Friday, January 19, 2007

So You Want to Write a Book? Notes from a First Timer.

Here's a link to a piece I wrote for The Tyee about compling my book: warning irony ahead.

Teen Angst Poetry

From The Tyee and my book

Category: I Will Never Love Again

I broke up with my first boyfriend, James, because he cheated on me. I went away for the weekend and he made out with another girl eight hours after I’d left town. I was so hurt. We had been together for a month, which is forever in grade eight time.

I wrote this poem in between breaking up with James and getting back together with him. I think we were broken up for three days, during which he pleaded and begged for me to take him back.

And then I thought about it… well, there isn’t anyone else that is interested in me. I like his friends. If I stay with him for a little bit more maybe I can become better friends with them. Maybe he is sorry for what he has done. Maybe he didn’t mean to do it. So eventually, I did take him back, but then we broke up two weeks later when I dumped him for his best friend.

Yes, thirteen years old and I already knew how to play the game.

James Break up Poem

My eyes are going blind
glazed over and aglow
You say things that confuse my mind
Take you back?
I say NO!

My hurt did not leave
You took my heart
You are the thieve
My forgiveness you will not get
I wish, I wish we had never met

My emotions I will now keep
If i give them to you again
I know I'll weep

I'm closed up and alone
what I know now
I wish I had known
When the time comes you will pay
I wonder- just what you will say?

Monday, January 15, 2007

“No One Understands My Pain” and some who do.

It’s hot tonight at The Annex, a crowed bar in Vancouver’s historic Gastown. Hot in a puberty kind of way, something is developing here, like a new pimple on the face of comedy.
Several people are hiding faded notebooks on their laps mustering up courage one drink at a time. As I make my way to the stage, a posse of teenagers stand at the door.
“Teen Angst, what’s that?” one gangly girl says to her pals reading tonight’s poster.
In the limelight I take the mic, “Hi, my name is Sara Bynoe and I wrote Teen Angst Poetry.” The audience cheers and laughs while the teenagers find their way to a more appropriate nightspot.
The name can be deceiving Teen Angst Readings are not for teenagers. They are for those of us who can look back and laugh at our adolescent angst.
When I was thirteen years old I penned some of the world’s purplest poems, I now know. Now most people would bury or even burn it to prevent anyone from ever discovering their embarrassing rhymes. But I am one of the few brave souls that will read this crap to crowds of strangers, in the name of comedy.
Across North America shows like mine have been sparking up like teenagers on their lunch breaks. It’s happening in Vancouver, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and there could be one coming to a city near you.
Part stand-up, part reading series, part confessional and 100% hilarious, it takes place in a bar or a theatre packed with people post-puberty aged 20-40. The show includes poetry, journals, unsent letters, essays, songs, fiction and even videos. The rule is the same across the board; you can only share what you created and it must have been written before graduation.
In 2000, at the age of 20, I had the idea, nay, the calling, to share my teenaged verse with the world. After stumbling across some old poetry my high school- ex had given me, I shared them with a friend, laughed then felt karmacly obligated to share my own, which I then realized was even worse.
It began as a website; a database for the world to upload their most awful verse. Being a performer, the next step was to get onstage. I have found and forced others to do the same and to this date have hosted more than twenty Teen Angst Readings in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and New York City. In April 2005 St. Martin’s Press published a collection I called Teen Angst: A Celebration of REALLY BAD Poetry.
Poems are grouped according to themes like: “I am alone and no one understands my pain,” “Fuck you,” “I will never love again,” and “Life sucks and I want to die.” The universality of teen angst is a huge part of the appeal.
Sarah Brown, 30, is someone who does understand my pain. She organizes a show in Brooklyn, NY called Cringe. Sarah, originally from Oklahoma, stumbled across her teenaged diaries in 2001 and began e-mailing the most ridiculous entries to her friends for laughs. Her friends then spread her e-mails like gossip on bathroom walls and soon Sarah had hundreds of people on her teen diary mailing list.
“It was okay sharing it with my friends,” Sarah says, “but with people that I couldn’t see, it lost the connection.”
April 2005 Sarah organized the first Cringe night at Freddies a neighborhood hot spot in Brooklyn.
“It was really hard to read out loud,” says Sarah of that night. “The first time you get up to read you’re so embarrassed but when you see how everyone responds to it you’re like, ‘oh you like that? We’ll I’ve got worse than that!’”
People are embracing Cringe, sometimes maxing capacity at the free monthly event. Recently Spin Magazine gave the night a shout out, reviewing it with four stars out of five.
The night’s success can be attributed to Sarah herself who is a professional writer with a popular blog that gets thousands of hits a month.
“I loved the idea and wished that there was a Cringe that could happen in Seattle,” says writer and former raver Ariel Meadow Stallings, 31, who has been reading Sarah Brown’s blog for five years. “I called her and she said you’re more than welcome to do an event but you can’t call it Cringe.”
The Salon of Shame is what Ariel spawned in November 2005. The nearly free show ($5 or $1 if you bring something to read) runs every other month at the Rendezvous JewelBox. Draped with red velvet curtains this small dinner theatre adds an element of class to the crude creativity shared at the Salon. A freshman in the genre the show has had exponential success after a recent review in local weekly The Seattle Stranger.
Then there’s Get Mortified in Los Angeles. Produced by Dave Nadelburg, a 33-year-old television writer. Mortifed, as he calls it, began in 2002 shortly after Dave stumbled across an embarrassing old love letter he had once composed. Dave describes his night as "personal redemption through public humiliation."
The only franchise of the lot Get Mortified now has shows in San Francisco, New York, Boston and Chicago. Get Mortified also seeks to stand out from the other angst shows in a few other ways; there is no host and readers audition for the show.
“We are simply not an open-mic format,” says Dave. “We work with each performer to shape their ancient prose into a unique autobiographical form of storytelling we call a ‘diagraphy.’” He crafts each piece to tell a unique tale using 100% of the original teen writing.
In Los Angeles there are two shows a month at The M Bar, a swanky little dinner theatre in nameless strip mall off Vine. I attended and performed in a show in March 2006 noticing several differences from the way I do things up North.

The Hollywood audience arrived in their designer jeans, valet parked their cars, paid the $10 cover charge and sat in a theatre with a $10 food minimum. Intrigued and excited by this profitable endeavour I sadly learned that, unlike my own, the performers do not get paid. Not even an honorarium. Welcome to Hollywood.
Get Mortified has been featured in Jane magazine, LA Times Magazine and most notably on This American Life on N.P.R. The next step is a book called Mortified: Real Words Real People Real Pathetic, published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment out November 2006.
Some sort of angst epiphany must have been brewing in the collective unconscious in the early millennium because the three main producers, Sarah Brown, Dave Nadelburg and myself conceived these shows unaware of each other.
Sarah Brown says she was only made aware of Get Mortified when they moved into NYC. Get Mortified knew about after some Internet searching for similar Googles. I became aware of all three through my publisher and from a journalist who attended my book launch in New York.
When I started my website I was unaware of anything like it, just a few old, old, old school WebPages of people’s personal teen angst poetry.
As part of their FAQ’s on their site Get Mortified addresses the similar nights issue:“Yes, we've started to noticed a few like-minded concepts sprout up across the country…We can only ask others to be considerate enough to put their own unique slant on the format.”
In Seattle, where the concept is growing, Ariel says, “I’m not willing to move it to a larger venue because the whole point to me is that it’s an intimate crowd and that you can see the faces of the people you’re reading to. To me, the value of it would be lost. I even wouldn’t want to watch a video of it, for me the whole point of it is the whole interaction.”
Back at The Annex Zack Taylor, a history major at Simon Fraser University, shares his poem “Untitled” to crowd hysterics.
“Who am I?/ What am I?/ Why am I?/ How am I?/ Where am I?”
Audiences are encouraged to shout out obvious rhymes along with the poet and in Zack’s case the ‘am I’ is echoed out. I smile. There is something bonding about this experience, sharing stories and feelings long dismissed. What began as a joke for my friends has now turned into a movement and it’s more that just teen angst recovery or catharsis.
“Your website has helped me through a trying time,” one 16 year old e-mailed me. “I really relate to these poems.”
Other teenaged fans of the movement are able to gain insight on their own teen angst and learn the valuable lesson of laughing at oneself.
It is a universal whether it’s seen as cathartic or hilarious. Teen Angst writings can be shared anywhere: a dinner theatre, a bar or your best friend’s basement. Sarah Brown’s suggestion is that, “if you read it to yourself and it physically makes you cringe then it’s funny to read out loud.” So, get digging through your old notebooks. I’ll see you on the stage.

A Saturday bus ride leads to the best ex-boyfriend story I have.

Who would have thought I’d meet someone on public transit? Well, I suppose meeting anyone is easy enough on the bus, but some one as in somebody who could be the one of my dreams (Well now, I’m getting a little bit a head of myself). Nevertheless, last Saturday I was on the Main Street bus, sitting at the back, not the far back where the drunks and thugs hang out, but the mid-back where you can safely make an exit if one of the wackos goes phycho.

I’m sitting at the back and this cute guy gets on and sits across from me, cute enough to make me glance up from my book. A few times. And catch his eye. And look away. And look back. We play the eye glance game for a while. For ten minutes or so until we both (what are the chances?) get off at the same stop. The skytrian station- as in train of the sky as in his train will take me sky high? (eew).

The Molson Indy Car race is going on near by. Laps and laps of loudness. Neer-ahh- boom- Neee-raw, neeeeeeeeeeeeeee-rah- boom.

I go to the far side of the platform to get a glimpse of these noisemakers, waste of gas and rubber entertainment. He is looking over at the cars as well, I’m sure.

Bing-bong- “The train is approaching.” We both step inside the westbound train. The eye came has evolved to the smiling round. I hear a little voice in my head; “go for it.” I open my mouth and we begin a dialogue. I don’t know about what, the cars, the train, and before I know it my life story pours out my mouth. The little voice speaks again; shut up blabber mouth, you’re the one that started it, oh what am I doing?, go for it! He asks questions, I politely reciprocate. He’s talking to me about reggae music. Red Flag. He walks me to my dance class and I, without being promoted give him my phone number. Call me. Please call me. I haven’t got anyone. I don’t want to die alone. For the next hour and a half I have a spring in my step and it’s not the floors of the studio. I did it.

These things rarely happen to me. I’ve never picked up a guy randomly on transit or anywhere, while sober. I’m really very proud of myself. Good on ya.

Monday night. He calls. Funny, I would have thought he’s call on Thursday, ya know the five-day rule. Oh ya, now it’s a five-day rule, three makes it seem like you’re eager, so five is perfect. But he only waited two. Red Flag. Ignore it. He’s interested in me! Well, who wouldn’t be interested in a beautiful, outgoing, charming, soon to be published writer/actor? I mean get in line. We make plans for the following night.

First Date
I get there late. There he is. Long-ish brown hair, not headbanger long, surfer long. Stoner long? Red Flag. Deep brown eyes and HUGE lips, like Stephen Tyler lips. I didn’t notice of how fricking huge his lips are. I wonder what he can do with them.

My opening line is classic, something like: “Hi. Let’s get a picture of Sangria.” Let’s get this party started. We talk about his travels. He just got back from Australia. Learnt how to surf. That explains the hair. He’s really into photography. Great, I love having my picture taken. His best friend is dying. Oh.

"That sucks."

"So, my family was just in town," I tell him.

Things lighten up. Somehow we talk about our exes. On the first date? That’s a little early. But then it comes out, he’s trying to figure out how much of a player I am. Oh, I must be acting. The evening is fine, he’s interesting, and cute, there’s got to be something wrong but I don’t see it.

Date 2
The firework festival is on. We meet downtown and realize that downtown is way to crazy for us. Hop on the bus and go to Kits beach. I brought a blanket and we snuggle up. He gives me a wicked back massage (really it’s the key to my heart). We ooh and awe. Struggle through a crowd of people to some nearby busy bar more chatting. He wants to be a photographer. Looking into travel photography, because he loves to travel. Well, he’s only gone on one travel trip but it was pretty good, he went to South East Asia. Cool. I guess, I haven’t gone traveling much, I’m headstrong about getting somewhere, no time to enjoy the ride. Sucks to be me. That’s it date over.

Oh yeah but his lips are really big. Soft and fun.

Date 3
Renting a movie at his house. Ok, I’m going over to his place, and you know what that means- make out time!

We go to the wine store first. He tries to impress me with his wine knowledge. He does this by telling off these boys at the store that the wine they want to buy is shit.
“Hey man, don’t get that, it’s shit.”
“K- whatever buddy.”
“No man, really I was just traveling there and ya the locals wont drink it its such shit.”
“K- thanks”
“Really, I’m not shittin’ ya, it’s pissy wine”
“What’s your problem?”
“I just have a problem with shitty wine, s’all.”
“Ok Ian, I think they’re fine with it.” Oh yeah, his name is Ian, in case you wanted to know.
I drag him out of the store before it comes to blows.
“What do you care what they drink?”
“mumble mumble”
At this point I think his aggressiveness is cute. A little scary but harmless.
Oh you! You’re so silly. Giggle – toss hair.

Next stop video store. Not much we’re interested in but then he picks up Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. Basically it’s a take on the Columbine school shootings. Neither of us has seen it, and we’ve heard some buzz. Unfortunately none of the buzz warned us that it would be so slow. Good thing we bought non-shitty wine.

As boring movies progress we end up in the bedroom. But I’m just not that into him, or its too fast or I’m scared of his aggressiveness, I escape by saying “I’m not going to sleep here, I’ve got to get home for…. something.”

On the way home I ponder this nights events, his aggressiveness, his questionable life path and his general awkwardness; is it cute or scary? I’m leaning to the latter.

Date 4
A day or two later he invites me to see this surf movie, because then I’ll finally understand what he’s so passionate about. Sure, whatever.

On the way to the movie a panhandler asks for change instead of doing the “no sorry” routine that I usually do he says “get a job” BIG HUGE REDFLAG.
“Ian, that’s not cool.”
The movie really excites him and that’s cute.
Ya, I can see the thrill of surffing, looks pretty fun.
“Oh you don’t even know the half of it. Like that one guy Greg Noll, he’s like a legend, I read that he once rode this 65 foot wave blah blah blah blah.”
And I’m nodding along, sure uh huh, it’s interesting but all over my head.
“So great so’ll you’ll hang out with me on my b-day?”
No. I’m so done with you now. Uh- yeah, when is it again?
“I just told you- next week.”
Next week- oh goodness I don’t know if I can handle this much more, I mean he’s fun to be around, cute for sure, but I’m getting the feeling that this isn’t going to go anywhere. But I feel bad for this guy, he’s new here and doesn’t have any friends.
Sure I’ll hang out with you on your birthday.

The Birthday.
Pretty much we met late (I was busy), we drank, he tried to get me to sleep with him, I told him that I wasn’t going to, he flipped out, called me names, we fought for an hour on the street (why didn’t I just go?), we left each other, he called my cell to bitch some more at me, I somehow got rid of him. End of Bus Boy. Phew.

No, not the end.

About two weeks later, I go to the theatre to see one of my friends perform, afterwards we all decide to go out for drinks. About five of us walk into this bar, and there bus boy is sitting at the bar. Our eyes lock. I nod hello. He rolls his eyes and turns away. I quickly and quietly tell my friends that “that’s him.” Who? The bus boy? Yeah, the crazy one. Oh.
He comes over with a note in hand.
“What’s this for?”
“Just read it.”
He’s hostile and people around us can feel that energy, they lean in to hear more.
Some random guy asks him, “what’s your problem?”
“This girl is a cold-hearted BITCH!”

Everyone is listening now. He rambles off some shit like how I broke up with him on his birthday (I just didn’t sleep with him- and well, should have broken up with him sooner-but do you really break up with someone you spent five dates with?). And he walks away from us.

Meanwhile all my friends have had a chance to look at the note. Bus boy leaves the bar. The random guys next to us buy me a drink to prove to me that ‘not all men are bad’. I knew that, but thank them for the drink.

After finishing my free drink I ponder my actions and realize I've learned my lesson. It's time to get a car.

Note: This was written sometime during the summer of 2004. So if you think you're the lucky guy... congrats you made it into a story!

Lock It or Lose It

When I moved to Vancouver my hippie Aunt, who drives and SUV and lives in Deep Cove, told me to “get a bike. It’s the quickest way around town.” This advice made its way through the family grapevine and my mother donated me her old Norco mountain bike (which she spray pained pearlescent pink for me), but as I was living a quick walk from school I never bothered to release the beast.

For three years it gathered dust in storage until I moved out of the Langara College getto. Being a starving artist, needing to get around the city and after dating a guy who rode a recumbent bike I was inspired to try it out. If only to get me further away from the memory of dating such an embarrassing man.

At first it was a burden; heavy, ugly, and tacky. Then one day something shifted and it did more that get me around; it got me off. I couldn’t get enough; the wind blowing in my face and my heart rate increasing with every hill. Seduced by the freedom of the open road like a teenager with a fresh drivers permit.

I discovered that my Aunt was right. What used to take up to 45 min on the bus (at the worst times) now only took me 15 min. This city is well planned for my freewheeling; traffic calmed roads, bike crosswalk buttons, and a gorgeous sea wall to cruise along. It not only got me off the bus; it saved me from Fitness World hell. I no longer had to deal with smelly people or their horrible music and I was getting buns of steel!

As honeymoon phases progress, gifts were bought: new fenders, breaks, a cute little basket. A beast no longer, my bike was something I was proud to show off to the hipsters on Main Street.
Then a moment of pure laziness occurred. As my landlord was putting in new plumbing causing trenches in the front yard I had to carry my bike down steps, through a twisted maze, and over a ditch on a rickety plank to even get to the back shed my baby slept in. I figured it was safe. It would never happen to me.

Late the next day and I went around back to grab my trusty steed and discovered an empty space where I had left ol’pinky. My helmet, which I’d left in the basket, was kindly left behind on a shelf.

My virginity of theft was taken from me in the night. I clutched my helmet to my chest and cried like a child who dropped its ice cream, knowing the Dicky-D truck was long out of site. There was only one person I thought would understand my pain; my recumbent bike riding ex-boyfriend. Once reached he scolded me for not properly locking it up- the jerk. I was a fool to think he would understand; who would steal a recumbent bike anyway?

Heartbroken, I filed a police report online but nothing ever came from it. Hundreds of bikes are stolen daily in the lower Mainland. The problem is so bad in Victoria that they have started a bait bike program there to catch the thieves. Knowing that I’m not alone was not enough comfort for me. My heart panged when I saw cyclists on the streets like a single girl feels when she passes a couple holding hands. Every time someone biked passed my house I would look up expecting it to be my bike returning home like a lost pet.

Bitterly I was back on the bus but it didn’t last long knowing that a monthly one zone bus pass costs nearly $70. I knew that my dollar could be better spent. I bit the bullet and bought a new one. No thief was gonna break my stride.

This time I’m not taking any chances. I have two locks; a U-lock through and a cable, both with key locks so no bic pens will open up these babies. I avoid my lawn labyrinth by carrying it upstairs.

This whole ordeal has been a life lesson; like riding a bike. Sure, if someone really wants to steal my bike they’ll find a way and I’m prepared for that.

Still, if you see anyone riding a spray-painted pearescent pink bike with a basket on the front give them hell for me.

Doin' it Online

“I’m new to this… and .. umm.. I don’t really know what to say.” -Firefly28

“I’m a normal kind of guy.”- KitsMan76
“I like stuff...”-LamePeeps23

Sound familiar? Well, if you’re one of the millions of people who have ventured into the jungle that is online dating it probably does. Waves of people have hit the web on sites like, Lavalife, and surfing their way through every like, love and lust. On these sites users are supposed to create a profile, post a photos and send messages to people they find appealing.
In the year 2006 couples with Internet connections are no longer a hushed happening.

So, I’ll admit it: I’ve dipped my toes into the Lavalife. Unlike some of my friends, I have yet to find my match, so mostly I just browse. But every time I go on the site, I’m not joking, EVERY TIME, I get at least three messages within 10 minutes telling me that I have the best profile/ photo combo on there.

I know what you’re thinking and no, I am not drop-dead gorgeous. I’m not bad, and I do have a decent online photo. So beyond that what’s my secret? It’s all about how you present your package, as it were. Now the dating part I have no control over because, like I said, I’m just on there to browse.

When I survey my competition this is what I find: nothing special. So many profiles are deficiently descriptive. Most start with one of three thoughts: “I hate the bar so I thought I’d give this a try”, “I hate talking about myself, but here goes” or “I am a girl who loves to laugh,” then paired with the most stoic photo of yourself. Clearly you need some help. Here are some pointers on how to create a power profile.

Find the pith. Most men, as we know, have short attention spans. Like a piece of art, most will only spend a few moments looking at your profile before clicking on to the next girl. So when you write your bio in one large block of text it’s too daunting to sort though. Help them out by breaking it up into paragraphs or bulleted points. You’ve got to hook them in with something original and fun. However, I don’t think a Mya Angelou quote is the best way to start.

Most people say they are attracted to a person with a sense of humor. So use it! This does not mean starting with a joke but writing your profile as if you were speaking to your friends or yourself in the mirror. It should be in your voice, your happiest, least jaded, and most dateable voice.

Talk about your life. What is it you do? You don’t have to be specific but cryptic people just aren’t as interesting as those with a reality. “I like stuff” isn’t going to get you a smile.
Write about your passions, you never know who else could be out there with the same pastimes or obsessions as you. Plus it can be a great conversation starter for when someone messages you. “Hey, I can do the Grouse Grind in 50 min, care to challenge me?"

If Illiteracy is doesn’t turn you on then please, for the Love of God spell-check, unless you’re looking for someone of an equivalent IQ.

With your photos be creative, be interesting, and be of decent quality so your face isn’t all grainy. It’s sad but true; most people do judge a person by a picture. Which is why I can’t stress this enough: NO CAT PHOTOS! About 5% of you have shots with your cats- think what that says! If I have to spell it out: crazy cat lady! Digital cameras are rampant these days so you should have no trouble finding someone to take a shot of you, without the cat, away from your messy bedroom.

This is not ‘The Apprentice’ but there is one thing to keep in mind. You are selling a product: yourself. Think of all the time and effort you spend getting ready for a date. Why should you put any less thought into your profile? Even if you don’t find The One online, at the very least with a good profile you’ll get some lovely compliments. Or you can just contact me and I’ll do it for you because really, I’m just there to browse.