Being There: How Showing Up Reveals the Most Splendid Surprises

Recently I’ve often found myself saying that it feels like Canada and Toronto (and my neighborhood even more particularly) have been sending me little signs to say, “You are in the right place. Stay here.” They are very specific and targeted to me, too. Like the deathly hallows sign chalked onto the bench in the park next door or a car with a “KAFKA” license plate that I noticed for the first time on my walk home from the grocery store. How does the city know me so well?!? When people ask, “Texas? How did you end up in Toronto?” I’ve now altered my answer: “I’m wanted in Toronto.” (For you worried Texan friends, that doesn’t mean I felt shunned by the Lone Star State, but there aren’t many reasons for me to be there right now.)

With the rush to finish my graduate program and solidify my plans for the fall and next year back on track after the onslaught of out-of-town visitors and my trip to Montreal, I thought that I had fallen behind. As it turns out, I just needed to be reminded of my mentor’s most recent advice: show up. Be a presence in the room and naturally, you’ll become part of the communities and circles that mean the most.

1) ChurchDSC07353
A friend of a friend introduced me to St Stephen-in-the-field on Halloween in the fall. I thought that attending their Bread and Honey arts, meditation, faith service was an indulgence. Turns out, it was the perfect place to take a break from the immediate concerns of my performance studies courses while still meeting members of various Toronto arts communities and sharing discussion, bread, and inspiration with them (like my play reading a month ago). This past weekend I thought that I wasn’t doing anything productive, that I was wasting my time reading and napping in my room. But I still went to Bread and Honey, as I have since November. And now I’m on the advisory board for the church, representing our little motley crew of artists and activists at the Saturday night service. I’m part of that community and feel loved, just because I show up like clockwork every week.

Oh, and I also swung by the Beaches Jazz Festival.

Oh, and I also swung by the Beaches Jazz Festival.

2) Festivals
Throughout the year, I’ve been told that festivals are the holy grail for emerging artists like me. I thought about applying for them, but felt that was WAY too much to take on with the new city and my complete-festival-newbie status. So then the plan was to stake them out, volunteer for everything possible, attend every performance . . . and then the world seemed to throw wrenches in all those plans, too. I didn’t miss all of the Toronto Fringe Festival, but it felt like I wasn’t “doing it right.” But then because I had shown up and did have well-thought out critiques and responses to the few shows I did attend, I made stronger connections with my already established network of friends and artists in Toronto. This past weekend I made a point of attending two shows at Parkdale’s Lab Cab Festival. It didn’t feel like a big deal to me and I got to see the work that my friends are creating here and now. To them, it meant so much to see a friendly face from the theatre community there to support them, who thought their art was worth trekking across town to see. I know that one day they’ll remember and come out to see one of my plays performed. And it will mean the world to both of us.

3) FriendsDSC07316
I thought that I didn’t have many friends in the neighborhood. Then I started stopping by the BBQ that the occupants of the house next door seem to throw every clear night. It’s amazing what a difference one friendly face in the house makes. I went from silently passing my housemates in the kitchen to chatting with them about the pros and cons of different country’s Netflix offerings, the best time to go to Woodbine beach, where to get the best wings on the East side, and how to say different words in English (most of my housemates and neighbors are students from Latin America and Asia here for 6-9 months to learn English as a second or third language). Just showing up and saying hi means I have a friend to accompany me on my morning runs and an open invitation to a BBQ any night of the week (as long as it isn’t raining of course). Making new friends for once hasn’t meant being a master networker–it just means sitting down on the front porch or the front lawn and taking a break to chat about everything and nothing.


And then this past Sunday my friend Kaye invited me to go sailing with her and the Blind Sailing Club. No better way to embrace being in the present moment than spending an afternoon on a sailboat in the middle of Lake Ontario letting the wind pull and push us along–and let me tell you, the blind sailors on the boat could steer so much better than I could. I felt like I was cheating by finding a point on the horizon to keep as my heading–and I still wasn’t so great at the helm.

My "brave" face.

My “brave” face.

Weeks like this remind me that the world isn’t going to stop when I finish my Masters next month. There are already so many other opportunities present in my life. If I’m here, watching the signs, there will be plenty to write blogs and plays about in the coming months.

About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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