My Beef with the New Year

Every year in December, I start hearing two things constantly from friends, family and social media that really irk me:

  1. “What is your New Year’s resolution?”
  2. Something along the lines of “(Current year) was a total dumpster fire, next year will be way better!”

I appreciate that for 8-12 days, people intend to infuse some discipline into their lives and kick that nightly Negroni habit. But, why does the changing of digits on a man-made calendar have to dictate when it is socially acceptable to make positive change? We should always be reassessing our habits, and figuring out what isn’t working for us anymore. Making a New Year’s resolution is like saving up all of your poop for one giant dump a year. We need to clean that shit out regularly because it’s toxic!!

(Poop analogy quota: filled)

Another thing I hate about this question is that it always implies a tangible, surfacey change. We are conditioned to hate ourselves for the exact activities we were conditioned to accomplish in the 3 weeks previous: eating waistband-expanding holiday goodies, and filling the ever-expanding gap between the floor and the Christmas tree through extravagant spending. So we boomerang, and suddenly make resolutions to eat healthier and spend less. Good thing for capitalism, we already filled its pockets!! Here is a list of the 10 most common resolutions, cobbled together by Brad Zomick on Goskills.com:

  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Get organized
  • Learn a new skill or hobby
  • Live life to the fullest
  • Save more money/spend less money
  • Quit smoking
  • Spend more time with family or friends
  • Travel more
  • Read more

What about, “Get my head out of my own ass and start asking questions and offering to help people more?” Or “Stop my cycle of toxic relationships and figure out why I am avoiding confronting my childhood trauma by fixing others?” Who cares if you put on a little weight over the holidays, it’s just part of the natural cycle of life. We’ll lose it in the summer when we can actually walk places without getting hit by a snow plow.

Just a thought.

Now the second phrase that comes up every damn year, the one about how this year will be better, makes me want to smack people. It reminds me of how every single winter we claim it’s the worst winter ever, when ya know, it’s not. Why are we always so much more focused on the future than right fucking now?! If we say “this year sucked, next year will be better” EVERY SINGLE YEAR, does this not mean that every single year has sucked?! You better believe if you already have this approach, every single year until you die is going to suck.

I will admit, 2020 has been a tricky lil bitch. Definitely the trickiest year of my lifetime thus far. But was it really the worst year ever?!? In some ways, I think it may have actually been the best.

I want to precede the following statements by saying that I am privileged AF, and I am aware that what I am about to say is by no means true for everyone…

2020 is the year that many people died suddenly and unfairly, but exponentially more people woke up and started living.

So many of us learned how to slow down. We learned that we don’t need to be in that constant grind of working like crazy in order to make enough money to be able to relax from all the over-work. I found, in the first few months of the pandemic, that despite losing 75% of my income (thanks CERB), I was actually saving money. Why? I wasn’t exhausted from work, so I didn’t need to eat out constantly and take weekend trips and binge drink with friends to trick myself into thinking I was doing it all for a reason. I learned that I could make just $2,000/month and be totally fine. (Ideally though, I would move out of my apartment that eats most of that up in one fell swoop)

We learned just how much family and friends mean to us. Normally I fly to Nova Scotia to visit my mom twice a year, for 5-10 days each pop. 5 days is around the time I start to pick fights over the antique triples of condiments in the refrigerator that should have been thrown out decades ago. A visit this year just didn’t seem possible. But after 5 months of isolation in a big city, with none of the social or cultural benefits a big city has to offer, I was desperate for some country time with people who love me. Ethically, I couldn’t fly home this year- way too risky. But we learned just how much we are willing to do to see each other.

I isolated for 2 weeks, getting a Covid test towards the end just to be safe.* Then I quarantined once I received my negative result while my mom drove 14 hours both ways to pick me and my Maine Coon up and escort us to peace and tranquility, where we quarantined for 2 whole weeks together. She made this exact trip AGAIN 7 weeks later to bring me back. That’s around 60 hours of driving. (My mom may also be slightly crazy)

*This method isn’t really kosher, and were I to do it again I would quarantine for the full 2 weeks before seeing her.

So you’d think, a mother and daughter quarantined together for 2 weeks, who normally start driving each other crazy after 5 days… how did that go over?! And I’m surprising myself just as much with this one when I say, it was amazing. Because we both knew I’d be home for ages, there was no pressure to spend every second in the same room- and I got really good at expressing when I needed some alone time, or when something was bothering me. We learned how to communicate. Who knew?!

What else… a lot of us learned a ton of new skills, that allow us to be much more self-sufficient! I’m talking bread, sewing, designing a website, starting a new business, how to freakin record and mix and live-stream audio, how to play the banjo!! (My friend Amy bought a banjo on July 4th, and plays just a bit every morning- the videos she has been sending me lately are blowing my mind. Note that she was already a fabulous professional trumpet player)

The dating climate improved! Yes that sounds like a load of bullshit given we’re not meeting new people in real life anymore. But, there’s still the apps. In the past, these have had a certain “reputation;” whereas now, we have to get to know each other really well before getting physical. We need to be super upfront about what we want, and whether or not we are monogamous because otherwise we could kill people. Forced monogamy wooo!! (Note that this time has been very difficult for polyamorous peeps) If you haven’t done so already, check out the article I wrote about how to date ethically during a global pandemic.

A lot of people realized their former lives weren’t really in line with their true talents and desires, and have embarked on new, scary, more fulfilling paths. I for one, recently accepted that writing is my true calling, not classical music. I can go weeks without touching my violin; but if I go a few days without writing, I am muddy, irritable, and I have a fun little habit of creating drama where it doesn’t actually exist. I am not giving up music altogether, I am just switching my priorities. Writing first, music second. Do I secretly wish I realized my dream is something that might make me more money than a dying niche art, not less?! Merp.

Let’s not forget the bigger picture stuff, like the Black Lives Matter movement. White people finally woke up and realized we are all at least a little racist, and need to swallow our pride, shut up, and make space for BIPOC voices.

and…

WE GOT RID OF DONALD TRUMP.

We got outside more!! Usually, come September, I wonder where the summer went. I feel a twinge of guilt that I didn’t take advantage of the beautiful weather while it was here. Getting outside on every damn nice day just feels like so much pressure. I would often stay in and watch movies out of pure rebellion. But we were damn fucking SICK of being inside, and getting outside was literally the only way to see our friends and family. I heard many, many people say that they have never spent more time outside during the summer, and consequently, it was the best summer ever.

We learned compassion. Do you remember the moment you realized that we are not wearing masks to protect ourselves, but to protect others? The simple act of putting our masks on every day slowly changes us. We are now more aware of those around us than ever. We are sending a very clear message to every single person we encounter: “I care about you.”

Are you starting to get it? How can a year with all of the treasures above, be the worst year ever?!? Are we so ready to abandon this year along with all the other “horrible years,” in favor of this new kid in town?! I don’t know 2021!! Maybe they suck!!! Why can’t we just wait until December of next year, to determine whether it was good or bad?! We’re just assuming 2021 is going to be better when in reality, the whole earth might explode.

Anyway, I’d like to start a New-New Year’s tradition. Let’s not look forward, let’s fucking look BACK. Every year, on December 31st, let’s count our damn blessings. Let’s grieve our losses, and celebrate our triumphs. Let’s not make up some dumb resolution that fat-shames us, let’s vow to love the skin we’re already in.

May you all have a Happy (but no pressure, it’s all just a constant wave of emotions) CURRENT Year!!

The Restorative Power of Burning Things

A week ago on the new moon, I sat in a “circle” of 9 women over Zoom, and set a bunch of shit on fire… in my living room.

(Who knew, I’m also a poet. And a witch, apparently)

I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t done this sooner, because it felt AMAZING. Damn. Why don’t they teach us these things in school?!? “Setting Things on Fire is Pretty Fun 101.” Seems like a no-brainer where absolutely nothing would go wrong.

Of course I’ve enjoyed many a fire before. I grew up right on a beach in rural redneck Nova Scotia where nightly summer bonfires were as inevitable as the attending drunks who would stumble into our yard to pee (or pass out on the tent containing me and two other kids). But this wasn’t just any standard burning of rotten wood and Bud Light cartons…

I was burning my creative demons.

I mean, technically I was burning little pieces of paper on which I had scrawled the names of all the grade A shit-turds I have encountered in my life. I don’t mean the kind of shit-turds who yell at you for saying 2 words in English on the streets of Montreal, or who walk around the upper floor of an apartment on the heels of their feet. (These are grade B or grade C shit-turds at best; or simply, “turds.”)

I’m talking about the kind of shit-turds who see the embers of something beautiful in a budding artist… and make it their mission to stamp it out. If I only knew from age 7, when I met my first creative demon, what I know now: these people are miserable, and feel a lot more comfortable when everybody around them is on the same level.

Helene, one of my mom’s delightful partners growing up, would listen to me playing concertos on a 3/4 size violin and call me a sissy, preaching that I should be playing hockey outside like a normal kid. My violin teacher for the first half of my Bachelor’s degree in music treated me like I was 8 and made me play matching repertoire, crushing my desire to practice. The conductor of my first real orchestral job pulled me into his office after my winning audition and informed me how lucky I was that he had decided to take pity on me, he could have just as easily not hired me. The man then proceeded to bully me during rehearsal breaks all year, aka when nobody was watching. Mm, so lucky.

The list of creative demons goes on, and on. Snore. We’ve all had them. It doesn’t escape me though, that most if not all of my demons bared their ugly heads during my classical music career. I wonder how much of a coincidence it is, that during this pandemic when all of my normal distractions are gone, I have realized that I don’t really love playing classical music anymore. Did I ever really like playing it? SHUT UP, BRAIN!!

Let me just humor this passing thought for a second though. I mean, of course I loved playing classical music, and still do. Sometimes. When I love playing classical music, it is because the intention is pure. I, and everyone surrounding me, want nothing more than to share something meaningful and gorgeous with each other and everyone in the audience. This happened a lot in my youth when I used to take part in summer music festivals where we were worked to the bone for free room and board, not a penny more. We must have loved what we were doing if we were doing it for free!!

Now as I progress in my musical career and call myself a professional, earning a sizable chunk of money for my services (pandemic shit-show aside), I find I am often surrounded by people who have forgotten why we got into this business in the first place. If we are being paid, that must be why we are doing it. We get bogged down in matching up all of our bowings and articulations and playing it exactly as the composer intended, in the “correct” style of that period.

We are the highly-trained musicians of an internationally renowned professional orchestra, and goddammit IT HAD BETTER SHOW!!

If my poor stand-partner (I write this but I really mean me) is unfortunate enough to play an up-bow while the rest of us play down, or they hold a half-note for a fraction of a second too long, or heaven forbid, they misread an accidental… you would think they just audibly sharted during the slow movement of a Beethoven symphony, their face will flush such a deep red.

We shouldn’t be deeply embarrassed if we play a wrong note; we should be deeply embarrassed if we play an entire concert in the pursuit of perfection, forgetting our true purpose: to connect with each other. What we lose in technical accuracy, we gain in creating a transcendent experience for the audience, and ourselves. I miss the concerts of my youth, when there wasn’t so much at stake.

I remember during one of the summers I played with the Verbier Festival Orchestra, we were performing Mahler’s 4th symphony. The one with the famous scordatura concertmaster solos in the 2nd movement. All of our concerts were filmed for Medici.tv, so we always had a bit of an extra edge to our already youthful adrenaline-fueled performances. Not even 4 bars into the sea of difficult solos, our concertmaster Roberto’s E-string (or, F#-string, in this case) snaps clear off of his violin, and he has to suddenly transpose everything over to the next available string. It’s truly every violinist’s nightmare. But Roberto is almost fired up by the challenge, and performs the rest of the piece with flair, sporting a mischievous smile- as though to let the audience in on the joke. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s exciting as hell.

After the concert, a bunch of us sit on my twin-sized bed crowded around a laptop, and re-watch the moment when Roberto’s string snaps over and over, freeze-framing on his face the exact millisecond he realizes he now needs to recalculate every single note of the solo, in front of live cameras. It is just pure, undiluted horror… and we are absolutely PISSING OUR PANTS laughing. Not at him!! But just, in utter glee because this kind of thing isn’t allowed to happen in the classical world. We feel exhilarated! We just witnessed something entirely new, something we didn’t spend hundreds of hours planning for!!

When we shared the footage with Roberto, he was understandably dismayed at first, because he is a fantastic player and he wanted the audience to experience the music exactly as practiced. This is how classical musicians are conditioned. But our laughter was contagious and soon Roberto was peeing his pants too. What Roberto gave us, and the audience that night- was something real. It was vulnerable, it was beautiful, it was hilarious. It was art.

I have had so many great experiences during my classical music career, but I’m just not sure it’s sustainable anymore. At least, not as my primary creative outlet in life. All of my creative demons along the way have certainly rocked my boat, but I think what is finally sinking it is the unbearable expectation to be perfect all the time. To have to hide a significant part of myself in my art, just because “that’s how it has always been done.” When we are only willing to present our creative work to audiences in a perfect state, we deprive them of the most special part.

On the new moon I don’t think I was just burning my creative demons. I was burning my identity as a classical musician. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am here, on December 21st, 2020 (the winter solstice) standing on my figurative mountaintop and yelling my dreams at the top of my lungs. I need to be in a medium where I can be 100% myself. Where I feel safe sharing the whole, not just the polished exterior. Where I can make a giant mistake that becomes the story, and I make everybody piss their pants laughing.

“HEY UNIVERSE! I WANT TO BE A WRITER!!”

Does an Artist have to Art?

Sooo… it’s been a weee little while *cough* 4 months…since I’ve posted here- in this magical place I created in February 2019 where I can express anything and everything. Read: rants about horrible ex-boyfriends, and all my annoyingly preachy “advice” on how to live your best life- which I generally break within the week, because I’m HUMAN.

I started off strong, posting two epic over-shares per week. This I owe to the rigorous deadlines set by Kerry Clare in her online blog course, which I signed up for impulsively on the last day of registration. (All in one day, I thought of a DOPE domain name, bought it, and threw together this basic AF webspace on wordpress.com, thinking I’d update it later when things calmed down a little bit. *whistles and shuffles feet while looking at months of empty days in calendar*)

What have I been up to, you’re wondering? Ohh, so much, so much. I’ve just been so busy… um, refilling my cat’s food dish, hand washing artisanal masks that allow me to express my zazzy self even during a pandemic, and making various nut milks that ruin my morning coffee. I was thinking of hiring an assistant for the cat dish thing, because honestly it’s taking a lot out of me. The dish never… stays… full… and he stares at me with those perpetually judgy eyes that stamp my soul with the words “You’re a Horrible Mother…”

The key to filling up the days you see, is doing each task as it were shalt have been done’st in the Olden Tymes- washing thy socks by hand and wringing them through a treacherous metal gauntlet, making thousts own shitty gluten-free bread and contacting loved ones by way of dipping a diseased feather into a pot of ink and covering thine scroll in pretentious yet painfully boring goings-on to be sent by horse-drawn carriage (or modern equivalent: Foodora bike delivery person).

For real though, after a few months of angsty Facebook posts about how lonely I was during Covid isolation, I spent a month house-sitting a colleague’s farm, administering twice-daily antibiotic eye-drops to various 4-legged creatures (see previous blog post); and then two months staying with my mom in Nova Scotia YES TWO MONTHS fulfilling the delightful task of writing and applying for grants so I can pay my extortionate monthly rent as an artist who has no paid arts to art. More importantly though, I think the reason I haven’t posted in so long is because something CraAAazy happened to me between the beginning of the summer and now…

I lost my need for outside validation.

Just so you know how huge that statement is for me… here is an excerpt from my very first blog post:

“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. 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!!”

As much as I want to really explore this “Bizarro-Facebook” right now, the beefy part is that, while I write because I love to write, a HUGE part of my creative output is because I love receiving COMPLIMENTS. Validation. An acknowledgment that yes, I am an artist, and wow am I ever a unique/funny/lovable/good/tall one! God help me if I ever get famous enough to get trolled on twitter.

Anyway, at some point during Covid isolation, it hit me that constantly needing to get my validation from outside sources isn’t sustainable, especially when the only “outside source” right now is my computer screen. Some heart emojis may make me feel better today, but what about tomorrow, or the next day? My beloved facebook family will rise to the occasion for one overly vulner-emotional post on average per month, but on top of that, they have got more important shit to do than to butter me up and stick me in the oven! (I don’t know where that metaphor came from- it could either mean they prime me for optimum tastiness, or they burn me alive)

Where is my need for validation REALLY coming from? Can I get it from myself? Is there something I could do or create that would soothe me when I get to that anxious/vulnerable place that makes me super needy? And then, do I really need to SHOW that creation to people? Can I not just do it, and then let it disappear into the ether, never having “proven” that I did it on Instagram?!?

What ended up happening, is I just kindof did NOTHING for a while. Heh. And… that’s okay. You know what also makes it really hard to continuously produce creative stuff? Extreme stress. Yes. But even more so, in order to put stuff OUT there, we need creative INPUT. I find it pretty tricky to derive inspiration to create without the ability to go to live shows, meet new people, see new places, and I dunno, BE IN A ROOM WITH MY RIDICULOUSLY INSPIRING FRIENDS. So I went through a bit of a rebellious quasi-Buddhist, quasi-nihilist phase where I just experimented with BEING. Can’t that just be enough?! Do I really need to be constantly producing art to be an artist? And then, do I really NEED to be an ARTIST to EXIST?! WHAT IS LIFE?!?!?!

Fast-forward through a few hundred bags of kettle chips and trashy Netflix dating shows, and I have arrived at a place that is neither here, nor there. I create because I NEED to. It literally transforms me from a cranky passive-aggressive-letter-writing-blanket-person, to someone who smiles lovingly at screaming children as they crash into her while walking down the street. Classic list-maker/OCD organizer that I am, I came up with a flow-chart to help me through periods of anxiety, depression, bitterness, irritability- you know, LIFE DURING COVID. It’s a three-level system.

First, I get out of my “red-zone” by doing one of two things:

  • Call someone I love, who is able to mirror back my lovable qualities, not the dumb overly-critical ones. Aka, do not call Aunt Carol, who tells me I should really consider taking down all the videos of me dancing with a vacuum cleaner and what not, that it’s not good for my “career”
  • Turn my phone off

Then I get out of “Orange-zone” (aren’t these Covid references fun?) by doing one of these guys:

  • Rent a car and get out of the city into nature- either a day hike, or pitch a tent somewhere.* Someone’s backyard or an abandoned mall parking lot will do. I recently camped out on my back balcony, and while giant semis rattling by hardly rival the sounds of forest birds in the morning, it still felt like a fun adventure, and I could use my own bathroom.
  • Listen to some really good music with headphones.
  • Go for a nice long walk*
  • Go for a nice long bike ride*
  • Meditate, using a sell-out trendy app if I have to, even though all meditation IS is BREATHING

*I realize these need updating with the threatening glare of winter… I found some kids’ cross-country skis in someone’s garbage, I might try using those.

Next, and most importantly, I ask myself the question: “What am I blocking my inner artist from doing right now?” And the options bubble up to the surface:

  • Create/play music in Ableton Live like I’m playing Mario Paint on Super Nintendo as a child
  • Write a blog post, or write just for shits and giggles- stream of thought, only to be read in horror by my children after I die
  • Pick up my violin and create some gorgeous layers of loops over which I can improvise some grand, sappy melody fit for a movie about the Holocaust
  • Make a silly video. This, I haven’t done in a while, because I realized how much WORK it takes to edit them… but… not many things make me happier than dressing up and being a shit-head on camera. And maybe I can just let the editing suck.
  • Do something FUN and COMPLETELY USELESS. (What is this… “useless?” As an artist, should all of my efforts not in some way be a step towards my creative life goals?) Ugh. Just make some sock puppets, and film them making fart sounds for 4 minutes, Lauren. You know you want to. Chill the fuck out.

Boom, Yellow zone. No, wait what comes before yellow? WHAT WERE THINGS LIKE BEFORE YELLOW ZONE???

Anyway, I’m going to try to write here more often, I guess, even though I don’t technically NEED to, and every single goddamn day feels the same. Things ARE happening. Maybe I will write about toenails! They are short for eons and then suddenly, so long! Or I dunno, I could write about *cough* dating during Covid. I’m not dating, did I say I was? Cool yeah neither am I. I’M BEING VERY CAREFUL, OKAY?? Let’s say I was dating, it’s fascinating stuff. It’s like the olden times, but more intense. Lots of written correspondence, and walks around ponds 6 feet apart holding parasols to block out the sun. And basically waiting until you are married to hold hands. Maybe next time.

City Camping!!

From Neighbors to Barn Cats

            I’ve been cooped up in my little railway-style apartment for 3.5 months now, biding away the time with various semi-productive endeavors like learning how to use Ableton, fantasizing about my next career as a nomadic chef/witch and finishing off family sized bags of kettle chips. While my insufferable millennial neighbors act like Covid-19 is just a non-stop party where the government pays for the beer, piling up in parks and walking around crowded grocery stores mask-free like they’ve never read a single article on the internet; I’m being an actual good human and trying not to kill people. I mean, not physically. In my mind, I’m committing mass murder.

            My still miraculously-in-love-constantly-laughing-next-door-neighbors might as well be letting children starve to death, I eye them with such hostility. Families biking merrily by my apartment, yelling and singing at the top of their lungs as I sit on my front balcony trying to write, get hit by invisible firetrucks. My lower neighbors, who have stopped having daily bed-breaking sex that could double as the most obnoxious opera singer’s vocal warm-up, are now drilling holes into my eardrums with the sound of their… footsteps. After sending a mind tornado through only their front and back windows, I initiate full-on warfare. I write them a letter and leave it in their mailbox. The suspiciously sweet but clearly aggressive jist is “Hey there neighbors! You’re great, I’m great, everything is great but COULD YOU PLEASE WALK AROUND QUIETER YOU DUMB FUCKING COWS.” To be fair, I specified “after 10pm,” and honestly it sounds like an 800lb man is training at all hours for a marathon down there. After no noticeable change I put my big girl pants on and repeat the message in person, where they look at me like I’m crazy before shutting the door and turning back into ogres. At 3am one night as they are stomping around with 15 of their best friends inside, read: illegally… I seize the opportunity and giddily call the cops. Yeah, I’m that person now. But I mean, cops aren’t exactly the most beloved of folks right now, and I figured I was doing a great service to humanity by inconveniencing two groups of dickheads. Fuck them ALL.

            Sooo it’s possible I might not be my best self right now. I decide the solution for social isolation bitterness is… more isolation. I just need to get out of the city! I fire off a wish to the Facebook Fairy asking for a house swap situation to get my bitter ass into nature, and within days, a colleague asks if I might want to look after his farm home for a month while he visits family. FUCK. YES. I only need to know two things: “How do I get there,” and “Can I bring my cat;” since we are now married. 

            One week later and a car packed embarrassingly full of all my “necessities:” just about 17 writing notebooks, my violin, amp, special effects pedals and every cable I own regardless of whether it even powers something I’ve brought (I don’t know what half my shit does still, I just put the thing in the hole that looks like the right shape), two camping tents (long story) and (oh fine I ordered one on Amazon, it didn’t come, they refunded it, I ordered another one, both tents appeared, tents are fun, I need 2 tents), and my cat and all of his catty desires.

            So it’s my first blissful morning in the middle of nowhere, away from my noisy neighbors, not to mention the classic Montreal summer soundtrack of construction noise covering every possible decibel and frequency within the range of the human ear. I make myself a coffee and a smoothie, grab one of my many notepads, and head outside to fulfill my dream of being a weird hermit writer person, thriving in peace and solitude, happily self-banished from society. No sooner than I can write one underwhelming sentence, I hear an abominable noise emitting from beneath the deck floor. It’s unsettling, deeply obnoxious, and from multiple sources… like a group of defunct chain smokers are transmitting their low raspy voices through a hospital full of crying babies. I see four scrappy figures come into the light of day and lurch purposefully up the stairs. Two dark grey and two splotchy white with dark stripes- all ribs and claws and mucousy eyes.

Barn cats.

            I remember my initial conversation with the owner. “Can I bring my cat?” “Sure, if he likes other cats!” He was referring to his two house-cats, but neglected to mention these prickly characters. I love all animals, right?! This will be fine. What’s another four cats, on top of the two cats, on top of my giant Maine Coon cat-husband George Michael? (That’s his name) Well, being ambushed every time I come outside for one. All day every day, the 16-legged muscular cat contraption waits on the deck poised, listening for the doorknob to turn before thudding towards me at lightening speed- throwing themselves at me with all their weight, rocking me like a bus in an angry mob. I use my right leg to “redirect their energy” across the deck. I walk down the steps bare-legged to escape for a moment under the guise of scoping out the garden; and the bigger grey one, who looks like Rocky Balboa in the last round of a fight, follows me around munching on my ankles like some sortof shitty appetizer to the food he clearly thinks I’m about to give him. I feel it necessary to note here that the bigger white splotchy stripes one is the spitting image of Garrett MacLaren, a kid I went to elementary school with who was really annoying.

            Anyway I message the owner. “Heyy! How’s the trip going?? So umm, is it normal for the barn cats to be pretty… aggressive?! Do you think if I fed them, they’d leave me alone? Cool cool because presently one is eating me. Just let me know.” He writes back: “Trip is good. Please don’t feed the barn cats.” I look at them, all but foaming at the mouths, their cacophony of yowls filling the air… and I start to have some very dark thoughts. Murdery thoughts. What if I were to just accidentally… Fuck. I’m a horrible person. I go right from mind-murdering my neighbors for walking too loud, to these poor barn cats for wanting a basic fundamental need met. I Tai-Chi kick them out of my way for I wanna say… 3 more hours… then I drive to the grocery store and buy a goddamn bag of cat food. (So the owner won’t know what sneaky business I’ve been up to when both his extra-large bags of Whiskas are mysteriously empty)

            I get back, and dump what I think is a reasonable dinner-sized amount from the bag into some plastic bowls- an amount I think the bag can sustain for the full month- and those fuckers gobble it all up in 8 seconds. They immediately glare at me for more. When I don’t budge, they harrumph as though to say “I guess that’ll do for now” and lounge in the sun, temporarily taking on the appearance of normal cats. I don’t feel any warm snuggly feelings for helping these creatures- I feel resentment. They are dependent on me. They NEED ME AND IT JUST MAKES ME WANT TO HELP THEM LESS. Why can’t they be like George Michael and the house-cats? (New band alert?) Chilling like the Lion King, eating bugs, happy when I bring out some food but not like SMOTHERING ME IN A BLANKET OF THE NEEDS OF EVERY SINGLE MEAL FOR THE REST OF TIME.

            But I realize, they live a life of uncertainty. They live from meal to meal, never knowing when the next one will come. George was born into abundance- he knows his food dish will always be full, so he never needs to beg. These guys beg because they need to. They are starving, and resourceful. They know, one out of every 15 times, their “method” works, as they have proven by cat science when I caved and bought the Whiskas. The fucked up thing is, I don’t want to help them. I want to help George and the house cats- the ones who already have everything they need. They want it too much, they’re too desperate. It reminds me of dating, where we’re only interested in people who couldn’t give two shits about us, and ignore the perfectly lovely person who’s standing there with flowers. Okay maybe it’s more like the person who texts “just woke up” selfies every 10 seconds and calls you “Babe” by the second date. They mean well… It reminds me, of how most of us only want to help those who don’t really need our help, and abandon those who need it most. Have I found a deep analogy for one of the biggest problems of humankind, or am I just becoming one giant crazy cat-lady trope?!

Why do we spend money on artisanal baby shower gifts when there are homeless people? Why do we order shit from Amazon when small businesses are going bankrupt? Why do we put exorbitant amounts of funding into cops when the only reason we need them in the first place is because there are people who don’t have access to education, mental health resources and basic living wages?!?

         I think if we really go deep and allow ourselves to answer those questions, the world would be a better place. In any case, I keep feeding the damn cats. And I find, it’s easier to feed them, than not to feed them. What seemed like a burden at first makes us all better off. Like any of us who have snapped at a stranger in an A&W line at the brink of a hanger craze, they transform into their sweet, natural selves once their basic needs are met.* Ah who am I kidding they’re still pretty annoying. But there has been a softening. They feel less desperate, dare I say even kindof cute… and I feel less murdery. We’ve reached a compromise. I feed them, and they leave me alone for a while, purring by my side as I read a book, finally relaxing into the unadulterated sounds of nature.

*After publishing this essay, I learned that the reason these guys are so persistent is because they used to be fed daily by someone who has since moved away. If you or someone you know in the Montreal area is looking for a cat to adopt, these guys really are quite healthy and sweet (once they’re fed!), and you’d be saving them from almost certain death come winter when they’re left to fend for themselves. Use my contact form to reach out if you don’t know me personally. Thanks for reading!

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.