Written On the Body. June 5, 2019. “We’re All Improvising…”

I have started the second round of chemo, with a new drug added (I won’t go into all the medical details here), which has stronger side-effects and hit me harder than last time. However, I am learning to cope with this, with rest, drinking liquids, eating small meals, walks, reading, visits with friends, and sun on the balcony. (well, we keep hoping!) My weekly relaxation and yoga classes at Wellspring Cancer Centre (the branch on Charles Street, downtown Toronto) are also very helpful and give me some structure and the company of people going through similar situations. I am slowly getting used to this new normal, of treatments, side-effects, and reactions — all uncertain, because this normal could easily shift into a newer, different one. The fatigue from the chemo is the most ongoing effect, and probably means the medication is working. I feel I am moving in slow motion, in a kind of universal present in which I am also feeling a kind of ennui or apathy — and then the curtain lifts for a while and there is enough energy to complete a task — writing this blog, or making a sandwich.

And this leads into what I really want to mention today: a performance I saw on Friday night by Toronto’s Choir Project. Six members of the choir, including a writing student of mine, worked for 10 weeks with Tracy Erin Smith of SOULO Theatre to create a story about each of their lives, accompanied by the choir singing pop music relevant to each dramatic monologue. This gripping performance, at Toronto’s First Unitarian Congregation on May 31 and June 1, showed each person not only facing and struggling with difficulties in their lives, but also finding courage and resilience, learning how to live with, love, and express the self that feels most true and real, despite inner and outer messages to the contrary. At one point in her deeply-felt monologue, my student (also a friend) mentioned taking an Improvisation course (Improv for Anxiety) and said that we are all improvising together, on one stage, finding ways to connect and live our lives. That rings true. We keep improvising, writing and rewriting our scripts, or throwing them away and listening to the other characters’ lines, and to what we really want to say in return. My heart was touched by this thought about improvising, as well as by all six soul-stories. In most improv exercises, there are no “but’s,” only “and’s.” This happens, and this happens. We keep on.

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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