Monday, August 22, 2016

Blood.

I just rode the Greyhound back tonight from five day's-worth of holidays in the Okanagan with family and friends. Appropriately enough, the sky grew dark and scary as we drove through the mountains, and rain hit the bus hard as the wipers flashed to keep the glass clean. After 5 days of hot sun, blue skies and dry nights, the rain signalled like nothing else that the party was Over.

I ate cheese curds on the bus, because I was hungry. Now I smell of dairy, and I feel queasy, in that will-it-pass-or-will-it-get-worse kind of way. It is midnight, and the Snack Of Regret is keeping me awake, because I'm afraid that if I sleep, I will wake up and have to barf. Don't eat cheese curds on the bus, people. Just don't. 

My cousin was visiting from England with his wife, which was the reason for my visit. Twenty years since we'd last met, so one of us was a child (him) and one of us was barely not-a-child (me) last time we set eyes on each other. Now he's married, with a job in IT. And a musician, and probably many other things I don't know about. We'd be walking around, or talking, or just hanging out, and I'd look at his face and see my own features looking back at me, and I would marvel. He looks more like me than my own brother. My father and his look remarkably alike, and this resemblance has been passed on to their children. Big eyes, wide cheekbones, thin lips, fine brown hair. Some of the same features I have already written about how I love/hate, and they're not just mine: they belong to my bloodline.

I never really understood about extended family. They were Over There and we were Over Here and that's just how it was. What IS family? For me, it was just the four of us. A few satellites: grandmas and grandpas would appear occasionally and then go home again. One grandma lived with us for a while, but I was a teenager, and too self-absorbed to really make her part of my life. The weight of Family and Blood sits so lightly on my shoulders. I really think that is a gift that my parents have given me, that lightness. Hundreds of boring family dinners and petty disagreements missed. The stale trap of life within a group you never had the luxury of choosing. But also: no cousins to grow up with. No connection to the people who came before me. No seeing my eyes and mouth in the people across the dinner table from me. 
My cousin, my dad, and me.



My people were all around me this week. My cousin and his wife chose to come here from the UK to spend their holiday with us. My brother and his wife took the time to show them around Vancouver. I gave them my room while they stayed here. Then we drove up to the Kelowna to spend time with my dad and his girlfriend, who welcomed all us overgrown kids: fed us, drove us around, bought us meals. My boyfriend and his mom spent hours driving me to and fro so that I could also visit with them in Penticton. I am lucky not only in my blood family but in my chosen family: my friends, my love, his relatives and friends.

 I walk into the tidy sewing room in the pleasant condo shared by a retired husband and wife in their seventies, and my heart misses a beat. There she is, smiling out from a photograph. My lover's long-dead girlfriend. Her parents have invited my boyfriend, his mother and I for a quick coffee; they haven't seen him in many years and they want to say hello. We are very Canadian: we are polite and friendly. There are no tears, and only the gentlest of reminiscences, although the way of her dying left a lot of pain behind. Mostly we talk of their present: retirement, quilting, grandchildren. I look around the table and sip my coffee and marvel at the strangeness of it. If she were alive I would not be here at this table, whether or not my love and I would have eventually found each other anyway. And yet although it is strange for me, and probably for them, I am glad to be here in this moment. I feel a little closer to the man I love and to his mother and also to his past. 

Social media is really great sometimes. It's made my family connection stronger, even with the great distance that separates us. We FaceTime and we FaceBook. The older generations have all died out now, and so far there are no children to follow us. But we are lucky. We feel that lightness, the freedom that comes with our generations, but we look at each other and say I choose you. To be family, yes, but also to be friends. My people.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Eye of the Beholder

I ran 10k today. Last time I did that was over 3 years ago, so it's kind of a big deal. 

Am I bragging? Hell yeah. Two months ago I wrote this on my other blog. I was overweight. I was eating any old thing I wanted. I was unhappy with how I looked and felt. Every day I started off with good intentions and every night I craved and caved and loathed myself for my lack of willpower. 

But I had a job coming up that I knew would be highly physical, so one day after I kind of hit bottom in terms of self-loathing, I got up just enough willpower to stop eating bread, pasta and desserts. I went on a few runs with my boyfriend, who likes to jog 2 to 3k to clear his head after working inside all day. 

A friend of mine was doing this and losing pounds, so I started doing it too. (Although I must say that my Bright Lines are a bit fuzzy 'round the edges at times, and I eat a few things that aren't approved in this plan.) I joined their Facebook page and I appreciate the support we all give each other. 

I moved to the prairies for 6 weeks and started bike-commuting every day. And running. And doing this very physical outdoor show. We built our set every night, did the show, took down the set again. I revelled in the heat of a Saskatchewan summer; kept biking, kept running. Kept eating well. 

I feel great. Dammit, I look great. I am so proud of myself. I can't wait to see where I'm at in another couple of months. 

And yet...

I shot a music video recently; or rather, I was in a music video for one of my songs. When I watch the rough cut I see my big eyes, my smile, my strong, sexy legs... And I see my flaws, over and over. Thin lips, short grey hair that never rippled or flowed down my back the way I wanted it to and when I cut it off this summer it felt like freedom but it also felt a little bit like failure. I see the weight I haven't yet lost, may never lose, because I am built to be short and curvy and I will not, will not starve myself, work out for hours, deny myself every last treat or cocktail just to attain that magical number on the scale. 

I know that my female friends will tell me how beautiful I am- and I will believe them- but when my male friends tell me I look good, I will feel more validated, because I am a hetero woman and I want to look good in men's eyes. Tell me you haven't felt that way; go on, tell me. 

I know that there are as many types of "beauty" as there are people on this planet, and yet I will always feel too short, too brunette, too plump, even though I know that even models are eaten up with self-loathing. 

I read, nightly, about rape, about abuse, about the ridiculous ways that female athletes at the olympics are treated in the media. I know people who can't run, can't exercise because of health issues, or abuse, or depression. Are their bodies any less lovely than mine because they don't have my good genes, or good fortune? 

I want to say that my decision to eat better and exercise more is an experiment in willpower- and it is- but it is also firmly rooted in a desire to look good, and not just for myself.

I can't tie this post up tidily at the end here; I have a few disjointed things to say and that's it:

When I work out, when I eat better, when I do yoga, I feel fierce and strong and self-confident. I am proud of what I can make my body do. As a musician and a writer, I see it as a strong example of what happens when you cultivate a daily practice. (Funnily enough, I have always been far more successful when it comes to exercising regularly than when it comes to playing music or writing on the daily.) I will not apologize for either my good genes or my good luck, but I will try to honour them by treating my body with love. In all its stages and levels of health.

I want to tell everyone- and especially anyone who's just feeling as if it's all totally beyond them- that it IS possible. You can make small changes in what you choose to eat. And then make bigger changes. If you are able to, you should do something physical. Because there are so many people who would kill to be able to do what you take for granted. (But if you can only handle one thing, change what you eat.) 

If you are a big, healthy, confident woman who revels in her sexy curves, then I salute you. I want to believe that I am as beautiful as you. And I know how hard you've worked to love yourself. If you're thin, tall, blond model-material who hates herself, I wish you peace and self-acceptance. 

For me, I just want more years of good health, more days of smart choices, more moments of happiness and confidence. I want to carve out some time for myself, even when things get hectic again this Fall, as they surely will. And I want that for you too, whoever and however and wherever you are. 



Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Disconnect.

The other night, as we were performing our outdoor show, a fighter jet kept passing noisily overhead, high in the sky over Saskatoon. 
My actor brain: Why the fuck does that thing have to be circling around here right NOW?

Not until later, walking home, does my writer brain kick in: What a perfect analogy for the state of the world right now! 

Here we are: Sum Theatre, doing our free show in a city park. Part of Sum's mandate is to do shows FOR the community, IN the community, with stories about people working together to help each other. We get the kids in the audience to participate during the show: it's ragged and beautiful and funny and corny and hopeful. 

And up there, raking the sky, is this noisy death-machine, making it harder for us to spread our little message of hope and peace. 

What's going in the world makes no sense. Black people are being shot by trigger-happy police and white people keep braying All Lives Matter because for some reason they just DON'T GET IT. Hundreds of people are killed in Baghdad and Istanbul, and the same Facebook friends who couldn't change their profile pictures fast enough to that cute little photo of the Eiffel Tower when Paris was attacked don't seem to be able to muster up a fraction of the same outrage and support when it's brown muslim people who are dying. 

I hesitate to post anything on social media because... oh, for so many reasons. For fear of spreading misinformation and my own, ill-informed opinion. For fear of armchair activism, where posting a meme or changing my profile picture or writing some suitably outraged post takes the place of any real action. For fear of preaching to the converted, because let's face it, almost all my Facebook friends will agree with what I say. They're called "friends" for a reason. And yeah, also for fear of conflict, because unlike some of my social media friends I do NOT relish the idea of an online comment-battle. 

So much disconnect:

I am so very happy here, doing outdoor theatre in Saskatoon, and yet there is so much anguish in the world that my joy feels tainted. It's like last year, when I learned that a wonderful person I knew had fallen gravely ill, and that many of my friends were hurting and scared, and yet the sun beat down and the cherries in the back yard glowed red and lovely, and I could not help my health and my happy life, even though I felt an undercurrent of dread. How lucky I was/am, to have the luxury of joy, a luxury denied so many!  I have seen the incredible moments of (somewhat black) humour that spring up in the darkest moments, and I'd way rather go that route than deny that humour and happiness exist. 

I feel so at home here, but to be at home in many places is always to feel a certain amount of disconnect. I miss my lover back in Vancouver, my friends and life in northern BC, and when I go home I will miss this city and my wonderful friends here as well. But I wouldn't trade that slight nagging sadness I always feel (Fear of Missing Out is magnified the more places you call home) for not having traveled in the first place. Never. 

In the end it's not really disconnect at all, is it?  It's the push-pull of life; it's the luxury and the poverty, the joy and the terror, the homesickness and the absolute certainty of being home. What I know is that I will carry these experiences with me always: love, good work, travel, happiness; and hope that they warm me when life turns cruel or cold. 







Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sea Glass

This weekend I have no special plans so I decide to get on the ferry and see a friend from Wells perform his one-man show at Emily Carr's house. 
Which is an excellent plan in and of itself, but really, the whole short trip becomes about being outdoors as much as possible, the wind and the sun punctuated briefly by the show (which is great, and makes me miss Wells a lot). I sit gulping ice water before the play begins, having just walked as fast as possible to make it there in time. Emily Carr's house is very tidy and sweet in that overstuffed Victorian way, and I feel like a sloppy little bull surrounded by flowered china; long hair messy, bare-legged, overheated. But I enjoy the show, and I enjoy saying hi afterwards, although I am happy to forego the post-show drinks at a pub with people I don't know, and instead I stroll home through downtown, savouring the sounds, the tourists, the shops. Happy to be alone. 

Holly and I spend both days on the beach at Beacon Hill, combing the sand for sea glass. It becomes a mild addiction. When I got there on Friday she'd been talking about us going on a hike with some friends of hers, but when we wake up on Saturday and begin talking about our day she says "I really just want to go back to the beach," and I am delighted. 
We weave our way to the beach, stopping off at the Moss Street Market along the way. I try and puzzle out why Victoria contains so much more magic than Vancouver. Is it just because I'm a visitor, usually there when the sun is out, or is it something deeper? Holly agrees with me, and she lives there, so I may be on to something. 
We walk past old houses with stunning gardens, until Moss Street spits us out by the sea. And then we hunker down in the sand and dig through it with sticks, with our hands, and find smooth bits of sea glass: common brown and amber; white glass that looks plain but will reveal many subtle shades when we take it home; green, which ranges from olive to delicate sea-green. There are happy cries when we discover Holly's favorite, which is cobalt blue glass. It's one of the rarer colours, and it is usually tiny. Our eyes grow eagle-sharp. 


Dogs race by. Sometimes they shake the water out of their coats too close to us, but they are so delighted with life that it's hard to stay mad. 
An older woman stops to see what we are searching for. We start chatting, and I mention that I'm just visiting for the weekend. "Are you at university?" she asks me, and I laugh and say no. With my hair in two braids and my messy clothes, I must look about 20 to her. She says that she has some stress in her life right now, but walking down here near the water has been relaxing. She doesn't say what the stress is, but tells us passionately not to rush into marriage, children, and all that. "Do what you want," she exclaims, and I don't have the heart to tell her that my child-bearing years are mostly behind me, and I can't have kids anyway. 

I leave the island with a yoghurt container filled with glassy gems, and a beautiful little jar I found in an antique store that cost two dollars. Back at home I sort the glass: green ones in the little jar and clear ones in a glass bottle. 
Today I wake up and long to be at the beach, even though it is cold and I have chores and taxes to do. 
Soon I will find more little glass jars and I will escape to the beach again to search the sand for buried treasure. 


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Strange Monsters

I am explaining the difference between Lucky's Donuts and Cartems Donuts.
Cartems aren't as sweet as Lucky's... but they are greasier.

I should know. I had two: the apricot almond one and the salted caramel one. Artisan donuts might be a sign of the imminent apocalypse but they are also irresistible some nights.


He writes back. Mmmm, greazy.

And just like that, a character is born: Greazy, the carnival barker. I tippity-tap at the keys instead of prepping for my piano class. Greazy, born of eccentric spelling and procrastination.

Greazy the carnival barker
is tilting on his feet
Greazy the carnival barker
Never has quite enough to eat

He’s been looking for you with his snaggletoothed grin
and his tattered old hat that lets all the rain in
Wearing a carnival coat
with his eyes on your tender young throat

I don’t know what he’ll do when he finds you
but it probably won’t be nice.
I think you should take my advice

and run, run for your life

More words, spilling onto the screen.

Tonight, I get this text:

This is what happens when you are lucky enough to find someone to bounce ideas off. He sends me a picture, a scrap, a word, and I turn it into words and music. Or I send him a phrase and he breathes life into it. Doesn't that look just like Greazy, with his bony fingers and skeleton keys? He's lurching up the road towards your house, and you'd better be hiding under the bed when he lets himself in...

Last weekend we biked to the beach and took pictures of a battered old submersible. We are turning a 15-year-old idea of his into a story. I don't know what will happen to Greazy and Max, and all the other strange beings we've woken into half-life. They want to be free, they want colour and action and sound and I hope we can do them justice. 

We dream up strange monsters and brave little boys together. I will take that any day over joint bank accounts and runny-nosed toddlers. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Saying No: When is it okay to back out of a gig?


Monday night, I couldn't sleep. It is a cliche to say that I tossed and turned; like many cliches it is also a truth. Beside me, my boyfriend lay sleepless as well. Our reasons were different: he had to move house in the morning, which is one of the most stressful things you can do. Me? I had to make a difficult decision about a job.

The problem was, I'd been offered the job in early December and accepted it. It was now the end of January, the job (music directing a high school musical) was supposed to start February 1st... and I was thinking about backing out of it. 

But oh, the dread: How could I back out so late? What would my contact for the job say? Would he be angry? Or worse- upset? Would he blame me for sabotaging an ambitious show, for leaving them in the lurch? 
But how could I do the job? I was unprepared- I had never received the musical score and rehearsals were now only days away. The job had gone from something a bit out of my comfort zone- working on a classic musical with high schoolers- some of whom I'd have to shape into a live band by opening- to something I was dreading: a show with 15-plus songs, none of which I'd ever seen a lick of music for. 
On one hand it was easy to say well, they never got me the music and I've been asking for it for weeks. Now I haven't got the time to prepare. And on the other hand: If you were a really good musical director you would have found a way. You'd be able to sight-read the score. You'd be excited about this show rather than frustrated. You'd make it happen. The real issue was, I didn't want to make it happen. I wanted out. 

Back and forth my mind went, through the pros and the cons of saying no. There was the money of course, because in my life there's never enough money and now here I was turning it away. And there was pride: by backing out I was essentially saying I wasn't good enough to take it on. There was convenience though- if I did back out I'd have more time to do the jobs I was really excited about rather than spreading myself too thin. 

In the end it took that night and most of the next day before I worked up the courage to email my contact and tell him I was backing out of the job. And then I had to wait for his email. More dread.
Hey, look! I'm using this dumb stock footage of a woman who looks nothing like me to illustrate my stressed-out state of mind.  

I started realizing that I was not just saying no to the job. I was saying no to the idea that we freelancers have to say yes to any job that comes our way, lest we refuse one and then all the work dries up. I was saying no to being overly busy, which is such an ingrained part of our work culture. How many Facebook statuses and articles have I read where someone is about to start a 12-hour workday, or hasn't had a day off in a month, or is juggling childcare and work and school? Hell, my own boyfriend would never stop working if I wasn't around. I salute you people. I applaud your work ethic and your dedication, but I am not you. And I don't want to be.  

I was also admitting some inadequacies in my skillset, which is a tricky one, and something again that freelancers in general have a hard time doing. We've all said yes to gigs that challenged and stretched us. Arrange music for an ensemble you've never worked with before? Gotcha. Teach piano to kids?, Sure, see you Wednesday. Run from the orchestra pit to the stage and back again multiple times in one show, being both the attention-seeking diva and the quiet-but-efficient music director? Yep, just did that for my last play. Hang upside down 30 feet off the ground while singing opera? Sure, I can do that. (Not really. But I'd probably give it a go.) 

I have a tendency to downplay my abilities. But there are certain things I am not that great at, and while I am learning to love (and improve at) my job teaching piano to kids, when it comes to piano music I am simply not a great sight-reader. I need practice and lots of it. I would (and could) happily step in at a moment's notice to replace a singer onstage. But a piano player? Never happen. There are times when you have to accept that saying yes won't be a case of challenging yourself. It'll be a case of being the wrong person for the job. 

Am I over-justifying? Of course. There will always be a part of me that regrets the missed opportunities. The part of me that wonders what could have been if I just said yes. If I'd made it work. Because hell, almost every time I say yes to new and exciting and scary things, it's led to the best things: great gigs, travel, new friends, new loves. 
In my mind, I try to look past the door I just closed, and see the path I could have chosen. But of course I can't; that's the price you pay for closing doors. What I do see is a spring filled with excitement: 3 weeks of full-time rehearsals where I get to be a musician and performer; the continuing joys and challenges of being a music teacher; an album release concert, and who-knows-what other jobs that will pop up along the way? 

I blame myself for not being more clear about my needs (getting the score in plenty of time) when I took on the job in the first place. And of course, I blame myself for overbooking myself, which is the constant curse of the freelancer. But having finally taken action and refused the job, I feel nothing but relief. 

All the worst-case scenarios I feverishly mulled over never came to pass. My contact for the job accepted my news with disappointment, but with total class. I dreaded reading his replying email to me, and yet when it came, there were no recriminations, no accusations, no guilt trips. We wished each other well, and that was that. As always, my worst enemy had been myself. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

To Be A Rock and Not To Roll

Good gravy! Is anyone else having trouble yanking themselves out their holiday torpor, or is it just me? This December I had a dangerously seductive combination of (just) enough money, and plenty of time off, and I'm a bit ashamed to say that I really did very little over the holidays. I read, I lazed with the cats, I didn't even see many friends, if I'm going to be honest. I was a wee bit of a hermit, and I kind of liked it. 

But now the New Year is here, with all of its
New! 
Fresh!
Beginnings! 
Jolting me unwillingly out of my comfortable little rut and back into the fast lane.

Jay sent me a link to this lovely little animated video. Go ahead, watch it. It won't take long:



"I feel like that rock," I admitted to him the other day. "All this stuff keeps happening to me and I just want to... sleep." 

I feel a strange kinship with the sleepy little rock in this movie, who just wants to rest, but keeps being yanked into the most extraordinary situations, kind of like an inanimate Forrest Gump. 

Which is making me face an uncomfortable truth about myself:

I am the kind of person who lets things happen to them rather than making things happen. 

Which isn't to say I haven't had an amazing professional life. Let's see, I've

  • played live gigs in Istanbul
  • spent 5 summers doing historical theatre in a gold rush town
  • made my living (kinda) as a freelance musician
  • played in all kinds of bands, from Turkish to left-wing folk to Slavic soul
  • worked for all kinds of theatre companies in Vancouver and elsewhere, from tiny struggling companies to some of the top professional companies in the city. 
...and all kinds of other good stuff.
But imagine how much more interesting it could be if I made my own plans?

If I said 
  • I'm going to write and perform my own 1-woman show.
  • I'm going to record an EP or album this year and get some of my talented friends to play on it.
  • I'm going to take classes and learn something new this year to make myself more hireable.
  • I'm going to actively improve my singing and piano playing.
  • I'm going to contact more seniors' homes and get them to book me as an entertainer, rather than waiting for them to call me. 
Wow! I just came up with most of that stuff in 5 minutes! Imagine what could happen if I put some real time into making my life happen. 

But making your life happen instead of letting life happen takes courage.
It means letting go of your (my) fear of rejection and ridicule.
It means working hard, every day. 
It means never getting comfortable, always challenging yourself to try something new, something scary, something hard. 

But there are so many rewards, and my own history proves this. 
When I decided to apply for a music director job on the BC Arts Alliance website, I made a connection that would lead to six years of demanding, rewarding, life-changing work in a northern town.
When I left a stagnant relationship, I opened myself up to new adventures, and it gave myself and my ex-partner a new lease on life.
When I say 'yes' to teaching a class that I don't know much about at the music school where I work, I learn so much, and feel way more relaxed and at ease the next time I am challenged to take on something new.
I decided on a whim to go to Seattle and take a class with a yoga teacher who really inspired me. It was a wonderful weekend.
When I took decided to join a dating website, I met a wonderful man. And yes, I was the one who contacted him! In fact, he'd gone on to the site that day to shut down his profile, as he hadn't had any success, and then he saw my message. So...

When you take action, amazing things can happen. And yeah, I know that I sound like a goddamn motivational speaker on TedTalks right now, but I'm psyching myself up, yo. 
Today I got up, went for a run, did yoga, and worked- actually worked- on some stuff when I found out I had extra time because a meeting got cancelled. It's the first day in this new year that I can actually say that I felt supercharged with energy and purpose. And yeah, I know I'll backslide, but I really do believe that there can be a snowball effect. After all, as that cute little cartoon shows, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. 

The time for being a sleepy little rock is past! 

If I can look back at 2016 next January and honestly say that I took more control of my life, I will be beyond proud, even if I failed at some things. Especially if I failed, because that means that I put myself out on a limb, big-time. 

Because I'd like to say "Oh, torpor? Apathy? That's so 2015!"