Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Dishonourable Carolyn Bennett

I’m Carolyn Bennett. Not the doctor and Member of Parliament, but the writer and comedian. I’m about ten, maybe 15 years younger, similar in colouring, hair length and height. My friends say I’m better looking, but they’re my friends. Dr. Carolyn Bennett makes ten times what I do, so okay, I’ll take being better looking. It’s difficult having the same name as a person more famous than you, especially when you’re in the fame business. I’m not nearly as well known as Dr. Carolyn Bennett, although I do get the occasional stare in the subway. Then again, who doesn’t? I’ve had a modicum of national exposure (my own CBC Comics special, spots on CBC Marketplace and various other odds and sods around the dial) but I can’t compete with a woman who is both a doctor and a member of parliament. Maybe I should have studied medicine as an undergrad, instead of the bottom of a beer glass in the school pub. Oh well. Then again, maybe she wonders about all those years she wasted delivering babies and campaigning for political office. She could have been telling jokes at the Beefeater Inn in Lethbridge, Alberta.

I think having the name Carolyn Bennett sometimes works to my advantage. I always seem to get a good table in upscale Toronto restaurants. I only had to wait two weeks to get an MRI. The best of all was when an invitation to the opening reception of an art exhibit at the AGO surfaced in the mail. A dreadful mistake was made, for it was addressed to Carolyn Bennett. Besides the occasional foray to the gallery on free evenings, I tend not to expand my mind in that particular establishment. My name must have been mixed up with her name on a mailing list. I don’t think the MP for St. Paul’s would have lived in the former Legion Hall turned flat that was my abode. But I did what any good comedian would – I went. Mark Breslin, the owner of Yuk Yuk’s, accompanied me and we mingled with the event elite. Every so often he called me “the honourable Carolyn Bennett”. As for the exhibit, Matisse is not my favourite Fauvist, but the flowing champagne and delectable nibbles pleased. I wonder if Carolyn Bennett ever receives mail for me? Maybe that would explain where my subscription to “The New Curmudgeon” goes.

I pity the poor actor or musician or comedian who is saddled with a name like Joe Clark or Stephen Harper.
There was a player in the NHL named is Jim Carey. Imagine how many comedians named Will Smith are trying to make it as comics.
Inevitably, I have thought about changing my name. Every so often, I’ll go on stage as Ginger Beef. The name Rufus Bennett has been suggested. I hearken back to my high school days though, when my principal said, “Carolyn Bennett – that’s a stately name,” as he handed me a suspension slip. It is a stately name. It’s my name. I don’t want to change it. It suits me. I wish Jennifer Lopez suited me, but it doesn’t. I am intrinsically, tragically, thankfully Carolyn Bennett.

Now if I decide to run for parliament and get a medical degree, watch out Carolyn Bennett.

- originally published in the National Post

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Promoting the Self

In the most recent issue of Canadian Screenwriter Magazine a column appeared about using blogs as a means of self-promotion. Let me make one thing clear -- I only have a blog because everyone else is doing it. I am following the herd on this one. I have no problem proclaiming that I have a gift for writing. What I have a problem with, and have always had a problem with, is promoting myself. My self is a mishmash of painful memory, something I actively try to escape through writing and performing. I'm reminded of the film Amadeus, when Mozart pitches himself to the Court, saying something to the effect of "I am a silly, irreverent man, but my music is pure, is glorious." I understand that sentiment.

I have just completed my first novel. Now it will go through the rounds at publishers. I feel like I've just begun. If it goes no where, at least I will have written a novel. But dang, it's good!

My best to this year's WGC nominees. You're all winners. You have perservered.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Times Change

There comes a time in every freelancer’s life when they say “enough”. Sure, the advantages of freelancing are many -- the 10 second commute to the home office, being able to concentrate without interruption, the freedom to sing when the urge strikes. The downside is the office politics. I can be cruel to myself. There are days when I take myself out for lunch and find it impossible to make small talk. Complaints to the boss fall on deaf ears. Sometimes it gets really bad, when I can hardly stand my own shallow breathing. The slight rise and fall of my chest, ugh, make it stop.

One day while trolling the internet to avoid writing, I stumbled onto the Times Change Women’s Employment Service website (or as I lovingly call it, the Shit Happens Employment Service). Times Change offers career counselling, job search workshops and computer workshops for women who by choice or necessity are in the market for new employment opportunities. These services are all offered free of charge, thanks to funding from the federal and provincial governments, as well as the United Way and the Trillium Foundation. The word “free” motivated me enough to check out their office on the 17th floor at 365 Bloor St. E. It’s been years since I’ve had to circulate my resume and I figured a little help gratis couldn’t hurt.

I’m a little amazed by my own change of heart. Ten years ago the thought of participating in anything female exclusive would have been anathema. I balked at doing all female standup shows, thinking the concept was unnecessary and coddling. Now, having being broken and humbled on a few occasions, I have changed.

I went to Times Change, over the federally run Employment Resources Centre, because I wanted to be in a nurturing environment. There – I said it.

“Times Change is a less intimidating and more supportive atmosphere,” says Julie Warrington, TC’s intake and outreach coordinator. “We may be a not-for-profit service, but we are as every bit professional as other employment centres."

The only catch for women who want to use TC is that they either have to be unemployed or working no more than 20 hours per week (or the feast or famine type like me). However, the resource centre, an up to date library of everything you ever wanted to know about the working world, but were too apathetic to ask, is available to anyone. It’s a cornucopia of labour market data, career tomes and occupational workbooks – everything I’ve ignored for 20 years.

Julie, a university educated former massage therapist, was once a client of Times Change herself. “We have a huge range of clients, from women with high school educations to those with Masters Degrees. New immigrants and refugees come to us because we make them feel comfortable. Our goal is to inspire women and give them the confidence they need to find work. Times Change helped me chose a different career.”

I participated in the Job Search Workshop, a thorough crash course in how to identify and pursue job opportunities. Self-marketing (never my strong suit) was a key component. I learned that there are different resume formats and that potential employers actually look at these things. In my workshop there was another freelance writer, two newly arrived immigrants and a woman who had been out of the workforce for ten years. By the end of the four half days, I had a better head for presentation skills and a deeper appreciation for the immigrant experience.

“We need a women’s employment centre because of the reproductive aspect,” says Holly KirkConnell, one of TC’s employment counsellors. “Women leave the work force more often. We have children. We are still the primary caregivers. I remember the days when there was no maternity leave. Paid maternity leave only came about in the late 1970s. That’s not so long ago. After using our services, 70% of our clients are either employed, self employed or have returned to school.”

TC’s approach toward employment is wholistic. For instance, its career planning workshops aren’t based on assessment testing. Rather, the workshop draws upon the personal stories of each woman to reveal their dreams and aspirations and then gives them the tools to pursue those dreams. Without dreams, what are we?

Go to the website www.timeschange.org for more information.
Now what do I do with this resume thing?