Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A year of performance

I'm posting on each of my blogs for New Year's Eve, as a way of thinking through what the past year has been in a number of different aspects of my life. So yes, I'm even posting on this sadly neglected blog. . .

I think if I look back at it, this last year was a year of storytelling. And performing in general. I kicked the year off by being in the Ottawa Women's Slam Championship (and doing better than I'd expected I would; i.e., I didn't fall on my face!) and a lot of my literary stuff this year has been on the stage: I was in an OST Fourth Stage show called "Swindles, Scams and Snake Oil" where I told the story of the Lunar Rogue (a bit of New Brunswick history) and a real-life caper story involving an oil rig and some ill-fated money laundering; I did a set of ghost stories at the Tea Party and got to watch my friend Ruthanne, queen of the spooky story, sitting wide-eyed and creeped out, which I was pretty pleased about; we got the Kymeras back together, and put on our first show in years (Evelyn: a Time Travel Love Story) at Can*Con. And I had the huge honour of being invited to be a part of next summer's 12-hour telling of the Iliad with Ottawa Storytellers and 2 Women Productions.

I think I've gotten over the stage where I insisted I wasn't a storyteller - the storytellers around me just kept saying, well, yeah you are, and inviting me to perform. And every time I was invited to perform, I said yes, because it was always a bit of a different challenge. Can I do ghost stories? Can I do a long story? Let's mix it up with poems and storytelling and see if four voices can pull together a coherent narrative; oh, yeah, and let's make it science fiction poetry and storytelling.

But, I keep thinking, and people keep asking me: how's my writing coming? And I have to say, "well, not that well, really." I started the year out a little swamped with work, learning to juggle self-employment and my personal life. I've fallen out of touch with the local poetry crowd for a whole raft of mostly personal reasons, but also I find with my work schedule it's hard to get out to readings. And if you don't get to readings, you don't get that shot in the arm you need to keep working, keep writing. At least, I don't. I need to be around people who get up early in the morning to go write before work, who have carved out that time. This Christmas I got to talk a little with my niece, who just (well, last spring) finished a Masters in creative writing at McGill, and I envied her the work and time and focus and craft she'd been able to bring to bear on her work.

My own writing has been, largely, blogging (which can be good, but which doesn't get the kind of care and attention and craft that I'm looking for) and journalism. Writing for the Centretown BUZZ has been great in that it forces me to turn out text, but news articles are a whole different thing. I write facts these days, in prosaic words. About as far from poetry as you get, really. But somehow carving out the time to do writing has been harder and harder to do. I don't have evenings to do Creative Writing Playdate with my friend Sean, and in fact the Playdate has gone from a weekly drop-in to a more structured workshop format, because Sean's busy too, and I totally get that. I don't get up early to write (I tried, I really did, I tried, but the flesh is sleepy). And my evenings have increasingly been chomped and digested by email, desultory work on the newspaper and, I will admit it, Facebook.

In the coming year, though, I see that possibly changing. For one thing, the Kymeras' reunion ("We're getting the band back together!" I keep saying) has already made me do some writing, and writing with restraints and requirements. Here's the story, our first meeting said to me, and here's the part you play, and here's the character you inhabit, and do some writing from that place and see what comes out. And so I did, and so I wrote a number of poems in the voice of a dying young Victorian woman.

For another thing, the writing bug has been stirring in the last couple of months. I've churned out some pages I liked. I sat in a pub the other night waiting for a friend and a character did something I hadn't expected him to do: he practically winked at me, then turned tail and ran away from a situation I'd expected him just to talk through. But nope: he saw an out and he rabbited. It didn't do him a lot of good in the long run, because I'm mean to my characters (as you should be) and getting away would have been about as boring as all the talking would have: but the thing was, when he winked at me, I felt it again: what happens when you don't know quite what will happen next.

So it's been a slow year for writing. But there are things in motion. The Iliad will be a challenge of editing, shaping, memory and (scariest) emotional mining and performing; there's a blog post to come about the start of the process and the uncertainty I feel about the journey. But again, I couldn't say no to the opportunity and I'm excited about the road ahead for me and Achilles. The Kymeras plan another show in February, a rerun of Evelyn, and I will get to try my hand at folk tales at the Tea Party that month too. But also, I do intend to try to spend more time writing words that aren't simple fact. Writing words that are beautiful. With luck, getting out to more readings, reading more, listening more, and talking more with writers.

That's the plan.

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