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.

So many stories

April has been a fantastic month.

The Confab Storylab has been rolling right along. giving me new tools and tricks to play with in my storytelling. The more I advance with these techniques, the more I understand that I am going to have to try things different ways before I ultimately settle on my way. As someone raised gifted with a huge fear of failure, this is mildly terrifying.

Luckily, workshops like these provide a safe environment to fail in. I told a story that I had barely written a rough draft for, and got a page full of notes on how to develop it. Last week, we were asked to take a familiar story and improvise part of it. Going off-script is taking a huge leap outside of my comfort zone. I like my lists, I love my threes, I enjoy hand-picking sensory details that firmly plant my audience in my story.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover I do less floundering than anticipated. It’s not pretty, but it’s very real, and that is often the more desirable trait in storytelling. Watch me get lost in a moment on stage while I search for words to bring you into it with me.

May promises to be exiting as well! The storylab is putting on an intimate breakout event where I’ll get to experiment a bit. I am also performing at Tinder Tales on May 25 at Lord William Pub. Who doesn’t love awkward dating stories? I’m excited to share one of mine (oh, there are many!) with a room full of strangers.

Working hard

I have been giving 100% at my new job, and any new learning experience is mentally exhausting, so there has not been much writing going on. I’ve done some editing for my Confabulation performances, but nothing much apart from that.

My gut reaction is to feel bad for my lack of productivity in terms of creative work, but ultimately this isn’t a useful line of thought. I’ve still come so far in such a relatively short amount of time, I can allow myself to put things on pause while I focus on establishing myself in my new workplace. Once my job becomes more routine, I’ll have more energy for creative endeavours.

Despite not having touched my novel, I have been keeping busy with stories.

I’ve joined another storytelling workshop, this one part of Confabulation and presented by the wonderful Matt Goldberg. There are a lot of familiar faces, and I’m really excited to see what we learn from each other and Matt in the coming weeks.

I was invited to participate in Confabulation’s Audience Favourites show, bringing back my very first performance from December. Having told a couple more stories since, I found ways to improve upon my earlier performance, as well as the text itself.

It was a night for feelings! Each of the other storytellers brought tears to my eyes. You could feel the entire room with them during their most powerful moments, there were these stunning silences. I opened the second half with my own emotional story, reliving the feelings I was relating, keeping them just under control so my voice didn’t break. It felt amazing.

A refreshingly tearless experience was Taylor Tower‘s retelling of a story she had showed us in workshop, and getting to see it told live was an entirely separate experience. I already knew the twists and turns, but a masterful performance has you right there with the storyteller each step of the way, even when you know what comes next. I was delighted.

There is also something to be said about being in the room while a story is being told. A recording cannot capture the energy of an audience waiting with bated breath to find out what happens next. Tension is nearly tangible, silences and dramatic pauses ring out, it’s magical.

So the novel has been set aside for a moment, but there is still a sizable stack of pages on my desk and they aren’t going anywhere. I’ve taken a break before and been able to get back into the voice this book needs. I just need to look over the outline and read the latest chapter and I should be able to carry on from there.

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!

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!