Here we go again! It has been NINE YEARS since my first go at National Novel Writing Month, and though I used to take a crack at it every year, I eventually stopped trying. Not every exercise is good for every moment, and I have found myself suffering severe brain drain in the month of November.
This time, I’m saying, “Fuck it,” and choosing to have fun with it! I am reviving my old fantasy novel with a new outline and a goal of 50,000 words by November’s end. I’ve been idly adding to the “Research” folder in Scrivener when ideas for backstory strike me, and I’m ready to start doing something with all of that worldbuilding.
To set the scene: our story takes place in a world where magic is divided into colours and oaths can bind one to their word. One man seeks to escape a punishment that does not fit his supposed crime, a promise he made contrecœur, and he will travel the land in search of his remedy. Expect colour theory, queer sex, and genderfuckery!
I won’t be keeping the fun to myself: I will invite those interested to join me on Patreon for updates and a weekly reading of my favourite tidbits. Stay tuned for further news of this wild adventure on the road to 50,000 words! Let me know about your project, NaNo or otherwise, in the comments! 📥
I’ve thought a lot about my job, having decided at a very young age that I wanted to be a writer (with all the misconceptions of what that actually looks like). Then I struggled with the definition of “writer” and whether one has to have published anything to consider themselves “deserving” of the title. (You don’t; you are a writer if you write, regardless of frequency and quantity.) But while I knew in my soul of souls that I am a writer, the bills need paying, and thus employment is needed.
I’ve gone through a lot of jobs since I started as a so-called sandwich artist in a Subway attached to a gas station. I have long thought about a story that would weave them all together into a cohesive experience with a resounding finale, but who can ever be certain they have found THE job for them?
I’ll be telling a story with Confabulation on the Mainline stage for the first time since February 2020, which was the last time I told a story in public before my manager at Starbucks told us we could go home for two weeks. (Funnily enough, I won’t be talking about Subway or Starbucks this Saturday.) Since then, I’ve been an English tutor online, a customer service rep then call centre manager for a local eyewear company, and finally a massage therapist.
And that’s only a tiny part of the journey! One day, I’d love to spend an hour going through my CV and the various misadventures and lessons learned. For Saturday night, I’ll stick to one career transition, and I hope it resonates and gives people inspiration to take charge of their professional lives (as best they can).
It has been nearly four years since I attended my very first storytelling workshop, something I signed up for on a whim without fully understanding what I was getting into. I was working on a novel, the Quebec Writers’ Federation workshops had opened for fall registration, and the theme fit my work; though my book was not a memoir, there was a great deal of truth going into it.
The first word I wrote under “Storytelling Workshop #1” was: Confabulation. This does not refer to the phenomenon of filling in memories with fictions, but a monthly storytelling series in Montreal featuring new and experienced storytellers performing true tales centered around a theme. The first meeting of the QWF workshop was October 1st; two months later, I would be refining my first Confabulation pitch into a story told onstage at the Phi Centre (the theme? Family stories).
Since then, I have shared many important moments of my life, often deriving greater meaning from the process of transforming memories into stories for the stage. In my second workshop, this time a Confabulation StoryLab presented by Matt Goldberg, I bonded with storytellers I had met at the Mainline for the Shortest Story. One of them has become a close friend and neighbour, the fabulous Emma Lanza.
Over the course of many walks through the park near her place, we figured out that we would love to work together and take our conversations about story to a group of people wanting to learn more. When we heard that the QWF was accepting workshop pitches, we put our heads together and devised an exploration of embodiment and expressing one’s truth onstage. We began collecting books and articles and stories that expanded upon our ideas and illustrated the elements of storycraft.
We are pleased to present the culmination of our work in Your Story, Embodied: an eight-week adventure designed to get the story out of your body and into the minds of your audience. We will explore prompts based on the body, the elements that make a good story, and how to take a memory and turn it into a memorable tale. Space is limited to twelve participants, so don’t miss your chance to embark on this journey with us Wednesday nights at 6:00pm, beginning October 5th. The eighth week will feature a showcase of our participants’ talents as they present a five-minute story in front of a live audience of invited guests!
In other storytelling news, Confabulation kicks off its new season at the Centaur Theatre this Saturday, September 17th with Summer love (get your tickets here)! Join us for a celebration of the season before we transition into fall and sweater weather! I’ll be there in my capacity as social media manager, taking pictures and enjoying the stories as we gear up for an amazing 2022-23 season!
To remind myself what was going on, and to illustrate this expanse of silence, we will be exploring a photo listicle beginning with February 2021: Josie yawns and is adorable. No further caption required.
Shortly thereafter, I got myself into a mental bind with regard to writing and art, and it has taken this long while to untangle it enough to come back here and put some words down.
It was February 2021. I was working for BonLook, I was making CookIt meals (and occasionally having meltdowns in the unfamiliar space of cooking), and I was chatting with my friend Emma to get our stories into shape for Confabulation’s Shortest Story XI. I quietly gave my fantasy novel another crack in an orange notebook I’d written in before, keeping one page empty for notes and ideas and doodles.
Then March, and I keep pulling tarot cards, and I start learning the team leader position at work, and I struggle to add new routines to my life. It’s easiest to do something as an established routine, and I want to journal more consistently, and stretch every day, and feel better overall in my life. The fantasy project is going on in the background, for fun, but there isn’t any serious writing happening yet. Training and learning a new role takes a lot of energy.
In May, I turn to runestones (though I will barely broach the second futhark before getting distracted). I like to feel the cold stone grow warm in my closed fist, I like the sound of them rattling together in their bag, I like keeping one nearby to affirm its meaning. They’re also nice to look at.
Then we got COVID. It felt gross to think that although we had “done everything right,” we still somehow failed. While I worked from home, my boyfriend worked in retail, so the math was not in our favour to begin with. Fortunately, neither of us required hospitalization, and our sense of smell and taste were gone only long enough to startle us a little. After five days, things were looking up.
We keep on CookingIt, with a few mishaps, and certainly more meltdowns. My therapist has talked me through visualizing the outcome I desire, and preparing myself: watching videos, rereading the recipe, and seeing myself perform each step properly. It just feels like there isn’t enough time, and I spend a lot of my time feeling drained of energy.
We celebrate Orlando’s birthday in a restaurant, a first since having COVID. I remember anxiously awaiting the vaccine; health guidance was to wait 90 days after symptoms ended to get the prick. But we had a lovely supper at a restaurant with a couple of friends, it felt so “normal” that I got up to go to the bathroom at one point and was three full steps away from the table when I realized I’d forgotten my mask. What times.
Around this time, I also attended the Violet Hour Book Club and wrote the note “hopepunk” in my journal. I have no clue who said it in reference to which book, but I was glad to see it. Hopepunk. Nice.
Summer is weird. Hangouts with friends outside, although the numbers are down and so is our guard, somewhat. But then we can socialize while walking in the open air, sweating and hydrating, or on nicer days when the heat isn’t so cruel. I also spend a lot of time in Final Fantasy XIV as Vile Amethyst, a red mage who dispatches local gods and fights evil empires, like ya do.
September comes, and the COVID cases are rising and making me nervous, but I have two virtual appointments I’m looking forward to. First is my irregular meeting with my therapist, every few months to help with panic attacks or dissatisfaction with my work/writing/entire life.
The other is with École Setsuko, which I have had my eyes on for a while, another piece of advice from my therapist. Their site now mentions a payment plan, and my promotion in the late winter/early spring means I might be able to swing it, if I cancel CookIt. My therapist recommends I sign up for a day-long introductory workshop before committing, and that’s the plan.
I sign up, I sweat through it (which I was also warned of, therapy is fantastic!), and I walk home exhilarated and exhausted. I commit right away, because the workshop was on Sunday and class starts Tuesday. Within a couple of weeks, I know basic strokes, I have far more of an understanding of anatomy than ever, and I buy my massage table.
Life since September 2021 has largely been devoted to massage school, and practice, and homework. There has been some room for creative work, and there are a few things bubbling under the surface that I will mention here soon (but not yet, sorry). There was also a return to the Confabulation stage in March of this year.
Since then, I’ve continued to work as communications coordinator for Confabulation. I have continued to study hard and practice harder at my Swedish massage program, with the eventual goal of building up a private practice. I have continued to work at BonLook, though I am reducing my hours to accommodate a course for massage school.
I have also been writing, but the point of this post was to get all of the prelude out of the way. The real talk about writing is coming down the line, when I’m more sure of my feet and the direction they are taking me in. It has taken a while to claw my way to some space of decent organization, and this space is a tool for organizing myself and drawing a semblance of structure around my life.
It’s also a great way to take inventory of what I’ve been up to and realize, “Damn. I really have been busy. And that’s okay.”
See ya soon. Maybe at the Centaur, tomorrow? Confabulation is celebrating twelve years of true-life storytelling with Signs and Symbols (click the link for tickets!) tomorrow, May 28th at 8:00pm. I’ve actually been working with Emma again, helping her get her story stage-ready, and I can’t wait to see the final result!
My doorbell rang on Monday evening, and I hurriedly pulled on some pants and ran downstairs to see who it could be. I thought I had changed the delivery time for my Cook It boxes, but I learned the hard way that I’d only modified the date for two boxes. Oops. I put everything away, logged into my profile, and made sure to update my preferences for good. A Monday box means everything sits in my fridge for a full five days before I get to it.
Of course, I started with the French toast. It wasn’t my first recipe using panko breadcrumbs; I had toasted it, coated sausage with it, and enjoyed the texture and crunch it brings to a dish. This time, I would be dipping bread into an egg mixture and then onto a plate of panko. Mmmmm.
My major lesson here was: leave the French toast in the pan for more than two seconds unless you want burnt breadcrumbs and underdone toast. The burnt smell permeated the entire apartment, but the breakfast was still delicious (who new fruit + jam = fruit salad?).
Then it was time for more savoury endeavors. Tater tot poutine was fairly straightforward and simple and I am astounded that I have never made poutine with tater tots before. Then a burrito beef bowl, where the skins of tomatoes stressed me out because I was worried about the knife slipping and slicing into my finger (again).
Cooking still stresses me tf out. It’s a testament to my ongoing insecurity in the kitchen, which after months of this Cook It project, I have yet to fully shake. Each recipe is a new experience, even though there are common elements and I have gotten pretty good at many steps. Sauces scare me, and broth cubes are sometimes just sad clumps in the pan that I try to smash with my spatula in hopes that the flavour spreads beyond concentrated little lumps.
Here is where I need to remind myself that I have a binder full of recipes and dozens of pictures of dishes that I have enjoyed (and occasionally wolfed down without a shred of elegance). In the moment, it’s easy to forget what I’ve done and get stuck on the fact that I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. The time element gets to me; what if I burn the food or my fingers or (worst, gasp) what if not everything is done at the right time and something gets cold and gross?
Ultimately, it’s okay. The recipes are beginner-friendly and if I mess up, there’s always delivery to console me for my cooking clumsiness. But it hasn’t happened so far, fingers crossed for the future.
If you want more culinary mishaps, get your ticket for Confabuluation presents the Shortest Story XI, where I’ll be joining close to 20 other storytellers. Mine will be told from (and take place in) the kitchen, and involve feeling faint and trying not to hyperventilate (so what else is new?).
“I can’t cook,” is the sentiment that began the story I shared at the end of last autumn’s Confab StoryLab. I was in a grocery store, overwhelmed despite the list I had made, completely uncertain whether slow-cooker lasagna would actually work. It did, crispy edges and all.
I got off track after that. Gathering the necessary supplies for one recipe was daunting, my kitchen was less than ideal, and the guy I cooked for didn’t stick around. (His loss, I now understand.) Several years passed before I started to get serious about cooking again.
I always had it in my mind that I’d take a course once I had enough time and money, but of course everything shifted sideways and plans got utterly derailed if not canceled entirely. I had the good fortune to find myself a stable job that paid a decent wage, and my take-out habits had taught me that I could afford a few meals delivered a week.
So why not learn something from them?
Instead of supporting Uber and its dubious practices of undervaluing both its labour force and the restaurants it delivers for, I chose to give a local company a try. My friend and mentor shared a leftover plate of pesto penne, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and then I asked myself, “Could I make this too?” I got her referral code and gave it a try. There was a sandwich on the menu that sounded right up my alley.
I have since tried dozens of recipes, chopped onions and broccoli, and minced garlic. I have deglazed pans and sautéed green beans and made delicious sauces to get soaked up by bread and pasta and barley. Perhaps most importantly, I have shared those meals and the process of making them with a partner who constantly reassures me when I start to doubt my skills or my ability to interpret the instructions of a recipe.
Recently, I made the decision to include on breakfast or brunch in each of my Cook It boxes. My work schedule consistently gives me weekends off, so I moved my delivery time to Thursday and have saved my cooking for the weekend. This morning I made mini quiches with broccoli and jalapeños and breakfast potatoes on the side. I rounded off the day with eggplant parmagiana with mozzarella and fettucine. That young man with a slow cooker from five years ago could not have dreamed of being able to accomplish this.
My mid-30s seems like the right time to be able to feed myself something more substantial than Kraft dinner, and I look forward to a time when I can invite people over and feed them too. For now, I’m content to continue exploring and sharing meals with my partner, who has taken to calling me Chef Rowland. It makes me feel good. And since these photos have seemed to take over my personal Instagram, it seemed about time to give them a dedicated space of their own.
Follow @chef.rowland for updates on my cooking adventures, and be sure to watch Confabulation’s the Shortest Story IX for a tale of how I sometimes have to blunder my way through a recipe. I want to provide weekly updates here as well about recipes and feelings and the fullness of my belly (the eggplant parmagiana was ridiculously good), because it has been a wild ride and I’m not done discovering flavour combinations. I recently made my first Cook It recipe with rosemary, allowing me to sing “Scarborough Fair” as I had previously used parsley, sage, and thyme.
Next week is tater tot poutine (‼), a Mexican beef burrito bowl, and crispy panko French toast!
I’ve managed to usually move from one situation to a better one, and this time is no exception, but putting your life into boxes and carrying them someplace else and not being able to find things for weeks is taxing af.
My new apartment is gorgeous and the morning light makes everything worth it. That and I’m always a little happier when a mug of coffee is within reach.
I am now a resident of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (locals call it NDG, for those of you outside Montreal). I was first introduced as a Concordia student taking French classes in a drafty building on Loyola Campus. Still, it was a proper campus in my mind, whereas taking classes downtown always felt a little weird to me. I went to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for three years; that campus had grass and cypress trees and a swamp (there were even alligators in it, true story).
Now I live in a duplex with a nice family for downstairs neighbours. I have an office to work in, for my day job and creative time, and I am unspeakably grateful for this dedicated space with a view of a snowy backyard. I am eager to explore the neighbourhood a bit more, but it’s cold and we have a curfew and socializing in person ranges from risky to illegal.
My boyfriend and I have been gradually setting up house, claiming the space as our own, organizing, and decorating. It’s an ongoing process, like everything else in life, so it’s easy to let go of worrying how long it’s taking. (I still worry, of course, but I can usually acknowledge the feeling and let it go by.)
I was recently given an opportunity to channel my fear by Leila Marshy, who asked me to write a piece for Salon .ll. about the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It was a great way to process my feelings about witnessing yet another “once-in-a-lifetime” historical event while taking a look back at where I come from and how I ended up where I am now. The first draft came out in an incoherent ramble, and comments from Leila and Linda Leith helped me find direction and make sense of the piece. Take a look at Darkness at Noon.
Confabulation had its first meeting of the year, and oh have we got plans! It’s time again for the Shortest Story, a quarantine edition from spaces in Montreal (and hopefully beyond). I’ve been working on my two-minute story with friend and neighbour Emma Lanza, which will be a short and sweet follow up to the Cook It tale I told at the end of our last StoryLab. Sign up for the Shortest Story XI on Facebook, and send your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join us!
A new session of StoryLab starts March 2 at 7:00pm ET, once again led by the fantastic Deb VanSlet and Michele Luchs! You can sign up for this six-week storytelling workshop by sending a message to email@example.com. Whether you’re a seasoned storyteller or new to the art, a workshop is a fantastic space to learn and experiment and find new ways to tell your story.
As far as writing goes, I’ve been doing daily practice fairly consistently using a three-card tarot spread as a prompt. So far, it’s basic fortune cookie advice, but I have my copy of Writing Down the Bones nearby and I plan to chart a more structured course for myself in the coming days. As much as I loved StoryLab in the fall, I don’t have the time or bandwidth to take on another workshop just yet (and I’m starting to consider my Cook It adventure as a thrice-weekly cooking course from the comfort of my own kitchen).
Now I have a few more things to check off my to-do list before I have to login to work. See ya soon.
My creative well had sort of dried up, but I know from past experience that there’s nothing like a workshop to get the juices flowing again. I signed up for my second-ever Confab StoryLab, this time led by Deb VanSlet and Michele Luchs, and taught over Zoom. I’m also working full-time again, which made it exhausting to be in front of a screen for ten hours each Tuesday, but it was also refreshing to see eager storytellers and the familiar faces of my Confabulation family.
We’re even closer now! I’ve joined the team as communications coordinator, which means I get to write about Confabulation and play around with photo editing and gain a better understanding of how these fantastic events come together. Last week, we collaborated with (and were hosted by) the Goethe-Institute for our first live hybrid event! I still haven’t fully recovered from the excitement and strangeness and fun of it all! Take a look at it below:
For a behind the scenes look, check out the article I wrote for Goethe’s site: An evening of errors.
Speaking of mistakes, this event and the StoryLab showcase fell on consecutive days, and I had decided that I could not tell the same story at each. Even if it was a “bad idea” to work on two separate stories simultaneously, I have no regrets! They each had their common elements and were presented in different ways: one was told in a classroom with cameras and lighting among familiar faces, the other standing in my bedroom in front of a grid of watchers on my computer screen. Michele and Deb were at both, each event ended with a toast, and I regained that sense of, “I can do this!” that had lain dormant in me for too many months.
Another reminder that I am actually capable of producing decent material came in the form of a surprise shout-out! During my mentorship with April Ford, I was invited to her QWF workshop on writing about sex and intimacy, where I read a steamy story from my erotic zine. Julie Matlin was one of the participants and has written a fabulous article for HuffPost called I Started Writing Porn During The Pandemic. Here’s How It Changed My Life. The power of workshops! We had such a great conversation in that one, thanks again to April for inviting me, and to Julie for taking the experience and running with it!
I had signed up to StoryLab not only because I loved my first experience of it with Matt Goldberg, but also because I knew how valuable it is to have a social engagement to do creative work. Like my all-too-brief experience with queer soccer, I had a group of people expecting me to participate and do the homework and engage in discussions about the process. If I quit, I wouldn’t just be letting myself down, I’d be letting down the storytellers I worked with week after week. It is such a beautiful thing to watch stories grow from messy ramblings to adventures with structures and cathartic emotional arcs and resonating feelings.
I am greatly looking forward to my next adventure!
I dropped my phone in early March, causing its rear camera to lose the ability to focus. I tried to make light of it on social media, but blurry photos are only amusing for so long. Yet still I dragged my feet. I had the cost to think about; the device was just past its warranty, and with almost a year left on my contract I was left with replacing or repairing it.
Then the world got more complicated and I retreated to my bedroom and slept through most of the month of April. I remember sitting on my balcony and watching people go by, wondering how they could walk around so easily when I felt like I was gearing up for battle just to go to the grocery store? Why would I want to pull my phone out of my pocket after I had washed my hands and stepped outside?
I think it’s safe to say we’re all still dealing with the mental adjustment to whatever our present hellscape is. Summer has brought an air of normalcy, and for the first time I have to stop myself in my thoughts and remember, “Oh right, that’s not a safe-for-pandemic activity.” As I’ve been getting out and going on more walks, I’ve missed the opportunity to take pictures.
I immediately questioned whether this thought was unhealthy and indicative of an overdependence on social media. Was I missing the pictures, or the likes on instagram? As I looked into the prices and procedures of a repair, a bigger question took over: could I possibly bear to be without a phone for three hours?
At home? No problem! There’s my laptop and wifi, there’s Final Fantasy XIV, and my cats almost always want cuddles and attention. The place I looked into was downtown, and going there and back would be annoying (or exhausting if I bixi’d the whole time). I could bring a couple of books and find somewhere outdoors to chill for a bit, I could hand my phone to a stranger and be without it for 180 entire minutes, I could wear a watch so I know what time it is without consulting the screen in my pocket.
It was a lot less nerve-wracking than I expected. I journaled, I had lunch with a cute conversationalist, and I finished reading a book. (Not the book we’re discussing tomorrow at book club, I hadn’t even started reading that one. Oops.) $150 and three hours later, I walked home to Ville-Émard from downtown, taking pictures all the way.
It felt like a part of me woke up, a part that I hadn’t even realized had gone to sleep. I stopped taking pictures, so I stopped looking at my surroundings the same way. Instead of a treasure trove of vantage points, my world became drab and lifeless. I missed being able to capture moments from a walk, or even seeing somewhere I could stand and wondering what the view would be like from that position.
In addition to having lost a form of creative expression, I also now have an incomplete visual record of the season. I go back in my gallery and look at photos when I am writing a story, to help set the mood or put myself in the right frame of mind. Sometimes I check details like weather: even if I am the only one paying attention to whether it rained on some date in the past, I want to get it right. It’s my kind of geekery.
Now that I’m able to take pictures whose details are actually discernable, I plan to roam the city and find as many interesting views as I can. For now, I leave you with one final study in blue.
It’s been two months since I wrote Structure, but am I doing any better with routine?
Well, yes and no.
For the yes: Thanks to a friend, I got a job tutoring local students in English (from home). After an adjustment period and an all-too-predictable crisis of confidence, I’ve found my stride and gotten to correct some pretty interesting essays. My storytelling skills have turned out to be completely applicable, as well as the reminder that young people are simply people who are young. I treat them with the same respect as adults and encourage them to explore their imaginations in their writing assignments.
And now the no. On days I don’t work, I prefer not to set an alarm, and wake up when I wake up. Making my bed and some coffee are my first priorities, then my days usually devolve into some combination of rewatching familiar TV shows and doomscrolling (often at the same time). Sometimes I go to the grocery store and grab fixings for easily made meals, sometimes I wait too long and am obligated to order delivery, and my confidence rises or falls accordingly.
When it slips down too low, I shut down and become a hermit. I return texts late, I miss appointments for naps, I either forget to shower or I spend too long in the bathroom. I become disconnected from time in the worst way; for all my romantic notions about being untethered, I need some firmer grasp of the passing of time in order to get shit done.
Why is it that I can be organized and on top of things when I’m being paid to do it for someone else, but I can’t apply that same skill to my personal life? Am I not the coolest boss I could ever hope to have? How many days off have I already given myself because I didn’t feel up to writing?
Clearly, it’s time to get back to work. My mentorship brought the entire first part of my novel to a much better place, and the gears have been turning in the background with thoughts about part two. My impostor voice is easily silenced by the number of versions of chapters I have gone through already: each one is an attempt in which mistakes were made and lessons were learned. Mistakes are beautiful opportunities.
Work on a novel is slow, and I am motivated by being able to share projects. I have most of a zine ready to go, and time planned out tomorrow to sit at my desk and work. Writing practice, zine work, a reread of part one where I add notes of my own to April’s, and anything else I can accomplish with whatever energy I have. (In an unrelated but relevant note, I’m also going to look into getting my phone fixed; I miss taking pictures.)
I owe this time to myself. The best way I can benefit from my past experience is to take the skills I used working corporate jobs and put them to use for myself. I can make a schedule, a to-do list, and organize tasks by breaking them down into steps. What is a novel if not the result of repeated writing and revision sessions? I’m good at repetitive tasks, especially if I’ve got good music to bob my head to.