Mantras, and the last two months

Periods of my life can be defined with little mantras. A few years ago it was “be brave” and that one will always recur in different forms. My predominant focus at any given time requires bravery (or else it wouldn’t be worth doing; I do love a challenge). “Be brave” is at the heart of what I do. It served its purpose well enough back when I’d repeat it to myself endlessly, and it’s led me to this place I wanted so desperately to be, this place where I do so very much belong. And now it exists beneath what I tell myself, and what I tell myself is “I want to be something.” Maybe not a mantra so much as an expression of desire, but it’s a type of personal ambition that’s somewhat unfamiliar to me.

Do something, sure. Be somewhere, definitely. But be something?

Before I moved here I’d be asked frequently what I’d do when I was here. “Get whichever job I can,” I’d tell them, “and be in London.” It didn’t need to be more complicated than that, and that’s done its trick. Any one of the insane nights I’ve had here would’ve been absolutely astonishing to Ottawa Leslie, and they’ve become innumerable.

I mentioned two blog posts ago (and by golly, it’s been a while now since I’ve posted) that I wanted to try my hand at standup comedy. And I mentioned that, while I have started writing, the real thing might move slowly. That is very true. I’d love to be able to report to you that I’ve shown remarkable bravery in the face of self-consciousness and gotten in front of a crowd. That’d be a lie, though, and we all know very well that I can’t and won’t lie. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve really sat down to write, either. But I need to focus on it. After all, I want to be something. Plus I’ve been getting braver about telling everyone (particularly the comedians I admire!) about my ambitions. And, you know, I like really good people…? Said comedians have been absolutely incredible and supportive, and have offered me helpful advice. Tiff Stevenson checks in with me fairly regularly to see if I’ve made any progress. It’s going to be a remarkably difficult thing to give this an actual go, but I absolutely need to.

I’ve inadvertently thrown myself into yet another self-improvement spiral, but ain’t that just the way of things…? A few weeks ago, in my attempts to sort out my thoughts well enough to make them funny, I got so into overthinking everything and figuring out how I’d present myself to my future audiences that I found myself with a trillion things to improve about myself.

And hey, the upshot of that is that I’m starting a new job very soon? This job I’ve been working at for just over seven months now has been one of the absolute best I’ve had in terms of coworkers (all of whom I’ll miss very much), but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not cut out for it, and that I’ll always feel a little bit more stressed about it than I ought to be. I try my darnedest, but I think I’d be better somewhere where I’ll feel confident about what I’m doing. That having been said, my last day is this coming Wednesday, and then I go into the great unknown that is becoming the assistant manager of a soon-to-open café in Muswell Hill. Having worked in cafés more than any other job, I find myself missing them when I’m not currently working in one, and this opportunity sounds absolutely amazing. The owner/manager seems incredibly nice, and I’m filled with hope and excitement about being such a part of something like this!

Unfortunately I’ve been a bit on edge lately, a bit snappy and rude. There are times like that, I suppose, but it doesn’t make it any better when I feel as though I’ve been unbearably rude to some of my nearest and dearest. I’m hoping it passes once my brain is feeling a little less scattered. I’m sure a bit of time away won’t hurt, either.

When it was December my last couple of years in Ottawa, I’d feel troubled by the fact that I couldn’t quite get into the Christmas spirit to the extent I wanted to. The problem with growing up is that certain things don’t feel special in the same way that they do when you’re younger, but I’d tell myself that once I lived in London I’d be travelling home for Christmas and that’d make it special. And now here I am about two weeks away from seeing so many of my favourite people, and I absolutely cannot wait. A little bit of a breather from the overwhelming thing that my life has become won’t hurt, either.

And it has been overwhelming.

One major thing I didn’t mention last post was that, on the day of the second Boosh show, I went to Flamin’ Eight to get my first tattoo. I’d been planning it for the better part of two years, but the actual act was more or less an impulse decision; since I hadn’t been able to afford to have it done when my post-vacation paycheque was disappointingly small, I’d told myself that maybe I would the next time I got paid, and then in the midst of these amazing things happening in my life, I figured the time was right. I could and am willing to explain at length (we’re talking essay-length) the significance of what is essentially just a tattoo of a sharpie drawing of a ghost, but will sum it up with this: it signifies the journey I’ve taken to get where I am now, and I always promised myself I’d get it once I moved to London. It just happened to take six and a half months for me to actually get it done. My wonderful tattooist was Kirsty, who was sure to do every line every bit as precisely as was possible, and I love it dearly. At every mention of it, my coworker Billy likes to tease me saying it’s upside down, to which I retort that it’s facing me, because it’s for me. This is true. In the nearly two years I planned the thing out, it never occurred to me to have it facing the opposite direction. I guess that’s sort of a good sign in terms of self-confidence. (And hey, let me know if you want to hear the story of my most mortifying moment with regards to this tattoo. It’s a hoot!)

The month wherein this all occurred was the most absolutely insane one of my entire life. Imagine, if you will, the unbelievable joy of those two gigs I went on and on and on about last post. Now imagine if there was a third one. Because (oho!) there most certainly was. My friends and I had gotten an accidental heads up about this after the second show, in a conversation with Julia Davis (“Oh, has it not been announced yet…?”), but we had no idea whether we’d actually be able to get tickets. We did, and we headed to the Pleasance (which is an excellent place, and only 15 minutes’ walk from my flat!) to see this final warmup show. I have, of course, already rambled on endlessly about this to absolutely anyone and everyone who would listen, but it was incredible in its own unique way, just as the previous two had been, and after seeing him an absurd number of times in the space of two weeks (including at a filming of Never Mind the Buzzcocks two days before this third Boosh show), I was finally able to have what was almost a conversation with Noel Fielding, during which I told him of the tremendous difference he’s made in my life and he pulled me into a lovely hug. Also, during which we took selfies!



And oh, imagine my poor, dear, sweet long-time friend Em who showed up for a 10-day visit the following day. Em, to whom I rambled endlessly, to whom I showed the entirety of The Mighty Boosh during her time here. Em, who was such a joy to have around and who it was sad to say goodbye to after this tremendous blur of late nights spent laughing about nonsense. Whom it was so much fun to take to Westminster, to attempt to take photos with the tourist attractions and just end up with things like this:

My 27th birthday happened when Em was here. And oh, birthdays are another of those things that never really feel the way they should. They always end up okay, but they start off as such a mess. I think I managed to wreck birthdays for myself slightly when I opted to spend my 20th in the city I’d eventually move to. From then until my 25th, I’d reflect every October on the things I’d been doing however-many years earlier. Then I restarted the cycle by spending said 25th in my dream city. My 26th was remarkably odd, the year between birthdays spent in my dear, perfect London. Crying jags eventually followed by glamming up and having friends over. And then this one, which didn’t feel like anything at all until I called my parents and told them I didn’t feel the way I was meant to. Speaking to my parents helped matters, as did eventually getting out of the flat in the early afternoon. Em and I got a Sunday roast at a pub in Kentish Town, then met up with my dear friend Jenni in Camden Town. We went to see Mike Fielding displaying his art in one of the stalls (which is to say former stables) at the tremendous Proud Camden, and then we found an empty stall in which to sit and eat a small cake Jenni had been wonderful enough to buy for me. It ended up being a really lovely day, and I look back on it fondly. It does stand to reason that it didn’t feel that exciting, though, especially in light of the nonstop ridiculous events that happen in my life. Surely a day meant to be special can’t compare to the things that happen to me all the time nowadays.

The 23rd of October followed suit in that absolutely insane month, when Dave Brown‘s photography exhibition kicked off with a party, also at Proud Camden. This is to say that, within the space of less than a month, I saw the Mighty Boosh do live shows three times, then we somehow managed to attend the launch of an exhibition of photographs of them. Here, again, Ottawa Leslie would be dumbfounded, and I have to admit that, after this strange night, the slightly more acclimatized London Leslie felt overwhelmed enough that she spent her workday counting down to her day off the following day. A day to let everything sink in a little bit was exactly what was needed, particularly after the revelation that Dave Brown now recognized me and my friends (abrupt switch back to first person!). Especially after all the tiny, ridiculous moments that night had held. Proximity is a weird thing, really. It feels reasonably normal at the time, but then when you step back and realize you’ve spent a fair bit of time in the vicinity of people you spent all sorts of time worshipping from the other side of the ocean… well.

Coming up on Halloween was a weird thing. I’d spent Halloween 2011 away from home, but that was a ridiculous night on which my best friend Nidal and I ended up dancing the Time Warp with Dee Plume and Sue Denim. Living here, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I spent the evening of the 25th thinking about my friends back home who’d be partying soon, and how I wished I could be there just for that one evening. But London worked its magic, as it has been oft known to do, and my choice of favourite people was reaffirmed when Andrew O’Neill hosted a Jack the Ripper walk. I’d been on one before, but this was all the same a ridiculously enjoyable way to spend Halloween, particularly because people were in costume (I left my planning too late, and ended up just glamming up, which is my default setting), gin was being passed around, we had three pub stops (as opposed to the usual two!), and Andrew O’Neill is tremendous company. Also, he’s my neighbour, so upon the realization that the Northern Line had shut by the time we got to Old Street, we split a minicab. I was very inebriated and very chatty. I remember it fondly.

I also remember this particular bit of pub decoration very fondly:

Two days after Halloween, my friend Jaynie and her flatmates hosted a party. I worked til close that night, but on my break I stood in the world’s longest queue to buy face paints, hoping that the last-minute costume I was attempting would be a success. It’d been an idea I’d first had in 2011, but hadn’t ended up following through with. But now the time was right. Now I was going to be Animal! And I was, and I was equal parts proud and terrified of my handiwork.

November was a surprisingly good month considering what it had to compete with, and one of its particular highlights was my long-time glorious friends Heather and Mark being in town for a few days. I met them at a pub in Covent Garden on the night of their arrival, brought them to a comedy show (again, Andrew O’Neill) the next night, and then saw them for a third time on their last night in London. Said last night was made particularly magical by an autocorrect error on Mark’s Facebook status, his attempt at writing “last day” transformed into “lady day” and the rest of us not shutting up about it. Thanks, technology!

And what an occasion Lady Day was, the four of us (fourth being Heather’s friend Jess, also from Ottawa) drinking champagne (actual champagne from Champagne!) in Heather and Mark’s terrifying hotel room, then going across the road to an Indian restaurant to get some food. The place was meant to be a takeaway, but we somehow convinced the cashier to let us sit at the table there. Heather and I managed to coerce the bartender at their local (underneath their hotel) pub to loan us some forks. We sat there making a lot of noise, FaceTiming our friend Erynn and then my brother Chris and sister-in-law Jenny, having an absurdly good time. We headed back to the sketchy hotel (the cashier at the Indian restaurant said goodbye with a “Happy Lady Day!”) to drink red wine, then I headed home. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly describe why this evening made me so happy, but even having lived in London for over eight months now, even having found new familiar things, nothing is quite the same as a really good time with people I’ve known forever.

A really good time with more recent friends can be awfully good, too, and two days later brought Dave Brown (again!) at Proud Camden (again!!), this time doing a signing followed by a night of music. Dave played with one of the bands, then did a DJ set with Mike Fielding. During the band set, Dave initiated a massive pillow fight that left the entire gallery (and all of us in it) covered in feathers. I couldn’t help but remember the Tatty Devine Holi Party. Because these are just the weird things I find myself a part of nowadays, I guess.

Thanks to Leilah Curran for this photo!
The DJ set was remarkably fun, all their choices being absolutely stellar, me almost at the point where I didn’t feel self-conscious about dancing. And hey, that’s remarkably rare…! Also, afterwards I got a photo with Dave, included in this post for no reason other than that I really, really like it.

So there you have it…!

This past week has been a blur of gigs. Old Rope, Joey Page (for the first time in over two months), Trevor Lock, Tony Law, Rich Fulcher. And naturally I have a cold now, because I don’t really know when to stop (and though I hesitate to call it cold, I’m from Canada, etc., the temperature has dropped a fair bit and it is very damp and that might be a factor as well). But hey, better to live my life to its absolute fullest and get sick now and again?!?

I have two more shifts at Sally’s. Next week I start my new job. Tomorrow is two weeks until I head home for Christmas. I’m excited for every last thing, I think. Even though I’ve spent today in bed feeling sort of out of sorts and far away from home, it’s not long now until I’ll see so many of my nearest and dearest, and then I’ll come back and continue living this dream.

And I will be something. Promise.

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