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!

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.

Fur for days

I’ve made the joke often enough on hook-up apps: I’ve got fur for days. Look at this chest and shoulders, what else am I supposed to say?

IMG_20191023_150912_532

Fortunately, Confabulation has given me the chance to get up on stage and talk about my journey with my body hair. It has been a long and winding road to acceptance and I’m proud to share my experiences tonight at the Phi Centre!

To get ready, I’ve been walking around my empty apartment telling the story to myself while my cats judge me. Absurd! They’re far furrier than I am.

I have printed a second run of “pumpkin smut latte” and opened an Etsy shop since people exist in places other than Montreal. The virtual storefront looks a little lonely with only one zine available for the moment, but I am working to get “hairy slutsmas” ready as early as possible. Slowing the process somewhat is my waffling on whether a second story is necessary—I think I need to play with layout before I can make that decision.

It’s very interesting to have complete control over the product from start to finish, to be the one who gets to decide whether one more sheet (four more pages) will make a better zine, or will it be too crowded? I have an idea for a cute and intimate story centred on a feeling, which I would totally share here but I prefer to keep a few secrets on platforms like these.

Best option? I’ll do a freewrite and see how I feel afterward.

There are only three chapters remaining in the outline for my novel! I can sense feelings rising to the surface; I have only completed one rough draft of a novel before, and I definitely had to take some time to recover from the overwhelming rush of emotion. I already get emotional thinking about the nearly 60,000 words I’ve written so far! the corners of memory I’ve explored! and the fact that I may have to write several versions of the ending to strike the right balance!

Nothing to do but get in there and write it. I won’t know which way to end the novel is best until I try.

 

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.

I did it!

Did you have doubts? Given my sporadic updates in the past, I don’t blame you!

But I did it!

This took several takes, a change of t-shirt, and required turning off the air conditioning in my home office (that thing is LOUD). I will be updating weekly with new videos available to patrons of the appropriate tiers. Become a patron here!

Completely free text updates will continue on this site! This has been my home for many a year and I am fully dedicated to maintaining this space. This is the portal to all of my creative shenanigans.

What have I been up to apart from talking to my cell phone? Last Sunday, I got a message from Rachel McCrum inviting me out to Breathing Space, an open mic taking place at le Dépanneur Café. I had already arranged to go with a friend, who ultimately couldn’t make it, but now I had someone else to hold me accountable so I agreed and began wondering what I could possibly read.

There was a chapter of my novel which seemed promising, but it went into insecurities about dating while exploring non-monogamy, and that felt a little too raw for my very first open mic. It was also a lot of dialogue, and I didn’t fancy doing voices.

I had a story idea, and since I’ve taken to creating my stories by reciting them to myself (with the occasional recording), I started working it out loud. I managed to get it to about five minutes, headed out, trying to remember essential lines.

It ended up being about two and a half minutes because I rushed like it was nobody’s business. For some reason, I get anxious performing in new spaces, and though the room felt very welcoming and the telling went well, once is not enough for me to feel fully at ease. Still, that’s another first for me, and I’m mostly pleased with the result.

There is a video, credit to Marie Cornellier (it was so great to see you there!). It’s going on Patreon next week as one of my works-in-progress; I’d like to flesh out this story and give it another go.

Comedy and storytelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another first

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

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

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

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

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

A moment of calm

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

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

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

A Montrealer-in-progress, obviously.

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