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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Focus Failure

Note to reader: My friend and guest blogger, Karen Thorpe, wrote this entry, Focus Failure.

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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A Gift for Whom?

My granddaughter, “Avery,” turned five last week. Her family will celebrate with me this Saturday. I’ve had her card for weeks, but had been dragging my feet on the gift.

Last year, I got her a certificate to have afternoon tea alone with me at a tea room. We both enjoyed it. I decided to get her another such certificate. She has lots of toys. Giving her an experience she will remember seemed like a good idea. Her parents agreed. They suggested it, in fact.

As of Wednesday, three days before the gift-giving, I hadn’t made it to the tea room. It’s a little out of range for a walk, so I was looking for a time I would be passing that way by car or bus. I also felt a little lacking in originality to give her the same thing two years in a row.

On another mission entirely, I decided to research options for herbal tea to serve a crowd at an upcoming event. I dropped in to a tea shop I hadn’t frequented previously, a couple of blocks from my home.

That was productive. I learned from the staff how to make tea concentrate to serve a crowd. When I thought I had all the info I needed, I spotted the cutest little china tea set in a pink wicker picnic basket out of the corner of my eye.

As the saleslady was packing it up, she assured me my granddaughter would be pleased. “All the little girls who come into the store go directly for that display,” she said.

I am visualizing not one, but many, opportunities to have tea with Avery and her stuffed animals. Maybe we can also bake tiny cookies to serve on the polka-dotted saucers and use the wee matching, cloth napkins to dab the delicate crumbs from our faces.

I’d still be giving her an experience, or, better, the potential for several experiences. Right?

Truth be told, the little girl in me who would have loved a china tea set back in the day had come out to play. I have my fingers crossed the Avery will enjoy this one as much as I reveled in buying it.

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The Inside Scoop

Last Sunday evening, I had supper at Benny’s Café on West Broadway. A delicious soup and a toasted and buttered bagel, all for $5.25, draws me there often. I like the funky atmosphere, too. Locals say the place hasn’t changed an iota since hippie days.

I noticed a small sign on the door, “Closed on Monday, July 24.” I wondered if all the staff would be at a funeral. That’s the common reason a business establishment shuts for a day.

On Monday, my schedule took me along Broadway, and the real, much happier, cause for the closure emerged. Lines of white trucks. Lights on booms. People in orange vests directing pedestrian traffic.

Curious, I parked nearby and struck up a conversation with an orange-vested employee. She confirmed my hunch that a movie shoot was in progress in three businesses. She was allowed to give out only the name, “Inside Voice.”

She asked me about Benny’s because she had disappointed several people when she told them it wasn’t open that day.

“But I always have coffee and a bagel at Benny’s,” was a typical response.

Knowing that I was still curious about the movie, she gave me a tip. If I Googled “IMDb” and the name, I would access a database about movies in the making.

“Inside Voice” is an American, made-for-TV, family movie, due to be released in 2018. I assume that the era of the script is the 60s, based on the décor of Benny’s and of the restaurant-turned-set beside it, a retro American-style diner. Some of the actors who headed out of it for lunch wore “Café Diem” tee shirts. It would seem the movie isn’t going to use the real name, “Moderne Burger.” I get why.

I quietly wondered if the movie will show the churchy-looking stained glass window over Benny’s front door, visible only from the inside. I noticed it recently when I sat at a table on the upper level. A happy and benign-looking Jesus staring at me seemed out of place until I saw what he held in the joints between his right index and middle finger – a large joint of another sort.

Somehow, I doubt if that image will show up in a movie targeted towards a family audience.

But no worries. At least you have the inside scoop now.

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A Matter of Perspective

A recent conversation about shopping in the States sparked this week’s blog post.

My cousin, Shirley, and I appeared to have a lot in common. We were girls, similar in age, growing up on abutting farms in Southwestern Ontario. We shared a surname because our fathers were brothers.

But our mothers had different backgrounds. Mine had been born in the rural community where we lived. Hers had started life in Detroit and still had relatives there.

When I was little, I envied Shirley’s clothes. While my mother made most of mine, choosing fabric that was on sale whenever possible, her mother took her shopping in Detroit.

I recall Shirley showing me a new coat and hearing her say, “We bought it in pennies.”

“Wow! That must have taken a lot of pennies,” I gasped.

She looked at me quizzically until she figured out the source of confusion. “No, not pennies, as in coins. We bought it in the J. C. Penny department store. Everybody calls it Penny’s.”

Okay, so I was a country bumpkin. I had a lot to learn about the world.

Decades later, I shared a memoir, “Making Hay”, with a writers’ circle in Guelph. I described how we mowed the hay, baled it, and stored the bales in the hay mow (pronounced in my mind to rhyme with “cow”).

A young man asked, “What’s a hay mow (pronounced to rhyme with “low”). Several others nodded because they had wondered the same thing when they read my story. It took me a minute to understand the question.

“Oh,” I laughed, “it’s not ‘mow’ as in ‘mow the lawn’. It’s ‘mow’, pronounced like ‘cow’ or ‘wow’.”

The man and several others in the group still appeared sceptical.

Another woman who had grown up on a farm came to my rescue. “It’s true. Farmers call the upper storey of a barn, where they store hay, a ‘mow’, pronounced the way Wilda said.”

I confess I mentally wrote the guy off as an ignorant city slicker.

But his question was valid. When confronted with a comment or question I find odd, I need to stay curious. Maybe I’ll learn something. Perhaps sorting out the confusion will give both of us a good laugh.

Even better, both of our world views from childhood may widen a bit.

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Gardening Therapy

It seems I can’t get enough of gardening.

Quite soon after my move to Vancouver, I joined a collaborative gardening group as a way of meeting people and getting my hands in the earth. When my church put out a call for volunteer gardeners, I offered to get involved there, too. On my recent trip to Ontario, I loved the time I spent in my sister’s garden, picking raspberries and pulling weeds, purely for fun.

Recently, I read that gardeners have greater life satisfaction, enhanced self-esteem and fewer feelings of depression and fatigue than non-gardeners. That finding makes sense to me. No wonder books on grieving suggest taking up gardening. Excellent centres that treat alcoholics have horticultural therapy programs.

I’m getting a little concerned, though. Here’s how last Saturday went.

Starting at ten a.m., I spent more than three hours at a work bee at the collaborative garden, pulling weeds, picking berries and enjoying the company of other gardeners.

In the afternoon, I packed my clippers in a bag and set off for my son and daughter-in-law’s house. I wanted to remove the dead flowers and leaves on the dahlia plant on their front porch before they returned home. I’d noticed it when I checked their place the day before but didn’t have my clippers with me.

Along the way, I bumped into a friend from the collaborative gardening group. He wanted to show me the vacant gardening space in a rental building he manages because he wondered if anyone from the group might want to use it.

The yard looked sad. “It’s a waste,” I said, “look at this bindweed taking hold.”

“Aren’t those morning glories?” he asked.

At four-thirty in the afternoon, white trumpet-shaped flowers bloomed on vines, strangling a large clump of raspberry bushes and day lilies.

“They do look like morning glories, but I’m sure they are weeds. Do you want me to help you get rid of them?”

We got to work. The bindweed had been having a heyday. So did we. The clippers came in handy. In half an hour, we filled a Yard Waste bin on wheels. The raspberries and lilies looked decidedly freer. I felt great as I headed off to deal with the dahlia.

I‘m beginning to worry that I may have a gardening addiction.

I wonder if I should take up drinking to treat it.

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How My Canada Day Unfurled

I arrived at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in St. Catharines late last week as the hype about Canada Day mounted. We decided to delay the usual Saturday morning breakfast at an American chain restaurant to attend a nine a.m. flag-raising planned at Rennie Park (or so we misread).

Upon arriving, we saw no flagpole. Everyone was busy — setting up booths and bouncy castles, checking a sound system, and frowning at the overcast sky. We had come to the wrong event and the wrong place, and too early besides. We laughed and posed playfully as a Mountie family before we left.

On the way out, my brother-in-law noticed a sign, “Parking for Canadian Citizenship Ceremony.”

“Í’d like to go to that”, he said.

A man wearing a traffic vest invited us to come back at ten a.m. to the Royal Canadian Legion, the rain alternative to the park. Breakfast at the local Tim Horton’s would fill the gap nicely, eh?

We returned to the Legion to discover the ceremony would occur at 11 a.m. Time for a walk to see the first lock of the second Welland Canal, built in the 1800s; Lake Ontario near a hundred-year high water level; and a Canada goose crossing sign.

Rain chased us back early to find about 50 empty chairs — 21 for the new citizens. We chose three guest chairs and looked around. A giant flag, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, and Happy Canada Day banners bedecked a drab pub. A hastily-hung row of table cloths masked the bar — until the tape failed. Two huge rectangular platters of red and white cupcakes arrived as we waited.

By 11 a.m., the new citizens and hundreds of guests packed the room. A town crier got everyone’s attention with his “Hear ye, Hear ye” commands and mediaeval costume. A kilted piper, droning “The Maple Leaf Forever,” led in the dignitaries. A scarlet-clad Mountie, a robed judge, the local MP, the mayor and his chain, and a peace-keeper vet wearing medals were among them.

As part of the hour-long ceremony, all of us were invited to stand, place our right hands on our hearts, and join the new citizens in their oath of allegiance to the Queen.

I won’t forget Canada Day, 2017. We had arrived at the right place after all.

And early enough to get a seat. Bonus!

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