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

Nesting

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:
Ha
ha
ha
ha 
ha.
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 this...joy 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 feels...off. 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.