Category Archives: Writing

Moving

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled up stakes and moved to a ground floor unit in my building. In my mind.

After 24 hours of daydreaming, I came to my senses.

I went to the open house for the unit only because it was concurrent with a showing of the condo immediately above me. I looked forward to hearing what they would bring in the current market. They were similar in size and identical in asking price.

Our May was warm. My apartment faces south and west and gets quite hot by late afternoon on sunny summer days. The one upstairs was a few degrees warmer. It is a top floor unit in a flat-roofed building.

The unit on the ground floor faces north and east and was cool. Its best feature was a private patio and patch of lawn. I closed my eyes, hands already in the earth, establishing an herb bed along the base of the hedge.

Both of the places were vacant and staged with minimal furnishings to maximize the feeling of spaciousness. Discontent with my place started to take root.

As I mulled, I realized that the ground floor suite would feel like a cave in our darker winter months. And if a condo building went up in the adjacent parking lot – a likely probability in my lifetime – the unit would have no protection from construction noise for a couple of years. The privacy in the yard would evaporate. The unit would receive even less light.

Also, it had few closets and no associated storage locker. What would I do with my luggage, financial files, and memorabilia? I haven’t gone through the boxes I swore I would not move again without sorting. My stuff was holding me hostage.

So the fantasy move evaporated.

To feed my gardening habit, I am looking into volunteering to maintain a traffic circle near where I live.  Its sunny location would allow me to grow herbs among the ornamental plants.

I’ve started to curate my belongings so that the thought of moving doesn’t panic me. My place feels bigger already.

Thank goodness I didn’t throw myself into a bidding war that sent the garden suite $25,000 over the amount the unit above me brought.

The fantasy was a blessing. It got me moving in healthy directions and at a pace that saves my sanity.

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Still Writing? Still Doing Stand-up?

When I bump into friends, they often ask:

Are you still writing? or

Are you doing stand-up these days?

“Yes” to the first. The collaborative gardening group that I lead has seen to that. We started May with 16 gardeners, the majority new to the group. Helping everyone find meaningful roles, or discern whether they wanted to continue after finding out what it was about, has been a labour of love.

Leading the garden involves a lot of writing. Documents like meeting agendas, reports, and e-mails to individuals and the whole group. More on that later.

The answer to the second is “not on the stage”. In the fall, I may take more courses in either stand up or storytelling, but I want to pause now to integrate what I’ve learned into my life.

Stand-up has been a vehicle for finding my voice. I’ve started to use it in other places. I phoned city hall to report a by-law infraction. I said “no” to a volunteer role that feels too risky just now. I am considering saying “yes” to another one that would ask me to bring fresh ideas to a group that is ripe for renewal.  Risky, but maybe a level I have the confidence to handle now.

Stand-up has also encouraged me to let out my playful side. Here’s part of the e-mail I sent the gardeners a few days before Mother’s Day weekend.

“Warm, sunny, dry weather predicted. Waterers are needed for this weekend!  …the garden needs two people for Saturday to do a deep watering and one person for Sunday to water the new plantings only …

If you are wavering, here are three theme-related reasons to water:

If you don’t have children, think of the plants as beings who will benefit from your care. They may not send you a Mothers’ Day card, but they will show their appreciation by growing up healthy.

As the water runs, you can pretend you are at a spa, and zone out thinking about the people who have mothered you and people or pets you have mothered, even if you’re a guy.

When you call your mother, she may be delighted to hear you’ve watered a garden and you won’t have to admit the other mischief you’ve been up to …”

One of the members stepped up for both days. I wonder what he didn’t want to tell his mother.

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Benny’s Farewell

Last summer, I wrote a blog entry about Benny’s.

A few months later, I learned that the property was slated for “development”, with a projected closing date at the end of August, 2018. I started to try out material at their Thursday evening comedy open mic, knowing the opportunity would end soon.

This week, the closure date of April 30 was announced. Here’s the text of the set I did on April 26:

I did my first open mic here only four weeks ago. Now I hear the place is closing earlier than expected. I hope it isn’t something I said.

I usually do self-deprecating humour, but this situation calls for a rant.

Friends tell me I’m brave to stand here and do comedy. I put the risk involved in doing a four-minute set here in perspective. Not long from now, a wrecking ball will start swinging around and wipe anyone, and anything in its path to kingdom come.

I’m taking this whole thing pretty hard.

I arrived in Vancouver from Ontario in the fall of 2014 to be closer to my son and his family. I started to explore my new city dressed in my buttoned down collar blouse and tailored pants. One day, I told my family, “I had coffee in a shop that was too cool for me”… and started to describe it. After one sentence, my son and daughter-in-law looked at each other, and laughed, “That would be Benny’s.”

I’m often in the neighbourhood because I use the community centre up the street. When I discovered great soup and a bagel for $5.25, Benny’s became my go-to spot for lunch. When I want to connect with a friend for coffee after our program, it’s been, “Let’s go to Benny’s,” for the past three years.

Something has changed. It sure hasn’t been Benny’s.

So I’m upset, and I’ve got a few questions that I have to throw out to the universe…

Who came up with that brilliant slogan on the sign next door: “An iconic Kitsilano landmark unveiling soon”?

It should read,

“An iconic Kitsilano landmark in ruins soon”

I’ll bet the culprit was some snotty-nosed, artsy-fartsy, whiz-kid from Trana. I can’t believe a Vancouver-based advertising firm would have the gall to rub it in our faces like that.

What is going to become of all the artefacts like that stained glass of Jesus smoking a joint? I hope it goes to a good home. I mean, some things are sacred!

And, where I am I going to bring my Ontario friends when they visit to show them a slice of life in the real Vancouver?

 

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My Double Life

“Aargh!” That’s the cry of the program trying to pigeon-hole me based on my behaviour on the computer.

Several in the comedy class I just completed made jokes about sex and used terms that weren’t part of my vocabulary. If I could remember the word or phrase when I got home, I did a Google search so I’d understand why everyone else found the comments funny. Like I said in last week’s blog, I’m getting “woke.”

In a different aspect of my life, I picked up a heavy-looking extension cord at a thrift store recently and wondered if it was safe for outdoor use. I entered the serial number in the Google search engine.

No extension cords, indoor or outdoor, came to light. Several handguns with serial numbers similar to the item in my hand did.

So, it would appear I’m living a double life. My public image is a benign grandmother who gardens, does yoga, and sings in a choir. These activities make a great cover for my private fascination with porn and pistols.

In case the police are curious, I have never shot, owned, or even wanted a gun.

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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.

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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.

 

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Harvesting

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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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