Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Appetite For Destruction

I had an ice cream today.
Actual ice cream not exactly as pictured. It was actually a double scoop
of Earnest Ice Cream's Strawberry Swirl and Salted Chocolate, in case you care. 
I really hate that it's even a thing I have to think about, let alone feel guilty over. I mean, God, I just went for over a month without having a single dessert so I could break sugar's hold on me and maybe lose a few pounds and get healthy and all that crap. It started slow, while I was still in Saskatoon. It felt hard, damn hard. But by the time I got home the self-discipline had taken hold and I was rockin' it, you know? It even started to feel good.

Then I levelled up: I started biking everywhere. Taught some music classes on Granville Island: biked. (Easy- not even 30 minutes from my house.) The next week I helped teach a creative drama camp in West Van. Did I want to take the bus every day? I did not. I got on my bike 4 days out of the 5 and I biked through downtown and along the Coal Harbour seawall and through the @#$ Stanley Park Causeway and over the mighty and terrifying Lions Gate Bridge and past Ambleside and then I worked with active little kids for 2.5 hours and then I got back on my bike and did it all again... in reverse. I got addicted to the feeling of getting myself from A to B under my own power. I still didn't eat the sweet stuff. And at the end of those 2 weeks of teaching, I wanted to stay active. Hell, I don't even want to be indoors at all when the sun's out and it's hot. 

My lovely landlords went away for 2 weeks and left me in charge of their house, garden, and cat, so every morning I was also getting up to give the kitty some company and water the plants and spray the veggies down before the full heat of the day made that a bad idea. (It's the one thing I know about gardening: don't water things in the middle of the day. Oh, and that deadheading is always a good thing.) Not only that, but I was allowed to harvest things as they grew, so suddenly it was lettuce with the dirt still on it, and tomatoes and cucumbers right off the vine, and tiny eggplants made into the best Baba Ganoush... 

And you know what? These things work, dammit. I could see a change, see my face thinning out, feel my clothes fitting better. I felt stronger, faster, firmer. Drama camp ended (and with it, the commute across the bridge), but I discovered HIIT workouts. I still bike everywhere, and I'm starting to swim at New Brighton Pool, an outdoor pool which kicks Kits Pool's ass, in my opinion. In short, I am one healthy person right now, and I don't want to screw it up. 

At the end of July, my 30-day sugar challenge was over.

You know what? Cold turkey is easy, really. I mean, making it stick can be a pain in the ass, but once you get going, it snowballs. You feel proud. Empowered. All you have to do is one thing: stay the hell away from whatever it is you need to stay away from. (Okay, I don't have experience with hard drugs; I'm not speaking about quitting heroin here. But cigarettes? Been there, done that. Several times, in fact. Sweets? You know it. Again, many times.)

What really stymies an addict is trying to wrap their heads around moderation

I recently worked with someone who had it way worse than me. He had to bring pre-made, portioned meals to work, because if left to his own devices he would have eaten a week's worth of lunches in one sitting. "Food addiction is tough," he said gloomily. "It's not like you can just quit eating." Indeed. 

In the past I've tried:

  • Having "dessert days", where I could only indulge on certain days of the week. That went about as well as expected. 
  • Counting calories (The biggest pain in the ass ever. Forget it. Seriously.)
  • Joining various websites. Spark People. Noom. A Facebook page/support group for a cult way of eating called My Bright Life, where people- almost all women, by the way- regularly posted about how naughty they'd been for eating some bread! Or having a glass or two of wine! 
  • Keeping a food diary, to be more accountable. (This worked somewhat. But not for long.)
  • Buying a too-large bag of treats and then throwing them away somewhere where I wouldn't be tempted to retrieve them later. When I read Ann Lamott's writing about her addictions and she described running water over food so she couldn't eat it later, I felt a shock of recognition. 
  • Started my own Facebook page to support and empower myself and my friends- again, mostly women- who wanted to do something about their health. A good idea, but almost no one ever posted anything, so I gave it up, not long before I gave up on Facebook altogether. (Which is still one of the best things I've ever done, by the way.)
I have never been bulimic, thank god. I've certainly binged, but I've never purged. 

So I'm really nervous that having to be moderate about this whole eating thing is going to screw it up for me. 

Here are a couple of rules I'm putting in place to help cope: 

Every morning, the first thing I do when I get out of bed is put on workout clothes. And usually the next thing I do once I'm dressed is a quick workout, or some yoga- something to start the day right. (The only problem is that on hot, sunny days, I'm often inclined to leave the stinky workout clothes on all day so I can stay active. You have been warned.)

I have the poor man's Samsung version of the FitBit. It's called a  GearFit2, and when I remember to charge it, it's fantastic, at least for nagging me when I've been sedentary too long, and for logging my runs, walks, yoga sessions, and bike rides. It doesn't log swims (not waterproof), or HIIT workouts, although if I just kept it on during those it would probably measure my rocketing heart rate and know that something was going on.

Speaking of getting up, most days I'm getting up early. Now that my garden-tending duties are done, I'm hoping this trend will continue. It just sets the whole tone of the day, for me. 

I'm varying my routine when it comes to staying active. Some days, it's just yoga, to be honest. Other days, it's a quick HIT workout in the morning, and maybe a bike ride to the pool later on. I'm digging Fitness Blender for their workout videos, because although their workouts are torture tough, they're also blessedly short

What to eat (and more importantly, what not to) is, of course, the biggest challenge. I'm lucky, in that in the summer  I really want to eat less, and to consume lots of fruits, some veggies, and less carbs. In the winter, that changes. (So does the getting up early. It's just really hard to get out of bed when it's rainy and dark. If you have any suggestions to sweeten the deal, I'd love to hear 'em.) 
This time around, after my 30-day ban on sweets lifted, I hit upon a new idea to help with moderation. Most of my unhealthy behaviour takes place alone- it's harder to indulge in over-the-top portions and choices with an audience. So my new rule is dead simple and, I hope, effective:

Eat the ice cream, on occasion. Have the cake. Don't feel guilty about it, and for god's sake, don't be a bore about it. Just...
Don't do it alone.

I'm betting that this rule should keep my bad habits under better control (except for my boyfriend's unholy love of Chicago Mix, but I can avoid that, I think). 

Because when it comes to food- the good and the bad- the goal isn't to avoid it entirely. For me at least, the goal is just not to over-think it. Or over-eat it.

Bon appetit. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ten Things I Love About Saskatoon

Well hello! I'm right in the thick of rehearsals in my usual summer home of Saskatoon at the moment, but it's starting to weigh on my mind that it's only a quick visit this year. (Although I did spend 4 weeks here in the spring, so if you count those weeks plus the 3 weeks I'm here this month, it'll have been 7 weeks total in 2017.) Although I miss my sweetheart a lot, I am always happy to be here. There's something about this place that has really captured my heart, so I thought I'd make a list of some of the things I love about this prairie city:
  1. The people. It's that small-city-big-town thing I guess, but strangers really do smile and say hello to you here.
  2. The neighbourhoods: Caswell Hill- my home away from home. Riversdale, where I enjoy the farmers market, a cappuccino at Collective Coffee, and shopping at all the hipster stores. Oh, and brunches at The Hollows (sadly not this summer though, because I work Saturdays, and they're not open 'til 11). Broadway/Nutana across the river, where I love to go shopping and eating! Downtown, where I spend way too much money at Midtown Mall. The Weir, a manmade waterfall on the river, just beside a giant railway trestle that you can walk across. Stunning. Mayfair- home of the Safeway where I stock up on supplies, the zany antique-store-coffee-shop, the bakery, and several other cool stores on 33rd. 
  3. Speaking of stores... The local corner stores here are wonderful. You'll be biking along a residential street, and suddenly you'll come across a convenience store that's totally like a small-town store: it'll have the usual chips and candy, but there'll also be some baking, or some kitchen supplies, or some home cooking, or something else that makes it just a little different than your run-of-the-mill corner store. Even though Saskatoon has all the big box stores and supermarkets, these little local stores continue to offer neighbourhood shopping for their communities, even if those communities are only a few blocks in size. It's pretty cool.
  4. Pelicans. When I came here in March this year, these giant birds hadn't yet arrived, and it was weird seeing the river without them. When I came back in April they'd come back, and most nights in April and May I'd walk or bike down to the weir to see them floating gently above the falls, or bouncing on the choppy waters beneath, looking for fish. They spend some of their year in exotic places like Mexico and Guatemala, and they look foreign and out of place here, but I love them, because we don't have them in BC *EDIT: And Jackrabbits! I can't believe I forgot about Jackrabbits! Seeing these big-footed bunnies bounding through the city streets is always a treat. 
  5. Jazz Fest. Every year, my visits coincide with Saskatoon's Jazz Festival. I will admit that I've seen very little actual jazz here, since their headliners and free shows tend to be more pop/hip hop/rock than jazz. But, there's nothing I love more than heading the short distance to the free stage after rehearsal, grabbing a drink, and letting the music wash over me. This year, Pride Fest and Jazz Fest joined forces and brought Hawksley Workman to the free stage last Saturday, and I was in heaven. I also love hanging out by the river behind the Bessborough Hotel and hearing the big-name headline acts playing their shows. Why pay 60-70 dollars when you can hear just as well behind the stage with a great view of the river? I'll be hanging out down there on Thursday night, when Michael Franti hits the stage.
  6. The weather. I KNOW. I am a total fair-weather friend to Saskatoon, having never spent a winter here. Even being here for a few weeks in March and April this year had its challenges, as I had to walk everywhere because it was too icy to bike (it was too icy to walk, for that matter). But summers here are the bomb. Except this one, because it's been kinda cold and very windy. But even so- still sunny, most days. And when there's rain, it's epic and short-lived. Oh, and thunder storms! Love 'em. 
  7. Biking and running. It's flat. Biking is easy. Running is a delight. Oh, and there are also fabulous paths on either side of the river for your walking/running/biking pleasure. 
  8. Outdoor swimming pools. I think I've written about this before, but it blows my mind how many outdoor swimming pools this wintery city has. Not only do they have awesome pools, but the pools also usually fence off grassy areas as well, so that you can lie on the grass and relax before or after your swim. True story: when I flew into Saskatoon for the very first time, 2 years ago, I looked down from the plane and saw a gorgeous little park and a cute little pool with a water slide, and I thought, what a great neighbourhood. Little did I know that I would be living RIGHT BESIDE THAT PARK. And to this day, I still make my home very close to Ashworth Holmes  Park and Mayfair Pool, every summer. 
  9. The theatre community. Small but vibrant, Saskatoon's theatre scene is pretty awesome. Shakespeare? Check. (Their version of Bard on the Beach is called Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, and it's in a tent down by the river.) Brand new works by local playwrights? Absolutely? A theatre company that is passionate about making a difference in their community? (Big shout-out to Sum Theatre, who were my employers last summer, and who are incredible in this regard.) I feel so very lucky to have been welcomed into this community as a musician/music director, because there's certainly no shortage of local talent. 
  10. My friends. Who are, by and large, part of the theatre community here. It's getting so I'm more likely to have people to talk to at an opening night in Saskatoon than back home in Vancouver. My friends here lend me bicycles so I can get around. They let me live with them for 6 weeks while I'm working here.  They invite me to stay at their farm on my day off. They ask me when I'm going to move here for good (probably never, but I sure hope I can make it my home away from home for a long time to come). 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ten Reasons I Won't Ever Use the Term #Blessed (unless I'm being sarcastic)

  1. It's glib. You're putting shit like this mindlessly at the end of your social media posts because everyone's doing it and who knows, maybe it'll win you more followers, right? Or maybe because you think that posting this hashtag makes you exempt from, you know, actually doing something for others. Way easier to be #blessed than to make sure others are feeling that way. 
  2. It turns your uber-boastful post into something that looks like gratitude. Putting the word #blessed in your posts does not suddenly give you carte blanche to post a gazillion pictures of your kid, your material possessions, or your tropical holiday. Guess what? We know you're still showing off. You're just hiding it behind a humblebrag. 
  3. If God existed, She wouldn't bless you. No, really. He doesn't hand out blessings like the Easter Bunny hands out chocolate eggs. Or so they tell me. 
  4. If you don't believe in God, it's even weirder that you're using this hashtag. Who the hell #blessed you- the Tooth Fairy? 
  5. It's symptomatic of our guilt over the glut of things we possess. Do we know that there are millions of people in the world- hell, in our towns, mere streets or houses away from us- who have a tiny fraction of the things we have? Yes we do know that, and we think that somehow, if we acknowledge that we're #blessed, we can sleep a little easier on our soft, soft feather beds. 
  6. Because practically any other adjective would be more accurate. You could claim to be #rich, if you're showing us your new house. You could be another #boringparent or #ObsessivePetOwner, if you're posting nothing but shots of your kids, either furry or not. (and no, that doesn't mean I don't want to see any pics of your pets or kids, before you get all upset with me. I do. Just don't be boring about it.) You most certainly are #lucky, or more honestly, #privileged beyond belief. And here's the most accurate hashtag of all, but you won't see this one popping up on people's feeds...
  7. ...#Random. Most of us, even the atheists, want to believe in some kind of order in the universe. It's way easier (and glib-er- see #1) to say that you're #blessed than to admit that the world is completely random, and that most of the great things that fall our way are the result of frighteningly chance occurrences, connections or coincidences.
  8. You think it's a simple way to show gratitude. Gratitude is great. But truly showing gratitude doesn't mean adding a couple of meaningless hashtags to your boast-y posts. True gratitude should be about acknowledging your good fortune, luck, random set of circumstances, etc. by taking action, whether it is in a good attitude, a positive mood, or even better: by sharing your good fortune with others. 
  9. It's thoughtless. I mean that in a very literal sense. It's as bad as posting Minions memes, linking to ill-informed articles you haven't actually read, or basically putting up anything that doesn't contain some original thought. The internet is full of stupid. Why make it more so? 
  10. Look, I get it. Social media is designed for bragging. I do it all the time. So do you. And then we feel guilty, so we add that one little word to make ourselves feel better. But maybe instead, we should take the time to think a little more about what we're posting on social media. And why we feel the compulsion to post anything in the first place. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Catching Up: An Interview

Whoa. Hi there. Seems I took a bit of a break from blogging, which is usually a solid sign that I'm busy living. Over the last year or so I've been trying to blog about specific subjects: life as a musician, the arts in general, teaching (which I totally just typed as teachering, thereby proving that I may have a little bit more to learn), etc. But it's been a while, so why don't I just catch you up, in the form of an imaginary interview?

First off, how do you like your new home? 
Love it. Love it.  LOVE. IT.  I really can't say it enough times. After 2 months, it still seems fresh and magical to walk through that door (my door!) every evening. Sometimes I still say "hello, home" as I put down my bags and settle in. Part of the reason the attraction is so fierce is that I've been away almost half the time since I moved in, so when I'm home I still feel like it's brand new. Leaving for Saskatoon for two weeks when I'd literally only been in the new place for a week was painful. Thankfully, I worked my ass off unpacking in that week, so I had a clean, well-organized place to return to. My landlords are amazing. The other day I put out the rubbish bins and got an email saying how nice it was to share a house with me! It's also just wonderful not to have to live with anyone. My sweetie comes over once or twice a week, and that's great, but other than that It's MY home, and I like it that way. I love being around people, especially as a teacher and performer, but at the end of a people-heavy day I love having a quiet, empty apartment to return to.

Wait a minute- Saskatoon? What are you doing there?
Working for Persephone Theatre's young company helping teenagers perform their songs better in a show they created called Here. On the plus side, I get to work with amazing young people and spend time in a city I'm now proud to call almost a second home. On the minus side, I miss my new apartment, and it makes me feel a bit disconnected at work when I miss classes. But theatre is still very much my first love, so it's a sacrifice I'll keep making. I have one more trip in 2 days (!) but then I'm back for three more weeks in June to do another show. Saskatoon: the town that keeps on giving (me work). And hey, a cool side effect is that my hatred of flying has mostly worn off!

What about theatre here in Vancouver?
Not as much as I'd like, but I did get to perform in a remount run of The Out Vigil, which I first did around the same time last year. Luckily, all the old cast and crew were back, and we had a magical and too-short reunion. I sincerely hope that this may not be the last time we get to do this show, but we'll see.

So... Your work just lets you have time off for all this stuff? 
Yeah, basically. I have a really great job. It's not without its frustrations and challenges, but I can honestly say that I love it. It's taken me several years to feel at home at the music school where I work, so it's hard-won, which makes it even more rewarding. And because every year I am exposed to new challenges (this year it was teaching preschool music and teaching music to kids with autism), I learn constantly, and in turn, this makes me a better teacher and musician. Also- and I feel kind of mercenary saying this, but it's important- my standard of living has improved immeasurably because of teaching, and that is no small thing. This time last year I wouldn't have dreamed that I would be able to afford to live alone.

Still in any bands? 
Yes, thank goodness! I have pretty much made my peace with the fact that being a performing musician will be a sideline rather than the main event in my artistic life. But just because I don't do it all the time doesn't mean that it's not vitally important to me! I still perform sporadically with Zeellia, which is the Ukrainian band I've been a member of for well over a decade now. But the best decision I made came fairly recently, when I invited some friends to start a new band with me after our old one disbanded. And then I got even smarter and asked another friend to join us. And gradually it was like a flame that had been sputtering was re-lit again. This new band was rough, but we were all eager to get better. Excited to bring in new songs. Open to switching instruments (each of us plays at least two). Two summers ago I was surrounded by music; in a musical, even, and I had no urge to play or write. These days I can't stop. I credit this to my new-found love of my teaching job, and to my new band, which is just loose enough to have fun, and just tight enough to be full of possibility. It's a creative time.

Do you have time for your partner and friends, with all this travelling and work going on?
Sadly, not as much as I'd like. Sigh. I'm just super-lucky that most of my friends are busy too; that my bandmates are all my BFFs, and that I adore all the people I teach with. My boyfriend is King of the Workaholics, so our weekly trysts are usually enough for both of us to feel connected, while still being able to pine sweetly for one another. In related news, I recently decided to quit Facebook for a while, and reconnect more with people in real life. I've only been off for 2 days, so don't throw a parade for me yet or anything. In fact, it was quite funny, because after resolutely deactivating my account I found myself having to reconnect it again to I could log into apps like Spotify. (The dangers of using your Facebook identity on other platforms.) The turning point came when I hardly got any work done on Monday because I was too busy checking to see if friends had "liked" a witty post of mine. Plus there was a fierce debate going on over the use of accents in comedy routines, and I watched as people on both sides of the debate- including people I know and adore- indulged in endless, useless fighting. Hardly anyone was reasonable. Hardly anyone exchanged ideas in a respectful or open-minded manner. It was gross. And I couldn't look away. So I decided to go cold turkey, for a while at least.

Um, haven't you noticed that the world is basically ending?
Yes, because my Facebook friends never stop talking about it! (Another reason to get off there: read more real news and a whole lot less stupid memes, trollish comments, and preach-to-the-choir posturing.) What the fuck am I supposed to do about the horrendous things going on in politics and the environment? My firm position is that the best thing I can do is to be better-informed (still working on that one); to be more connected to the world (less internet time); and to be kind.  If the human race is in its twilight years 'thanks' to Donald Trump, North Korea, or our egregious misuse of the planet's resources, I'm certainly not going to spend my last days being miserable. Until I have no other choice, anyway.

Are you quitting this blog?
All appearances to the contrary, no. For one thing, if this quitting-Facebook thing works out, I'll need somewhere to dump post my observations about life. It's interesting to me that a number of the blogs I loved have either quit altogether, or significantly reduced their number of posts. I think it's partly because a lot of the blogs I first loved were so-called "mommy blogs", whose writers eventually found they had less and less time/inclination to post everything their little darlings did. As their kids clambered out of toddlerhood, their parents started feeling a little more connected to the world again, and were able to reach out beyond a cold and often judgemental internet. At least that's my theory. Apparently, blogging is passe these days. But I started my first journal at the tender age of six. I'm not going anywhere.

Anything else?
Let's see: passed my second Psychology course; played a solo accordion set at the Princeton and made some new friends; entered another Storyhive music video contest; tried and failed at a number of health/diet initiatives; started buying plants and not killing them...mostly; worked on new friendships; lost touch with some other peeps; got to know Saskatoon better; haven't spent enough time exploring Vancouver lately. You know. 

And now,  in the spirit of being better connected to the world I am going to sign off this machine and empty my organic waste bin. It's good to be back! See you soon.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Air That I Breathe

I never smell very good after a seniors home gig; I'm sorry, but that's the truth of it. They keep the heat cranked up- and rightly so- for the feeble and the slow-moving, and neither of those words describes me when I'm performing. By the time my hour is up, I'm rather...damp, to put it politely. 

Today I had to spend a good while putting together a new book of songs for the gig, as my usual binder is packed in a box somewhere. I've been getting a jump on my move by boxing up everything I think I can do without for a few weeks... and a few things, obviously, that should not have gone into boxes just yet. After reluctantly slitting open a few boxes with no success, I decide to just print out new lyric sheets; after all, most of them are saved onto my laptop anyway. This leads to some new song choices, which is refreshing. I decide to bring my ukulele as well as my accordion, since I'm playing more uke than squeezebox these days anyway. As I stagger down the street with my accordion in a knapsack on my back and my uke and purse in my hands, the good angel on my shoulder urges me to check my pack... good thing, because I've left the binder with all my freshly-printed lyric sheets in my bedroom. Stagger back (luckily not far). Surprise the cats with my re-entry. Grab binder, depart again. Two buses later and I'm there. 

Up on Three West I begin with a new one: Singing In The Rain. Right away I know it's a good choice as a chorus of voices immediately joins in. I keep 'em coming: Big Rock Candy Mountain into Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen into Blue Days Black Nights... Today's seniors grew up in the '40s and '50s, so I mix country blues, folk, Canadiana, Irish and good old rock 'n roll, with the occasional Big Band-era blaster like Minnie the Moocher or Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey. 

Right away I notice a bubble in the air, an energy coming up to me and getting bounced back to the audience through my music. Maybe it's the slightly younger crowd: I see more than a few residents who look to be in their early seventies, even one woman with punky green streaks at the front of her bleached or grey hair. I've always had fun playing at this home, but sometimes I've seen people wheeling or shuffling away before my hour was up. Not this time. Their voices join me on everything from Harvest Moon to Blue Suede Shoes. Maybe it's me. I'm feeling rested and my voice is in fine form. Whatever the reason, today we're cookin'. 

Imagine you spent most of your time breathing something that was like oxygen, but wasn't. You'd do fine, but something would be lacking. And then some days, you got to breathe the real deal- your lungs would fill and your eyes would sparkle and you'd feel extra zest and energy you didn't know you were missing- That's what singing and performing feels like to me. Oxygen. Even when I'm sick it lifts me up. When I'm not sick... Pow. 

I say this a lot, and I really mean it: I have the incredible good fortune to do what I love for a living. I never thought I'd be a good music teacher, but I love it. I never used to think I'd be a good musical director, but they keep hiring me so I guess I've got the skills. And I DO love my jobs: I love showing kids (or actors) how to put a song together; I like arranging; I like getting to pass on my rag-tag collection of Things I Know. I even like the herding-cats exercise that is teaching preschool music. But here's why I'll never be the best teacher or musical director there is: because there's always going to be this little diva inside of me that is silently yelling Just step aside and let me do it instead, Jesus CHRIST let me because I can do it better than that, because it's all I want to do and I can't, they won't let me they keep hiring me to teach you instead-
Which isn't to say I'm silently hating on you when I work with you or your kids, far from it. (Unless you're really terrible at your job and they hired you instead of me. Then yeah.) It's just... I have this friend who has a doctorate in music education. He's never in his life played in a band, or been in a play, and he's Never. Wanted. To. His passion is teaching music. (He also helped me get my teaching job, for which I'll be eternally grateful.) Mine is performing music. 

I lack the killer instinct, which is why I'm not recording an album or touring Canada, or, you know, famous. Instead, I'm a (mostly) very happy teacher of music/music director who plays in a band with three good friends and has moments of passion and inspiration at all of her jobs, and really really comes alive when she gets to step into the studio for a session, or play onstage, or even when she lugs two instruments on two buses to play for thirty or so seniors, some of whom may even not be sleeping. 

Today, we make some magic at Royal Arch Masonic Home. Who knows why? I make my way through 21 songs and the seniors are with me every step of the way. Someone (dear god, probably only my parents' age) asks for Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", so I do it, scrolling through the lyrics on my phone with one hand as I stumble through the bass notes on my accordion with the other hand. I am surprised how many voices sing the haunting chorus with me. 
I launch into Stan Rogers' "Forty-Five Years" and feel my eyes water a little as I take in the pink and crepe Valentine's Day decorations strung up around the room. The song is Rogers' beautiful tribute to his much-loved wife; how many of the seniors in the room still have their loved ones with them? Too few, I'm thinking. I finish with "Goodnight Irene", which I often close with because I love to hear the old ones sing it with me. 

They've handed my money to one of the residents: Ms. Green-Hair. She wheels toward me slowly, a challenge in her eyes. First, she thanks me for bringing some sunshine, because "it can get kind of dreary in here." I bet. Then she says, "But we're not going to give this to you that easily. If you want this, you'll have to do another song for us." 
Challenge accepted. It's the first time I've been asked for an encore here. I rifle quickly through my pages: what would be the perfect finisher...
Ah, yes. I put on my accordion and launch into "Folsom Prison Blues", the perfect song for people who are trapped in a seniors home, no matter how nice it is. As I sing, I hear their voices joining me one last time. 
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison/And time keeps rolling on/But that train just keeps on moving/On down to San Antoine.

And then I leave, back to the rest of my unfettered life. Breathing that sweet, pure oxygen until my lungs are as full as they can get. 

Friday, February 3, 2017


So, how are you all doing? 

I think a lot of us are feeling a bit fragile these days. It's hard to know when to engage, and when to switch off and spend some time with people you love. I've seen friends get absolutely lambasted recently on social media for daring to have an opinion on women's rights (Imagine that! Women having opinions on women's rights!), or for writing about the wrongs being done to Muslims. One thing I've noticed is that people get very, very nervous when they're confronted by steely logic and righteous anger. And then, unfortunately, they often get angry, and the whole thing degenerates into name-calling and insults. But keep on, brave men and women out there. Keep fighting, and using logic, and making bigots and racists and chauvinists as nervous as possible. I have never seen so many "normal" people galvanized into taking action as I have in the last month. It's the one heartening thing I can take from this; that it's jolting us out of our complacency. 

We're already a month into 2017, guys! That's what happens when we're busy and angry and working hard- time gets away from us. 

So, what's been happening so far this year?

Like a lot of people, I marched:

I am at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. It is a pathetic excuse to say I'm busy, because who isn't? I don't have much money to donate to causes, and I don't always have make time to go to vigils, so... Can I promise to try and do better? To try and lend support to minorities who need allies? To give some of my time to being political? I really don't want to ignore what's happening- how could I?- so if any of you have suggestions, I'd be glad to hear them. 

In the meantime, I've been nesting. This is probably a sound and predictable  instinct when things in the outside world get scary. I have two other very good reasons for increased nesting recently: first of all my roommates are away for 3 weeks, so I have the whole house (and four kitties) to myself! I've been extra busy lately, so today it feels amazing to curl up on the couch and watch the snow (yup, it's baaaaaaack) coming down outside. 

And the other good reason for nesting? 
I found a place to live!

This collage doesn't really do it justice, but here's my new suite. I found it on Craigslist, and it was only the second place I physically went and looked at. I know, hate me. I would too. It has a gas stove, a big bedroom, gorgeous bathroom, tons of light even though it's a basement suite... and a gigantic alcove that seems to be expressly designed to be used as a giant window seat for reading, working, playing music, and dreaming. I think it was this eccentric detail that sealed the deal for me. I was as charming and polite as I could possibly be to the landlords, a nice couple who live upstairs. That, and the fact that my boss gave me a glowing reference, sealed the deal for them, and they called me back the very next day to offer me the place. The best/worst part is that the suite's not available until March 1st, because they're actually going to expand some of the windows to make the place even lighter. That's great because a) Bigger windows! More light! and b) Time to pack! Time to put aside money! but of course I also want to move in right now because IT'S MY OWN PLACE FINALLY, COME ON! AND ALSO I WANT TO LIVE THERE FOR AT LEAST A FEW MONTHS BEFORE DONALD TRUMP DESTROYS THE WORLD!
While I wait, I am starting to pack. I took a trip to Ikea with my angel mom, who bought me many kitchen and home-related items as a moving present to me. One side effect of being older is that I am not content with a couple of mismatched plates and some grotty used particle-board furniture. I want my place to look... pretty. Put-together. Warm and inviting and funky, but not student-chic, ya know? 
So it's going to be a mixture of things, but pretty ones.
The functional: Stuff from Ikea: dishes and cutlery and bookshelves and cubbies and utensils.
The antique: my Mongolian sideboard, which is dark and knobbly and has doors which slide up and into it, which makes it quite hard to use effectively, but is still my favorite piece of furniture I've ever bought. 
I can't adequately capture your unique beauty, sideboard, but you're still my fave. 
A really cool desk I just found at Sellution, which is the best place to buy used furniture with a personality. A little rocking chair that was actually outside of Sellution with a "free" sign on it (it's a fixer-upper). 
The ridiculously hipster and self-indulgent but not actually that expensive: My knives:

I bought these very inexpensive but well-reviewed knives at Atelier St. George, which is probably the only time in history that the words "inexpensive" and "Atelier St. George" will EVER be used in the same sentence (I mean, they have a wool jumpsuit that costs $1700.00, for fuck's sake). 
And now I sit, and I wait to move house. Well, mostly I go out and work and have band practices and clean litter trays, it's just today that I've superglued myself to the couch watching reprehensible YouTube videos and avoiding any sort of work at all costs. 

Hey, work. Remember my ambivalence about teaching, last year? Well, sometimes there are things you do where you walk into a situation or a job and think Hell No and walk right out again, and you just know that you were right to leave. And there are other times where you immediately think: This is what I was meant to do, and the more you do it, the more it confirms that initial thought. (Performing is like that for me.) But there are other things that feel like a no at first, and may end up feeling like a no for a long time before revealing themselves to be, in fact, a big yes. Teaching was like that. I'm glad I stayed. I'm glad when I get to teach kids how to write songs, and when I get to play games where I teach them music theory games and pretend to die horribly if they get the answer wrong. I'm glad when I make a bunch of sullen teenagers sit in a circle on the floor and sing the harmonies to "Jolene" and they do, and it sounds beautiful. Even more when the tallest, sleepiest, sullenest kid voluntarily picks up a ukulele to play along. I'm glad when I get to sing my soprano heart out in choir class, and when I get to yell at kids to stop running in the halls. Glad to the point of transcendence when the evil/cute little 11 year-old who slouched in a corner in my junior class glaring at me and growling that she was "bored" every week suddenly decides to drop the attitude and lights up with glee as she and her classmates hammer out a very creditable version of "Bittersweet Symphony". Teaching is like oxygen; it takes all my energy and yet  gives it back to me, a hundredfold. (And suddenly I get a glimpse of what parenting must be like. But...nope. Still don't want 'em. Phew.)

So that's what I'm doing. Plus mentoring/music directing a youth theatre company in Saskatoon, plus getting ready to do another show in Saskatchewan in the summer, plus teaching preschool music, plus session work at my favourite recording studio, plus... You get the idea. Most days I'm really happy, which feels kind of wrong with all that's going on in the world, but 
(I accidentally hit "publish" without finishing that last sentence, but I can't think of any good way to finish it anyway, so it stays like that.)

Oh, and I coloured my hair. Fuck grey hair. Actually, it wasn't the greys that were killing me, it was the boring brown. 
I'm going to blame my phone's camera for the fact that my face looks strangely puffy, not the fact that I'm still not in shape post-Christmas gluttony.
New place, new work, new world (dis)order: 2017 promises to be...interesting, in the Chinese-Curse sense of the word. So batten down the hatches, get mad, get smart, get safe. And look after yourselves. I know some people disdain self-care (and I certainly hate the phrase), but I don't think it's wise to burn out, either. 

See you soon. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016: Year In Review

I so don't want to join in on all the "Fuck you, 2016" sentiment that's going around right now, but I have to admit that it is hard not to hate a year that brought us President-Elect Donald Trump, and took from us George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and a host of other luminaries. 

Sometimes I see social media posts from my circle of friends and acquaintances, and they make me want to weep. Even worse, they make me want to give up. My goal for the coming year is to try and find a way to be informed while still staying positive. I don't want to be a Nero/Pollyanna, endlessly fiddling while Rome burns, but if all we ever point out is the dark, the despairing, the apocalyptic... aren't we feeding the beast? No, wait- I'm going to be more declarative on this one: We ARE feeding the beasts of negativity, despair, hopelessness, and apathy if all we notice and write about are the bad things that surround us. It's all too easy to be a dark tourist in this life, watching the world crumble and posting things like "We're all doomed." But it takes real guts to see the world at its worst and face it with humour (sometimes very black humour indeed) and hope, and then to actually take action against the things that scare us. Some of my friends have faced unimaginable pain in their lives and emerged angry and fierce and funny, dammit. They are my inspiration as we limp into 2017.

For me personally, 2016 was actually not a bad year at all. I am- still- lucky enough to love and be loved by a really wonderful person. I have a great relationship with my parents and sibling. I grew to like teaching more and more, and for the first time in ages, I made enough money to live on comfortably. I'm still living with family/roommates, which keeps my rent low, and I'm even starting to look for my own place, which I crave. But I love my house, and I love my neighbourhood, so I have the luxury of having lots of time to find my own digs. Considering the current Vancouver rental market, that's a damn good thing. 

(Although doing a post like this may seem self-indulgent, I like writing them, because I'm often reminded of events and occasions I'd totally forgotten.)
Here we go then, the year in review:

January: I dragged myself out of the sleepy torpor created by almost a month off, and got back to work, albeit reluctantly. I screwed up the courage to back out of a gig that I really didn't want to do, and felt nothing but relief once I did. But, as my sweetheart always says, I am the busiest lazy person he knows; I helped him to move apartments by finding him a place (Facebook luck) and by unpacking and helping to set up his new home. 

February: Halfway through the month I dived happily into rehearsals for a new play. It reminded me that although teaching puts food on the table and is becoming more and more fun, theatre really feeds my soul. The process for this show required everyone to be onstage for the entire performance, and also to be at all rehearsals, all the time. What could have been arduous was simply wonderful. I happily took the bus to rehearsals, and it was the perfect time to be working 6 days a week, because it barely ever stopped raining. 

March: My show opened, to good reviews and decent houses. I got the chance to work at a theatre I'd never worked at before (The Firehall Arts Centre). During this busyness, I was also rehearsing for an album release concert, and of course, I was still teaching as well, both privately and at a music school. 

April: The album release concert happened, and it sounded beautiful, although it could have been better-attended. I worked, trained for a Standardized Patient roleplaying gig, and learned to make yoghurt, a feat I have only attempted twice since. 

May: "This life I wanted to build for myself in Vancouver? It's happening." I wrote last May. I was realizing that, much as I may miss my crazy life up north doing interpretive theatre in a gold rush ghost town, my new life is rich and I have no regrets about turning my back on that world. (Except that I wish I could visit, but it's so remote and expensive.) I went to Victoria to see friends, played gigs, got a volunteer gig ushering so I could see more theatre. 

June: The day after my music school job ended, I jumped on a plane and flew to Saskatoon for the second summer in a row, to work for a different theatre company for 6 weeks doing theatre-in-the-park. Our play was a Cree story, and I got to work with indigenous actors, do workshops with youth, play 6 different instruments, go to a sweat lodge, and reaaallllly get to know parks all over Saskatoon. I had also made a strong commitment to getting healthy, and this was helped immeasurably by the fact that I had to bike and walk everywhere while I was away. I loved doing the show, and I loved being back in Saskatoon, my new second home. 

July: This month gave me the rare gift of being able to focus on one job for a while, while getting to know my second home a little bit better. Despite weather that was often more like Vancouver's than Saskatoon's, we were only rained out twice. I took the plunge and got my hair cut. Then I cut it even shorter. I started to be very aware of the discrepancy between my idyllic life and the injustices that were giving rise to hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter. 

August: Flew back home, went to a job interview (quite hungover), and managed to secure a new job, teaching music to preschoolers, which was not something I knew anything about. Decided to procrastinate like hell on that one, and enjoy my month off to the hilt. There was a great deal to enjoy: I made a music video of one of my songs (or rather, two lovely people made it; I drank a lot of wine and sang along to a recording of myself over and over); a cousin of mine came over from the UK and we all made a trip up to the Okanagan to have some wonderful family time (plus, I learned to rock climb); and my lover and I spent several blissful weeks house-sitting a converted barn in Fort Langley. We also spent a lot of time working, because we discovered to our surprise that our creation, Little Ali Fox, was one of ten finalists in the Ottawa Animation Festival's Pitch This! event, and therefore we needed to raise funds so that Jay could travel to Ottawa. I continued to run a lot, and because we were living in the middle of nowhere, I also used my bicycle a great deal. It was blissful. 

September: Holy switching gears, Batman! I transitioned from rural life: dirt between my toes, homegrown veggies, river swimming... to so many new challenges. My music school underwent a huge shift in its way of operating which ultimately benefitted me greatly, as I was able to use my skills as a multi-instrumentalist rather than just being a reluctant piano teacher. I began teaching preschool music at another music school, a job I hated for several months until I got on top of it (more or less) and learned to love it. I started playing ukulele  On top of this, I went back to school as a student, taking a psychology class at Capilano University. which is one of the prerequisite courses of the Music Therapy program.  On top of all this, I decided that there was JUST NO WAY that Jay should go to Ottawa for this animation festival without me. So I impulsively bought a plane ticket and went with him for 31 hours. Which was AMAZING. Expensive, but amazing. We didn't win Pitch This!, but it was still worth it. 

October: More work, more music, more running. I really enjoyed my new band, which I formed in the fall when the old folk band dissolved due to members moving away. I bought a U-bass, which I love playing, both at the music school and in my band. Music, music, music. And Psych 100, which I loved, to my surprise. 

November: Man, what can I say about a month in which we watched a narcissistic orange get elected president? We all felt the world collectively cringe. We all struggled to feel any hope at all. 

December: Somewhat to my surprise: It snowed!!! (The ground, over 20 days later, is still more white than green.) In fact, this is the first white Christmas in Vancouver that I can remember. Also to my surprise: I got an A minus in my Psych class (maybe because my exam was delayed by a day. THANK YOU, SNOW.) I finished schools of all sorts, and dived happily into doing fuck-all for 3 weeks. Oh, and I decided to set myself a fitness challenge and try to run every day for 30 days. Aaaannnnd, the gods said:
But hey, I ran over 10 times! So it wasn't quite as impressive as I had hoped, but I still ran way more than I usually do.  
I got to score a short film, which was a blast. I attended, and participated in, my music school's Christmas concerts, and felt more love for my work than ever before. It's a complicated, frustrated love at times, but hey, what love isn't? 
Oh, and Christmas! I love Christmas! 

And by the way, if we're speaking of love... I have to give major kudos to Jay for his amazing ideas, his crazy work ethic, and the way he gives 110% to everything. I love you with the passion of a thousand fiery suns, to quote from the podcast I'm listening to as I write this. Also my friends, both the ones I talk to on Facebook, and the ones I actually, you know, see

That was my year. Welcome to 2017, folks. In the spirit of hope, I hope I'll see you all next year. Be fierce. Be funny. Above all, stay alive. I love you.