Living in Community, Why I Stayed in Canada

Canada has been filled with so many unexpected surprises.

(I should have known that when I took the plunge three years ago, huh?)

These surprise opportunities have provided the most compelling reasons for remaining in Canada post-graduation. One in particular deserves some explanation and extra gratitude as it gave me so much more than a roof over my head and a job.

In September 2014, just a few weeks free of my final graduate school work, I was seeking my next step. With Mom and Dad moved even further across the globe, going “home” to Texas no longer felt like a clear choice or back-up. The thought of starting over Stateside appealed to me, but I again felt no clear call telling me where I should go. The thought of journeying further abroad out of English-speaking North America excited me, but the only signs I heard pointed toward staying put longer in Toronto.

With no job prospects in my career area or even just not in minimum wage retail sales, I needed a more tangible reason to stay.


Maggie in front of the KK House in Canada t-shirt in winter snow.

And that’s when I received the job posting from St Stephen-in-the-Field’s priest Mother Maggie. Two single moms were seeking a roommate on behalf of their young adult daughters. Not just any roommate, but a “Friendly Housemate” who would mentor two women with intellectual disabilities as they transitioned into independent living for the first time. In exchange for setting up the house, agreeing to and enforcing some ground rules, and offering support, guidance, and role-modeling of safe, independent living, I would have a place to live for at least a year.

I lived at “KK” house with Krystal and Karen for a year and a half.

Although I had no previous professional experience working with adults with disabilities, something clicked when I interviewed with the moms and then their daughters. I thought up roommate agreements, plans for how to organize our schedules, and ways to bond over Friday night Glee watching parties and suddenly on Halloween 2014 I found myself carting my suitcases and clothes over to the new house.

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Follow the Playwright–Me!

I’m off social media for the month of July (at least, we’ll see how this goes…), but I was BIG on social media in June–

For Friday June 17th of the 2016 Canadian Writers’ Summit, the Playwrights Guild of Canada followed me around the conference chronicling the role of the playwright in the overall writing community and Canadian society through the eyes of a young, emerging artist: ME!


Maggie at the 2016 Canadian Writers’ Summit.

Check out this recap on the Playwright Guild’s website:

Suffice it to say: I got to participate in yet another fake protest, witness a brand new interactive documentary all about “story,” and even do a bit of impromptu writing based on prompts for beginning writers.

Though my year of development with Storefront is over, I’ve still got a lot of creative projects on the go. And I’m still getting feedback on how to write that final draft (fingers crossed) of Raggedy’s Kingdom!

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After the staged reading of Raggedy’s Kingdom

It’s taken me a week to recover. It may seem odd to say that …

since it was such a huge success!


Photo by Emma Mackenzie Hillier. Pictured: Scott Garland, Caroline Sawyer, Chloe Sullivan Kat Letwin, and Kevin Chew.

All that worry from the weeks before when I was dreaming of entering an empty theatre, of no one showing up… the opposite occurred. After a few hours of waiting impatiently between rehearsal and the top of the show, suddenly 20 minutes until the show I found people swarming toward the entrance of Storefront Theatre.

Members of St. Stephen-in-the-Field, Bread and Honey, Kimbourne Park United, Nelson Education co-workers, fellow American expats, mentors from York University, the Shaw Festival, and the LMDA, my Zumba instructor, past roommates and their family, frineds from Indy Convergence and York University alumni, one of my volunteers from last year’s SummerWorks, plenty of Toronto Cold Reads writers and actors, boyfriend… I am sorry if I forgot anyone because there were so many of you.

I thought I would have the smallest house all week because I didn’t grow up here, I’m just starting my career in the Toronto indie theatre scene, my family is literally spread out across the globe… excuses, excuses.

Instead, I had such enthusiastic turnout that we had to ADD IN MORE SEATS. My beloved dramaturg had to STAND through the entire performance because she didn’t have a place to sit.

I found that all the work I’ve been putting in to growing connections and community has created an amazing, diverse audience for my art.

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Before the staged reading of Raggedy’s Kingdom…

INDIE6IX banner.jpg

8 pm, Monday May 30th. Storefront Theatre 955 Bloor St. West. $10 tickets–click above for more information.

It’s the morning before, about half an hour until I leave for the theatre to go rehearse for five hour with the cast.

To hear these words read in their entirety. To see people collaborate on this play for the first time in more than a cold reading setting.

I’ve done all the good luck things I can think of: lighting the last bit of incense from the first Zen temple we visited in Kyoto last September, writing thank you notes, making a big breakfast, putting on the teapot necklace that comes from my great aunt–the one who inspired this play and gave me the tools and space to let my imagination soar. I also lit a candle for you, Aunt Donna.

I might not feel this way soon, but I’m not as nervous as I thought I’d be. The difference is the audience. Yes, this is for me so I can hear the next step and understand where this play grows next.

But even more, this reading feels like it’s for you. It pains me when people post and email that they can’t attend. On the other hand, it reminds me that there’s a network out there brought together by my story in spite of prior engagements, borders, oceans, and different time zones.

I’m more excited to hear how you react and what you think and to share whatever emotions this creates. (Hopefully some fears, chills, and thrills–as it is a horror play)

Welcome to Raggedy’s Kingdom. She’s been waiting a long time to play with you…

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Poetry with Doug’s Rules for Constructive Criticism

Disclaimer: I don’t remember the actual rules from my first official writing workshop. I do distinctly remember putting them all up on a sheet of paper the afternoon before meeting our poetry instructor, Doug, at the Young Writer’s Workshop. Almost ten years ago… 

I’m putting up my “new” rules because training at my new job and interacting with my various Toronto housemates and other peers has recently highlighted to me this is a skill that not many other people seem to possess–giving and receiving criticism.

So without further ado:

  1. No disclaimers.

    You show your work, you don’t speak your biased opinions about all of it before its read/performed/etc. Why? Because if it’s not on the page, it won’t be conveyed to the readers, actors, directors, editors, designers, illustrators, etc who will be working with your writing. Learn what they know and they see first–their perspective is invaluable.

  2. Positive feedback first.

    It’s easier to listen to negative feedback when you’ve heard the good stuff first. Who wants to put more work into reworking and overhauling a piece that was no good to begin with? No one. This is how you motivate the people around you.

  3. Attribute criticism to the writing, not the author.

    Writing may be deeply personal, but what someone has written in his or her shitty first or second draft is not them. Period. Even in a final draft, it’s best not to conflate author with writing–communication is limited and faulty no matter how much it’s been polished. There’s no way to perfectly convey meaning in words.

  4. Don’t speak while the criticism is being given.

    What’s the reader going to do when something doesn’t make sense or they read a weak point? Will you be there to defend it in the moment? No! Wait until the end and then ask questions to clarify. Leave and take all the criticism with you to parse through on your own. No one has to know which pieces you take to heart and which go back into the waste bin. That’s the real journey.

  5. Listen.

    It goes hand in hand with the above point. While you are silently sitting there, let yourself hear the criticisms. Your critics, if they have also agreed to abide by these rules or similar ethics, are not there to rip you and your work to shreds. They are giving you the gift of their time, wisdom, and outsider perspective. You cannot get this from any other source in such a loving way so take it as such. You never know what gems they will offer, even if they seem like heart-wrenching demands. Kill your darlings…

  6. Come to the table with your own questions.

    If you are self-aware as much as you can be of the weak moments, the strengths, the themes and pieces you want to keep–and the places you know you want to improve–you can take charge. While you are actively listening, you can see who picks up on your questions before you share them. You can search through the criticism and determine what matches up with your point of view and what doesn’t. It’ll help you actively listen during the critique and follow up more effectively–so you’ll know exactly how to confront the next draft.

  7. Give what you want to receive.

    Yes, in workshops and critiques the golden rule also applies. Think someone’s piece was pure crap? I’m sure someone thinks that about your’s as well, that’s the nature of art and taste that your brilliance is someone else’s idea of pointless garbage. Respect that–and make sure that you give your attention and honest feedback to everyone fairly. If you can’t (sometimes workshops get poisoned with ex’s, foes, competitors, etc), be honest about why and take yourself out of the picture for a while. Good critics are hard to come by, but they are worth the effort to find and protect.

*I wanted to have 8 rules (my favorite number), or 10 (traditional for lists), but 7 does seem lucky in this case.

The more I write about these rules of good criticism and writing, the more I see how they apply to other areas of life. You couldn’t reach someone on the phone? Not your fault. You did, but they were angry? Not necessarily personal, don’t attribute it to the possibly “mean” tone of your “Hello.” And that’s just how it applies to one aspect of my day job…

And that’s what it’s really about: everything that makes me a good writer comes from what I’ve learned about the discipline of putting my words on the page and about the courage it takes to ask for feedback.

This post also commemorates my three formative summers at Session 2 of the Young Writer’s Workshop.

Chalkboard with Welcome to Young Writers Workshop!

I am heartbroken to miss the reunion this summer marking the 35th anniversary of YWW or YDubz as we so fondly called it. I heartily with everyone will have an extra pint for me, and help give me another reason to come back to teach at YWW, speak as a guest artist, or attend the next reunion.

If it weren’t for YWW, I would not be a $criptwriter today. At least that’s why I’m missing the reunion; the staged reading of my horror play Raggedy’s Kingdom is happening at Storefront Theatre on May 30th. Check it out if you’re in Toronto! (I promise it won’t be too scary)

$criptwriters for ever, cha ching!

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Oh the Horror – Staged Reading of RAGGEDY’S KINGDOM

Come hear the staged reading of my horror play, Raggedy’s Kingdom.

After a year of development through Storefront Theatre’s Inaugural Playwrights’ Unit, Raggedy’s Kingdom is ready for its first full, public reading.


Sound familiar? I’ve been writing about this play a lot here and here.

The play

When their great aunt dies, sisters Ann and Emma must meet at her house to divide the estate. As they struggle over the inheritance, Ann must fight her worst nightmare: an antique doll named Raggedy that has come to life…

#indieunite #playwrightsSFT #newworks #indie6ix #horrorplay

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Tea from the Source: Toronto Edition

I’ve wanted to attend the Toronto Tea Festival since before I moved to Toronto. And for two years I’ve missed it… but at the end of January 2015, I finally made it there. And it was glorious.

A room filled with tea vendors. Equipped with a small glass tasting cup, I was ready.


I didn’t think the Toronto Reference Library could get any better, but adding in a whole auditorium of tea vendors and filling it with tea enthusiasts? I was in heaven.

My favorite tea stall was Genuine Tea, a small vendor that goes straight to the source. Whether that means Taiwan, India, China, Nepal–wherever the tea is, they go there. Not only were they knowledgable, and ready to gush over the Maokong Tea Plantations in Taipei with their wonderful oolong, but they sampled me a smoked oolong that had the same peaty smell as Scotch. But tea tasted a lot better to this tea enthusiast.

We skipped the lectures because though the topics on the history of the Asian tea trade and its many health benefits interested me, Laura and I didn’t feel like sitting down. Too much tea to sample. Continue reading

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The Rule of Three’s

Physical injuries aren’t a normal occurrence in my life. And this year it seems as if I’m oddly accident-prone.


Before the sprain…

In December, I twisted my ankle. Or foot, more accurately. While dancing at a playwriting retreat, I jumped up… and fell down. Another playwright looked at it and confirmed a sprain of some sort. But I kept dancing. Plus then I refused to stay off it, turning a slight injury into a month-long pain by returning to Zumba less than a week later and jumping up and down to T Swift’s “Shake It Off” (but how can you NOT jump up and down to that?).


… after the fall

In January–just when I’d cleared the first injury–I proved that in at least one way I fail to pass as Canadian. About ten minutes into my first try at ice skating in four years I fell flat on my ass. Not gracefully, not humorously, and I had a bruised tailbone for at least two weeks. The Canadian boyfriend was very understanding, but it was still an embarrassing, awkward injury.

Since then, I’ve been worried that the other shoe is about to drop.

Why? Because everything comes in three’s.

Three bears, three pigs, always two falls and then the big flat on your face flop… there’s a reason there were Three Stooges, too. Continue reading

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What does it take to conquer your fears?

I’m tending to realize there’s one essential key to conquering my most paralyzing fears.

It’s that bitch of an answer I know is true but hate hearing again and again when I’m working on my writing, after painful relationship transitions, after any transition. *Sigh*

I remember sitting in Spanish class in middle school learning “paciente” and “impaciente.” And I thought the former applied to me– I was dead wrong.

Tick, tick, tick…

Time. Yeah, it all takes time.

I like it better when Amy Grant sings it, “It takes a little time sometimes…

As much as I would love to believe Fear Factor and even The Amazing Race’s Phil Keoghan that the time to do everything is RIGHT NOW, my experiences tell me that immediately facing my fears isn’t always the best approach.

Walking into a fear confrontation, fear-busting situation works best for me when I’m prepared. It takes getting myself into the right mindset. It takes getting to the point where continuing to be afraid is holding me back so much that I can see the cost, striding ahead in front of me while I hang back.

I’ve conquered a lot of fears this year.

Just this Christmas break, I went to a rock climbing gym. And I climbed up at least five different courses. All the way to the top.

Last time I went to a gym like that, I tired myself out only halfway up because I could feel the gap growing between me and the ground–and my classmates eyes’ watching me not climbing but clinging to the wall.

Sure, I didn’t look down much this time around either, but I didn’t give up–even when one of the bouldering routes made my head feel dizzy near the end. I purposefully backed off and gave up three times before one push of encouragement from my best friend finally helped me make that final grab for the last hold.

Years later, what’s the difference?

I’m no longer beating myself up for failing or putting myself in situations where I might very well fail. Not when it means telling my childhood best friend that I’d rather just get coffee. We always played such imaginary fun games as kids growing up in Tennessee, but she always took the lead on the risky things like biking, hiking, climbing, and generally staying active. I was used to being the scaredy cat who wouldn’t even play Nintendo 64 for fear of coming in last in every race.

I didn’t have to prove anything to her, I just didn’t want to miss out on the fun.

And that’s the difference: I don’t have as much to prove. The only thing driving me to confront all my fears from heights to the job search, to my childhood nightmares (see this tweet for another #horrorplay related fear I giddily conquered in November) is the natural course of what I want and need from life.


Indy Convergence tested my fears–sharing and directing my new work.

So yeah, I still refused to step on the glass floor at the CN tower–even though it’s way safer than rock climbing. (I thought a few glasses of wine would make me more fearless… not in this case.)

And there’s part of me that respects the fears I still have enough to let them run their course, to tell their stories, to shape me into the person I’m meant to be. At least when the “impaciente” part of me isn’t screaming to just move on already…

On the other hand, now that I’ve started I have to admit: conquering fears is ADDICTING. Getting over that first hump has given me a burst of adrenaline and endorphins I want to keep pumping into my body. Just gotta keep taking deep breaths and watching and waiting for those moments when everything’s aligned for me to triumph.

When will you be ready to conquer your fears? Only time will tell… *&%t stupid *&%#ing TIME

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Beyond a Book Review: Solo, a Collection of Writer’s Pilgrimages

In this bright new year, it feels right to read about journeys. Pilgrimages, whatever that means. So I finally cracked Solo: Writers on Pilgrimage.

Solo: Writers on Pilgrimage by Katherine Govier, cover

To Margaret Atwood, it means traveling through literary and scientific history to Baffin Bay. To Katherine Govier, it means journeying to a remote mountain in Japan where The Book of Five Rings was penned by swordmaster Miyamoto Mushashi.

I could write them all out, but I’ll stop here. They are so genuine to each person, some written specifically for this collection and with its idea of “pilgrimage” in mind. And others have been reprinted for their tangential, yet illuminating representations of a pilgrimage-like journey.

I’m not traveling at this point in my life. Not in a physical way at least. If anything, I’ve just returned from two weeks for Christmas in the States. I have ideas of physical journeys for next year, dreams of great journeys for 2017 and years beyond.

And yet now I decide to read about these travel essays. Continue reading

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