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.

Monday, June 29, 2015


I woke up this morning to a city shrouded in smoke from northern forest fires. Maybe the campfire smell drifted in to me as I slept, because I dreamed of Barkerville early this morning. 
I wrote about it- the fires and the dreams- on Facebook this morning, and a Barkerville friend commented, saying "you are missed here" and when I went to reply I felt my eyes fill. 

My summer job this year is a lot of fun. It has built my confidence, showed me where I need to improve, given me new contacts in a new city. All valuable things. I love Saskatoon, where we are rehearsing, and I think I'll love Rosthern, where we will move in a week's time to open the show and perform for four weeks. The converted train station where the show will run is beautiful; the town itself could be found in the dictionary under Small Towns, (Prairie version). The show itself is a fun little crowd-pleaser with some pretty music and the cast is delightful. Our director is an ambitious, talented guy from Vancouver; another great contact and a good person to work with. I have been happily aware, ever since I started here, that the stomach-churning self-doubt and fear that used to haunt me before and during rehearsals is largely gone now. I am working on a very pleasant, very professional show, and I have no regrets about saying no to another summer in my gold rush town, except that I miss all the people who took me into their hearts while I was there, and are so dear to me. 

Every performer should have a life-altering gig or two on their resume, and Barkerville was mine.  

I biked down canyons, walked up mountains, ran along the lake with a weather eye peeled for bears. I heard music, wrote music, played it alone and with friends. I felt the adrenaline rush of love and the aching sadness of losing it. I took direction, took bows, missed cues, painted the stage floor, washed dishes, created dialogue, learned music and lines. I survived drama; I created drama. I broke rules, I bitched, I said "if only such-and-such was different"; I said "never again" and then I went back year after year to do it again because I couldn't imagine doing anything else. The intensity of living and working with the same people in an isolated environment for five months was a kind of geology: a slow intense grinding pressure and heat that created gold. Like rock, I cracked open- painfully- time and again, and like rock I re-formed. I will never be the same. I wouldn't want to be. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Little Show on the Prairie.

Oak trees and old houses, flat wide streets and hot dry air, even after the rain.
The day I landed here I walked and walked, trying to take it all in. I've been walking ever since. (Mostly because it's sunny and why wouldn't I, but also because I haven't bothered to figure out the bus system yet.) Yesterday the stage manager and I walked to work together and a street vendor was giving away (!) waffles with bacon cooked right into them as a promotion and we agreed that that was pretty much the best walk ever.
The North Saskatchewan River.
This city has a sturdy devotion to baked goods- in particular ones filled with Saskatoon Berries- and like most of Canada except BC, they are masters of the mighty Butter Tart. It's a good thing I'm walking lots.
There's a lot about Saskatoon that reminds me of Toronto, or maybe it's just that it's more like Toronto than Vancouver. Less fir trees. Older houses. No mountains. Obviously Saskatoon doesn't have the mega-city thing going on though. It's actually pretty small; way smaller than Vancouver.
Work is rewarding and fun; sometimes I feel wise, sometimes I feel like a fool. Often on the same day. The thing is, it doesn't bother me anymore. I've accepted that there are things that I'm good at and things that I could improve upon but I don't question why I'm here, or think that I can't do the work. I am comfortable in my own skin, and this makes me happy. It's been a long time coming, this confidence, and I am all the more grateful for it because of that.
Plus I get to live with this guy. Life is good. 
The Sturdy Stone Centre. WTF? Don't look at the giant circle too long or it will hypnotize you. 
I love old building ads.