Reflections on Second Stand-Up Course

Photo: Shutterstock

On Thursday, March 22, I opened our class Showcase to a warm audience. Here’s the evidence.

The term “woke” that I used in my opening is one I learned recently. Simplistically, it means “socially aware.”

The experience of learning comedy in a group mixed in age, cultural background, and gender was extraordinary. We saw the whites of each other’s eyes.

Working with these people helped me shine a light on my privilege. I have a name most English-speaking people can pronounce after hearing it once. I have never been selected for a security check due to the colour of my skin. I haven’t been expected to live up to the “strong man” stereotype. I don’t know what it is to raise a family in a basement apartment due to a housing crisis or work in a job where feeling disrespected is a daily occurrence.

Stereotypes perpetuate harm. All of us are people first.

I got a whiff of ageism – my own. One night, the teacher asked us to stand at the front for a moment while our classmates jotted down what they saw: height, weight, age, clothing, skin colour, etc. The purpose of the exercise was to help us become aware of what the audience would notice before we opened our mouths. A comic who comes on and acknowledges the obvious then dispels an assumption people have probably made is sure to get a laugh.

Several classmates included “old” in their list. I knew I was the oldest in the class, but I cringed to see myself described as “old”.

One comment amused me, “old, but fun”. The “but” speaks volumes about the writer’s perception of old people. If I busted some stereotypes about seniors, that’s a bonus.

The course was a catalyst for self-discovery. Besides the fact I have trouble owning the “old” description, I’ve learned I tend to over-think things. I take even comedy wa-a-a-y too seriously. My next goal is to relax, to trust that good ideas will come when I least expect them.

I’m not entirely woke, but I’ve been nudged.

In stand-up we’re allowed to exaggerate.


It’s in my DNA

My blog has taken a rest for a few weeks because my second stand-up comedy class has consumed my attention.

This phenomenon reminds me of my mother’s modus operandi. When she was involved in a creative project, everything else came to a halt. A typical undertaking was the script, costume, and props for a gag to entertain people.

The duck skit is the most recent example that came back to me. Mom used cardboard boxes and paper mache to create a hollow replica duck large enough for an adult volunteer to crouch inside clutching a giant egg, also made of cardboard and paper mache. Each foot for the duck fit over an adult’s shoe and consisted of cardboard for the sole and orange fabric for the upper part. The legs were heavy stockings she dyed to match the feet.

For each event, she had to find a volunteer willing to don the stockings and feet and hunch forward in the duck shell. The casing provided limited fresh air. The peephole to help the volunteer see where to go was minuscule.  I wore the costume once. That’s how often most people were willing to do it.

When the duck skit came up on the program, Mom would get the audience’s attention on stage. As she talked, the “duck” would waddle into view and create a considerable distraction. At centre stage, the creature lowered itself, so the body touched the floor for a moment. When it rose off the floor and waddled off stage, the audience laughed heartily when they saw the egg left behind.

Mom put a tremendous amount of work into making the costume, finding events that needed an act, and rehearsing with volunteers. She got so much pleasure from the whole process that no one dared question whether all that effort was justified for five minutes of entertainment.

I get it.

Since my current course started on February 20, I’ve been writing dozens of jokes. Several have made me laugh out loud at home and fell flat in class. I will get five minutes in the Showcase at the end of our course on March 22 to share the few jokes that survive the rigorous editing process. The personal growth this challenge provides makes the whole effort worthwhile in my books.

That said, I hope I don’t lay an egg.




Last week, the term “harvesting,” used as a metaphor, excited me. The word brought back childhood memories of torrents of soybeans gushing into wagons. After months of preparing soil, seeding, weeding, and hoping for favourable weather, the beans were finally ready to go to market.

I attended a workshop on mentoring because some people say they get good ideas to ponder from me. I hoped the time away would give me a framework to understand this informal mentoring role and a tool or two to perform it better.

I learned that a “conscious mentoring” relationship goes through several stages and ends as the mentor and mentee recognize that the time is right. In a model based on the work of Robert Aubrey, the final task is called “harvesting.” The pair assesses what each has learned from their shared experience.

While I have never directly invited someone to mentor me, my life history is full of folks who have taught me much. I have chosen a few, such as therapists and workshop leaders. Some have been close friends where the choice has been mutual. The rest found themselves in relationships with me as relatives, colleagues, and neighbours.

In this age of fast food, instant communication, and rapid transit, it’s easy to expect that gaining wisdom should be quick and painless. I have finally stopped anticipating that it will be or even thinking that it should be. That’s not how the universe works, I’ve finally conceded.

The workshop helped me to realize that I am in a “harvesting” phase of my life. I want to share my insights through my blog and stand-up routines for those who follow. People who study such things report this is a natural life stage for people in their seventies. If a seed I put out there helps someone else, I know I am doing the right thing.

A tool from the workshop is to ask open, honest questions to assist people to find what is right for them. Here are two:

What word or phrase in this piece jumps out for you?

What question in your life might that word or phrase be awakening?


The Ludicrous Library

I invited my sister, Rosalene Sallmen, to be my guest blogger this week. I enjoyed a piece she wrote for her church newsletter and wanted to share it with you. Hint to one of the questions. She was under the weather for a while in January.

Enjoy “Ludicrous Library.”

Who was the sadist who painted the original picture for the jigsaw puzzle “Ludicrous Library” which is available for borrowing in our not-so-ludicrous church library?

And who was the sadist who saw fit to put this puzzle in our church library?

And who was the masochist who spent her days in sick bay in January putting that puzzle together?

Of course, I jest!  This painting, so intricate in detail, is the funniest picture of a library I’ve ever seen.  In every nook and cranny, there’s a hidden surprise which suggests there’s great mischief afoot in this library especially when no “one” is around.  Books askew, the odd empty bottle strewn about, gnomes up to no good and stairs to nowhere and dear-knows where.  I hasten to assure you that any similarities between this pictured library and our church library are purely coincidental.

Spreading the pieces out on a card table reminded me of Christmases past when our family tradition was to do a puzzle during the Christmas holidays. My mother and I always raced to be the one to put the last piece in place. What a feeling of satisfaction after hours of “work”, especially if I won! We hadn’t heard about co-operative games in those days.

I conclude that the answer to all of three questions I posed is the same. I don’t mean that one person is responsible for them all but that, in each case, the person is someone who LOVES (in fact may be addicted to) books and/or jigsaw puzzles.  And someone who has a wicked sense of humour.

Any other addicts out there?


I’m Studying What? And What?

Photo by Shauna Strickland

To liven up a season that’s pretty grey and wet where I live, I’ve selected a pair of courses that may appear to be a crazy combination.

It will likely come as no surprise to my regular readers that I am going to take another course in stand-up comedy. It starts on February 20.

I have also signed up for three sessions called “The Reality of our Mortality,” conducted by a couple of therapists at a cemetery across town on three evenings, one each in January, February, and March.

What budding comic would want to spend several hours contemplating potentially morbid issues such as “What scares you more, death or dying?” and “How do you want to be remembered?”

This one, it would seem.

Comics are supposed to joke about things that the audience can relate to. I can’t think of any topic more relevant to everyone than death and any emotion more common than a fear of it.

This past Monday, we explored our fears of dying and of death and identified that many of the fears attached to dying are concerns about not having lived the life we want to live. For most of us, there’s likely time to make changes. So, living better can alleviate our fear of dying.

I haven’t figured out how to turn that insight into a joke. Luckily, the next course in stand-up starts soon. Maybe I’ll get some help with that there.

It may turn out there’s solid logic in taking both programs at the same time.


My First Gig

Photo: Shutterstock

My seven-minute engagement in a comedy club last Saturday night took all week.

On Monday, I bought a black dress for $15 at a thrift store. At home, I noticed it had static cling, revealed more cleavage than I wanted, and smelled like the thrift store. I knew I would feel more confident if I found an alternative rather than wash and alter the dress.

On Tuesday, I checked out a fair trade clothing store. They had a delightful number I could see wearing again, for $89 plus tax.

On Wednesday, I came up with a Golden Globe-inspired comment about my black dress being in solidarity with the dairy cows that have to put up with non-consensual sex and have a calf every year to keep their jobs. (A friend noticed that line got the only spontaneous applause of the evening.)

On Thursday, I took back the first dress to discover the thrift store does exchanges, not refunds. After ample angst, I selected a non-returnable necklace and bracelet that I hoped would complement the outfit. They did. Phew!

On Friday, I solidified plans with the two friends who were planning to accompany me on the bus. Two of us would board the Bus 7 that left the stop near my place at 6:50 pm and the other one would join us two stops later, at 6:54.

On Saturday, after waiting since 6:45, Bus 7 hadn’t come by 7:10. I hailed a cab for us. This hobby was getting expensive.

The venue was the dark basement of a pizza place, with a mike and a light at the front, forty assorted seats, a few tables each bearing one flickering tea light, and a bathroom up a step and down a black hallway at the back.

The lone server guffawed when I ordered ginger ale because I wanted to perform sober. She forgot to bring it when she came back a few minutes before show time with the wine and beer for my table.

I’m glad I:

  • invited friends, so mine wasn’t the only grey or white head in the place,
  • left home early enough to recover from the bus fiasco, and
  • keep my cool in spite of surprises because I knew my material cold.

Next time I will:

  • bring water,
  • take a flashlight for finding the washroom, and
  • slow down and enjoy the experience.

It was real.


Truths Two Photos Expose

I’ve started to sort through old photographs — a process that could consume most of 2018 if I don’t put boundaries around it. I have a hunch the project will inspire more blog entries than this one.

I took this favourite childhood photograph with me to the photo shoot for my website in the summer of 2016. I suggested we try a re-enactment with my laptop computer in place of the textbook for my “About Wilda” page.

The school photograph was taken when I was about eight years old, judging by the fact my adult front teeth were in and I could still wear the sweater my mother knit for me when I was six. To his credit, the photographer managed to capture a spark that got me through some times of turmoil in the more than six decades that have elapsed since it was taken.

My smile in the picture belies the fact I was embarrassed that the patterns and colours in my outfit didn’t match. The sweater had red and white stripes. The dress my mother had smocked for me was tan and white window-pane print. The collars competed with each other. Ugh. I longed for the day when I could pick out clothes for myself.

Fast forward.

wilda bostwickThe jungle print blouse in this picture makes me laugh. I have finally accepted my tendency to test the boundaries as part of who I am. That trait drove my mother up the wall. I’m sure she had no idea when she chose the name, Wilda, that it means “the untamed.” Bless her. The high neckline and Peter Pan collar are both a tip of the hat to her taste.

When we were shooting the recent photos, the photographer’s assistant noticed that my bangs were thinner on one side than the other. I combed them, and we tried again, with little improvement. Then she recognized that they were thinner on the same side in the childhood photo. We both laughed.

“Let it be,” I said.

If you read last week’s blog, you know the backstory on that one.


Solution for Unruly Bangs

At last, I found the solution to a problem that has plagued me all my life – my unruly bangs

They plagued my mother before they plagued me. I have a very strong cowlick on the right side of my forehead that sends the strands along more than an inch of my hairline back at various angles. The style for little girls with straight hair growing up in the 50s was to have a part down the middle and a nice even set of bangs across the forehead. My cowlick made compliance almost impossible. That didn’t stop my mother from trying.

At home, she used a sticky, green liquid called “Wave Set” to get my bangs to go against their natural grain. Out in public, she resorted to moistening her fingers with saliva to readjust my errant bangs, much to my embarrassment. When hairspray was invented, she bought a case.

I’ve continued the assault on my bangs in adult life with each new hair product that came along. When I got the professional photos done for my website, I timed my hair appointment to end fifteen minutes before the photo shoot began to improve the odds my bangs would stay in place for the pictures.

The last time I went for a haircut, I said on impulse, “Why don’t we try parting my hair on the right, and start to grow out my bangs?”

I love the result. Just like not colouring my hair has removed my worry about whether my roots are showing, not having bangs across my forehead relieves me of worry about whether they are out of line.

So why did it take me this long to hit upon a solution that should have been obvious ages ago?

My high forehead is the culprit. I grew up thinking that it and my cowlick were two “flaws” I needed to hide.

Good grief! I need to grow up for real. To get comfortable in my own skin. To accept my features that are unique, without judgement.

In 2018, I look forward to using the time I used to spend fussing about my unruly bangs to focus on things that matter.


Direction Shift

This week, I revamped my website in sync with the path my love of writing is headed – one that surprises even me.

I created the website initially to give me credibility as a writer in the eyes of editors who were considering my work. It featured a Home page, About Wilda, Stories, Blog, and Contact. I wrote and launched it after I heard that an editor had decided to publish the first personal essay I submitted. Buoyed by this early success, I planned to offer more of my stories to various publications. My Blog started as a way to hone my craft and build a readership while I searched for outlets for my “real” work.

In the sixteen months since that version took shape, I’ve learned what legions of writers have discovered before me. Finding a market for one’s writing is harder for most of us than creating it. I found few publications whose criteria fit what I had written. It was time-consuming to modify my stories in the vain hope of creating something that matched. Not hearing back from editors after I’d done cartwheels to provide what I thought they wanted started to dampen my enthusiasm. At my age, cartwheels are ill-advised.

Meanwhile, I noticed that I come alive while writing my blog. The immediacy of it, both in getting the writing out there and in receiving feedback, feeds my spirit. And the stand-up comedy I’ve started to write and deliver nourishes it even more. The medium is richer. It uses words and also facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. The feedback is instantaneous on the stage.

So bye-bye to trying to impress editors. My writing isn’t about finding public acclaim. It’s about finding my own truth in the process. The joy of sharing finished pieces with folks who enjoy them motivates me to keep going.

In the new format, the Stories are gone and the Blog appears immediately after the new Home page. I’ve added a page for Stand-Up. About Wilda is now presented in interview style — a conversation with a visitor who is curious about what makes me tick.

The Contact section remains unchanged. So does my appreciation of feedback. I’d love to hear yours.

If the past predicts the future, I’ll find more topics to blog about in the new year.

Have a wonderful, blessed, holiday season.


Mrs Tsk Tsk, the Garden, and Me

Last week, I submitted new web copy about the collaborative garden I lead. The membership has evolved since the garden started, and so have our ideas around how it can serve the community best. The old information had to go.

Doing this project revved me up for a more challenging task – revamping my website. I created it in the summer of 2016 when I had stars in my eyes because an editor had chosen to publish one of my essays. I decided it is time to create new material that conveys my current thoughts about this post-retirement pursuit and where it is going.

That’s when Mrs Tsk Tsk showed up, pissed off. She’s my inner critic. She thinks this whole thing – having a website that is all about me, me, me – is frivolous and selfish. I suspect she’s seething even more because I ignored her well-meaning counsel. She advised me to keep a low profile when the idea of publishing my work first started to niggle at me.

It’s no wonder she’s feeling threatened. I used to be so attuned to her voice that I couldn’t pay attention to the friends who urged me to share my writing. I couldn’t even hear the other voices in my head who disagreed with Mrs Tsk Tsk but had been too polite, no, intimidated by her, to speak up.

I still need Mrs Tsk Tsk on my team. An inner critic can keep me out of a lot of hot water. But if I listen to her too much, she can prevent me from even sticking in my toe to check the temperature.

A technique that I’ve started to use with the garden group is beginning to help me manage her. When a topic I expect the gardeners will see from different perspectives is on the agenda, we pass around a talking piece. The person who is holding it can weigh in on the subject, and everyone else’s job is to listen without jumping in to comment until all have had a turn to speak. When we start this way, the discussion and final decision reflect the wisdom and consensus of the group, not the opinion of the most talkative, dominant member. Me, for example.

I had a hunch that leading the garden group would help me grow as a person. It’s true.