Friday, July 15, 2016

Lifecraft: You Measure Cup

This is something I've been doing with my good friend Carol.
We share the same sense of humour and have started to create... something strange.
We don't know where this is going, but we have so much fun that we're going to keep doing it until we get there, and then we'll probably just keep going.

I present to you Lifecraft Episode 2: You Measure Cup

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I Finally Tried Stand-Up

Last night. Well, it wasn't 100% real because I had to read a lot of it from the page. I had a blockage about memorizing, and before that, a blockage about writing. I was so nervous in the days leading up my thoughts were too swirly, so I wrote it on the day, and after writing it I was nervous when I read it. I was able to look off page for about half, or maybe that's being too generous, but then I would get mixed up trying to find my place again. I had the plan to bulletize points but I ran out of time, and also I'm really bad at doing that. I was partially paralyzed by the unknown but backing out would have felt horrible. Thankfully, a few of my friends came and one brought 8 (!) people with him (!!!) so it was a trade-off: paying customers for 5 mins of awkward page reading. But NOW I know what I'm dealing with and will be able to do much better next time! I didn't tank, but I sure used ALL of the improv cheats to be charming so that people would feel supportive of me instead of bad for me. I really feel like that was the reaction I got. That really saved my ass from otherwise certain death. I CAN'T be unprepared like that ever again, though.

Here's my material. I think I'll keep the vocabulary and book part and refine it but chuck the rest. I wish I had been able to start writing earlier but I'm inspired to do it now that I know what needs to be done.


How's everybody doing tonight? I'm feeling tumultuous, aflame, querulous, aroused, apprehensive, hesitant, and a little pretentious. Last night I took a vocabulary test on facebook. Apparently, I know 22,950 words. I'm in the top 5% of the population and it placed me in the "white collar professional" category and I’m just a housewife. Pretty good, right? That's a ton of words. I thought so and shared it so everybody could see how smart I was. This morning I logged in and saw that a bunch of my friends had also taken it and everybody did better than me, and not even by a little bit. They completely trounced me by thousands and thousands of words. One of them cracked 30K. It said she was in the top 0.01%. Yeah, her and Stephen Hawking. Nerds.

I feel like this is my life, though. Anytime I get full of myself I'm knocked right back down. I think in this case I deserved it though. I obviously felt superior and wanted to rub everybody's face in it, especially the person who I shared it from, my high school friend. The really embarrassing part is that I thought I had beaten her, but had actually read the numbers of her score wrong. She got 29,000 and I thought 22,950 was greater than that, and that's why I gleefully posted my results. If my number vocabulary had been better I wouldn't have started this all in the first place.

Nothing is ever posted on social media without an ulterior motive. I won't go into it too much because I think it's been joked about before, but for example that bitch with the vocabulary quiz. "We get it, you're smart!" No matter what it is, a photo of a hamster wearing a helmet, a message of personal gratitude, or funny original content created by somebody else, we're hungry for attention for it. Even how you make contact online with a "friend" means something; if you send them something publicly instead of sending a private message it's so that everybody else can see it and like it too, or see it and feel the icy knife of jealousy stabbing through their stupid dumb inferior idiot hearts. 22,950.

I think a bunch of seemingly innocent, nice things that people do for others have an ulterior motive. Have you ever given somebody a special book and written a personal dedication in it? You're an asshole. Nobody likes being told what to read. If you give somebody a book without writing in it there's a small chance they'll actually read it. Is your choice in title meant as a message itself? The message will go undelivered because your friend won't even read the cover. Or was it your absolute favourite book as a kid and you want your boyfriend to read it? He has his own childhood memories. Full of the other woman in his life. The second your pen touches that book, you've saved it a table at the CBC book sale. You just gave your loved one homework. People like to discover what they like for themselves. Used bookstores are full of books with handwritten personal dedications. If you see a mint condition book with a perfectly uncreased spine at a used bookstore there's a 95% chance that it has lovingly written words of wisdom on the first page. "Dear Jimmy. I read this book and you didn't because you weren't smart enough to find it yourself. I'll just disrupt your life and sap away precious time you'd rather spend doing the things you actually do enjoy, like mainlining BBC crime dramas on Netflix, and here you go, 1000 pages plopped into your lap. Stop your life and only do this. I'll expectantly wait until you're done so you can thank me with a proper note card. Love Mom." They never just give it to you casually and forget about it. They will always check to see if you've read it. Buy them a prepaid Chapters card and they can buy a throw rug or a lamp instead.  Just don't give books to people.

People like to take ownership of how they've affected the lives of others for the better, and it's always bullshit. I met my husband through my best friend. She was a stage technician working the grandstand show 15 years ago and he was the backstage crew leader. She gave me a free ticket to the show and I went down to meet her afterward and that's the first time I saw him. Our eyes met and it was an "at first sight" moment and we took it from there. Since that night we've gone through wedding planning and execution, selling a condo, buying a house, dealing with custody issues with his ex-wife who he has a son with, having two kids of our own, taking care of my Dad after he suffered a life altering brain injury and lost his independence, downsizing and moving my grandma's household 3 times, going through the grief process after she died, dealing with my mother-in-law's Alzheimer's and somehow managing to pay for half of my stepson's art college and music degree, and I still hear her take credit for us meeting AT LEAST three times a year.  Have you ever seen the Grandstand Show? It's a pre-packaged, canned song and dance show put on by the Young Canadians that is the most brain-numbing, eye-stabbing filler between chuckwagon races and Stampede fireworks. If you've seen it once you will never want to see it again. Literally all she did was give me a free seat to three hours of wanting to die, and in spite of her I still managed to meet the man I'm going to spend the rest of my life watching Netflix with, knock on wood.

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.