The surprise box

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?).

A little less stressed

Moving sucks.

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).

Graffiti on a brick wall that reads "Yo, daddy"
Spotted in a park near my apartment.

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 tellastory@confabulation.ca 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 storylab@confabulation.ca. 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.

Mistakes!

Hello, friends. It’s been a while.

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:

Fehler, an evening of video performances, stories told live from the Goethe-Institut, and streamed in from across the globe!

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!

Is it always transitions?

I had such good momentum, but autumn turned to winter and a lot of shifting took place.

First of all, I will remind myself to never underestimate the effect of darkness suddenly coming an hour earlier. I feel more pressure to use the daylight to best effect, I get mopey when I haven’t seen a blue sky in too long, and the cold can be a huge deterrent when it comes to enjoying being outside.

There has not been a lack of news.

I have been asked to curate and host an evening of queer storytelling! Chris DiRaddo, who I know as president of the QWF, producer of the Violet Hour, and host of the Violet Hour Book Club; proposed it to me, and I had no choice but to reply, “I’d love to! How do I do that?” I ended up asking several people this question, and their answers led me to ask people I know if they had stories to tell. Everyone’s got a story, but how many of us want to get up on stage and tell it to a room full of strangers?

Then I told a particularly personal story at Confabulation: Games at the Centaur Theatre, revisiting how it felt to actively lie to the partner I was cheating on. The story felt impossible to write, but a conversation with Nisha Coleman gave me the confidence to confront what I was doing (trying to avoid telling the difficult truth) as well as a page and a half of notes to incorporate into a new draft. I got it out, I practiced, and I felt all of the emotions as I told it onstage.

I always remember, but sometimes forget to feel, that whatever scares me the most in my art is what I must absolutely pursue. Like this horrifying memoir idea, but that’s on the back burner because I have a mentorship to focus on!

As of last Sunday, I am dedicating the vast majority of my creative time to working with April Ford, my QWF fiction mentor, on my novel. We already have such plans! I am making lists and trying out different synopses and we will be meeting biweekly for the next few months. There will be a reading! I will shake off this rust and make some progress with this book!

The aftergloom

There’s a curious thing I’ve noticed that happens to me after a performance, and the better the high, the harder I crash. I had the opportunity to speak about it with my therapist the first time it happened, and her reaction surprised me. To her, it was obvious that I might feel like absolute garbage the day after a huge rush of positive emotion.

Now, I can’t fully blame this phenomenon for my silence. Unemployment has stretched on a bit longer than usual, and I’ve been slow to find a job. I just received my first pay from Starbucks and it was like a breath of oxygen into a cold and dusty chamber. I also really enjoy making coffee and chatting with people? Who’da thunk!

All this to say that taking my boyfriend’s tips for bus fare and not wanting to socialize because there aren’t enough coins for that is FUCKING EXHAUSTING. It’s hard to squeeze out any creativity when I have no idea if I’m about to get another NSF fee (can you believe I used to DEFEND those when I worked for the bank? Ridiculous!). I’m not out of the woods yet, but now that steady income is restored, I miraculously find myself with energy to write!

So, THIS show. I’d been playing with this story idea since the summer, when I decided to tell it at the last minute at an open mic. I got some applause, I felt some validation, but the story felt largely incomplete and I set it aside without knowing how I wanted to improve upon it. Plus I rushed so fast that five minutes somehow became three.

Then I found out that one of the upcoming themes for Confabulation was hair. Perrrfect! I agonized over what to pitch now that I don’t write out my stories fully before performing them, but the submission form says a summary is fine, so I provided that and moved on with my life. Then I got the confirmation e-mail, wrote out a bullet sheet, and recorded a draft to send to the producer.hair bullet sheet

A large part of writing anything is turning ideas over in my head as I go about normal life, seeing how they fit together and if they’re good enough to stick around. I will write down moments of inspiration in case I can’t remember them later, but I’ve found the best elements of my stories accumulate slowly and persist over time.

The shirt coming off was a later addition, and I almost dismissed it because I didn’t think I would be able to do it. I have worn my shirt at pools, it took me years to get comfortable going out in a TANK TOP, how in the hell could I ever whip off my shirt in front of an audience of STRANGERS?

As I built the story in my head, the idea persisted and I grew more attached to it. Why shouldn’t I be able to match the emotion of my story’s end and show that I am actually fine with all this fur?

Of course, I got to the Phi Centre and was informed that the evening’s show was going to be video recorded. I felt a stab of doubt before I shook it off and resolved to end my story as rehearsed. (I wanted it to come off it one swift, smooth motion. No catching on my ears, thank you.)

There is something particularly wonderful about the stress of walking to the stage, approaching the mic, and feeling each step as a spike of anxiety. Then I breathe, and ease into my story, and I dive so far into it that stress is a quiet voice in the back of my mind.

As I told the story, beginning as an awkward adolescent and moving into my so-called adulthood, I could feel my confidence building. There was no worry as I reached my conclusion, pulled my shirt over my head, and ended my story. I was grinning like a fool afterward, proud that I had done it, satisfied with the ending.

Storytelling is magical, and I needed to come here and write that.

Examining readiness again

It is always so irritating when a change of temperature brings a little cold. We’ve been having cooler weather here and I had the sore throat to prove it. Being sick increases my frequency of demotivation naps, where I can’t do anything but curl up and try to sleep the ugh away.

Despite this, I’ve gotten some things done! I pitched a summary of a story for Confabulation‘s Hair theme and it has adolescence, awkwardness, and acceptance! I’m eager to develop it into something more polished.

In the meantime, the pitch has been posted to my Patreon, in the Works-in-Progress tier. It’s a little less frightening to put that out there when I still have no patrons at this level, but there’s also the voice in my head saying, “Yeah, but it’s only a click away. Someone can read this in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping.”

Half the fun of being a writer is that ambivalence: please read what I wrote. No, wait, don’t! I mean, do, but only if you have nice things to say! Wait, I changed my mind!

I could let this go on for half an hour while I sit motionless in front of my keyboard, but fuck it. Slightly before I’m ready, as always.

Apart from storytelling, I am eyeing the last six chapters of my novel and getting ready to make my move. Like a cat wiggling its butt before pouncing! I’m excited to write my first ending to this novel! If it’s like everything else I work on, it won’t be the final ending, but I can’t revise a blank page. I have to try things.

I’m also starting to think about Fringe. I have more time to consider it, for sure, but I have a vague notion that I could write a 60-minute show… we’ll see. Maybe I’ll just have to pitch before I’m ready, as usual.