Thursday, April 14, 2016

Strange Monsters

I am explaining the difference between Lucky's Donuts and Cartems Donuts.
Cartems aren't as sweet as Lucky's... but they are greasier.

I should know. I had two: the apricot almond one and the salted caramel one. Artisan donuts might be a sign of the imminent apocalypse but they are also irresistible some nights.

He writes back. Mmmm, greazy.

And just like that, a character is born: Greazy, the carnival barker. I tippity-tap at the keys instead of prepping for my piano class. Greazy, born of eccentric spelling and procrastination.

Greazy the carnival barker
is tilting on his feet
Greazy the carnival barker
Never has quite enough to eat

He’s been looking for you with his snaggletoothed grin
and his tattered old hat that lets all the rain in
Wearing a carnival coat
with his eyes on your tender young throat

I don’t know what he’ll do when he finds you
but it probably won’t be nice.
I think you should take my advice

and run, run for your life

More words, spilling onto the screen.

Tonight, I get this text:

This is what happens when you are lucky enough to find someone to bounce ideas off. He sends me a picture, a scrap, a word, and I turn it into words and music. Or I send him a phrase and he breathes life into it. Doesn't that look just like Greazy, with his bony fingers and skeleton keys? He's lurching up the road towards your house, and you'd better be hiding under the bed when he lets himself in...

Last weekend we biked to the beach and took pictures of a battered old submersible. We are turning a 15-year-old idea of his into a story. I don't know what will happen to Greazy and Max, and all the other strange beings we've woken into half-life. They want to be free, they want colour and action and sound and I hope we can do them justice. 

We dream up strange monsters and brave little boys together. I will take that any day over joint bank accounts and runny-nosed toddlers. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Saying No: When is it okay to back out of a gig?

Monday night, I couldn't sleep. It is a cliche to say that I tossed and turned; like many cliches it is also a truth. Beside me, my boyfriend lay sleepless as well. Our reasons were different: he had to move house in the morning, which is one of the most stressful things you can do. Me? I had to make a difficult decision about a job.

The problem was, I'd been offered the job in early December and accepted it. It was now the end of January, the job (music directing a high school musical) was supposed to start February 1st... and I was thinking about backing out of it. 

But oh, the dread: How could I back out so late? What would my contact for the job say? Would he be angry? Or worse- upset? Would he blame me for sabotaging an ambitious show, for leaving them in the lurch? 
But how could I do the job? I was unprepared- I had never received the musical score and rehearsals were now only days away. The job had gone from something a bit out of my comfort zone- working on a classic musical with high schoolers- some of whom I'd have to shape into a live band by opening- to something I was dreading: a show with 15-plus songs, none of which I'd ever seen a lick of music for. 
On one hand it was easy to say well, they never got me the music and I've been asking for it for weeks. Now I haven't got the time to prepare. And on the other hand: If you were a really good musical director you would have found a way. You'd be able to sight-read the score. You'd be excited about this show rather than frustrated. You'd make it happen. The real issue was, I didn't want to make it happen. I wanted out. 

Back and forth my mind went, through the pros and the cons of saying no. There was the money of course, because in my life there's never enough money and now here I was turning it away. And there was pride: by backing out I was essentially saying I wasn't good enough to take it on. There was convenience though- if I did back out I'd have more time to do the jobs I was really excited about rather than spreading myself too thin. 

In the end it took that night and most of the next day before I worked up the courage to email my contact and tell him I was backing out of the job. And then I had to wait for his email. More dread.
Hey, look! I'm using this dumb stock footage of a woman who looks nothing like me to illustrate my stressed-out state of mind.  

I started realizing that I was not just saying no to the job. I was saying no to the idea that we freelancers have to say yes to any job that comes our way, lest we refuse one and then all the work dries up. I was saying no to being overly busy, which is such an ingrained part of our work culture. How many Facebook statuses and articles have I read where someone is about to start a 12-hour workday, or hasn't had a day off in a month, or is juggling childcare and work and school? Hell, my own boyfriend would never stop working if I wasn't around. I salute you people. I applaud your work ethic and your dedication, but I am not you. And I don't want to be.  

I was also admitting some inadequacies in my skillset, which is a tricky one, and something again that freelancers in general have a hard time doing. We've all said yes to gigs that challenged and stretched us. Arrange music for an ensemble you've never worked with before? Gotcha. Teach piano to kids?, Sure, see you Wednesday. Run from the orchestra pit to the stage and back again multiple times in one show, being both the attention-seeking diva and the quiet-but-efficient music director? Yep, just did that for my last play. Hang upside down 30 feet off the ground while singing opera? Sure, I can do that. (Not really. But I'd probably give it a go.) 

I have a tendency to downplay my abilities. But there are certain things I am not that great at, and while I am learning to love (and improve at) my job teaching piano to kids, when it comes to piano music I am simply not a great sight-reader. I need practice and lots of it. I would (and could) happily step in at a moment's notice to replace a singer onstage. But a piano player? Never happen. There are times when you have to accept that saying yes won't be a case of challenging yourself. It'll be a case of being the wrong person for the job. 

Am I over-justifying? Of course. There will always be a part of me that regrets the missed opportunities. The part of me that wonders what could have been if I just said yes. If I'd made it work. Because hell, almost every time I say yes to new and exciting and scary things, it's led to the best things: great gigs, travel, new friends, new loves. 
In my mind, I try to look past the door I just closed, and see the path I could have chosen. But of course I can't; that's the price you pay for closing doors. What I do see is a spring filled with excitement: 3 weeks of full-time rehearsals where I get to be a musician and performer; the continuing joys and challenges of being a music teacher; an album release concert, and who-knows-what other jobs that will pop up along the way? 

I blame myself for not being more clear about my needs (getting the score in plenty of time) when I took on the job in the first place. And of course, I blame myself for overbooking myself, which is the constant curse of the freelancer. But having finally taken action and refused the job, I feel nothing but relief. 

All the worst-case scenarios I feverishly mulled over never came to pass. My contact for the job accepted my news with disappointment, but with total class. I dreaded reading his replying email to me, and yet when it came, there were no recriminations, no accusations, no guilt trips. We wished each other well, and that was that. As always, my worst enemy had been myself. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

To Be A Rock and Not To Roll

Good gravy! Is anyone else having trouble yanking themselves out their holiday torpor, or is it just me? This December I had a dangerously seductive combination of (just) enough money, and plenty of time off, and I'm a bit ashamed to say that I really did very little over the holidays. I read, I lazed with the cats, I didn't even see many friends, if I'm going to be honest. I was a wee bit of a hermit, and I kind of liked it. 

But now the New Year is here, with all of its
Jolting me unwillingly out of my comfortable little rut and back into the fast lane.

Jay sent me a link to this lovely little animated video. Go ahead, watch it. It won't take long:

"I feel like that rock," I admitted to him the other day. "All this stuff keeps happening to me and I just want to... sleep." 

I feel a strange kinship with the sleepy little rock in this movie, who just wants to rest, but keeps being yanked into the most extraordinary situations, kind of like an inanimate Forrest Gump. 

Which is making me face an uncomfortable truth about myself:

I am the kind of person who lets things happen to them rather than making things happen. 

Which isn't to say I haven't had an amazing professional life. Let's see, I've

  • played live gigs in Istanbul
  • spent 5 summers doing historical theatre in a gold rush town
  • made my living (kinda) as a freelance musician
  • played in all kinds of bands, from Turkish to left-wing folk to Slavic soul
  • worked for all kinds of theatre companies in Vancouver and elsewhere, from tiny struggling companies to some of the top professional companies in the city. 
...and all kinds of other good stuff.
But imagine how much more interesting it could be if I made my own plans?

If I said 
  • I'm going to write and perform my own 1-woman show.
  • I'm going to record an EP or album this year and get some of my talented friends to play on it.
  • I'm going to take classes and learn something new this year to make myself more hireable.
  • I'm going to actively improve my singing and piano playing.
  • I'm going to contact more seniors' homes and get them to book me as an entertainer, rather than waiting for them to call me. 
Wow! I just came up with most of that stuff in 5 minutes! Imagine what could happen if I put some real time into making my life happen. 

But making your life happen instead of letting life happen takes courage.
It means letting go of your (my) fear of rejection and ridicule.
It means working hard, every day. 
It means never getting comfortable, always challenging yourself to try something new, something scary, something hard. 

But there are so many rewards, and my own history proves this. 
When I decided to apply for a music director job on the BC Arts Alliance website, I made a connection that would lead to six years of demanding, rewarding, life-changing work in a northern town.
When I left a stagnant relationship, I opened myself up to new adventures, and it gave myself and my ex-partner a new lease on life.
When I say 'yes' to teaching a class that I don't know much about at the music school where I work, I learn so much, and feel way more relaxed and at ease the next time I am challenged to take on something new.
I decided on a whim to go to Seattle and take a class with a yoga teacher who really inspired me. It was a wonderful weekend.
When I took decided to join a dating website, I met a wonderful man. And yes, I was the one who contacted him! In fact, he'd gone on to the site that day to shut down his profile, as he hadn't had any success, and then he saw my message. So...

When you take action, amazing things can happen. And yeah, I know that I sound like a goddamn motivational speaker on TedTalks right now, but I'm psyching myself up, yo. 
Today I got up, went for a run, did yoga, and worked- actually worked- on some stuff when I found out I had extra time because a meeting got cancelled. It's the first day in this new year that I can actually say that I felt supercharged with energy and purpose. And yeah, I know I'll backslide, but I really do believe that there can be a snowball effect. After all, as that cute little cartoon shows, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. 

The time for being a sleepy little rock is past! 

If I can look back at 2016 next January and honestly say that I took more control of my life, I will be beyond proud, even if I failed at some things. Especially if I failed, because that means that I put myself out on a limb, big-time. 

Because I'd like to say "Oh, torpor? Apathy? That's so 2015!" 

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.