulders. I’ve talked about it in therapy, and these authentic sentiments will be the ones that will resonate with readers and make them care about the characters I write.

So I wondered if the cat story was personal and essential enough. I had sent an e-mail to Nisha and Taylor to get their opinions; I didn’t even have a proper draft for comparison, just the typed-up version of that first freewriting exercise.

What I had done that night but forgotten, is write a set of notes on the back of the exercise, talking about feelings and impressions and how utterly unprepared I was for those floodgates to open. I was doing homework for a writing workshop, this was not something my therapist had assigned. Still, the experience rang familiar due to recent work with feelings, so there was something comforting in the flood.

Then comes our latest meeting last Monday, where we are told that we are being split into pairs and telling our story, such as it is, to a partner.

In my mind: what the fuck? I haven’t decided yet! I haven’t even written the story that might be the better one to do!

We were reassured that this was not important: great emphasis was placed on the fact that the state of our story at this time was immaterial, what we needed was to present elements of it and see how an outsider reacted to them. I listened to my partner’s story with interest, completed my role for her part of the exercise. Then it was my turn to invent something. Well, not invent, the story was something that had happened, the events were real, but now I had to spin them together from whatever written spew had come forth after I cried over a song.

The start was awkward. I apologised (which we had been instructed not to do, as my partner reminded me) and started it with a drive. A few words in and I feel the story sort of support me, not take over exactly, but there was a natural flow that I felt this needed to have. I improvised here and there with details, my brain sometimes snatching ideas up at the last moment. The ending definitely left something to be desired.

Then it was my partner’s turn to talk, and I took a page of notes based on her comments that I brought home and immediately hammered into a first, typed draft. Now it exists. Now it can be printed and torn apart and lines can be drawn, elements can be added to reinforce the bones of this story. I took a vague sort of something and refined it into a messy beginning which may bear little to no resemblance to the final product, which I will perform on stage. Here again, a frisson of fear and excitement. I’m thinking back to my speech and debate days, although that was always a prepared piece where I simply added my performative interpretation. This was going to be me getting up and sharing an intimate part of my life with strangers.

How thrilling!

Moving

At one week, I managed to give myself a break. It’s one week, I’ll catch up soon.

Then one week became two, and three, and so on.

I felt so good about having posted here for several consecutive weeks, so each new date missed made me feel more and more guilty.

Let’s be honest: it’s no big deal.

My life has been swallowed by the move I’d been planning for months. There were boxes to pack, installations and deliveries to schedule, furniture to be selected. I grew more irritable. I hated being at work, and I could barely force myself to meet deadlines for my writer’s group.

The big day went by fairly smoothly thanks to the help of some friends. Over a dozen boxes of stuff, then over a dozen boxes of furniture to assemble. I had given myself a long weekend, knowing I’d need the time, and even so I ended up having a meltdown by the third night.

Months of stress should have ended once we moved into our new apartment, right? Right?!

My foolish brain, which could only focus on immediate goals, failed to clue in to the fact that the move was merely a step; there was (is) still lots to do, and that is (was) okay. It took us days to find the remote. My books are not completely unpacked. We are still a few chairs short of a set (cue rimshot).

So what if the writing and the blog have taken a bit of a backseat to life? This is an important time, I need to be in this moment and carve out time and space to relax. It is essential that I move at my own pace. Maybe someday I’ll put this into a story and laugh at how overwhelming the experience has been.

In the meantime, I’m doing my best to feel at home and slowly regain my previous rhythm. More on that next week.

Walking

It’s sticky hot in Montréal and I’m already regretting my decision to walk as much as I have today. I had convinced the boyfriend that Home Depot was close enough, that it wasn’t that warm, blah blah blah. We got to sit inside while I applied for financing so we could have appliances delivered to our new apartment, but when it was done and the iced coffee was gone, it was back into the sweltering summer air. We parted ways, and I continued deeper into the Mile End to meet Lisanne for a writing session.

I’ve made it a good five minutes from the store, though it felt like thirty, when I check my phone and get the news that our destination is closed. She’s relocated to la Panthère Verte, which isn’t much further, and I make it there in no time. We greet, I dump my bag, and line up to order. We share a nice meal, me with lots of picking around unexpected mushrooms, and take out our laptops.

The only problem is, the place has filled up a bit and gotten a bit livelier. It’s great ambiance for a date or a friendly debate, but not so much for setting in for some serious writing. No matter, it’s Mile End, there’s bound to be a cozy café we can work in.

We step back out into the miasma and head down Saint Viateur in search of a quiet place. It’s early on Saturday evening, surely folks are having dinner or predrinking before going out. We step into one place, but the vibe is all wrong, there’s bustle and children and noise noise noise. Back out again.

As we walk, we see restaurants and bars, not what we’re looking for. There are any number of cute boutiques, but we’re not here to shop. Before long, we reach Park Avenue (which is always avenue du Parc in my head, #sorrynotsorry) and realise that we’re near where we sat to write last time.

Naturally, we turn left, go back to that same café, and get some solid work done. I broke 10,000 words and nearly finished my sixth chapter. I also had an amazing pistachio chocolatine and a delicious iced mocha, so thanks, Caffè in Gamba! Next time, we’ll just cut the crap and head straight there.

I was so pumped with how much work I got done that by the time we said our goodbyes, I decided to walk the full half hour back home. Fortunately, it had cooled a bit by then, but the bounce in my step wore off before I could make it all the way upstairs. But then I got to collapse into bed and have a very relaxing evening, so it’s still a victory.

Dreams of autumn

I attended my first session of QWF’s Shut Up & Write, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I was able to wrap up the third chapter of Claire and get a fourth out in three hours, including the novel’s first sex scene, which was interesting to write while in a room full of people. I left feeling accomplished and buoyant, and went and spent entirely too much money at Lush.

As I write more of this Louisiana project, I am exploring strange little corners of memory that I haven’t visited in a while. I don’t think my recollections are pristine, and I get a freedom from that to fudge details even further. This is meant to be fiction; the truest parts will be the emotions I felt. I hope I can successfully weave those into these alternate versions of events.

In the vein of digging up my thoughts on the past, I have signed up for a workshop on oral storytelling. I haven’t the faintest clue where to start, and the description specifically mentioned a focus on the difference between oral and written storytelling, so I think I have a lot to learn. I’m excited to see where this takes me.

I’m also looking forward to having a regular schedule to follow. My writing workshop is meeting infrequently enough to feel quite irregular. Part of what is holding me back is that I’m moving in a month and would like to start a routine that I can do at home. That’s not much of an excuse, though. I could treat myself to a nice drink and snack somewhere public. I often look at people in restaurants and cafés with a bit of envy; there’s no reason I can’t be them.

Then once I move and have proper spaces to write in, I can fix myself some tea and put on some good music to work to. The bf is fine with my writing time here, so I doubt there will be any problem once we have even more space to occupy. Meanwhile, we’re sharing a studio with a kitchenette and no bathtub and I’m hunched over my laptop on the bed. My back feels marvelous.

So I have my next meeting with my workshop soon, a brand-new workshop starting up, and a positive change in the home situation coming up. The start of fall is going to be a beautiful time.

Also, people are absolutely shitting on Tim Hortons’ pumpkin spice menu, I’m pretty sure they’re irredeemable at this point. R.I.P.

Of course, it’s been damn hot this week, so dreams of autumn feel slightly out of reach. Here’s hoping there’s a change in the wind soon.

Happy belated Pride!

Last weekend was the big weekend of Fierté Montréal, and the Village drew me in a couple times before I ran out of energy for it. Friday had me having supper with a friend from out of town, which led to a nostalgia tour of musical favourites as I walked to the bus and let my memories carry me away.

Saturday started a bit more low-key: brunch with the boyfriend, followed by meeting up with Lisanne for some serious writing. This time, we weren’t going to get carried away with conversation. We stuck to five-minute breaks between 25-minute stretches of silence, and I got out the entire second chapter of my novel. During our second break, I had shared a bit of what I was writing, and some of Lisanne’s questions led to me adding a bit more to the second chapter than I had originally planned.

We retreated to the park afterward, sat in the grass beneath a tree, and talked about writing and life. I think I liked this arrangement better than our last meeting; we got more work done while still being able to socialise and enjoy each other’s company afterward. I’m sure we’ll do so again soon.

From there, I met some friends for an afternoon of snacks and drinking. Then we headed off for the show in the park, me thinking I was entirely too drunk to be bothered by the crowds. In the beginning, it was fine, though I kept complaining that the music was too much soul and not enough beat. Then the act changed, the beat drew a bigger crowd, and I peaced out.

I only meant to step to a less densely-packed area for a moment, take a breath, maybe grab a bite, and head back in. Instead, I found my feet carrying me out of the park, my thumbs texting my friends to let them know that I’m fine, but I’m leaving. I wasn’t really fine, but I went for the shorthand. I knew I was going to be fine and that even if I was in a state, it would pass, and I didn’t want them to worry over me. Enjoy the show, but I’ve gotta get out of here.

I felt a little stupid being bothered by it, but I’ve long known that I’m a homebody, and my weekend had already been filled with social activities. I could have figured that my reserves would be low and I would’t be able to properly deal with stressors. Still, I did go out for a little bit, I heard some good music, I sang in a crowd with friends. That’s a win.

For the end of Pride Weekend, I had planned on going to the parade, but I didn’t feel up to crowds again. I opted instead for a quiet afternoon with my boyfriend at a friend’s place. We watched the Pride episode (a Pride episode? Did they do more than one?) of Queer as Folk, made comments on how much has changed since that show originally aired, and ate entirely too much junk.

I came home and ended up doing some more work on Claire. I was describing a conversation that was happening during a drive, so I decided to pull up the google and take a virtual trip down familiar roads. It’s the first time I’ve really done this, a good dozen years after the time when I drove those roads most often. The experience was surreal, and really helped me pace the conversation and weave in little details, some versimilitude. I know these roads. My school bus used to take me down them, so that even before I started driving, I had memorised their twists and turns.

There was even a memory around a certain twist, and as I wondered if it was too dark and too real to include, I wrote it in. I can think about it when I’m editing. I’m going to have a lot to consider in terms of where I draw the line between fact and fiction.

Energy levels

I had a fantastic weekend. Verdungeons & Dragons on Saturday after my shift; we finally reached level three, and I completely flubbed my character’s very first spell. Then brunch with a friend and some mild shopping before the QWF picnic.

Now, you might be wondering why someone would possibly think it’s a good idea to brunch before a picnic. I suppose we can chalk it up to me trying to have my cake and eat it too. Plus I don’t have a kitchen, I didn’t bring anything, so it didn’t feel right to mooch off of everyone’s collaboration to the event. I did sample some delicious sugar tartlike thing with pecans in it and I swear, I had an out-of-body experience.

As expected, it was great to talk to other writers about writing, to hear their experiences, to hear some of what they’ve worked on (I’ve made a note to look up a book later). I really enjoy the sense of community and camaraderie that I feel with these folk, and look forward to getting to know them better. It’s also reassuring to know that when I progress in my writing life, there will be people to ask for opinions and advice.

The other half of my weekend was given to cleaning in my apartment, sensibly nudged there by my boyfriend. I’ve basically been living in his place, and the landlord will need to show mine to interested renters, so it was due. We spent three hours sweating with only a fan to push the hot air around us. I was sweeping and cleaning up, but poor Fred was using hot water in the kitchen and scrubbing cabinets. Before we could finish all we wanted to, I called it quits; my head was pounding, my temper was building steam, and I was tired of standing.

So, socializing (a LOT) and keeping pretty physically active put me in no mood to go and deal with the daily grind. Getting back to work wasn’t so bad, but I had to start canceling on events to be able to stay home and recover energy. I feel a little guilty, but I’ve come to an understanding that if I don’t manage my energy levels, I start to feel a little frayed at the edges, and my mood sours. If I want to function and be productive in my daily life, I need to maintain a certain balance. Then it’s easier to make time to write, and I feel happy about having been productive in my writing life, and that feels great.

All that to say that I haven’t really worked on Claire apart from revising the first chapter and submitting it to my writing group. Now I have a little over three weeks to read their pieces, which is always fun, and progress a bit in my own work so that I have a few choices for my next submission.

I am loving this whole schedules thing, having other people rely on me, sharing work with others and reading theirs. It’s easy to keep momentum when I have these reasons spurring me on, keeping me going. It makes the entire thing more fun, also.

Disrupting my process

I’d like to begin by saying that I feel inexperienced enough to admit that I don’t yet have a good idea of what my process is. The only novel whose roughdraft I completed is now almost five years behind me, still unfinished. However, I’ve already started toying with an idea of doing something differently with my latest project.

I had it from my high school teacher before anyone else: “Don’t edit until your first draft is finished.” This was back when I thought all writing advice was gold and to be taken to heart and never questioned nor ignored. I think there is quite a lot of value in this thought, but I’ve also learned that it’s okay to try new things. That advice is not absolute. That I owe it to mix it up until I find what works best for me.

With Yggdrasil, I completed the entire roughdraft before I showed it to anyone for feedback. With my current project (let’s call it Claire) just beginning, and my writing workshop meeting regularly, I thought I’d try sharing the opening chapter and seeing if I’m starting off on the right foot. Since I think it’s a waste of my peers’ time to submit the very first draft I wrote, I’m revising a chapter before the rest of the novel is written. I’m almost satisfied, and will hopefully get some good criticism; for our meeting after that, I plan to have several more chapters to choose from.

I discussed a bit of it with Lisanne, a friend from the group, when we met for coffee last week. We didn’t get as much writing done as we had planned, but we had a nice time talking about our projects and peoples’ reactions to them, and how much truth was too much to put into a fictional version of events. We shared our experiences, and hopefully mine gave her more insight into what it was like growing up in Southern Louisiana.

One thing that’s easy to represent in my writing now is the heat. It’s been hot and humid here, and I was down south recently enough to recall key differences between summer in Cecilia and summer in Montréal. Despite this, I went for a day in the park with friends in Verdun. I was introduced to someone new, and I talked about my past for the first time since deciding to put it into a novel. I don’t think that necessarily changed what information I share; usually only the essentials for a first meeting. But then, of course, in quiet moments staring up at trees, my mind was going over which parts need to go into the book to tell this story properly.

I’ll be in the park again next week for a picnic with the Québec Writers’ Federation. I hope to meet some new folk, chat about writing, and relax (fingers crossed for cooler, drier weather!). I don’t think I’ll feel any of the apprehension I did about the last social event; I’m rolling right along, and anyway we’re all different, so there’s not much use comparing myself to anyone else. (Tell this to my nervous mind.) It will be fun to meet with like minds and discuss what we like to do.

I am considering adding another project to my plate: a member of the QWF posted about a call for submissions of dragon stories. Just like with my vampyre story, I always wanted to write about dragons (no alternate spelling here), and any new short story is a good way to practice. I haven’t come up with much about it, and an attempt at an introductory scene fizzled out when I realised I hadn’t yet come up with the emotions motivating the main character. If my current pattern holds, it will be something I’ve felt acutely and can portray accurately.

Speaking of feelings, I got a gut punch in the form of disappointment this week. After checking their website daily, I finally got my entrance exam results for McGill. My application has been refused because I “do not meet language requirements.” Eighteen credit hours of French at Concordia University, at least eight years of work experience in primarily francophone environments, and I failed the exam. I had felt so confident about it.

What I suspect is that because I do not read very much in French, I made mistakes that a seasoned reader would not have. I have always meant to read more news articles, novels, even classics; but somehow never got around to it.

I’m not closing the door on translation just yet, but before I schedule another exam for myself, I would like to practice for it. I want to get more comfortable reading in French, expand my vocabulary, gain an understanding for tenses not used when speaking aloud. I want to write in French and have someone experienced to give me constructive criticism. I feel that I severely underestimated what it takes to work in the field of translation, and that is why I got the results I did. I’m still disappointed, but it helps to understand that this didn’t fall on me out of the blue. I set myself up for this.