Thursday, May 21, 2015

Write-off.

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. 
However.
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. 





Thursday, April 16, 2015

Just Another Little Gig

You might not think it was much, if you walked by.
Just a quiet night at a local restaurant, music spilling out of an opening door into the darkened street.
Folky and sweet; a small group of listeners at tables, laughter and chatter swelling and hushing again.
But this is my life- these people, this music.
Playing our songs, fingers fumbling at times but harmonies sure and true. Listening to our friends play a set after my band finishes; the crowd grows smaller as it gets later but we stay and watch til the end.
My lover sketches the old-fashioned microphone on stage, his deft fingers turning it into a comical skeleton figure in his notebook. My ex and his girl sit just ahead of us; my mother and my guy's mother are sitting opposite us at the table. Years of love and stories, all around me. An old friend from out of town came through the door earlier tonight, making my jaw drop in delight as I played a song. Other friends came by to celebrate the night with us.
We may have only walked away with a few dollars each; we may have battled a bad sound system and our own musical mistakes but the songs we sing, the friendships in this room, the history we have- it means everything.
Nights like this I remember why I am a musician.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Fear of...Success?

     I've just spent the last couple of days hammering out some plans for a big project with someone I love, and guess what? It was exciting and stimulating and also damn hard and kind of awful, too. 
     Here was the best part: Sitting on the couch, with Gangs of New York playing in the background (because I've never seen it); he was drawing, I was writing. Each of us, working side-by-side in the mediums that best suit us, being creative. 
     Here was the worst part: trying to talk about this project together and feeling a negative response in my body, a physical rejection. Squirmy, uncomfortable tension. What was this? Are we not suited to work together? Nope, don't think that's it. Are we communicating well? Could use some work, but no, that's not it either... Do I believe that the project has potential? Actually, yes. Do I believe that I deserve to spend large amounts of time and money (preferably other people's) on this project? To risk failure in the pursuit of success? Wait: To risk actually being successful?
     AH. 
     Dreaming is comfortable. Imagining is easy. Coming up with the concept for this project is fun. What's not fun, at least for me, is starting to hammer out practical details, especially budgeting. Partly because this drags the project from the safe confines of my "wouldn't it be nice if..." imagination into the arena of actual hard work. And also because to put this much time and belief and hard work into a project that's based around my creative work means that I'm making a bold statement. I'm saying:

"I believe in my work and I believe that it's worth showcasing. I believe that it deserves to be seen and heard by a larger audience and I believe that time and money should be sent in order to make that a reality. Not only my time and money, but that of someone I love, and also the time and money of complete strangers as well. I have not only the creativity to come up with the original concept, but the drive and ambition and hard-headed stubbornness to see it through to completion. I know that it will be hard, that we will run up against stumbling blocks, but we will keep going. And we will embrace success, and strive for it, and not be comfortable with safe mediocrity."


     This is fucking terrifying. 
     I'm realizing that I don't believe in myself deep down as much as I thought. And now I've met someone who thinks that our combined skills will create something amazing, but he's in it to win it, as they say. So goodbye comfort zones and hello risk. It's not that we're betting the farm (we're applying for a grant of sorts, so the risk isn't financial); the risk is in taking the leap of faith that we are worth it. This little fish is going to dip her fins in bigger ponds if she's lucky. And I'm realizing that sharks aren't the problem in these deeper waters (if I may continue with the fish metaphor for a minute). The biggest problem could be me. 
     Here's where uncomfortable self-awareness is a good thing though; at least I can pinpoint the problem. When I feel myself getting tense I know why it's happening and I can take steps to relax. Today that meant going for a run- no better way to work off tension than to tire yourself out. Stop thinking: turn on some hip hop and wear out your muscles for a while. Building good exercise habits also builds more pride in myself: if I can accomplish a workout I can also accomplish other things. Focusing on small goals rather than getting overwhelmed by the big picture is also important. 
     It's a big deal, believing in yourself. And it's never easy. I'm actually really glad that this project has highlighted how much I still need to grow, because I'd gotten a bit complacent about it. 
     Maybe we won't get everything we're hoping for out of this project. But if I don't start believing that it's worth trying for, it'll sputter out like a hundred other half-baked ideas and dreams have done. I want to at least go down fighting this time. And if I commit to that, if I believe that I deserve to put time and energy into my creative work then who knows what could happen? It's terrifying and exhilarating to think about. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Rats in the Basement

     My love and I are sitting on the sand at Wreck Beach. There are maybe fifteen other people down here and only one of them is naked at this clothing-optional site, so I mischievously suggest that we remove our clothes. The day is surprisingly warm for March and we've just biked here so we're sweaty: seconds later we are naked in the sand, comfortably propped up against a log, gazing out to sea.
     From Wreck Beach you can see water spreading out before your eyes; you can also see planes taking off from the airport. I wave saucily at one. The planes and the beach are uncomfortable reminders on this happy day with my guy: reminders of planes that didn't make it, and of starving sea lions not so far from here.
     "I just want to die happy," I say. "I want to die 20, 30, 40 years from now not trying to remember how life was before some kind of cataclysm." I nuzzle my nose against his cheek, where I go to imprint his smell in my brain. "And I don't want anything bad to happen to you."
     "I just want to live happy," he answers, my guy who is practical and funny and kind and loving and tough and infuriating and stubborn and gentle and smart.
     Are we hurtling towards the end? Guess what: we all are, whether the ice melts or not, whether our water runs out or not. I try to keep a balance between burying my head in the sand and knowing what's going on in the world because too much news is bad news and too much bad news is like opening your basement door and seeing thousands of rat eyes staring back at you. When 9/11 happened I remember literally wanting to stop the world and get off, because nowhere felt safe.
     This is it, this is the world we're stuck with. I scrunch my toes in the sand and send up a silent prayer of thanks that I have the luck to spend a lazy Saturday with someone I love. We brush off the sand and don our clothes again and I challenge him to see how many stairs we can run up on our way back to the bikes. We are alive, we are in love, we are healthy. For now that's plenty, that's enough.