Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Life More Ordinary.


Yesterday I sat with my lover for almost 8 hours, working on an e-commerce website for a client of his. At the end of it I felt as though I had developed tunnel vision from all the screen-staring; I had almost broken down in tears several times and yet somehow we muddled through, learning just enough to do what we needed to do... Learning, also, to work together and come out at the end of the day still making each other grin even though the work was frustrating and boring. 

I'm also learning that I'm not good at buckling down and doing stuff I dislike. Performing in front of hundreds of people? Not remotely a problem. Practicing my instrument on the other hand? Ugh. Taking over a rehearsal when the music director is sick? Ok, no problem. Plugging away for hours at an e-commerce site that yields its secrets slowly? Makes me teary and stubborn almost right away. Typical bright-child syndrome: I'm used to 'getting' things right away so having to actually apply myself is difficult. My brother, who wasn't as book-smart as me, learned how to study. I never did. Now the bright older sister is living in one bedroom in her brother's house wondering how she managed to get to 40 without a degree, a real job, or any money in the bank. Well no, actually, I know. Some of it has to do with the fact that I never learned to apply myself, to stick with things even when the going got tough. 

Don't get me wrong; I love my life. I have wonderful friends, a family who supports me (sometimes literally), and many jobs that are exciting even if they leave my bank balance somewhat low. And I work hard, in fiery bursts followed by periods of aimlessness. But after so many years of scraping by, something has got to change. I made a decision this year to put more roots down again in my city, and as I said in my last post, it's paying off. Love came into my life again. Friendships and bands have blossomed. And in my downtime I buckled down and applied myself a bit more: resumes, websites, an increased social media presence. Songs written, songs recorded. Job applications, job interviews, job prospects. This month has been good to me so far, even if my wallet is slim. I landed some jobs and I await news of more. 

It's been a long time coming, this knowledge. And I haven't mastered it yet by any means. But I feel the shift within myself and I'm proud that I haven't been idle this month by any means. 

Today, my guy and I ate our bacon-and-eggs together and talked about our dream projects: a song of mine he wants to animate, a children's book we want to create together. We are both going through some intense transitions right now, both struggling to make a living. But his work ethic inspires me to try harder; my talents as a songwriter and performer inspire him to draw more and think outside the box. We can be good for each other, I think. 

Can I combine living-the-dream with making-a-living? It's still a work in progress. But I feel as if the first tentative steps have been taken, and damn, it feels good. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Planting Seeds.

Blossoms and crocuses are poking up their little heads in this mild, mild winter month. It's wrong, for February, but lovely. I want to say "Slow down, little flowers! You have a few months yet, even in balmy Vancouver," but it's like 2010 all over again, the year we hosted the Olympics and no snow came.  
Little seedlings in the bike lane
Opportunities are poking up their heads for me, too. I went after 3 jobs at the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, and got 2 (and the 3rd may yet be mine, it hasn't been decided). I interviewed for 2 more jobs with a company that's hiring for some really interesting stuff. I'll hear about those ones soon.
I feel as though I've made a strong commitment to Vancouver this year, and like a lover who senses that you've quit hiver-hovering and made up your mind, it's rewarding me. With out-of season flowers, yes, but also in the form of new possibilities and opportunities. And a network of family, friends and lover who are all cheering me on, even the ones from the town I'll not be working in this summer. 
Take a deep breath. Can you smell Springtime?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Defusing

The other day my guy and I had a phone conversation that was a little... intense.

After I hung up, still seething with blame (both towards myself and him), I went over things in my head, as women we tend to do when things go awry. 
Being forty, and fairly clear-headed (I think) when it comes to my shortcomings, I could go back over the conversation and how it had played out, and see where I had said things that were inflammatory. I could also see a pattern in my dealings with other partners which had led to conversations that were all depressingly similar in their outcome: painful discussions with no resolution. What I couldn't see was this: How on earth do you re-wire your brain so that you don't fall into old, bad patterns during important discussions/negotiations? 

A friend of mine recently founded a company based on this very question. His website says:  
"Professionals are using live simulations as a regular part of their training programs, as often the most unpredictable element is the human one. How these professionals assess the situation and react can mean the difference between life and death. What is at stake in your business?"
Good point. and what's at stake in our personal relationships if we can't get beyond the traps that lurk when we try to have emotional conversations? Think about all the things we find it so hard not to say (and by 'we' I mean me) when we're upset:
You always...
You never...
I hate it when...
I'm sorry that I... 
(a really passive-aggressive one that, and one I'm guilty of using: apologizing for a shortcoming instead of getting to the point, which is that I'm angry/I need something.)

The more we use certain phrases, the more we trigger an antagonistic response in the other person; the more defensive/angry/upset they get, the more defensive/angry/upset WE get, and on and on until it's impossible to say anything sensible. 

I've decided that it's time to learn how to defuse my irritation and anger, but how? Simulations, like the ones my friend offers, are a great idea, but I find that the one-person version of this (having imaginary conversations in your head with the other party) are frustrating, and have the effect of making my tension level rise significantly since there's no one else to mediate or offer an outside opinion. One good solution, offered here, is to 

"...defuse the energy of anger.”
Go for a run, focus on your artwork or finish a DIY project, he said. “Break something that needs to be broken.” As he said, the most amazing works, including music, poetry and art, have been created from anger.

It's true. Yesterday (the day after the unsatisfactory conversation) I could have moped around all day feeling frustrated and upset. Instead I tried to do something productive. I ended up writing two songs: one which focused on the darker side of love (thanks to Noel Coward, who wrote an amazing poem on the subject, which I've quoted from before) and a romantic song for my guy.  I exorcized some demons in a creative way and had some tangible results to show for it. 

So what will I do the next time an issue comes up and I need to have "the talk" with someone I'm close to? I don't have all the answers- hell, I don't have many of them. Things I will try: 
  • deep breathing
  • articulating EXACTLY what it is I need to myself, before I even think about talking to the other person
  • finding the balance between blurting things out when I'm overwrought and "sleeping on it" (where the danger can be that I end up stewing over things and making mountains out of molehills)
  • defusing my frustrations by reprogramming my brain: exercising, writing, music...whatever it takes. 
So what happened next, after the phone conversation? Well, while I was still fretting, I heard my phone buzzing. Looking down I realized that I had mail from my guy, who sent me a sweet and sexy message which soothed me into sleep. True to our genders, he moves on while I fret and over-analyze. We've chosen to leave that conversation in the past... for now. And at least I have the perfect original romantic song to send him tomorrow- just in time for Valentine's Day. 





Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I Found My Thrill


I walk north, across Broadway, down the big hill, onto the track where I have tentatively started running again, onto the bus. My accordion is a heavy bulk on my back but I have time to snap a picture as I walk; red berries against a brown background. It's January, but I am bare-legged as I walk. A testament both to the mildness of our winters here and to the heat of seniors homes, which is where my accordion and I are headed today. I learned my lesson after the first few visits: wear as little as decently possible or perish in a pool of your own sweat! 
The home I'm playing at is a religious one; the staff are kind and the residents are the usual mix of avid and comatose. It is a birthday party: the lodge has a monthly party and celebrates the birthdays of everyone born in that particular month with music and cake. Wayne introduces each "celebrant", and also takes a moment to acknowledge the centenarians in the crowd. Wow, there are a number of people in the audience (all women, unsurprisingly; women live longer) who are over sixty years older than me, and I'm no longer a spring chicken. Some of the elders take a well-earned nap, but I hear a strong baritone singing along to "Blueberry Hill", and when I swing into "Hey Good-Lookin'" two ladies on my left clap and harmonize with glee. I try to pick a mix of unknowns and singalongs. "Danny Boy", which I have grown to like, always gets 'em. But the rock-'n'roll/country numbers like "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Oh Lonesome Me" get enthusiastic responses too. I am reminded again that unless they are the really old ones, today's seniors grew up listening to Chuck Berry and Elvis (time to add some of the King to my playlist I guess). 
When I get home I decide to take the old dog to the corner store with me, since bladder/bowel control are becoming things of the past for him these days. Probably the same for some of the folks I played for this afternoon, sadly. 
Waiting patiently to go back inside again.

You know what, though? I took him to the park this morning and he was a firecracker. Up to his old tricks; even did my favourite, where he grabs a big stick and manages to get the end of it wedged in under his collar so he can wrestle it into "submission" all by himself. Happy grin, bounce in his step. Amazing what makes us shed the years: a quick jaunt in the park, a 65 year-old chart-topper and we shed our layers of years and become young again, if only for a few minutes. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Epiphanies and Anniversaries

Dammit, body. You were supposed to spring into action around Epiphany, ready to start a new year of eating right and exercising hard. Instead...

It's been a hard week. Over a week, in fact, of being a congested, tired, achy, brain-foggy mess. At least I can console myself that everyone else in the city also has this virus right now. But worse, I started to feel my mood tipping into a dark place it hadn't been for a long time... hard not to feel that way when you're sick and the numbers in your bank account are slipping down past the safety zone, with no big job to push them back the other way. I was starting to feel as if I was standing on the crumbling edge of a cliff. I was/am too tired to exercise, too sick to watch every little thing I ate, too broke to afford a Grand Gesture or a fancy event to cheer myself up. The nagging voice of self-doubt started creeping in: How could I be loveable, with my straggly uncut hair showing months of roots (and grey), my belly rounded from holiday overindulgence, my tissue-reddened nose and glassy tired eyes? How will I ever make a living making music? Would I be forced to live forever as my brother's tenant, unable to afford my own apartment? Had I made the wrong decision in cutting myself off from the summer job and northern towns I love so much?

When my guy offered me a small, easy photography gig with a bit of money attached, I grew insecure and snappish, sure that I couldn't do what he needed, although he assured me that it was a simple job. Although I ended up doing it, I was needy and grumpy about the whole thing.
I decided we needed a date night, since I'd hardly seen my sweetheart since New Year's Eve. Although I'm still feeling gross, I rallied- 2 nights ago- and dressed up. Pretty skirt, classy fishnets with the seam, even curly hair, because I know he likes it. He called: he was feeling stir-crazy and wanted to get out. Maybe we could meet up earlier and go for a ride on the bike before dinner? I started seething, thinking of having to change out of my carefully-chosen outfit. I'd wanted to feel dressed-up and civilized, not climb on the back of a motorbike in the cold evening air... I snapped at him, unwilling to bend, to re-write the script in my head. Then I called back and apologized for snapping at him- "Did you snap at me?" he asked, puzzled. Again, the script I was writing in my head, the one called I Am A Terrible Girlfriend And He's Probably Going To Leave Me Tomorrow, was completely different from what was going on in his head, where he was feeling bad for being irritable at me because he'd had a frustrating day, and was just looking forward to seeing me and maybe taking me out for a spin because he knows I love riding on the back of his motorbike whenever I get the chance.

We met. His eyes gleamed at the skirt, the stockings and the curls. He parked the bike and we walked- me mincing a bit in unaccustomed heels- to the cheap but fun place I'd picked for us to eat at. And even though the bike broke down (later) and the movie we'd picked to go to was sold out, we managed to make our own fun. We always do. And the black mood that had sat with me for days slowly lifted. He loves being with me. He loves that I know the words for obscure things (he can't get over the fact that I knew that the word for a monk's shaved head is a tonsure). He drools at my fishnetted legs and curled hair, but is equally inclined to say "god you're hot" when I'm standing in front of him with bed-head, sweatpants and no makeup. He makes me laugh with his stories and his imitations of his friends, he draws me cartoons and plays my music for his friends; he takes me for motorbike rides and always, ALWAYS gives me the warmest gloves when we do, and insists that I borrow his hats when it's raining. I can't believe it's only been 3 months since we first met (in fact, it's exactly 3 months today).  It's time to stop writing those glum scripts in my head and try to roll with things a bit more. Because this one's a keeper.

One of my favourite bloggers has a post that touches on this as well. You can read it over here; it's what inspired me to write this post.

On a completely different note... the Oscar nominations are out!  I don't know why, but this year, I'm pretty excited about them (well, partly because Grand Budapest Hotel made the list and I think that it was a damn fine movie). Although I probably won't watch the Oscars (I'd rather watch paint dry, honestly), I DO want to spend the next couple of months watching as many of the nominated movies as possible, including the docs and the foreign films. When I do, I'll blog about it here. (I'm definitely inspired by this guy, who also worked up in Barkerville this summer, and who is a smart and funny writer.)  Hey, if nothing else, watching movies at home is something my guy and I both love to do together. And it's dirt cheap.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Two Thousand Fifteen


Happy 2015! Here at the chateau on 12th Avenue we are so very classy that we let cats sit on the table. Actually, it's not that we let her so much, it's that she just does.

In what was surely an auspicious start to the new year, I spent New Year's Eve with some of my best friends, playing music and chatting until the wee hours. I had the pleasure of seeing my guy mingling with my bandmates and getting along famously with them, which was just lovely. In the middle of playing a song I'd look over and see him smiling at me... it doesn't get any better than that. Then my friend Holly turned up because she was en route to Victoria from Salmon Arm and had nowhere to party while in Vancouver. I'd felt some anxiety about telling her she could come, as the uptight side of me thinks it's kind of rude to ask friends to someone else's party... I should've remembered the Law Of Holly, which is that she knows everyone. Within minutes of arriving, she was chatting away with some other people from Victoria and I was chiding myself for being uptight. Midnight came and The night/morning ended with my guy and I eating at the Naam (a 24-hour vegetarian restaurant that's been in Kits forEVER) at 3am, and getting to bed by about 4...

Needless to say it was a lazy day yesterday, although we did manage to go running... straight to East Is East, where we sipped spicy chai and warmed our hands before plunging back into the cold crisp sunshine and buying veggies. My guy had bought a turkey and he was determined to cook it. Although I'd had my fill of over-rich holiday food I could hardly deny him when he wanted to make it for me, and thanks to his paper-bag method of roasting it the turkey was moist, tender and crispy-skinned. I was flabbergasted, since a) I'd kind of assumed he wasn't much for cooking and b) his kitchen is so tiny and overstuffed that you couldn't swing a cat in it, so I didn't think that much good could come out of it. Despite my sleep-deprived bossiness in the micro-kitchen and the aforementioned lack of space we managed to prepare roast turkey, quinoa tabouleh and roasted veggies and still be on excellent terms by the end of it! We watched the appropriately epic The Man Who Would Be King and sipped martinis, and life was good.

Today dawned grey and cold. I unclasped myself from my guy's side and went home, clutching my spare clothes, an accordion, and a bag full of various turkey parts to make into soup... not a very fun journey on the bus (not to mention squeezing into our local Korean grocer for some veg)! I had kind of forgotten what a farce it can be, making sure you have the right instruments, clothes, etc with you when you go to your lover's house, and then dragging them all home again... But I made it, and turkey soup is now packed into several mason jars, some of which will eventually make the journey back to my guy's place the next time I head over there.

Here's hoping that 2015 started as well for you as it did for me.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Year in Review:2014

I can't believe I've not done this before;  it's been an amazing year and I'm going to go over each month and what happened...
January: I was living in an awesome sublet on Main Street. It was the start of a new year, and some things needed to change.  I received an email from my summer employers saying that they wanted me to lose some weight before my contract began in the spring. Although I was shocked and angry, that email did spark an urge for change in me, and I began to watch what I ate and how I exercised.  It was also a month to take stock of my finances and realize that things couldn't continue as they were.  It's an ongoing struggle, but I've become a little bit better about money since then. I also reconnected with my ex and we strengthened our friendship, and my new friend from Victoria-Holly- came and stayed with me while she took a course in Vancouver.
February: I said goodbye to the lovely sublet and moved in with my brother and sister-in-law just off Fraser Street.  Thanks to my summer employers, I got funding to take several courses, including Victorian martial arts, playwriting and first aid.  The first aid course was intense, and in the end I failed it, but I learned a lot. My resolve was strong and I continued to exercise and lose weight.
March: I got an amazing contract with Studio 58, composing music for a play.  I was able to see how far I'd come in terms of both competence and confidence during this job, and it was delightful. I explored my new neighborhood, crocheted tons of crafty things, and fell in love with my brother's new kitten.
April: once again I got ready to leave Vancouver while the city did its best to seduce me into staying. I continued to play music with Old Yeller, a group of friends and ex-boyfriends(!) who became a second family to me. My ex and I deepened our friendship and connection to each other, which laid some of the ghosts of guilt and sadness I'd been carrying around since we split in 2010. And I visited       my new friend Holly in Victoria, falling in love all over again with that city, and delighting in a new friendship.
May: back to Barkerville, and back into winter after Vancouver's spring. Old friends and new co-
workers. As always, the first month of work up there was isolated and busy, and it was only as the month drew to a close that we started to make tentative friendships outside of work. There were some changes to the town: new people running things and new employees.  We opened our school show and kept rehearsing for the main season. I fell in love with the double bass all over again.
June: I got to house-sit for some friends in their beautiful converted church. The rhythm of my summer job washed over me again and I settled back into the groove. We opened our main season shows and started to socialize with neighbors and fellow interpreters. The four of us who lived together became tighter and tighter as tensions at work drew us together. Spring and then summer arrived in the north. I rekindled my feelings for someone, only to realize once again that they were not returned.
July: the weather turned hot and sunny, and I had friends to enjoy it with! Margaret and I went running. Tanya and I discovered paddle boarding. It was a month of outdoor adventures and hard
work, and work could be a pretty intense place at times. Luckily we were all becoming experts in
letting off steam during our downtime.
August: this month was a highlight for me, beginning with ArtsWells (Dancing! Live music! New friends!), and ending with my 40th birthday, a delightful night which included a bonfire, cake, many friends, and hash brownies.  The four of us who lived together made friends with a wonderful gang of  people who became a delight to hang out with.  We rented a cabin on Bowron Lake and many of those friends dropped by and spent a wonderful day off with us, swimming and sunnbathing. Meanwhile, tensions at work increased until someone was let go. We had a new cast mate who became a fast friend, and work became fun again. Unfortunately this came too late for our employers, and one of them became very ill, necessitating changes to the show.
September: I moved into another house for the month, and my new friend Eve came too. It was a month of saying goodbye as people finished their contracts... But although it was a melancholy time there were moments of great joy: incredible hikes, trips to the big city (Prince George!), gatherings and adventures and the easing-off of work. Only one show a day as opposed to two. Sunny, crisp Autumn days watching the leaves turn almost overnight. Crazy late-season swimming. When my contract ended I stayed a few extra days but that was a mixed blessing as the last of my friends left town.
October: I paid a quick visit to Kelowna to visit my dad. Fit and healthy after an incredibly active summer, I returned to Vancouver and began work at the pumpkin patch. I also entered the world of online dating... Three dates in I met this motorcycle-driving dude at a coffeeshop. The moment he walked in I thought "wow", and the rest is history. Two months later we're still going strong and we're absolutely crazy about each other. I never expected this, and it's been a gift, every day.
November: I kissed my new guy goodbye and flew off to Oahu with my friend Tanya. Eight days of sun, surf and sharing a bed! And we're still speaking to each other!  As November ended I made the difficult decision not to return to Barkerville for my summer job. I still don't know what the new year will bring in terms of work, but I want to restart my career down here and see if I have what it takes to live in the big city year-round again. Several people I knew in Barkerville passed away, a sad shock.
December: I played accordion in an Italian christmas play and started rehearsals for a musical based on the video game Portal. A whole new world for me. My new guy continued to teach me how to love riding a motorbike, and how to be a girlfriend again after not being one for a long time.

When I think back over this year, what strikes me is how happy I was, even though there were financial difficulties and big changes and periods of loneliness throughout.  It was a happiness that began back in the fall of 2013 and just kept going. I had some wonderful gigs. I wrote some good songs. I travelled to some beautiful places and learned all over again the importance of exercise and a healthy diet. I met a lot of new friends and held on to them, even though we were separated by distance. I reconnected with a wonderful person from my high school days. I forged a tender and forgiving friendship with my most important ex. And in the last few months of the year I was surprised by something-by someone- wonderful. Someone who swoons when I sing, who made me a funny and saucy hand-drawn Christmas card, who wraps his arms around me and gives me rides on his motorbike and tells me true stories late into the night (and early into the morning too!).
Old and new, young and old, my friends give me strength, joy and support as I keep stumbling down this crazy road of life. They keep me excited about the future, even as I see the dangers and sadnesses that lie ahead: parents aging, money troubles, health issues, uncertainties and worries. I think that 2015 could be incredible. But even if it's not, I know I'll have the best people to hold my hand and get me through it.