On being thirty

I turned thirty a month and a half ago.

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… but I don’t really know if that’s where this blog post should start.

Maybe this: when I was nineteen turning twenty, when I was this person:

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… when I was that person, Leslie But Not Quite Leslie Yet, fresh out of theatre school and unsure of what to do from there, I realised that I wanted to travel. Specifically I wanted to travel to London. I’d never left North America before, never properly travelled on my own before, but I did it. I visited a city across an ocean from home and I fell in love with it and declared that I was going to live in that place one day. Kept it in the back of my mind even as life in Ottawa became much more exciting when I became friends with some of the people I love most to this day, many of whom I’m going to see in a few weeks and that’s really and truly excellent.

I had turned twenty in London…

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… so it was only fitting when my friends Nidal and Jen and I decided to visit London five years later, coming up on my twenty-fifth birthday, so I was able to turn twenty-five here, too.

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But, of course, I delved very far into this in my emotional goodbye letter to my hometown, over three and a half years ago, so I shouldn’t get back into it.

The really remarkable thing about turning thirty, however, was what happened surrounding my birthday: my family, my mother and father and brother Chris and sister-in-law Jenny and Uncle Ian and Uncle Nils, came to visit me. They stayed in a flat in Kentish Town, eight minutes’ walk away from where I live. It felt so incredibly fitting that such a major birthday should be spent in the company of people I love, on the tenth anniversary of the trip that changed my entire perspective on life, on the fifth anniversary of the trip that made me decide I was going to do something about it.

My family’s visit was wonderful, busy and comforting and glorious and far, far too short. Since there were so many of them and since, inevitably (particularly after having taken all of August off), I had to work some of the time, I was left feeling a bit disappointed when it was over, like we hadn’t had time to do many of the things we’d wanted to. I think that’s bound to happen, though. It’s a decision a person makes when they move away from home. There’s never enough time, and the goodbyes are always painful. But, if we’re lucky, it’s worth it. More than.

On Monday, October 10th, the day after my family’s arrival, I dragged them along to Old Rope. They’ve learned to expect this. We also all know to expect surprises, if that makes sense. Mom will, as often as she’s able, arrange it so some big surprise happens on our family visits. There was the presence of Chris and Jenny on my first visit home in August 2013. There was the presence of Chris, again, when I visited home in April 2015. There was me, when Mom and Dad went to visit Chris and Jenny last October (I turned 29 in Vancouver). Then Chris and Jenny turned up in Ottawa on Christmas Day 2015 (although many people here in London can confirm that I very much expected this and shared my suspicions with them, but was admittedly thrown off the trail when I spoke to them on the phone on Christmas Eve and they were definitely still in Vancouver).

So my surprise was this: I arranged with Tiff only a week ahead of time that I’d do a spot at Old Rope on that day after my family arrived. I had been hoping I could for a while but I can be too meek and nervous of offending or presuming for my own good, so ultimately it was Tiff’s wonderful mum Lorraine who asked on my behalf. And so there we were, me and my family, and me unbelievably nervous but trying not to let on on the bus ride there, wearing my most sequinned jacket and trying to act normal (luckily I’m all over the place ha ha ha!!!).

Anyway, it was really good. Really goddamn good. It was my third time doing that gig that’s so incredibly significant to me, it was Tiff’s first time seeing me do standup, it was my friend Stuart Black‘s first time seeing me since my first two gigs in Edinburgh 2014, which I did at his urging (I needed someone to actually push me to get up on the stage, because otherwise I might well have just rambled on forever about how badly I wanted to and never done anything about it), and as I got offstage I was immediately met with a massive hug from absolute genius Tony Law, accompanied with a “great job, buddy!”

Like. It was remarkable.

And my family were insanely happy and proud, my Dad telling everyone in sight “that’s my daughter!!!”, Jenny making references to my jokes in the days that followed, Chris excited and with a video of it on his phone, and my Mom generally teary-eyed and smiley (and, trust me, this is a trait that Chris and I have very much picked up from her).

As I say, really goddamn good.

While they were here, my brother would insist on walking me home, those only-eight minutes between their flat and mine, just the way he used to walk me the ten-or-so minutes from his Ottawa apartment to our parents’ house back when I was sixteen/seventeen/eighteen/nineteen/twenty/twenty-one. And here I am, thirty and living across the world from home, and he’s thirty-seven and only slightly knows this city that I love so, so much, but he’s my big brother, so he walked me home when he was here.

Their trip also consisted of: lots of shopping; lots of good food; lots of evenings in at their vacation flat, watching TV or movies or playing card games; Harry Potter Studio Tour (aka the best thing I have been three times now oh god); & so much more. And it was incredibly sad to see our time come to an end, but fortunately we have Christmas and that’s really, really soon.

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Another classic “Leslie Puts Things On People And They Are Unimpressed” photo.

That was October 19th. Noteworthy things since then include: lovely interactions with some of my favourite drag queens (Sharon Needles singing Space Oddity at me, Jinkx Monsoon remembering me from months ago and coming to chat with me and coworker-friend Gemma as we sat at a table in Soho Theatre bar); one of my favourite musicians of all time pointing at me from stage when he spotted me during a DJ set because he knows me now bluuurggghhhh; an impromptu dance party to weird techno music in the cafeteria of a Jewish community centre; & what is potentially a weird creeping-in sadness manifesting itself through small purchases, particularly makeup. But I do now own an eyeshadow called Absinthe, and it’s really fucking awesome. And said creeping-in sadness is probably just seasonal affective disorder like it always is at this time of year and instead of buying really rad lipsticks (but they sell Kat Von D at Debenhams now!!!), I should maybe invest in a SAD lamp. But! I! Am! Not! Practical!!

Aaaaaanyway.

At the beginning of this month I took a trip to Clacton-On-Sea in Essex for my very dear friend Lisa’s birthday party. Other than a bit of an inauspicious start (there were weird diversions and trains and coaches and I misunderstood the email and I thought the train just hadn’t shown up or had been rescheduled for later but really I had to take the tube across town to grab the replacement coach and I was worried that I’d miss my train from a place called Witham which I pronounced wrong when I said it to someone but I got there just in time), it was all excellent. We sang karaoke. We sang Pulp and the Libertines and joined in on other people’s songs. We drank way too many (or: not enough?) tequila roses. It was glorious. And, as we walked back to Lisa’s house, I looked up at the open sky and I saw the stars and my breath hitched in my chest as I realised how long it had been since I’d seen the stars, and I realised that I didn’t ever realise that I never saw the stars anymore. Then the next day we wandered over to Lisa’s work at B&M, where I bought too many North American snack foods and ate them all far too quickly. Then we went to the seafront and wandered down the pier and saw the wind turbines out in the distance and then went and played Mario Kart in the arcade and I was abysmal at it but enjoyed it tremendously. Then a tour of the other arcades in Clacton (there are remarkably many for a tiny, tiny town), and I traded in my tickets for a tiny Kermit the Frog and a hooting owl keychain that lets out an absolutely blinding light. All of it was just what I needed.

I’ve been doing more managerial shifts at work recently, which I do enjoy because organizational duties have always agreed with me far more than you’d expect if you’ve seen the state of my bedroom. I’ve also, since the departure of the excellent Pip (real name Piret), sort of become the main working barista, which I also enjoy a whole lot. I need to allow myself to be good at things, because my brain sets an unreasonable number of traps for me, and I need to teach it not to. Self-improvement always, dudes!! Always!!! At all times!!!

Anyway.

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Photo by Lee Wilson

I also recently did a gig in St. Albans in Hertfordshire, and on that journey I had a bit of an inauspicious start when I forgot to print the train tickets ahead of time and I couldn’t print them at the station!! But I got there, and I did the gig, and it was really lovely. Then, somehow exactly like the last time I’d done that gig, I ended up getting a drive back to London with wonderful comedians (last time it was Pauline Eyre driving and Victor Preda sitting in the backseat, this time it was Adele Cliff driving and Heather Shaw in the back) and the first song we listened to and sang along loudly with was Space Oddity. A glorious coincidence! Then, this time, I was left in charge of the music for the remainder of the drive, too, and I put together a playlist as I went and I forgot which songs I’d put on and in which order so was excited at every song, as the other two found entertainment in the fact that I’d put on exclusively songs I loved and then kept remarking “I love this song!” It was good. I like night roadtrips better than I like a lot of things.

That night was wonderful, too, because the spots at Comedy in the Crown are seven minutes rather than the London-standard five, and later that week (dun dun duuuuun) I had my third-ever ten-minute spot coming up at a gig…

 

… and I was petrified. Back in August, when I was on a bus in Edinburgh, I’d received a message from Emily Snee rather out of the blue, telling me how she was organising a cabaret night and, although she’d never actually seen me do standup comedy, she thought I’d be the right vibe for the gig. She asked to see a video and so I sent her one. Time passed as it does and then she let me know the night was going ahead and asked if I still wanted to do it. Yes, I did, but I couldn’t imagine I would be good enough.

I spend too much time thinking I’m not good enough for things.

Still, time ticked on and I prepared as much as I could for the gig and I fretted and I figured a loose eyeshadow called Absinthe and a sparkly black lipstick would help me feel like I belonged, a bit (confidence in the form of looking as little like a human as I possibly could), and then it was last Sunday and I was getting dressed in all my sparkliest things (including Disco Charlie Brown top, an item of clothing which is too large for me because it was from before I lost shitloads of weight, but I sometimes still wear it because it matters to me), and then I was getting on a tube to Balham and frantically reviewing the set that I’d timed at pretty close to ten minutes just that morning, then I was off the tube and finding the bar where the gig was, then I was directed to the back room and to the green room and I was there with the other acts, perching on the arm of an overstuffed chair and looking through my notes some more and telling myself that since it was a cabaret show and I was the only standup act maybe, just maybe, the audience wouldn’t really be into what I was doing and that was okay, that wasn’t a reflection on me, and I should enjoy it as much as I possibly could regardless of the reaction I received!

So then Emily took the stage and introduced Thrash Cabaret, then I was on, and… it was wonderful. Absolutely excellent. The audience was on board with what I was doing from the beginning, I felt comfortable in my own skin, and I didn’t have to consult my notes even once. I did miss one bit I’d intended to do, but I don’t think it mattered. I felt on top of the world. Then, once I was offstage, I stood at the back of the room along with some other acts and watched the show, then I went to get a beer and got so flustered about the kind compliments I was receiving that I spilled my drink on myself. Like ya do.

Other acts on at that tremendous night were: Smashlyn Monroe, Big Mouse Tree House, Bambi Bang Bang, Ruby Wednesday, and The Fascinators. All were wonderful. Plus sitting in the green room and chatting to everyone was wonderful. It was the most fun I’d had and the best I’ve felt about myself and what I’m doing in ages.

Then, on the other hand (or: a completely tactless way of segueing into another thing I wanted to try to approach in this blog post because, per usual, I think I can work out my own issues without help if I just write about them enough), I’ve been worried about my lack of patience with other people of late. It probably ties pretty closely into my previously mentioned seasonal affective disorder bullshit and into all my anxieties and insecurities, but I have to find a better way to deal with it. I’ve been doing fairly well lately with work anxiety, with being on coffees during an apocalyptic rush and taking a deep breath and getting through it. I’ve been doing better at not taking any offer of help as a personal insult. These are both things I could do much better at, but I’m remembering to ground myself, to remember that I’m alive and breathing and doing my best. It probably doesn’t make interesting reading, but it’s an important thing I’m doing. I’ve also, as coworkers can confirm, been spending less time at work trying to be super serious and just allowing myself to be the idiot I actually am, because I can be silly and still be productive and be much happier in the long run. However, there are moments where I have a shorter temper than I would like, and I don’t know quite what to do about it. Remember to think before I speak, I guess. Or know that ultimately allowing myself to react isn’t going to make me feel good, I’ll just get caught up worrying that I’ve become a bad person. I guess ultimately the more I react the more I will react.

I don’t know what my point is.

I had a really good conversation with a dear friend the other day about how difficult it is to internalise our own accomplishments, our own skills, the fact that people we admire and care about could possibly feel the same way about us. The number of question marks I’ve typed when telling people about the particularly amazing interactions I’ve had with particularly amazing people! It’s just easier to shrug and move on and not fully understand but enjoy it all the same than to go “but I do try to be a decent person and to be good to other people and to be true to myself and those are the things I admire in others”. Those words exactly. A reeeeeal catchy mantra. But, I mean, it’s true that I have been ridiculously lucky with the life I’ve made for myself over these last nearly-four years, and there is no denying that, but at some point I do have to realise properly that nothing is exclusively luck, is it?

I don’t know. I’ll work on it.

One of the best and most inspiringly positive people I’ve had the good fortune of meeting and befriending (and whom I don’t see often enough) was saying yesterday, when I was talking about interactions with people I admire, that she can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to be mean to me, that I’m such an open person that people are basically bound to like me. She also described me as her “cool friend”, which was baffling to me. It’s amazing sometimes to hear what other people think of us as people. I don’t know if any of us actually see ourselves the way others see us. I don’t think it’s possible to.

My train of thought was just interrupted by a parcel being loudly dropped through the mail slot in my door. Glorious flatmate Jodie (who leaves on Friday to embark on the adventure of a lifetime and I’m excited to read all about her travels) was startled by it, too. It was a bottle of perfume I ordered off eBay because as I have mentioned I am out of control, small purchases-wise, and it’s a scent I used to wear when I was twenty-three or twenty-four. It smells like my life did then, and when I found my last bottle of it in a Marshalls in Vancouver last October I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it, just like I didn’t realise how much I’d missed the stars until I saw them in the sky in small town England.

It has been such a long time since I’ve moved here so by all rights I shouldn’t still be rediscovering things about who I used to be before I did take the leap, but I don’t know if I’ll ever really stop. It’s like dumb lies that are presented to us as facts when we’re still too young to be analytical and then the topic comes up as an adult and we hear ourselves speak and realise no, that information that was stored in my brain and never revisited ’til right now is really obviously wrong. I mean… it might not be like that at all, but (stick with me here) the same way as the Parliament Buildings’ roofs are obviously not green because the builders urinated on them, I suppose my brain doesn’t need me to constantly remember what it felt like to be in my early-to-mid twenties and working at a chain coffee shop or what it was like to sit by the canal, exhausted from work, and chide my friend Marc for falling asleep, or to impractically walk to work in the dead of winter wearing only a fuzzy hoodie as a jacket just because the effort of putting on a winter coat seemed way worse than freezing a little bit, or any of that stuff. I don’t need to be every possible version of Leslie at once all the time, but it’s nice to remember sometimes that I am, that all those previous incarnations are still there.

I don’t know if anyone reading this is still following my thought process, because I’m not sure if I entirely am. I guess if there’s an overarching theme here it has something to do with fear and how I’ve somehow become genuinely afraid of feeling things, when really my friend Kristin once described me as something like “a poorly stitched Muppet overflowing with emotions” and she knows me really remarkably well. And I don’t think I live all that much in the past but I still think I ought to let myself be who I am, take up some actual space in the world.

Thirty, female, 6’3″, rainbow-haired, tattooed, standup comedian sometimes, fairly decent barista always, 95% emotions and introspection, bad at taking life seriously. Deserves nice things (as, indeed, do we all).