Sunday, March 27, 2016

Unsent letter

Heighdee-ho, Good Neighbour!

I "assumed" something yesterday and it only made an ass out of u and me. I do apologize for thinking the yellow object that I saw you throw into our backyard was the yellow piece of garbage that I found below your truck, on the our side of the fence. My son later confessed that it was a yellow dog toy that his friend accidentally threw into your eavestrough, and that they were too scared of you to let us know. So, I'm sorry.

However, I am offended at being called "stupid". I have zero problem with "fucking bitch", because I am a fucking bitch when I talk to you. I match what you put out, and you ain't no peach. The next 50 years will just have to be awkward- a game of chicken, "who will move first?"

My assumption was based on this: yellow thing thrown into our yard + by a guy who hates us = "holy shit, our asshole neighbour just threw garbage into our yard!" That's not stupid. Just like: all the contractors constantly backing into your driveway + garage workshop with constant power tool noises could = renovations to your own house, OR an undeclared home based contractor business. What do they say? Under the table? But then I can also use my smarts to take a chill pill; if the stream of contractors disappears in a month or so, it's renovations. If it keeps on going, it's an undeclared business, and we should keep an eye out for your posted Notice of Intent of Commercial blah de blahs in a Residential Building for the neighbourhood to see.

Well, that's all I wrote. He won't get this one. I've been telling too many people off lately and I don't want to go full Michael Douglas in Falling Down. I wrote it to get it out of my head. However, his (once again) swearing at me inspires me to keep looking for that official notification. I've seen them, they're blue!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

More than meets the eye

Thoughts are on my mind, all sorts, from many different categories, seemingly unrelated but after further thinking they join up and become a Transformer, crashing through the city of my mind, smashing into buildings that were expected to stand the test of time, sending rubble flying to the ground and leaving not one block stacked upon another.

Or something! There are a lot of fucked up things in my mindspace. Here are a few, off the top of my head:

1. The kid who is in jail in North Korea, sentenced to 15 YEARS hard labour
2. Donald Trump and living in a world that has made his rise to power a possibility
3. Jian Ghomeshi's acquittal and the actions of his accusers that sort of tied the judge's hands making a guilty verdict pretty unlikely
4. Surprise at still being alive after another winter (why do I always have the underlying belief that each year is my last??)
5. Feeling not like a boss but instead like a peer, wherever I go, which means I'm winning

Okay, as to the first, it's balls. The US government needs to get him back and the entire world needs to put heat on this country that uses the concentration camp model to punish criminals. Anybody who allows themselves to start down the path of thinking "Well, he knowingly went to North Korea, he should have been expecting..." are making excuses for another Hitler. It's kind of similar to how people dismiss FGM of young girls or honour killings. "It's a different culture we don't understand, so..." Human rights trump religion, culture and even "laws". North Korea is full of bad laws. He will die over this, like most prisoners kept in labour camps there. If he does survive the conditions and escape getting murdered at the whim of a guard, he will have been tortured over and over, had 15 years of starvation, and will probably spend the rest of his life thinking about what he went through. NK has to be shut down. There are 200,000 more people with the same sad prospects as this kid. This is a valid reason for the whole world to intervene and shut this down. What crime does warrant this punishment? Not anything, and certainly not stealing a banner.

On the other side of the Pacific: Donald Trump. So far opposite of Kim Jong-un that he wraps around to stand beside him, arm around each others' shoulders. Dennis Rodman is a friend to both. The political spectrum is a circle, not a line with two extremes. Life under The Donald could be shockingly similar. Or, he could fizzle out right away and be the fastest-impeached president in US history. I don't think it could be anything down the middle. This is a real Good vs Evil situation here, even more so than Bush v Gore. We all know how that turned out.

How do I feel about the Jian Ghomeshi trial? I think he's a psychopath. I'm disappointed in the victims' testimonies and how they got trapped by their own actions, but I'm not mad at them because only they were in the situation and can know how they felt at the time. I'm not mad at the judge because I think his hands were tied by the way the legal system is set up. The victims were proven to be unreliable under this current legal system, it's what the fact is. The laws around sexual assault need to change so that victims don't feel they need to omit details to support their case in the first place. Girls are now being brought up with less gender socialization, so I think it will get better for victims of sexual assault. I think this trial, and Cosby's, and the discussion of male privilege that seems to be happening in every sphere of life right now (the arts, the sciences, cultural practices, politics, workplaces, homelife) will make it less likely for victims to feel helpless and to "go along with" things until it's too late, when they are trapped in a web with the hungry spider bearing down on them. I think it will become more normal for people, men and women and children, to shut down dodgy and harmful behaviour right away, as it happens. I think the victims in the Ghomeshi trial didn't go through this in vain. I think their ordeal may spark change in the legal system, to make it easier for victims to come forward without fear- but they have already changed the discussion around sexual assault and what it can look like. It's a personal loss for them right now, but they have made it better for future victims and worse for future predators.

I guess it's the plain old reason that my Mom died young that makes me feel surprise when Spring comes around again. When she was my age, she only had 7 years left. I have to shed this strange belief or when I do hit her "death age" I will feel like an axe is constantly handing over my head, twitching for the chop. Maybe I just need some good old fashioned shrinking to get rid of this. It's so present with me that when possible future plans are tossed about part of me knows they don't matter because I won't be there.

The last one is good. I'm not cowed by anyone anymore. I would of course act and say the things I needed to in order to escape a North Korean death camp, but inwardly I would always view Kim Jong-un as the baby he is, right to his face. If I was an American I think I could hold up a sign of protest at a Trump rally and risk a punch in the nose. I think I would be able to march to the police station after Ghomeshi threw his first punch. Part of the reason I feel like this is reading about these three current events stories, and also scrolling down to read the comments, and seeing more and more people calling bullshit on a society and a human race that allows these things to happen. The boot of justice is coming down on assholes everywhere. I can't call bullshit on Death though because I really COULD be dead in 7 years. Probably not though.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


I think a lot of what talent is is practice, and all of what practice is is doing. This is what I notice. I have a bit of a teenager rebellious streak about masters going on right now. I respect established artists and experts. I also strongly believe that most of them became masters because they created what they do themselves. There wasn't anybody to show them how, so they figured out their way, and over time started showing others how they did it. This is the best thing ever for people like me, because I love taking classes and my favourite teachers are all masters to me.

However, this way of thinking also shows me that there are other roads the master never took that probably would have been just as successful or more so. Infinite possibilities, enough for pretty much everybody to find their own private highways (if they wish to). You can sit at the feet of somebody who knows their shit or you can split off in another direction and do what they did.

Also, what even qualifies someone as a master? The answer is that I qualify them, and my peers as well. We decide. Maybe they don't feel like masters at all and are wondering what all the hype is about. Maybe they have a master they aspire to be but fall short.

Maybe I've been thinking about practice lately because we've been doing it, and though there's no clear end goal it's been at least something. In the past two months me and my husband have created two 5 minute puppet shows (most recently last Friday). These things weren't exactly planned, they sort of sprung up. A local comedian has started putting on a once a month sketch shows, and in order to have a goal to aim towards, we signed up for the first two.

After signing up, we had to write it. To write, we had to be inspired. The show runner had pitched for acts throwing in a bunch of examples of what we could perform, and "puppets" stood out. There wasn't time to go to puppet school but we did do as much research as possible each time. The first was Punch & Judy style, for example, so we read the history and I watched a whole bunch of P&J videos. So many. Much puppet violence and dumb gags, though as we found out those things require a lot of time writing and working out blocking and choreography. It wasn't simple and if we had just left it simple (puppets not moving) it would have been a boring embarrassment, because 90% of the P&J humour is physical. The second show had talking head puppets, and one of them was David Bowie so there had to be a song. It felt like with every bit of effort I put in to it, I was securing a notchmark of guaranteed success until I was confident that even if my part in the live performance was shitty, the audience would at least still think "nice puppets and stage though, that was worth 5 minutes of my life... barely."

Anyways, in each of these instances we learned a bit about puppetry, from start to show finish. There are established puppet groups and schools, and before this I think I assumed that to ever learn I would have to go to one, but also I knew that I probably never would. It was only by signing up for something twice and then doing our best to attack it that made us- kind of- puppeteers. Right? We kind of are. We have another goal set, an opening for a show in April which we are going to build rod puppets for (but it will be improvised, so there's no script to worry about). That means we can be puppeteers for at least that long, too. FOR SURE we are not masters at it. However, I'm feeling confident about not seeking out classes for this one just yet, and just keeping on kinetically learning puppetry by doing it for a while. And, WHY NOT. Hashtag #nomasters.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Comedians vs. Improvisers

Battling in a cage. To the DEATH. Who will win, the hardened comedians or the cheerful happy improvisers?

No, just kidding. These are generalizations. I was inspired to write this post because of something that happened last night. A comedy show that I really like in Calgary is Cat Scratch Comedy, once a month on a Sunday night at Vern's. Vern's is a local dive bar (I've noticed that everybody inserts "dive" before "bar" when mentioning the place, but it's awesome). The Cat Scratch show is half improvised stand-up comedy (by local comics) and half straight-up improv (by local improvisers). The improvised stand-up format is modelled after Paul Provenza's Set List show, which I started watching before Cat Scratch adopted this format. I love it because whether the comics kill or die, it's so interesting to watch and I want it all.

This leads me to point out that I didn't drop Provenza's name to sound like a know-it-all when it comes to comedy. I also won't backpedal and assure you that I'm a complete idiot about how stand up works, because I'm not. My life in a nutshell: 30 years of crippling shyness. After that, almost 8 years of increasing confidence, to where now I'm okay with being a blunt asshole at times and "saying no" when I want to, and I respect those traits in others. Comedy, both improv and stand up, is the reason for this. It has completely changed my personality, and I will go on and on about it, if you want to ask me. I became involved with the improv community in the 90s, as audience, and then formally in 2006ish as a volunteer. Around 2008 I started taking classes, though it took a couple more years before I performed in a show.

Stand-up comedy pre-dates improv, though. When I had a job in a warehouse back in 1999, it was so mindless that the boss let us listen to CDs in our Discmen (Discmans sounds wrong). I got tired of music so my roommate loaned me his Adam Sandler and George Carlin CDs, of which he owned all. I listened to them all and then raided the library to find more comics. There were less albums available back then so it was mainly the big ones, like Billy Connolly and Robin Williams. When I got my iPods a few years later (late adopter) there were funny podcasts with comedians as guests. I started with Nerdist, then Maron (right when it started motherfuckers), then discovered Paul F. Tompkins, who led me to Comedy Bang Bang (back then it was Death Ray), which led me to A Special Thing Records, which primed me for years of listening to Los Angeles alt-comics right before they hit it big(ger). During this time I was learning improv continuously, first by running lights at weekly shows (at a theatre where lights are essential- theoretically, I was the God with the power to decide when a scene was over, which requires timing and being eagle-eyed while watching to the point where I felt like an invisible player in the scene). Every Friday for at LEAST 3 years I did this, before I ever got on stage.

During my podcast and album listening time (which hasn't slowed down at all- I've kept current on "the scene", though it's all LA and NY and not local) I learned SO MUCH about stand up comedy. I listened to the inner thoughts of experts and learned their inner struggles and took to heart all of the advice. I just looked at my iPhone right now and I have 87 LEGALLY PURCHASED ON iTUNES comedy albums. $870 worth. When rDio was around, I became a subscriber for 2 years and started getting albums on there and saved so much money. I would mainly listen to these podcasts and albums while running or doing chores and I have 7 years worth of my own stand up material ideas, saved in my iPhone notes. Stand up comedians inspire me the way that top improvisers do. I'm an improviser on the streets and a stand up comedian in the sheets (because so far it's only happened in my dreams).

Finally, I come to the point of this post. The first comedian last night was Donovan Deschner, whose album I purchased in 2010, right when it came out. A funny thing is that I've had dealings with Donovan, even dressing him (as costume designer) for a play he performed in. Two weeks ago performing on the same sketch show. He's one of the top comedians in the city and is very smart and funny. Before pulling a topic out of the fishbowl to begin his improvised set last night, though, he began with a preamble to point out a few differences between improvisers and comedians.

Donovan was very funny and it was all meant in fun because comedy, but I got the feeling beneath it that this is what he really thinks of improvisers. I can't remember the exact jokes, but I remember part of it was that the improvisers, before the show, had asked him to "play" with them and this was hilarious. "Comedians don't play, they cut!" It sounded like he has a view of improvisers as sort of lovey-dovey jesters and not "serious" or risky.

This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, I'm trying really hard to not be too serious and too cutting in my improvs at the moment. All I want to do is improvise about dark things and how much the world sucks and how stupid humans are, and it's a challenge for me to be fun and positive. By the way, my absolute top favourite comedians are Doug Stanhope and Eddie Pepitone, so I guess I'm just drawn to the dark side. There is competition in improv. No matter how good you are, the next person will be even better, and to not become bitter you have to decide to be delighted by the brilliance of others. When you choke on stage in improv, I guarantee that it is as brutal a death as it is in stand up, with an added bit of shame: usually when you die in improv you are also bravely trying to stay committed to a ridiculous voice, and you're also galloping around like a horse, and you just want the jerks on the side to edit the fuck out of you, and sometimes they don't and you have to keep doing it for an extra 10 seconds of crowd silence and coughs without breaking down. Comedians put their hard learned experiences into their acts, after they've been through the pain. In improv you have to feel that stuff real time and display the emotional stakes in front of a crowd. The improvisers I really admire actually feel those feelings as they stand there, openly vulnerable on stage without a script, because actually feeling the emotions is way easier than acting that you feel them. We have to ditch our egos and be extremely supportive of each other because we have all seen each other regularly shit the beds in rehearsals. I don't think you ever really stop shitting the improv bed in rehearsals, you just manage to put on a diaper after a while. Shows are a different energy and are a bit shinier, thanks to the adrenaline an audience brings.

Also, I know that comedians aren't completely cutting and out for the blood of their peers all the time, though when I arrived at the above mentioned sketch show for call time I noticed that the stand ups in the room were all seated in their own private row with their backs against the wall. When improvisers arrive at our venue (when the chairs are set up) we tend to automatically sit beside each other. I know status play and competition and "doing your time" is a huge part of the comedian community, but there are probably lots who stay positive and pretty much are always smiling openly, like Brandon Craig- the very person who puts on Cat Scratch, and who straddles the local stand up and improv scenes and does a bang-up job at both. If you want an LA based alt example, Harris Wittels, who was a favourite podcast guest of mine and who died almost exactly one year ago was the sweetest. Donovan is also a community builder and puts together shows, which requires a level of selflessness. A common theme from the famous comics who I've heard is that they succeeded when they let all that go and put blinkers on their eyes to the success of others and put their nose to the grindstone.

What Donovan said wasn't wrong and this isn't a rebuttal. I just want him to try improv because he would be awesome, and I feel like he has it a tiny bit wrong. He's already acting in full length plays- and in many ways, improv is just acting- and writing, and directing the play as you go along. When improv is really super good, and improvisers have "done their time" and "earned their experience points" you can't tell that it's not scripted comedy. Come to the improv side, it isn't as fluffy and nice as you think :)

Monday, February 1, 2016

It's been a while since I sat down to write. Actually, I have sat down but I don't get past the first paragraph. I've been thinking about so much lately, and I've been doing a bunch, too.

The doing is nice. It's been mostly comedy related. There were scheduled house team improv shows in there, but more than that there were a few drop-in workshops that I planned & led, 3 improv shows with my trio Whiskey In A Teacup, and two sketches created for a show this past weekend (one with two other people and the other written by myself but performed with my husb). There's another proj going that me and my friend have decided to keep secret, but we've had 4 meetings and one full on stop-motion opening sequence made (it's video related and we decided to first make our credit role). 

It has felt like flying by the seat of my pants but at the end of a few months I can see that it's all added up into a kind of accomplishment. The classes that I planned was real work. The sketch I wrote with partners was three weeks full of meetings and emails and a few evenings of memorization. The one I did myself had days of inspiration leading to puppet and stage building leading into final script materialization. Whiskey in A Teacup was rehearsals and meetings and tons of online chats, and we also got together in the studio to record a song to play as we walked to the stage, which involved a little digital editing, like what I took that course for.

I'm still really thinking about the individual vs. the collective, socially speaking and as a part of the Arts where I'm spending more time in. I think this is what I'm most trying to figure out where I stand lately. I don't feel intimidated by hierarchy anymore. From what I've seen, the Arts is full of status, and it affects me much less now than it did when I was a shrinking violet behind-the-scenes-only tech. Before the comedy show on Friday I was in a room with a bunch of stand-up comics, and nice as they all are they also project high status wherever they go. I didn't feel less than any of them (or any better, of course). It felt juuuust right. If any had felt "more than" me for any reason at all, I didn't notice.

I've been thinking about priviledge, too. When I first heard the word it was in the form of white priviledge. I think it's been about a year and a half since it's become talked about in other forms such as gender and ability and sexual preference, etc. Now I see priviledges intersecting everywhere. All sorts of groups are waking up to it. Feminism was already a movement, but I think womankind as a whole is fully shaking herself awake and now looking at the "smaller" issues (that add up as a whole to just as tall as The Vote, imo). On the other side of the refugee crisis, people are noticing that these people (who are wearing the same graphic tees and eat McDonalds and text emojis) are only physically where they are because they didn't decide to be born in the Midwest to Baptist parents. My own priviledges are being knocked down, but I'm also waking up to the ones that people have over me and willingly use to my detriment. There is backlash, but this shit needs to come up and be examined. It isn't petty or small and the assholes who are riding on top of the water need their dinghies to be overturned.

Anyways, lots of comedy, lots of thoughts.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Flowing into 2016

I guess I'll just keep on going.

2015 was a different one. I'd say that for the past 11 years big important things have happened. Foundational family pillars slowly fell down (in the form of my Dad and Granny). In 2013 my Granny's pillar finally reached the floor and shattered. In 2014 my Dad literally fell, and during his extra-long purgatorial hospital stay (8 months of having to be restrained to a bed for safety because he kept trying to wander- basically, treated like a prisoner by default because there were no nursing home beds available for THAT LONG, and with him unable to understand WHY any of it was happening) his already damaged brain gave up the ghost and there is no communication left. My Dad is gone. The guilt of not wanting to visit his shell is agonizing, and I feel worse admitting it, but it's true. The Ingratitude.

2015, for me, was laying down in the pieces like a baby wild animal and solar charging myself now that the roof wasn't there anymore. It's a lie to say that I didn't do anything (though looking at my house you would believe it), but most of the actions I took were inward. I'm not the same. I've peeled off quite a few descriptive labels. My meaning of life has changed. I don't even think the same thoughts. And also, I don't give a fuck.

2016 will be moving on from the ruins and finding a new spot for our homestead. There's no pillars left so maybe I have to be one. That's right, it's right. I have my own to support, nobody gets to be parented and held forever. I want to stand longer than my Dad was able, and I dearly hope to stand tall for as long as my Granny did. It goes without saying that I want to outlast my Mom, because that end would be coming up fairly quickly.

I hope 2016 is a good and productive one and that by the time 2017 rolls around I'm settled and steady and can afford to enjoy fully. I only need to avoid a certain siren call of something that makes me forget what's bad. However, I'm pretty bored of all the escapism, too. When vices get boring you either need to change the drug or ditch it. "Make it a treat"- Sarah Silverman.

I think the only way from here is up, though. That's nice.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Rabbits Are White Again

Well, time keeps on going. I think I'm reminded the most about the passage of time when Christmas is looming. Another year gone, and it's time to haul out the fucking tree again.

Same things. New thoughts, new discoveries, new beliefs. If I was still in to all things witchy, I guess I would say I've completely shed the last qualities of the Maiden and am now fully the Mother. The next step would be Crone but I think I have at least a decade and a half of this, seeing things as they are, no longer innocent but no longer able to be fooled. No more blushing but more belly laughs.

I half remember a passage from a book. I think it was Jane Austen's Persuasion. It's all coming back to me now. The heroine is speaking with a depressed poet whose wife has died. He is reciting all sorts of depressing poetry to support his argument about how much life sucks, and she says something like "You might allow yourself to mix some fiction in with your poetry", meaning that even though he is correct, he should take a break and get caught up in the fantasy of a novel.

I fully remember my Psych 205 teacher, Dr. Abra, telling us that some psychologists hold the view that depressed people often are seeing the world as it is. I can pinpoint my slide into darkness when I "woke up" to the fact that there is no god, and I can also see I plummeted further when I started keeping up on the News. The News is the ultimate reality show. It's always so much more fucked up than you could have dreamed.

So, I feel like a hamster on a wheel, bringing out decorations, putting them up, taking them down, putting them away, watching the rabbits turn white, watching them turn brown, watching the moon through its phases, all the while wondering how the news could get any worse, then being morbidly impressed at how it has. It is very creative, The News. So many current events none of us saw coming. Always something fresh to be upset about- and even when it's good news, a la Canada finally joining the war on climate change, it's also bad, a la the fact that the climate is changing. I don't really feel any better, I just agree that it's right to start throwing obstacles in the way of rising temperatures.

I guess the thing to do is embrace the wheel, and hope it will jiggle loose some day and roll down a new path. I've never been stuck in a rut before, but I know it happens to a lot of people, so maybe it's just my rut time. Maybe ruts are inescapable, and it's not like this has been a long one yet, anyway. Even 5 years isn't too long when it comes to a lifetime- people say "I haven't seen my brother in 5 years!" or "this stretch of fence blew down 8 years ago and I haven't fixed it yet!" or "holy shit I've been wearing these pants for 10 years!" all the time. I can think everything sucks for a few years longer. There's lots of fun stuff happening too. However, it would be nice to read a little book and believe what it says and magically feel better.

Self-help has completely lost its power on me. I remember having the problem of which book to select because they all looked like they could literally change my life, I only had to pick which way I wanted to change, but now I just imagine the imperfect person writing the book in order to make a buck and I'm turned right off. I should start reading for fun again though. Ditch the news, and stay away from Canadian writers because they're all SO SAD. Maybe graphic novels. Fictional worlds in which heroes fix it all. In which heroes fiction it all. Or perhaps a more melancholy hero, as I see The Sandman has returned.

Yes. Sandman is the hero I need right now.

PS- my house is pretty clean now, so I guess there's a little bit of a win.