Transformation

Each year, I love placing the garland I made almost forty years ago on my Christmas tree. Something about it nourishes my soul more than any mass-produced decorations I’ve purchased.

To make the garland, I cut full-colour magazine pictures into long triangles and rolled them around a straw, starting at the base of the triangle. Each triangle produced a thin, slightly oval paper bead which I shellacked. I strung them using round, wooden beads as placeholders between each to provide contrast.

This year, I have decided to make a few gifts and décor items. I began to wonder if I could make similar garlands to use on my tree and perhaps share with others.

The magazines I had on hand were printed on paper so thin that the sample beads I tried were hardly any thicker in the middle than at each end. I needed pictures on heavier paper. A good quality calendar would do the job.

Hmmm…

I have a calendar that hit the mark last Christmas as a gag gift for a bona fide dairy farmer’s daughter and struggling yogi.

Twelve twelve dairy cows perform classic yoga poses in front of coloured backgrounds. Each time I noticed the calendar during the year, I laughed over the asana of the month and attempted to guess its Sanskrit name.

Aside: I know how hard those poses are even for the human body for whom they were designed. The cows had to be photoshopped. I’m taking these lines from the promo for the product with a huge lick of salt:

“Fascination with yoga is sweeping pastures throughout the world. Cows are turning to this ancient discipline in herds to reap the benefits of relaxation, flexibility and increased milk production. Twelve classic cow poses, including Downward Facing Bovine (Udder Mooca Svanasana), are aptly demonstrated in this unique calendar.”

When I took down the calendar, scissors at the ready, I discovered that each month has a word that evokes goals of yoga, like “peace,” “harmony,” and “unity,” beneath the cow graphic.

Wrapped up in beads, neither the words nor the earnest cows will be recognizable. But their message will endure in a new state.

This fact seems fitting for a holiday about peace, harmony, unity, and transformation.

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Do I Have Tips for Aspiring Writers?

I had a new experience this week when I checked for reader comments.

“Great blog!

Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers?

I’m hoping to start my own site soon, but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely confused…

Any tips? Cheers!”

I’ve given the person a link to the following thoughts.

Your request for advice has prompted some soul-searching. I want my blog to bring a smile and perhaps a new idea to my readers in 400 words or fewer. Where do I draw the line when something crops up outside that self-created mandate?

I am learning in my face-to-face relationships that advice-giving often isn’t the most helpful approach. Listening to the person is. If it feels right, I can offer my own experience in similar situations and trust that the individual will glean anything that may be relevant to them.

I want to apply the same principle online. And I need to ensure that my screen and keyboard don’t consume so much of my time and focus that I lose touch with those closest to me.

This week, I heard your question and had some wiggle room in my schedule, so here goes.

I didn’t research the options when I started my website and blog, and the choices have likely multiplied since then. When I realized in the summer of 2016 that it was time to share my writing beyond my workshop companions and folks who were willing to act as sounding boards, a friend referred me to the web host she uses.

I can relate to the experience of feeling lost in general. I am learning to make friends with that sensation. That’s a good thing because unknowing is a more frequent companion than surety for me. As long as I am searching, I know I’m alive and open to new ideas. That state of mind is a gift for me as a writer. Does it also infuriate me? Yes, at times.

I am beginning to trust that answers will come if I am patient.

Go well, fellow writer and fellow human.

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My Mother’s Ghost

My mother died on November 3rd, 1997, exactly twenty years ago. At least, that’s when she stopped breathing. I swear she is still with me, and, to my delight, the four letter word that idea brings to mind is “love.”

As I’ve shared in my blog since the beginning of September, the stand-up comedy course I took became a primary focus for several weeks. The final product, recorded on October 12, looks deceptively easy.

After the showcase was over, I took a break to restore my adrenalin and perspective.

The experience has given me a new respect for the genre and a fair dose of humility. Here’s a comedian’s commencement address that I am sure the graduates will remember:

Tim Minchin: These 9 Life Lessons will Make you Laugh – and Learn

This male Australian, only a little over half my age, shares many ideas that have been relatively recent “ahas” for me. Did he read my thoughts across the ocean? I doubt it. I think he’s tapping into wisdom everyone who opens their mind and heart can access. Writing stand-up comedy impels me to open mine.

My mother and I had several battles about my entering public speaking contests. Early on, I won a couple of little engraved trophies and endured the teasing for being a show-off that ensued at school. I adamantly refused to keep entering. Fitting in with the other kids was more important than winning another knick-knack that would tarnish and attract dust, in my mind. Mom was sure I would go to hell for squandering my talent.

An earlier version of my stand-up piece had me meeting her in heaven and watching with amusement as she reeled from the shock that I’d made it there.

While imagining our reunion, I saw the irony in the fact her coaching in how to deliver a speech was helping me in my new hobby. And the ways she brought laughter to her community were inspiring me to entertain, as well. I developed a level of compassion and appreciation for her that eluded me while she was alive. That processing led me to acknowledge her contributions playfully in the final version.

Contrary to what I said in the sketch, I hope she was there for the whole thing.

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A label that fits

Shout out to two friends who inspired this week’s blog …

Glenda, who commented “Wouldn’t haiku be easier?” after reading my post “Condensation”, and

Stephen, who suggested an alternative because he feels the term ‘debut’ is too pretentious for a comic.

Debut? Too foo-foo

Laughter…applause…phew…got through

my stand-up de butt

You’re a great audience. I’ll be back after a short break.

 

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Condensation

I remember being astounded when I read it takes 40 quarts of maple sap to make one quart of syrup. Writing a stand-up comedy set is like that. It takes many pages of writing to create enough material to use for a few minutes on stage.

I’ve learned that a good opening blows the assumptions the audience may have about you out of the water.

I thought I had a good one when I came up with this:

  • Okay, so you’ve seen the white hair. You likely figure I’m a senior. You’re right. I’m 72. If you’re younger than I am, you may be thinking this is an excellent time to
    Head for the washroom
    Catch up on your emails on your cell phone
    Oh, you’re surprised I know it’s possible to get emails on a cell phone.

It’s not your fault. We’ve all been brainwashed about seniors.

I get on a bus. People jump up to give me a seat near the front. They’ve read the pious little sign “Please take a moment to consider who these seats are for.” (Seniors are listed second-last in the fine print, well after people using wheelchairs and scooters.) They’ve spent that last half hour on a guilt trip because it was the only seat left when they got on.

I used to accept, but all this coddling was making me feel old before my time. Now I just smile and say “no thanks.”

Then my piece cited three silly reasons I enjoy to dangle from a bus strap.

After the critique in class, the 208 words I had written boiled down to their essence in this:

“I was delighted the other day when a young guy offered me his seat on the bus. I’m not even pregnant.”

The new opening pokes fun at the idea that old people are out-of-it and doddery. The time I spent thinking about the stereotypes and writing out the whole story was a necessary prerequisite to getting the point across succinctly.

If it had been precisely like making maple syrup, I would have had to keep boiling down the original text until I got it to five words.

I’ll know when I deliver the lines whether the 21 I’ve got will hit the sweet spot.

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Expectations

The sketch I wrote for my stand-up comedy class last week bombed. The biggest laugh happened when I accidentally hit my mouth on the microphone and ad-libbed “I’d better be careful. I’ve spent a lot of money on these teeth.”

The teacher used my performance as an example of “babble.” Most of us provide too much detail before we get to the punch line. When I’m writing my blog, I can get away with using 390 words to build up to the twist at the end. Or at least it works for you rare, precious souls who read my blog and tell me you enjoy it. Stand-up comedy is a whole different animal.

I’m feeling a lot of pressure. We started the course on September 7. On October 12, we will be expected to entertain a crowd of more than 100 people with a five-minute routine.

I hope to generate at least that many laughs. Five, that is, not a hundred. I’m learning to scale my expectations way back. It will help me get to five if we can find a bar as a venue.

The course I’m taking is offered by Simon Fraser University in their programming for people 55 plus. Because we’re seniors, we can poke fun at our ilk, legitimately. I’ve observed that people tend to underestimate us. They coddle us.

Not our teacher, Janice. She’s cracking the whip. No, that’s not the right analogy. She sets high standards, using humour. She’s quick with a quip.

Her calling me on the babble has inspired me to tighten up my writing. I think the sketch I’ve prepared for this week is getting there, and I’ve got two more weeks to polish it.

By October 12, I just may be ready to be called to the bar.

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Unexpected Learnings

I’ve learned a lot from my stand-up comedy course, after only two classes.

As I expected, the course includes some of the tricks of the trade. Like how to make a statement that’s a setup, and then deliver a punch line. And how to build things up by giving an example that’s true, then one that’s a bit of an exaggeration, and then one that’s blown out of all proportion.

Besides the technical tips, I am uncovering that some of the values and habits I learned at my mother’s knee are a huge barrier to being a comic.

Last week, I realized that hardest thing for me is to admit I find anything hard or weird or stupid or scary. The way I was raised in the 50s, you didn’t talk about something unless it was sweetness and light. As a comedienne, you are supposed to let it all hang out!

That led me to the topic of girdles and the potential for humour in describing them to the pantyhose generation. I’ve started to write my thoughts about girdles and about society’s obsession with having a flat stomach on three-by-five index cards. I may never do anything with them, but I had a lot of laughs putting them together. That, in itself, made the exercise worthwhile.

This week, I was supposed to come up with ten jokes about family members and ten about activities I’m involved in. The taboo I learned at an early age about making jokes about people behind their backs flew right in my face. At first, I was flummoxed.

I managed to skirt around it by explaining and poking fun at the fact I couldn’t joke about my family or about a place where I volunteer. The sketch I’ve written for this week ends with, “I’d better sit down before I stick my foot in my mouth any further.”

I didn’t expect a course in stand-up comedy to lead to fascinating personal insights – to generate life-giving wisdom. By the time the course is over on October 12, I may have reached total enlightenment.

Move over, Dalai Lama!

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A New Adventure

You may notice an expansion of subject matter or a shift of tone in my blog over the next few weeks. In the interests of transparency, I’ll let you in on what’s up.

True to my curious nature, I signed up for a class for seniors, “Finding Your Funny – Discover Stand Up Comedy.” Oddly, and in line with how I’ve learned the universe works, I was looking for a different course when this one found me.

It’s going to be good. Our instructor, Janice, is a stand-up comedian with lots of experience, both in the business and in teaching. She keeps a tight rein on things. She has to. She’s got 19 feisty seniors to wrangle. All of us have tons of life experience, aching to be shared and heard.

The first class was on the morning of September 7th. Janice gave us lots of homework. She wants to drive home the point that one has to write tons of material to happen upon a few lines worth sharing.

Firstly, we were supposed to spend twelve minutes writing all the thoughts that came into our heads, in longhand. True to my renegade nature, I started with the thing we were supposed to do secondly.

That was to list five things that we find hard, five things we think are stupid, five things that scare us, five things that are weird. The first thing that came to mind under “hard” was doing the assignment. I’ll bet real money most of my classmates came up with that one, too.

The third thing I need to do before the next class is to take a topic that emerged during the second exercise and come up with a punch line. That’s another big one for the “hard” category.

This whole adventure is teaching me a lot about myself. Number one: I’m going to find it emotionally draining. I fell into bed and slept for two hours when I got home from the first class.

Number two: It’s going to be emotionally fulfilling. Thinking about the homework assignments has made my internal dialogue more interesting. I was getting bored with the small talk about the weather or what to make for supper.

If taking this class livens up my blog, that will be a bonus.

Buckle up!

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Focus Failure – Take Two

Note to reader: My friend and guest blogger, Karen Thorpe, wrote this entry and we posted it last week. A technical glitch prevented the link from circulating to subscribers. I have my fingers crossed that the problem is fixed. Please enjoy, “Focus Failure, Take Two.”

Kind of like engine failure for seniors – something in my brain lacks oil or needs to be tightened (or both). I used to be able to multi task happily. I would confess obsessively, even!

Now, however, the evidence is stacking up against that particular ability. I admit that I have burned dry two kettles (caught just in time).

Then, I left my apartment with some beans on low heat, only to come out of a silent meditation with a gasp as the realization dawned on me. I arrived again, just in time!

The latest incident involved missing a meeting that I was passionately interested in and had expressed my commitment to attend. I didn’t pay attention to messages on my cell phone or computer (damn things!) Now, the fact I was looking after my grandchildren did have a part in this. As any grandparent knows, they take both energy and focus – happily I must admit. Then they leave, and I experience engine, focus and energy failure.

Now on top of this, I was going away for a few days on a lovely excursion with my dear friend, Wilda. So coming out of the grandmother gig, I immediately started to focus on the trip and the last minute details of food prep, packing, and errands. When I finally stopped, it was again with a gasp, realizing I’d missed the meeting – on Shindo healing of all things. I sure could have used some at that moment!

Meanwhile, my two friends, Jackson and Wilda, were wondering what had become of me when I didn’t turn up at the meeting. It’s not like me, they both said, not to show up and not to call. Wilda had called and left messages but no response from me.

Early the following morning I was happily gathering fresh greens and herbs from our garden for the trip. Shortly after I went inside, Jackson called rather panicked and asked me to call Wilda right away. I thought something must have happened to her and the trip was off. I called her immediately, and she asked if I had gotten the messages and emails which I had to confess I hadn’t.

It turned out that both friends had theorized that something dire had happened to me and contemplated calling 911! Wilda was preparing to come to my house, expecting to find me in dire distress! Luckily she is a person with a great sense of humour, and when we compared notes we had some good laughs about her disaster scenario and my Focus Failure!

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Imagination Getaway

Reader alert: I relaxed my self-imposed 400-word limit to keep the juicy bits.

At 7:15 on Tuesday morning last week, tears filled my eyes as I imagined the funeral for my dear friend, Karen. She had appeared healthy when I saw her on Sunday, but she had gone incommunicado.

We have much in common – Ontario-born grandmas, neighbours, walkers, gardeners, and volunteers. Both of us were excited about our first girls’ getaway. We had delayed our trip by a day to attend a meeting on Monday evening that was especially important to Karen.

I left her a phone message in the middle of Monday afternoon, offering a ride. No response. I left another at 6:30, asking her to let me know if she planned to come with me. Still no response.

When I arrived at 7:00, my heart sank that she wasn’t there. The leader, her good friend, Jackson, was surprised she was missing, too, as he knew she intended to come. “If something is the matter with Karen, please call me,” he said as I left.

When I got home, I emailed Karen, whirred up the pesto I had promised to take, checked in vain for an email response, and went to bed.

I woke early and continued preparations. At 7:10, still in my pyjamas, I picked up the phone. Karen’s voicemail kicked in. “I’m not here right now…”

“Karen, I’m worried ‘cuz I haven’t heard from you. Are you still able to go?” I implored.

My thoughts raced about what to do next. I needed to talk with someone.

“Jackson, Karen still isn’t answering her phone. We’re supposed to leave in less than an hour. I wonder if something is seriously wrong. Am I over-reacting?”

“No, that’s not like Karen to miss a meeting or ignore messages. I think you should call 911.”

That idea felt a little drastic. “Maybe I should go to her place and try her buzzer. If that doesn’t raise her, a neighbour might know who has her extra key.”

“That sounds like a good next step,” Jackson said. “I’ll call her in case that helps. Please keep me in the loop.”

As I hastily buttoned my blouse, I pictured the devastated people I would meet at Karen’s funeral – her family, members of her church, colleagues with whom she volunteers, and vulnerable folks she has befriended in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. The scene was pitiful.

“Ring!” It was Karen. “Jackson said I should call you. Is something wrong?”

“It’s great to hear your voice, Karen. I wondered if you were okay when you didn’t respond to my messages.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Wilda. I looked after my grandkids yesterday and didn’t check my phone. And I can’t believe I forgot that meeting until it was too late to come.”

“No worries, Karen. We have a ferry to catch. I’ll see you at eight.”

The two of us had several belly laughs as we debriefed en route to the ferry.

When my vivid imagination starts to conjure the next disaster scenario, I need to remember this incident.

Next week, Karen will share her insights from this experience, as my guest blogger.

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