Life can feel long and very isolating, if you let it. Put down your phone and have a conversation with a stranger; you’d be surprised how great it can be.Read More
It's snowing again and I'm not even mad about it.
I’m loving Stratford. It’s pretty, small, and very quiet. I go to bed early, sleep well, and read a lot. I’ve been pretty darn comfortable.
It takes 20 minutes to walk to work and every trip results in pebbles in my boots. I walk funny. Or rather, I comport myself with a little too much twitch in my step. By some magic hot step of my own design I manage to flip small bits of stone into my footwear. It is very uncomfortable. If you see me walking down Ontario or Albert Street wearing giant headphones and a beatific smile on my face, you can bet I’m grimacing on the inside. I’ll eventually stop, untie the lace on one of my London Fog boots, pull it off and shake. Three or four pebbles will fall out. This happens every single day.
Yesterday as I winced in pain rounding Nile Street I came upon a revelation about my teeny companions: one must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Even though I was feeling great about my state in Stratford, I was troubled by distant memories about old betrayals, unfinished scripts, and creeping weight gain. As I ruminated on an old heartbreak that morning I banged my head on a lamp and I took it as a sign to be more present and enlightened. We really do create our own prisons.
When I arrived at the Festival theatre and removed my coat and scarf, I pulled off my boot and tipped it over to release the two rocks that had spring-boarded inside as I walked up Queen; I felt calmly hopeful about my day. I had a huge problem looming in front of me and had no idea how to fix it. By the end of the day, with the help of my mentors, the issue was resolved. But I know there will be another ‘crisis’ because they are as inevitable as the pebbles in my shoe.
I've been living in Stratford for two weeks. I moved here on February 19, Family Day. The city looked like a scene from a movie because it was enveloped in thick fog and mist. For months I'd been anticipating a winter wonderland, but when I arrived most of the snow had melted. Also, every single store was closed. I'd expected a quiet town but, seriously, not one enterprising capitalist looking to profit from a poorly organized citizen? Not even Shoppers Drug Mart was open. There were about 4 restaurants open and I went to the closest one for a late lunch. I had pad thai for lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning.
As I walked to the Festival https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/ on my first day I worried about fitting in, being liked, getting used to a slower pace. I saw a black girl step out of a house on Albert Street and got excited. One of us! I beamed at her like an old friend. Had I been in Toronto I would have looked right past her since black people are everywhere. Here, they're special. We're special.
It takes 20 minutes to walk to the Festival from my place downtown. I listen to podcasts every morning on my walk. I choose a different route every day while listening to either 'Stuff You Should Know', 'Pod Save America', or my new favourite, 'The Nod'. Listening to The Nod serves as the conclusion to what I call, 'getting my black on' in the morning before work.
As soon as I get up in the morning I open YouTube and start a series of music videos to which I get ready; usually it's either Rihanna, Kanye, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, or Kendrick Lamar. I dance around to this while twisting my hair into bantu knots and picking something cute to wear. I wish to represent like Olivia Pope but all I have is a Banana Republic budget, so I make do.
I sit in the Director's Office at a desk outside Anita Gaffney's office and try to get in no later than 9am. I work on my own producing projects and wait for David, Bonnie, or Susan (David's assistant) to grab me for a meeting. You know how in a normal jobs meeting are boring experiences that you doodle through? It's very different when the topics relate to all the inner workings of the theatre. As someone who spent years in the private sector booking meeting, attending them, taking copious notes, and being bored over another PowerPoint presentation, these Theatre meetings were fascinating. It's like seeing the wizard behind the curtain, except the reveal is wonderful, not disappointing.
Once I step out of the Director's office I am surrounded by the best creative talent in the country. People sing as they walk down the halls, hum as they're eating their lunch in the cafeteria, and just stride up to you and say, 'hello, my name is...you're new here. Welcome!' Warm welcomes from complete strangers happened so often that I've decided that Stratford has the friendliest theatre in Canada. I've already attended a birthday party, been invited to a second, and joined the company bowling team for a charitable event on Friday (it benefits the Suchitoto Project https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/AboutUs/TheSuchitotoProject).
It may sound ridiculous but, this place is magical. The people here work long, hard hours, administratively and creatively. I imagine the dragons they battle are lack of sleep, anxiety about keeping their tracks straight, and eating properly (the cafeteria makes the best food, though). The Stratford Festival is the Hogwarts of theatre and it's pretty dreamy.
The water is hard, the people are warm, and the weather can't make up its mind. I like it, I really like it here, and I'm in no hurry to return to Toronto. Yet.
I sip green tea in the morning.
I've been in Stratford for one week. Anxious about how the change to my schedule would affect my mood I had been alternately excited and apprehensive about leaving Toronto for three months. I have left my home for that much time before, when I was on tour with various plays, but that was different. I was on the road in a new place every few days. This would be a complete upheaval of my very regimented routine that, while boring, was familiar.
A year ago when I came up with the idea of taking a break from Toronto I was aggravated with everything. Stagnating, as well. I became a producer by accident and I seemed to have a knack for it. After producing my third indie show I wanted to learn something new. I figured the best place to learn was outside of my comfort zone and in a new place. My routine of gym-coffee-read-waffle over what to do-see a play-go to bed late was tedious.
I get up early.
I sit in my lovely place in Stratford and read the plentiful Facebook and Twitter posts about the plays I just 'have to see': Bang Bang; Jerusalem; Rhubarb; Cottagers & Indians; etc….but I can’t ,because I’m too far away to travel there and back in one evening. I’m learning to stop feeling guilty about missing plays because, try as you might, you're going to miss something. Besides, I’m on the Dora jury for the Indie category; I see plenty.
I’m trying to drink less alcohol.
I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I feel that quitting is almost a given. I am someone who cooks almost all of my meals, goes the gym regularly, calls her parents every week, and tries to keep her head above water as a writer/producer. I deserve a glass of wine at 5. But, lately I’ve been looking forward to a glass of wine the way normal people look forward to the weekend. I resolved that Stratford would be the impetus to change my routine; no more drinking. Ridiculous. There’s an LCBO across the street from my condo in Stratford. I bought my favourite: Small Gully Mr. Black’s Little Book Shiraz, and some McClelland that was on sale. No regrets. Then I went out for fried chicken at Laotian hotspot, Lauhaus, on Downie Street, since they would be closing for good the next day. It was delicious.
Food Poisoning Can Change Your Perspective
There are a lot of thoughts that run through your mind when you’re hunched over on the subway, traveling west on the Bloor line, covered in a thin coating of sweat, nauseas and trying not to poop yourself. One is: this is too nice a coat to have an accident and the other is, I really hope it wasn’t the fried chicken. Three hours later, prostrate and tired from illness, in my pretty condo all I can consume is tea. The next few days all I put in my body is broth, water, plain crackers, and green tea. I glare at the bottle wine, shudder at the idea of the McClelland, and stay away from all things dairy. When I woke up on Tuesday morning the sun was blazing, it was five degrees, and I felt less burdened than I’d been in months. The pressure I have put on myself is lifting and I think I may be freer than ever.
In July 2016 I was asked to write a short essay about being a black writer in Canada. As it is Black History Month and I'm still a writer it feels fitting to post this on my website.
Thank you Michael Wheeler and Sarah Garton Stanley for giving me this opportunity.