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 Quebec Writers’ Federation 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? 🤔

I’m a writer because I write

Last year was amazing in terms of establishing who I am as a writer in my own mind. I have struggled with this identity in the past, especially since any declaration is immediately followed with the question, “What have you published?” It’s a common measure of a writer’s worth; since I have nothing published, I often felt worthless as a writer.

My therapist was the one to suggest that I join a community of writers. This led me to a state of panic; who am I compared to these “real” writers, will they judge me, and so on. I have found support and encouragement and friendship within the Quebec Writers’ Federation, and that has done a lot to fuel my creative drive. Even before I met anyone from the organisation, I threw myself into my work so that I would have something of substance to discuss with these other writers.

I have started a new novel that I have a deep emotional connection to. I have participated in a storytelling workshop and found a new way to create and express myself that is extremely gratifying. I have further solidified in my mind that I am a writer, despite having nothing published, because I write.

So what have I been writing lately?

Work on the novel continues at a satisfying pace. I am nearly at 30,000 words, and I believe I can finish a rough draft by spring. My bid for publication continues as I submit short stories to literary reviews, consequently increasing my body of work and giving me a lot more evidence to present to my impostor voice. I have also kept up writing stories and submitting them to Confabulation; I loved being on that stage and I can’t wait to feel that again.

I’m looking for work, but at least I will be able to use the extra time to my advantage.

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.