Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lessons From the Road

You will eat junk food, despite all your good intentions. Vending-machine Skittles, red wine, rich cheese. You will visit health food stores but end up buying expensive bags of rice chips and organic dark chocolate... folk band hippie junk-food, but still. Vegetables will become an afterthought. At night before you go on stage you will stare at your image in the mirror with distaste, pluck at your ill-fitting outfits, vow to do better. You won't.

Your days will be spent covering staggering distances, distances that would make your English relatives blanch and shake their heads. You will be on the road for six hours at a time and you will be thankful, remembering other tours where six hours was an easy drive, a short day. As you don't drive, you will end up staking a claim on the back seat of the mini-van, the seat no one else wants. You'll let the others jockey for position in the gold van, which contains all 6 of you, your luggage, and a double bass. The bass will stretch the full length of the vehicle and you will envy its implacable solidity.

You re-learn that fatigue strips away civility, and you discover things you do not like about yourself, and about others. You will fall silent in the face of stronger personalities and become a little bit invisible; you will hate yourself for it, but after a while it becomes easier not to speak up. You will discover that your ego is a dark monster that broods and makes you tired of feeling like second fiddle. Even the word fiddle will make you fume; in your mind everyone loves the violin and no one notices the accordion. The fact that the fiddle player is one of your dearest friends makes this harder, not easier. You will spend the night of the best gig of the tour in a haze of envious pique that feels like poison, and spend the rest of the tour learning to let go of ego and play music as generously as you can. Some nights you can almost do this.

The best time of the day will narrow to the span of the night's gig: just before it, during (of course), and a few hours after. This is when you come alive. Before the show the singers will coddle their voices with tea while the band warms up with red wine and vodka. This is a key to the many differences between singers and instrumentalists. You will play in restaurants where the 10 people in the room are doing their best to pretend you don't exist; you will play to audiences so rapt that they will give you reason to keep playing.

You will drive past munching deer, slinky coyotes. Look down on a snowfield high in a mountain pass and see ribbons of fresh animal tracks. You'll greet stretches of highway like old friends: I remember you! Suck in your breath as you pass yet another semi flipped over on the road, cough nervously as your bandmates whip round corners, overtake large trucks. The features that make this province so beautiful- mountains, rivers, valleys- are the things that make it so lovely and so dangerous to travel.

Onstage and in the back of the van you do battle with envy, exhaustion, insecurity, boredom. You also laugh, share moments of incredible electricity while playing music you love, and sometimes remember why you chose to do this in the first place. Only 6 days: can you imagine what a real tour would do to you?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On the road again...

Leaving tomorrow for a 6-day tour of central BC with Zeellia. Then a 4-day turnaround at home and off to Wells/Barkerville for a three-week stint up North doing another Gold-Rush era show. Oy. This constant travel is getting a bit much. I'm all for living out of a bag for weeks at a time, but I've hardly been home for the last month! June (when I'll be home-sweet-home for a while... I think) is looking pretty sweet right about now. And oh, did I mention that it's still minus 10 in Wells? Mexico, how I miss ya!

Kelowna-Penticton-Nelson-Fernie-Kaslo here I come! Slavic soul music in some pretty funky towns in central BC...stay tuned. I'll be bringing my laptop along (if I can cram it in my bag), so I'll try and update from the road. Cheers.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring Cleaning

Progress has been made: after weeks of picking our way around piles of clothing and other detritus we can now officially see the floor of our bedroom once again! J's dad recently moved into a new place and we were happy to give him all the pieces of furniture we no longer wanted: bedside tables, side tables, J's hideous '80's-style black lacquer dresser... of course, all these items were home to a remarkable pile of junk and clothes, which ended up all over the floor as we have yet to replace them with new furniture! The Mexico trip, J's many video projects and my travels since have delayed our attempts to clean up, but nothing makes me want to clean more than having to study. My Jazz Theory final is tomorrow morning, so it made perfect sense to waste the morning tidying rather than hit the books...

The post-holiday blues have officially hit and I am feeling itchy in my skin, restless, dissatisfied. Even the thought of flying is appealing instead of terrifying. Compounding this malaise is the fact that my lucky brother and his new bride are leaving tomorrow night on a 3-week honeymoon tour of the UK & Italy. It is time to clean inside and out; to rid myself of the psychic junk that's holding me back: jealousy, fear, laziness, bad money-management, gluttony...

To love and improve myself at the same time- a daunting task.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It begins.

I've been so, so lucky.

To have reached my thirties with all but one grandparent still alive (my mom's dad died of emphysema- from smoking- when she was 19); to have my 2 blood parents in great health; to not have experienced the awfulness of someone near to me dying... I am superstitiously afraid to type these words in case the gods are watching and decide it's time to reverse my luck.

Yesterday morning my brother phoned me: "Has Dad called you yet?" Instantly my heart plummets, thinking it's bad news about our stepmom, about to begin her second round of chemo. But no: "Grandma Jenkins died this morning." And I can not even begin to conjure up the right feelings about this, if there are any "right" feelings.

Phyllis Jenkins: Hyperchondriac all her life, using illness as a weapon, as an attention-getter. Finally gets her wish with a vengeance: Lewy body Dementia. It took 5 neighbours to help cajole my tiny, almost 90-year-old grandmother into the car that would take her to the respite home. Where she contracted an infection and died. This is horrible of me, but I can't help thinking that if she could have, she would have timed her death to happen while her sons were celebrating my brother's wedding in Mexico: that's the kind of person she was. She wrote letters to my mom when my parents were first married that made Mom shake with fury. She was a poisonous, bitter, unhappy woman. I know that she was orphaned at an early age, grew up too fast, married young and stewed in sneaky, silent fury throughout her long marriage. What twists and turns did her life take that she was like this?

I hope my father has some good memories of her; I know he and his brother agonized, despaired and joked with black humour over her for as long as I can remember.

I spoke to her in January; I only ever talked to my grandparents when I was visiting my dad, because he would phone them every weekend. I am a terrible grandchild- I live thousands of miles away from my parents' families and I haven't liked my dad's parents since I was old enough not to choose the family members I would love. I haven't seen them in about 15 years. Whenever I talked to her she would always lament the fact that we live so far away from England- but I know that my lifestyle would have been a total enigma to her. Talking to the grandparents was something that my brother and I would roll our eyes at and try to escape ever since childhood, the double-shot combo of guilt and deafness that they served us over the phone too rich for our blood. Now my brother the nurse describes the horrific type of dementia my grandmother had and it seems that her death in its early stages was indeed the cliched "merciful release".

With Grandma gone, with stepmom June battling terminal cancer with chemicals that may kill her, I clutch my family (diminished by one person) closer. I grow weepy when I think of how much I love my mother, my brother, my dad, June, Jon. I want to be there for them through thick and thin but my heart quails at the thought of the agonies that lie ahead.

Phyllis, I think your life was full of bitter resentment and disappointments. I hope your spirit is finally at peace, wherever it is.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How I Spent My Spring Vacation in Mexico

So I went on a little trip, as you may know. Our flight, when it left (over an hour late) was blissfully smooth and uneventful, and as we landed at Cancun International 6 hours later it hit me that I was, for the 2nd time in my life, in a Tropical Country. By the time our shuttle got us to the resort, it was dark, which is a way that I love to arrive at a new place because you get to know it softly, gently; not all at once but piece by piece. First piece being the ocean, which I heard before I saw, as it should be. Warm like a bath, roaring like a lion.
When I woke the next morning I started to get to know the resort as a whole:

Sort of like a really nice mental institution where the medication is alcohol. There are sweet people who attend to all your pressing needs (like should you get a Pina Colada or a Margarita?) and all sorts of activities planned to keep the inmates happy. Not at all like the real world, but nice, in a surreal kind of way. Sometimes we left the asylum and went to see things like this:

and we also saw a lot of these:

and I really wish I had seen this, because it looked very bizarre:

But mostly this trip wasn't about sightseeing, although the Mayan ruins of Tulum were amazing, the ocean was the kind of blue you see in brochures and the beaches were so white they hurt the eyes. This trip was about spending time with my sweetie...

...watching my dad shed his cares and worries about my very ill stepmother and share a laugh with her brother, who came from Ontario with his ex-boyfriend and kept us well-supplied with Margaritas ("Good Ones") at El Paraiso beach...

...in fact, this whole group of 20 or so people were an odd bunch: some friends of my brother's who had been a couple for years but had recently broken up, my stepmom's brother and his ex, my sister in-law's half sister and brother, my mom and dad, who have been cordial but distant since their long-ago divorce, my mom's wacky friend Sheil, who is a millionaire cougar-type who lives in Cancun. Friends and family, different ages and types and yet- somehow it all just worked. We hung out together, we laughed, we drank (free booze! all day long!) Alcohol and heat and sunlight and love, smoothing the cracks and the awkwardness into something beautiful. Because in the end, it came back to family, which is something I usually take for granted, but these days more and more I realize that we don't have an eternity to hang out together before age takes its toll. Family, my family; people I actually like spending time with. People I love, very much.
and of course, the week was also about this:
as my brother took a big step in his life and married a lovely lady who I'm genuinely happy to be related to.
Next time I'll go for longer. Next time will be about Jon & I exploring and adventuring and not staying in a posh resort where the only Mexicans around are servants (Yeah, that was weird). But this time was truly beautiful, and I loved every minute of it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Waiting to go to the airport.
Packed and ready.
Jon dozes on the couch, breathing softly.
I, not quite believing that sunny skies and white sands are only about... 12 hours away. Maybe less.
Knot in stomach from pre-flight anxiety, but excited all the same...!
(We are bringing one computer, though I had my doubts about such a thing, not wanting any gadgets to distract me from the Now. Mainly to supplement whatever soppy in-flight movie they show us. And of course, 2 cameras travel with us also. Ha! But I refuse, categorically refuse, to snap pictures all through my brother's wedding ceremony. It drives me crazy when people do that. So anyway, the long and the short of it is that I may be able to post from Down There, and even put up some photos, at long last. Just none of me in a bathing suit, ok?)
See ya in Mexico!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Discombobulation; 3pm, Kamloops

That's how I felt waking up this morning, discombobulated. So much change and action occurring in my life and its all wonderful change (except for my stepmom being really sick, but I'm not really processing that right now), but I just had a moment of being overwhelmed completely. Caught sight of my face as I dashed from the drugstore to JJ Bean in search of a muffin and it was tight and strained (my face, not the muffin). Got back home, waiting for my ride to Kamloops to squeeze in another rehearsal or 2 before flying to Mexico... I just held on to Jon tightly for a minute, wishing in my secret heart for a lazy day with just him, no computers, no work, just a moment to snuggle and appreciate the Now instead of always rushing off to the Next Big Thing.

Then it was 10am, and I was picked up by 3 actors and borne away to Kamloops, where I now am, waiting for rehearsal to begin and enjoying the free wireless which the convention centre provides. And tomorrow I'll turn around and bus home and less than 8 hours later I'll taxi to the the airport and whizz off to Mexico and 8 days after that I'll return home and then I'll go to Gabriola with Zeellia and then go on tour to the Okanagan with them, and then there's music directing in Barkerville, a new play in Stanley Park this July, maybe a project in the Fall...

I am blessed with so many choices right now, and after a few scary months of no money and no opportunities I truly do appreciate these wonderful jobs so much; a chance to do what I love best: play, write and arrange music. A single, repetitive job would drive me nuts, I well know. But there's always an annoying part of me that's freaked out about keeping up with changes, that wants to retreat into a shell and be a hermit for a while. I know it's just my way of processing life, and I know that most, if not all, of these jobs and projects will be wonderful, exciting opportunities. It's just...feast or famine, ya know? Either there's nothing, or there's so much coming up that the mind boggles.

I just need to let my emotions catch up to all of this.