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.