Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Odyssey: Heading off to War

Check out my last post on The Odyssey (Finding my Inner Klingon).

This weekend was a wild, wild ride.  Both Saturday and Sunday were slotted to find the shores of Ithaca in an Odyssey rehearsal.

But, through sheer ill-timing on the universe’s part, it was also the weekend of G-Anime.  I simply loved this con last year and had confirmed that I’d be attending in 2012 right after the 2011 con ended. The organizers, bless their flexible hearts, agreed to slot my panels only in the evenings.  All of my writing panels were to be once again with the awesome Jay Odjick, and the two of us were joined by one of my writing group members, Derek Künsken. The three of us had a ball, if I do say so myself.

The evenings were fun, but the days are what sucked up most of my focus. Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley, the artistic directors of this journey, worked with each of us in turn, but we all had to contribute and help with visualization. They worked with us to become more aware of our bodies as tellers, to be mindful of our voice and, I believe most importantly, to really connect with Odysseus. To live his story, with all of its horror, heartbreak and hope.  They pushed us to understand the depths of both the character, in his heroic qualities and dreadful flaws, and the setting, the long journey that took him home.

For this weekend, I worked on the end of book 14.  In this part, Odysseus is back on the shores of Ithaca, posing as a beggar in his swineherd’s hut. He has no cloak, and a cold night sets in. He begins to tell them all a story about being at Troy (as Odysseus’ third-in-command), and of a cold night falling in as they crouched and slept by the frowning walls of Troy. In his telling of this story, Odysseus tricked someone into giving him a cloak, essentially saving him from certain, bitter death. 

The story is not lost on the swineherd, who lends Odysseus a cloak for the cold night. 

There’s always a certain amount of role-playing in any storytelling piece. To tell a piece convincingly, the teller must really put themselves in the story and live, breath and see what their characters go through. I had done this, to a certain extent.  As I told this part, I imagined being Odysseus by the fire, in the hut, recalling his days of glory.  I took on the mantle on an old man thinking back, not of a warrior freezing on the battlefield.

I had missed a step. I was not to become the teller telling of past deeds. I had to skip that middleman, once my scene was set and, instead of staying with Odysseus in the hut, I had to leap further back and join him on the battlefield.

Once I did that, the story came to life. I had reached the battlefield of Troy, and suddenly the horror, the cold and the fear pounded my words into shape.

It drove home a couple of points.  One is that I’d now like to read The Iliad again, for background material.  I haven’t read it in about a decade, so the text is a bit fuzzy around its bloody edges.

The second and perhaps most important realization was that you can never know a text too well. Although The Odyssey is an old tale and a well-known one, with themes that resonate through the ages, it still has layers of depth that deserve discovery and contemplation.  Through each teller’s piece, we began to glimpse at those deeper layers, at motivations and emotions that are not necessarily outright stated by Homer, but that are hinted at, or can at least be interpreted to reach out to a modern audience.

And so to the battlefields of Troy I headed Sunday morning, and honestly, I didn’t like it.  It was bitter cold, frightening, and the rosy fingers of dawn promised to grip the morning with bloodshed.

I didn’t like it one bit. But I can’t imagine those who were there did, either. And so I found Odysseus, and will work at finding him there, again and again.

The Odyssey, an artistic collaboration between 2 Women Productions and the Ottawa Storytellers, will be told at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on June 16.  Seventeen tellers will work together to weave the story of Odysseus, during a 14-hour show; the longest show ever given at the National Arts Centre.  Plan on joining us for this unique experience. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

G-Anime Schedule

This weekend is G-Anime and I'm very much looking forward to it. It's unfortunately also a huge rehearsal weekend for June's Odyssey show, so I can only attend the con during the evenings.  If you're around, you can find me here:

Writing 101: Tight Plotting (7 pm)
Writing 201: Characters (9pm)
Cutting Edge Sci-Fi (10 pm)

Writing 301: Tips of the Trade (Saturday at 10pm)

I'll be accompanied on my panels by two of my writing buddies - Jay Odjick and Derek Künsken. They're both awesome fun and have great wisdom and wit to impart.

In an effort to spare my back, I won't be carrying much stock with me to sell.  If you're interested in picking up a title, feel free to e-mail me first, to make sure I have the title you want.  You can reach me at marie.s.bilodeau@gmail.com.

Can't wait to see you all!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Realists (Warning: Venting Ahead!)

I have to vent. In a public forum. I usually vent at home while sitting on my couch and eating popcorn, spitting little pieces across the room at Roomy who desperately tries to dodge them, but I think I need to say this publicly.  Why not?  And, as an aside, I'm not suggesting no one's reality sucks.  I'm ranting against the use of the "realist" self-label.

The Rant

Every time I hear someone call themselves a "realist," it's usually as they're talking themselves out of doing something important that will lead to their happiness, justify what they predict will be a failure, or to just be pessimistic about their own lives.

Reality doesn't suck, people. Reality doesn't create your future, or give a damn about you, or if you succeed or fail and, regardless of what you think, you weren't cursed at birth (says the girls who keeps getting disgusting stuff in her eyes and stabbed herself earlier this week).

Oh no, reality doesn't suck. Your perceptions do and your efforts reflect your abismal outlook, creating a weird vicious circle of "OMG I'm stuck in reality's spinning wheel of DOOM!"

... seriously? Who the heck made you chief of what reality is? My reality's fine, thank you, you great realist, you.

So there.  Take that and stick it in your depressing vaccuum of "reality."


The Reason for the Rant

Because I love you and believe in you.

I keep hearing rumours about realists. I'm getting concerned. They might be near me, and I don't seem to be able to physically identify them.

I've always believed myself to be a realist, but I don't use that term anymore. When I wanted to be published, I wrote a lot, read writing books, attended workshops, spoke to people in the industry, worked even harder, and got published.  I figured if I took a bunch of steps and worked really hard and learned about pesky things like character development and plotting, then got better at them, I'd eventually get published. Or I'd learn that I really sucked and didn't like this one bit, and head down another road.

Eight years of trying and boom - my first novel was published. Okay. Awesome.

So I asked what was next? Pretty much the same as when I was trying to get published. Because now, I want more. I want to be better. I want my fans to read my next novel and think: Holy crap, this is the best book she's ever written. Over and over again I want this to happen. Will it? Depends on how hard I work, how good the market is, how loving my fans are (they're already all lovable!).

I considered myself a realist for a long time. A realist with a positive outlook, sure, but still a realist. I looked at the facts and chose a path. I didn't shy away from work, though I did whine from time to time (and still do! Okay, often.)

But for the past few years, a weird thing has been happening. Someone asks my opinion, or tells me about a problem. Cool. I don't mind, by the way. I think it's fun. But if you do that, I assume you're wanting some input. I give it. It's usually a plan, or the beginnings of a plan. Questions like: "What would you like to change," or "Where do you want to be in five years," are not infrequent replies. Makes the speaker speak, and not me. I'm not a psychic - I'm just a friendly ear.

After receiving answers like: "I'd like to be happy" or "I want to be doing this instead," I smile and declare: "Then, have you considered doing this, this and this?"

And, almost 100% of the time, the answer I get is: "Well, yes, but I'm a realist, so I know better than that."

Um, come again? So, in your reality, you're cool with being miserable. You're cool with not taking chances at happiness. You're embracing your laziness/unwillingness to run out of your comfort zone/misery. And let me be clear: it's your choice. And go nuts if you want to stay in your misery. Life altering decisions are hard, and it's not always the right time for them. We're not always in a position to change our lifestyles, though I find more often than not it's fear holding us back.

Heck, there's some stuff I've been toying with that I'm not going for yet. But I know why I'm not doing it. Not because "reality" stands in my way, that thick barrier of perception concrete. I have reasons, we all do, but at least be honest about them with yourself.

It's the only way you'll know how to tackle the change.

Reality is just a playing ground for our perceptions. That's it. It's everything and nothing, all at once. The worst that happens is that you fail. Put safeguards in. Tie a rope to your waist. Then jump.

There's more happiness in making a decision and sticking with it than there ever was in constantly whining and refusing to budge.

Take that, reality!

Or, conversely, everyone should stop calling themselves a realist, and instead call themselves "Master of My Reality," preferably in a booming He-Man voice with accompanying theme song. That, right there, nullifies my rant and makes me so very happy.



Monday, 16 January 2012

Happy Birthday to My Bro!

I consider myself lucky to have an older brother. Don't get me wrong - he's a pain. He's always been one, but that's part of the fun and, I believe, the Big Brother Call of Duty (not the 1984 big brother, to be clear).

When I was growing up, I followed him all over the place. I'm sure he thought I was a pain, too... I flushed his truck, once. His favourite toy truck. He apparently has yet to forgive me, but I think he has. In any case, he broke the bottom left hinge of my My Little Pony castle, so I think we're even.

Once, he placed all of my toys around that castle. My Cabbage Patch Kid (Gigi), my She-Ra figures and my ponies were all conversing. I became convinced they all came to life when I wasn't watching, and I just had to be quiet enough and I'd catch them. I spoke comforting words that I would never tell on them. You know, I never did catch them in motion. And my brother admitted to me just a few years ago that he had been the one to move them (I think I would have figured that out if I had still been thinking about it).

I also used to make tree destroying boas by tying two baby ponies on each end of a rope. Turns out the trees always won and the ponies would get stuck, and every single time my brother would get them down. And never once did he tell me to stop (I think he liked throwing stuff at my ponies to get them down).

And my brother breaks the mold. Unlike all CBC TV specials that show concerned kids screaming and running for help when their siblings fall in frozen ponds, my brother just stood beside the pond and told me to just put my feet down, it wasn't that deep. He was right, too. He was also right when he pointed out that skipping rope on the frozen pond might not be the smartest move.

Then, later on, I ran into problems while at university. Despite working and having a student loan, money was tight (text books are expensive!)  He stepped in and helped me with my rent. When I was coming home on my birthday once, he treated me to a First Class VIA ticket. My now sister-in-law bought me a train riding outfit to mark the occasion. I was spoiled and loving it!

Earlier than that, during my first year in university, I came home at Thanksgiving and I didn't want to go back. I couldn't understand anything (I had conversational English, at best, and went to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo). I didn't know the rules for writing an English essay, people kept screaming "pamplemousse" and "ananas" at me the second they heard my French accent, and a few others asked that I "kneel before my conquerors." (HA!) My brother almost threw me back on that train and told me to go to the Writing Centre, ask my teachers for clarification when necessary and to buy reference books. He then said that if I didn't want to go back at Christmas, I didn't have to. I graduated in 2000.

It's my brother's birthday, today, in case you're wondering why I'm going on about him. He's 36. Wow.

When I look back at my own 30-some years, I see what an impact he's had. I know for sure that, without him, I wouldn't have graduated university. I wouldn't be published, because he forced me to become better and better, never mincing words. I wouldn't live in Ottawa, and I love the city. Without my brother, I wouldn't think that bugs had their redeeming traits, that amphibians were kind of sweet, that fish had personalities and that it's cute to have destructive cats. Without my brother, I doubt I'd look up at the stars and wonder about both the science and stories of our skies. I definitely wouldn't understand that it's okay not to understand and just to enjoy.

I know that it's okay to change, and to accept that change. My brother, after all, used to hate children, and now he loves cute little babies and has two beautiful children of his own. He's grown, changed, adapted, taken up causes after long hours of research. He's not afraid to explore, debate, laugh and be laughed at. In other words, he's pure awesome.

I believe in nature, but more so in nurture, possibly because I have many adopted family members (not my brother, though I argued it quite a bit as I was growing up). I believe that we are products of our environment, our inner strength, our passions and our relationships. and I know I wouldn't be who I am today without my brother.

So happy birthday, Jean-François. I can't wait to see all the marvellous things you'll accomplish this year!

Friday, 13 January 2012

A New Love

Dear friends,

The new year is already plodding along and I've not yet made a peep on my blog. It's hardly intentional, but rather an unfortunate side-effect of my current situation.

Over the holidays, you see, I invited a new person to share my life.  His name is WIP, short for Work In Progress.  It's a beautiful name, isn't it?   Mostly, I call him "Man," short for manuscript.  We're still working through our little nicknames (we're cute, I know! I hate new couples, too. Annoying, gushy things that we are). 

Anyway, Man and I met just at the end of last year, on Christmas day.  I was on my couch, a phlegmy disgusting remnant of the woman I had once been.  I groaned and flipped between a Doctor Who marathon and a Big Bang Theory marathon, and he showed up unexpectedly.  I hesitated at first, not believing on this day, on a holiday, when I was sick and sequestered at home, that he would show up now.

I soon found my manners again. I forced myself off the couch, put on two pairs of fuzzy socks and a thick sweater, made some tea for both of us, and then we sat down together.

It wasn't magic right away. I mostly entertained him because he'd showed up. I mean, to be fair, part of me knew he would soon be coming, but I hadn't expected him today.

The next day, we met for coffee outside the house, with a chaperon, to be proper. But that didn't last. A few days later, I was shutting myself away alone with Man, spending hours together by candlelight.

And I love him. The year is already sliding by as we nurture our romance. Just the other day, he showed me that eating people wasn't such a bad thing. I never knew that! And then, I taught him to clone himself out of safety. He liked that.

I won't go into the details, those are private, for now. He has a very dark kernel in his soul that I find endearing, and he cleaves people and splits their heads open. But don't worry - he's also very gentle and conflicted.

I hope you'll all love him, when you meet him.

And so I'm sorry I've been so silent. But, as all good things must come to an end, I'm hoping this wild romp will end in a few months, to transform from passionate love to something quieter and more everlasting. We'll see how the world greets Man, when I finally let him go.

I promise I'll try and come back more often. When Man and I are taking a break, perhaps.

In the meantime, I hope your 2012 is going well and that you're enjoying a wild, passionate dance of your own.