How to (not) write a show

Ajahnis Charley is a member of the 2021 Emerging Creators Unit. They’ll be sharing an excerpt from and insights into their piece, 27 Club on June 19+ 20 as part of our Queer Pride Festival.

“Holyfuckwhatdayisit,” you exclaim as you exit a 5-day fugue state of watching entire seasons of Frasier you never knew existed. You’re in a bad place. The past two months passed in the blink of an eye. Blinks of an eye feel like they take three weeks. You are binge-watching time pass while purging your life of all purpose. Sounds extreme. Honestly, it’s impressive you can be so melodramatic while being so bored. Fortunately a project soon comes around giving you something to do.

Animated gif - Ajahnis spins around in an office chair looking at their phone. They are wearing socks and boxers.

Screw the second person perspective, I shouldn’t put this on you. I’m a procrastinator. I probably got my 10 000 hours down, so consider me an expert. Putting off developing my arts practice is my arts practice. Okay, hi again, melodrama. Listen. I spent so long grappling with the fear of starting something new that I started writing about that fear and where it comes from. As a competitive comedian, I always want a sense of progression – that each show would be exponentially better than the last. And girl, exponential was the wrong function to choose for this kind of deal. That fear of not measuring up kept me afraid and away on my phone, sifting through The Endless Scroll of content, soaking up information I’ll say ‘Huh, cool’ to in the moment and never remember again. Weeks of this. Until the Buddies ECU came along and gave me the structure and the positive pressure I needed to commit once more to the art I love. Comedy. Performance.

But even still, I delayed. I even procrastinated the writing of this post (so sorry, Aidan!). I knew that if I understood my ritual of abandoning work, I could then develop new rituals that account for past behaviour. Kinda like how we used to use Thanksgiving to remember “”pioneers”” and now we’ve realized they were just gross ass colonizers, we just spend that weekend day-drinking. Yes. Exactly like that.

My writing practice can be broken up into three forms of procrastination:

Due Tomorrow, Do Tomorrow

Animated gif - In the foreground, a phone lights up - an alarm is going off at 5:08PM. The camera pans over to Ajahnis in bed under the covers.

Ah, the classic ‘Due Tomorrow, Do Tomorrow’ mantra of university students everywhere. This is the phenomenon of waiting until the day a project is due to start it. I did my time in a maximum-security prison school, I know the drill. In comedy writing I could conceive all day, but it took coming to the edge of hard deadlines to get my thoughts on paper. I don’t have a fix for this per se, but the ECU helped by breaking a large project, this new play, into manageable chunks expected to be shared on a bi-weekly basis. I learned I respond better to external fulfillment than abstract internal motivations. That’s useful.

Bitch Eating Crackers

Animated gif - We see Ajahnis lying down with their legs up in the air. The raise their head and make goggles with their hands, and grimace.

‘Bitch Eating Crackers’ Syndrome, not an ideal choice of words, but it’s perfectly titled. It’s that feeling of being so envious of someone that you manage to find a problem with every little thing they do, even if that thing is as innocent as eating crackers. This one hits hard. Whenever I start a project, or watch a really good show, or breathe I compare myself to literally anyone who has ever done an art. Why write? I’ll never do anything close to Beethoven, Emily Dickinson, The Wiggles – who do I think I am, believing that I can top ‘Fruit Salad’? Regular exercises in the ECU on getting out of our heads and into our bodies centered me and put me into a creative zone where creation itself was a cause worth celebrating. I was rooting for myself as much as I was for others. That’s productive.

Imposter Syndrome

Animated gif - Ajahnis looks concernedly at their reflection in a mirror and approaches it. Once they're closer to the mirror they turn to face the camera with a smirk.

This is the hot one. We all know Imposter Syndrome, where we feel like we don’t deserve the things we have accomplished. As a queer, Black person, I’ve been signalled that I don’t belong in so many spaces: academia, fancy stores, Europe. The devaluation of my presence made me feel invaluable. And with tokenization being a constant thread, I gotta worry: “Did I get here on my own merit?” What was nice about the ECU was that it emphasized the sharing and the process. They held a belief in my ideas. And simply in being eager to hear me speak my mind about my life in the two weeks between meeting as well as my creative work, I felt valued. That’s lit? I don’t know how to cap this one off.

What is the takeaway from this? Well, this blog post is for the slackers, shirkers and the late-workers. I feel you, especially in this taxing time. Look at me. I thought writing a show about procrastination and fear and social pressure would help solve those productivity issues for me. I was wrong. Well, I was half wrong. Developing a show on procrastination did not force me to correct my issues, but it gave me some creative momentum. The ECU gave me support with deadlines and the understanding that I’d show up for them, for myself. The unit got me out of my head, off The Endless Scroll and onto my feet. Find your unit. Find your support. I found mine and time passes linearly now, and linear progress is what I try to make. And I keep my Frasier-induced fugue states to only a select few hours now. I’m in a better place.

Animated gif - A page full of text is covered by a title page. The cover reads "27 Club written by Ajahnis Charley."

.gifs created by the author
Lead photo of Ajahnis Charley (Photography John Paillé, MUA Mikey Elliot, Hair Styling Israel Garcia)

Ajahnis Charley

Ajahnis Charley is a comedy writer and performer delivering daring works that only a young debt-ridden gay could do. His directing debut, the short documentary I AM GAY, was produced by the National Film Board of Canada and featured in the 2021 Inside Out Film Festival. He writes for satire site The Beaverton, CBC news comedy show Because News, and the CBC podcast Tony Ho. He also is an alum of Canadian Comedy Award-winning sketch troupe The Sketchersons.

Read all posts by Ajahnis Charley

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