2015/06/22

Seattle shines

It's not that the shine went off Seattle. It's only that ever since we started making the longer drive to Portland, we have tended to head back there more often than to our much closer neighbour. But our last two quick trips to Seattle made us realize how much we missed the city. So when I discovered that PINS, a band from Manchester, England, that I love, would be touring only as far as Seattle and not to Vancouver, I proposed a long weekend to Sweetie. I did not have to twist her arm.

We made one disconcerting discovery right away. It used to be possible to book decent Seattle hotels for a reasonable amount of money. No longer. The cost of nice places where we have stayed have suddenly leaped to several hundred dollars a night. Even hotels we know are decent at best have gone out of reach. We thought we might have to make this a trip where we drove down and back in one night. Thankfully, Airbnb came to our rescue. We found ourselves a lovely place on Capitol Hill for two nights for an amount we were willing to pay.

The nice apartment was also in a particularly good part of Capitol Hill, on the slope that leads to downtown. Lots of stuff nearby, and lots more not far away. One thing not far away is Sitka & Spruce, a fantastic farm-to-table restaurant in a little complex of shops (bottle, meat, sandwich, and more) owned by the same company. We've been to plenty of "fresh, local, seasonal" restaurants in Vancouver. They are among our favourites. But I think the chefs and owners might want to pay a visit to Sitka & Spruce. They're doing some really innovative, flavourful things. Morels on a big chunk of grilled sourdough bread with sherry cream and an egg yolk on top! That was just one of the fantastic dishes we had.

Dinner was early and the show we were going to wasn't until later, so we walked up to Broadway to check out Sweetie's old 'hood (when she was in grad school at U Dub). Some things are the same as we remembered—Annapurna Indian Restaurant, the Rite Aid drug store (the one with the old movie theatre marquee), the QFC supermarket, but so much else has changed. We have since learned that the huge construction project east of Broadway just south of E. John St. will be a light rail station connecting to the U District, Downtown, and SeaTac Airport. And there are many empty storefronts on Broadway. We walked by a restaurant and said aloud, "Is that where Minnie's used to be?" A couple eating outside said, "You're the third people walking by who've said that." We got a good laugh out of that.

Later it was time to head to the SoDo Lounge to see PINS. That was a bit of an adventure. The SoDo Lounge is south of Safeco Field, where the Mariners play. Sound Transit got us to a point east of the stadium, maybe a mile from the club. We wended our way through a mostly empty land of bus and train stations and huge highway overpasses, skirted past the stadium (where there was a game on), and finally made it to our destination.

The SoDo is a newish room, a bit sterile but with clean bathrooms (an advantage of new, sterile clubs) and overpriced drinks. It's a good-sized room, and sadly only a few dozen people made it for the show. Shades of the Electric Owl last fall. I'm beginning to think I'm a jinx for this band! But just as then, PINS played a great show, and the people there were enthusiastic. After the show we chatted with guitarist Lois (whom I had met in Vancouver), drummer Sophie, and bass player Anna. They are the nicest people! I feel bad that I was drunk when I had intended only to get a buzz on. I probably did not give the best impression. I'm sure they put up with drunken fans, but I don't want to be that fangirl.

I felt much worse the next day. You know how we say, "I can't drink like I used to"? That's a real thing. This was way beyond a hangover. Nasty headache, unrelenting nausea, and a lethargy that kept me from moving very far from the bed. A stupidly wasted day. I finally asked Sweetie to Google "alcohol poisoning." It wasn't that, of course, but she found "alcohol intolerance"—the kind of thing that is often genetic but that also sometimes develops when you get...old. Ugh. But the best thing was that she found a remedy—chicken soup. Seriously! I needed to get myself up and out, so I slowly wandered to a convenience store and got a Cup o' Noodles. The combination of ramen and chicken-flavoured broth (and seemingly not too much MSG) was magic.

Later, with me cured, we headed out to the Egyptian Theater, now run by the Seattle International Film Festival. We saw The Wolfpack, a great documentary. Check it out. We then did a kind of Broadway nostalgia tour and ended up at Pagliacci Pizza for slices and salad. Not quite the dinner at Altura that we had had to cancel due to my idiocy, but still fun.

We finished our weekend on Sunday morning with a great breakfast at Glo's Cafe. The place is tiny, and even fairly early there was a wait (it was Father's Day after all), but the food was worth the wait. I had an eggs benedict variant with bacon, spinach, and grilled tomato that was very satisfying. The hollandaise was outstanding! And they were generous with the hash browns. We also discovered a great habañero sauce (for the hash browns) called Secret Aardvark, which is apparently from Portland. We bought a bottle to take home.

We were sad to leave, but we have already booked the same Airbnb for early fall. The owner gets two thumbs up from us! We will still be back in Portland, of course, but it was nice to get reacquainted with Seattle and with the changing Capitol Hill neighbourhood. And next time we will make it to Altura and the Seattle Aquarium!

2015/06/11

Farewell, my lovelies

I have a choir-shaped hole in my heart. This has been a difficult entry to write.

This past weekend, Femme City Choir put on two fantastic shows at the York Theatre in East Vancouver. I think we did our best shows to this point. I loved the repertoire, and we used more arrangements created by our musical director, who is a brilliant arranger. The band and the singers worked very well together. The solos were great! I got to sing a duet on the first verse of "Dreams So Real" by Metric (I love Metric) which then turned into a sextet to finish the song. It was glorious.

The Saturday show was also my last official show with the choir.

It was a difficult decision to leave. In many ways, I really did not want to. Choir has been both enjoyable and useful for me. I love the people involved in it. I love how much we have improved in less than two years and through growth from about 15 to more than 40 members. Choir has been very good for my singing voice and my breath control. And every Thursday evening, choir practice was an excuse to wear something nice. It's femme choir, right?

If time were infinite, or at least more plentiful, I probably would not have left. But at some point during the last couple of weeks, I realized that I had not touched my guitar for longer than I could remember. I had scribbled some lyrics and actually finished a couple of songs, but they were almost flukes, because I hadn't really been working on them. I had barely practised with my drummer and partner in V+T, our duo.

I am also now involved in another volunteer activity that it important to me, and that takes time and focus as well. And I have new plantings to tend. And cooking to get better at. And books to read. Something had to give.

It's sad for me no longer to be a part of the choir for musical reasons, but at least as much because of people. Being the social critter that I am, I fear losing connections. I won't be at practice every week. I won't automatically see a lot of these lovely people. I only hope that the connections I have formed will endure. There are definitely people I don't want to lose touch with. Farewell ("fare thee well") but not goodbye, I hope.

I also have to make sure not to get lazy. When you're part of something like the choir—someone else's band, in a way—you're like an employee. You show up. You participate. You do your job, and you make a contribution. But you're not the boss, and it's not your responsibility to run. Now I'm back to being more like a freelancer. I have to hustle. I have to be disciplined. I've never been as good at either of those as I need to be. But now is the time for me to step up. Among other reasons, I said I was leaving choir to make music, and by George I had better have something to show for it soon!

I love my band most, but I'm having fun writing and playing solo songs as well. Catch me at the open mic night at the Heartwood Cafe on June 24th?

2015/05/21

Life after life

So I was going to write about how all the critics were wrong in saying that Don Draper in the Mad Men finale was actually dreaming up the iconic "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" Coke ad while he was seemingly blissing out in California. I was sure that was wrong because the origin of that ad is well known and documented, and series creator Matthew Weiner had not previously done that much fictionalization of history.

But apparently that was exactly what Weiner had in mind. He thinks the Coke commercial is the greatest ad ever, and so of course Don was behind it. Which makes zero sense to me. But Don is Weiner's character, and if Weiner thinks the height of enlightenment is an ad that co-opted the idealism of the 1960s to sell caffeinated sugar water, well, that's his prerogative. And it's mine as a loyal viewer who thought the show pretty much rocked to think that he's a bloody idiot for having Don's journey finish that way. To borrow a '60s phrase, it feels like a cop-out.

Anyway, since Mad Men is done, and done in such a way that makes me care less about it (at least Peggy and Joan's stories came out okay), I'll move on to something else.

A little over a lunar cycle ago, on the day of the new moon, I made a sacrifice to my goddess. Really, an actual sacrifice, in more ways than one. I hope she appreciated it. I had already been making changes in my life. On that new moon, I resolved to make more changes, including some important ones.

The first two weeks were a bit rough. Good days, bad days, bad hours within good days and vice versa. Going cold turkey off something that has been integral to your life is not for the faint of heart. But as I relearned how to love my real life, there were good things that helped me along. Saw an excellent local production of My Fair Lady. Saw a very good documentary about clothing production called Traceable and got to catch up with two of my favourite local fashion people. Had a great dinner at Fable that was part of Eat Vancouver and met two lovely guys who later invited Sweetie and me over for dinner at their house. Enjoyed some Doxa (documentary festival) films and the excellent documentary about Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck. Saw a great show by Sleater-Kinney at the Commodore. Had more dinners with more friends. And drank too much only a couple of times.

I hope my friends know how much I appreciate their love and support through all of this. They mean the world to me—people I've been able to spend time with as well as people whom I would like to see but for various reasons (including distance) have not been able to see. I received a beautiful note from someone far away who is very dear to me. I have been touched many times by small acts of generosity and kindness. And through it all, my beloved Sweetie has been there with her strength and love.

I'm also grateful for other things that have kept me out of trouble and helped me rebuild. Femme City Choir has a pair of shows coming up very soon—June 5 and 6! (Hint: buy tickets.) Songs and choreography don't learn themselves. I volunteer for Out On Screen, the organization that produces the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, and it's one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable things I do. Tomorrow, I will take delivery of a whole lot of new native plants for my garden, which I will place according to a plan drawn up by an excellent landscaper who really knows his BC native plants.

I'm still a work in progress. The quest for balance and harmony are constant. How could I ever have thought otherwise? I suppose some people reach a point where they settle into comfortable complacency. Sometimes I want to be one of them. Fortunately, my goddess won't let me. Even though I get weary sometimes, I appreciate the nudges and sometimes kicks. If I stopped moving, stopped trying, stopped caring, I'd be dead, right? Not ready for that yet.

2015/05/19

Répétez, s'il vous plaît

C'est un mystère et boule de gomme.

Je ne sais pas pourquoi, mais récemment, je me trouve avec un désir fort de parler français. Dans le voiture, souvent j'écoute Radio-Canada, quelquefois CBUX (classique, jazz), quelquefois CBUF (comme Radio One en français). J'essais à écouter bien pour comprendre l'animateur et les autres parleurs.

Vous voyez, ça c'est ma faiblesse. Je peux lire un texte en français sans trop de difficulté. Je peux écrire en français, lentement et pas sans fautes mais pas mal. Je peux parler aussi pas mal, avec un bon accent. Mais quand quelqu'un me répond?

Souvent, je ne comprend rien.

Oui, ça me fait hônteuse. Les gens me disent, "Your name is so French! Do you speak it?" et il me faut répondre avec "un peu." Un peu—une expression terrible. "Un peu" veut dire "pas vraiment."

Ce n'est pas de ma faute que mes parents ont parlé français rarement chez nous. Ce n'est pas de ma faute que dans tous les cours de français—à l'école primaire, à l'école secondaire, même à l'université—j'ai appris comment réussir aux examins et c'est tout. Et c'était bon que, après trop d'années, j'ai enfin participé à un cours d'immersion, à Jonquière (Saguenay), où presque personne ne parlent anglais. Mais après ces trois semaines, rien. J'ai perdu tant que j'avais appris.

Ma vie est bien chargée. Je ne fais pas le temps de trouver un groupe de conversation. Je ne cherche pas des autres avec qui je pouvais parler français. Mais maintenant, ai-je un désir assez fort?

2015/05/04

Fortnight

Until you start climbing out of a hole, you don't always know how deep it is. I knew I had had a rough winter. I just didn't know how bad it was, because it hadn't felt that bad. But it might have been the worst ever.

Curiously, although I have a certificate in counselling and have benefited from psychotherapy in the past, I didn't seek help this time. I'm not sure why, especially considering how bad this was. I guess I found help in other ways—my Sweetie, my friends, music, writing. Thinking and reflecting. I guess I found some resources within myself too.

Last night was the full moon, half a lunar cycle from when I stopped self-medicating with something I love far too much and have never been able to control. I knew that even though meds were isolating me and robbing me of self-confidence, they also created a cozy life. Not one that I wanted any longer, but cozy and safe nonetheless. I was under no illusion that going cold turkey was going to be the answer to getting out of the hole. But I knew it was a necessary beginning.

The past fortnight has indeed sometimes been difficult. I find myself on the edge of tears more often than is normal even for Ms. Highly Sensitive Person. I still have a long way to go to rebuild the life I want to have. Climbing out of the hole is a bitch, and sometimes I slide backwards. But I'm not giving up.

There were good things during the climb. Sweetie and I saw a fantastic production of My Fair Lady put on my our local musical theatre. We saw an excellent film called Traceable about how we so rarely know where our clothes really come from and how many hands they have passed through, but that technology makes this increasingly possible. We had an amazing dinner at Fable put on my Fable's executive chef, Trevor Bird, with the chef who won his season of Top Chef Canada, Carl Heinrich. We met a couple there with whom we will get together again! Despite a cold, I successfully auditioned for a solo (duet really) at the upcoming Femme City Choir concerts. And we saw a very good film at Doxa (documentary festival) called Tab Hunter Confidential about what it was like for one man to be a closeted teen idol in the 1950s.

A fortnight can't change everything, but you can't get where you want to go without the first step, and the next step, and however many more it takes. I'm not looking back.

2015/04/10

Wild things

Since I have been writing more, I thought I would be publishing more blog posts. Unsurprisingly, however, a lot of what I'm writing is just working stuff out, a way of thinking out loud. Not for publication. Either I don't want to share it or it's interesting only to me or both.

It feels good to have some of the time back that I was spending, especially on Facebook. It feels bad to be in so little touch with what is happening in the lives of people I care about. I had expected both of those feelings. But I have to keep my time reduced indefinitely.

I seem to be in a shell. I don't like it much, but I hope it's part of the healing and growing process and not a deep hole that I won't get out of. I haven't been reaching out, which is what I am normally wont to do. No one is reaching in. Maybe everyone is used to me being the instigator. Maybe they think I need alone time.

Not really. It's my online social networking that I have to curtail while I find the right balance, not actual social networking. I always want personal connections, perhaps more than others want from me. I know I can be kind of intense sometimes.

The beneficiary of my solitude has been my native perennial garden. Thanks to the amazing weather stretching back into winter and many doses of herbal tolerance for tediousness, I have removed most of the early crop of weeds. The insidious ground cover that crawls between other plants and makes huge mats where it has no competition, the creeping buttercup (not doing well this year due to dryness), and dandelions galore, as well as plantain, clover, old turf grass, and all that stuff with no name. And the ubiquitous and relentless maple tree sprouts. I've done this by getting down and dirty, on my knees or butt or whatever position is not too painful for the time it takes to clear all the weeds within reach.

Being up close and personal with my plants and with the soil has taught me a lot about the pico-ecosystems we have around this house, the drier areas and the ones with more moisture, the sunny spots (more of them since we had to have a large red cedar removed).

I'm also learning about what makes these plants happy. I started this garden 12 years ago, and most of the perennials have been in for at least eight years. I sited them according to advice from native plant guides, watered them until they were established (2-3 years), and then mostly left them alone. If they are sited correctly, they should do well, without any water other than rain (look up xeriscaping).

Some species didn't make it. Some struggled, and some still do. Some thrived and even expanded their range. Some died in the spot in which they were planted but sprang up elsewhere. Some thrived, withered, and are coming back, which could be a natural cycle.

I never intended to have anything even close to a formal garden. But I always made sure it was fairly domesticated. I liked my paths and rock borders, the neat beds with mulch between, and each plant where I could see and identify it. You wouldn't know it by looking at my desk, but I am an orderly person, sometimes to a fault.

Imposed order is not how these plants grow in the wild. And I wondered if I could let things go more wild without the garden becoming too messy--this is a house lot in a city, after all, not an actual sanctuary. But maybe it was time to see where the plants, the successful ones, wanted to go. I tried to give them a good start, but they know best how to thrive.

So I have started to let the herbaceous perennials become an experiment in evolutionary fitness. I'm watching various species share space with other species. I'm watching some move into areas where they weren't planted but that could use some foliage. I'm seeing some take leaps into new areas.

I'm not letting nature take its course entirely. I have a suspicion that wild strawberry might run the world if given the chance. That's certainly true for Nootka rose. That guy has serious roots. Its job is to pop up in places near and far, and my job is to keep it in check. As well, I prune the smaller trees and shrubs, sometimes quite hard, thus treating them more like domesticated garden plants. But in most parts of the garden I am now letting things happen. I shall watch closely to see what actually does happen.

Is this some kind of metaphor for my life? I sweah ta gawd, even though I started by writing that prologue, I did not expect to write an epilogue as well. I have no idea if it's a metaphor. But a tarot reading gave me lots to think about. Why shouldn't the plants in my care and the place where they live do so as well? I have always been mostly a "bloom where you're planted" kind of person, but maybe I'm getting fussier in my old age. Or maybe it's just that I have less time left and want to spend it in a way that's good for me. Some places, some situations, some fellow human beings will help me to grow and thrive more than others. Maybe I've tried to grow where I might do okay but will never thrive. Maybe I resist shifting to better soil, or maybe there is a barrier. Maybe if I find soil and fellow plants that are good for me, I'll make the best foliage and flowers ever.

2015/03/31

All the feels

I read a ton of stuff on the interwebs. But I usually avoid anything with even a whiff of click bait. And that's a ton of avoiding. Trying to make money by creating nothing is a practice as old as humanity, but I have my own tradition of letting them get their clicks elsewhere.

So either I had ignored links about Highly Sensitive People or just hadn't paid much attention. It's not that I'm against labels and categories. They're just words, and words are how we communicate and distinguish different things in the world. If a label fits, then there's nothing wrong with it. But I'm also not big on saying "I'm a Capricorn" or "I'm ENFP" the way some people do so that others can know how they define themselves. Too facile.

As well, I have never thought of myself as being exceptional. I'm part of a sexual minority, but I'm also white, middle-ish class, able-bodied, and a whole slew of other "normal" categories. Even my blood type is as normal as can be. So I belong to a lot of majorities, and I have always been reluctant to claim any kind of "special" status. And saying that you're more sensitive than most seems special to the point of bragging.

A while ago, however, a friend posted something about Highly Sensitive People, and I decided to look into it. I found a test. Unsure whether the test was legitimate or not, I checked off the boxes that applied to me, and I found that according to that test, I was just inside the category of Highly Sensitive People, which describes about one in five people. When I told Sweetie, with some surprise, that I seemed to be a Highly Sensitive Person, her response was "Duh!" She said she had always known that. How did I not know? It's really just that I never thought of myself that way and never knew that it was an actual classification of human beings. And that it wasn't bragging. It was just reality.

I did some more research and found an article on the Huffington Post. As I read through the list, I teared up. In item after item, I saw myself. And of course I teared up, right? Duh indeed.

I have long wondered why things like art, music, drama, stories, and sometimes just life in general affect me so strongly. I thought it was odd that people seemed not to be affected by things that brought me to tears or shook me to the core. Sweetie is like me in that aspect as well. But as it turns out, it's not so odd for people to feel things less strongly than I do. I'm in the minority.

I don't think HSP is an explanation for everything about me. I'm neither that simple nor a stereotype. But it has certainly informed how I look at myself in relation to the world. It is always my goal to evaluate things critically, but it's hard to ignore the thrill of recognition.

The ability to feel more strongly and deeply must be a good thing, right? A meter that is more sensitive is usually better than one that is less so. But people are not meters. Being HSP feels fine to me, probably because it's just part of who I am and I accept it, but it's not easy dealing with it. Psychic pain is still pain. It's hard for me to be resilient. It's hard for me not to have fear. And it's far too easy for me to self-medicate as a way of building a cushion around myself.

Understanding about HSP doesn't automatically mean I will deal with it more effectively, but I think understanding can help. When you're trying to live mindfully, awareness is a definite plus.