HELLO INTERNET BOY #50: Goodbye, Internet Boy forever

So this is it – the 50th and last post of HELLO INTERNET BOY. I’ve spent the morning reading back through all the posts. My god, I do wank on, don’t I? But it’s been an amazing experience. As a document to help aid my memory, it’s amazing. By reading through it, I’ve been able to remember small details (and large tbh) that I would have otherwise forgotten. I could smell my weird room in New York, and feel the hot Charleston air and feel the awkward cringe of meeting people.

What’s my round up? What’s my narrative arc ? I’ve already discussed some outcomes in the last post, but other than that, there’s not a bunch. I feel like a stronger person for having done all this. I feel like I had a great time and met some amazing people. I also feel like this document, this HELLO INTERNET BOY is exactly what it should be, that it exists right now as the perfect representation of the trip. Half blog, half microfiction, some diary, some memoir – it’s not going to turn into a book or start something new. This is what it is. Although I do honestly believe it could have been shorter.

Although, I have to say that reading back through it, I’m frustrated at how I wrote this. I sometimes skip over days of actual stuff, or summarise it, and even promise to go back to things, and then never do. I suppose it’s because I’m reflecting the hectic passage of every-day life, that I couldn’t write a post while in the car for a day, or busy in Chicago – but it frustrates me from a narrative point of view. I want to smooth out the edges of reality and make it all fit together more nicely. It won’t work, because that’s how life is. I suppose it’s good to have something to reflect that.

I’m also annoyed that I ran into such huge money troubles after returning from the US. I’ve really only just gotten stable. I feel like the project as a whole would have benefitted from some more travel, some more meeting of internet people. But hey, if wishes were fishes, this would be the ocean.

This project has been a lot of things – the very nature of it has been pretty stressful at times, forcing me to confront how much entitlement I actually have to other people’s stories. I’ve found myself soured on the idea of nonfiction in general. Give me fiction, or give me death. And it’s not because I hate nonfiction – I still love reading it, just not sure I want to be the guy to write about other people. I can still write about myself though! I’m easy pickings. I don’t care if I upset myself.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have this project. I want to thank Philip Thiel for the grant, and I want to thank everyone mentioned in this ridiculous enterprise and I want to thank you, the reader. I don’t think you exist, but thanks all the same.

Anyway, until next year when I go to… Guam to visit… aunts, this is me. This has been Internet Boy. XoXo.

This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016.
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HELLO INTERNET BOY #36: Ye olde taxi

In my last post, I was heading out on the road with Oswald and Ruffus, a potentially sinister duo of hobbit style man and dog man. And in what I remember as being extremely typical, I’m still waiting – there’s been no word from the moderator who’s writing the other half of the thread. I completely understand this of course – people have lives beyond their weird fake internet lives. The classic trick that Aelyrian’s get drawn into is feeling too impatient to wait for just one or two threads, so you start up another one, and then another one, which all works fine on that day – and then a week later, you suddenly have seven people to reply to, all at once, which is basically the equivalent of writing seven short stories a night, and then you way too stressed and quit. Or at least that’s what I did.

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Anyway, this waiting has actually been a fairly successful narrative device, it’s drawing out the suspense, making me wonder what’s going to happen. I’m 100% convinced they’re going to pull me into a copse of trees and stab me and steal my identity.

It reminds me of when me and my partner went to Vietnam a while ago. Everyone gave me the same tip – when you get off the plane, make sure you go to the correct taxi rank, because there’s a lot of dodgy taxis out there. So when we get off the plane, all bleary and tired and young, what did we do? We let ourselves get drawn away and shoved into a random car, and as we drove off, another dude just jumped into the front seat. It took me a while to realise it, but we’d done exactly the wrong thing.

It all seemed to go fine for about fifteen minutes, until suddenly we pulled off from the road, into what can best be described as a shanty town. Then, the guy in the passenger seat turned around and began yelling at us to give them ‘bridge tax’. Luckily, I’d been expecting this, and had shoved the couple of hundred US dollars I had in my wallet into my shoe, and just played really clueless and dumb, which I was, until they were happy with a few twenties. The guy then got out of the car, and the original driver drove us to our hostel, which was the weirdest part of our taxi heist.

I was mostly just glad that we hadn’t been stabbed and left in a gutter, but I was also a bit sore about paying around fifty US dollars more than we should have. I felt like I’d failed the ONLY thing about travelling that I was actually prepared for. This was mollified, however, when I discovered a big burly US college student in our hostel had paid FIVE HUNDRED US DOLLARS to his taxi.

And, I must have learnt my lesson, because in New York a guy came up to me and said ‘taxi? and then started leading me into an underground carpark’ and suddenly I thought ‘wait a moment, this is that thing I don’t want to happen’ and I said ‘oh wait, I forgot, my mum is picking me up’ and I ran off and caught a real taxi.

This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016.

 

 

HELLO INTERNET BOY #35: Wizards… on the road

So, the adventures of “Patrick Lenton” the Aelyrian character have kicked off, in a suitably modest way – more in the style of Lord of the Rings, when Frodo is having breakfast for about 700 pages, but it’s a start. He’s on the road and he’s met a fast-talking Cether (Halfling or Hobbit analogue)named Oswald and his friend Ruffus, a tough-looking Dorin (dog person). Patrick does love dogs. The Cether has basically invited Patrick to travel with them the majority of the way to Port Alyx, and against his (my) better judgement, he has accepted.

You can read it here as it goes on, if you want.

I thought hard about this – I’ve been taking a lot of my narrative cues from longform improv rules lately, and I know the fastest way to stall this story would be to say ‘nope – not travelling with you’. I know that this kind of narrative is different, and there could be different consequences from saying no, but it feels like the very kind moderator who I’m writing this thread with has very clearly offered me a cue, and I have to say yes. I also think that in real life, there’s also a chance I would say yes. In the post, I am both suspicious of their motives, and also ill-at-ease with the idea of spending that much time with strangers – but I am also nervous about travelling in general, and I don’t believe in turning down help.

I wrote about it back at the beginning of my RL trip, but at LA airport, a guy who was on my plane, a kind of tall thin shabby guy, was standing at exactly the same junction as me, with the same confused, over-tired look on his face. We were trying to work out which branch of the confusing customs lanes we had to go down. He asked me if I knew which one, and together we (correctly) guessed and went down one. For the next couple of hours as we wandered around the labyrinth that is LAx, I already regretted being saddled with him. I was tired, so tired. I was starting to suspect he was racist and homophobic. But that said – I felt more secure. At one point I definitely would have had a small anxiety attack when collecting my luggage, because I was sure I’d made a wrong turn. He was able to point out a small sign that showed we were on the right track. I did basically the same thing for him in New York, and waited half an hour with him for his bags, and ended up finding them for him on a different carousel. We helped each other out. It was probably better than not.

That said, in New York, he told me that he was staying in Times Square, and that we should hang out. I didn’t want to do that. He kept pointing out black people, and trying to work out which of our fellow passengers were homos. So I gave him a wrong number.

So yeah – unless I get stabbed, I’m pretty sure Oswald and Ruffus are going to get hard-dropped somewhere around an old-timey ferry.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #32: where the hell do I come from?

I’ve been trying to do a lot of research into the world of Aelyria, in order to help create the fantasy version of Patrick Lenton, ie myself. And not fantasy in the sense that I have at least two abs and my adult-onset acne has cleared up, but fantasy in the sense that I rub shoulders with elves and could learn magic if I wanted to and there’s been a whole bunch of invasions by bug people recently which I need to somehow get my head around.

To start off the backstory, I want to work out where I’m from. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my exhaustive creative writing classes and watching The OC on repeat, is that your protagonist has to come from somewhere. In real life, I also come from somewhere, which may surprise anyone who thought I appeared only when you look into the bathroom mirror and say the word ‘dicksticks’ three times.

But it turns out it’s hard to make comparative choices between real world locations and places that literally don’t exist. My own background is this: I was born in Australia, I grew up for a time in a mining town in the desert, and then I spent the majority of my primary school years over in the Middle East. I then came back to Australia for high school and have lived in Sydney ever since.

So – the easier option is the Middle East part, because as with a lot of Tolkien-esque western style fantasy worlds, there is a clear ‘exotic Arabia’ counterpart. The city (and province?) of Arakmat will do. Pity it’s been in ruins for years, since a certain dude who I met IRL at the beginning of this project roasted it with his magic. Still, I can have grown up there. And not as a local.

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Finding a clear counterpart for Sydney is harder – how to reproduce all the different strains of identity that a city has on you? It’s looking more like I’ll have to settle on it being near the water, so perhaps Port Alyxandrya.

At the Junket conference I was at recently, I attended a discussion on Australian cultural identity. It was super interesting for me, because I discovered that the way I feel about being Australia is shared in one way or another by a lot of other people. It can be summarised as being ‘uncomfortable’ about it. I’ve always felt that having grown up overseas, I look at Australia very much from an outsiders point of view – however unlike a foreigner, I have nowhere that I actually feel comfortable calling home. This is further exacerbated by specifics – for example, where I went to high school in Sydney and lived for years with my family have the dubious honour of being the host of a big race riot. I’ve always felt the desire to separate any of my identity from that place. But I also discovered that lots of people having that discussion felt a dislocation – whether it was Indigenous Australian’s who felt like they were denied ownership of their identity, or immigrants who are treated as outsiders, or people from minorities who are viewed as different, which is more obvious. But the uncomfortable notion of Australian identity persisted – and I came to the realisation that instead of using this as a cue to write generally, to write in places that could be literally anywhere, to write in vague brushstrokes that could mean the US or the UK or maybe Australia why not, I should be navigating that feeling of uncertainty,  and writing about Australia from that perspective.

So yeah, Port Alyxandrya? I don’t know.

 

HELLO INTERNET BOY #31: Patrick Lenton, Human, Dual Class Writer/Marketer

Over the last year, I’ve had various tales of financial woe. They are not interesting – I didn’t blow my fortune at the craps table, or buy some magic beans or suffer from an arrow to the leg. Just shitty life stuff, in which no interesting tale shall spring from, which really adds insult to injury. When I started doing this project, I envisioned a round-the-world tour over the year, as well as my US trip. But as it happened, the money I received from the Thiel Grant for Online Writing was just enough to get me to the US. Getting back was a different story, and has contributed to my wonderful debt.

ANYWAY – not being able to afford to head to New Zealand and Singapore in the next few months, I’ll have to rejig the later part of this project, and this is my idea: instead of real life boy meeting people from the internet in real life, I will now be inserting my real life persona back into the game that started this all. Confusing huh – basically what I’ve done is created a profile for Patrick Lenton (ie, me) in Aelyria, which I last played in my early twenties. I will then document what it’s like to wander around in a fantasy roleplaying game as… myself. Obviously in order to adhere to the rules of the world, I can’t EXACTLY be me – but I will be trying to replicate as much of my own life and my own personality as possible. I will not be a seven foot orc barbarian with fire magic. I will be a six foot lanky writer. What will I even do with my time? What are my own motivations, let alone in a fantasy world? I will endeavour to write a post every day, both in the game and on here, for the next twenty days to explore this.

Today, I created my character sheet and registered on the site. It was weird. In so many ways, the site hasn’t changed at all. But it looks like the gameplay is almost unrecognisable. I’m also pretty sure I have to change my ‘wealth tier’ though, because as I said, I’m probably not steel. I’m probably ‘handful of pebbles’. I don’t know, I have to do some reading and find out what it means.

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Tomorrow I will do some research and maybe write my first post. Back when I first started playing, your first post always had to be in the Aedile’s office, which was basically a real estate agent? You needed a house. I obviously don’t have a house. I rent.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #30:Gifts

Despite never having met my teenage love interest, there was one instance where he managed to somehow appear more real and central and in my life, like when a ghost decides to become a poltergeist and starts moving shit around.  That was when my internet crush sent me a package of gifts in the mail. I didn’t realise it at the time, but limiting my interactions with this guy to MSN Messenger, ICQ and the forums of a fantasy roleplaying game kept the entire relationship as a… fantasy. As something not real. That could be sectioned off from my real life when it became too uncomfortable, or threatened to expose some truths about my sexuality. Even the rare phone calls, his voice crackling through my Nokia with a breathless, American accent, were less than real. They were also exciting and stressful and I missed every third word.

So when a package of stuff appeared out of the blue, I opened it up in my room (or the caravan I lived in out the back of my parent’s tiny house to be precise) and had a small panic attack. There was a gorgeous letter along with it, where my name had been written in painstaking calligraphy with blue pen, on some kind of bright, spiral stationary. There was a lot of feelings in the letter. It was super teenage. I felt uncomfortable and flushed while I read it, but that wasn’t what freaked me out.

There was a chunky man ring, which I loved, despite the fact that I am definitely not someone who can wear rings. There was… a man bracelet I think?

And then, underneath it all, there was a Playstation.

And this is what freaked me out. The idea of a Playstation was somehow too big, too real. If I wanted to play this, I would have to explain to my parents where the Playstation came from. It was a big white box of reality. So I gave it to my friend Bob.

Problem solved.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #29: Eggs eggs eggs

I just ate scrambled eggs on gluten free bread, mixed in with green capsicum. The smell, now and perhaps forever, reminds me of the little AirBnB I stayed at in New York. I ate that same meal every night, sometimes travelling back on the L train and rushing up to the apartment just to shovel some barely cooked yolk into my mouth before travelling back into Manhattan to catch a show at UCB. Every time I made it, I was almost paralysed by embarrassment, completely sure that my dour eastern European hosts were judging me. They always seemed to be lying in their loft bed that overlooked the kitchen, always stirring and whispering as soon as I fired up the hot plate, as soon as I deftly stole more of their olive oil and pepper.

I didn’t just eat eggs because I’m an unadventurous cook who could almost literally eat the same thing for every meal. Only a week after I got back from the US, I went into hospital for my colonoscopy and endoscopy, or as I like to call it, getting double-teamed by the doctors. The reason was that for a full year I’d been getting horrific stomach cramps, that would put me out of action for days, either in crippling pain or acid nausea. I was tested over and over again for tumours and cancer and ulcers and babies. I got incredibly good at popping up my good vein for blood tests. I got thin and tired and depressed. I finally got a recommendation for a gastroenterologist, who after going through all the tests again, came up with the incredibly unsexy conclusion that I had irritable bowel syndrome. He booked me into hospital to make sure it wasn’t cancer as well, but in the meantime he put me on an exclusion diet, where I basically had to cut everything except basic proteins out of my diet, and then gradually reintroduce things to discover what it was my system was incapable of digesting. By the time I went to New York, I was two weeks into the reintegration diet, and had discovered I couldn’t handle gluten, onions and garlic – ie everything good in the world.

When I booked my trip to New York, I had several people give me comprehensive and amazing lists of things to do. It was amazing, and super useful, considering I was travelling on my own. They also all included the food I should try, the amazing slices, the bagel houses, the burgers. But I wasn’t yet used to asking for things to be made to my specifications, and I was in a strange land, with a currency I was even more incapable of understanding. Instead, I basically didn’t eat anything that I didn’t make with my two stupid hands. I basically just ate eggs. One day during my improv class at UCB, I bought a tuna sandwich with some of my classmates, feeling so incredibly happy to talk to other humans. But while I was eating it, I realised that the bread wasn’t gluten free, and the tuna had onion in it. My stomach immediately twisted into the well-known, well travelled cramps I was used to, and I contemplated with dread having to spend another few days curled up in my makeshift bedroom, enduring the judgement of the Europeans hovering perpetually over me (I’d already spent three days in my first week with the flu). But then I realised it was impossible – there was no way that the poison had reached my bowels yet, no way they were sitting there like undigested bricks. It was all in my head. I still didn’t eat the sandwich though, after those first bites. I’d been in pain for so long that there was no way I could conceive of risking it. One of the guys asked me why I wasn’t eating it, and I told him I was allergic to onion. It just sounds cooler than IBS. More dangerous. ‘I could die’ automatically trumps ‘tong term intestine pain.’ On my last day I went to that famous pizza place in Brooklyn, and then looked at it and decided that it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to vomit all over the plane the next day.

The way I got over this fear, and actually started working through my limits was when I got to the South on the roadtrip. There was so much stuff made of corn that I started to get a little giddy, a little free with my choices. I learnt that I can handle a fair amount of gluten before getting ill (less if I’m drinking), a small amount of garlic, and a lesser amount of onion.

I’ve had a few conversations since I’ve gotten back about the food of New York, and I can never actually engage beyond vast amounts of candy and eggs, morning noon and night, eggs eggs eggs. And that’s why eggs reminds me of New York.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #28: Bye bye Bob

At my sixteenth birthday, I invited my school friends to come to my house at Maianbar, which is a little town in the middle of the Royal National Park. To get to Maianbar is a long drive from the nearest point of civilisation, so my bright idea was to pick up people in my dad’s boat from Cronulla wharf, which would be both faster and also a fun boat adventure ride. I assumed we’d have to do two trips, but my mate Bob who also lived in Maianbar, offered to pick some people up in his tinny. My dad’s boat was a nice big smooth thing with seats, while Bob’s tinny was small and metal and sounded like a drum and a small dog. The people who got in my dad’s boat sped off into the distance, the boat cleaving through the water like a hot knife through yet more water. Bob’s boat however climbed the choppy waves and landed with a thump, forcing the terrified girls to scream and hold on desperately. I was in Bob’s boat, and remember thinking ‘Hmm, must be really choppy, what a shame.’ Eventually Bob hit a wave hard, and instead of climbing over it, we went through it, the entire ocean rushing into the boat, drenching everyone from head to toe. The girls in the boat shrieked, makeup running, clothes gone see-through immediately. It was a sunny, yet deeply chilly spring day. From then on, the entire trip was just the boat hitting wave after wave, the only sound the rush of sea-water, the struggle of the motor, the deep thumping of the boat’s metal hull slapping the water like a maritime themed Fifty Shades of Gray, and the sound of teenage girls screaming.

When we arrived, the girls were hustled off to find new clothes and Bob and I tied up the boat. “Wow, must have been super choppy’ I said to Bob. Bob shrugged. ‘Nah, I was just having fun driving the boat at the waves as fast as I could.’ This is one of my favourite memories of Bob, and also an accurate snapshot of his personality. Bob definitely has a tendency to drive his boat straight at the waves if he needs to. After lunch, my friend from school Danielle decided she wanted to go swimming. Nobody else wanted to go with her, because the water was freezing. This didn’t perturb her, and she put on her swimming costume and then looked at Bob, who she’d only just met, and said ‘Come swimming’. He did.

Now they are married and have two children. Yep, all thanks to me.

This story is relevant because as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Bob and I played Alleria together as teenagers, and both him and Danielle and I met people from the game together, travelling to Canberra for weird parties. He’s always been a part of the real life part of this journey, always been roughly an hour south from wherever I’m living. But now on Sunday, I’ll be farewelling Bob and Danielle and their kids as they leave the country to go and live in Seattle. They’ll be making the transition from friends who I always feel bad about not seeing very much who live super near, to friends separated by all the oceans in the world. They will be transferring from real life friend into digital, more people who will be on opposite routines, drinking alcohol when I wake up, waking up when I go to sleep.

I’m super, super excited for them, and quite in awe. Doing this kind of dramatic, life changing adventure is impressive enough, let alone with two small children who probably aren’t super helpful with moving large boxes. I don’t know. I plan to go and visit them in Seattle, at some murky, distant point in the future. I also feel that due to my family’s lifestyle, I expect people to go away for large periods of time – but it will be interesting watching this transition happen. It will be interesting watching them turn into internet people. I am going straight from their farewell lunch to a conference, so it will be interesting to see how I go. Historically I am very controlled at farewell parties because I don’t really believe they are happening, but also strangely emotional at farewell parties of people I don’t know well (why do I keep going to stranger’s farewell parties is another story).

HELLO INTERNET BOY #25: Bye, bye, bye (Bye bye bye)

I am sitting in LAX with a big glass of wine and seven hours ahead of me until my flight back to Sydney. I don’t really mind the wait because it is the opposite of panic. Later on I will power-walk up and down the terminal like my mother used to when I was a kid. I will douse myself in creams and unguents in Duty Free. I will spend the last of my US currency on a chocolate bar.

In Chicago, a security guard named McBeth checked my hands for explosives. There’s not really anything else to this story, I just want to remember that someone named McBeth exists in the world. I hope he isn’t an actor, because then his castmates would have to call him ‘The Scottish Play’. On my plane from Chicago, there were two dogs and a cat. I asked the guy with the dogs if he’d sedated them, as they were completely silent the entire trip. He looked at me like I was a monster. My dogs would have gone insane and probably crashed the plane.

It’s good to write all these details down, because it’s the specifics that disappear first. A security guard just zoomed past on a segway. Some kind of teenage sports team surrounded my chair and all shook hands earnestly. They’ve moved now – maybe they can see I’m writing about them. When I look at all the photos in my phone, there are already some I don’t remember taking. I’ve seen so much art in museums that I can’t possibly remember it all – just the broad strokes, the famous ones, the idea of seeing them. But it doesn’t invalidate how much I enjoyed looking at them in the moment.

This trip has been a soup of different feelings – it’s been scary, sad and boring, and also exciting and mind blowing and comforting and calm and all the other superlatives. It’s felt like it would never end, and like it was rushing past in a flash, like when my road trip buddies would yell ‘we just passed through Kentucky’ and I didn’t even KNOW we were in Kentucky.

I’ve met people. I’ve met old old friends for the first time, which is a sentence that sounds like it contradicts itself, but i’ve proved it doesn’t and it was a beautiful feeling. I’ve met new, amazing people, that are wonderful and that I respect and that are just great. I’ve met people who are probably not amazing, but shit damn they’re going to make some great microfictions.

I’ve seen things – I’ve sat in the green room of the UCB theatre before going on stage myself, and recognised the couch I sat on as the same one that Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz ate pizza on in a video. I’ve been up tall buildings and looked at famous vistas, and climbed bridges to look at beautiful lakes and forests. I’ve driven past gas stations owned by the FBI and giant Jesus statues and scary country roads that practically scream “meth”.

I spent more time sick than I wanted, and I had a lot of nights where I had to go home to look after myself. Sometimes I didn’t know if I was bailing because I was looking after my physical health, or because I was overwhelmed and needed to look after my mental health. But in the end, I managed to do two comedy intensives and not miss a day, and not poison myself with all the food I can’t eat, so I count it all as a win.

I feel like I’m supposed to be sad that it’s over. I’m not, I’m just happy that it happened. I feel like I had amazing experiences. I learnt a bunch of really good comedy know-how. I wrote a bunch. I had lots of fun. I didn’t learn anything about living more in the moment or appreciating stuff, because I’m not writing Eat, Pray, Love. I don’t think you’re meant to treat every day like a traveller, because there’s other stuff to do. I dunno, I haven’t thought this through. I’m also not sad it’s over because I’m lucky enough to have a life that I’ve been missing intensely. I’ve missed Bridget every second of every day, and my dogs, and my gorgeous friends and their space-frat-christmas parties, and my family. I’ve missed my home and my silly job and my shoes and my city and my shirt and an egg. I am very lucky.

It’s also not quite over, because I have so much more I have to write about this. But I feel like leaving is a feeling you have to write in the moment, so I have to write this right now. Because it’s a feeling that is bittersweet and nostalgic and makes you look forward to getting home and sad you’re leaving. It’s also good to write about now because I’ve had seven hours to sit around, and I already wrote it once and Facebook deleted it, but here I go again. But mostly I need to write this now because in twenty something hours I will be tired and jetlagged and stinky and cold and hungry and the most I will be able to manage is an MS Paint picture of me flipping off a map of the world, and this feeling right now will be gone. So yeah, goodbye America! You’ve been everything and more! See you soon, home!

This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016

HELLO INTERNET BOY #24: The Second City

Today I finished my last day of classes at Second City in Chicago. For an entire week I studied Level 2 Sketch Writing in the morning and Level 2 Improv in the afternoon. Then I’d go home, eat dinner, and either write a sketch or see a show, and then usually wake up early the next morning and write another sketch because the first one was dog shit. It was intense and tiring and mentally draining, and it was THE BEST GODDAMN TIME I HAVE EVER HAD EVER. Turns out that immersively nerding out in a world-respected comedy training centre is precisely my jam.

It’s been a long time since I studied at university, and when we were given my first night of homework, there was a little part of my brain that thought ‘I’m an adult, I don’t have to do this’. There was a much larger part of my brain that basically had a giant boner for sketch writing homework though.

In class, we dissected everyone’s writing according to the rigorous yet vastly accessible formula that we’ve learnt for writing sketches. My class is eight women and me, and everyone is intimidatingly good at writing. My first sketch is given a point for having a single memorable character, but that’s it – I’ve given no thought to the action on the stage, and the story is limp and barely transforms. But then, because it’s a good class, we are given the tools to recognise why the sketch didn’t hit those points, and strategies to rectify this. A couple of days later, I’m given the chance to rewrite a sketch, and I am surprised at how pleased I am, at how much I really wanted to make it better and to have it succeed. My first instinct when something isn’t great is just to scrap it, and write something else.

Our teacher, Jay, is friendly, funny, and possesses an iron hard focus. Somehow while everyone gets distracted by what seems a hilarious non-sequitur about a character named Loretta Fuckmebutt (of the Tennessee Fuckmebutts) Jay is laughing along and then instantly absorbs it into the lesson, and suddenly your mind is blown. Jay kept apologising to me, but insincerely I’m pretty sure, and saying ‘sorry, this class is a secret feminist tutorial’, which I kept smiling along to, but also was secretly thinking ‘yasssssssss this is heaven’. One of our assignments was to write a sketch with only female characters – Second City had identified that female representation in their sketches was still an issue, and their method of dealing with it was to make sure people are forced to write from female perspectives and female characters, beyond the idea of ‘Mum #1’ or ‘SLUTTY WAITRESS’, until it is normalised, and the entire idea of NOT writing equal roles for women becomes unnatural. Sitting in class with eight of the funniest, talented women that I’ve had the pleasure to meet made this feel like an incredibly important thing. Slow clap, Second City.

In the afternoons it was time to run around and be a dickhead in improv, which apart from being exactly as fun as I wanted, was a great way of getting myself out of my head after sketch. I’m starting to get this blank, malleable mind when I do improv, which is able to react and formulate responses and plans and characters in the moment, but doesn’t go into a scene with a whole bunch of backup plans like when I first started, as if I could cheat by thinking ‘if all else fails, just pretend to be an astronaut’. There’s also a great focus on story creation/ workshopping an idea through improv at Second City, which really appealed to me. I’ve also started noticing differences between improv schools – some of the ‘rules’ I learnt at UCB in New York were directly contradicted here.

My improv teacher, Irene, is one of those people who always seems to be slightly dancing. She has an amazing ability to force people out of their comfort zones while smiling incredibly brightly, so you don’t even realise you’ve just been bullied into doing something really dumb, because she just seems so happy about it. She also seems to genuinely enjoy watching people do dumb stuff. Throughout the week she gestured with a thick bandaged finger, because on our first day of class she stuck it in a blender and had to get eight stitches. Later on she went on to lose the nail off it. But it was hard not to notice, and follow every single direction that the finger pointed out.

Today I am going to walk halfway across the city and see some art – I’m doing this because I haven’t really seen any of Chicago, just this weird triangle between my AirBnB which is full of jocks, and various comedy theatres. I apparently have to go and look at a statue of a giant bean. I love this city.

This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016