LJ Idol Season 11 Week 14 Barn Raising

There’s something about the festival experience that just makes improv more exciting to be around. The like-minded community coming together to build something greater than what could be accomplished within individual groups with a monthly or weekly show.

The first improv festival I attended was back in 2014, a few short months after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. I’d seen that it was coming up and messaged a friend for advice on what to go to, but didn’t immerse myself in the experience -- I hadn’t even started taking classes yet at that point.

By the following April, I'd taken a couple of six-week classes and had just joined my first improv troupe. The Artistic Director of the theatre I was involved with also ran an improv festival celebrating women improvisers, so I got involved with that as a volunteer, and even participated on stage at the jam. I watched all the shows I could for free, since I had been a volunteer. In subsequent years, I took on more responsibilities with this festival, from watching submission videos and helping select the acts, to eventually receiving the title of producer for all I did to help the festival.

Last year was the first time that officially happened, and was also when she decided she wanted to experiment and include “male allies” at the festival, inviting our first male instructor to teach other men how to be good allies to women on stage. Unfortunately the workshop was not well attended -- I think many men who would have benefitted from the workshop thought they were already “woke” enough to not need it. It would be an offence to them to be seen in such a workshop. Never mind that when you think you're already completely knowledgeable on a subject is often when you're actually not, and you can always be looking at ways to improve.

I think it’s good to have themed festivals to focus on uplifting marginalised communities, and I also got to perform at San Diego’s LGBT+ improv festival called IMPRIDE last year.

In general, I prefer to look at bringing together marginalised communities in an intersectional way. Unfortunately, I do think the San Francisco Bay Area’s improv scene is lacking when it comes to racial diversity, if you look at the percentages of different races in our population, it really doesn’t match up. I live in an area that has more Latino and black people than white people, and yet those seem to be the communities who are most unlikely to be represented in most of the improv shows I’ve seen out here. And it’s hard to get people involved when they don’t see themselves on stage.

About a year or so ago, thankfully, a new group cropped up to specifically teach improv to people of colour in San Francisco. But I live in Oakland, in a somewhat poor neighbourhood, and I can understand the challenges of cost of travel and classes. You can’t just create a class for people of colour and expect them to come to you. It’s much better to bring it to the communities you want to reach in an accessible way.

Now, I’m white. I don’t want to claim I can even begin to understand all the complexities that go into addressing these issues. But I have an autistic son, and through his specialised 504 education plan, I have brought improv into his classroom of majority Latino kids for 3 years now. They love it, and it gets them thinking in creative ways that they may not have otherwise.

In one such improv session with the kids, I gave them a game that required them to choose a profession to play for their character. When the professions started becoming monotonous like “McDonald’s worker” and “Walmart worker,” I encouraged them to think of grander possibilities. But I couldn’t stop thinking about this session afterwards. Were they only thinking about jobs they thought they could get in the future, because they come from poor families, and couldn’t see themselves reaching higher goals? I see improv as helping to develop the creativity needed to expand one’s ideas about everything that is possible for their future.

Seeing how much the kids in my son’s class enjoy improv, I’ve wanted to bring it more into the wider community I’m part of. So I organised a workshop for kids at our local library, bringing my own kids along. Then when the date rolled around, a few kids popped their heads in, but most of them ended up being too shy to stay. I only ended up with one boy who stuck around, and brought his mother. The children’s librarian who scheduled the event joined in as well, so we had an equal number of children to adults. My kids and I were the only white people there (including among those who popped their heads in but didn’t stay).

Given that the librarian and other mother also enjoyed playing along with the games I introduced, the librarian and I decided to organise the next improv event to be for families, rather than just kids. We suspected that perhaps the other kids who seemed interested but shy may have been more inclined to stay had their parents also joined in.

Our local library is a great place, offering a range of activities for the community. I’ve been able to get involved here thanks to being a regular face utilising the library, and bringing my kids to their events. My eldest son attends a D&D club for teens there every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, and it’s his favourite activity now. The children’s librarian also asked him if he might be interested in being the game master for another role playing game for younger kids.

Their school community is similar -- I’ve been involved in the parent leadership area every now and then and been amazed at how involved all the other parents are, and everything they’ve done to build the school into what it is today. The kids seem just as invested, and my eldest even created a chess club there before being voted in as President of the student council.

Having that ability to feel empowered to get involved and work together with others to make things happen on that level is so important. And I want to keep fostering that feeling as much as I can.

Eventually, I’d like to transition my efforts to bring improv to the local community I’m part of to develop my own improv event that better considers and celebrates an intersection of marginalised communities in the Bay Area. I’m taking it one step at a time, because I can’t do it alone. I still need to find more people who believe in that vision and want to build it with me.

LJ Idol Season 11 Week 13 Fan Death

San Francisco, California; Monday, January 12, 2026


Gerald Coulson had been working at the Fairmont Hotel at the top of Nob Hill for 15 years. He started out as a bellboy whilst in culinary school, before moving up to working as a chef in the restaurants when he graduated. He often enjoyed the moments when the upscale tourists would ask to talk to him, and he could offer tips about other things to see and do while they were in town. He liked to recommend what some people perceived as a tourist trap in Fisherman’s Wharf, the San Francisco Dungeon, because he had a fascination with some of the underbelly history of the city. He also insisted people ride the cable car to get there from the hotel.

These days, Gerald lived in the Glen Park neighborhood, and his routine to get to work often included riding the the BART train to the Embarcadero station, and riding the California St cable car to the top of Nob Hill. He didn’t care that it cost $11 to ride the cable car now. It was worth it, because it made him feel connected to the city. When he moved to the Bay Area 15 years ago and took a sightseeing tour around the city, for some reason the story of Andrew Smith Hallidie, the inventor of the cable car in 1873, took root and made him want to use the cable cars regularly when he could afford to.

This was especially important now, because there had been rumours from City Hall about the possibility of finally removing the remaining 3 cable car lines from operation, because they were getting too expensive to run with increasing worker salaries and fewer tourists and locals willing to pay the increasing fares. An increase of $1 per ticket every two years over the past six years seemed ridiculous to most customers.

On the night of January 12th, an elderly couple had called him over to compliment him for their meals, and he gave his usual spiel about taking the cable cars.

The lady told him, “Oh, yes, we were planning to take the cable car tomorrow. We don’t want to miss the opportunity to be some of the last people to ride this historic transportation.”

“What do you mean, last people?” Gerald asked.

“Don’t you know?” the lady asked. “We read it in the paper this morning. They’re planning to dismantle the system next month.”

“I am saddened to hear that,” Gerald said, and took his leave.

Gerald determined that drastic measures would need to be taken to save the cable cars, and fast.

Over the last 10 years, Gerald had been dabbling in magic. Casting spells using special ingredients had been pretty similar to following recipes as a chef. He’d experiment with a little spell here and there to improve his day, or his life. Nothing too complicated to start off with, though he eventually progressed in his self-education, learning even how to bring life back to the plants on his balcony that he’d forgotten to water.

If he could bring plants back to life, Gerald wondered if he could also raise the dead. Andrew Smith Hallidie could be the only person able to change City Hall’s mind. He needed to return.

Colma, California; Wednesday, January 28, 2026


San Francisco is home to only two remaining cemeteries -- the one at Mission Dolores, the oldest church and building in San Francisco; and the Military cemetery in the Presidio, the part of San Francisco known for having been the longest continuously run military base in the United States (1776-1994). All the other former cemeteries in San Francisco were dug up and moved to a town south of San Francisco called Colma, which is purported to have 1,000 dead residents to every single living one.

Andrew Smith Hallidie’s final resting place is a crypt shared with about 35,000 other bodies whose families could not afford a more elaborate relocation.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays were Gerald’s typical days off, and Gerald opted for Wednesday as the day to cast his spell. Based on his observations on both Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park over the last two weeks, Wednesday was typically more deserted.

Gerald spent most of the day preparing all the necessary ingredients, packing them in a cooler to keep them fresh. The tools he needed for the spell were packed into a plain black backpack.

At 4pm, Gerald set off to catch the BART train south 3 stops to Colma. He walked to the cemetery and headed straight to the crypt as soon as he arrived.

Gerald glanced around, over his shoulders, to be sure no one was around. He turned on a flashlight, then let himself into the crypt. The place was enormous, and with 35,000 bodies, he knew it would take forever to specifically locate Hallidie’s remains. He figured as long as he named Hallidie in the spell, the spell would find the correct body, as long as it was in the general vicinity.

By the light of his flashlight, he made his way further into the crypt, making sure he didn’t bump into anything. He just wanted to be further away from the entrance just in case someone wandered past outside and noticed his lighting. When he was comfortable with how far he had travelled, he set his backpack and cooler down on the ground. He pulled some candles and a matchbox out of the backpack, and set them up around in a circle.

From the cooler, Gerald removed a ziploc bag full of sheep’s blood. He grabbed some scissors from his backpack and cut one of the corners of the ziploc bag, then painted a pentagram on the ground in a similar fashion as he would if he was spreading icing for a cake. When the blood was completely used, Gerald took a small ceramic mortar from his backpack and placed it in the middle of the pentagram. He removed the remaining ingredients from the cooler, all separated in their own ziploc bags, and one by one dropped them into the mortar. He removed a pestle from his backpack and smashed the ingredients together. Then he lit another match, and dropped it in the middle of the mortar.

Kneeling behind the mortar, Gerald whispered the spell he had written into the ether. “Oh great Lord of Death, Andrew Smith Hallidie is needed once more. Raise him unto me, and bring life back into this crypt.”

Gerald waited for the fire in the mortar to burn out. Nothing happened, until the ashes stopped smouldering. Suddenly, it was very loud in the crypt. A lot of banging from all over the place. A thud, which could have been the sound of the lid of a sarcophagus falling to the ground. Then the same sound came from different directions all around Gerald.

“Oh, shit,” Gerald whispered. “What have I done?”

He picked up his flashlight and turned it back on to help him scan the crypt. Hundreds of skeletons were clambering toward him, over tombs, and pushing past other skeletons. There was no clear path to an escape.

There was nothing else Gerald could do but accept his fate. He turned the flashlight off and blew out the candles. After kicking the mortar and pestle away from the pentagram, he laid down on top of it. He whispered one last wish into the ether, not knowing if it would have any impact as a spell. “Oh great Lord of Death. Before I am completely taken, give my body unto Andrew Smith Hallidie, so that my death will allow him to live again.”

As soon as he uttered his final word, those hundreds of skeletons descended upon his body, and drank his lifeforce away.

LJ Idol Season 11 Week 11 Part 2 If the Creek Don't Rise

I was not-quite-21 when I visited Toronto, Canada to lose my virginity to a man I met when I was 17. The man was probably a self-centred creep - interested in having sex with me, but not a relationship. After more than 3 years of online sexual interest from this man when I never really received that attention from anyone else, I was willing to travel halfway across the world for him from Perth, Australia. When I met his roommate Kristian, and Kristian treated me with more respect, having deeper conversations with me and going on walks with me around the city, suddenly I was conflicted, and I was willing to lose my virginity to Kristian instead.

Kristian was attracted to me as well. And slightly older than his roommate. They were both in their early 30s. However, despite the fact that we had some sexual contact, Kristian inevitably turned me down because of my maturity level. He didn’t want to take advantage of my vulnerability. I think that made me want him more. When I left their apartment to head onto my next destination, I left him a card, thanking him for his choice.

My experience with Kristian in Toronto inspired the short film I worked on for my Graduate Diploma the following year. When my Mum was dying, she let me use her frequent flyer miles to book a flight for Kristian to come to Australia to play the lead character in my script. I wanted to see Kristian again, hoping for an opportunity to finally have sex with him, and I wanted him to be part of the production he inspired.

The script centred on a young Australian woman trying to escape her mother and travelling on her own for the first time. It was set in Toronto, Canada, and she meets a local male stand-up comedian, who takes her in and gives her a place to stay. Romance blossoms between them, but he ends up turning her down the way Kristian turned me down.

I started dating my soon-to-be-ex-husband after I’d booked those flights for Kristian. This man was around the same age as Kristian… I seemed to have a thing for older men in their 30s. When I met my husband, we started dating on the agreement that I would be allowed to have sex with Kristian when he visited. My then-boyfriend had one other partner he was allowed to have sex with as well. He took advantage of that in the first two weeks we were dating, and I soon broke up with him, albeit for different reasons. When we got back together, it was on the condition that we would be monogamous. I was willing to give up my chance to sleep with Kristian in order to be in this relationship.

We got engaged a month and a half after we met. And Kristian had to pull out of my production, because the shooting dates didn’t work for him. I ended up changing his flights so he could attend my wedding instead.

But that meant I no longer had a leading male with a Canadian accent for my film. Somehow, thanks to coincidence, the Universe working in mysterious ways, or something, I met a Canadian man named Mike, a stand-up comedian who was looking to perform in Australia. My leading male character was was a stand-up comedian. I immediately cast him in the role, and things worked out well from there. We let him stay in my fiance’s apartment while he was in town. Mike turned out to be perfect for the role.

Kristian still got to be part of the production. He recorded some of his own stand-up comedy for me, which I used as some of the background soundtrack in part of the film.

When the following April rolled around, Kristian did indeed attend my wedding. We let him stay in the apartment we bought and were renovating, because we weren’t staying there at the time.

One night, Kristian and I stood in the visitor parking lot of the apartment complex. I don’t remember much of the conversation, only that Kristian said that if my marriage didn’t last, and I still wanted to have sex with him in 5 years, he’d finally take me up on it. I never told my husband about this conversation. I never told him about any of the people who suggested our marriage wouldn’t last.

The following year, I had my first child. My husband and I travelled around the world with him before he was one, and when we visited Boston, Kristian came to visit us in our hotel. We hung out with Kristian and Kristian’s then-girlfriend.

I didn’t see Kristian again until many years later, after I moved to Oakland, where I live now. Although we still occasionally communicated online, and I told him about how my marriage was opened up. Part of me still wanted to sleep with him because of those early memories of the time I spent with him.

A few years ago, Kristian came to San Francisco with a new girlfriend. I went and saw a play with them. I probably seemed happy, because most of my life was good.

In the last couple of years, I’ve messaged Kristian about the breakdown of my marriage. Admitted to the abuse, and he’s been understanding. He has another new girlfriend now. I don’t keep track. We’re not that close any more. He always seems to be in a relationship with someone when I talk to him or see him, so I don’t mention that I’d still be open to sleeping with him. It’s probably better if we don’t. If we did, maybe it would taint my belief that he had my best interest in mind, all those years ago when he turned me down.

Kristian taught me how older men should be cognizant of the power they hold over young women. How important it is for them to take things slow, if at all, so as not to let them rush into something they’re not mature enough to understand and may later regret. My husband was the opposite of that.

LJ Idol Season 11 Week 11 Wild Goose Chase

It wasn’t until my son was diagnosed as autistic that I got myself evaluated for autism. In 2017, I learned exactly why I was socially different from my neurotypical peers. The signs were there much earlier, of course.

In high school, I didn’t really have any close friends. I’d move from group to group over the years, never giving into peer pressure, and always coming across as the weird, quiet one. I had crushes on boys I didn’t really talk to, based primarily on looks and what I perceived as their sense of humour.

There was one guy in particular I crushed on harder than anyone else over the years. His name was Glenn. I’d initially encountered him in 6th grade during my one term in a public school, before I removed myself from the school because I couldn’t handle being in that kind of environment.

Though we didn’t really interact, and I was too shy to approach Glenn face-to-face to ask him out on a date, I still had this strong interest in him. On one occasion when I was feeling particularly brave and I wanted to pursue him, in my autistic mindset, I thought the thing to do was to look him up in the White Pages phone book. This was around 10th grade, in 1998. I didn’t have the Internet quite yet, but even if I had, there’s no way I’d have known how to get his email address. So I wrote down his phone number and address. I think I might’ve called him a couple of times and not spoken to him, or just hung up. That was too hard.

I ended up posting Glenn an anonymous letter from a secret admirer with a time and place to meet. At a local shopping complex about halfway between both of our houses. I was really nervous, and had no idea if he’d even show up, but I went anyway.

I don’t remember if Glenn showed up, but I do remember encountering his best friend Tim there. Tim confronted me about the letter and asked if I’d sent it. I feigned ignorance, and must’ve suggested something like it was a coincidence, because I was mortified that this other person had gotten involved. In hindsight, I should have known better, but I was not really accustomed to typical social behaviours.

The following year, when I did have the Internet at home, I was humiliated even further, in relation to my attraction to Glenn. Subject to abuse could’ve possibly described the experience.

I don’t remember how I came across the picture -- perhaps it was emailed to me -- but someone had created a graphic that used some of my artwork (a drawing of a mutilated dog from the cover of my second comedy CD “Dogs Are Crap Meals” -- yes, I wrote and recorded two comedy CDs in 11th grade because my autistic special interest that year was stand-up comedy), a picture of me dressed in a character outfit I’d made and intended to perform in (Since I’d also been working on wanting to perform live comedy in 1999), and a picture of Glenn, plus a picture of a penis, I believe. It was all brought together something to the effect of me giving him fellatio.

Perhaps the worst part about it was, I think I was still attracted to Glenn. Though I did end up ripping the pages out of my diary I’d been using to write about my crush and setting it on fire in my bedroom, which then singed the carpet. I clearly didn’t think that through very well.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this impacted my view of healthy relationships and attraction. My ability to become attracted to men who were abusive, or not right for me. Or at least my inability to recognise the signs of things I shouldn’t accept in a relationship, because this was pretty much my normal.

Figuring out who is legitimately attracted to me, and who I’d be interested in back, is still something that often eludes me. I no longer date. Online dating has never resulted in anything good for me (and I will claim that for sure, now, given the abusive man I married was someone I met through online dating). It just seems pointless trying to pursue romance any more. Besides… all my best sexual relationships started out as friendships.

LJ Idol Season 11 Topic 8 My True North

The last happy memories I have of my mother are from a family trip to New Zealand with her and my sister in February 2005. There are two photos in particular that I remember that encompass that vacation - one of all of our feet in a circle on the beach, and one of us in wetsuits and helmets before we rappelled down into a cave.

She passed away less than three months later of pancreatic cancer. She only started showing signs of that illness shortly after we returned home to Australia from that vacation. It was only six weeks after her diagnosis that she was gone. May 3rd, 2005 was the last day I saw her alive.

My mother remains my guiding light. Whenever I feel lost and in need of comfort and direction, I look to her and the lessons she taught me. I have a purple blanket that she gave me on Christmas that remains with me to this day. When I stayed at my friend’s place, waiting for a court hearing, I brought that blanket with me to comfort me. I keep it on my bed now.

I still connect with my mother through the music she enjoyed. This year I went to see Beautiful -- The Carole King Musical because she was a fan of Carole King (and oh was it an excellent musical, as well as something I felt like I could identify with at the time). I went to see Elton John on his farewell tour in San Francisco because she was a fan. And while I was dealing with the early stages of separation from my husband, I purchased a ticket to see Celine Dion in Oakland next year, which coincidentally falls on the day after my wedding anniversary (which I obviously won’t be celebrating). She had two Celine Dion albums, as well as the Titanic soundtrack. I played “My Heart Will Go On” at her funeral, and now associate that as my goodbye song to her. These are all artists she got albums from her monthly mail-order CD membership.

My mother was a role model, and not just to me. She was a pioneer for women in engineering. When she studied civil engineering, not only was she the only woman in her class, but she was also the top of her class. When she died, the mining company she worked for and the university she studied at created a scholarship in her name for women studying engineering.

With a “can-do” and “take no shit from anyone” attitude, my mother accomplished a lot in her life. She was the sole breadwinner for much of my childhood, especially after she separated from my dad, which is the situation I’m living in right now. Knowing she was able to do that pushes me onwards to believe that I can too.

I was taught the importance of family. In my childhood, because my parents are from the USA, she took my siblings and me on three family vacations to the US to visit our extended family. So in 2017, after spending so much time focusing on my husband’s family visits, I finally said “enough.” I had lived in California three years by that point and hadn’t seen any of my family during that time (nor, in fact, since 2007 or longer). So I didn’t bother with my husband’s availability and embarked on a three week road trip with my two kids from California to visit my family in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Texas.

Raising my kids right remains my number one priority, and the lessons I share with my kids came from what my mother taught me.

#1 Respect women. They are not your slaves, and are entitled to their own lives beyond being caregivers/cooking meals/doing chores for you. Yes, they can do these things, but you do not get to force them to do it, and it is not all they can do.

#2 Pursue your dreams. How can I teach my kids they have the power to achieve their goals if I don’t model that for them? They get to see that I’ve published books and I go out to perform on stage and travel to festivals because I pursue my goals. My mother didn’t let the world hold her back from being an engineer when she wanted to do that, so I damn well want to do my best to not let the world hold me or my kids back from pursuing our goals either.

#3 Respect your body and the people around you. This includes consent. Teaching my kids to say “No” when someone tries to get them to do something they don’t want to do and accepting “No” when someone doesn’t want to do something they want to do with them. This includes teaching them that cigarettes are not healthy (my twelve year old gets anxious even seeing cigarette lighters) and it’s not really a great idea to use drugs, legal or not. So far I’ve mostly shielded them from the awareness that their father smokes marijuana now, and uses other drugs on occasion like LSD, mushrooms, and ecstasy. But it’s a challenge when one of the women he brings over will smoke both cigarettes and marijuana on our property. I didn’t give in to peer pressure around drugs and cigarettes when I was in high school thanks to the conversations my parents had with me. So when my eldest expresses his concern that he might, I remind him that the fact he is concerned about it is why I don’t worry that he will.

#4 Have empathy for others around you. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives. This comes mostly from my Catholic upbringing, even though I am no longer religious. The importance of Jesus’ teachings, with love your fellow man and don’t judge others. Help, don’t hurt.

#5 Hard work makes a difference. And you need to do it for yourself. Now, granted, my mother didn’t really teach me the second half of this - I tried to work hard to make her proud. But that, I think, prevented me from pursuing things I wanted to achieve sometimes. So I learned instead to teach my kids to be proud of themselves for their achievements, rather than achieving things just to make me proud. I am proud of what they’ve accomplished, but they shouldn’t work hard just for me.

My kids are incredible. My twelve-year-old - he’s so smart that when he finished fourth grade, he moved up to a split fifth/sixth grade education, and the following year he went directly into seventh grade. He’s now in eighth grade, the current President of the Student Council, founder of the school’s Chess Club, and shows a lot of self-discipline and empathy for other students. His vocabulary is at college level and he reads at the level of an eleventh-grader. My nine-year-old is in fourth grade and currently on track for following in his brother’s footsteps of skipping a grade. He’s autistic, but has accommodations that has allowed him to thrive in the school community, and I’ve been involved in his classroom as a result of his 504 Plan that deals with his ASD accommodations. For the last three years, his class has been excited to have me come in every few months to teach improv games with them. My involvement in their lives has allowed them to thrive.

When my mother was sick from her cancer, I asked her what she wished she could have done in her life. She said the only thing she wished she could have lived for was to meet her grandchildren. Though she passed away less than two years before my eldest was born, I know she would’ve been very proud of my kids.

I like to think my mother is still around, watching over them. When my kids were a lot younger, there were times I’d catch them staring at nothing in particular, or they’d make comments that would make me think my mother’s spirit was present.

LJ Idol 10.17 (Blind Box) - The Rent I Pay

In the last two and a half years, I've spent thousands of dollars on improv. I couldn't tell you exactly how much, because I haven't kept track. Six 6-week classes have been $235-265 a pop. I did a duo class for 16 months, for $150 a month. The improv troupe I auditioned for has quarterly fees - $450 a quarter for my first two quarters, then $225 a quarter when I became the production manager, for a full 18 months, until now, when the fees increased to $250 a quarter for the production manager. Then there have been countless workshops, drop-in classes, tickets to shows, and travel to festivals across Hawaii, California, and Washington. The fees go toward renting space and paying teachers/directors, but for me, the experience has been priceless.

At first, I only signed up for classes because it was something I'd been dying to do for years, and finally I was living near a city where, not only was there improv, but I was spoiled for choice. I'd also wanted to perform, but I didn't know anyone yet to make the connections needed to get on stage, so classes at Leela, followed by auditioning with them, allowed me to make those connections.

Two semi-major things happened yesterday that relate to the importance of improv in my life. In the morning, I had my first appointment with a psychologist to be evaluated for autism spectrum disorder. Whilst he wasn't able to give me a formal diagnosis right then, because we ran out of time to go through all his questions, and he wanted to talk to my dad about how I was as a kid, I provided enough information and examples for him to suspect I am likely on the spectrum. Even the fact I handed him five and a half pages of handwritten examples, being as thorough as possible, probably counted as a stroke in the likely ASD column.

The reason this relates to the importance of improv in my life is because, without improv, I would likely still be struggling with all my ASD-related social issues. Improv with Leela has trained me to use eye contact more, and be more aware of it, because of how important it is to make that connection with your scene partner. It's trained me to trust my emotions and experience them. Relish in them.

Performing improv has taken away my usual barriers when talking to new people, because new people approach me to tell me they like my work. I don't have to take that difficult first step to figure out what to say, and I've always been able to have a conversation about interests I'm passionate about - so talking to people about improv, and my experiences with it, is easy.

Improv, and specifically Leela, has also allowed me to find a community of people who accept me for who I am - some personal, some ASD-related. Personal, meaning it's easy to be openly polyamorous, and ASD-related, meaning my tendency to share too much information about personal stuff is actually cherished, and, in fact, the basis for my Leela ensemble shows with YUM. We tell truthful, personal monologues about things people would usually only share with their closest friends. And that is, apparently, why we have a following. People wish they had the bravery to share what we do. Only it's not really bravery for me. It's because I have limited shame around my life experiences and no filter to prevent myself from sharing information that others might consider socially unacceptable. I don't know where that line is. I wish that was something I could teach, because I'd probably be able to make money doing that, given how many people tell me they wish they could do what I do.

YUM promo photo
YUM promo photo


The second, more significant (at least for me) thing that happened yesterday is that I got a phone call from the producer of Improvaganza, the Hawaii Festival of Improv, Garrick, saying he wanted my self-created improv show, So You Want a Job, to open his festival in October. Not only that, but he informed me that they likely had 12 submissions due to my raving about their festival and promoting it.

The fact my opinion counts for so much that I influenced that many submissions is mind-blowing to me. I've never been someone who could sway people toward my obsessions. I thought my enthusiasm for things tended to be off-putting. But here I am, now, a significant voice in the San Francisco improv community. I guess that's one of the reasons I was made a producer of San Francisco's all-women improv festival, Femprovisor Fest, which was held last weekend at the end of April.

It's a big deal to me to have So You Want a Job accepted. I may have known Hawaii's festival producers for years, but that was no guarantee that my show would get in. It just meant I had a decent idea about what kinds of shows they like to accept. However, not only is this the first improv show I've been involved with to be invited to perform at a festival outside my home state, but I managed to achieve this by submitting a video of only the second performance, and the first with the cast I'm taking with me. It's also the only improv show I have where I created the format myself.

So You Want a Job started as an idea after playing the card game Funemployed with my husband, his girlfriend, and two improvisers, Leila and Sundar. The gist of this game is you get 4 trait cards to use to apply for a randomly selected job, but you're allowed to swap trait cards from your hand with any of the 8 that are in the middle of the table. As we made our way through the game, I found that as an improviser I wanted to challenge myself further, so I ended up playing with just the cards I was dealt. Leila and Sundar followed suit, and eventually we decided it would be fun to somehow turn this into an improv show.

A few weeks later, in the first half of January, I asked the Artistic Director of Leela if she would be open to having us ensemble performers direct mash up shows she was interested in producing. She said yes, and gave me a performance date and rehearsal time slot with little notice to pull everything together, including finding the cast and developing the format. At this point, I'd forgotten I'd wanted to develop a show with the Funemployed cards, but fortunately I remembered it within a couple of hours of being offered the performance slot.

I asked so many improvisers to be part of the show, but only 3 were available for both the show and rehearsal times I had. The small cast, and performance date - Donald Trump's inauguration day - ended up contributing to the development of the show's format. I can't stand Trump, but sometimes you have to fight with humour, and that's what I decided to do. I used Trump's campaign promise to "Bring the jobs back to America" and his experience being on reality TV to create a reality TV style job interview show, interviewing three improvisers at once, picking out traits for their characters from the Funemployed deck, and then developing a narrative around the audience's favourite job applicant.


So You Want a Job submission video


After the success of our first show, and having gathered so much interest from other improvisers I had asked but were unavailable for the first show, I realised this was a format I could do with a different cast every time if I wanted. I could finally have an opportunity to play with all the improvisers I've admired but not had the opportunity to play with. And then, I realised, it was a unique format that had the potential to be invited to festivals. Being on the production team of Femprovisor Fest, I wondered if I could assemble an all female cast to perform at the festival. I came up with a list of names - Leila, Diana, and Shirley. They were all improvisers I admired, and they'd all expressed interest in doing the show before. Unfortunately, we wouldn't have had an opportunity to perform before Femprovisor Fest submissions closed, but the seed had been planted now. I wanted to do a show with the three of them.

Once we had our performance date scheduled, submissions for the festival in Hawaii opened, and our performance was right in the middle of the submission period. I scrambled to ask my cast if they would be down with travelling to Hawaii with the show, because I wanted to go to that festival (being friends with the producers means I've admired their festival and what they select for it for years, and going for the festival is a good excuse to catch up with them in person), but knew I couldn't submit YUM, because we had members who couldn't afford to make the trip. I was elated when all three said yes. And managed to get the required photos for the submission taken on our performance night.

So You Want a Job
So You Want a Job promo shot


Though I have performed with YUM in three festivals across California (Antelope Valley Improv Comedy Festival, SF Sketchfest, and Hollywood Improv Festival), we have had more rejections than acceptances. Our show is somewhat unique in that we're inclined to tell those personal monologues that most people wouldn't, but I've been to enough festivals now to understand that we're not always different enough to stand out in the way a unique format like So You Want a Job can. It's why I plan to submit the show to other festivals that YUM members say they can't afford to go to, like AS IF, the Alaska State Improv Festival - another festival where I know the producer, and understand his rubric for accepting submissions is such that So You Want a Job has a good chance of being selected.

When performing at improv festivals is my goal, it's left me questioning how much longer I should continue paying those quarterly fees to be with a group that has less freedom to travel to festivals. It's not that I don't adore the people in the group, or the format. But the commitment versus the payoff, compared with So You Want a Job - where there are no fees to pay or perform, because I can rehearse in my garage if I want, the show keeps getting invited to perform at shows other people produce, and it was invited to a festival off the second show - maybe it's time for me to take a break from YUM so I can have both the time and the money to focus on these other improv goals. There's really only two things holding me back.

1) Being the production manager for YUM for over 18 months now, I know how much I personally bring to the group to keep us functioning so well, and getting us promoted and booked. So much of my personal identity at the moment is built into being not just a member of YUM, but the production manager. I go above and beyond anyone else in the group would to raise our profile. Probably because of my ASD-related tendencies, and the fact I don't have paid employment.

2) One of our members in particular is terrified of the group completely disbanding any time any member chooses to take a break. Given what I said above, in my role as production manager, I feel like this goes double for me, because I'm like the glue that keeps everything together. My monologues tend to be some of the most emotionally personal because of my lack of filter, so I easily bring something to our shows that others struggle with, but inspires them to do better.


A YUM performance, opening with one of my unfiltered monologues


So I don't know what to do. Improv has taken over my life in a way that I find it difficult to balance it with my home and family life. My husband refers to it as my secondary partner - he's more jealous of the time I spend on improv than he is any of the men I might be dating or involved with.

There's also no money in improv unless you teach, or direct. I don't get paid to direct So You Want a Job, because it's my show, but it is giving me the experience I would need in order to move up to that level, where people may be interested in paying for my expertise and learning from me. I've found it difficult to see myself as a teacher, but I'm building up the courage to to get there, because I already accidentally fell into the position of being seen as a leader, and because I've taught a couple of improv games to my kids. Maybe it's time I take that extra step. Stop paying so much for improv, and start getting paid.

LJ Idol 10.16 - Thunderclap

"Does he have any sensitivity to sound, or different textures he does or doesn't like to touch?"

It's a question I've been asked countless times, now, but the first time it was, was the first time I had any hint that my youngest son's outbursts over unexpected loud noises, or perceived harsh tones of voice might be indicative of an underlying relationship with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

It's been several months since then. At the end of March, he and I headed to San Francisco for a full three hour evaluation with various doctors, with the final diagnosis confirmed. He has ASD. I received the full fifteen page report in the mail last week, and reading through it was fascinating to see which of his quirks are recognised as symptoms of being on the spectrum.

As a parent, I've always talked to both of my children as if they could understand me at the adult level, never dumbing down my language the way other adults often do to children. It was as a result of this, I assumed, that my children are able to converse using a wider vocabulary than other children their age. Yet, Leo's tendency for "formal" language when speaking with adults, even going as far as saying "humans" instead of "people" was notable enough to mention in his ASD assessment report several times.

The major reason I never had any clue Leo might be autistic is that I don't really have comparative experience with other kids who are not my own, to know what "normal" is. Leo was slower to develop than his elder brother, Doyle, but Doyle was far advanced for his age, as far as I was concerned, taking an interest and learning how to read when he was only four. He finished third grade reading at seventh grade level. I knew he wasn't the kind of kid I should compare Leo with. I was more likely to compare them with my own personality as a kid, and in my mind both of my kids were more social than I ever was, so I thought that was an improvement on me. If I thought about it longer, though, I had to acknowledge that they were both more comfortable conversing with adults than kids their own age, but again, that wasn't any different than how I was as a child. It certainly wasn't something that concerned me.

Leo had acted up in kindergarten, but his teacher, Ms R, found a solution to correct his behaviour problems, namely rewarding him with borrowing Alvin and the Chipmunks DVDs when he earned enough "good behaviour days." This was something I'd brought up with his first grade teacher, Ms H, when he switched schools at the beginning of this school year, because I wanted to make sure he was able to keep up that attitude. Ms H didn't implement a similar reward system, however, and Leo's behaviour and inability to understand personal boundaries began to raise concerns, first with her, and then the special services unit within the school. It was a counsellor within that unit that first suggested I get Leo checked out by a doctor, and we were referred to a child psychiatrist, and neurologist, followed by an occupational therapist. The psychiatrist, upon meeting Leo for an hour, thought he seemed like a normal kid, until he talked to Ms H on the phone about her concerns. I believe, given her past experience working with autistic children, she found it easier to pick up on his possible ASD symptoms than anyone else had up until that point. It was that conversation that led to Leo having a more comprehensive evaluation.

Having now filled out countless forms, answered countless questions, I feel like I have a much greater understanding of what makes up an ASD diagnosis. Many of these questions and conversations has brought up reflection on both Doyle's and my own experiences. To the point that I talked with Leo's psychiatrist about his brother and myself. Doyle's current lack of social difficulties puts him in the position of not needing to be assessed, because he doesn't really need the services that Leo will benefit from having, and instead we're looking at switching schools to somewhere that he can be challenged more with his education.

As for myself, I have an appointment to be evaluated in the adult psychiatry department next week. At this point, I've hand-written four pages of examples of possible evidence of why I think I'm also autistic. I wouldn't have thought so before going through this process with Leo, because I had a very limited understanding of what autism is. And folks these days are even less likely to notice the symptoms in me as they may have in the past, because moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, and getting heavily involved in improv, has given me much better coping strategies for all my social issues from the past. Therefore, it's more my sensory input issues that convince me more than anything else. To me, those were just normal parts of who I am, until I spent more time thinking about it when answering the questions about Leo.

I'm also sensitive to some sounds. I won't throw a tantrum over loud, unexpected noises the way Leo does, but I do get super frustrated when I hear people whistling often, and sometimes have to ask them to stop because I find it annoying. Funnily enough, my mum would often complain about the same thing when I was a kid. They say there's a genetic component to ASD, so it wouldn't surprise me if she had also been affected by it. Especially after talking to my dad more about some of her social difficulties, which I hadn't been aware of. I wish I could ask her directly, but unfortunately she passed away in 2005.

It was only yesterday that I realised I have some sensory issues related to touch, also. Mainly when it comes to certain foods, and having to touch them with my hands. I knew I had an aversion to these things, like peeling oranges, cutting and handling raw meat, or de-shelling prawns, but it hadn't occurred to me that it was at least in part because I didn't like how it felt on my skin.

I don't know what I'll do if my evaluation ends up with a lack of diagnosis. I'm so convinced I am autistic now that having the diagnosis will feel like a relief. That all of my past social issues, all my struggles with depression and anxiety, they weren't my fault. They weren't my parents' fault, beyond their genetic makeup. It's just a part of who I am, the same way that it is for Leo.

If I'm not autistic like my son? Then I guess I'm just some weird, quirky lady with some unusual sensory issues, who sometimes has to hold her ears during a thunderstorm.

LJ Idol 10.15 - Patchwork Heart

Being raised in a Catholic family, even with rejecting religion by the time I entered my teens, it was very easy to get into societal norms. Get married. Have kids. Live faithfully and monogamously happily ever after. I thought that's what marriage was supposed to be, even though prior to marriage, I'd already begun to question monogamy. I'd lost my virginity to a serial cheater, and wanted to fuck his roommate the same week; needless to say, that somewhat shaped my opinion on what I wanted in a relationship. But if I'd met my One True Love, perhaps monogamy was a path I was capable of following. Of course, getting married at twenty-two, how could I have really known much of anything about relationships and what I really wanted, or was capable of?

It was only a few short years later, after my husband and I became truly polyamorous, that I learned just how important that decision was. How capable I was of loving more than one person at a time. Between then and now there have been three men that have touched my heart, and built it into what it is today. Three men who I've fallen for, accidentally, passionately, unconditionally.

James was the first. He was the one I should have just been friends with. But somehow innocent flirting turned into regular video chats and in depth, personal conversations. Compliments over every little thing. It culminated in a physical climax, that really spread my feelings for him like wildfire, because of how it changed his attitude toward me. I turned him into a teenage boy, who couldn't get enough of me, and I didn't want to ever let him go, despite the fact he didn't want anyone to know we were involved. I did let him go, though, because reality hit us hard, and he made me believe he was no longer attracted to me.

The devastation I felt, thankfully, didn't last too long, because already Andrew had begun to eye me, finding me both hilarious and physically appealing. It took me only a short time to realise his attraction for what it was, and so despite an even more difficult distance between us, I was back into a long distance relationship, falling far too fast and jumping on a plane the first chance I could, when his wife was in another country so I could maximise our time together, and consummate my love for him.

Andrew and I connected over writing, and depression, and once, we sat together near a cemetery and connected on our views on death, and how terrible we felt about uncontrollable thoughts that perhaps it would be better for some people in certain situations to just die, rather than fight to go on living.

I don't remember exactly how long Andrew and I were together for. It was at least more than 18 months, and in the first 8 months of our relationship, I'd been able to fly to the other side of the world to visit him twice. We'd had the most incredible moments together, wandering through cities, exploring museums, relaxing in my hotel room. The end of our relationship dragged on for months, and I knew it was over well before it officially was. Though he and his wife had been polyamorous before he and I got together, I'd come to realise she couldn't stand me, and it put a big strain on my relationship with him. I probably should've ended it when I realised that, but I didn't want to hurt him, and I didn't want to lose him. I wanted him to fight to keep me in his life. So I waited until she decided she wanted their marriage to be closed again.

Andrew and I are still friends, but I feel like that remains, hanging over my head, and I can't ever be as close a friend to him as we once were. The pain of the unfairness that I'm not likely ever going to be able to just hang out with him in person again, even though it's been years and I tried to bend over backwards to give in to any rules and restrictions she put on our relationship. Despite the fact I would never try to win him back and steal him away from her. Despite the fact I'm now in a timezone only 3 hours behind him, rather than 12-13 hours ahead, so it would be a lot cheaper and easier to visit.

The end of that relationship was meant to be the last time I'd consider being involved with someone who I had to keep secret in one way or another. I mean, Andrew and I had mutual online friends who knew we were together. I had friends in Malaysia who knew about us, and my sister knew. But his wife didn't want me to meet any of his friends, and she'd only come to this decision after I'd already met a couple of them (even though they didn't know I was anything more than a friend of Andrew's). As I write this, I realise I still foster some resentment in this area.

It felt like years before anyone else came along to the same extent, but I do recall talking to Andrew a lot about Lee, as things progressed in my friendship with him. I just don't remember if Andrew and I had already ended things by then. We were certainly over by the time I realised I was attracted to Lee as more than a friend, but I still felt guilty that I had moved on from Andrew, even knowing I couldn't be with him again.

Lee should have been different from both Andrew and James. First of all, Lee lived in the same country as I did, and only about a thirty minute drive away. We saw each other frequently at social gatherings, so distance was not an issue. He was also single, so in my mind, I didn't think I'd have to worry about someone else putting demands on the necessity to keep our relationship secret because of some fear of how other people would perceive them in society. Unfortunately for me, it was Lee himself who imposed that restriction, because conservative Malaysia still doesn't really stop society from passing judgement on a man involving himself with a married woman, even if her husband is fine with it. By the time I realised I wasn't going to have the freedom to be public about us, I was already falling in love with Lee, and so I accepted the restrictions as best as I could. Until I couldn't help spilling the beans to a non-judgemental mutual friend. Lee swiftly cut me out of his life when he learned what I'd done, and having already moved to California by then, there wasn't anything I could do to combat that, to confront him in person.

Throughout these loves, James was my rock. I'd buried my feelings for James, even though by then, I knew at the back of my mind that he and I were still attracted to each other. James was the person I went to, to complain about my relationship woes, I think in part because I'd idealised my relationship with him, and we hadn't ended things because things had gone sour, we ended it because at the time we thought it was the right thing to do. I'd complain to him because he'd listen, and tell me I deserved better, and I'd feel justified. I knew he couldn't offer me that better that I deserved, but he still made time to listen and show me that he cared.

I don't know what changed, or how. James still can't offer me better. He still can't provide what I've deserved. But I've learned, somehow, that with him, that doesn't matter to me. He's letting me talk about him now, at least to some extent, like now, or in an improv show, as long as it's under a pseudonym. I can't control how I feel about him, or what he means to me. I could choose not to act on those feelings, but after all these years, I know I'd rather have him in my life in whatever capacity I can than wait around for someone who maybe can provide what I want, but probably won't make me feel the way he does.

Being public about my relationships still matters to me, and it's why James's limited permission to talk about him means so much to me. Since coming out as polyamorous very publicly in July last year, it's been really interesting to see my Catholic father's growing acceptance of this reality of mine as he comments on my related Facebook posts. He doesn't shy away from the posts the way my Christian in-laws do. After the struggle I've had over the years, coming to terms with my preferred relationship style over societal expectations and my Catholic upbringing, it's nice to be in a place of acceptance, and increased understanding.

LJ Idol 10.13 - Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

Rain leaked in through the cracks above them, and was pooling on the cave floor, combined with whatever the hurricane winds blew in from the mouth. It was not the season for looting and plundering, but the crew of Medusa's Wrath had voted with their captain to take the risk anyway. Now they were holed up in this Godforsaken place on an uncharted island until the hurricane subsides.

Barely seven torches lit the cave around the crew of misfits. It was all they had been able to grab before the rain hit too hard. Most of the pirates gathered around the puddle, hoping it wouldn't get to the point of drowning them, and grumbling at their predicament, while Captain Kit Gray took the only woman of their crew, Jaclyn Rousseau, with a single torch to explore the cave passages.

"We will die here," Jaclyn said, upon tripping over a femur.

Her lover, the captain---actually disguised as a man for the rest of the crew---held the torch above the mangled bones of someone long dead. Kitty reached down and grabbed the coat that lay beside the decomposed body.

Shaking her head, she said, "I think not. Others have been here, ransacked the place of anything valuable. That be why this skeleton is not wearing anything."

"Your crew will nay be pleased if we return empty handed."

Kitty dropped the coat and wrapped her free arm around Jaclyn's waist. "I do not plan to be empty handed for the entirety of our exploration."

Jaclyn grinned. "Ever the wordsmith, you are."

"Aye, but you must have expected it. Why else would I ask but you to join me in these caverns? Privacy among these scoundrels is limited, and treasured."

"Sure as ye may be that we will survive the hurricane, if ye be wrong, then I be glad for one last chance to lie with ye."

When Kitty smiled at this, Jaclyn was glad to see under the light of torch fire a hint of Kitty's femininity around her eyes. It was subtle, and had a man been standing nearby, he would not likely have noticed. But Jaclyn recognised it. Jaclyn had known Kitty, been laying with her, for nearly a decade.

Jaclyn turned to face her captain, and leaned in to kiss her lips. Ignoring the bones beneath their feet, Jaclyn began to unbutton Kitty's doublet.

Parting momentarily, Kitty gave a quick glance down Jaclyn's body, admiring how shapely she looked in her breeches and corset.

"You do not wish to explore the cavern further before proceeding?"

Jaclyn shook her head.

"Perhaps one of our crew has elected to follow us? Is hiding in the shadows?"

"Who would dare?" Jaclyn asked.

Kitty removed a ready flintlock from her belt, and without skipping a beat, or looking away from Jaclyn, raised it in the direction from whence they had come, and fired.

They heard a yowl, and a rather scarred man---Flouter, as he was known to them---stumbled into the light, holding onto his bleeding arm.

"What ye be looking for?" Captain Gray asked the assumed spy. "And do nay lie to yer captain, for Jack will gratefully slice off yer head if ye do."

"But she shall let me live otherwise?"

"Depends on your confession," Kitty replied. There was a gleam in her eye that suggested to Jaclyn that she would likely have to kill, or at least injure the man regardless, but Kitty wanted to torture him first.

"I..." Flouter fumbled with his words whilst still gripping his arm tightly, clearly hoping the blood would stop dripping. "I wanted to help..."

Jaclyn placed a hand on the hilt of her sword, preparing to draw it.

"See," Kitty said, her smile widening and her eyes narrowing. "My love can spot a lying cur."

"I..."

"Yes?"

"I desired to look upon her breast."

Kitty looked pleased with herself, and turned to Jaclyn. "Make it quick," she said. "These men know their punishment for such desires." She turned back to Flouter. "Try to run and you will end up with another ball in your thigh next."

As Jaclyn withdrew her cutlass, Flouter dropped to his knees and closed his eyes. Kitty kicked his chest so he fell onto his back, then stood one boot on his chest so he wouldn't squirm too hard while Jaclyn administered his punishment.

Jaclyn's sword sliced through Flouter's belt, followed by his trousers, exposing his genitals.

Simply for amusement, Kitty lowered the torch, heating the area around Flouter's cock while he clearly tried as hard as he could not to cry out in desperation. The fire singed his pubic hair. Upon raising the torch again, Jaclyn slammed her cutlass down, making a eunuch out of Flouter. His screams were likely heard right back through the mouth of the cave, to serve as a warning to the rest of the crew.

After returning her cutlass to its scabbard, Jaclyn picked up the skull she had seen earlier, and covered it over Flouter's gushing blood, where his genitals once were.

"Oh, you make my laugh, my love," Kitty said to Jaclyn. Then, to Flouter, she said, "I hope you enjoy your dead head."

Both women acted as though his screams did not affect them as they continued on their way down the cavern.

---

Jaclyn and Kitty were first created during season 7 of LJ Idol. A more complete story about them was developed into my novel, Adrift, which is available as an ebook and paperback.