Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: Year In Review

     It's always illuminating, reading people's thoughts on the dying year and seeing if there's any kind of pattern to how the year's gone. 2015, you  seem to have been a hard one for a lot of people. In particular, some of my friends have endured a year filled with unimaginable loss. And while those losses were only peripherally mine, they reminded me that there will be terrible sadnesses in store, and that I'd better find the supports and the strength I'll inevitably need to deal with them.
     2015- for me you were a puzzler. It was a year of deep happiness, as my life became more entwined with a man I truly and deeply love. We had our ups and downs, of course, but what never wavered was the knowledge that we are meant to be. He is the first person I want to talk to in the morning (our  morning conversation is usually just a "hello lovely" text, but still.) and the last person I want to check in with at night. When we are actually wound 'round each other, nose to nose, I am a lucky human.
     There were good jobs, too, and rich experiences. But there was also some dissatisfaction. Perhaps, 2015, you merely suffered a bit in comparison to 2014, which was such a year of surging towards new things: turning 40, falling in love, forging strong friendships, feeling sexy and strong. 2015 was marked by uncertainty: towards my teaching job, which is hard; towards my life in Vancouver without the easy assurance of my work in Barkerville; towards my friends- too many of whom are living far away; towards my health, which was not great. I spent a lot of 2015 feeling tired, feeling sick, feeling not good, and so of course I'm not as fit, and I'm heavier, and I'm left wondering what the hell, as all the doctor visits came up with nothing. Which of course, is good, especially now I'm feeling mostly better again, but I wish I had some answers.
     I'm grateful for the presence of love in my life; for the work I have; for my good fortune. I didn't write a lot of music, but I wrote other things, and took a lot of photos I'm really proud of. I even ended the year by entering 3 of them in an art show!

Here it is, my year in review for 2015:

January: I started the new year off right, partying with my best friends and my new love in a house filled with good music and wonderful food. Then I got sick, and I felt lousy for much of the month.

February: New beginnings. I got several assistant positions at the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, helping to teach group piano lessons. The biggest new beginning: I took a deep breath and passed on the job that was offered to me in Barkerville, deciding to stay in Vancouver and grow work there. Sadly, this seems to have severed relations between me and the people I worked for there; they didn't even reply to my email refusing the job. Social media keeps me in touch with the many other friends I made up north over the years, and I hope that one day I'll be able to go back. Just not for 5 months at a time.

March: What an awesome start to this month! I got to fly up to Whitehorse for 8 days to make music with 2 of my favourite people... and it was all paid for by the Yukon Arts Council (thanks guys). Tried snow-biking with one of my oldest friends while I was up there- and bailed right over my handlebars! (Luckily, it was into soft snow.) Then I came home, and metaphorically felt as if I was bailing over my handlebars every time I went to work as a piano teaching assistant (which I laugh at this year, because now it feels so easy, compared to actually teaching. Onwards and upwards, I guess.) On another note, I see by my post last year that I was right pissed at how little I was getting paid by most of the arts groups who wanted to hire me.

April: Still felt lousy, a lot of the time. Still had (and have) no idea why. Tired, mildly nauseous... Not fun. Jay and I started working on a project to turn one of my songs into a music video, complete with his fanciful animations. Although we didn't get the grant we'd applied for, we learned a lot about working together; I got to re-record one of my favourite songs of mine, and we crafted a vision for that song that one day will hopefully become reality.

May: A month of social media self-promotion, as Jay and I tried to promote our song project, and I tried to get a job as a foodie tour guide, both gigs that required a LOT of Twitter and Facebook posts. (And ultimately, I think, we over-saturated people. Sorry 'bout that folks.) The weather was strangely hot and muggy, and I listened to Punch Brothers' track "Julip" over and over again as I walked to work, as I sweated at home. Speaking of which, it was strange to be home, as I'd usually already be up in Barkerville by May.

June: I packed my bags, kissed my love goodbye, and left for Saskatchewan for 8 weeks to do a musical. Smoke from forest fires blanketed both Saskatoon, where I was rehearsing, and Vancouver. It was unusually hot. I fell hard in love with Saskatoon, held my own (I think) while working with a very talented director, and made some lovely new friends. The small town where we performed our musical was very small, very white, very Christian. The theatre company there however, treated us so well that I was blown away.  One day I hope I'll be back, prairies.

July: Still away; settling in to the routine of being somewhere other. This was a month marked by joy: hot prairie sunny days, a fun show with packed houses, new friends... And by great sorrow. Early in the month I found out that someone I was very fond of had actually died months before. And at the end of the month my friends in Barkerville were rocked by the very sudden loss of one of the most talented people in their midst; a man who was part of the very fibre of Barkerville and Wells. It was a stark reminder of mortality, the sickening knowledge that none of us are magically safe from death and loss. And me? I was strangely hit by apathy: I didn't want to make music (except on stage), preferring to be outside whenever possible, exploring my temporary home. I wrote (mainly here) and I made a recording about why I make art, which was fun, but I felt as if musically, I was dried up.

August: Back home before the middle of the month, and unemployed until late September, I admit I spent far too many days lazing on the back porch with the cats. It was a strange thrill to be in Vancouver in the heat of summer, somewhere I hadn't been for 5 years. It was a straight-up thrill to be back in my love's arms after 8 lonely weeks. He took a funny job as a chaperone at the PNE for a week, so I house-sat his place and re-acquainted myself with the PNE, finding it more fun than I'd remembered. I did yoga for the first time in my life, watching videos recommended by a friend. In fact, I did a whole 30-day yoga challenge! (And I'm gonna do one again, starting tomorrow.)

September: Last few days at the PNE, watching '80s bands rockin' out, and pinching my pennies until my job at SoM (Sarah M School) started. Teaching my first group piano class was scary and fun, and it still feels like that every week. Sometimes I fly, sometimes I fall.

October: In the thick of work: teaching at SoM, rehearsing for a musical parody of Jurassic Park (!); I took a break and travelled to Seattle to take a yoga class with the very lady whose videos had inspired and motivated me in the first place. It was one of the best things I could have done for myself. After a long, lazy summer I was suddenly busy more nights and days than not, something I always regard as a mixed blessing. However it was nice to be making steady money at SoM, and the cast of Jurassic Parody were some of the most fun folks I've ever worked with.  Canada got smart and voted out Stephen Harper, and there was much rejoicing in the land, at least in the liberal, arty part of the land.

November: Wow, I didn't even manage a blog post this November! That was partly because I've been careful to make my posts a bit more interesting and topic-oriented this year, and my thoughts were scattered this month as I rehearsed and taught. By the middle of the month we'd opened our show, Jurassic Parody. It was a short run- too short to really build the audience we could had had with another week. And it was rocky- a highly ambitious project short on time, money and experience. That said... it was also one of the most fun projects I've ever done, and my own part was small but memorable. I literally had to run from the orchestra pit to the stage, stopping along the way to don the best costume I've ever worn and all but chewing the scenery (I got to chew on cast members though) as the badass T-Rex. It reminded me how much I love performing.

December: My roommates (my brother and his wife) took off for Vietnam for the month, so I had the house- and the cats- to myself. Once work ended (SoM takes a break over school holidays), and my time was my own. Almost too much so: I was confronted- again- by my lack of focus when it comes to my work and my life. I am happy to sail along and see what happens next, but I am still really bad at making things happen.  I was struck by the solitariness (I don't want to say loneliness because it wasn't exactly lonely) of my time, as Jay was very busy this month and we didn't have a lot of days together.  My show ended, and my friends were busy, or in other places. I don't say this to be self-pitying; it was in many ways a delightful month, especially as I got to indulge my love of Christmas to the hilt. But it made me realize that I need to be more self-sufficient, and also I need to be more sociable. It's easy to be a hermit. But it's also a lazy choice.

2016, I hope that you are kind, to me and to my friends and family. I hope you are filled with new experiences, with confidence and health and love and exciting work and travel and money. But of course, what I really mean is that I hope I can find it in myself to make all of these things happen.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

4:30 am

4:30 am, and I wake from the clutches of a bad dream that is slow to let go. I seldom have nightmares, and they aren't often really bad ones, but they do tend to leave an unsettling feeling in me long after I wake up. 
Thank goodness for Christmas lights, strung around my blinds, and for cats; the fluffy cat curled in her special shallow cardboard box, which I have moved into the bedroom so she doesn't have to sleep alone, and the baby cat (now a robust 2 year-old) curled tightly against my legs. It may have been their shifting that woke me. Their owners, my roomies, are away on a month-long vacation, and we are all getting used to the big empty house. The first night they were gone, the hi-tech smoke alarm shrilled in the middle of the night, its calm disembodied robot-lady voice stating Emergency. There is smoke upstairs. Emergency. Beep, Beep, Beeeep. I leapt out of bed, heart knocking against my ribs, and dashed upstairs, examining every room, sniffing the air... Nothing. A total false alarm, but I lay awake twitchily for hours afterwards. 
Tonight it is my own brain that keeps me awake in the small hours of the morning; unusual for me not to sleep through the night, and unusual for me to have bad dreams. As with most dreams this one was mishmash of events and emotions: a concert, applause, a hug from a friend and then... an old hotel, like in the Wild West. A shooting, bodies lying bloody in their beds, mostly unseen, just a glimpse of the horrors within. 
I know where this comes from, of course.
 I am not, in my waking hours, someone who spends a lot of time agonizing over the news. I can hear about terrible events and still go about my day; I find I am unable to immerse myself emotionally in bad things that are not part of my world. It's not that I don't care, but it's removed from my everyday experience. I refuse to buy into the doomsday, we're-all-going-to-hell pessimism- not that it's not necessarily true, but... We have one life. I refuse to spend it in constant dread. 
This string of senseless, brutal shootings, though. How can it not seep into my consciousness, even as I have my cozy days at home with Christmas music and cats, and the deep everyday happinesses that are part of my lucky and fortunate life. 
There it is, made bogeyman in my brain: the horror of the random gunman spraying bullets, mixed with some el-cheapo wine drunk too late at night (more of gravy than of grave, as Scrooge would say), and some late-night reading about the musical "Hamilton" (Hamilton was killed in a duel) and...voila. I can't sleep. I listen to the cat turning in her box, and try to toss and turn as considerately as I can, so as not to disturb the other cat, the one against my legs. I think about the other thing that came out of my dream, along with the unshakeable dread-feeling. 
There it was, like a gift in the midst of the nightmare: 2 lines of song, with ethereal bluegrass-y harmonies and everything. When I realize I won't sleep for a while, I jot the lines into my phone so I won't forget them. 
When it's after 6, and I'm still not sleeping, I take the unusual (for me) step of deciding to get up. For once I am up before the garbageman, and the sun. I do half an hour of yoga. I shower. I decide to treat myself (at 9, when they open) to a cheap breakfast at a local cafe. 
I lie on the couch feeling exhaustion lurking behind my tired eyelids and type this, thinking If I'm lucky, I'll turn those lines into a song. That something pretty could come out of horror... well, that's just about the best we can do with what we're given, isn't it? 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Popping the Question

"Soooo... Are you guys planning to tie the knot?"

A friend at work, who saw it all go down last year when I first met my guy, hears me mention our 1-year anniversary and pops the question. The latest in a long line of friends who seem to think my relationship won't be complete until I a) move in with him and b) marry the poor man.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not mad. In the same way that we routinely ask people "So, what do you do?" defining ourselves always by our jobs when we really just want to get to know each other better, I know that my friends are really saying "Is it serious? Does he treat you well? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with each other?" They're thrilled for me: against all the odds and statistics this 'older' woman found love- and through online dating, at that! I am a rare and lucky bird, this I know. And well-wishers, the answers to your unspoken questions are: yes, YES, and Probably.

But here's the thing: my guy and I have absolutely no plans to live together, let alone get married. And you can scratch your heads and wonder why we choose not to 'commit' further, but let me tell you that we are truly happy in each other's company. Far too happy to mess up a good thing.

The luxury of being with someone later in life is that we have so much less to prove. We've already lived with lovers in a marriage-like setup (one of us had a partner's kid living-in as well). Back when we were younger we both thought about having kids, and both of us rejected the idea. As I pass through the last of my childbearing years I feel slightly aghast at the idea that I am-biologically speaking- old, but I have very few regrets about being childless. It was a road I decided not to go down, that's all. I love kids, and now that I'm a teacher I am delighted to be around them more, but my ovaries aren't pining to be used. As for cohabitation? Speaking for myself, I enjoyed living with someone for a while, but love became routine, small faults became large annoyances, and delight withered. He was a good one, the best, but the flame died.

There are so many practical reasons not to live with my person. We both have eccentric work schedules and often work- or don't work- from home. So we'd be constantly in each other's way. One of us is a bit of a workaholic (spoiler alert: it's not me). When we get together it's a break from our responsibilities and worries; if we lived together it would be an endless wrestling match between wanting to have fun and needing to get work done.

We aren't going to combine our financial resources- both of us are better off handling the ups and downs of those by ourselves.

And we're squeamish about swearing eternal love to one another, again because we're old, dammit. We've seen love come and go and we know that what we have now might not last forever. I mean, we both hope that it does, but one way that we can ensure that we are still in love year after year is not to force something that wouldn't be right for us.

You know, for so many years I was stuck in I should, and I wish and If only. What relationship could possibly survive the weight of so many expectations? I was unhappy with myself, and no man could waltz in and fix that. I left a long-term relationship. I had an short and emotionally brutal romance that left me bewildered that I could be so unhappy, since this was nothing I'd ever experienced before.

But when it ended, and I was wrung out, happiness poked its head out again like a sturdy little weed and I realized that for the first time I was truly content to be who I was, where I was.  I realized that I could "smack my lips over life" (to quote a character from one of my favourite children's books). I can remember roaming the streets of Victoria when I was doing a show over there, incredulous that I could feel so wonderfully vital and alive and content to my very bones.

And that feeling never left. Through rough times and loneliness and poverty I was- and AM- so very happy to be me. I don't know if torturing myself through an unsuitable affair was the 'answer'- whether having been through the fire of being so unhappy with who I was I landed on the other side just happy to have made it through. Ironically this unsuitable lover was always telling me to lose my expectations, a suggestion I vehemently ignored. But when I did... sweet relief.

Which brings me to my current relationship, where I simply expect the non-negotiables: love, respect, happiness. All of which are delivered in spades.

Every relationship brings choices. I choose the one I can laugh with, the one whose body feels right pressed against mine, the one I can talk with on the phone and in person like I've never talked with anyone before. The one who celebrates our differences, listens to and remembers the things I say, who brushes off our arguments because he knows there's rock-solid love underneath. The one who needs the space of his own home just as I do. The one who chose not to have kids, just like me.

For those of you who are happily married, or who want that for yourselves, I salute you and I wish you well on your journey. But know that there is more than one way to live happily ever after, and my way won't include an "I do."

Monday, September 7, 2015

Old Workhorses and Fierce Joy

Last night I had the very great pleasure of seeing Canadian hair-band of the '80s Platinum Blonde in concert at the PNE. 
One of the obligatory Rock God poses. 
Now, if you had asked me before I went out last night if I was excited to see PB, my answer would have been "Um, nooo. Not really." We went because my sweetheart has a free pass to the fair, and I'd already been once that day so I could re-enter at will. Summer made a half-hearted reappearance this weekend after days of cold and rain, and we were both itching to get outside again. So off we went for one more night of overpriced booze and heart-stopping deep-fried treats. 

We got to the beer garden just before Platinum Blonde started their second set of the night. 

And you know what? It was a ton of fun. And it was a ton of fun not because the music was tight and catchy, or because the lighting was killer, or because the sound was crisp. These were all true. But it was fun because the band was having a blast. This was the small stage at the PNE, there were probably less than a thousand people in attendance, and these guys were rocking out as if their lives depended on it. And I saw the same thing (with a mellower vibe) when Vancouver rocker Barney Bentall hit the same stage the first week of the fair, with a much smaller audience. And to a certain extent when Darryl Hall and John Oates played the much bigger amphitheatre at the PNE last Friday. These guys are not playing fairgrounds and wineries and casinos to pay for their alimony or their drug habits. They're up there because making music together is still sheer joy for them. You could see it in Barney Bentall's eyes as he said "My grandkids are in the audience today" (!), or in Mark Holmes' over-the-top leaping and posturing as he sang the hits that made Platinum Blonde famous. He was clearly relishing the fact that he still had the body and the pipes that made him a teen idol 30 years ago. Hall and Oates were a little more workmanlike in their show, although the band was super-tight. But hey, these guys are pushing seventy, for god's sake. I want to look half as good as they do when I hit their age. It was a revelation to me, because I'd always been deeply cynical about "nostalgia acts". 

Here's why: The summer I turned 30- the night I turned 30 in fact-  a band I was in at the time played a fun little gig at Panorama Resort in eastern BC. As we were a small and little-known band, we had a great time playing our Celtic-Folk-Pop for the assembled crowd, and we got an extra kick out of knowing that we were opening for Doug & The Slugs, who were a favourite of mine and who I was pretty stoked to see. 

Unfortunately, "stoked" would clearly be the opposite of what Doug Bennett was feeling about playing that night. I think "tired", "embittered" and "couldn't give a rat's ass" would all be better descriptors. He told off-colour jokes, made bitter little wisecracks, and had to sit on a stool for much of the Slugs' set. I was saddened but not at all surprised when he died, only 2 months later. His let-down appearance in my life seemed like a cautionary tale: he was the only original "slug" in the band at that point; he seemed to be performing only because he had to, and he was only playing old stuff. There was no joy there. Was this what it was like to become famous early on and spend the rest of your life never measuring up to that? 

When he died, I read that Bennett had a wife and children. I hope he found a lot of happiness in his post-famous years, and that the performance I saw was simply an ill man having a rough night. But after that show I always thought that nostalgia bands doing the fairground or casino circuit must be just phoning it in, just doing it for the money. Why else would you continue to do the same thing year after year?

I've been wrestling lately with the whole concept of being a musician. I don't feel inspired to write songs right now and I don't feel inspired to practice my instruments. When I have gigs at seniors homes or street festivals I have a great time, but I don't seem able to find the drive to dig deep and practice, to play when there's nobody listening. 
Am I being lazy? Uncreative? I am driven to practice yoga every day. I write all the time. I've crocheted hats and shawls and granny squares. I've brainstormed story ideas with my guy. I take photographs, but then who doesn't these days? There is something happening, creatively speaking, most of the time. It just isn't music right now. 

Lately I talked to a dear friend whose drive to master her instrument has always both daunted and inspired me. She talked about how geography (she lives in the remote north) and circumstance (she has a young child) and happiness (she is finally with a really decent guy who treats her well) have blunted the ambitions she once held. She is no less wonderful a musician, but touring for little money, playing gigs with toxic bandmates, and steering projects towards exposure and success are no longer how she wants to spend her life. We're in our forties; our priorities have changed. 

I can't ever visualize a life without music. I am lucky to have natural talent as a singer and performer, and unlucky too, because it means I've never had to work very hard at it. But I will always identify as a musician, even if I don't always deserve to, even if life takes me in other directions. Now, when I see bands playing 30 year-old hits with such joy to crowds that may be smaller but are no less enthusiastic, I see people whose lives took them in many directions: father, doctor, drug addict, businessman, bluegrass player... and then, if they were lucky, they got to stand onstage and let their old songs pour out and feel so fortunate that this music has lasted to sustain them once again. 

My guy takes the time every day to practice his guitar for 15 minutes because it helps him to unwind from the work he does all day at home on his computer. In his daily routine, as he learns the simplest chords and strumming patterns,  I see the same fierce joy that I saw on the faces of those retro rockers at the PNE and I remember that there are as many ways for your creative work to sustain and nourish you as there are people doing it. 

Never assume that old workhorses are just phoning it in. I learned a lot from watching them the past few weeks. Amid all my struggles with music, and finding the drive to continue, I saw joy where I expected to find grim struggle and it was inspiring. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling...41.

Last year, I celebrated my 40th birthday with some of my best friends. Campfire, cake, wine, and some wicked hash brownies to finish off the night. I literally felt surrounded by love. This year will be quieter. The friends I shared a fire with mostly live in other cities. But I am no less loved, for all that. Some of the people I only met last year are now some of my best friends. Distance makes it hard for us to stay in touch, but we do. I am slightly less thin, and my hair is greyer. But today, as I played accordion for a room full of seniors, one of them proposed to me, and another told someone she thought I was nineteen. Sometimes I’m amazed that I’m not. 

It's been an exciting year. Literally a week after I got back home to Vancouver last fall, a month an a half after my birthday,  I met somebody through an online dating website. My 3rd date. And we fell in love. How does that even happen? The other day, I marvelled to him, “I didn’t even know you existed this time last year!” We don’t always agree, as I wrote in a song about him, but he makes me laugh, he makes me think, he makes me feel precious and sexy and loved. With him, I am slowly learning that the occasional spat doesn’t signal the end of the world, that my “It’s all over!” is his “Did we even have an argument?” I may have him for five more months or five more years or fifty, but I’ll be the luckiest girl any way, just to know this kind of love.  

This was the year I started teaching piano at the Sarah McLachlan school of music, started teaching private accordion lessons, and realized that after all these years of saying I wouldn't like it, that I love teaching. I worked on a hit musical about a video game. I spent most of my summer in Saskatchewan, playing piano and double bass in a musical about poultry. As always, there were many times when I stepped outside my comfort zone, but I also felt my confidence growing every time I tackled something that scared me. I dislike this expression intensely, but I can think of no other way to say it: I feel blessed. I am blessed.

There were shadows this past year. I wasn't always well. For the first time since my surgery four years ago, I worried about my health. Something is making my lower back and hips sore. Something is making me tired and headachy. There were days this past year when I would get out of my bed after a nine hour sleep and have almost no energy. I would go to work in a fog. Probably very few of you knew this, because my work, especially when it involves teaching or performing, energizes me. But some days it was a struggle. It still is, sometimes. I have totally normal bloodwork; I’ve been screened for a number of things, including diseases I will forbear to mention in polite company. I have a great doctor, and we'll figure this out. But the fatigue and low energy took its toll when it came to my fitness regime, and I gained back some of the weight I lost. It’s an ongoing struggle. There are days, especially when I try on clothes, when I curse my curves, and the love of good food that makes them grow. But I am routinely mistaken for someone who is 10-15 years younger than she is; I can walk for hours (my friend Ari and I have invented Extreme Walking, where we ‘hike’ up to 30km in the city); I can bike 30-40 kilometres at a stretch. I know exactly what to do if I want to lose weight and I know I’ll do it again. Although I just started a food blog, so it may be a challenge. One of the awesome things that came out of my health issue was that a friend urged me to try a daily yoga challenge to help my sore back, and I totally fell in love with it. I can only say, with the fervour of someone who’s been practicing yoga for a whole 21 days, that it’s the best way to start the day EVER, and it is now the first thing I do when I roll out of bed. 

Writing- blogging in particular- has become steadily more important to me again, and I love it. I’m still figuring out how to make it pay, but for now it feeds my soul and that’s a great start. From someone who routinely wished she could think of things to create, I’ve become someone who hasn’t got enough time to fit it all in. I’ve recently started crocheting again. I have a food blog. My guy and I are working on some children’s stories. I take photographs. Sometimes- not as much as I’d like- I even write songs. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m a Jill-of-all-trades rather than a specialist. I may lack the dedication to focus and work really hard on one or two things, but trying lots of things has made my life much more rich and interesting.

This year, the year I become 41, there is already hope and excitement on the horizon. I'll be teaching again at the Sarah McLachlan school, hopefully learning how to become a better piano teacher as I assist four group piano classes and teach one. I get to music direct a musical parody of Jurassic Park. I'll be returning to Saskatchewan in the spring to compose some music for a show at the Globe Theatre in Regina. Not only is my work exciting and fun, but for the first time in such a long time, I should be making enough money to actually get by. 

Someone today commented that I’d paid my dues, but it never feels like that to me. To me, it always feels like I’m getting away with something. I think it always will. The difference is that these days, I can enjoy myself instead of guiltily looking over my shoulder. Happy birthday. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Easing Back Into Things With Yoga & Bourbon

It's a hot Vancouver day. The New Vancouver, which means it's dry and breezy and there's not a cloud to be seen. Beautiful, but spooky in an I-want-to-love-you-but-it-feels-like-the apocalypse-is-nigh kind of way. Lawns are parched. Sweat blossoms as soon as you leave the comfort of your shady back deck. So why leave? Look, it's a sleepy, stretchy cat:
Full disclosure: these shots were taken yesterday but guess what? She's doing the exact same thing right now, and so am I. Sitting on the back deck, figuring out what comes next now I'm home and trying not to feel guilty about taking some time to rest and stretch, just like Molly the cat here.

Another disclosure: this post contains yoga. About a week ago, I kind of reached critical frustration point when it came to my poor, sore lower back. Years of not stretching have made me as tight as a rubber band that's just about to snap. And it's making itself known in my hip muscles, my back, my hamstrings... it's just not something I can ignore any more. So one of my cast mates heard my complaints and recommended Yoga With Adriene. Today was Day 6 of her 30 Days of Yoga program, and guess what? I'm hooked. So much so that I'm even considering getting up at 4:30am tomorrow so I can do my daily practice before my one-off promotions job handing out free coffee and debit card advice to commuters. I just took my laundry downstairs and many, many muscles were feeling very... alive, shall we say. I hope that by Day 30 I will feel some relief from the back pain, and also more in touch with my breathing and my body. As a singer, these things are very important and I ignore them way too much. Plus I have a bit of a girl crush on Adriene because she's kind of goofy, makes yoga easy to learn, and doesn't take herself too seriously. If you're dipping your toe into the shallow end of yoga, like me, you should give her site a try. But hey, let's not get all transcendental and shit. Yes, yoga is helping me to feel more grounded and relaxed, but you know what else does that?


I've never developed a taste for whisky, and I think that's partly because you're mostly supposed to drink it straight-up, and I do like my cocktails. But eventually I ended up trying bourbon, and I like it just fine. I'll even sip it straight, but I find it mixes really well with ginger ale (Canada Dry has a dark variety that's perfect), lime- or lemonade... even sour cherry juice. Its woody flavour stands up to a strong, citrusy mixer. Jay just returned from a business trip to California. He got home the same day I did, and after we'd flown into each others' arms and all that good stuff, he presented me with a big-ass bottle of Bulleit he'd bought at the duty-free. And last night, out on the back deck (can I just do all my business/ play music/ relax/ spend the rest of my life out here on the deck? Because it's amazing), we barbecued steaks, talked about our latest schemes to collaborate on a kids book, and toasted each other with a couple of strong cocktails.

If the last few weeks have taught me anything, it's that you never know what's going to come around the bend and smack you. Could be joy, could be the best news of your life, could be crushing tragedy that knocks you off your feet. And, not to sound too glib or anything, but you have to rely on yourself, because everything else is transitory. So make the time to stretch your body, do your daily practice, whether it's yoga or music or art or writing or whatever makes you tick.

And when you're done, grab a giant, relaxing cocktail and observe a cat, because they are the laziest, stretchiest yogis of all.

"I can sleep all day AND still touch my nose to my butthole. If that's not enlightenment, what is?"

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Death and Blue Skies

Death and blue skies.

I can't get that phrase out of my head these days. Death and blue skies, because both have been such a feature of my summer.

I've been intensely happy these past 6 weeks, doing a job I love in a beautiful place. I fell in love with Saskatoon, and it's going on my list of Places I Would Like To Work In Again. But it's been an unsettling summer too. My home province is burning up. Vancouverites pray for rain. And death has left its mark on people I love dearly.

A few days ago, my second homes, Wells and Barkerville, lost an extraordinary man far too soon. Although I liked and admired him (and shared a drink or two with him at the Wells Pub), we weren't close, and I am more saddened because of the untimeliness of his loss,  and devastated on behalf of the community and the people who were close to him. One of those people wrote a beautiful tribute to Tim here.

When people in Barkerville die, my friend Danette will often post a moving tribute to them, and end with the phrase "forever part of the story of us." It's a beautiful expression, and it's resonated with me over the summer for a number of reasons. For one thing, of course we want so much to believe that when someone we love leaves us, some part of them will live on in our love and memories. For the ones who are left behind, stories and memories and love are our ways of immortalizing and honouring the ones who are gone. Every memory is a building block, and so I take the time to remember Pat's love of music, or Corinne's long braid and twinkling eyes, Pinchy's solo stick-wrestling games, or Tim's truculent posture, booming voice, and love of theatre and whiskey. Friends and family all over will do likewise, and I think one of the very best things about social media is that it gives us a place to share these stories with each other, however scattered we are.

But the story of us has another meaning to me.

Every time we get on a plane, step out in front of traffic, hike in a forest full of bears- fuck that. Every time we wake up in the morning and start another day we are politely asking death to pass us by, again.
I am the heroine of my life story, just as you are the hero(-ine) of yours, and the friends, family, enemies and co-workers who surround us are players in that story too. And when someone dies, our stories change, and when someone dies unexpectedly young, or tragically, we are rocked. The story wasn't supposed to go that way. And if we can lose someone we love suddenly in a car accident, or a massive stroke, or an asthma attack, who's to say that we cannot be lost as well? At any moment.

A friend of mine wrote to say that she "couldn't stop crying" after someone's sudden death, and my first reaction was to think to myself but you weren't that close. But that's not the point. A piece of her story is missing now, in a way she never expected; the world has tilted and shifted. For a moment, the facade slipped away and death was frighteningly near. As it always is, and the walls we build around us to forget that fact can crumble so terrifyingly fast. Someone dies, or- as has happened to me this summer- a handful of deaths occur, and those of us who are not close enough to the dead to be actively grieving that person must still rebuild our concept of what life is. Not a stroll down a quiet street but a tightrope walk over a gaping chasm. And that's why we write those old, tired truths: Live each moment as if it's your last. Tell your friends that you love them, every day. Make it count. 

I have no words of wisdom, I wrote to someone who just lost her love, her best friend. Only hugs and rage and hope. 

We live. We step onto the tightrope every single day. We meet people who become part of the story of us. And we lose them; our protective walls are knocked down over and over again and if we're lucky we get through with the love and determination of the community we build around us. Because whoever you are, living each and every day knowing that death is coming for you? That's the bravest thing you can do.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Making Art That Matters

I made a mini audio documentary. It's about making theatre in a small town, and trying to be subversive even though I'm basically playing piano for a bunch of people pretending to be chickens. Let me know what you think.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Postman

I am thinking about the Postman on the way home today.

See, years ago I worked at a used bookstore. And once a week, I'd venture further west than usual, to do my Wednesday shift at the Kitsilano branch. I'd play lots of cds to help get me through the long shifts there: Elvis (the early years of course), the "Amelie" soundtrack, jazz,  and mix cds (remember those?).
One Wednesday morning I was playing "I Like Trains" as the Postman walked in. "Fred Eaglesmith fan?" he inquired, and a friendship was born. I started looking forward to 11am on Wednesday mornings, when he'd come by with our mail. Even though we'd only talk for a moment, there was a nice connection there. We'd talk music: mostly Fred Eaglesmith and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.
It didn't hurt that the Postman was very handsome in a rugged way, handsome enough to make my heart beat a little faster when he came by the bookstore. There was nothing untoward; just that spark between people that sometimes happens, an unexplainable chemistry. A connection.

I had a bit of a crush on the Postman.

Once I left the bookstore to pursue music we bumped into each other maybe 3 times: I saw him (fittingly) at a Fred Eaglesmith concert with his beautiful wife, and on the street once when I was in Kits one morning and he was on his route. I 'friended' him on Facebook just for fun, and because we'd had that connection. The little I gleaned from his Facebook feed: that he was a proud family man; that he liked to travel, liked roots-y music, took a good photograph.

Two months ago I was in the middle of recording a song of mine when I decided it needed some bass and ran down the road to Long & McQuade to rent one. To my surprise, the Postman was there, talking to a friend. He grinned wide when he saw me. "It's my birthday today!" he said, so I gave him a congratulatory hug and we stood there chatting until I remembered why I was there and took my leave. It felt like a good omen, seeing him on a day when I was already so happy, able to tell him that I was making music and loving life. Later that day I posted the finished song on Facebook, and wished him a happy birthday. I got a sweet message from him thanking me and saying how nice it had been to run into me.

So I am thinking about the Postman today, as I walk home from rehearsal. I am in Saskatoon and I know he's from Saskatchewan; I wonder if he's seen my recent posts and knows I'm in his home province. I decide to check out his Facebook page when I get home, see what he's up to.

Something about him being honoured as a baseball coach, that's nice. Wait a minute, though: "What an incredibly fitting way to be remembered?"I scroll down the page, and disbelief turns to shock.

Six days after his 61st birthday, six days after I gave him a hug and he made my heart beat a little bit faster one more time, the Postman died of a sudden heart attack and I didn't know until I thought to look him up 2 months later.

This is not, obviously, meant to be the story of my grief. I hardly knew the Postman. His family and friends must still be reeling and my heart goes out to them. I shed a few tears tonight and then I went for a run in the soupy Saskatoon heat and thought about a few things.
About how we never know when our time is going to be up.
About how we can have a special connection with people, even when we don't know them well.
About the hard-driving, twangy, tender music of Fred Eaglesmith.

Here's to you, Postman Pat. I'm sad that you're gone.

Monday, June 29, 2015


I woke up this morning to a city shrouded in smoke from northern forest fires. Maybe the campfire smell drifted in to me as I slept, because I dreamed of Barkerville early this morning. 
I wrote about it- the fires and the dreams- on Facebook this morning, and a Barkerville friend commented, saying "you are missed here" and when I went to reply I felt my eyes fill. 

My summer job this year is a lot of fun. It has built my confidence, showed me where I need to improve, given me new contacts in a new city. All valuable things. I love Saskatoon, where we are rehearsing, and I think I'll love Rosthern, where we will move in a week's time to open the show and perform for four weeks. The converted train station where the show will run is beautiful; the town itself could be found in the dictionary under Small Towns, (Prairie version). The show itself is a fun little crowd-pleaser with some pretty music and the cast is delightful. Our director is an ambitious, talented guy from Vancouver; another great contact and a good person to work with. I have been happily aware, ever since I started here, that the stomach-churning self-doubt and fear that used to haunt me before and during rehearsals is largely gone now. I am working on a very pleasant, very professional show, and I have no regrets about saying no to another summer in my gold rush town, except that I miss all the people who took me into their hearts while I was there, and are so dear to me. 

Every performer should have a life-altering gig or two on their resume, and Barkerville was mine.  

I biked down canyons, walked up mountains, ran along the lake with a weather eye peeled for bears. I heard music, wrote music, played it alone and with friends. I felt the adrenaline rush of love and the aching sadness of losing it. I took direction, took bows, missed cues, painted the stage floor, washed dishes, created dialogue, learned music and lines. I survived drama; I created drama. I broke rules, I bitched, I said "if only such-and-such was different"; I said "never again" and then I went back year after year to do it again because I couldn't imagine doing anything else. The intensity of living and working with the same people in an isolated environment for five months was a kind of geology: a slow intense grinding pressure and heat that created gold. Like rock, I cracked open- painfully- time and again, and like rock I re-formed. I will never be the same. I wouldn't want to be. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Little Show on the Prairie.

Oak trees and old houses, flat wide streets and hot dry air, even after the rain.
The day I landed here I walked and walked, trying to take it all in. I've been walking ever since. (Mostly because it's sunny and why wouldn't I, but also because I haven't bothered to figure out the bus system yet.) Yesterday the stage manager and I walked to work together and a street vendor was giving away (!) waffles with bacon cooked right into them as a promotion and we agreed that that was pretty much the best walk ever.
The North Saskatchewan River.
This city has a sturdy devotion to baked goods- in particular ones filled with Saskatoon Berries- and like most of Canada except BC, they are masters of the mighty Butter Tart. It's a good thing I'm walking lots.
There's a lot about Saskatoon that reminds me of Toronto, or maybe it's just that it's more like Toronto than Vancouver. Less fir trees. Older houses. No mountains. Obviously Saskatoon doesn't have the mega-city thing going on though. It's actually pretty small; way smaller than Vancouver.
Work is rewarding and fun; sometimes I feel wise, sometimes I feel like a fool. Often on the same day. The thing is, it doesn't bother me anymore. I've accepted that there are things that I'm good at and things that I could improve upon but I don't question why I'm here, or think that I can't do the work. I am comfortable in my own skin, and this makes me happy. It's been a long time coming, this confidence, and I am all the more grateful for it because of that.
Plus I get to live with this guy. Life is good. 
The Sturdy Stone Centre. WTF? Don't look at the giant circle too long or it will hypnotize you. 
I love old building ads.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cherry Blossoms vs. Wine: a (semi-serious) study in branding

Consider, for a minute, the humble cherry blossom. No, not the flowering tree. This:
In all its retro glory. 
I noticed them tonight at the corner store, where I was buying cherry Coke to go with my take-out pizza and mini Haagen Das ice cream. (Yes, it was a banner night for healthy eating in my world.) The packaging hasn't changed in forever: it's an unappetizing yellow. The picture looks like some kind of alien ooze escaping from a cave of... poo? (Let's not even get started on the taste, which takes 3 of my favourite things- cherries, peanuts and chocolate- and turns them into something utterly vile.) Does ANYBODY buy these things? I've never seen anyone consume one, or admit to buying one, or heard anyone say anything nice about them. And yet they exist, year after year, mocking us all with their permanently uncool retro box and disgusting taste. How, in a world where cult hits like "Arrested Development", "Carnivale" and "Ryan the A&W Trainee" are canned, can this little freak keep existing? 

My sweetie and I have been known to enjoy a drink or two, so I am fairly familiar with the inside of the local liquor store. In the last ten, maybe? years, wineries and craft breweries have gone crazy with re-branding, turning stodgy labels into tongue-in-cheek works of art. (Wine o'Clock or Pink Freud, anyone?) Now, I would imagine that liquor is a competitive business to be in... but so is candy. And yet, while wineries and craft beer-makers are tripping over themselves to be cool, the stolid little Cherry Blossom just keeps on truckin', and somewhere, someone must be buying 'em by the truckload. Like the Honey Badger, Cherry Blossom don't give a shit. 

I'm thinking a lot about all this stuff these days because I'm in two bands that are trying, in their modest ways, to build a following (not to mention my own solo career/accordion teaching empire/freelance writing sideline) and I'm negotiating the ins and outs of publicity/social media daily. I learned about writing press releases last week (it's fun!). I revived my band's Twitter account from the dead. I tweaked a website and tried to make it more SEO-friendly. It's all interesting, but is this stuff keeping me from the important stuff, like songwriting and practicing? (Two things, I'll admit, that I have a love-hate relationship with.) Is my bandmate Amelia on the right track by keeping a wary distance from social media? How can my friend Jimmy- a sought-after playwright and director- exist in today's world without a cel phone, a Facebook account, or even email? In the context of this piece, Jimmy and Amelia are the Cherry Blossom: they have something people want, and they are old-fashioned- some might say stubborn- in their approach to marketing themselves. And I am like the wineries: how can I make this product (me) eye-catching enough so that as many people as possible will see it?

I type this piece fresh from a band practice where we discussed various strategies: practice makes perfect vs. regular gigs for experience? Keep building the songlist vs. focus on 20 songs for a razor-sharp set? I type this piece fresh from a week of rehearsing and recording some delightful, energetic and challenging music that I truly believe people will love... if only we can find ways to reach them. But there are so many ways to reach people these days... and many of them are a huge waste of time. I belong to Reverbnation, a website that is supposed to help musicians build a following and gives you info on your "chart position", "fans", etc... make that used to belong to Reverbnation, because I just quit. I found it to be a timesuck and a scam, a so-called "free" site that wants to charge you for pretty much everything, with stats that don't have any real meaning whatsoever. I'll keep Tweeting and updating my websites, but when it comes to winning new fans I'll keep doing it the old-fashioned way: by playing live gigs and making sure as many people as possible not hear my music but pay to hear it as well. 

The humble Cherry Blossom sits on a low shelf, bypassed for flashier, larger chocolates. But somewhere out there are people who believe in it, and so it hunkers down and endures, knowing that some of those big candy bars have an awfully short shelf life.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Muggy and Musical

Yesterday was impossibly hot and muggy, and I walked around with a large accordion on my back for a large part of it, and felt that I should have a retinue, who would match my pace, fanning me all the way with palm leaves, and offering me sips of cold lemonade. This did not happen.

What DID happen was that my accordion and I spent much of the day inside Blue Light Studio, which is a pretty magical place to be. It's where I recently recorded my own song, "In The End", and I've done session work there for other musicians and I love spending time there.
Recording sessions are some of my favourite things. And this one was special, because it was for a friend, someone who doesn't think highly enough of his skills as a musician, but who is evolving into a really amazing songwriter. So it was fun to watch some of his songs take shape, coming off the pages and into our ears. I played accordion and piano and sang a bit. Andy the recording engineer put some mandolin down on a song. When I arrived in the morning there was delicious coffee and when I came back in the afternoon there was Maudite beer in a Mason jar .

In between, I trekked out to South Vancouver to play at a seniors home. My luck is holding, because I've still never had a bad show at one of those places, and yesterday's was my all-time favourite so far. I played my accordion in the lounge/lobby of the building, and by some lucky fluke the acoustics were heavenly. I didn't need a mic, and my voice cut through the room perfectly. By the second song there were little, high, perfect old-lady voices joining in with me, and by the end of the hour I had quite a chorus of backup singers. 

Then it was back to the studio, along Industrial Avenue, which is a perfectly interesting little dead-end street. There are railcars and tracks on either side, which makes it practically inaccessible. There are food trucks everywhere (I think they come here to clean, or to re-stock, or something.) There is garbage, and crows, and climbing gyms, and the odd piece of greenery: 

All in all, it was a delightful day, even with all the accordion-carrying. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015


The practice wall at my local tennis court is in full sunlight (unlike the rest of the court, which has somehow managed to be cool and shady). My guy is hard at work these days, so I play solo, in the heat, whacking the ball carefully against the wall. Has to be carefully- too low and I am under the "net"; too high and my tennis balls sail over the wall and into a basketball court packed with some kind of preschool playgroup. Selfishly, I am not so much wary of smoking some poor kid on the noggin as I am worried I'll lose my balls forever to a sea of acquisitive preschoolers. The first day I was there I really didn't have the hang of it, and my tennis balls kept flying over there. One was lost forever, because I was too embarrassed to run over immediately for it. One ended up in the clutches of a little terror, who gazed at me calmly when I asked for it back and said "But I using it right now." I could hardly tear it out of her hands so I slunk away, defeated. (Thank god preschoolers are as forgetful as goldfish; I got it back about 3 minutes later.)

Today I only have to run over there once. God knows what all this careful hitting will do for my game but it feels good to strengthen my arm and run around a bit. Until I get home, and see how tired around the eyes I look. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. So, apparently, do foolhardy tennis players. The rest of the afternoon is a write-off: I am headache-y and tired and cannot settle down to work on anything. Eventually the junior cat and I sit on the back deck together and watch the world go by for a while.

Piano classes are okay tonight, but I feel my shortcomings as a disciplinarian of children. I like them, but I find it hard to muster up the right combination of no-nonsense bitchiness (and I mean that in the best possible way; I aspire to it but cannot achieve it yet) and friendly interest that kids respond to. I see another assistant lining up her charges before class and feel guilty that my own kids are sauntering down the hall towards class at their own whim.

Walking home I realize that I am feeling a bit bereft since my music video competition has come to an end, or rather is in a holding pattern until the winners are decided in a few days' time. The relentless social media marketing frenzy, not to mention my passionate belief in the project, was exciting and brought my and my guy closer together; now he is hard at work doing his juggling act with a lot of different projects, trying to bring in some money. I feel bad talking to him when I know he's working and I'm drifting around the house looking for things to do; more guilt. Guilt is not productive and moreover is silly, but I was born with an overactive guilty conscience and it flares up now and then. To make myself feel better I buy a bag of jelly beans and then I feel guilty about that too.

I read a friend's blog; she is engaged to Mr. Right, acting in a show, just bought a wonderful house... but her wedding dress doesn't currently fit anymore, her house needs expensive renovations and she is making the transition into "old-lady" roles... at the ripe old age of 45. Not that she's being whiny, just looking at the light and dark sides of her funny, marvellous, imperfect life. I try and do the same. Okay, maybe I can't write down a lot of things I am proud of today (I ate a whole sheet of lavash bread in 24 hours; I consumed jelly beans after vowing that this would be a sugar-free month; I avoided pretty much all the things I was supposed to do today), but I have been getting tons of exercise, I managed to do some laundry, I.... nope, that's pretty much it.

Last night I found an old video of me playing a Bulgarian tune on my accordion. I was struck by how different my face looked then and how much more I like it now: brighter, happier, more animated. I can endure the days that are kind of write-offs, knowing underneath that I am happier now than I have been in years. Perfect/imperfect, light and dark. I relax on my bed to watch some Danish tv series I've become hooked on, knowing that artists are insecure, life is unpredictable, and tomorrow, as Scarlett says, will be another day.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Long Weekend

"Heaven's a julep on the porch..."

I can't stop playing that song right now.  This is a song for these muggy, grey-clouded, warm spring days. I was walking to Trout Lake today and I realized This is the first time in over five years that I've been here at this time of year.  No wonder I'm revelling in it. It's May long weekend and it's also the first time in over five years that I haven't been onstage at Theatre Royal, in Barkerville. I think you only get sad for places you're not when you're not in the right place now. I'm not pining. It's strange not to be up north but I love being right here.

Today I rolled out of bed and walked straight to the farmers market. Also the first time I'd been here in the spring in (say it with me now) Over! Five! Years! It's kind of overwhelming. Bread. Coffee. Crepes. Green things. Every time I go I swear I'm gonna have a plan and every time I end up walking up and down the single wide aisle in a daze and suddenly all my money's gone and I am the proud but bewildered owner of a bag of luxury potato chips and a carrot. Really. But it's also lovely, even with all the smugly alternative parents and the man-buns and the kids everywhere. Today I clutched my cappuccino while I inhaled an almond croissant and watched serious little boys holding hands with their moms, dogs losing their minds at all the sights and smells, vendors peddling dark thin stalks of rhubarb. I walked away with a bag of expensive things I didn't really need and sat under the trees for a while, because it was cooler there. 
Tonight I'll make some music with my man and a friend of ours. We'll strum guitars and sing in harmony and drink Dark 'n Stormies until the sun goes down.  Making music amongst the rainclouds and warm air and the green, green leaves of Spring. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How To Lose Friends & Piss People Off With Social Media!

A couple weeks ago I played an open mic at a local coffee bar. I like to do that every once in a while; it's a great incentive to write new songs, and performing alone or with one other person is a great way to stay sharp and hone my stage skills. That night I played several songs alone, and several more with my friend B, and the crowd loved it. The same night, a group of young men played an acoustic set at the cafe. They were energetic, fairly skilled, and their harmonies were pretty tight. After their set I asked one of them the name of their group and when he told me, I looked them up on Facebook, figuring I'd give them a "like" and stay up-to-date on what they were up to. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that these young men  had more than fifteen thousand "likes" on their Facebook page! (And now they had one more- nice work, Gentle Machine.)

It's something I've been thinking a LOT about lately, given that I'm competing in my 3rd contest in a row, and social media has played a large role in all of them. This is the new reality, folks: life IS a popularity contest, no matter what your mom told you. This winter I applied for a tour-guide job in which a large part of the application consisted in sending in a short video telling the company why you'd be perfect for the job. Well and good- making that video was fun. Posting it to Facebook and getting my friends to vote? Well, that went against the grain a bit, as my very quiet, English, don't-make-waves sensibilities came to the fore. But I posted, and people voted, and although I didn't get the job I was so happy with my friends' endorsements and votes.

Contest #2: CBC's Searchlight competition, with Lone Crow Jubilee. Emboldened by my first social media contest, I plugged this one more strenuously, and I know that several bandmates went all out (and more power to them) to secure us as many votes as possible. Sadly, we lost in the second round. This contest is entirely based on popularity, at least until you get a few echelons higher than we did. Now I'm not being sour-grapes about this. I know there were other reasons why I didn't get that tour guide job (not bilingual, wrong demographic), and why we didn't advance in the Searchlight contest (new band, lack of experience, need better recordings), but sometimes I feel trapped by the social media machine. How can I get better at manipulating it without letting it take over my life and alienating my friends?

May has been an exciting month. My guy and I finished our first collaboration and- at the stroke of midnight, give or take- submitted our entry in the Telus Storyhive music video contest. A month of writing, arguing, laughing, filming, drawing and recording was over... but the hard work was just beginning. Because for the last 2 weeks we've had to throw all our energies into the publicity machine, and the publicity gods are always hungry. Now I had the bit firmly in my teeth: I was shameless. I messaged people. I emailed friends, family, co-workers, ex-lovers... just about anyone I could think of. I have posted daily, on Twitter, Facebook (both on my artist page AND my homepage), Google+, LinkedIn...  We've honestly tried to make it interesting. We've started a production blog on Tumblr, so fans can check out our work-in-progress. We've shot short, funny videos about location scouting and costuming for the video. (How I wish I'd had the forethought to film last month, when I was recording my song... but I didn't.) We link to YouTube, where our videos live.

And still we languish in the bottom 50 percent of contestants. I know this, because I receive encouraging emails from Storyhive every few days, telling me so. So what did we do wrong/what did we do right? Sometimes they're one and the same...

  • Posted every day, sometimes more than once. I admit, I probably over-saturated my market. Like I said, I tried to keep it interesting... but I'm sure my friends are probably sick of the very existence of this contest by now. Seeing as we only had 20 days to get votes, we had to hit people hard and often, but it's a fine line, right?
  • Bad timing: It was the THIRD contest in a row for me! If my poor friends never see the word 'vote' on my pages again, it'll be too soon. Not much I could do about that... except give everyone a well-deserved break from any kind of online shilling for a good long time after this.
  • Had some fun: J and I shot some really fun videos yesterday: a location-scouting one, which I edited into a Bollywood-style 'movie' trailer (thanks, iMovie!), and one where we scoured a funky vintage store for the music video perfect costume... and found it, to boot. The vids are short, snappy, and funny. I've posted them on Youtube, linked to them on Twitter, FB and elsewhere, tagged and hashtagged the @#$% outta them... and still, they are little-viewed. Sigh. 
  • Small audience. Most of my "fans" are still also personal friends/coworkers at this point. I am so very grateful to them for everything they've done... but until I start getting other fans- and I mean people who don't know me personally- I will have a very small group of people getting bombarded with too much promotional material. I really want to keep my personal life and my professional life more separate; to post promotional stuff ONLY on my artist page/website/Twitter and keep the personal homepage simply for fun, but right now that's just not possible. 
  • Your allies are important: J and I are the project leads for this contest. I value his skills very highly... but he doesn't have a huge network either. I made a half-hearted attempt to find our team a social media strategist, but I didn't try hard enough. If I had the chance again I'd have hired someone before we even finished submitting our pitch- hell, I should really hire someone NOW...for next time. I'm a good writer, J is a wonderful artist, and we're both spending a LOT of time on the internet, plugging our project. But a social media strategist might have had links to newspapers, websites we didn't think of, a fan base we haven't uncovered.
  • Too late: Now was NOT the time to start building a fanbase/social media empire. The ideal time would have been a year ago... or more. But honestly, a year ago I didn't think I'd be competing in a music video contest, having my solo material professionally recorded, and reaching out to the music community in search of accordion students. You do what you can, WHEN you can. It's never too late. 
If you were to hold a gun to my head, I'd have to admit that I don't rate our chances of winning this contest very high, based on our popularity out there in the ether. 
The two of us have learned an incredible amount from all this. We learned that we could work together. We solidified our creative vision for this little song of mine, and shared it with as many people as we could. The "popularity contest" aspect of this competition has forced us to work harder than we otherwise would have... and I've had an amazing time learning about publicity, from hastagging to Reddit (okay, still figuring out Reddit. It confuses me).
I've spent time watching our pitch over again, and watching other artists' pitches for this contest, and you know what? We have a damn solid idea, and to be fair to Storyhive, they are judging all of us by other criteria, not just popularity. I see some great lyrics, a unique design concept, a realistic creative treatment and budget. I am honoured and delighted that the person I love wants to make art with me. 

If I pissed you off this spring with all my self-promotion, I'm sorry. These projects all meant a great deal to me, but that doesn't mean that they meant anything to you, and I get that, because I feel exactly the same way about your projects most of the time. When you want something from me and you reach out to me through social media, I promise to be more generous with my attention than I have been in the past, because I've learned the hard way that this stuff takes a lot of work. And I will try not to respond based solely on how YOU supported ME during this terrific, challenging, crazy, creative month. 

Well, I said I'll try. But I'm not making any promises. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

In Search of the Perfect Banh Mi

I was grouchy before I even got to the birthday party last night. There were some reasons: too much exercise made me overtired; my friend forgot to tell me the location of the party had changed restaurants, meaning I turned up at the wrong one; I was in a position where I had to be polite to someone I wasn't in the mood for. None of these life-threatening events, but added up they made me feel prickly with bad-humour. 
The party (when I got to it) was fun and my bad mood faded, but it was with relief that I hit the sack, feeling the toxic mood and tiredness still in my body. I'll sleep it off, I reasoned, and wake up feeling fine
Cue this morning, and the feeling that all was still not fine. Sometimes you're just going to feel tired and groggy- could be a cold, could be fatigue. Who knows? I figured if I was stuck with a less-than-fine feeling I might as well try to distract it, and I knew the perfect distraction: head up Kingsway to find the perfect Banh Mi. 

Kingsway is Pho restaurants and beauty parlours, coffee shops and dusty little businesses that look as if no one's touched the window displays in years. Generations, even.
Nifty old appliances in the window of Y. Franks
Kingsway is also Little Saigon. Some local merchants were angry when city council re-branded part of Cedar Cottage, but it really is pretty fitting. Vietnamese restaurants, nail parlours, delis and groceries are very prevalent between Fraser and Victoria, which is as far as I walked today. 
As I walked, the weather reflected my mood: sun lurked hopefully, but black clouds kept rolling by. I was alternately glad of my thick jacket and overheated by it, sometimes in the space of a few minutes. 
I love Vietnamese food, and heartily miss living across the street from Le Petit Saigon, where I ate a Number 49 (beef on skewers, grated carrot, daikon and cucumber, vermicelli) pretty much once a week. But in all my life, I've never eaten a Banh Mi, or Vietnamese sub sandwich. Now that I live so near to Little Saigon, how could I not investigate this intriguing combination of French-influenced baking and Asian meats? 
My first stop was Ba Le Deli & Bakery, which is all of five minutes from my house, at an intersection where uber-Hipster coffee, old-school Mexican, Mexi-fusion, East Indian pizza, French cuisine, Caribbean-Japanese diner and more all meet in a glorious multicultural melange. I was all ready to order... and then I saw the Cash Only sign at the till (this would be a common theme all along Kingsway). I told them I'd be back, and started walking towards Victoria, where I remembered seeing a Vietnamese restaurant years ago with such mouthwatering photos of subs in their window that I'd wanted to visit for ages, and never got around to it. 
The stores along this stretch of Kingsway are, for the most part, small businesses that seem to cater to a loyal following and aren't that interested in attracting newbies. Many of the cafes look dark and dusty- they might be making the best food in the 'hood, but you'd never know it from the presentation. I wanted to give them all the benefit of the doubt... but I didn't want to waste my money, either. I kept going, drawn by my memories of the large-windowed and attractive cafe I'd seen years ago. 
Past Cedar Cottage Coffee, where I met my guy 6 months ago (I noticed that Crow Salvaged Goods, an interesting art/furniture store we'd checked out that day, hadn't lasted as long as our relationship, although a check of the internets suggests that it was meant to be a temporary store). Past the Tipper, where I've eaten several delicious breakfasts. Here I was at Victoria... and I couldn't find the cafe of my memories. There were a couple of Vietnamese places (including the infamous and long-renamed Pho Bich Nga), but none of them had mouthwatering photos of banh mi in the window. Either it had closed, or it was under new management. Back to Ba Le for me! 
The clouds came back, making everything look darker and more dramatic. 

I kind of wanted to try the Dragon Lord Cafe, which has a powerful name that doesn't match the cutesy cartoon animals on its awning, but it was closed. Since I was feeling fuzzy-headed and tired, I decided that Vietnamese Coffee, swimming with condensed milk, would cure what ailed me. I dropped in to another cafe that was painted lime-green inside, and ordered one to go. Sadly, I picked the wrong cafe... and the wrong coffee. I forgot to ask for it hot, so I got a cold one, the condensed milk glomming sulkily onto the ice cubes and the coffee bitter. Four bucks wasted. 
Ba Le smelled of fresh bread and I was intrigued by the dumplings, leaf-wrapped rice, and dessert-like things at the till. Since I don't know my way around Vietnamese deli meats and the word "headcheese" does NOT do anything for my appetite, I stuck with a safe sandwich option: grilled pork with veggies... and more coffee. "It's very strong and very sweet," the woman at the till warned me briskly. "Perfect!" I replied, and sat down to wait. It took a while, but when the sub arrived it was everything I'd hoped for: tender pork with just enough sweet sauce, the lightly-pickled trio of carrot, cuke and daikon; cilantro and spicy peppers, packed into a warm, toasted baguette. Heaven. 

I wolfed it down, along with the coffee, which was- as promised- very strong and VERY sweet. It didn't totally wake me up, and whatever bug I'm fighting is still lurking, but I think I've found a Vietnamese treat to rival my old love, the Number 49. And since it's five minutes from my house, and a mere $4.50, you can bet I'll be back.