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. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Auntie Alison's Christmas Spectacular

Well hi there.

I admit, I am a little woozy from all the Bailey's I've had tonight. Although I must stay vigilant enough to keep the kittens from destroying the Christmas tree. Which is in my bedroom! And taller than me! And makes my bedroom smell like a pine forest! 
Just LOOK at this damn tree.
Try to ignore the bad lighting job though. 

I'm not sure when I turned into such a Christmas nut; it sort of crept up on me slowly. I should say that I'm actually more of a Christmas anticipation nut, since most of my joy is actually derived from the weeks leading up to Christmas rather than the actual day itself, culminating in the rapture that is Christmas Eve. I swear I feed on the excitement that's floating around in the air. The joy sharply diminishes for me once The Big Day actually rolls around. 

Christmas Eve always means dinner at my mom's with a loveably ragtag collection of Christmas orphans and eccentric friends (last year it was at my place, but the same principle applied.) I highly recommend gathering together  a small group of people who've never met before and watching what happens. It's always been sweet, odd, and sometimes really fun, depending on who all gathers at my mom's place since it's never the same two years running. A couple years ago I randomly invited a woman I only slightly knew from my days up north because she happened to be in town; she turned out to be a delightful addition to the party. One year it was the couple who were my bosses in Barkerville, plus a roommate (and ex) of mine; another year an Israeli Jew who is a theatre lighting designer-slash-Christmas orphan... The point, of course, is not to simply collect amusingly eccentric people, but to mix things up a little but (or a lot) every year. Fresh blood is essential. After all, do you really want to hear Uncle Albert's off-colour stories for the 10th year in a row? You do not. 

I am extra-lucky, because I get three weeks off around Christmas, so I have plenty of time, if not a great deal of money, to really get into the spirit of things. (Perhaps too much, if my tightening waistband is anything to go by.) It also means that I am soppily yearning for my boyfriend to whisk me to a cozy bar for hot toddies after a frosty walk, whereas he is trying mightily to squeeze money out of his online gallery  and ship out last-minute parcels before business drops off. I can sit on my bed drinking Bailey's, blogging, and listening to Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas album for the eleventy-millionth time by the light of my adorable Christmas tree (true fact: I am doing all of those things right now.) 
But hey! My sweetie managed to squeeze in some time with me today, and we took an ear-freezing walk along the Fraser River while the sun and the temperature went down together, and airplanes roared across the river at the airport. We even managed hot, alcohol-spiked coffees at the Milltown Bar. Because you know the best thing that's happened so far this Christmas season?

Well now, hold up. We have to backtrack a minute. You see, every Christmas aficionado has a very specific list of things that make their season perfect. For example, some people's Ideal Christmas List might include: 

  1. Listening to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" on repeat, plus swooning over every Christmas album Michael Buble ever made
  2. Watching Love, Actually with a box of Kleenex at the ready
  3. Getting 'lucky' at the office Christmas party
  4. Plastic christmas trees that fold up neatly into a box for the other 11 months of the year
  5. Spending Christmas Day surrounded by every.single.member. of their extended family, even though they don't actually like many of them, because It's Christmas And That Is Tradition 
  6. Flying off to a hot country where Christmas may or may not be celebrated at all.
And while I am not here to judge you for any of those choices (just kidding! I am so judging you right now!) my Ideal Christmas List includes:
  1. Listening to Wham's "Last Christmas" on repeat (even this version, which is twisted magic), and also lots of classical Christmas carols from the land of my people, which is England, of course. Because other than Wham!, Christmas music should have stopped being written at around 1920.
  2. Are you fucking kidding me, Love, Actually? This movie is so gross on so many levels that I won't even go there. (This Jezebel article does go there. Brilliantly.) My favourite crappy Christmas movie of choice is The Family Stone. Diane Keaton being tough and funny and tragic! Sarah Jessica Parker as an uptight, neurotic bitch! Rachel McAdams as the tomboyish  family rebel! The gay couple consisting of a deaf guy and a black guy who adopt a baby for maximum political correctness! As you get drunker: Scrooged. If you really overdid it: Bad Santa. 
  3. I don't mean to brag, but my office Christmas party was spent not with Bob-from-Accounting drunkenly trying to slip his tongue in my mouth under the mistletoe; but instead with some of the coolest musical cats in town. My boss told me repeatedly how great she thought I was; we ate a shit-ton of delicious nibbles; and the night culminated in a drunken jam in which I played the ukulele bass, the vibraphone, and the djembe, because my 'office' is a kick-ass music school. 
  4. I want my tree to smell so good, the cats are drawn to it like moths to a green, needly flame, compelled to nibble at low-hanging branches until I forcibly eject them from my room. Plastic's what your credit card and yo' mama's face are made of. Not my tree. 
  5. This year, my Christmas Day will be spent with my boyfriend, and my boyfriend's female BFF,  a cool kitty who pours the vodka with a terrifyingly liberal hand. 
  6. My roommates/brother and sister-in-law have actually done the tropical-country-Christmas-thing on several occasions, and they loved it. I admit I was in Hawaii one December, and really enjoyed watching the Christmas deccos vying for attention with the palm trees, but when I jetted back home into a cold snap (this was about 3 years ago), I was delighted. Christmas means one thing. And guess what we got this year? 

SNOW. In Vancouver. Can we take a moment to appreciate just how rare this is? 

Jay takes a moment. While standing on some snow. In minus-4 degree temperatures.
A huge sacrifice on his part, this walk, considering he was a) incredibly busy and
b) is one of those Vancouverites who actually loves the warm and rainy weather. 
The morning it snowed last week, I actually got dressed and went out at 7:30am just so I could coo over the freshly-fallen white stuff and stumble around in it for 90 minutes. The fact that it's still here, kept here by a freakish cold snap, is a bloody Christmas miracle. It won't be here by the 24th, I've reconciled myself to that. But it's enough that it came, and that it stayed around for a while, which warms my Ontario-born heart even as it freezes my fingertips. 

But wait! It gets better! Is all this Christmas making you jaded? Are you feeling frazzled? Spending too much time at the mall? Lost the magic? Auntie Alison has some suggestions for you:

Music? Watch my friend (and fellow-Reptiles band member) Noah Walker drift moodily around Metrotown Mall while lip-synching his song, "Shortest Days of the Year". This one's for all the cynics, as Noah sings lines like "It's just the shortest days of the year/That's all this ever really was", and other myth-busting reasons why Christmas is really NBD, all while sneakily shooting a music video in one of Vancouver's busiest malls as passers-by do the totally Canadian thing and studiously ignore him. 
Also? live music, people. I saw a carol concert by musica intima last night that just blew me away, and they have several more concerts this month. Do yourself a favour and buy tickets now. I have several friends who dislike Christmas carols because they have no faith and dislike organized religion. To me, they're missing the point. I know that Christianity has visited terrible atrocities on the world. It's also given us some of the most incredible art, architecture and music in existence. This is the sound of pure wonder. Is it diminished because I don't happen to believe in the mythology that inspired it? Not to me. 

Decorations? IMHO, few stores do Christmas better than Welk's on Main Street. And if you're looking for genuine vintage touch, slip across the street to Baker's Dozen Antiques and pick up a few slightly battered glass ornaments from the '40s, '50s and '60s. 

Shiny balls at Baker's Dozen. You know you wanna.
Performances? Vancouver is lucky enough to have two productions that tip their hats to tradition while also being straight-up wacky Vancouver. 
Bah! Humbug! sets Dickens' A Christmas Carol in the Downtown Eastside, which would be genius enough. Add in beloved performers like bluesman/actor Jim Byrnes and sets designed by local artist Richard Tetrault and you've got grubby, gritty magic. 
The East Van Panto has also become a tradition, skewering all our east van obsessions: yoga, biking, organic food, political correctness... the list goes on. With music by east van's Queen of Quirk, Veda Hille. 

Shopping? I know. I haven't walked around in your shoes, 'cause I just have to buy prezzies for a couple of people. Literally. But dude. If you're still buying 30 presents you've gotta ask yourself why. And if you really can't cut back on the number of gifts you have to give, then for god's sake do the duty-buying online (I love these guys for fun stuff) and get thee to a craft market for all the stuff you're buying for peeps you actually love. There are so many, all around town, starting in November. 
Heaven. For me, anyway.

I have friends who are indifferent to Christmas, or even actively hate it. They have really good reason to, some of them. They've been traumatized by abuse; worn down by family obligations/discord or by overwork; made weary and wary by loneliness and isolation. I acknowledge their distaste/loathing, but while I hope I can be sensitive to their feelings, I will not be ashamed of mine. 

I am also very aware that all and indulgence is a huge luxury denied most of us; also that things like drinking water, safety, and basic human dignity are things denied many of my fellow humans while I go to carol concerts and get misty-eyed over manipulative seasonal commercials. 
I am hesitant to suggest too many organizations without being better-informed, but I donated to Doctors Without Borders this year, and I hope to be able to negotiate the thorny path of charity more often in the future, as my own earnings modestly increase. 

At heart, I am a pagan. I worship lights, music, friends, food, trees, mulled wine, lazy days off, snow... and the sense of wonder and magic that lies underneath all of those things as we fight through the coldest, shortest days. If those things don't do it for you, don't summon a shiny feeling in your soul, then I wish you the strength and the imagination to find something that does. 

Merry Christmas, whatever that means to you. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Day In The Life: 3/12/16

I sleep long enough, but wake up tired and headache-y. One of those days when my body There have been too many of those this fall. My body is getting slammed with one malaise after another; a disadvantage of working with children. 
I've set myself a goal this month: run 30 minutes a day, every day. Even Christmas. It's Day Three, and I want to bury myself in blankets and pretend it's still dark, but my back is too sore to stay in bed anyway, so up I get. At least it's not raining, for a change. 
I decide to run south, which means that the outward-bound part will be hard (all uphill), but the return will be easy. I decide to sweeten the pill by ending the run at my favourite coffee bar/breakfast joint, Matchstick, where the poached-eggs-on-toast are just perfect. 
I simply cannot get up any speed this morning; my legs feel leaden but I keep running anyway, and at least I am warm. Up to 28th, across to Fraser, back down to Kingsway, with a little detour to add time. Finally my timer pings and I gratefully slow to a walk. 
Eggs, toast, black tea. Expensive, and I don't care. 
Walk to work, because I need to use their computers to write the music for a documentary I am scoring for a friend.  A detour to the mall because he needs a bit more time to edit the film. Buy some fuzzy pants at Ardene because they have foxes on them. Buy some slippers because everyone needs more warm slippers this time of year. Get to work- can't get in because the front door is locked. Seethe with frustration because my damn cel phone can't get a signal within a 2-block radius of work, for some reason. Finally manage to contact my angel boss, who is in the neighbourhood and lets me in, bless her. 
Wait some more. Fiddle with the music. Put on the new slippers. Get the new cut. Talk to the filmmaker; suggest changes. Wait for another cut. Make tea, raid the cupboard in the office for the cookies we serve to the ukulele students. 
Edit music, slide around tracks until they time up with the new cut (the actual composing was done last Tuesday). Talk it over with the filmmaker; change some stuff, send it off again. Suggest changes to the grammar in the subtitles, because I am as passionate about good english as I am about good music. 
Still life with fox mug and Garageband. Yes, I scored a film on Garageband. Suck it, music tech snobs. 
Five hours after I arrive at work, I am done. 
Stop in at a local clothing shop and spend more money. Leggings, big sweater. Basically the same clothes I was wearing in 1993. Everything old is new again. Hungry again- the local pizza joint is calling my name so I give in. Cocktail, delicious thin-crust pizza with leftovers for tomorrow. 
Get in my mouth, pizza with arugula & gorgonzola. I ran today- I can eat whatever I want. 

Home to my room. Saturday night, and I'm wearing the fuzzy fox pants and folding laundry. Love is out of town and the Christmas parties don't start until next weekend, that's my excuse. Put off prepping for work tomorrow teaching the preschoolers from hell. Put off prepping. Put off- Dammit. Time to prep. 
And yet, I'm still not prepping. Fox pants, BTW- are you sensing a theme here? 
Body still feels tired and- wrong, somehow. Like it did all day. Anger, frustration, just a little too close to the surface. Some days are just like that. Be thankful that there was no one around to unleash that frustration on. Be grateful that you got to make some art in a quiet room wearing new slippers. Some days, that's the absolute best thing you can do.