Saturday, October 17, 2015

Popping the Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 7, 2015

Old Workhorses and Fierce Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Easing Back Into Things With Yoga & Bourbon

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Death and Blue Skies

Death and blue skies.

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

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

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

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

But the story of us has another meaning to me.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Making Art That Matters

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


Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Postman

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

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

I had a bit of a crush on the Postman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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