Carlin was in her mid-teens and I was in my early 20s when we first met, both students at Theatre Aquarius Summer Theatre School in Hamilton, Ontario during the mid-80s—and I remember being struck by her focus, maturity and talent. An old, creative soul, she was already writing songs that were melodic, poignant and catchy; revealing a deep sense of empathy for and sharp observation of the human condition. We bonded over growing up in Burlington (aka “Borington”), a shared irreverent sense of humour, and a mutual love of music and theatre.
Carlin and I reconnected a couple of years ago, through our mutual friend Lizzie Violet. She’d been living in Toronto, writing, recording and performing her songs, a singer/songwriter working as a barista to pay the rent. Her creative spirit had branched out to include making amazingly detailed crocheted creations: figures from horror, sci-fi and fantasy, which she sold, along with more traditional crocheted fashions, via Unravelled Crochet. I had the pleasure of interviewing her about her crochet work at the beginning of this year.
Throughout her illness, Carlin kept on making things: hats, scarves and mittens—many of which she made especially for or gave to friends. It kept her busy while she was in hospital, keeping the cabin fever at bay while she stayed positive and hopeful that she’d soon be able to return to her new apartment and a job she loved at Birds and Beans Coffee. I will always cherish the green and grey striped hat she gave me.
An extremely talented, kind and generous soul, Carlin had an open heart, a creative mind, and a twinkle in her eye with an arch of a brow that accompanied a mischievous grin. Cancer took Carlin from us—gone way too soon, she was so loved and will be profoundly missed. I picture her on a tropical beach, riding a unicorn named Hope.
I had the great pleasure of attending the opening reception of ARTiculations’ 6th annual Curio Shadow Box Show as a first-time participant last night. An open call exhibition, the show features approximately 40 boxes—all the same size, provided by ARTiculations upon registration—most of which are for sale.
It was my first time out to see the show as well; it’s a finely crafted assortment of styles and media—incorporating glass painting, metal and other objects, as well as wood carving, water colour and drawing. The results are magical, disturbing, beautiful and provocative.
By chance, my two pieces were hung together, one above the other: Love, Oscar (a tribute to Oscar Wilde’s love of Lord Alfred Douglas, aka Bosie) and Harry Potter’s Nightstand; one of the other artists I met said they struck her as memory boxes—boxes with images and objects that capture a moment, a person. My first shadow box was a biographical one—a memory box—for my brother Sean’s 40th birthday; I’ve made several more since, mostly for friends for their birthdays.
The 2019 Curio Shadow Box Show is up until December 15; ARTiculations is located in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood—store/gallery location and hours info here. The holidays are coming, and you might just find the perfect gift for someone—or for yourself.
I had a blast checking out the art and meeting some of the artists last night—and big thanks to my good friend Lizzie Violet for alerting me to the show. And big shouts and thanks to the good folks at ARTiculations for organizing and hosting this event!
Here are some snaps I took, including a small sample of the amazing selection of boxes on display.
Happy International Women’s Day! Today’s post is an interview with an incredibly talented, hard-working, gutsy and generous woman in the Toronto arts scene.
Lizzie Violet is a writer, spoken word artist and horror aficionado—that “dark little girl with the crooked grin” who took her finely tuned, quirky sense of observation and love of zombie lore, and wrote it down. Evocative, darkly funny and sharply drawn, her writing ranges from hilarious and poignant personal storytelling, to socio-political observation, to chilling tales of the supernatural and deadly creatures from beyond the grave.
LWMC: You first become attracted to horror when you were a kid, staying up late with your dad watching old horror movies on TV. What was it that hooked you?
LV: Apparently, I liked to scare myself. Even as a young introverted kid, I figured out how invigorating an adrenaline rush felt. Even more so than watching the movies, the stories I would make up in my head scared me even more. I had an overactive imagination. I was never afraid of the boogieman or the monsters in the closet. I was all about the bizarre versions of monsters and ghosts my mind would visualize or create and I would wonder if the creak in the stairs was a werewolf coming to gobble me up. I loved every second of it. Recently, my mom dug up some of the stories I wrote as a kid. You can see where it all began.
LWMC: You also became infamous around the school library for your interest in horror literature and biographies of serial killers. When did your love of the genre translate into wanting to writing horror-themed poems and stories?
LV: How that all started, was my Great Grandfather Bill died when I was 10 years old. I was really close to him. They took me to his viewing at the funeral home and to me, the man in the casket looked nothing like him. He had this weird heavy makeup on, including rouge and lipstick. At the viewing, I started asking a lot of ‘inappropriate’ questions about why he looked that way and what was going to happen to him now that he had ‘passed away’ (no one would actually use the word dead). No one would answer me. I had a melt down and then wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral.
After that, I would continually ask the librarians for books about death, eventually progressing to books on serial killers and hauntings. We used to get the Scholastic Book Club magazines and I would get upset when there weren’t books along that theme as an option. They (teachers and the librarian) became concerned about how morbid this young child had become. My parents were not pleased, to say the least. All of this pushed me further into introversion and a way for me to cope was to start writing. To everyone’s dismay… my writing was always horror themed. From that point on in my life I became death-obsessed. Not in a ‘wanting to kill myself way,’ rather needing to seek the knowledge about death. Why it happened, what happened to you and your body when you died. Why we had funerals. Did it hurt? Recently, I discovered a writer and YouTuber called Caitlin Doughty (her channel is ‘Ask A Mortician’); I wish I had known someone like her as a kid. She is open about death and death positivity.
LWMC: Over the years, you’ve written in a number of media, from poetry, to the story for I Hate Todd’s “Zombie Love” music video, to screenwriting, stage and radio playwriting, and blogging, including your new Not Vegan Now Vegan food/recipe blog. Do you have a favourite medium?
LV: Short stories. I am madly in love with short stories. It goes back to that adrenaline rush feeling. You have to get people pulled in and worked up in a short amount of words. The pressure to do that in under 10,000 words is exhilarating for me. If I had to pick a second, it would be screenwriting. I love storytelling in that format as well. When you read a book or a short story, the reader sees the setting or character differently. They create their own visual. When you put it on a screen, they get to see what you want them to see. They get to actually be in your head and that terrifying thought, is appealing to me.
LWMC: Last Fall, you bid farewell to Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir and tapered off your event production work. And, most recently, you quit your day job to pursue writing full-time. What led up to that decision and how has it been, adjusting to the new routine?
LV: I realized I had my fingers in too many pies and, because of this, I wasn’t getting enough writing done. When I don’t write, I actually get depressed. I sat back and took a look at what I have accomplished; what I could accomplish and realized I needed to be all in. Life is too short and I don’t want to ever have regrets for not trying. You only fail when you don’t make the effort.
I’ve been adjusting well. I freelanced for almost 10 years prior to my last job, and am able to focus and be productive. There are days when you just can’t be creative, and my mantra for those days is to do something else. Go for a walk. Write a list. Have a dance party in the living room. Dig holes somewhere. Just don’t let frustration take over. Sometimes you need to shake the cobwebs out—then you will be fine.
LWMC: What have been your biggest challenges? Your biggest rewards?
LV: Other than things being tight financially at the moment, I don’t really have any challenges. I do have a lot of rewards. Being able to wake up every day and write is the best feeling in the world. I am also lucky to have a partner who is supportive of my dreams.
LWMC: You’re working on a novel right now. What can you tell us about it?
LV: Without give too much away—it’s semi-autobiographical, yet still fiction, a ghost story and set in small-town Ontario. The two main characters are teenagers who don’t fit into society’s ideals of what a teenager should be and, did I mention, it’s ghost story. The title of the novel is Freaks & Grimm. In the next month or so, I am going to start hitting up open mics and read parts of the novel.
LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?
LV: Oh yeah! Going back to your question about shows, though I am no longer producing shows similar to the Cabaret, I am still producing shows that showcase my work. Heather Babcock and I are working on a new format for our RedHead Revue. Hoping to have a date for this spring. I am also working on a YouTube channel called Lizzie Violet’s Lair. The content will be segments on horror, b-horror movies, talks about death and the dead. I will have regular guests to chat about ghoulish things such as hearses, graveyard tours, the paranormal, ghosts, zombies and more. Oh… and don’t worry, we will also talk about horror-based writing. I’m working on the set-up and scripts. I’m hoping to launch it this summer. You should all subscribe so you don’t miss the launch: https://www.youtube.com/user/lizzieviolet1313
A compelling and vividly detailed collection of works, Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards opens with “Break,” a first-person narrative from the point of view of a heart-broken, over-worked waitress soldiering on through her shift to pay the bills – and finding emotional release in an unexpected moment of solitude during a much deserved break.
The workaday characters – Wilbur and Christina in “Half Off” and Betty in “The Trees Turned to Glass” – struggle through harsh and unfair circumstances, doing the best they can to survive as they scramble to eke out a living, and find snatches of happiness and moments of ecstasy when they can. Constantly faced with judgement in the present and haunted by ghosts of the past, daydreams and fantasies become a welcome escape – an oasis from the dull, grey hopelessness of a world that sees them as disposable. And in “Rebecca,” we get a portrait of one of those judgemental, comfortably smug points of view, as wealthy record producer Conrad washes his hands of responsibility for someone he supposedly loved once.
There is beauty and poetry, grit and defiance, especially in the stories of family and loss. Jake in “The Dancing Bear,” escaping from his brother’s hospital bedside and into a local bar and a pretty woman. First-person memories of a mother, a dead sister and flowers in “Marking Words” and the title story “Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards;” the sharp edges of family history smoothed by nostalgic recollections made bittersweet by family tragedy.
And the closing story “Wind Pudding and Wagon Tracks” is parable-like in its insight into the human spirit; set in a place where everyone is treated equally and all are given the same choice – only each comes from different places with which to make that choice.
Of Being Underground and Moving Backwards is a beautiful collection of unflinchingly honest snapshots of otherwise invisible working class people; their everyday drudgery finding momentary respite in after-hours second lives, rich fantasy worlds, moments of recollection and in the imperfect love of equally lost souls.
Founded in December 2014, Project HOTS (Helping on the Streets) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those living on the streets or in shelters have the basic necessities of life. Organizer Kayla Forrest, who works a full-time job as she prepares to head back to school to study Emergency Telecommunications, kicked off a series of fundraising events in November 2015 with Get Off The Streets, an evening of music/spoken word/comedy at the Horseshoe Tavern (which I had the great pleasure to perform in). The mission is to raise funds, food, clothing and survival gear for the coming weather, and the Horseshoe show was followed by a second event in December at The Painted Lady, hosted by The Celebration Army. I spoke with Kayla about Project HOTS and their upcoming events.
LWMC: Hey, Kayla. Thanks for taking the time to talk about Project HOTS. How did this organization come about?
KF: You’re most welcome, always happy to spread the word about inspiring people to do random acts of kindness and help others. This organization was started by a friend, Lizzie Violet, and it was originally named Project Warmth. After my own project of putting together bags of food and survival gear for the homeless on the streets, and collecting a bunch of donations for the homeless shelters Horizons For Youth and also Fred Victors – Helping People Find Place And Purpose, Lizzie invited me into being a part of the organization of hers. This is something that means a lot to me, as we are all humans at the end of the day and it doesn’t matter how much or how little money you have, it’s about what kind of person you are to one another.
I ended up really getting into it and ran with the whole thing; she was super awesome and after a while let me take over the whole thing. So I ended up beginning to look into really taking it to the next level; when I researched the name to proceed with getting it certified and licensed, I found that there was already an organization in Alberta with the same name that began years before we did. So I went back to the drawing board and played with some name possibilities that were catchy and memorable. It was decided upon Project HOTS (helping on the streets) because in the winter you want to get warm, hey Project HOTS, and in the summer it’s pretty hot/warm, hey Project HOTS.
So we kicked it into high gear with the name, had a friend of mine create the logo for us, and began to look into having merchandise created along with organizing fundraisers for the food/survival bags for the homeless on the streets.
LWMC: And what made you decide to launch the music/spoken word fundraising events?
KF: Lizzie suggested doing fundraisers, as I was paying for everything along with a few other volunteers for the food/survival bags and that we’d be able to make more of the kits if we did fundraisers. I avidly support the local arts (music, spoken word, etc.) scene, so asking the local performers if they’d like to be part of it along with choosing local venues was the next step.
LWMC: How has the response to the events been so far?
KF: The fundraiser events turned out amazingly awesome, with so many people supporting helping the homeless stuck on the streets and those in shelters that were lucky enough to get into them. The shows consist of bands, solo singers, spoken word, poets and comedians; along with raffles for gift bags put together by myself and the performers that volunteer for the show, along with other band merchandise donated to us by the incredibly awesome local performers. So far, we have had two events and currently a third one is being planned. We are also working on having a home base venue as well, so there will be semi-annual fundraiser shows a year for the semi-annual street donation drives.
LWMC: Tell us a bit about what happens after you receive donations. How does the food, clothing, survival gear, etc., get distributed?
KF: The donations are collected and accumulated at my place, then it’s all packed into my car and brought to the only homeless shelter (to my knowledge and as informed to me by the staff there) in Canada that take in homeless with animals, Fred Victor – Helping People Find Place And Purpose. I’m a complete animal lover, so this is something that really touched my heart. They furnish the residents rooms and also help them out when they get places of their own.
As for the food and survival gear that’s donated, I put together grocery bags with one or two of everything that was donated, or that we buy with the money raised from the fundraiser shows along with my own. I’m an avid believer that a non-profit organization should actually mean making nothing at all from the donations given as I spend my own money on the food/survival items along with buying merchandise for the fundraiser shows. To me, it just doesn’t make sense taking someone’s money for dedicating my time to a cause that shouldn’t have to be a cause since everyone should just care for and help one another no matter who you are in the world.
Then the volunteers are split into teams and given maps of the city I print out for different zones, load their cars up with grocery bags of food and survival gear, then they’re off to drive/roam the city streets looking for homeless to hand them out to.
LWMC: You’re mounting another event this spring at The Painted Lady. Do you have a date set yet?
KF: We absolutely love this venue as the staff and owners are absolutely incredible, so we’re working with the owners to find a date/time that works for everyone. It’ll be held in May though, as the next street donation drive will take place in June, but everyone can keep up-to-date with events and street donation drives on our Facebook and Twitter pages since the exact date has yet to be chosen.
LWMC: Can you give us a sneak peek as to who will be performing?
KF: It’s currently being worked on for the set list, but one of the performers that will for sure be there and opening for us will be the wonderfully awesome Supertash; who also is the writer for our organization’s theme song (which we totally snagged with her permission) “Listen To Your Heart.”
LWMC: Anything else coming up that you want to shout out?
KF: I want to let everyone know that we are always looking for new and upcoming performers for our shows. So if anyone has any interest in being part of one of the fundraisers, please feel free to contact us, as we will be having semi-annual shows, one in the spring and one in the winter every year.
LWMC: Anything in particular you guys need in way of donations right now?
KF: We are always accepting donations of clothing, household items, pet supplies (food, treats, bedding, toys, etc.) and survival gear for the streets and non-perishable food for the food care bags. We can either arrange a pick-up or drop-off point for the donations, or people are urged/welcome to bring them to the fundraiser shows as well. We do periodic drop-offs to the homeless shelter year-round every three to five weeks when we’ve accumulated a carload of things from people around the city.
LWMC: What do you do when you’re not working on Project HOTS?
KF: I work a full-time job, so any free time from work and the organization is spent at the gym, at local venues watching friends perform, reading, painting, writing, or randomly road-tripping and seeing where I end up.
LWMC: I like to close my interviews with the adapted Pivot questionnaire that James Lipton asks his guests on Inside the Actors Studio. What’s your favourite word?
KF: AWESOME!!!!!! You can’t help smiling when thinking/saying this awesome word.
LWMC: What’s your least favourite word?
KF: Hate. Such a strong angry word. <laughs>
LWMC: What turns you on?
KF: <laughs> This is really truly random, but definitely vanilla and intelligence. Intelligent vanilla? Is it a thing? It is now!
LWMC: What turns you off?
KF: Animal and child abusers… just no soooo hardcore!!
LWMC: What sound or noise do you love?
KF: Kittens purring, rain, kids giggling… but not in that like creepy children of the corn kind of way.
LWMC: What sound or noise do you hate?
KF: Any kind of sounds that come from a clown’s mouth. They should never be allowed to speak. Ever.
LWMC: What is your favourite curse word?
KF: Fuck. It’s so ridiculously versatile, plus as my mother taught me, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it! Thanks mom! 😛
LWMC: What profession other than your own would you like to pursue?
KF: When I was a little girl, I used to want to be a lawyer so I could put away all the bad people, but now I realize that if I were a lawyer and the bad people got let go, I wouldn’t be able to hold myself back if it had anything to do with children and/or animals. Really, though, anything that is about helping people or animals would be super awesome to work as.
LWMC: What profession would you not like to do?
KF: I would definitely not like to work in a circus (other than it’s barbaric for the way they treat animals), but because they have clowns, and clowns freak me out to the absolute fullest amount. They should be outlawed. For good. Like forever banned.
LWMC: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
KF: Hmm… he’d probably laugh and say “It surprises me too that you actually made it up here.”
Want to volunteer or donate to Project HOTS? For more info, email them at: email@example.com
Hot damn, that was one fine Queer Slam! I had the great honour – and pleasure – of being on the judging panel at last night’s Queer Slam at Supermarket. Hosted by hot damn slam poet Cathy Petch, with assistance from Brock Hessel, last night’s festivities included performances by Petch and Hessel, and fellow judges David Bateman and Duncan Armstrong, and a feature set from Regie Cabico – with sponsors Canadian Cancer Society, who reminded us to Get Screened, and LGBTOUT, who lead us in an acknowledgment of World AIDS Day, which was marked earlier this week on December 1. The fabulous Lizzie Violet and a trio of guys dubbed “The Cutie Patooties” rounded out the judging panel.
David Bateman gave a sardonically edgy, darkly comic scathing social commentary in his performance of “What’s it Like?” – a piece about the experience of living with HIV, and dealing with the insensitivity and dumbassery of the curious.
Duncan Armstrong – who really does have the best t-shirts in the business – performed three of his pieces: a rhythmic and comic piece about getting it on; “Last Will and Testament,” a moving and pointed piece inspired by his experiences as a palliative caregiver of HIV/AIDS patients; and a sharply funny commentary on the art world with “Art Abstracted.”
To kick off the slam portion of the evening, Petch played the queer national anthem on the saw: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” then introduced a sacrificial slam performer (to give the judges a baseline score to work with for the competition). Shouts to Barbara Erochina, who gave us a raw, real and humourous confession of youthful desire set in a religious camp.
Three performers came forward to compete in last night’s two-round slam – the winner moves on to the finals in the spring, for the ultimate battle for the prize spot in Capturing Fire, Regie Cabico’s queer summit and slam in Washington, D.C.:
Tanya Neumeyer is a mercurial, rhythmic performer, playing with the ideas of experiencing the body – one’s own and that of others – and the dichotomy of desiring closeness and space in her first piece; and a socio-political, historical, philosophical queer anthem in the second round.
Mind the Gap has a quirky, fun nerd girl vibe – riffing on falling in love with straight girls and unrequited feelings in round one, and a quick futuristic, playful narrative in round two.
Jed Mimnagh-Kennific is an adorable baby slam performer, serving up a sweet, funny and lyrical love remembrance for her first piece. She brought a more complex narrative arc in her second piece, opening with the first flutterings of attraction, Catholic school sex ed, Bible readings and the message that the body is a temple, then shifting into a heart-wrenching account of childhood abuse – taking the audience along on this emotional journey.
Feature performer Regie Cabico is where stand-up meets spoken word in slammin’ fabulousness. Combining the divine and profane, he gave us a sensual and sexual observational piece featuring the sense of smell, an ode to an older lover from his younger days (which included a Fosse dance pose break) and an irreverent fun tale of Lucifer doing stand-up (inspired by an early morning stand-up gig after a very late night of debauched fun). And he does a wicked Tina Turner. Several of us were trying to convince him to move to Toronto; he lives in Washington, D.C., loves T.O. and visits regularly.
Results from the slam: Mind the Gap took third place, as well as the Queirdo prize for the weirdest poem; Neumeyer placed second and Mimnagh-Kennific took first place. With shouts to our score keeper Michelle Darby.
Big fun times was had by all. Look out for the next Queer Slam event next month – at Glad Day Bookshop. In the meantime, you can check out some pix I took at last night’s event:
I posted this interview a while back, and thought it might be handy to re-post, especially for those of you who are new to life with more cowbell or visiting for the first time. Enjoy… 🙂
I was invited by my friend writer/blogger/poet/editor Lizzie Violet to participate in an online interview called Next Big Thing as a way for writers to do a little self-promotion and/or think about what they’re working on or will have out soon. Writers tag other writers, who all answer the same 10 questions and post them on their blog. Lizzie added a twist and decided to include playwrights, songwriters and bloggers as well, so my responses will be about my blog.
What is your working title of your blog?life with more cowbell
Where did the idea come from for the blog?I was the company blogger at Alumnae Theatre, posting about the shows it was producing, and generally shouting out and supporting the theatre. When I made the decision to “retire” from there, I decided to start my own blog. I wanted to get out to see more live theatre and music, and support local artists. On a broader level, I felt the desire to inject more excitement into my life and generate some positive impact in the process. If that makes any sense. Shout out the work and spread the good word.
What genre does your blog fall under?Arts/culture and entertainment mostly, from an experiential point of view, as opposed to being a review or critique.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?If this blog ever became a movie, it would be a huge honour if Jodie Foster played me.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your blog?Toronto-based culture vulture/social bloggerfly shares her arts/culture and entertainment adventures, with a bit of travel and philosophy thrown in.
Will your blog be self-published or represented by an agency?At this point, I have no representation or plans to turn this blog into a book – but that is an interesting notion. The blog is a serious hobby that I pursue in addition to my “day job” as a copy editor/proofreader for a national public opinion polling company. I’m not really thinking in terms of going “professional” with the blog – to get paid for writing it. Right now, I’m just happy to experience and shout out the art/artists. Though, if someone wanted to pay me to do this – I probably wouldn’t say no.
How long does it take you to write the blog/how much time do you put into it?The blog is ongoing – I post several times a week and a single post can take up to about two hours just to write. Added to that is the time it takes to go out to see the event/performance, maybe take some photos. I usually tweet about it right after, make a few notes, then let it perk in my head over night and write the next day. I also reblog posts of bloggers I follow.
Who or what inspired you to write this blog?I come from a visual arts and performing arts (acting and singing) background, then got into writing, short stories and personal essays at first. Then I had the job of bloggergal at Alumnae Theatre – first time blogging for me – and I was hooked. Being this all-around artsy fartsy kinda gal, I wanted to see other art forms and blog about them too.
What else about your blog might pique the reader’s interest?I’m starting to do interviews and photo essay posts, to mix it up a bit and make for a more interesting visit to the site.
Here are five writers/bloggers/playwrights – and I’m also adding an animator/filmmaker – I’d like to shout out: