When I was a kid, I had no intention of stepping foot back into the classroom as a teacher, even on an ad hoc basis. But that's exactly what I did in the past 10 years, developing myself both as a poet and an educator by visiting classrooms to teach classes about spoken word poetry.
That's not the only angle in my life jutting out from a path I always thought I'd go down: journalist, event organizer, host, sometimes social media manager. But isn't that the fun thing about life? You juke when you thought you just needed to sprint. You smell something new in the air when you try to develop yourself, whether spiritually, intellectually or artistically.
In the '10s, I wanted to dip my toes into theatre. I had a lot of performing spoken word on stage, but something was missing. That longform style of storytelling spoke to me as a journalist, and its appeal began to shine on me when I thought of how I need to stop writing for a stopwatch (slam poets, where you at?!) and give oxygen to a deeper segment of my life. And that piece of me I rarely showed the world was my relationship to Judaism.
Thankfully, writing and performing my solo show Jewnique was enriching for both me and audiences. I still can't believe I've memorized a 60-minute show. I had a blast bringing this "performance journalism" show to life, so much so I know I'm going to be digging deeper into which other stories I can tell in a solo show.
Another risk I took was trying to write poetry with a flavour somewhat new to my pen, er, Macbook: sci-fi poetry. Or spec poetry, depending which era you were born in. Kelp Queen Press asked for a poetry collection where I could weave in sci-fi, horror and fantastical themes, which was one heckuva challenge. Sure, I love me my Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison and Salman Rushdie-esque magic realism, but to write an entire 30-poem book of that stuff?
Sure. Why the hell not?
For my book, As Close to the Edge Without Going Over, to receive the reception it got, to inspire my friends and family to support my first collection...I was verklempt, as my people say. Overjoyed to the point of welled tears. I don't often feel my work in my hands in print, since my journalism usually lives online instead of in mags and newspapers, and surely this nicely-bound book was a sign of the trust I had in myself. The trust to stretch my imagination. To develop range in a craft I truly never thought would be so entwined in my everyday.
Which brings me to a braid that I will soon be unbraiding, a risk I'm taking since, well, it's so new for me to step down from this lifelong hobby. In 2020, I'm stepping down as artistic director of Toronto Poetry Slam, which I founded 14 years ago. A review of how the past decade has affected would be riddled with holes if I didn't be straight up with how the show I founded has inspired me immensely. From the talent on stage who shared such a big piece of themselves with us every slam at the Drake to the fellow organizers at Toronto Poetry Project making this slam what it is, I am never going to take for granted the role the slam scene has had in opening my eyes to the beauty inside this beautiful community.
Part of the vision of building Toronto Poetry Slam to where it is today included the passing of the guard. You always want to say goodbye to a role like producer and host when you're not sick of the scene, when you're still enjoying your time at the show and with the volunteers and fellow organizers. So I know I'm leaving at the right time, when TPS is still on top in many ways, when the love for our shows at the Drake (and our workshops) is at an impressive high.
Also, I've never known an adult year of my life NOT running poetry shows. Ride-or-die friends will remember my Suburban Spoken Word series in Thornhill where it all began, where I got the bug to curate poetry shows, no matter if 10 or 150 people showed up. So yeah, it'll be a nice departure from a norm I've experienced non-stop for 20 years. Change can be good for the soul.
My last slam as artistic director and member of TPP will be at our Finals on February 22 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, and if there's any place that makes me feel at home it's with 600 folks looking forward to hearing poetry on a Saturday night. God, that sounds as cheesy as deep-dish when I write that, but it's true. The lovers of words, the finger-snapping fans of open-heart poetry, these are my people, no matter what my position is in the community.
I've grown so much by taking these risks as an artistic poet and writer and organizer. I've learned about when to submerge myself in a project, and when to say no (like that time I left a podcast project I knew was going to soak up too much of my time). I leaned into trusting my instincts, despite the nagging chirps of disapproval buzzing into my ear. I tried out initiatives I simply wanted to see exist, even if I had no prior training to bring these ideas to life, like my Pitch Like a Pro journalism workshops on how to make it as a freelance writer. I found the courage to look more introspectively into what I want to be as a creative person, even if I thought that answer was always "poetry and creative nonfiction", like a fortune cookie that just spoke the same refrain every meal.
Looking into a new year, a new decade, I feel an energy I haven't felt for awhile. Maybe it's due to the many more outlets at my disposal, like how I've been thinking about a new idea for a solo show, or how this movie script idea has been tugging at my attention more than I thought, and I could see some new platforms attracted me to give them a whirl in the coming year. After all, staying static is boring. It's why it puts us to sleep.
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