This Isn’t Funny; or how I became a café tycoon sensation

This May, we’d scheduled our first Open Studios, a month-long takeover of the building by our Residency Program artists —working on their projects, and sharing the process with the public. With the building closed, we’ve invited some of them to share their thoughts on the blog.

In the past month, I’ve somehow managed to work on two plays in through online workshops, with some amazing artists. With both, my goals were to lean into humour. You know, find the healing in laughter. Which I truly believe is where much of our healing lies. Most Indigenous folks will tell you how we have to laugh – we laugh because there’s so much to cry about. We laugh because Native people – particularly women – are the most hilarious people in the world. Spend a day with an Auntie at a dinner table and you’ll know.

But I’m having trouble pulling the laughter out, you know? It’s not sitting in my heart and soul the way it used to. I can extract it in other ways though. I can find it in … places. I find it in the West end drag race stream on Fridays, I find it on Instagram livestreams (like Queer, Far, Wherever You Are), I find it in some conversations with loved ones and sometimes I find it on Netflix – it all feels pretty external though.

How can I write humour when I can’t find it inside of myself? Especially when the stories are so personal.

How can I find humour when I’m so angry? When I’m so sad? When I’m longing? How can I find humour when my brain tortures me at night? I had a dream the other night that I was holding my niece in my arms and then I woke up and it was as if she disappeared. It was devastating. There’s a loss that’s happening. A mourning. Many of us are feeling it and trying to find ways to navigate through. And trying to create in all of this is … interesting.

Even now, as I’m writing this, I have Netflix on and I keep going back to Café Panic on my phone to build my café empire, which is infinitely more satisfying than anything else I could be doing for some reason, which is … probably way more sad than it is funny.

Also, I’ve been working for a half an hour and I’ve written two sentences and bolded the title.

So ok, we know this is hard. We know it’s frustrating – especially with selfish folks gathering in hordes because the sun is out. The range of emotions and ups and downs of mental health is a whole ass rollercoaster no one asked to be on. So again, how do we create in this?

I’ve been trying to get outside more. My body is aching to move and I’m attempting to give it any excuse I can. Outside helps. It helps to clear the junk in the brain. Taking walks or just sitting on my front steps watching obnoxious neighbors be intrusive, the loud vibration of construction, but you know – when I block that out and just listen to the birds and wind, I can feel a tingle of inspiration.

And then a wasp shows up or an ant crawls into my iced coffee and I return back to my cave to try and work.

So then I try and recreate a coffee shop environment (because for some reason I am 100% that playwright stereotype; sitting in a hip café, working on my big important manuscript). And I’ll put some music on softly in the background (I often work to the sounds of Cris Derksen playing. Indigenous cello is incredibly inspiring), I’ll make myself a coffee or tea and use one of my reusable cups instead of a mug, I’ll open my door sometimes (because maybe I’m sitting near the open window at the café) or light a candle. And it sort of works. The only difference is that I’m alone, I’m not wearing pants and I didn’t buy a $5 croissant.

The downside being that I don’t have a desk and chair (they are on their way) so sitting and working from a couch is not super great for the bod and again – Netflix and Café Panic distractions.

Focusing is one thing and then once you focus, inspiration is the next. I will say I found it incredibly helpful doing the workshops – I was able to hear actors read the work. I’m fortunate to have had funding and support for them before all of this hit. They were supposed to be in person though. My play, White Girls in Moccasins, is in residency with Buddies and we had a whole two-week process planned that was cut down to one week and a few hours via the screen. We (by we, I mean manidoons collective, who I run with my dear love, Cole Alvis) managed to create some semblance of the kind of space we usually hold for this work.

We still began with a talking circle check-in; we still gave space for autonomy to leave or eat whenever – even more so since everyone was in their own space. We’re still committed to our process of decolonizing our theatre spaces – no matter what that space looks like. We had discussions like we normally would and read the script, went over re-writes (*shakes fist* *says through gritted teeth: re-writes! *), but we couldn’t move or do choral work. Which, if you know anything about my work is … a pretty large percentage of what I do.

But we adjust. And we try new things. We stay up way too late because sometimes inspiration is an asshole that strikes at 2:30 in the morning and you have to wake up, or stay awake because insomnia and write a scene about being called a coconut.

And we find humour. Out of nowhere. Maybe out of rest? Or trying to rest? Those moments when you’re not forcing your brain to be funny or be clever or inspired.

I don’t actually have an answer to my question. I think maybe it either gets pulled out or it doesn’t. Maybe it’s like fishing. All you can do right now is put the line out and hope for a tug of humour or inspiration. I feel like that’s what I did – or had to do.

I mean look – writing is never easy. No matter what’s going on. We’re always going to doubt ourselves and say that thing we spent hours on is shit or want to scrap the entire thing and throw it in the garbage. But I think we need to be extra compassionate to ourselves as creators right now. This blog took me like 4 days to write and I’m choosing to be OK with that because I got it done. And right now, I’m taking getting anything done as a win.

And that includes expanding my café empire.

Yolanda Bonnell

Yolanda Bonnell (She/Her) is a Queer, 2 Spirit Ojibwe/South Asian Dora nominated performer, playwright and poet from Fort William First Nation in Thunder Bay, ON. She is co-artistic leader of manidoons collective, that she runs with Cole Alvis. www.yolandabonnell.com, www.manidoons.com

Read all posts by Yolanda Bonnell

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