Category Archives: Humour

The Challenge of Writing Funny Stories During Covid-19

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, I have often wondered how other artists were coping with it, and how their creative processes were impacted.

In the beginning of the self-isolation period, this was all very new to us and like most people, I turned to the news to remain informed and to try to make sense of it. But it didn’t matter which channel I watched, even when the coverage was seemingly balanced and factual, it was scary. For an empathetic, sensitive person, the statistics alone drew very strong emotions.

In trying to find levity, I turned to social media only to find many people posting the same news articles that were starting to get me down in the first place. In the spirit of psychological self-preservation, I had to taper my news consumption and to self-isolate from social media.

When times get tough, I have the honour of being able to say that I can turn to my art to try to keep my mind occupied and to centre myself.

In the early years of writing this blog, I made the conscious decision that I wanted this to be a light, safe and fun place for people to turn. This was as much for the readers as it was for me. Once I reached that decision and found my voice, the stories followed without having to look too hard for them.

As the pandemic struck, I already had several blog posts in first draft, recounting the stories of stress, anxiety and unexpected humour behind the recent purchase of a home and the selling of my current home.

Finalizing those blog posts and keeping to my usual posting schedule was relatively easy. Coming up with new material after that series was surprisingly challenging.

I think it would be fair to say that for writing, inspiration can sometimes be a tricky thing. The “Eureka!” moment of a viable story idea and the discipline to write come from within. But the content that goes into the story often comes from threads of human experience.

That was when I realized how so much of my blog content is based on social interaction and how difficult it can be to write a blog post with a sprinkle of observational humour, when interactions with other human beings are suddenly scarce.

Let’s face it, when the trips outside of the house have been limited to grocery stores, pharmacies, the occasional take-out food and the curb-side pick-up of pet food and cat litter, that’s not a lot of opportunity to observe people’s foibles or for funny things to happen.

However, there was that one time I went to get a squirt of hand sanitizer which missed my hand completely and landed as a spoonful-sized cloudy blob near the bottom of my shirt. Fortunately it happened as I was entering a store that was limiting access to only a small number of shoppers at a time, so it’s not like many people could point or stare. Plus, I was wearing a mask at the time, so it’s not like they’d know it was me.

But beyond that, even if I returned to my index cards and journals to build stories based on past observations, will the posts need more setting up and explaining that these were pre-social distancing observations? Will they still strike the same chord with readers who are in the social distancing frame of mind?

But before I got too worked up in trying to make a blog post fit like a square peg in a round hole, in occasionally keeping an eye on my blogging statistics, I discovered that two past posts saw a huge spike in page views. Interestingly, they were appropriate for Covid-19 times, but never mentioned a word of it: “50 Reasons Why I Like Baking” and “Where Have All the Exercise Shows Gone?” a funny combination in itself.

Maybe there is a bit of the “Field of Dreams” movie’s philosophy when it comes to writing blog posts: “build it and they will come”… sooner or later.

Maybe writing a relatable story can be simpler than we think.

Perhaps in the same way that we’ve all had to adapt to new ways of doing things, as artists, we may also need to adapt and dig deeper to find the lighthearted stories that connect us, even in the absence of social interaction.

I sometimes wonder if in our “old normal” there was so much funny material to draw from that we didn’t have time to notice all of it. Or perhaps because of its abundance, we filtered out much of it, to the point that we may not recognize it in our “new normal”.

Either way, one certainty in life is that irony and humour are still there and will always be. We just need to keep an open heart, mind and spirit to allow those moments to tickle our funny bone, and then to do our best to share those stories with others.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 7)

With renovations completely behind me, the house was ready for showings.

One might think that this might be the easy part. With the house de-cluttered, with the cat living it up at her cat hotel, and with the house staged to help prospective buyers see themselves living at this address, what else was there to do?

Well… a lot!

Ironically, the first thing was to minimize signs of someone actually living here day-to-day.

Planning elaborate meals that would require serious cleaning time afterward was completely out of the question. I had already thought of that and prepared large quantities of food ahead of time, stored in single-serve containers, ready to go from freezer to microwave to stomach.

I even reverted to my young bachelor ways of eating certain meals right out of the containers to cut down on the dishes that would be needed afterward.

Next, my game plan was to keep to a minimal number of core activities that wouldn’t mess up the house. The home routine became eating, sleeping, reading, watching TV, using the computer and working out to my exercise videos. As I yearned to extend the core activities, I had to keep reminding myself that this was temporary.

Every morning, before heading off to work, I would set aside 30 minutes (which turned into 45) for a quick dusting, a quick vacuuming to restore the splendour of vacuum tracks into the carpeting, and a quick once over here and there with Windex or Fantastic. I finished by cleaning the bathrooms to reduce the perception that someone just got ready to go to work. Continue reading

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The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 6)

In early March, with the countdown to home sale just a few days away and Ivy the Wonder Cat safely at her cat hotel, I could truly commit myself to the last minute renovations and touch-ups.

With the quick progress that I was making, zipping from room to room, obsessing about every little detail to make the house sparkle, I was getting a euphoric feeling that closely resembled a runner’s high. Or maybe it was because of the intense aroma of cleaning supplies.

I found myself starting to consider the staging activities that my real estate agent prefaced with “if you have time…”

Changing the door knobs on all of the interior doors from cheap plastic ones to shiny metallic ones was not a deal breaker but it seemed like a nice touch to spruce up the place. With the experience of successfully switching out the door knob on the “eyesore door” last summer to very satisfying results, I was very confident that I could do this.

Despite my approach from every angle with a multitude of flat head screwdrivers, I couldn’t find the trick to remove the first door knob. It actually took a half hour of fussing, cussing, struggling and then breaking the plastic door knob to separate it from the door.

By that time, I needed to get back to another time-sensitive task that was underway, so I left things as they were for the next day.

When I returned, with many other tasks completed, I really could put all of my focus on the door knob project.

As I experienced with the eyesore door, I knew that I needed to drill some pilot holes for the screws to hold the shiny new hardware in place. I found the right size drill bit and started drilling. I then tried pulling the door shut, to check my work and to see if the door would close easily.

To test it out, I inserted the basic hardware in the door without the door knob, just to see if the strike plate would get past the face plate. It didn’t, as the hardware was still sticking out and blocking the door.

So I drilled some more… and checked again… and drilled some more… and checked again. I could see I was making progress but the finish line still seemed a long way off.

In trying to figure out how much more drilling it needed, I went into the powder room and gave the door a mighty push to see if it would close. It finally closed, but then I realized…

OH!… DARN!… Continue reading

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The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 5)

I knew that for the duration of the showings and open houses, it would be best for everyone to send Ivy the Wonder Cat to her cat hotel.

Not only would it avoid the need for me to withdraw from my work day and relocate Ivy each time someone wanted to see the house, but for a cat that is so structure-oriented you could set your clock my her nap, meal and treat times, avoiding the change and disruption altogether was likely the best idea.

Given her early signs of discombobulation and confusion from just having some furniture leave the house for the staging process, I contacted her hotel to see if they could take her sooner. I was relieved that they could.

I knew she would get the best of care and attention for the duration of her stay. I’ll never forget the time I went to pick her up after an extended holiday and she jumped out of my arms and ran back into her room. I was heartbroken, but also deeply reassured that Ivy liked it here.

Just the same, letting her go was a challenge. I didn’t foresee that this would be such a difficult part of the home buying and selling process. Continue reading

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Filed under Cats, home, Humour, mental health

The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 4)

Up until now, my only experience with self-storage has been the occasional viewing of the TV show “Storage Wars”.

As much as I have witnessed self-storage facilities sprouting up throughout the city at a crazy pace, I never really gave them much thought as I assumed that they were just for people with too much stuff.

When my real estate agent suggested that I needed to edit out some furnishings to help certain rooms feel bigger, I didn’t really resist the idea as I trusted that my agent knew best.

Frankly, I relished the idea of trying out the self-storage solution as I knew that this would be an interesting new adventure for me.

Shortly after we put the offer on the house, I called the storage facility company to check on availability, knowing full well that I may need to do some editing. Last summer, a friend of mine was put on a waiting list because demand was so high at that time, so I worried that might be the case for me as well. My fears were put to rest as they said (at that time) that there were many spaces for rent in all sizes.

When the real estate agent gave me her official verdict on the staging situation, when I called to make arrangements for a space, the size I was looking for was no longer available, so I went with the next size up.

The day that the movers came to haul some boxes and the marked items to the facility was also my first time setting foot in the warehouse. With my signed contract already on file, it was just a matter of handing me the keys to my space, showing me around the facilities, and demonstrating the security features to access the space. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Cats, home, Humour

The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 3)

The moment that we decided to put in an offer on a house, the part that scared the crap out of me the most was the inevitable next step: staging my home.

In most of the pictures of homes for sale that I had seen in recent years, all I could see was empty rooms. I kept wondering if people were still living there given how sparsely they were decorated. And if they were living there, where was their stuff?

I have seen enough HGTV network shows to know that some people have a hard time visualizing themselves in a home. And frankly, I have yelled at the TV in exasperation when buyers reject a whole house because of a paint colour or because the drapes were blue.

But I do understand that during a showing, prospective buyers aren’t interested in seeing the story of André. They need to see their own storyline, and their own needs and wants for the home to strike the right chord. For that reason, some decluttering is needed.

While I wouldn’t consider myself a pack rat, I am not a minimalist either. Like most people, I have stuff.

So the burning question: where does people’s stuff go to make the house look that empty and how much effort will it take for me to get there?

Fortunately, over the last years, I witnessed a shift in my own mindset, less focused on possessions and more focused on experiences. Along the way, I have indeed been chipping away at the stuff, shredding old papers, donating gently used belonging and tossing things that were past their prime for anyone to reuse. Was that enough effort for staging purposes? Probably not.

But where it gets complicated is how much more do I need to edit out, and can I do it without throwing out my degenerating disc in between arthritic flare ups in my hands…  the joys of being over 50! Continue reading

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The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 2)

When my partner first suggested moving to the country some time ago, it really didn’t stir up any apprehensions on my part.

I grew up in a suburb of Ottawa in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, at a time when it had a small town feel to it. In its infancy, our tiny subdivision offered the best of both worlds: the amenities of city living as well as the space for young families to grow and thrive. At the time, it was small enough to have its own sense of community and identity, separate from the city a short drive away.

Even though my memories of “village” life are from the perspective of a young boy, I have often entertained the idea of returning to that calmer, quieter, gentler pace as I got older and as life got more rushed and complicated.

Today, my forehead is chronically bruised from the number of times I smack my palm to my forehead for the idiotic things city dwellers do, whether on the commute to or from work, to deal with the daily reality that common sense is not so common anymore, or for the need to repeatedly set boundaries with certain neighbours (i.e., “No, your dog poop in my yard is not acceptable!”)

This is not to say that moving to the country will completely eradicate these problems, but with less density in population, I’d like to think that my forehead bruises will get a decent chance to heal.

When we went to look at the house in the country that seemed to check most of the boxes of what my partner and I were looking for, I admit that my heart started to flutter. Continue reading

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