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.

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!