Witches and Magicians

I recently started taking a solo sketch comedy class online, from a theatre in Toronto. Why not? With classes being offered online all over the world, all these opportunities are popping up that didn’t exist before social isolation. I considered taking improv classes from UCB that normally you’d have to live in NYC or LA to take, until I saw the prices. $400 USD on a freelance musician’s government issued COVID-salary? Nope.

So my sketch classes run like everything else is running right now… over Zoom. Once a week, 9 of us form into a perfect Brady Bunch cube, and hone our monologue-writing chops. Honestly unlike other kinds of comedy classes, solo sketch works pretty well in the online format. The teacher spends a portion of the class talking theory, then asks us to do some short in-class writing assignments that we take turns presenting and discussing, then she assigns us homework to hash out during the next class. I was worried two hours of an online class would seem long, but the time just flies by doing the things I love: writing and being silly with other people who love comedy.

The class itself is very diverse, always a nice change from the mostly white, gender-binary world of classical music, at least in my experience; and the teacher is a freaking delight. She is hilarious, knowledgeable, and very helpful with her feedback. So I was a little thrown off this week when we were going through one of our homework assignments: 3 pitches for a presentation-style monologue, including the “who, where, and what’s their deal.”

When it’s my turn to share, I start with two somewhat unique ideas:

1. An eccentric hurdy gurdy scholar gets increasingly distressed as his instrument starts falling apart while demonstrating it to a class of disinterested music students; and 2. The CEO of a struggling professional orchestra asks all the musicians, aged 60 and up, what they would be “willing to do online” to keep things afloat while all their live performances are cancelled. Cut to them all begrudgingly playing “virtual ensembles” in their underwear.

Then, I pitch this pretty basic one that I haven’t fully hashed out yet:

3. A witch addresses all her fellow witches in a Youtube video on how to make spells from “what you already have at home” to avoid making unnecessary trips to the grocery store during COVID. Instead of “eye of newt,” you can use eye of potato. Instead of “blood of a pig,” you can use ketchup. And so on until she realizes she has ended up with a pot of spaghetti instead of a working spell.

The teacher, very astutely, says my first idea has the most promise, the 2nd one could be good though maybe logistically complicated, but the 3rd is a bit of a “hack.” As in it’s been done a million times, and I’d have to work really hard to figure out what makes this witch different from all the rest of the witches. This is my life right now.

We give the floor to one of the few white guys in the class, and he proceeds to pitch his first idea: A magician is talking to a bunch of other magicians, about how they can adapt their skills during COVID, with an emphasis on illicit activities. Or something like that. And I’m thinking, alright, teacher! LET ‘ER RIP! Tell him that’s a hack, just like my witch idea! But to my surprise, the teacher looks down at her keyboard, pauses for a moment, before laughing for like 5 seconds. Is this a fake laugh or a real one?! I don’t know her well enough yet, but it doesn’t sound like a genuine belly laugh… Then, she PRAISES HIS IDEA… before finally telling him the same thing she told me, albeit in a much more roundabout way. More emphasis on “this is a good idea,” with only a slight undertone of “but you might want to dig a bit deeper.” What the actual fuck?

This is an enlightened teacher- I know for a fact she’s not brushing off my ideas just because I’m a woman. She has no doubt struggled a great deal to get where she is in the comedy industry, having to work 5 times as hard as all the men surrounding her. So I had to think, What’s going on here? Is my idea really just not as good? I mean, a magician… breaking the law with magic, that could be good… but how is that so much better than a witch making a horrible spell out of rotting vegetables? Then it hit me- it’s not that his idea was better, it’s that she sees potential in me, and was giving me an honest answer so I can reach it. Clearly his ideas are lacking too, but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. She knows on a subconscious level, that women are used to getting constructive criticism, and men* are not. She praised him so he wouldn’t get frustrated and give up.

*I’m going to leave other labels out of this for the sake of simplicity but one could throw in white, heterosexual, and cis; though I’m only sure about 1-2 of those things in this case. Please wait while I dig this hole a little deeper…

I could be totally off-base here. I feel very hesitant even writing about this because 1. Maybe my idea did just legit suck and 2. So many feminist writers have grasped this concept and many others in a far deeper, more educated way. I’m aware there is a lot of nuance I am missing here. But I’m not writing to expose some revolutionary new piece of information. I’m not writing out of anger or resentment. I’m writing- because understanding this phenomenon helps me take this kind of discrepancy with a grain of salt. When I get constructive criticism from someone who’s opinion I value, I will take it proudly, knowing it means they recognize my talent and see my potential. When I witness a man being praised by the same person for a mediocre idea, I don’t need to interpret it as “They like him more,” or “His ideas are better.” This is just the way we’ve been trained to act as a society.

I think we owe it to men to start telling them the truth. This applies to so many situations… I could write a whole book just on how this applies in the bedroom… *clears throat and looks at the floor awkwardly* but for starters, let’s just tell them when their ideas suck. Take’em down a notch, so they don’t think every idea that comes out of their ass is fit for a Netflix special. Tell them their idea is mediocre. That they just said something offensive, or interrupted us. That they aren’t actually that good in bed. *Cough* We owe it to all the poor, oblivious, talent-lacking dudes to outline all the areas where they could use improvement. We owe it to them, so they actually have a fighting chance to GROW UP. To join the ranks of the strong, talented women who have been hearing criticism- constructive or otherwise, our whole damned lives.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go make a big pot of… spaghetti.

Strange Behaviors

I’ve been in isolation for 54 days now, and it feels like I live in my own universe. Here is just a sample of some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind during this crazy time… May this act as a record so it doesn’t all disappear like a dream when we’re back to checking our phones while packed like sardines on the bus to work to avoid talking to each other.

  • Do I smell worse or is my sense of smell just getting stronger?
  • My shoes don’t fit anymore. Did they shrink?! (No they’re just swollen from sitting on the couch all day)
  • Falafel makes me gag. At least if I’m the one who made it. Possibly based on the fact that I mixed the tahini sauce in a jar that previously had mouthwash in it.
  • I don’t like those “virtual ensemble” videos* that are floating around. The point of ensembles is that we respond and interact with each other and the audience IN REAL TIME. We don’t need to find shitty replacements for everything we had in the before!! We need to find things that work with what we have NOW. *I’ve made one. And it was fun. So, there’s that.
  • Literally nothing drags me out of a funk quicker than a long one-on-one talk with a close friend. Laggy group video chats make me want to smash things.
  • Getting outside is a close 2nd, but I’ve learned biking is far superior to walking, because I can blissfully avoid all the couples. You can’t hold hands and force me off the sidewalk while riding bikes, motherfuckers.
  • With no work schedule to adhere to, you can just change all the clocks in your apartment to suit what time it is in your head. That being said, doing this caused an artificial “jet lag,” and a lot of confusion with friends in “different time zones” so I changed the clocks back and learned not to judge myself for waking up at 2pm.
  • I need more wigs.
  • Going on walks alone is getting old… there must be some way to force my cat to come with me… I should get him a stroller.
  • I’d rather follow all of Donald Trump’s medical advice during this time than live between two neighbor-couples who participate in the following activities, respectively, every single day: 1. Porn-grade sex (loud, obnoxious, and unrealistically enjoyable) 2. Romantic picnics on a blanket on our SHARED BALCONY, playing the same song on the ukulele over and over while singing along, and constant laughing. Like, Elmo from Sesame Street laughing. Adorable, joyful, but somehow I wanna strangle you laughing. What the fuck could possibly be that funny?! DID YOU TWO MEET IN A FUCKING DISNEY PRINCESS MOVIE???
  • Mainstream porn is horrifying.
  • Trimming my cat’s butt hair to avoid pee-absorption feels like I’m shearing a sheep, and is strangely satisfying.
  • Playing etudes on violin is actually kindof fun, if I change the voice in my head from “this needs to be perfect for a lesson with my judgmental asshole of a teacher” to “let’s just give my brain something to do other than staring at the grease stains on my kitchen wall!”
  • Drinking in the evening makes me sleep like shit. Drinking in the morning is self-love.
  • Also self-love: bras. My boobs have been KICKIN IT.
  • Kimchi is really fun and easy to make, and way cheaper and tastier than store-bought… but to get the ingredients, you need to risk your life in the tiny aisles of the Asian grocery store.
  • Speaking of cabbage, I have not had to hold in a fart for 54 days.
  • Dancing alone doesn’t interest me.
  • Talking to myself in whatever character pops in to visit however, does.
  • I resent ANY kind of scheduling coming from the outside world- but the more I stick to a loose personal schedule, the less time I spend contemplating my meaninglessness in the world.
  • Cutting your own hair is therapeutic and empowering.
  • I never look in the mirror anymore, but when I do, it’s FRIGHTENING.
  • I don’t like getting advice when I’m feeling low. I don’t care how much the thing that worked for you could help me- by telling me I should be trying something, the message I’m getting subliminally is “You’re not good enough right now.” I just want to be heard. This is a serious one, and something that’s going to change how I am as a friend going forward in a huge way.
  • I don’t miss shopping, or eating out… I miss people, and live performances. And hairdressers.
  • Cooking shows and the first two seasons of The Office (where I can pretend I’m Pam, and Jim is mega-crushing on me) are a lovely way to take a mental vacation from Covid.
  • Listening to a meditation podcast where you’re expressly told to sit up and stay alert, is a great way to fall asleep at night.
  • It means SO MUCH when a friend does something for you on your birthday above just writing “Happy Birthday” on your facebook wall, especially if you’re single and live alone. This inspired me to figure out all my friend’s birthdays and put them in my calendar, so I can have more than zero minute’s notice to do something special if I have the means.
  • You can try to group a bunch of things into one delivery online, but [name of company I’m ashamed I ordered from] will still ship each damn thing to you individually. I’m looking at you, box of 12 pens.
  • Because delivery guys are some of the only people I can still interact with in real life, I find myself yelling words of love and affection at them after they’ve delivered something like I’m at a Beatles concert in the 60’s.

Feel free to comment with something bizarre or life-changing you’ve thought/tried during isolation!

The Artist’s Cray

I have been putting off writing a new blog post for weeks. WEEKS. Well, what’s the problem Lauren?! Don’t you literally have nothing but free time right now? Honestly it feels like I’ve been snatched up from Tokyo and barfed out straight into the desert. I’m surrounded by sand- literally NOTHING is holding me back from accomplishing all the creative projects I’ve ever dreamed of. Ugh but sand is so BORING. I want some obstacles?! Those are what make it feel like I’m choosing to do my art. Can I just go to Victoria or something?!

With nothing but freedom to do whatever I want, suddenly all these artsy things feel like chores. There’s nothing to balance it all out, no work to hype the play. To add to the craziness, I’m doing The Artist’s Way program by Julia Cameron, and I’m in week 4. Media deprivation week. Cooooool. So on top of being jobless until September 2020 at the EARLIEST, living alone and confined to my apartment except for tri-weekly trips to the grocery store or walks outside where I pretend everything is okay by focusing on all the dead-ass trees that STILL have no leaves, not to mention no contact with my friends aside from sporadic video chats where we just yell “YOUR SOUND ISN’T WORKING” at each other for an hour… I’m supposed to deprive myself of ALL THE THINGS THAT DISTRACT ME FROM THIS HELL ON EARTH?!?!?

Yeah, Julia, we all know social media, and Netflix, and the WHOLE FUCKING INTERNET are distractions from tapping into our inner artist *cut away to a waify white girl wearing a flower crown flailing like a gas station balloon to the music at Osheaga,* but I NEED THEM RIGHT NOW, OKAY?? I am on day #… I’ve lost count… of being alone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After my 2 hours of “creating,” what the hell am I supposed to do the rest of the day?! Stare out my window at all the happy couples going on walks with their screaming babies, and contemplate my obtuse loneliness? Listen to all the ambulances in the distance and flood my mind with visuals of BODY TRAILERS?!? Mmm yeah I’m gonna need to check the fuck out once in a while. You’ll have to write a new Covid edition of your book called The Artist’s Way: Watching The Great Canadian Baking Show Counts as Art when the Alternative is a Mental Breakdown.

I think if anything, I’ve been creating LESS during media deprivation week- I’ve just been finding way more inventive ways to procrastinate. For example, in my morning pages I’ve been going on and on about wanting to write sketch and learn how to edit video, develop some jazz improv chops on violin, and learn how to use all the electronic music equipment that came in the mail a week ago… What have I actually been doing? Well, this morning, I woke up, went back to bed for a bit, then dove STRAIGHT INTO MY COMPUTER looking for gluten-free dairy-free baking recipes (add that to the list of tragedies) and painstakingly adjusting my grocery list to include expensive-ass things like almond flour, coconut sugar and brown rice syrup. Then I looked up all my friends’ birthdays on facebook, and added them, one by one, into my phone’s calendar. Colour-coded. Very very important. So not only am I breaking the no media rule HARD, I’m not doing anything remotely close to my creative dreams. Well, I also made kimchi, Thai spring rolls, hummus, and salsa out of oven-roasted tomatoes; but yet… here I am finishing off a bag of Doritos. To be fair, my period is choosing the snacks. I have no say.

While eating the first half of said bag of Doritos last night, I did do something remotely creative… it’s not a solo show that combines electronic violin music and intricate storytelling that will win my future Pulitzer, or a polished sketch of me doing something hilarious in character; but it’s umm… something.

Enjoy your chips, friends.

The Infinite Beauty of Losing your Mind

I stand facing the bathroom mirror, head of a fresh Venus ladies razor in hand detached from it’s body. I don’t know if this will work; I’ve never done it before. I angle it toward my neck, take a deep breath, and start cutting. Clumps of dirty blonde hair fall into the sink and onto my sheep-shaped bath mat, as my cat watches judgmentally. You’re finally losing your mind, aren’t you. His sharp green eyes dance back and forth following my every movement. “Whatever you do, don’t cut your bangs!” A meme joked, circulating social media during week one of isolation. Bitch I already DID my bangs, I’m in the big leagues now. I’m doing what I would normally pay $70 for plus an overly large guilt-tip all by myself, before I’ve had coffee, IN THE DARK. I haven’t even turned the lights on. It doesn’t matter. This isn’t about looking like Taylor Swift on the red carpet, it’s about taking charge of my own shit. I had some dangly bits I’ve been eying with distaste in all my video chats, and it was just time to deal with them. Honestly, it looks pretty good. A $35 haircut at worst.

Look, things are getting a little rough here in Casa de la Roller. I’m single, I live alone (with judgy cat), and I have a VERY small family (just my mom and her partner who live in Nova Scotia). I have nobody to share ideas and emotions with unless I pick up a phone, nobody to eat with, nobody to rub my back or give me a hug when I’m feeling anxious. Every picture a couple posts of a delicious meal they cooked together makes me wince with pain, as I eat sardines out of a can with my fingers.

Yesterday I sent a message to a group of friends on Facebook asking what their exciting Friday night plans were, joking that I’d been invited to a zoom wine party with my mom and some other 65-year old ladies but was accepting other offers. Then I left for a long walk to the park. As I walked, I started to feel off, like it was getting harder and harder to breathe. Every inhale was shallow, while every exhale could have blown all the candles out on a senior citizen’s birthday cake. I felt like I could easily faint. I realized I was about one sloppy chess move away from a panic attack. Being just a little stubborn, I stayed my path, focusing on my breath and all the sensations in my body, ready to sit down if necessary. Exercise is what I need, I told myself, having slept horribly the last few nights because of a surplus of energy and a seemingly constant stream of ambulance sirens in my neighborhood. I tell myself when I get home, I’ll meditate for real and get myself back to normal.

The moment I walk in the door however, I reach for my phone, which I’ve left on my desk as a stern reminder to actually enjoy my walk. I’m clawing for something immediate. Something quicker than meditation. I check to see if my message got any responses. Nothing. They’ve all seen it, but nobody has taken the bait. I feel like a giant dangling high-five. I’m disgusted with how much this innocent thing is affecting me, but the reality is, I have so little in terms of human connection right now, that even the tiniest snub like that can completely derail me.

The fun and games are over. Some real shit is starting to come up that I need to deal with. I sit at my kitchen table defeated, and ask myself: “Why is this bothering me so much? Why do I need friends to respond to my texts? I don’t need to take this personally, they could be doing any number of things right now… Why do I need people to like my Facebook posts? To leave supportive comments?” Why do I rely on the validation of others to feel loved? And it hits me, why I feel so shitty. I’m clinging to something that has begun to slip away. Something I’ve depended on for so long, but don’t really need. I’m losing my identity.

Lauren DeRoller is a professional violinist, a writer, and a comedian; though she doesn’t quite feel she’s earned that title yet. She’s independent, creative, optimistic, curious and wise. She has lots of friends, and is lovable. She’s made sure of that since struggling a great deal throughout her childhood and adolescence, convinced nobody liked her because one of her mom’s emotionally abusive partners drilled that into her head when she was 7 years old.

Shout-out to Helene! Hey gurrrrl *catty lip smack*

I lost part of my “identity” when all my orchestral work was cancelled until July at the earliest; and then I said goodbye to some more when I realized I don’t need to be creating “content” daily for social media to prove I’m an artist . Now I’m left with just “has lots of friends/is lovable,” and I am clinging to it like a motherfucker. (Note to self work on similes) I’m going to say something harsh here, but bear with me: Facebook is not “friends.” Facebook is fragments. It takes literally seconds to like somebody’s post or comment on it, but a real friend will take the time to actually reach out, one-on-one, and ask if you’re okay. I don’t have lots of those, but I have a few. A precious few I want to start leaning on more during this. It’s scary to ask for help right now because I know everybody is dealing with their own shit, but no amount of Facebook likes can tear me out of a funk quite like a heart to heart with someone who really knows me; and I know I can give the same in return.

I think every single one of us is fighting a very specific set of demons right now. Every time I wrap myself in a blanket cocoon and feel sorry for myself, I remind myself this is a privilege. To be alone and healthy while there are sick people out there dying, and healthy people close to murdering their families.* To be given the chance to let go of what isn’t working for me anymore. If I say goodbye to my identity, what is left? What happens when I “lose my mind?”

*This is a joke. I am funny. I AM FUNNY GODDAMMIT

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle shares that amidst the most intense suicidal depression of his life, he thought the words: “I cannot live with myself any longer.” He writes: This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly, I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.”

What I’m trying to say is, I think “losing your mind” is a GOOD thing. Losing your mind is quieting that part of your brain that tells you what you should be doing, and listening to the part that tells you what you want to do. It’s getting rid of that strict set of rules that determine your worth, and just allowing yourself to BE. It’s cutting your own hair, coloring for hours, making up dance routines with your cat, making a giant batch of chocolate pudding then sticking your entire face in it just because it feels good. It’s learning HOW TO BE A FUCKING KID AGAIN. Remember watching Hook when you were little and thinking “that’ll never be me?” Well we all grew up, but we’ve just been given an express ticket back to Neverland.

Let’s be honest. This fucking sucks. My inherent optimism can only get me so far during a global crisis where hundreds of thousands of people are dying alone while emergency services work themselves to the bone and the rest of us have existential crises and sob nightly at so much as an unexpected plot twist in Offspring. But these crises are breaking us down so we have a chance to rebuild in the way the universe always intended. Less judgment, more fun. Less superficial, more deep and meaningful. Less suffering, more love.

See you all on the other side.

Avoiding the Quarantine Crazies

Okay. So we are all starting to get used to this new, slower pace of life. But that doesn’t mean it’s getting easier. Sometimes I’ll think I’m actually starting to enjoy all this time to myself to relax and work on whatever project my heart desires, then within hours, I’m spiraling into a lonely self-pitying anxiety funk.

I know I’m not alone in this, but I am observing that we all have different coping mechanisms to deal with these funks. I think a lot of us are turning to booze, cannabis, netflix binges, masturbation, or wild sex romps if you’re lucky enough to be cooped up with a partner you still like… *Glares at lower neighbors menacingly* I consider all of the above to be “avoidance” techniques: ways to escape reality.

Some of us are traveling in the complete opposite direction, choosing to dwell in a constant state of terror: reading every Covid article the second it’s published and scouring Facebook to pick fights with anybody “too ignorant” to grasp the imminent danger of the current situation.

In my humble opinion, I don’t think either of these habits are completely wrong, but they definitely aren’t sustainable. We could be self-isolating for months. I think we owe it to ourselves to find a way to allow ourselves to be fully present, but not stressed the fuck out.

Even though I am single and live alone, and my family all lives out of province or country, I am coping relatively well with all this. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, maybe it’s because I spent a LOT of time alone as a child. But it may very well be because I am a master at extracting the good out of any situation. I’m going to share with you a list of all the things that are saving me right now, in the hopes they might help you too.

  1. When you’re feeling anxious, sad, lonely, or angry… put down that bottle of wine for a moment and just… acknowledge it. Sit down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and scan your body from head to toe, paying attention to all the sensations happening no matter how small. I know personally when I’m feeling really anxious, I often feel a burning on my upper back between my shoulders. Don’t dwell on these sensations- and don’t label them as good or bad; just observe, and keep moving right the fuck along. This is essentially the technique of Vipassana meditation, which Jesus Christ himself apparently studied in India. And we all know Jesus had some pretty stressful fucking times. Did he complain once? No. Vipassana.
  2. On that note, Tara Brach has put together a great list of pandemic care resources on her website such as guided meditations and short talks.
  3. If you don’t have a live-in cuddle buddy, get yourself a gravity blanket!! I got myself this one last week when it hit me I may go months without a hug. I wrap myself in it every time I feel really anxious and I feel like a baby being swaddled. I got the 20 lb blanket even though I’m closer to 150lbs and it’s perfect. (You’re supposed to go with 10% of your body weight)
  4. Lots and lots of video chats, in all possible combinations. Mix it up! Start a Facebook thread with people you don’t know that well and start a video call! Dress up in an evening gown! Drag out your costume box and become a different character for every conversation! We are ALLOWED to get weird right now. We are re-writing all the rules people!!
  5. My freakin’ cat. Yes, he may be peeing on things more than usual because he’s not used to me being home 24/7, but it is nice to have someone to kiss on the lips and talk to nice to carry on a very normal human-cat relationship. Word on the street is the SPCA is desperate for people to adopt right now. As of the date published, the Montreal branch is still operating, and you can adopt by making an appointment.
  6. What else… okay a lot of people are doing live instagram shows right now, but my absolute favourite is Kate Bradley’s show “I Din Jus Wake Up.” You can catch it by following @redrandom and tuning in at 11am on weekdays. She is a staple in the Montreal Improv Comedy community and the show is hilarious. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to watch famous people I don’t know right now doing high-budget productions… I want to watch people in their pyjamas, drinking whiskey at 11am, yelling at their dogs and singing along to their in-house karaoke machine.
  7. Long walks. I don’t know how much longer this will be kosher, but as long as you can safely stay 6 feet away from people, going on 1-3 hour walks every day reminds me my muscles have a purpose other than bending over to pick up a chip I dropped on the floor before eating it. I particularly really enjoy watching other solo walkers sitting on a rock in the park, a smile on their face, just taking it all in. They get it. There is still so much beauty in the world.
  8. Okay so of course I still drink and smoke the green things and watch Netflix. Just, as little as possible. And I most definitely avoid anything too stress-inducing. Contagion? Pandemic?!? Jesus people what are you thinking?!? Here are my Netflix recommendations for creating a blissful bubble of ignorance for a little while: Self-Made. Please Like Me. Love is Blind. Feel Good. Queer Eye. Glow. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Lady Dynamite. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The End of the F***ing World. Sex Education. Freaks and Geeks. Lovesick. Salt Fat Acid Heat. Easy. And yeah yeah, that tiger show.
  9. If you follow me on Facebook, it may seem like I have been extremely productive. In all reality, I spend most of my days sitting around on the couch wrapped in a 20lb blanket. But what I’ve taken to doing on my whiteboard fridge calendar that was previously reserved for anticipating my crazy work schedule, is RETROACTIVELY writing one thing on it every day that I did that made me happy. ONE THING. I’m not making a list of all the things I want to do or should do, I’m just going about my day doing what feels right, and then usually by the end of the day, one things pops out as somewhat useful.

Notice I added a couple of frowny-face “fails,” because while infuriating at the time, they were essential to my finally conquering said goal the next day. (That question mark for anybody wondering marks the day when I will probably erase more weeks out of my work schedule.)

You know what, I’m going to stop at 9. Because those are legit all the things that are getting me through this, and a 10th thing would be trying too hard. And this time is all about “less is more.” Let’s be okay with ourselves at our laziest, at our saddest, at our most vulnerable. If other people are being super productive and you’re not, who the fuck cares. If you see people enjoying meals with their loved ones and you’re all alone, let yourself feel sad. But don’t run to the booze the second you feel uncomfortable. Try to figure out how to give yourself what you’ve turned to other people and vices to get up until now. Trust me, you have everything you need.

I left my Heart in Paris and my Appendix in Berlin

Last year in early March, I was so stressed out from working up a high-stakes violin audition, living with a (now ex) boyfriend who was incapable of love, and getting bombarded by walls of anxiety texts from friends looking for advice or validation; that I downloaded an app that literally kicks you off your phone and MAKES YOU PAY to get back on. It’s called “Off the Grid,” and it is AMAZING. I made it so that friends could only solicit my emotional labour from 9-10am, and 5-7pm. (Realistically the problem was my boyfriend but I didn’t figure that out until 7 months later) On top of the $100/month I already pay for my phone bill, I added on another $5.95/month to have unlimited use of 5 apps that ensure my daily survival: Music, Clock, Transit, Google Maps* and Uber; plus the threat of a $1.29 penalty fee per infraction just to be able to NOT USE MY PHONE. (*I have zero sense of direction and there’s no way I’m going back to that dark time when my phone was in a repair shop for 2 months and I had to hand-draw maps in advance of every single place I went.)

I know what you’re thinking, “Do you have literally no self-control?!” “Can’t you just like, not respond to texts?! Or tell your friends to find a therapist??” And the answer is, nope. It stresses me out beyond belief to leave walls of text hanging in the air, unanswered, because I care WAY too much about other people’s needs. I’d probably help a complete stranger move during the apocalypse if they begged me nicely. I think because I’ve been disappointed so many times and know how it feels, I never want to be the one doing it to others. (I’m aware this needs re-evaluation)

Anyway, I was pretty excited to go on a 2-week tour to Europe with the Montreal Symphony in mid-March; to get out of the half-snow half-slush hellscape of Montreal and see a hint of spring. Embrace some new surroundings so I didn’t feel so tied to my phone. I could feel my anxiety dissipating already… I just had to pack my suitcase and get myself to the airport.

After a few days of extreme packing because I overthink everything, I’d finally assembled the perfect suitcase. All my outfits and shoes are perfectly planned out to accommodate the most possible color coordination combos; I have enough socks and underwear to defy all logic; travel pillow, travel blanket; some tasteful scarves to disguise the fact I’m wearing the same outfit for the third day in a row… 5 hours before my transatlantic flight, I’m making a last minute swap. The white blouse will match my jeans AND the green skirt while the purple one only really matches my jeans… when I get a whiff of a familiar scent from my suitcase.

It’s cat pee. My boyfriend’s cat has rage-pissed all over my beautifully packed suitcase, mirroring the way his human treats me in perfect feline symmetry. All over the clothing, books, inside my shoes… in and amongst the suitcase lining. I start frantically throwing all the clothes in the wash, hand-washing my black suede shoes in the bathtub (*tear*), and DOUSING my suitcase lining with baking soda, scrubbing it with hydrogen peroxide, then vacuuming all the powder up like some sort of hobo dry-cleaning service. I fucking HUSTLED, and made it to the airport smelling only a little bit like urine.            

WANTED: For Petty Pee

When I got to Germany, they had lost my suitcase, but I didn’t even care. I’d made it to a land without snow. I almost immediately started indulging in the local diet of beer, bread and sausage, and continued to do so for the next 12 days. I got constipated. Like, really constipated. So constipated I had to stop eating because there was no room for anything else… I felt like shit. I mean, I was probably 80% shit. But at this point I had a horrible cramp in my lower right side, a fever, and no appetite. Do these symptoms sound familiar to anyone? Yeah I hadn’t eaten too many brats, I had fucking appendicitis. I just didn’t know it yet.

For the last few days of my trip after the tour was done, I’d booked an AirBnb in Berlin to do some exploring, but all I wanted to do when I got there was go to my room, collapse on my bed and let the darkness consume me. Thing is, I had saved TWENTY WHOLE BUCKS by booking a “shared apartment” with a chain-smoking, neurotic old German lady with a penchant for leaving dildo boxes out in the open; who made it her business to knock on my door every few minutes to give me tips on Berlin or more rules to follow in her apartment. The Parliament Building is a “must-see, it’ll only take 6-7 hours. (I’d rather die) No eating or drinking in bed. (Where else am I supposed to do it?!) Don’t turn on the heat. But if you must, shut your window.

At one point I’m sitting on my bed fresh out of a hot shower, window wide open and heat on full blast, trying to simultaneously warm up and cool down from fever flashes. I’m so exhausted from pain I’m just staring at the wall. She comes in, ignores the fact I look like I’m about to drop dead, and asks me to squeegee her glass shower stall and then dry it with a towel. So here I am, appendix about to burst and kill me, on my hands and knees drying out her fucking shower so it doesn’t get water spots. Why? Because heaven forbid I disappoint this weird German lady.

After I finish, I calmly call an Uber to escort me to Emergency.

I leave most of my things in my room because I’m convinced the doctor will just push on my belly and I’ll let out a big fart or something and go back home… but he confirms I need to have my appendix removed the next morning and spend three days in the hospital recovering. I’d left my cell phone charger, my toothbrush, every single piece of clothing I’d packed… wet… and hanging to dry all over my room because of course I took advantage of the free laundry. But the last thing I want to do is contact my crackpot air bnb host to bring me all my things. So post-surgery, I just rest in my nifty hospital bed being doted on by nurses that don’t speak my language as my phone battery fizzles out; wearing half a paper-thin gown and hospital issued mesh underwear that broadcasts my entire ass to other hospital guests every time I walk to the washroom. I’m overcome with this feeling… Complete bliss.

I’ve been upgraded to “Off the Grid” premium, where for only $5000…

Living my Best Life

Death to the Internet

It’s March 15, 2020 and the world is in lock down. A few days ago, when EVERYTHING was cancelled for the foreseeable future, my first reaction was Cool! A chance to slow down, get creative, connect with those around me on a deep level and start thinking about how to grow as a society. Well, after a minor panic at losing all my income as a freelance artist that is. I am an optimist almost to a fault and some may call me crazy, but I believe the Universe (some call it God, some The Force…) knows exactly what it’s doing. This may seem devastating, but something bigger is at play here. I have been dreaming of something that would wake us all up… something that would scare us into making big, collective changes. If we can band together to reduce the impact of coronavirus on the healthcare system, maybe we can do something similar for climate change! Maybe people will realize what’s important! It’s not “work;” it’s Family! Health! Toilet paper! Maybe by cancelling all live concerts and events, people will realize just how important artists are to a community! With all this time off, I can lean into my writing, develop my professional website, learn some new repertoire on violin, do some improvisation with all my special effects pedals, work on my solo show…

And then I went on Facebook.

Facebook (or insert any other form of social media) is a dark, dark place right now. Sure it’s full of people offering support and information, but mostly it’s people freaking the fuck out. Sharing articles on how we are 2 weeks from becoming a cesspool of disease and suffering. Coronavirus is making it’s way here from Italy quicker than pizza did in the late 50’s. (Yes I looked that up) People starting innocent threads that turn into angry emoji bloodbaths, with some internet cowboy on their high horse preaching about how THEY’RE doing things and how anybody who has a different perspective is clearly a flat-earther. I can’t. Stop. Reading. It’s partially for survival, partially because it’s FASCINATING. Before I know it, it’s 11:30 at night, my blood is boiling, and I haven’t done anything that actually makes me happy.

A “quarantined musician’s schedule” has been going around social media that my friend @auditionplaybook had the good sense to edit, and I don’t think it could be more accurate:

It’s HARD to be productive when you’re burning to a crisp in the flames of your own anxiety!!

I’m finding myself wishing that the internet would somehow just stop working. Maybe we can still call our friends and family, we can still get essential news, but the internet… just… dies. Would it be so bad if all we could do for 2 weeks is read, write, play music, cook, meditate, and go on walks? I mean, we used to live that way, didn’t we?! I went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat a while back where EVERYTHING was taken away: no phone, no books, no writing material. It was definitely “social isolation” in the sense that so much as making EYE CONTACT with fellow leg-crossers was forbidden, let alone any other form of communication. All I had to entertain myself was my own neurotic brain. (And two hairy legs with a set of tweezers) Did I go crazy? Well, yes. But after 4 or 5 days, I learned to slow down, and relish in the tiniest of details. How the sky looks completely different every day. How the greens in the tree leaves are the most vibrant just after it has rained. The woman in the cafeteria who manually peels her apple with her teeth, spitting out each partial spiral onto her plate and then looking at her bald apple with pride, before consuming it along with the spit-covered peels anyway. At the end of the 10 days, I was BLISSED the FUCK OUT because I had learned how to be fully present.

The moment my phone was handed back to me in a ziplock bag along with my keys, wallet, and contraband peanut butter, a surge of anxiety went through my body. This small hunk of glorified garbage has the power to send my brain catapulting in all directions. Did my boyfriend, who I got in a huge fight with before I left, text me? Notre Dame cathedral BURNED DOWN?! Ooh better post about how much better of a person I am now because I did this retreat… #sospiritual… Crap, nobody is liking it, should I change the wording so it sounds more humble?! Fuck it, delete…

We are ALL holding the one ring in our pockets. Within minutes of taking them into our hands, we are flooded with feelings of anger, jealousy, anxiety, greed, narcissism. In this Lord of the Rings analogy, replace Sauron, the dark lord who created the ring in the fiery pit of a volcano with… Capitalism. Whoa. Didn’t think we’d end up here, but I’m pretty sure I’m a genius. What I’m trying to say is, if you’re feeling a lot of anxiety over the next few weeks, just turn off your phone and focus on those little details. What it sounds like outside with no angry rush hour honking. How your thick winter blanket wrapped tightly around you feels almost like a hug. How your cat’s breath smells, as he meows 2 inches from your face, begging for dinner 1 hour after dinner. Like rotten fish.

#sospiritual

Music for a Funeral

Yesterday for the first time in years, I played violin at a funeral. I hesitated when I was asked to do the gig a few days ago, by a dear colleague for a death in his family; because of the horrible travel time to pay ratio on a precious Saturday off, yes, but also… I cry when other people cry. I used to tease my mom when she would cry during a sad movie or so much as a sappy commercial about a family shopping for furniture at Ikea; but I’m realizing as I age, I am turning into a blubbery overly-empathetic mess.

And that doesn’t exactly make it easier to play sad music, contrary to what you might think. It makes it a whole hell of a lot harder; my shaky tense arm shitting all over the soft wistful beginnings and oh God why does it have to end on a high sustained harmonic…not to mention all the tears blurring my eyes making me unable to discern between sharps and flats, playing a disturbingly happy version of Schindler’s List. Nobody wants to see the musicians crying at a funeral!! Just like nobody wants to see the priest crying, unable to get through the words. We are on the Titanic, and something needs to remain stable while everything around us sinks. The musicians must go on.

So I take some deep breaths before walking into the church, and put up as much of a “wall” as I can muster to keep all my emotions inside. Ah, this must be how men feel.  

Upon entering however, I’m struck with how happy people seem! Wow, maybe I won’t need this wall after all! The guest of honor (is that morbid?!) passed in her wisest old years, a life lived to the fullest. This seems more like a celebration of life, a gathering of loved ones to reconnect and share stories, than a dark somber affair. I breathe a sigh of relief.

That is until the woman’s eldest son comes up to speak. There is something about watching a grown man, unable to get his words out while remembering his mother because he is fighting so hard not to cry. The energy in the room starts to shift. Oh God. Now they want me to play this slow beautiful ethereal piece… KEEP IT TOGETHER LAUREN!! I pull my violin, and my wall up; and get through the piece somewhat successfully. Those slight shakes in the long notes are a deliberate musical choice dammit!!

As the ceremony draws to a close, the priest walks over to the coffin and holds an incense bowl at the foot, letting smoke gracefully twirl and dance over this woman’s final resting place while a soprano sings one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Mother Fuck. I can hear it start in the front row… those very people that were all smiles and laughter when I first walked in are now hunched into themselves, Kleenex in hand, sobbing. Audibly. My wall starts to crumble. As though they’re doing “the wave” in a football stadium, the sobbing spreads to the back of the room and EVERYBODY is crying now. HOW the CRAP is this singer KEEPING HER COOL?!? I am so relieved I don’t have to play this one.

As I’m sitting here, taking it all in, my chest burning and my eyes welling up… it strikes me, what an honour this is. To be able to give these people such a beautiful release. Music has this incredible power to allow people to take their walls down and really process their emotions. If we were playing happy upbeat music, they might have stayed in that “celebratory” mode from earlier, but because we are playing slow, beautiful sad music, they feel safe to cry. They know it’s okay to be sad. That we will be up here playing until it’s all over, so they feel no pressure to do anything but reflect on their loss. They don’t need to talk to anybody; they don’t need to smile and pretend everything is okay. We are their protection when they are at their most vulnerable.

And so I build my wall one last time, but I build it big enough to surround everyone. I am strong so they don’t have to be. I take a deep breath, and make it through the last piece.

How to be Sick and Single

Despite getting the flu shot a month or so ago when I thought for a hot second that it would make me immune to coronavirus, I came down with a nasty cold this week. Most people have the luxury of taking a few days off of work when they’re sick, but I’m a freelance musician! So you better believe I’m marching that cold into work and sharing my germs like it’s Christmas because orchestra subs don’t get sick leave. If you miss one rehearsal, you miss the whole week and hence the whole week’s pay. Do I care about my colleagues enough to forfeit $substantial amount of money that I depend on to pay my 4-figure rent just so they don’t catch my minor cold? No, no I don’t.

Lucky for me (and my 80 or so colleagues) I had 2 days off before the week’s concert cycle began to shank my cold, and I think I did a pretty amazing job. I don’t think I’ve had somebody take care of me when I was sick since I was young and still living with my mom, and I’m okay with that. I’m not saying I wouldn’t love it if a guy I was dating brought me some soup and a flash drive full of movies to watch together while slowly rubbing my back; but I am REALLY good at taking care of myself, so I thought I’d share some tips.

  • Start stockpiling bones NOW. Chicken bones, you weirdo. Plop that carcass of whatever bone-laden roast you made for dinner in a freezer-safe ziplock bag and into the freezer. Then as soon as you have a free day to chill at home, make a bone broth* in your instant pot. (If you don’t have one of these, get one! You can make things that take hours on the stove in a fraction of the time) *If you’re vegetarian, stockpile the ends of all your veggies: peels, cores, roots, whatever; and make a veggie stock. Chuck a whole bulb of garlic in there, it’s a natural antibiotic.
  • Save 1 litre of this bone broth and whip up a chicken soup (Or do this at your next convenience, but I like to just do it all in one evening while trying to dance to afrobeats and drinking vodka)
  • Now take your freezer-safe ziplocks and freeze all the goodness you just made into 2 cup portions. Next time you’re sick, you’ve already got buttloads of homemade soup and broth to sip, made by the person who loves you most! *wipes away a small tear*
  • At the first sign of a tickly throat, start popping Cold-FX twice a day. I swear this stuff works though at $25 a bottle, you might as well just buy whisky
  • Get yourself to a grocery store before you become a walking snott blanket and stock up on gatorade, saltine crackers, oranges, lemons, ginger, honey and trashy magazines. You won’t really need the gatorade or crackers for a cold, but they’ll come in handy the next time you drink too much tequila/eat bad sushi/contract a trendy virus
  • Every morning for the duration of your cold, blend or shake about 1 cup of orange juice, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of honey, a knob of grated ginger, and a pinch of cayenne and drink before you eat anything.
  • Use your cold as an excuse to bail on ALL the things
  • Put on your best fleece onesie and order enough food from UberEats for 8 people. Tell them you won’t be needing 8 plastic fucking forks though because that’s bad for the environment. 2 will be fine. (Your UberEats driver mustn’t know you are eating all this food by yourself)
  • Have the food delivered directly to your blanket fort.
  • Coerce your cat into the blanket fort and use a wrestling hold to force him to cuddle. If no cat is available, fill up a hot water bottle and hug it, whispering “I love you” until it feels real.
  • Then, when you inevitably have to go to work still kindof sick, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little Sudafed to give people the illusion that you are healthy. Just don’t be a dick; use hand sanitizer every time you fuck up and sneeze or cough into your hand like an animal, and don’t ask to try a sip of your friend’s oat milk latte.

Two Words

Last night, a cartoon about kids going through puberty made me download a dating app. I’ve been single for 4 months, and have the intent of staying that way for quite a while longer or at least until I can iron out why I seem to be drawn to men who are possessed by the black goo from “Stranger Things;” but something about watching teens navigate their very first romantic encounters made me cross over from “I can’t look men in the eye” to “I’ll briefly consider our 20 year marriage together while scrolling through pictures of you squatting next to a lion and soulfully playing guitar on the edge of your unmade bed before sliding you into the discard pile.”

I am WAY pickier on dating apps than in real life, because I just can’t bear the thought of meeting up at a restaurant after days of texting back and forth, having illuminating conversations about spirituality and music and ways to SAVE HUMANITY only to find out that in real life, all this man really loves is the sound of his own voice. So I’ve developed a kindof short hand for interpreting dating profiles to save me from spending a precious evening suffering through a bad date instead of chocolate-dipping a whole box of strawberries and eating them by myself:

  1. Picture of him holding up a cat by it’s armpits, face-to-face, with his mouth wide open feigning surprise (this is weirdly common): Incapable of a mature romantic relationship with a woman, who will inevitably express disappointment at some point which will send him into a shame-spiral and cause him to either withdraw or hurl blame at her rather than just apologizing, so chooses the company of his cat who loves him unconditionally, porn addiction and all; not to mention, has zero regard for feline hind leg support
  2. More than 1 gym selfie: Has made up for his lack of intelligence with muscles, and will have nothing interesting to talk about at dinner
  3. Not smiling in any of his pictures: RUN, this guy is just looking for a manic pixie dream girl to cheer him up for 2 months before plummeting back into the depths of his brooding self-centered existence
  4. Says he is looking for a “down-to-earth” girl who just wants to enjoy the simple things in life: Looking for someone to do his laundry and listen to him talk about his boring-ass day at the office
  5. Super super hot: See #2 but add “bad in bed”
  6. His answers to all the questions are short and basic: YAWN not only is this guy going to have nothing to talk about, but he is going to respond to my delightful essays of texts which I’ve curated just to make him laugh with “cool.” 8 hours after I send them.
  7. Playing the violin in one of his pictures: This is an immediate discard* because either he’ll be threatened by my violin BADASSNESS or he’ll want me to give him free lessons (*I’m assuming violin is a hobby; if he’s professional, there’s a 95% chance he’s crazy)
  8. Under 5’7″ AND under 25: He is not grown in ANY of the ways, and will compensate by texting waaay too many kissy face emojis and patting my head while calling me “his little girl”
  9. His “thing that most people don’t know about me” is “I tried stand-up comedy once”: Oh God, he’s not funny, but he’s going to try to give me “notes” on my material because he has “experience”
  10. Wearing a tight-fitting suit showing off his giant muscles and tiny package with a tropical skittles toned shirt, arm-in-arm with two of his equally-outfitted business school buddies: Closeted gay

Ooh hold up. Mark, 36, is a graphic designer at a real place that issues real paychecks; he loves writing, astrophysics, cooking and other smart people things I can’t remember; he doesn’t need to show a pic of him standing in name brand workout gear in front of a gym mirror to see that he’s buff, and he doesn’t look like a serial killer. It’s a match! I get the ball rolling and send him a message:

“Hii! I love to write too! What kinds of things do you like to write?”

And I wait. If he really loves to write, he’ll have a super fascinating, thick juicy response and I won’t be able to help diving in and picking up on things that spark my curiosity and he’ll be so impressed with my intelligence and sense of humor that he’ll ask me out for a drink and we’ll say we only have time for one before we meet just to be safe but then we’ll stay at the bar until they close just sharing stories and gazing into each other’s eyes and the waiters will give us dirty looks while they sweep the floors until finally we’ll pay our bill and leave to roam around the streets of Montreal at night, taking in the warm early-Spring air and talking and trying to get the courage to go in for a kiss but we’re both enjoying each other so much that we want to WAIT for that moment because then we’ll never have our first kiss again, and in fact EVERY relationship benchmark from that point on will be last time we ever do it for the first time with someone…

He writes back, 7 hours later, with two words:

Existential Prose

And into the discard pile he goes.

My Worst Recordings Ever, Episode 1

As a professional classical violinist, I have spent a lot of time recording myself. You need high quality demos for summer music festivals, scholarship and grant applications, university auditions, and orchestral auditions; and honestly I’d rather sit in the middle seat on a flight to China surrounded by babies. You have not seen me at my worst until you’ve witnessed me during a recording session. This coming from somebody who has screamed at innocent bystanders in an A&W for obstructing her path to a Beyond Meat burger with cheese in a post-concert hanger craze; one of the bystanders in fact, an old blind man.

Where a live classical music performance is already shrouded in the expectation of flawlessness (we’ll allow you to play 1-3 notes slightly off-pitch or rush one passage of 16th notes before mentally tossing you in the garbage); a studio recording is meant to display one at their VERY BEST. A representation of what they COULD sound like if they had the most amazing night’s sleep, got to the hall with no near-death Uber experiences, nailed every single technical obstacle exactly as they practiced it, and had a suspiciously healthy audience with no dark phlegmy hacks and crinkly cough drop wrappers saved for all the quiet moments.

Assuming you have thousands of dollars to throw around, you have unlimited chances during a recording session to re-do any passage that’s not to your liking, then you get your audio engineer to hack it all up and glue it back together making a polished musical-Frankenstein of only the best takes. If you’re not so financially blessed, you record as many full runs of the piece as possible on your own shitty equipment then pick the best one.

Cut to me on all fours in a room I’ve rented out in the Maritime Conservatory of Music, screaming and banging my fists into the carpeted cement floor after the 82nd take of Paganini’s 5th Caprice for a university demo. I don’t think more swear words were ever launched in that place, which also hosts ballet classes and children’s music programs. There are like 8000 notes in that 3 minute long mother fucker. Every time I fudged something, it was straight back to the beginning like Paperboy on the original Nintendo. Except I couldn’t throw my violin across the room like I would have with the controller.

The only alternative to this method of recording, other than quitting music, is to magically get an amazing take from a live performance. I have never had the best luck with this method, because I get NERVOUS as FUCK. No matter how much I prepare or how many performance-regulating drugs* I take, I inevitably shit the bed in at least 3 spots, rendering the recording useless. (*Musicians won’t admit it, but most of us have a bottle of beta blockers in the medicine cabinet that to an audition panel behind a screen, marks the difference between “this is a normal person” and “Jesus are they okay?! Are they being chased by a man with a knife??”)

In my “Lauren DeRoller” itunes folder, I have two sets of recordings: those made in a studio and fit for the ears of snobby music judges wearing suits so tight they can’t sit down properly (that’s how I imagine them); and those recorded live, which are not permitted to leave the safety of my computer. UNTIL TODAY. My friends. I think it is time we stop perpetuating this myth that the best musicians are those able to get from start to finish of a piece with zero mistakes. I would so much rather listen to a musician play from their heart with I dunno, 15 wrong notes, 2 memory slips and an audible curse word; than spit out Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto as though it was being played from a Midi file. Technically flawless but boring as fuck. Some of my live recordings are actually really good, save for a few spectacular donks.

The following recording takes this a little far, containing MOSTLY donk with a few “actually really good” moments; but I thought I’d start this series with the one that makes me laugh the most. Which is worth something too, God dammit. In grade 12, I put on a solo recital that showcased not only my stress-fueled violin skills, but yup… my mediocre piano abilities. I really did love playing the piano, but I would notoriously sight-read for my weekly lesson, never practicing at home. I am proud to say, it shows. (All the “dramatic pauses” you hear are me scrambling to find the notes)

P.S. If you listen to this and can’t tell what’s wrong with it, congratulations! You haven’t been jaded by the impossible standards of classical music culture and you are capable of simply… enjoying music. What a concept!

I give you, my favourite worst recording ever:

Rachmaninoff Piano Prelude in C# minor/Lauren DeRoller/2004

I’ll leave you with the “good” version.

For the Love of Rats

This little writing corner is my favourite spot in my long skinny apartment. I call my place the “rat maze” because contrary to the trendy “open concept,” it’s a series of little nooks and crannies, all wonderfully compartmentalized for an introvert who loves to nest. Every room is it’s own little universe, full of soft things and hidey-holes and materials to nudge me into creativity because I often forget.

Look closer and you’ll see the books are obsessive-compulsively organized by genre and height. I’ve gone so far as to divide the comedy section into male and female authors, and improv comedy manuals; which is an oxymoron to such a high degree that I’m waiting for the books to spontaneously combust. Peppered ever so carefully around the books are little toys curiosities I’ve accumulated in my travels, each one with it’s own significance. But the one that would light up my brain in an MRI like a group of ballerinas (ballerinas notoriously chain-smoke); the object that makes my heart ache because it’s a bittersweet reminder of “the one that got away,” is this guy.

Oh hi rat

Before I met Harry, I thought rats were disgusting vermin, a view shared by most of the other people on this planet. Rats were creatures to avoid; the bottom feeders of the animal kingdom. Calling someone a rat meant this person was filthy, untrustworthy, sinister. But Harry is a Neuroscientist, and spent most of his time studying rats because they are actually very similar to humans in terms of genetic, biological and behaviour characteristics. Harry loved his work, but hated studying rats, because they are wonderful. It pained him to keep them in small cages, inevitably having to sacrifice them for the test results. Aside from being super intelligent, they are adorable, silly, and extremely loving. While many a mouse bit Harry during his studies, rats were only ever happy to see him because they crave social interaction even more than treats. Even when the treats are actually DRUGS. It’s been scientifically proven!!

Harry and I started going to pet stores just so we could visit the rats. I was looking at them through Harry’s eyes now, and couldn’t believe how anybody could look at them and not squeal with delight. Those curious little faces with their glossy eyes and forests of whiskers and tiny little ears… Sometimes they would come up to the glass to say hi, but more often than not you could find them in a glorious pile under a miniature log cabin, the shape of which their bodies would maintain once removed. Rats LOVE to cuddle; a trait I share with them. At home wherever Harry was, I wanted to be near him if not fully integrated with him, our bodies molded together like play-dough. So I started affectionately calling him “Rat.” And it stuck. I loved that we had something nobody else had. He wasn’t my “babe” or my “honey;” he was my rat, soft “r.” The word took on this whole new meaning that only we understood.

When I moved to Montreal to pursue a Master’s degree in music, he stayed in Ottawa to continue his studies and I missed him terribly. While living together, we couldn’t get pet rats because it would have interfered with his work; but in Montreal, there was nothing stopping me! So I adopted Lucy and Taco, two female ratties from the SPCA. Having rats would help ease some of the pain from being apart.

Lucy and Taco are two cuties in the middle!

Reunions in Montreal were extra special because we not only got to see each other, but Harry was able to interact with rats in a way he had only ever dreamed. It felt like we were a family, with weird little rat children. We would make them rattie castles out of cardboard boxes and egg cartons, and hard boil eggs so they could play rattie soccer; they would sit on our shoulders while we cooked (Ratatouille is real, guys!! Though they were more interested in eating the food than cooking it) and as they got older they mellowed out and cuddled in our laps while we watched movies. We created little rat voices for them, obviously, and would narrate for them when they’d find a new exciting hack to get even higher up in the apartment; or steal a cough-drop out of my pocket. It was pretty much just the voice of Consuela, the housekeeper from Family Guy. “No, noo. I take.”

As Lucy and Taco aged, Harry and I started to grow apart. We couldn’t help it. Of the 6 years we dated, 4 of them were long-distance and I was becoming a new person in Montreal, with new friends and habits and interests. Around the same time Harry was accepted to a post-doctoral position in Houston, Taco started to get sick. Harry spent his last summer before moving to Texas in Montreal with me, and we tried with all our might to nurse her, and our relationship back to health. I knew deep down that neither would survive the summer.

A part of us left with Taco when she passed away. These rats are what kept us together despite our distance and now with one of them gone, our hearts were starting to break. We tried long-distance for another month, but I just couldn’t stomach it. Another 3 years of this relationship purgatory, getting the worst of both worlds. No intimacy, and no freedom. I ended it. The day before he had an appointment to buy an engagement ring.

Thinking about it 4 years later as the woman I am today, a survivor of multiple soul-crushing romantic experiences, sends a wave of remorse crashing through my body. Why couldn’t we have just worked a little harder? Gone to therapy, chosen one city to live in, or even tried an open relationship. But I know realistically, none of that would have worked. I did what I felt was right in that stage of my life, and I have to respect that. I actually told him when we broke up that I wanted to know what it felt like to date a jerk. Like that’s some sort of essential female experience in our fucked up society. Boy does the Universe ever fucking DELIVER!

When I look at bookshelf rat, I’m reminded of what I once had. I’m grateful to have experienced what true love feels like so I’ll know when I’ve found it again. Next time though, I’m not letting it go.

Happy February

So I have a bit of a controversial statement I need to make. Are you sitting down?!?

I love winter

I love how… low pressure it is. I love that I can have almost a whole week off, and do nothing but curl up under a blanket with a book. I’ve been in the habit of rotating self help psychology books with memoirs by my favourite comedians, I loved Ali Wong’s book Dear Girls! Wow I just erased that last comma and made it a semi-colon about 4 times. The comma just seems more approachable, right?! This is the kind of perfectionism I’m going to try to nip in the bud over the next few posts. I actually sat down to write this post yesterday afternoon… My goal: to write about something I love aka, winter. What came out? A manifesto on why Rom-Coms are as poisonous to relationships as porn is to sex. I think I’ll save that for another time, maybe Valentine’s day!

Anyway, back to winter. I know it’s “cool” to be outside, but I love being inside. Especially in the city- where outside means navigating giant man-eating puddles (at least in Montreal in February), people walking while texting (which I realized yesterday, are just as much a nuisance to the flow of traffic as a snowplow- if you see one coming, you best be jumping out of the way) and let’s throw in a third reason… oh right… the cold.

Even in the summer, when only one of those three things is a threat, I struggle from FOMO. When I decide to take myself on a nice walk through Park Jarry, which has a beautiful fountain in the middle and has more wildlife than most of the other city parks, I am met with a sea of friend gangs playing pétanque and cooking on their tiny barbecues; and couples weaved together on a blanket like a shitty braid. Part of me is happy for them, but part of me would sell an organ to have that life. I have to remind myself, maybe this friend group hasn’t seen each other in ages, and this is a one time thing! Surely they’re not coming here every weekend to bask in each other’s love and support and store-bought macaroni salad. And that couple over there- maybe they’ve been fighting all week, and this was their truce! They agreed to just have a nice afternoon in the park before going home and going at it again over who is spending more time in the bathroom.

I have to remind myself, you know who’s life is really awesome?! Mine!!

Anyway, back to winter. So yeah, I like that there is no pressure to be outside. I can wrap myself in a cocoon of blankets (cat included) and slippers and tea and just BE, uninterrupted by the sounds of lollygaggers (yeah, I don’t really know what that word means either, spell-check…) coming from my open window. We are ALL in a cocoon. We have all slowed the fuck down. And that puts my mind at ease, knowing everybody else is doing the same thing as I am.

A social worker told me once that contrary to popular belief, people tend to struggle more with depression in the summer, than the winter. You hear of seasonal affective disorder (“SAD”) and you just assume people are happier in the summer because the sun is stronger, but turns out, I’m not the only one that suffers from FOMO. People like to feel like they’re more or less experiencing what everyone else is experiencing. So people with depression feel more at ease amongst people who are hunkered down in their nests than people out running around seemingly having the best time of their lives. Fuck off, extremely happy people!! You’re ruining it for the rest of us!!

I love being inside, but when I do venture outside, I am met with even more reasons I love winter: the snow on bare trees, the brisk fresh air, and kids waddling in over-sized fluorescent snow suits. God bless them all. I’m going to leave you with the pièce de résistance: the thing that inspired this whole post but somehow like usual I got totally off track. I give you, the #1 reason I love winter:

Dogs in Booties

Don’t Cook my Cat

I’m sitting at my desk in 8th grade science class with Mr. Doucet. For some reason though, all we’ve done for the past few weeks is sing pop songs, and he ALWAYS gives the solo part to Max. Everybody is frustrated but nobody wants to speak up. Mr. Doucet just has his favourite, and that’s all there is to it. But today instead of joining the tense silence, I stand up and walk over to him, meeting him in the front left corner of the classroom. I tell him we are fed up with Max getting all the special attention, that there are other people in the class who would like a chance to sing too. He rips me to shreds with his dark beady eyes, and arches his back so he is towering over me. “You just want the solo for yourself, don’t you. You’re so selfish and stuck-up! You think that just because you play the violin you’re better than the rest of us.” I turn to my classmates and say “No, I am speaking to you on behalf of everybody. We all feel this way. Who here wishes they could have a chance?” And everybody not only raises their hands, but they add to the conversation. I sit down at my desk, feeling elated that I have just helped a room full of people find their voice. My boyfriend is next to me. He looks at me and smiles, softly interlacing his fingers with mine. “That was embarrassing. You should really keep your thoughts to yourself” he coos. And I just nod my head. In silence.

And then I wake up. Nicely played, dreams…

Three months ago, I broke up with someone who for one year, ever so subtly, tore down the walls around the foundation of everything I know and love about myself. He made me feel like I was deeply flawed. My identity went from happy, beautiful, talented, empowered and compassionate to the identity he projected onto me: insecure, judgmental, stressed, sexually repressed, unattractive, needy, selfish. Not in touch with my “true” feelings. Not a “real” artist. The list goes on. Every fight began with me trying to express how something he said (or didn’t say) had hurt me, and ended with me apologizing. Your needs don’t matter. That was the destination being stamped onto my relationship passport. A place I’ve visited many times before. Thank God he said something so colossally hurtful at the end that I couldn’t let slide, or I might have stayed with him for another year. Or 5, or 10. Ever since, I have been rebuilding my house, stronger than it ever was before. I am finding my voice because I am determined NEVER to let someone walk all over me like that again. Only I get to decide what virtues I have, and what flaws; and whether or not I’ll work on them. I’d say my conscious mind is pretty fucking on top of things, but my subconscious is like “Just in case, I’m going to throw in this dream where your boyfriend is COOKING YOUR FUCKING CAT IN THE OVEN for dinner, and you nod tacitly as though it’s a new recipe on pinterest before dream-smacking yourself and snatching the love of your life into your arms.” (The cat, obviously, not the douchebag)

It’s amazing how empowering it is to say No. To say, this isn’t good enough for me. To let myself feel anger instead of justifying someone’s shitty behavior by psycho-analyzing their childhood. It’s extremely hard, coming from a background where I was terrified to admit when something was hurting me because it meant making my sweet mom who suffered from serious depression sad or angry, and all I wanted was for her to be happy. It’s funny because all she wanted was for me to be happy… so we were doing quite an elaborate dance of repressed emotions. If only we’d realized honesty is what paves the way to happiness. I want to be clear though, there is the kind of “honesty” my Ex dished out; and there is honesty from a place of true vulnerability, love, and respect. A dear colleague once told me “Honesty without compassion is cruelty.” And that is the difference between a healthy relationship, and an abusive one. We must find the courage to express ALL of our feelings, not just the “good” ones. To be able to say “I love you, AND this behavior is hurting me;” not “There is something wrong with you; I will love you when you fix it.” To respond with “Thank-you for telling me, what could I try to do differently?” instead of “What about MY feelings. This is YOUR fault.”

There is room for everybody’s feelings. Not just those who have the loudest voices, or the most pain. We just have to be willing to put down our weapons and listen. And until I find a partner who is able to do that, I’m just going to keep working on my house.

Cooking with my cat (“with” being the operative word)

Better Late Than Never

Oh hey! I have a blog now! As I write it’s still in pretty rough shape, but hopefully I’ll figure that all out in due time. Or maybe I won’t! But at least I have somewhere to barf out all my EXTREMELY important and relevant thoughts other than Facebook. Now here, I wish I had the skills to include a hyperlink over the words “important and relevant thoughts” that would lead you to one of my Facebook posts where I compare the size and shape of two different dog turds I’ve found in the street that got 3 likes… (Probably from: 1. my mother 2. a fellow turd enthusiast who is relieved they’re not the only one and 3. the socially inept aunt of an ex-boyfriend I broke up with 4 years ago who somehow still sends me Christmas gifts) But alas, no such post exists because I delete anything that doesn’t immediately get showered in heart and laugh emojis. Man if there was a Bizarro-Facebook where all of our panic-deleted posts go to roam free… now THAT is a place I would spend some time!! I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated when all I see on social media is people showing you that one part of their day (or week or month!!) that was AMAZING.

Sandra, mother of 2, wife to a man she thinks might secretly be gay because he hasn’t touched her in months yet gets a boner every time he watches Mad Men, has spent the whole morning cleaning puke off of her furniture because both her kids have gastro. This makes her late for work which forces her to park in a handicapped spot so she can make her important meeting in time. Sandra RUNS into the meeting mid-presentation but Oh… Oh no. Sandra shits her pants. Well, pencil skirt. She has gastro too. Sandra quietly picks up her things, avoiding eye contact with everybody in the room and exits the building to drive herself home. Oh for the love of GOD her car has been towed. Sandra, covered in shit, starts screaming expletives she didn’t even know were in her vocabulary and kicking the handicapped parking sign, to the great dismay of her coworkers who are watching from the lunch room. She calls herself an Uber, and walks into her home feeling defecated I MEAN defeated… but Aww! Her hubbie made her a sandwich!! And he cut it into the shape of a heart! She takes out her phone and…

*SNAP* Caption: “Came home to this after a tough day at work! Best hubbie ever!!” #blessed #honeymoon4life #tuna

GIVE US THE REAL STORY SANDRA!!!! WE ALL SAW YOU SHIT YOUR PANTS!! Anyway, this I promise you: on this blog, I will not hold back. It’s going to be tough sometimes because I’m so wired, like most of us, to be accepted and liked… but every time I have shared something really honest and vulnerable either on social media or with a real live human, not only do I feel this huge wave of relief because I don’t have to pretend everything is fucking amazing all the time, but I find it just strengthens the bond to those around me because they often have a story that rivals mine, and I LOVE that shit.

Welcome to DeRoller Coaster!