Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ten Reasons I Won't Ever Use the Term #Blessed (unless I'm being sarcastic)



  1. It's glib. You're putting shit like this mindlessly at the end of your social media posts because everyone's doing it and who knows, maybe it'll win you more followers, right? Or maybe because you think that posting this hashtag makes you exempt from, you know, actually doing something for others. Way easier to be #blessed than to make sure others are feeling that way. 
  2. It turns your uber-boastful post into something that looks like gratitude. Putting the word #blessed in your posts does not suddenly give you carte blanche to post a gazillion pictures of your kid, your material possessions, or your tropical holiday. Guess what? We know you're still showing off. You're just hiding it behind a humblebrag. 
  3. If God existed, She wouldn't bless you. No, really. He doesn't hand out blessings like the Easter Bunny hands out chocolate eggs. Or so they tell me. 
  4. If you don't believe in God, it's even weirder that you're using this hashtag. Who the hell #blessed you- the Tooth Fairy? 
  5. It's symptomatic of our guilt over the glut of things we possess. Do we know that there are millions of people in the world- hell, in our towns, mere streets or houses away from us- who have a tiny fraction of the things we have? Yes we do know that, and we think that somehow, if we acknowledge that we're #blessed, we can sleep a little easier on our soft, soft feather beds. 
  6. Because practically any other adjective would be more accurate. You could claim to be #rich, if you're showing us your new house. You could be another #boringparent or #ObsessivePetOwner, if you're posting nothing but shots of your kids, either furry or not. (and no, that doesn't mean I don't want to see any pics of your pets or kids, before you get all upset with me. I do. Just don't be boring about it.) You most certainly are #lucky, or more honestly, #privileged beyond belief. And here's the most accurate hashtag of all, but you won't see this one popping up on people's feeds...
  7. ...#Random. Most of us, even the atheists, want to believe in some kind of order in the universe. It's way easier (and glib-er- see #1) to say that you're #blessed than to admit that the world is completely random, and that most of the great things that fall our way are the result of frighteningly chance occurrences, connections or coincidences.
  8. You think it's a simple way to show gratitude. Gratitude is great. But truly showing gratitude doesn't mean adding a couple of meaningless hashtags to your boast-y posts. True gratitude should be about acknowledging your good fortune, luck, random set of circumstances, etc. by taking action, whether it is in a good attitude, a positive mood, or even better: by sharing your good fortune with others. 
  9. It's thoughtless. I mean that in a very literal sense. It's as bad as posting Minions memes, linking to ill-informed articles you haven't actually read, or basically putting up anything that doesn't contain some original thought. The internet is full of stupid. Why make it more so? 
  10. Look, I get it. Social media is designed for bragging. I do it all the time. So do you. And then we feel guilty, so we add that one little word to make ourselves feel better. But maybe instead, we should take the time to think a little more about what we're posting on social media. And why we feel the compulsion to post anything in the first place. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Catching Up: An Interview

Whoa. Hi there. Seems I took a bit of a break from blogging, which is usually a solid sign that I'm busy living. Over the last year or so I've been trying to blog about specific subjects: life as a musician, the arts in general, teaching (which I totally just typed as teachering, thereby proving that I may have a little bit more to learn), etc. But it's been a while, so why don't I just catch you up, in the form of an imaginary interview?

First off, how do you like your new home? 
Love it. Love it.  LOVE. IT.  I really can't say it enough times. After 2 months, it still seems fresh and magical to walk through that door (my door!) every evening. Sometimes I still say "hello, home" as I put down my bags and settle in. Part of the reason the attraction is so fierce is that I've been away almost half the time since I moved in, so when I'm home I still feel like it's brand new. Leaving for Saskatoon for two weeks when I'd literally only been in the new place for a week was painful. Thankfully, I worked my ass off unpacking in that week, so I had a clean, well-organized place to return to. My landlords are amazing. The other day I put out the rubbish bins and got an email saying how nice it was to share a house with me! It's also just wonderful not to have to live with anyone. My sweetie comes over once or twice a week, and that's great, but other than that It's MY home, and I like it that way. I love being around people, especially as a teacher and performer, but at the end of a people-heavy day I love having a quiet, empty apartment to return to.

Wait a minute- Saskatoon? What are you doing there?
Working for Persephone Theatre's young company helping teenagers perform their songs better in a show they created called Here. On the plus side, I get to work with amazing young people and spend time in a city I'm now proud to call almost a second home. On the minus side, I miss my new apartment, and it makes me feel a bit disconnected at work when I miss classes. But theatre is still very much my first love, so it's a sacrifice I'll keep making. I have one more trip in 2 days (!) but then I'm back for three more weeks in June to do another show. Saskatoon: the town that keeps on giving (me work). And hey, a cool side effect is that my hatred of flying has mostly worn off!

What about theatre here in Vancouver?
Not as much as I'd like, but I did get to perform in a remount run of The Out Vigil, which I first did around the same time last year. Luckily, all the old cast and crew were back, and we had a magical and too-short reunion. I sincerely hope that this may not be the last time we get to do this show, but we'll see.

So... Your work just lets you have time off for all this stuff? 
Yeah, basically. I have a really great job. It's not without its frustrations and challenges, but I can honestly say that I love it. It's taken me several years to feel at home at the music school where I work, so it's hard-won, which makes it even more rewarding. And because every year I am exposed to new challenges (this year it was teaching preschool music and teaching music to kids with autism), I learn constantly, and in turn, this makes me a better teacher and musician. Also- and I feel kind of mercenary saying this, but it's important- my standard of living has improved immeasurably because of teaching, and that is no small thing. This time last year I wouldn't have dreamed that I would be able to afford to live alone.

Still in any bands? 
Yes, thank goodness! I have pretty much made my peace with the fact that being a performing musician will be a sideline rather than the main event in my artistic life. But just because I don't do it all the time doesn't mean that it's not vitally important to me! I still perform sporadically with Zeellia, which is the Ukrainian band I've been a member of for well over a decade now. But the best decision I made came fairly recently, when I invited some friends to start a new band with me after our old one disbanded. And then I got even smarter and asked another friend to join us. And gradually it was like a flame that had been sputtering was re-lit again. This new band was rough, but we were all eager to get better. Excited to bring in new songs. Open to switching instruments (each of us plays at least two). Two summers ago I was surrounded by music; in a musical, even, and I had no urge to play or write. These days I can't stop. I credit this to my new-found love of my teaching job, and to my new band, which is just loose enough to have fun, and just tight enough to be full of possibility. It's a creative time.

Do you have time for your partner and friends, with all this travelling and work going on?
Sadly, not as much as I'd like. Sigh. I'm just super-lucky that most of my friends are busy too; that my bandmates are all my BFFs, and that I adore all the people I teach with. My boyfriend is King of the Workaholics, so our weekly trysts are usually enough for both of us to feel connected, while still being able to pine sweetly for one another. In related news, I recently decided to quit Facebook for a while, and reconnect more with people in real life. I've only been off for 2 days, so don't throw a parade for me yet or anything. In fact, it was quite funny, because after resolutely deactivating my account I found myself having to reconnect it again to I could log into apps like Spotify. (The dangers of using your Facebook identity on other platforms.) The turning point came when I hardly got any work done on Monday because I was too busy checking to see if friends had "liked" a witty post of mine. Plus there was a fierce debate going on over the use of accents in comedy routines, and I watched as people on both sides of the debate- including people I know and adore- indulged in endless, useless fighting. Hardly anyone was reasonable. Hardly anyone exchanged ideas in a respectful or open-minded manner. It was gross. And I couldn't look away. So I decided to go cold turkey, for a while at least.

Um, haven't you noticed that the world is basically ending?
Yes, because my Facebook friends never stop talking about it! (Another reason to get off there: read more real news and a whole lot less stupid memes, trollish comments, and preach-to-the-choir posturing.) What the fuck am I supposed to do about the horrendous things going on in politics and the environment? My firm position is that the best thing I can do is to be better-informed (still working on that one); to be more connected to the world (less internet time); and to be kind.  If the human race is in its twilight years 'thanks' to Donald Trump, North Korea, or our egregious misuse of the planet's resources, I'm certainly not going to spend my last days being miserable. Until I have no other choice, anyway.

Are you quitting this blog?
All appearances to the contrary, no. For one thing, if this quitting-Facebook thing works out, I'll need somewhere to dump post my observations about life. It's interesting to me that a number of the blogs I loved have either quit altogether, or significantly reduced their number of posts. I think it's partly because a lot of the blogs I first loved were so-called "mommy blogs", whose writers eventually found they had less and less time/inclination to post everything their little darlings did. As their kids clambered out of toddlerhood, their parents started feeling a little more connected to the world again, and were able to reach out beyond a cold and often judgemental internet. At least that's my theory. Apparently, blogging is passe these days. But I started my first journal at the tender age of six. I'm not going anywhere.

Anything else?
Let's see: passed my second Psychology course; played a solo accordion set at the Princeton and made some new friends; entered another Storyhive music video contest; tried and failed at a number of health/diet initiatives; started buying plants and not killing them...mostly; worked on new friendships; lost touch with some other peeps; got to know Saskatoon better; haven't spent enough time exploring Vancouver lately. You know. 

And now,  in the spirit of being better connected to the world I am going to sign off this machine and empty my organic waste bin. It's good to be back! See you soon.


Friday, February 10, 2017

The Air That I Breathe

I never smell very good after a seniors home gig; I'm sorry, but that's the truth of it. They keep the heat cranked up- and rightly so- for the feeble and the slow-moving, and neither of those words describes me when I'm performing. By the time my hour is up, I'm rather...damp, to put it politely. 

Today I had to spend a good while putting together a new book of songs for the gig, as my usual binder is packed in a box somewhere. I've been getting a jump on my move by boxing up everything I think I can do without for a few weeks... and a few things, obviously, that should not have gone into boxes just yet. After reluctantly slitting open a few boxes with no success, I decide to just print out new lyric sheets; after all, most of them are saved onto my laptop anyway. This leads to some new song choices, which is refreshing. I decide to bring my ukulele as well as my accordion, since I'm playing more uke than squeezebox these days anyway. As I stagger down the street with my accordion in a knapsack on my back and my uke and purse in my hands, the good angel on my shoulder urges me to check my pack... good thing, because I've left the binder with all my freshly-printed lyric sheets in my bedroom. Stagger back (luckily not far). Surprise the cats with my re-entry. Grab binder, depart again. Two buses later and I'm there. 

Up on Three West I begin with a new one: Singing In The Rain. Right away I know it's a good choice as a chorus of voices immediately joins in. I keep 'em coming: Big Rock Candy Mountain into Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen into Blue Days Black Nights... Today's seniors grew up in the '40s and '50s, so I mix country blues, folk, Canadiana, Irish and good old rock 'n roll, with the occasional Big Band-era blaster like Minnie the Moocher or Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey. 

Right away I notice a bubble in the air, an energy coming up to me and getting bounced back to the audience through my music. Maybe it's the slightly younger crowd: I see more than a few residents who look to be in their early seventies, even one woman with punky green streaks at the front of her bleached or grey hair. I've always had fun playing at this home, but sometimes I've seen people wheeling or shuffling away before my hour was up. Not this time. Their voices join me on everything from Harvest Moon to Blue Suede Shoes. Maybe it's me. I'm feeling rested and my voice is in fine form. Whatever the reason, today we're cookin'. 

Imagine you spent most of your time breathing something that was like oxygen, but wasn't. You'd do fine, but something would be lacking. And then some days, you got to breathe the real deal- your lungs would fill and your eyes would sparkle and you'd feel extra zest and energy you didn't know you were missing- That's what singing and performing feels like to me. Oxygen. Even when I'm sick it lifts me up. When I'm not sick... Pow. 

I say this a lot, and I really mean it: I have the incredible good fortune to do what I love for a living. I never thought I'd be a good music teacher, but I love it. I never used to think I'd be a good musical director, but they keep hiring me so I guess I've got the skills. And I DO love my jobs: I love showing kids (or actors) how to put a song together; I like arranging; I like getting to pass on my rag-tag collection of Things I Know. I even like the herding-cats exercise that is teaching preschool music. But here's why I'll never be the best teacher or musical director there is: because there's always going to be this little diva inside of me that is silently yelling Just step aside and let me do it instead, Jesus CHRIST let me because I can do it better than that, because it's all I want to do and I can't, they won't let me they keep hiring me to teach you instead-
Which isn't to say I'm silently hating on you when I work with you or your kids, far from it. (Unless you're really terrible at your job and they hired you instead of me. Then yeah.) It's just... I have this friend who has a doctorate in music education. He's never in his life played in a band, or been in a play, and he's Never. Wanted. To. His passion is teaching music. (He also helped me get my teaching job, for which I'll be eternally grateful.) Mine is performing music. 

I lack the killer instinct, which is why I'm not recording an album or touring Canada, or, you know, famous. Instead, I'm a (mostly) very happy teacher of music/music director who plays in a band with three good friends and has moments of passion and inspiration at all of her jobs, and really really comes alive when she gets to step into the studio for a session, or play onstage, or even when she lugs two instruments on two buses to play for thirty or so seniors, some of whom may even not be sleeping. 

Today, we make some magic at Royal Arch Masonic Home. Who knows why? I make my way through 21 songs and the seniors are with me every step of the way. Someone (dear god, probably only my parents' age) asks for Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", so I do it, scrolling through the lyrics on my phone with one hand as I stumble through the bass notes on my accordion with the other hand. I am surprised how many voices sing the haunting chorus with me. 
I launch into Stan Rogers' "Forty-Five Years" and feel my eyes water a little as I take in the pink and crepe Valentine's Day decorations strung up around the room. The song is Rogers' beautiful tribute to his much-loved wife; how many of the seniors in the room still have their loved ones with them? Too few, I'm thinking. I finish with "Goodnight Irene", which I often close with because I love to hear the old ones sing it with me. 


They've handed my money to one of the residents: Ms. Green-Hair. She wheels toward me slowly, a challenge in her eyes. First, she thanks me for bringing some sunshine, because "it can get kind of dreary in here." I bet. Then she says, "But we're not going to give this to you that easily. If you want this, you'll have to do another song for us." 
Challenge accepted. It's the first time I've been asked for an encore here. I rifle quickly through my pages: what would be the perfect finisher...
Ah, yes. I put on my accordion and launch into "Folsom Prison Blues", the perfect song for people who are trapped in a seniors home, no matter how nice it is. As I sing, I hear their voices joining me one last time. 
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison/And time keeps rolling on/But that train just keeps on moving/On down to San Antoine.

And then I leave, back to the rest of my unfettered life. Breathing that sweet, pure oxygen until my lungs are as full as they can get. 



Friday, February 3, 2017

Nesting

So, how are you all doing? 

I think a lot of us are feeling a bit fragile these days. It's hard to know when to engage, and when to switch off and spend some time with people you love. I've seen friends get absolutely lambasted recently on social media for daring to have an opinion on women's rights (Imagine that! Women having opinions on women's rights!), or for writing about the wrongs being done to Muslims. One thing I've noticed is that people get very, very nervous when they're confronted by steely logic and righteous anger. And then, unfortunately, they often get angry, and the whole thing degenerates into name-calling and insults. But keep on, brave men and women out there. Keep fighting, and using logic, and making bigots and racists and chauvinists as nervous as possible. I have never seen so many "normal" people galvanized into taking action as I have in the last month. It's the one heartening thing I can take from this; that it's jolting us out of our complacency. 


We're already a month into 2017, guys! That's what happens when we're busy and angry and working hard- time gets away from us. 

So, what's been happening so far this year?

Like a lot of people, I marched:


I am at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. It is a pathetic excuse to say I'm busy, because who isn't? I don't have much money to donate to causes, and I don't always have make time to go to vigils, so... Can I promise to try and do better? To try and lend support to minorities who need allies? To give some of my time to being political? I really don't want to ignore what's happening- how could I?- so if any of you have suggestions, I'd be glad to hear them. 

In the meantime, I've been nesting. This is probably a sound and predictable  instinct when things in the outside world get scary. I have two other very good reasons for increased nesting recently: first of all my roommates are away for 3 weeks, so I have the whole house (and four kitties) to myself! I've been extra busy lately, so today it feels amazing to curl up on the couch and watch the snow (yup, it's baaaaaaack) coming down outside. 

And the other good reason for nesting? 
I found a place to live!

This collage doesn't really do it justice, but here's my new suite. I found it on Craigslist, and it was only the second place I physically went and looked at. I know, hate me. I would too. It has a gas stove, a big bedroom, gorgeous bathroom, tons of light even though it's a basement suite... and a gigantic alcove that seems to be expressly designed to be used as a giant window seat for reading, working, playing music, and dreaming. I think it was this eccentric detail that sealed the deal for me. I was as charming and polite as I could possibly be to the landlords, a nice couple who live upstairs. That, and the fact that my boss gave me a glowing reference, sealed the deal for them, and they called me back the very next day to offer me the place. The best/worst part is that the suite's not available until March 1st, because they're actually going to expand some of the windows to make the place even lighter. That's great because a) Bigger windows! More light! and b) Time to pack! Time to put aside money! but of course I also want to move in right now because IT'S MY OWN PLACE FINALLY, COME ON! AND ALSO I WANT TO LIVE THERE FOR AT LEAST A FEW MONTHS BEFORE DONALD TRUMP DESTROYS THE WORLD!
While I wait, I am starting to pack. I took a trip to Ikea with my angel mom, who bought me many kitchen and home-related items as a moving present to me. One side effect of being older is that I am not content with a couple of mismatched plates and some grotty used particle-board furniture. I want my place to look... pretty. Put-together. Warm and inviting and funky, but not student-chic, ya know? 
So it's going to be a mixture of things, but pretty ones.
The functional: Stuff from Ikea: dishes and cutlery and bookshelves and cubbies and utensils.
The antique: my Mongolian sideboard, which is dark and knobbly and has doors which slide up and into it, which makes it quite hard to use effectively, but is still my favorite piece of furniture I've ever bought. 
I can't adequately capture your unique beauty, sideboard, but you're still my fave. 
A really cool desk I just found at Sellution, which is the best place to buy used furniture with a personality. A little rocking chair that was actually outside of Sellution with a "free" sign on it (it's a fixer-upper). 
The ridiculously hipster and self-indulgent but not actually that expensive: My knives:

I bought these very inexpensive but well-reviewed knives at Atelier St. George, which is probably the only time in history that the words "inexpensive" and "Atelier St. George" will EVER be used in the same sentence (I mean, they have a wool jumpsuit that costs $1700.00, for fuck's sake). 
And now I sit, and I wait to move house. Well, mostly I go out and work and have band practices and clean litter trays, it's just today that I've superglued myself to the couch watching reprehensible YouTube videos and avoiding any sort of work at all costs. 

Hey, work. Remember my ambivalence about teaching, last year? Well, sometimes there are things you do where you walk into a situation or a job and think Hell No and walk right out again, and you just know that you were right to leave. And there are other times where you immediately think: This is what I was meant to do, and the more you do it, the more it confirms that initial thought. (Performing is like that for me.) But there are other things that feel like a no at first, and may end up feeling like a no for a long time before revealing themselves to be, in fact, a big yes. Teaching was like that. I'm glad I stayed. I'm glad when I get to teach kids how to write songs, and when I get to play games where I teach them music theory games and pretend to die horribly if they get the answer wrong. I'm glad when I make a bunch of sullen teenagers sit in a circle on the floor and sing the harmonies to "Jolene" and they do, and it sounds beautiful. Even more when the tallest, sleepiest, sullenest kid voluntarily picks up a ukulele to play along. I'm glad when I get to sing my soprano heart out in choir class, and when I get to yell at kids to stop running in the halls. Glad to the point of transcendence when the evil/cute little 11 year-old who slouched in a corner in my junior class glaring at me and growling that she was "bored" every week suddenly decides to drop the attitude and lights up with glee as she and her classmates hammer out a very creditable version of "Bittersweet Symphony". Teaching is like oxygen; it takes all my energy and yet  gives it back to me, a hundredfold. (And suddenly I get a glimpse of what parenting must be like. But...nope. Still don't want 'em. Phew.)

So that's what I'm doing. Plus mentoring/music directing a youth theatre company in Saskatoon, plus getting ready to do another show in Saskatchewan in the summer, plus teaching preschool music, plus session work at my favourite recording studio, plus... You get the idea. Most days I'm really happy, which feels kind of wrong with all that's going on in the world, but 
(I accidentally hit "publish" without finishing that last sentence, but I can't think of any good way to finish it anyway, so it stays like that.)

Oh, and I coloured my hair. Fuck grey hair. Actually, it wasn't the greys that were killing me, it was the boring brown. 
I'm going to blame my phone's camera for the fact that my face looks strangely puffy, not the fact that I'm still not in shape post-Christmas gluttony.
New place, new work, new world (dis)order: 2017 promises to be...interesting, in the Chinese-Curse sense of the word. So batten down the hatches, get mad, get smart, get safe. And look after yourselves. I know some people disdain self-care (and I certainly hate the phrase), but I don't think it's wise to burn out, either. 

See you soon.