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Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Ides of Camp NaNoWriMo

April is officially half over. This means the April session of Camp NaNoWriMo is half over. It also means, that at approximately 2,550 of my 15,000 word count goal, I am very behind on my writing for the month! Ack! I could blame on a lack of time since I started working full-time earlier this week. I could blame it on a lack of getting out of the house and finding an inspiring coffee shop. I could even blame it on stress. However, while those are certainly contributing factors, the real reason I’m as behind as I am is, discipline (or a lack thereof).

I am a writer. I am also a procrastinator. That means, that while the definition of a writer is someone who carves out time every day to write, I’m also inclined to do things other than carving out time to write. After a long day, or when I’m having a bad day, the last thing I want to do is use what energy I have left on something requiring a lot of brainpower. So, I end up playing Civilization 6, or The Sims 4, or something like that. Sometimes I’ll play Civ 6 and do a bit of writing on my phone while I’m waiting for the other civs to take their turns. Am I always productive? Hahaha! (Read: NOPE!)

Procrastination is a writer’s strongest ally and most formidable foe. Procrastination gives us something fun, but puts off what we should really be doing: WRITING! I am more than well aware of my love for procrastinating and my desperate need for discipline. I wish I had the time and ability to take on the writing processes of the likes of Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. However, I am one of the millions of writers who have a day job to which they must dedicate eight hours of their day. So, after my day job, I like to relax… Which usually results in little to no writing getting done that evening.

In no way am I making excuses for my writing shortcomings. I’m simply stating them. I used to be really good at carving out writing time. I would use my commutes to and from work to write, my lunch breaks, and, when I didn’t have to get up early the next day, I’d often stay up after my mother went to bed and write until one and two in the morning. Those are things I don’t do anymore. Right now, my commute is a 15 minute carpool with my mother, lunch is often taken in between phone calls, and I get up at 6am every morning. What I need to do is carve out some writing time in the evenings after supper, or even use the hour before going to bed. I’ve done that a few times, but I know I need to do it more often. Like, every day more often.

Next week (starting Monday, April 17), I’m going to try putting this need into action. Every day, I’m going to carve out some dedicated time to writing. I’m going to aim for at least an hour, but even a half hour stretch will make me happy. I’m going to try this for for a week or two and see what happens. I’ll let you know my results.

Do you have any routines that help you stay on top of things? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Book Review: The Gift-Knight's Quest by Dylan Madeley

Back in 2015, I backed a novel. This novel was, The Gift-Knight’s Quest by Dylan Madeley. I received it near the beginning of 2016, and it was read by the end of April. I was not disappointed. I’m just super late writing the review!

Dylan happens to be a friend of mine, but I wouldn’t have liked the book any less if he wasn’t. It is a great read.

The story revolves around Derek Wancyek and Chandra Kenderley. Derek comes from a line of nobility long since dissolved. Chandra is faced with running a country when her father dies suddenly. With the death of King Jonnecht, Chandra becomes Queen, and a pact made between the Kenderleys and the Wancyeks several generations ago comes to fruition. Derek is called to be, as the title states, a Gift-Knight to protect the new young Queen. And thus begins the journey these characters undertake in what is the first book of a trilogy.

So, how do I describe this first book? In a few words, it's quite like a Young Adult Game of Thrones. There are shady characters, long-standing prejudices (like generations long-standing prejudices), rumours, and the always interesting struggle to achieve and maintain power. Though, in Chandra’s case, she didn’t achieve it. But, she has to fight like mad to maintain it as there are a few believe she is unfit for the position and want to see her done away with. And never mind those who believe that she’s a sorceress. Throughout all this, Derek and Chandra learn about each other, and realize that if they have any hope of coming out alive, they need to trust each other.

The only negative part of my review is this: There is one thing that readers may have trouble getting their heads around at first. There is a character, quite a lovely and important character, named Duke Lenn. He is important to the story, as he was the catalyst for what happens, however, he is not alive in the time of Derek and Chandra. Duke Lenn lived a generation or two beforehand. I must admit, when I was first introduced to Duke Lenn, it was a little bit jarring, but I quickly learned where his story fit in with Derek and Chandra’s. Once I figured that out, the rest of the read was easy.

All in all, if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, but not a fan of the amount of sex and violence that goes along with it, I think The Gift-Knight’s Quest is a good fit for you. If you’re a lover of a Medieval-esque story with adventure and intrigue, The Gift-Knight’s Quest is a good for you. Or heck, even if you just think you might enjoy it, pick it up and give it a read. It’s worth it.

You can also follow the trilogy’s progress through Dylan's Facebook page: Dylan Madeley

The second book in the The Gift-Knight’s Quest, The Crown Princess' Voyage will be released on May 1st. Keep an eye out on Dylan's Facebook Page for more information as it comes available from the author himself. Also, keep an eye out here for my review of The Crown Princess' Voyage once I've read the advanced copy I had the privilege of receiving from Dylan.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

It's Time to Talk and End the Stigma. #BellLetsTalk

Hi, I’m Jen and I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Depression.
What does all of this mean? It means I have trouble concentrating, and sometimes, I feel really sad with, seemingly, no rhyme or reason.
It means I live with mental illness.
Every day.
At thirteen, I was diagnosed with ADD. When I was first going to school, many of my teachers suggested I should be tested for it, but my family didn’t have the money to go through with it. So, we lived with it. Then, in grade 8, after going to my guidance counselor for help for an unrelated issue, it was suggested I be tested again. So, I was. I was diagnosed with ADD and given a prescription for Ritalin. I was on Ritalin for less than a year before I decided I was better off dealing with my ADD on my own. I have a bad habit of sometimes forgetting to take my meds at the same time every day. So, some afternoons, I would forget about my 4pm dose until 7pm, and I would take it then. This meant, I was still wide awake and wired by the time bedtime rolled around. On a school night, it created more problems than it was worth. So, I went off the Ritalin, and haven’t gone back on it since. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to deal with my ADD without the aid of medication. I also happen to have people around me who know that when my mind wanders, it will come back in a bit. I may have to ask them to repeat something once it’s back, but it does come back. I was also lucky to have an assistant manager, when I was working retail, who understood my ADD and knew when it was wreaking havoc on my brain. When that happened, she worked with me, sometimes even allowing me a few seconds to focus. It meant the difference between a good day at work and a difficult one. And difficult days will continue to occur, because that’s how ADD works.
On March 8th, 2016, at the age of 27, I was diagnosed with Depression. But, I’ve had it for a lot longer than that. I’ve had it since I was a kid, but never knew what to call it. Mostly because I could go years without feeling it. But, something would trigger it - a lifestyle change, a death in the family, a bully at school -, and I’d go back into the slump. This continued until April 12th, 2007. Why this particular date? This was the day I was raped, and the way I saw the world was forever changed. Before then, I always saw beauty, and I had an innocent view of the world. I was innocent. And then, that view came crashing down, and my innocence was taken away from me. My life, and the way I saw everything, changed. Suddenly, there was bad, there was evil… I saw men in a far darker light than I ever had before. A man had hurt me, and had taken the last piece of innocence I had left without permission. Now, this blog post is not about that; it is about my ongoing battle with Depression, however, this was the event that triggered my now constant struggle with it. For nine years, I struggled with it on my own. I tried reaching out for help, but no one seemed to take me seriously - even my own family. So, I did what I had to do. I picked myself up, and, extremely cautiously, moved on. And I still move cautiously, but that’s besides the point.
Then, ten months ago, I decided enough was enough. After going through 2015 and its myriad of pitfalls, I knew I didn’t want to go through any struggles 2016 might bring alone. So, made an appointment with my GP, and sought help. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, and I understand why so many of us don’t seek the help we need. We’re in denial, we’re scared, we believe the stigma. And that’s what I’m here to talk about. The stigma of mental illness.
Society often portrays those with mental illness as crazy, weak, lazy, unfit for society, as outsiders, weird, as burdens. We’re seen as difficult people, and when we have a bad day, no one wants to deal with it. However, we are none of these things. I struggled for nine full years with my Depression before I finally sought help. For nine years, I got out of bed, went to work, maintained social circles - all while the voices in my head screamed, cried, told me I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough, told me I wasn’t worthy. And even with the diagnosis and the medication, I still deal with this.
Life with a mental illness is far from easy. I have days when just getting out of bed is a struggle. On a really bad day, if it’s a day off, sometimes I won’t get out of bed until well into the afternoon. That’s how my Depression manifests most often. It hits me in the form of mental fatigue. Probably because I’ve been fighting to appear normal and functioning for a few days too long. And this is a normal bad day. In extreme cases, it manifests as dark thoughts accompanied by random sobbing fits throughout the day. And, I go through them alone because I have to. Most of these breakdowns occur at around the midnight to 2am hour, when everyone else I know is in bed and fast asleep. I can’t call any of them because I’d ruin their night. So, I go through the crying fits until they’ve exhausted me and I can finally get some sleep. Sometimes, I’ll start playing Civilizations or The Sims until I start dozing off with my laptop in my lap.
Mental illness makes many things scary. For me, entering a new relationship is always frightening because I worry that my Depression is going to scare away my new beau. I worry that my Depression will make me challenging, and not worth dealing with. For this reason, I tend to disclose it early on in the dating process so I can save myself heartache later on. If it’s something they don’t want to deal with, then we don’t go any further. If they feel they can handle it, then we continue, though I’m always wary. It’s just the way it is.
But, all of this doesn’t make me, or anyone else with mental illness, weak. No. It makes us strong. It makes us fighters, because we deal with this, and still continue to face each new day. Every day, we fight against the stigma that surrounds our illnesses. We are not crazy, weak, lazy. I often feel like a burden to those around me, even when those people know the extent of my Depression, but that’s the way it is. That’s the Depression. However, in the scheme of things, we are not burdens, and we deserve the same care as does someone who has broken their leg, or been involved in a car accident. Sometimes, we need someone to care for us, even if it’s just someone to send a text to check in on us, or someone to take us out for coffee, or to sit with us in silence.
For me, when I’m having, what I call, a “bad brain chemistry day,” the one thing I need above anything else is someone to talk to, someone to just be there while I ride everything out. Someone to remind me that I don’t have to go through it alone. Unfortunately, as I stated a couple of paragraphs ago, my breakdowns very often happen at night, leaving me to deal with it alone. Hopefully soon, that won’t be the case, but only time will tell.
So, why am I posting this in the first place? Well, Wednesday, January 25th is Bell Let’s Talk Day. It’s the day when every text and phone call from the Bell Mobility network as well as every Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter post using the hashtag, #BellLetsTalk will raise 5 cents for mental health. Five cents might not seem like a lot, but when we get enough people talking, it makes a huge difference. Last year, 125,915,295 calls, texts, tweets, and shares raised over $6.2 Million for Canadian mental health. And if you multiply the number of calls and tweets by 0.05, the exact total you come up with is, $6,295,764.75. $6.2 MILLION! In one day! And where does all that money go? It goes to places like The Red Cross, to Child and Youth services, to Aboriginal communities, Military family support, and so much more.
It is important for those of us with mental illness to raise our voices so that we aren’t passed by. I, for one, refuse to stay silent about my Depression and ADD. They are a part of me, a part of my makeup, and if they don’t stay silent, why should I? Mental illness of any kind, whether it be Depression, Bipolar, Anxiety, PTSD, SAD, Schizophrenia, or any other illness or combination of illnesses, should not be ignored or cast aside, and neither should those of us who battle them on a daily basis. Those of us who battle our never ending wars are not weak. No. We’re warriors. We might hit a low point and need a day or two (or a month or two) to recover from time to time, but we are not weak. We are soldiers, warriors, ninjas, samurai, and we are all fighting different battles. Three people with Depression with be affected in three different ways. No one fight is exactly the same. But sometimes, we can’t always do it alone.
So, what do we need you to do? We need you to listen. We need you to be our voice when ours have run dry. We need you to sit with us - even if in silence - so we are not alone. And sometimes, we need you to take up arms and fight alongside us. A little bit of help can go a long way. That help can come in the form of a text message, a hug, a coffee date, or simply spreading the word about mental illness and helping to eradicate the stigma surrounding it. Our battles are already scary and dark enough.
Join me on Wednesday, January 25th for Bell Let’s Talk Day. Take to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and let’s raise our voices and end the stigma.
For more information, check it out on Bell’s website:

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Oh, We're Halfway There!

At least for those of us participating in NaNoWriMo. Yes, you read that right. November is half over! I’ll give you a moment to freak out and flail a bit.


Need another minute? Okay.


We good? Good. Welcome back!

Yes, we are halfway through NaNoWriMo. If you’re behind like I am, feel free to panic and flail about. Allow yourself to go through the doubt and fear. But don’t give up. YOU ARE AMAZING!!! Your novel is counting on you. You are the only one who can write it, and the story within its pages wants to be told. Only YOU can tell that story. So, tell it! Keep going!

If you are on par, or have exceeded par… Hell, if you’ve already hit that coveted 50,000 word mark: YOU ARE AMAZING!!! And don’t stop now! Keep writing! As I stated above, you are the only person who can tell the story you’re telling. You are the only one who can put those thoughts into words.

To everyone still chugging away - whether you’re chugging words, or endless cups of coffee - keep going. You signed up for NaNo for a reason. You signed up because you wanted to write a novel. You signed up because you like the challenge of churning out 50,000 words in 30 days. You signed up because because you love to write. You signed up because you have a story to tell.

So, go forth and continue telling that story! Keep chugging that coffee (or tea, or juice, or water, or whatever elixir helps you write - I don’t judge)! Keep churning out those words! And remember: You cannot edit a blank page!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

So You Want To Write A Novel?

So, you’ve signed up for the 50,000 word challenge that is NaNoWriMo! Not sure what to expect? Well, look no further! I’m here to give you a few pointers based on my personal experiences with this maddening yet addicting challenge.

First off, if you’re new to the game, welcome! I wish you all the best in your endeavour this month. You are amazing and don’t let anyone tell you different. You are a writer, and that is not to be taken lightly. If you write - poetry, Sci-fi, romance, thriller, Fanfiction -  you are a writer in my eyes. If you're a veteran returning to the game, welcome back! It's an honour to write alongside you again.

Now, I won’t tell you that this endeavour is going to be easy. It isn’t. In fact, you will experience moments of extreme fear and crippling self-doubt. You might even get a week in and think, “There is no way I can do this. 50k is too much!” For some of you, it will be. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay! It really doesn't matter how many words you have upon crossing the finish line at 11:59pm on November 30th. What matters is, you finished!

But, in spite of everything I mentioned above, you will experience many more moments of immense joy and ample amounts of support. If you can, meet with the other writers in your region, even if it’s only online. Share your stories, listen to others’, and be part of the community. Within this community you will find others like you experiencing the same emotions you are. And these people are more than willing to stand in your corner and cheer you on. Just remember to do the same. We may be in different boats, but this isn’t a competition. It’s merely a challenge and we’re all going through it.

Everything I'm writing about in this blog post, I’ve learned from personal experience. I’ve been participating in NaNo since 2012, and I have yet to win. That’s right. Four years in, and no wins. Yet. Is this my year? I have no idea. I’ll know when I cross that proverbial finish line at 11:59pm on November 30th. But, winning is not why I participate every year. No. I participate because I love the community of writers I have met through NaNo. Many of those writers have become my friends, and a few more I consider family Mother Nature never provided me with.

When I did my first NaNo, I signed up about three days before NaNo was to begin. My first social write-in occurred on the first Friday, which was an event I’ve kept running since then. Anyway, I sat down at a table occupied only by an ML (Municipal Liaison), and immediately after introducing myself, was asked what I was writing. In 2012, I was working on my trilogy, and was excited about it, as I always am. The person who asked me about my novel got excited about it and was eager to hear about it. That was enough to sell me. There was no going back from there! I was hooked. And now, four years later, I’m one of Toronto’s MLs, and I’ve kept a weekly write-in going every Friday evening.

Anyway, you didn’t come here to read about all of my experiences. You came here for tips! So, here is my list of tips for NaNoWriMo:

  • WRITE!!! I had thought about keeping this tip until last, but this is the most important tip I can give you. Just write, and keep writing. You can’t edit a blank page.

  • Join a region and post in the forums! Even if you can’t make it to physical write-ins, having a place to vent your frustrations is a wonderful thing, even if that place is online. My saving grace every year is my region’s chat room. It’s there I get my support, and use word sprints (or wars) to get in my word count. It is also where I can give my support to those who are experiencing the same doubts and frustrations I am. The sense of community makes my NaNo experience what it is and keeps me coming back year after year. There is also a NaNoWriMo Facebook page with people from all around the world. It's a closed group, but all you have to do is ask for an invite. Check it out here:

  • Let your friends and family know you are taking part in NaNoWriMo. Warn them that your evenings may be taken up by write-ins, and that you will need writing time every day. Yes, every day. Tell them you will need an hour, two hours, three hours per day to get those coveted words written. Inform them that you will need caffeine and chocolate in order to function (well, at least I do). But, most importantly, tell them that you will need their support because NaNo is not easy.

  • Write every day! Yes, every day! It makes the 50,000 (or whatever number you’re aiming for) word goal easier to reach. The easiest way to do this, is to divide your goal number by the number of days in the month and figure out your daily word count goal. Breaking down the main goal into several smaller goals makes the task not quite so daunting. To reach 50,000 words by November 30th, the magic number of words per day is, 1,667. I’m hoping to push that daily goal to 2,000 in preparation for those days when life gets in the way. Because life always gets in the way.

  • Ignore your inner editor. This is the one tip I struggle with the most. I am constantly editing as I go. I can’t help it! Every NaNo, it’s all I can do to keep my inner editor at bay. Sometimes, I’m almost successful. Almost. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been able to get through a season without my inner editor raising its large head and bellowing at me. And, I tend to listen to it at least once. However, if you can, ignore that voice no matter how loud it gets. December is for editing. November is for writing.

  • HAVE FUN!!! I know I said that writing was the most important tip I had, but, actually, I think this one is. NaNoWriMo is not a cut-throat competition. I repeat: NaNoWriMo is not a cut-throat competition. It is merely a challenge that you have accepted, a personal challenge that you and thousands of other writers worldwide are taking on. We are in this together. Yes, you will get frustrated. You might even break down in a fit of sobs. THAT’S OKAY!!! You are allowed to do this!!! (I do it at least once or twice every NaNo!) But, the most important thing to remember is something I’ve mentioned a few times already. Others are going through the same challenge you are. You have joined an amazing community of writers, and writers are awesome people to be around. Some of us may be way off in left field, but that’s part of our charm, and all part of the fun. That’s what NaNo should be for you. FUN!

And there you have it. A few tips on getting through NaNo relatively unscathed. I wish all of you participating this year the best of luck! I also will remind you, again, that you are awesome! You are a writer, and you fill this world with the stories that need to be told. Keep it up!

Happy writing!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

I'm Ready to Wake Up: A Review of The Great Comet

On Tuesday, October 18th, 2016, I saw what is, in my opinion, one of the best musicals I’ve seen in a long, long time. And I’m not saying that merely because of the reason I saw this show in the first place.

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 stars Denée Benton and Josh Groban as the two title characters, and neither disappointed. In fact, they blew me away.

Back in May, I bought my ticket for the first preview of this new musical immediately (literally immediately) after getting an email telling me that fans on Josh Groban’s mailing list were getting first crack at getting tickets. I managed to score an on stage seat to the very first preview, and let me tell you, it was worth every penny.

The experience of The Great Comet begins the moment you step into the lobby of the Imperial Theatre. It’s decrepit; old Russian propaganda posters are plastered to the wall, as well as a simple, black and white show poster. You feel like you’re walking through an old theatre which has been left abandoned. My seat was on the orchestra side of the stage set up, but to get to it, I was led through a hall that went under the stage and back up to the back of it. This hallway was even more decrepit than the hallway, and I felt like I was being led through a secret, underground tunnel to somewhere hidden from the public eye. This hallway ended at large double doors at the top of the stage. Upon stepping through, I was immediately transported to a 19th Century Russian supper club.

Upholstered banquette seats, chairs, and armchairs line the various avenues of the stage, and ultimately surround a pit at front centre stage that serves as both Pierre’s Salon and a small orchestra pit where the bassist, pianist, main conductor, and a small drumkit sit. Two staircases ascend from the stage to the mezzanine, and another two staircases descend from the stage into the orchestra. The action of the show happens all around, and those who have the on stage seating are right in the thick of it. And it’s amazing.

My seat was lower stage left, next to the stairs that came down into the audience. I had a nearly unobstructed view of everything that happened on stage. I say nearly, because I lost sight of the actors only if they sat down while at stage right. Other than that, I felt like I was in the middle of the action, and I loved every minute of it.

The Great Comet is based on Book 8 of Leo Tolstoy’s, War and Peace. It focuses on Natasha’s affair with Anatole (played by Lucas Steele), and Pierre’s search for meaning and enlightenment in his life.

Natasha is a nineteen year old, naïve yet vain ingenue, whose fiancé, Andrey (played by Nicholas Belton), is away fighting in the war. Natasha and her cousin, Sonya (portrayed by Brittain Ashford) arrive in Moscow in the winter of 1812 to stay with their godmother, Marya D. (played by Grace McLean). While there, Natasha meets her fiancé’s family, Mary and Bolkonsky (played by Gelsey Bell and Nicholas Belton respectively), where tensions rise. She is later invited to the Opera, where she meets Anatole, a dashingly handsome, yet already married officer. This meeting leaves her confused about her love for Andrey. Later, Anatole and his friend Dolokhov (played by Nick Choksi) invite Pierre out for a night of drinking, where they cross paths with Pierre’s wife of a loveless marriage, Hélène (played by Amber Gray), who taunts him with Dolokhov. Offended and drunk, Pierre challenges Dolokhov to a duel and almost gets himself killed. Afterward, Pierre reflects on his life and what meaning it could possibly have. The next day, after Natasha confesses her tribulations in church, Hélène arrives, and invites Natasha to the ball she is hosting that night. Natasha accepts, and while there, is seduced by Anatole. This concludes the first act. After a fifteen minute intermission, the show continues with Natasha and Anatole making plans to elope. Natasha calls off her engagement with Andrey, which begins the climax of the piece. Sonya finds out, and, knowing the elopement will lead to Natasha’s ruin, tries to do everything she can to stop it - even if it means being on the receiving end of Natasha’s anger and hatred. Meanwhile, Anatole and Dolokhov make preparations for the elopement, but those plans are thwarted by Marya D. Marya scolds a grief-stricken Natasha, and then calls on Pierre to handle the situation. As a result, Pierre kicks Anatole out of Moscow. Anatole’s exultation is too much for Natasha, and she poisons herself. During all of this, Andrey returns from the war, and Pierre tells him about the scandal. He asks Andrey to forgive, but Andrey is unable to. Pierre then visits Natasha, and tells her that were circumstances different, he would ask for her hand in marriage. A grateful Natasha thanks him for his compassion and friendship. Afterward, Pierre is finally given peace and experiences enlightenment when the Great Comet of 1812 enters the night sky.

The Great Comet filled me with a magical wonder I haven’t experienced since I saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat when I was eight years old. Maybe it was because my seat had me so close to the action, but this show sent me on one hell of a roller coaster ride of emotions. I was happy, amazed, bewildered, angry, heartbroken… all in the span of 3 hours.

Denée Benton brought childlike wonderless and innocent/naive vanity to Natasha; it made her relatable and lovable. I often found myself wanting to protect her from everything life was going to throw at her. I think we have all experienced moments of harmless vanity - I know I have - before life’s curveballs come our way. We have also been teenagers and have lived in the moment, acting on impulse. Impulse is how I ended up seeing this show in the first place!

Lucas Steele makes Anatole likable, even if Anatole is quite pompous, and already married. What Anatole’s marriage to the other woman is like, I don’t know, but despite his pompous air, Steele plays him in such a way where he genuinely cares for Natasha. Like Natasha, he is young and impulsive, and full of life. He cares not that Natasha is already betrothed when they meet; he merely sees it as an obstacle to overcome, and overcome it he does. Steele originated the role of Anatole, and it shows. He knows his character inside and out - he knows Anatole’s history, his motives, his needs and wants, his dislikes even when we don’t. All of this knowledge, and experience of the character gives Steele the ability to play the part perfectly, allowing the audience to both adore him and be reserved about him all in the same breath. I look forward to seeing where Steele’s career goes off to next.

Amber Gray as Hélène… What is there to say?! Gray, like Steele, originated her role back in 2012 when the show was in its infancy. There is no doubt about it that Hélène is a promiscuous woman who enjoys her life of promiscuity. Hélène married Pierre for his money after claiming, at a dinner, that she and Pierre were engaged. Pierre being too kind and shy to deny it, went along for the ride. Hélène is manipulative, but in a charming way. She’s the type who manipulates by understanding what the other wants, and giving them those things. And Natasha being so young and naive, is the perfect target. Gray works the role wonderfully, and it’s clear she understands all the facets of what makes Hélène who she is.

Brittain Ashford shines as Sonya. Her unique voice can be heard on the cast recording of The Great Comet, and the life she gives Sonya is amazing. She feels everything Sonya does, and conveys it honestly. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre as she sang, “Sonya Alone” and her voice betrayed the tears streaming down her cheeks. Sonya is the type of friend who would do anything to keep those she loves safe, no matter the cost. Watching Ashford embody Sonya is a real treat, and she is another talent to watch out for.

Grace McLean plays Marya D. as the kind of godmother who is strict, but strict because she loves those in her care. Even when she scolds Natasha for planning to elope with Anatole, she does it from a place of love. She, like Sonya, does not want to see Natasha go to ruin. McLean walks the line between strict and kind with Marya D in a way that is believable and wonderful.

Nicholas Belton is double cast as Bolkonsky and Andrey. Bolokov is a feeble old man with Dementia. A poignant moment for me was when he panics because he can’t find his glasses. His glasses are sitting atop his head. As someone who watched two grandmothers go through Dementia, I recognized the signs of it, the mood swings and the memory loss this disease brings with it. As Andrey, he conveys seriousness and love for Natasha. At least until Natasha calls off their engagement. Belton conveys the right amount of anger and grief when Pierre tells him about what has happened. Belton makes Andrey’s inability to forgive real and understandable. It left me wanting to give Andrey a hug, just to tell him that things would, eventually, be okay and that it wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault.

Gelsey Bell gives Mary the perfect balance of love, resentment, and pity, especially when it comes to her father, Bolkonsky. While Andrey is away fighting the war, Mary finds herself as both daughter and maid to her aging father. She is the one who keeps him in line, and endures his moments of senile anger. Despite all of this, he loves him and would do anything to protect him. A poignant moment for me is when she gets angry with him, but when he forgets where his glasses are, she is filled with immense guilt for thinking the way she has. This is another moment that is familiar for me, as it’s something I have experienced myself. I went through it during the last year or so of my father’s battle with cancer several years ago, and I go through it now as I fight with myself about moving out on my own with an aging mother who has medical issues. Bell plays it realistically and, in some ways, reminds me that I’m not alone in how I have, and will probably continue to feel. And that’s a pretty powerful thing. Bell also doubles as both a Maidservant, and an Opera Singer throughout the show, and brings all characters she plays to magical life.

Nick Choksi gives Dolokhov such a conceited air that I want to stay as far away from him as I possibly can. This is a good thing. He is haughty, he is flirtatious, he is a war hero/assassin… And he makes sure everyone knows it. The woman flock to him with his war hero/assassin  status, and the men want to be be him. He also has no qualms about having Hélène on his arm and teasing Pierre about it. In layman's terms, he’s an asshole. Yet, without his character, so much would be missing. Choksi gives Dolokhov colour and flavour that the show needs. He gives Dolokhov the kind of colour and flavour all shows need.

Paul Pinto plays Balaga, the Troika driver who is to whisk Anatole and Natasha away to elope. He’s happy-go-lucky with just a touch of crazy. He is how Anatole and Natasha are to get out of town to marry. Balaga enjoys what he does and that comes through in Pinto’s performance. I can only hope to enjoy what I do as much as Balaga enjoys what he does. Pinto also takes on the roles of an Opera singer, and (servant) during the show.

Josh Groban was born to play Pierre. I believe he brought some of his own life experiences to the role, and truly brought him to life for me. Josh played him in such a way that I recognized a lot of myself in Pierre. Pierre is the “old soul” of the cast, the one who watches everything, even if it is merely from his window. He is generous, kind, compassionate, thirsts for knowledge, is faithful to his wife - even if he doesn’t love her, and searches for meaning and purpose in his life. Purpose is something I have searched for for about two years since I found out I was stillborn. There is a reason I was brought back from the dead (aside from live-saving CPR), a reason I am here and living. It’s a reason I’ve sought for a few years and still haven’t found. The moment when I realized I was like Pierre in many ways was during Dust and Ashes, after Pierre nearly gets himself killed and he’s questioning what he is doing with his life and realizes he can’t live the way he has been anymore. I went through that exact same realization at the beginning of this year, when my depression was becoming more than I could handle alone. I could no longer live the way I had been, and something had to change. I had to do something to change the course my life was headed on. So, I did. I sought help for my depression. I haven’t yet had my comet moment like Pierre does at the end of the show, but I hope to one day experience it.

Natasha, Pierre, And The Great Comet of 1812 is one of the best musicals I have seen in a long time. It has an eclectic soundtrack, a mix of pop, electronic, and gritty Russian folk. It does well in reminding us that this show is set in Moscow, though you could quite easily pluck it from this place and time and drop it in a different one and everything would still fit and make sense.

As I stated in the beginning of this review, The Great Comet is one of my new favourite musicals. In fact, I think it may have done something I never thought another musical could do: surpass RENT. I first saw RENT in 2004 at the Nederlander in New York, and instantly fell in love with the story, a story I have found myself relating more and more to the older I get. However, The Great Comet did all of that and more. It lifted my soul in a way I don’t think I’ve ever truly experienced. I experienced uncontainable happiness, sadness, heartbreak, all in the span of about three hours. I don’t think that’s ever happened. A show has to be pretty special to surpass my love of RENT, and I think this one has.

If you are able to, make a trip to New York to see The Great Comet. It officially opens November 1st, and doesn’t currently have an end date. I am praying that, either I can make another whirlwind trip down to see it again, or that it eventually tours to Toronto. The world seriously needs to experience The Great Comet in all of its splendour.

Check out the Telecharge or The Great Comet websites for tickets.

New York State of Mind

A few days ago, I returned from a whirlwind trip to New York City. And when I say whirlwind, I really mean, whirlwind. I left on a Greyhound on Monday, October 17th at 7:00pm, arrived in New York on Tuesday, October 18th at 6:15am, wandered the city, and then left again on Wednesday, October 19th at 12:35am. Am I crazy? Yes! What was the reason for this trip?


That’s right. I went to New York for one day just to take in a Broadway show starring Josh Groban. And it was absolutely magical. Both the show and the experience in New York. This blog post, is simply about my New York experience. My review of The Great Comet will be a separate (but linked) post.

It’s been twelve years since I stepped foot in New York City, and I hope it isn’t that long before I visit again. I first visited in 2004 as part of a trip with my high school’s Arts department. For $500, plus spending money, 30 students in the Arts classes went to New York for four days. Two of those days were spent in transit to and from the city, so we really only had two full days to see the sights. In those two days, we went to the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, Ellis Island, Liberty Island, the first 2 or 3 floors of the Guggenheim Museum, and saw RENT at the Nederlander. Because of all we were to see and do, there wasn’t a lot of time to see them, nor did we have a lot of down time. So, for this trip, I decided The Great Comet and finishing the Guggenheim would be the two big things I would do. The rest of my day would be spent wandering Central Park, and spending a couple of hours in the Central Library to do some writing. Oh, and to ride the subway. And it would all be done on my own time, if I had time to do them.

Turns out, I had time to do all of those things - even with the delay when I started walking in the wrong direction. When I got into town, I had breakfast at a Starbucks, because well, the coffee chain owns my soul, and because I didn't have to spend any “real money.” After breakfast, I started to head toward Grand Central Station to get the subway to the station nearest the Guggenheim... Or so I thought. Instead of finding myself at Grand Central, I found myself at the Circle Line. Oops! So, I sat at a table, and finished my tea by the Hudson River before making my way back along 42nd street to Grand Central. Along the way, I passed the library, and made note of where it was so I could find it easily. I also passed a Papyrus store, and couldn’t resist entering. I ended up finding a gift for a friend, as well as a birthday card. And a pair of small Moleskin notebooks for me.

42nd Street at 6:30am.
The Circle Line

Grand Central, as big as it is, wasn’t that hard to figure out. Actually, it was easier than I thought to find the train I needed to take me to the Guggenheim: Line 6, Uptown to Brooklyn. I could only go Uptown or Downtown, and since I was already downtown, I knew where I had to be. After waiting one train, I got on a subway car that was busy, but not as crowded as I’d expected it to be. The subway platform was hot, but the car itself wasn't bad. It also made me want to start singing, “Santa Fe” from RENT. Oh, and I adore the mosaics at each station; they’re beautiful.

Getting off at 86th and Lexington, I made my way over to the Guggenheim and waited about 20 minutes for it to open. It was a welcomed sight after twelve years. The city in its entirely was a welcomed sight after twelve years! Anyway, I went through the museum in about an hour, and being allowed to take pictures, took photos of all the pieces that piqued my interest in some way. The Guggenheim is a gorgeous place, a place I have always loved the design of. I love the way the gallery goes up in one, continuous circle, allowing natural light from the glass ceiling to enter.

Exterior of the Guggenheim

The glass roof of the Guggenheim

After the Guggenheim, I entered Central Park, and chowed down on some mozzarella sticks I bought from a food truck. I ate by the lake before taking a stroll through the park. I had intended on walking all the way through to the lower end of Central Park, but that was thwarted by a pair of sore feet. So, after briefly getting acquainted with a squirrel, I left the park at 72nd, and made my way back over to Lexington Avenue to catch the Line 6 train back to Grand Central. While on the train, I must have looked like I knew where I was going, because another tourist asked me if a particular line met with Line 6 at a certain station. I had no idea; I only knew Line 6 between Grand Central and 86th. However, I was flattered that I appeared to fit in with the New Yorkers around me. And, in some ways, I felt it. I consistently went through phases of, “I’m in New York!” and “I feel like I’m in just another city.” Maybe it’s because I’m not sixteen anymore, or maybe it’s because I’m more mature than I was twelve years ago… or because New York has been calling me to visit again for a few years, but I felt very at ease there, even when I realized I’d walked in the wrong direction and when I ventured into the subway. I sort of felt like I belonged. I think it may have solidified by desire to live in New York, even if only for a few months.

But, I digress. I got off the subway at Grand Central, and made my way to the library a couple short blocks away. I went up to the third floor and sat in the Catalog Room. I opened up my Chromebook and worked on some last minute NaNoWriMo preparations and did a little bit of writing. I’m regretting not simply wandering the library because there are some great spaces I missed, including the Children’s wing, which houses the real stuffed animals that inspired the Winnie The Pooh tales. Next time, and there will be a next time, I’m in New York, I will spend a lot more time in that library.

After a failed attempt to meet with a Twitter friend, I made my way toward the theatre, where I found a hotel lobby with a washroom and got changed and freshened up for the evening. Then came the most anxious part of the day. Waiting at the theatre for the show! I was early, as I tend to be, but had a lovely conversation with some fellow Grobanites (Josh Groban fans) who had come in from Indiana and Alabama for the show. Then, they let us in, and we found our seats. Mine was at a table for three and was on the lower portion of the stage. My particular seat was right beside the stairs descending into the audience. The other two seats at my table were taken by a couple from New York (who also had apartments in Atlanta and Vegas, but that’s besides the point), whom I got to chatting with. The show started, and right from the get-go, I was mesmerized. And not just by Josh. The show as a whole was breathtaking and magical.

The stage design.

Russian pierogies!!!

The Great Comet is essentially a 70 page excerpt from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It follows the story of Natasha, (played by Broadway newcomer, Denée Benton) and her love affair with Anatole (Lucas Steele), as well as Pierre’s (Josh Groban, who was also making his Broadway debut) journey to find meaning in his life.

You can read my review of the show here: I'm Ready to Wake Up: Review of The Great Comet

Intermission came around, and I went to buy some merchandise. I bought a hooded zippered sweatshirt (which proved very helpful and warm for my bus ride home), and a t-shirt. When I got back to the table, the wife of the pair I was sitting with handed me the poster for the show. “This is for you,” she said. “For being so devoted to Josh to come all the way from Toronto just for this show.” I wanted so badly to give them something back, even if it was a cup of coffee, (as I knew how much that poster cost) but they refused. I nearly cried. Having something bought for me by a complete stranger simply because I was a fan of one the stars of the show and had travelled to see it… I hadn’t been expecting it. It’s a kindness I’ve never really experienced before. I’ve had friends cover me for things, or not worry about being paid back right away, but I’ve never had a complete stranger buy me anything before. And when I say I nearly cried, I lied. I did cry, but it wasn’t until the second act began and I could hide it by watching the show. I still get weepy thinking about it. It was overwhelming.

The show ended, much to my chagrin. But, it received a standing ovation which visibly humbled the cast. I was sad to see the show end; I wanted it to go on forever! But, alas, it came to an end, and upon wishing each other well, the couple and I went our separate ways. They went home, and I went to the stage door. I got Denée Benton’s autograph (she played Natasha), as well as Josh Groban’s. Then, I had to hightail it back to the Port Authority to line up for my bus ride home. I had to contain my emotions while waiting for the bus as well because everything that had happened - the joy of being in New York, the magic of The Great Comet, and the kindness of strangers - had, in many ways, and as silly as it sounds, renewed me in exactly the way I needed.

New York was calling me for a reason, and I strongly believe that reason was for spiritual renewal. New York is vibrant, it’s always on the go, and yet there is this strange peacefulness about it that I can’t properly explain. I believe I also needed the strong dose of energy and magic only a phenomenal theatre show can provide. I received that and so much more.

I am renewed. And it feels wonderful.