The year of living agerously

There's nothing magic about the number 60. We attribute significance to numbers that end in a zero only because we use a base-10 numbering system. I can flash all the fingers on my hand six times to show it. I do like the fact that 60 is five dozen. I imagine the ancient Babylonians would have dug that.

Not that very many of them would have made it to five dozen years. I'm lucky to live in 21st century North America.

It's not like I turned 60 and suddenly was old. But somehow, 60 has a psychological weight that none of the previous zero years has had. I can't remember 10. At 20 I was in a haze, somewhere between work and university. At 30, I wondered how I was going to tell my mother that I was going to keep playing in a rock band. At 40, I moved from Boston to the other coast and another country. By 50, I was just starting to get a good handle on Vancouver, and it would take a few years more before I really hit my stride here (Vancouver is a tough nut to crack, at lease when you're a somewhat older "new kid"). But overall, my 50s have been the best decade ever.

Now what can I make of my 60s?

So far, my body seems not to know that 60 isn't some magical turning point. I have been very fortunately healthy for most of my life, but ever since the beginning of this year, I have felt pain in various and sundry parts of me. It's uncanny how it started only days after my birthday. My job has me sitting down way too much, and we know now that sitting is really bad for you. I do get up as much as possible, and I walk a lot, but my right leg especially has been giving me trouble. There are times when I'm driving that the pain shoots from my hip right into my foot. I'm learning pain-management techniques because I have to.

Both knees have their good and bad times. I often feel pain in my shoulders and arms. I've finally started to realize that I can't haul quite as much as I once could, or if I can, I will pay for it later. I've started to add glucosamine sulfate to my daily regime. It never helped my elbow a while back, because that was a strained ligament, but it seems to be helping now. That's good news, but also bad news, because it means that at least some of that pain is from inflammation. And you know what joint inflammation is called.

Yep, me and Wayne Gretzky. I think maybe he's earned his osteoarthritis a bit more than I have.

There are other occasional system failures, but for the most part nothing has stopped me from being active. I suck at exercise, but I'm good at staying in motion in other ways. I can still tend my garden, although not for as long at a time. I've lugged plenty of equipment around, although more carefully than I once would have.

In some ways, I'm more active than I ever have been. I have two bands. I sing in a choir. I just finished my fourth volunteer gig of the year, and I want to get more involved in this last one. I'm less of a dilettante than I once was and passionate about and more focused on things I'm really interested in—music, cooking and food, fashion, politics. And despite being far past both my sexual prime and my sexual attractiveness, if anything I think about sex more than ever.

Nudge nudge.

In many ways, I feel stronger than I ever have. The young often feel invulnerable because life seems to go on forever. But life for young people can also be confusing and painful and even full of fear. When you're my age, much less can touch you. I know that I won't live forever. I am not afraid.

Time for some of that bucket list stuff that I've been putting off? Sweetie and I went to Italy this past spring, and I think we're going to try to travel a bit more if we can afford to. A passage to India, finally? First skydive, maybe? A bungie jump? Isolation tank? I am seriously looking forward to retirement, not to settle into a rocking chair but rather to do more things of my own choosing.

Age has its privileges. I got my first senior benefit just last night. Sweetie and I went with her sister and her sister's wife to the Richmond Night Market. It was our first time at this crazy thing modelled on the crowded, lively night markets of places like Hong Kong. For them, "senior" is 60 or older. We got to jump the long queue and get in for free! Jealous?


When the rain comes

I have so many partially written blog posts. That's all I have been able to achieve lately. I blame those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. If you are not in or near Vancouver, you might not know that we are having one of the most beautiful summers ever, or at least since I moved here just over 20 years ago. We've been through three heat waves and we might not be done yet. I'm not talking "hot for these parts," which isn't like prairie hot or Toronto hot. I'm talking seriously hot, as in 36° C on my way home yesterday. And we're near the coast. If you don't do metric, I'll just say that 37° C is about body temperature.

This is my second of two days off. My boss was away last week, and when the cat's away, it's not playtime. I become the unofficial cat in many ways. I worked hard last week, and the boss was kind enough to approve this tiny bit of stay-cation as he returned from his time off. Yesterday, on maybe the hottest day of the year so far, I was at the beach with one of my dearest friends, soaking up sun and chatting. She is such wonderful company, and her friendship is invaluable to me. Despite the fact that whoever was cooking at a certain favourite West Side all-day-breakfast place doesn't know how to make home fries ("for this reason, you have been chopped"), I had a wonderful day.

Today is a quiet day. The heat broke, and much as I love hot weather, I am enjoying the feel of cool air through the open window and the sight of a gentle rain falling on the thirsty earth. Something about the rain breaking the heat reminds me of Sweetie's and my beloved Hanalei on Kauai. We have stayed there only a total of three weeks over seven years, but I ache for it. We wonder whether we might actually retire there or at least be able to spend more time. I am enjoying the feel of caffeine circulating through my body. Yes, it's a drug. Is there anyone who doesn't self-medicate in some way? We all want to feel good. We all want to feel at peace.

I wrote once before that I am not often strongly affected by the loss of a celebrity. That time, it was Davy Jones of the Monkees, and that loss felt personal because he was so much a part of my growing up. The loss of Robin Williams feels different but no less sad. I actually did meet him once, on the set of Jumanji, because he loved to meet people. He made every extra feel like a person whose contribution he valued, even if we were just background. Not typical star behaviour! I was never a Mork and Mindy fan, but I loved Williams's improvisational comedy. He was a huge fan of Jonathan Winters, another troubled but brilliant improvisational comic. I didn't realize until I saw Dead Poets Society, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Awakenings what a fine dramatic actor Williams was. Awakenings is high on my list of favourite films. He was even successful playing very much against type as a creepy obsessive film developer in One Hour Photo. The man had talent to burn.

All of my psychological conditions are subclinical, but on occasion they have been severe enough that I have sought help. Fortunately, I got help. Still, I have thought many a time that it might be for the best to lose consciousness and never wake up. Curiously, I have even felt this when I am feeling particularly good, because I know it can't last. It's the impulse to go out on a high, to keep happiness forever, and not to hear the other shoe drop. I don't know if that's weird or not. As well, sometimes, life feels overwhelming.

Don't worry about me though. I have never gone to ideation. I actually love life and, at least for now, want to keep living it.

But I understand what might lead a person to end their life. If someone can never find peace in life, and they need at least some moments of peace, then certainly the sleep of death achieves the goal. Or perhaps there is just too much pain or confusion or turmoil. Some thrive, some cope, some get by with help, and some feel they can't go on. We all die. Some just decide to hasten the process, and we feel the loss all that much more acutely.

I will stay quiet today. I will take care of some chores. Even working, I will enjoy the day off. And later, I will go rehearse with my choir section to prepare for our opening slot on Friday. Singing is some of the best self-medication I know.


Pride goeth (and cometh)

It's that time of year again: Vancouver Pride Week, with the big Pride weekend almost here. This is when I ask myself things such as, how queer do I feel? Which events will I get up the energy to go to? Which events will I miss and regret not having gone to? Where will I be with friends? Where will I feel lonely?

Being bisexual and femme, maybe I ask these questions more than many other queer people would. Or maybe it's just me. It's true that I spend much of my time in a fairly heteronormative world. Most of my closest friends are straight. I belong to a book club where I'm reasonably sure I'm the only one who's queer.

Even though I'm at ease in the wide world and pretty much myself no matter where I am, it's probably true that I am most at home and most myself among queer people. There are things I can talk about with queer people that aren't usually, shall we say, topics of polite conversation. At least not among most women. I love the openness with my queer friends. I love the freedom.

And yet sisterhood is not automatic. I've been at queer events where I felt very much the outsider because I wasn't already hanging out with one or more people. Cliques are not a heterosexual thing. We are not always one big happy queer family. Having one thing in common, even if that's a pretty big thing and much broader than just who one finds attractive, does not mean there are not other barriers.

I have made a lot of new connections since last Pride. It will be interesting to see how strong they are. I'm hoping for a good Pride! I'm planning on having fun and being fun.

There's a lovely backup even if Pride isn't what I might hope for: the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. That really does feel like one big family among staff members, volunteers, and film goers. I'm very much looking forward to that.


Our home on native land

Hardly original, but very much on point on this Canada Day, the 147th anniversary of Confederation.

Hanging out with younger people, not just in Femme City Choir but also in and around Girls Rock Camp Vancouver and other activist groups, has made me more aware of political issues that I had previously either overlooked or not taken seriously enough. I have always been liberal, but liberals can sometimes exist in a bubble of privilege. There are times that I think the kids go too far, and not always with wisdom, but that's how I was at their age too. And they are a whole lot better informed than I was. They have plenty to teach me.

So let's talk aboriginal land rights. I'm proud of the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that the Tsilhqot'in First Nation holds title to its traditional lands in central British Columbia. The decision is firmly grounded in constitutional law and precedent, all the way back to the Royal Proclamation, 1760, which stated that the only legal way for European settlers to live in British North America was to negotiate land rights with those who held title. Two hundred fifty years later, the SCC finally said flat out that a great deal of the land non-native people are living on does not belong to them.

British Columbia is an especially egregious example of this, since so few treaties have been concluded here. The City of Vancouver made a recent acknowledgment that the land the city sits on is part of the traditional territory of three First Nations, none of which has ceded the rights to that land. It's a start.

So although I'm proud to be Canadian, and I do celebrate the birthday of Canada, I'm feeling a little subdued. We can't continue to ignore land claims. We can't continue to pretend that native people don't have rights to the land we occupy. We can't continue to act is though our ancestors did not colonize land that was never legally alienated from its rightful owners. If King George III and his government in the 18th century understood that, surely we can too.

We can't turn back the clock. We can't undo hundreds of years of history. Descendents of settlers and immigrants are not going to head back to Europe and Asia and Africa. But we must find a way to move forward together, not as colonizers, not by imposing power, but in a way that respects most especially the rights of those who were here before us.


A gift from the goddess

I'm feeling rather sober this morning.

Double entendre intended. I am of course not drunk. It's before 9 o'clock. I'm not even hung over. But last night I was not sober. I went to a club. I had a couple of drinks. I purposely stopped drinking well before I left the club and got in my car. I felt fine. My head was clear. I had no trouble driving.

It's funny how choices work. I always say that my goddess is metaphorical, but sometimes I wonder.

There are a few ways I could have driven from the club to the highway. My favourite was not really available because a large section of road is under construction to the point of being closed. I might have gone around the closed section and still joined the highway at the usual spot. That's a favourite route (at least when the road is open all the way) not only because there are few traffic lights but also because it's very unlikely that I would encounter a roadblock. Think about that reasoning.

I could also have driven the way I would have if I had been going around the closed road, and then instead of turning to get back on the open section I had just kept going. There are a lot of traffic lights in that direction, but it was late, and I wasn't in any big hurry. There probably wouldn't have been a roadblock in that direction either.

Instead of those two choices, I cut across Chinatown and took a route that zigs and zags a bit but is normally a pretty efficient way to get onto the highway. There are also a few service stations along that route, and I stopped to top up the tank at one of them. Gas prices are hitting record highs in these parts, and this one had a slightly lower price, so I took advantage of that.

By the time I reached the on-ramp to the highway, it had probably been at least an hour and a half since I'd had a drink, maybe more. Certainly not less. I noticed that traffic was backed up on the ramp. I thought about going straight, which is a slightly slower but reasonable alternative when there's a hold-up on the highway. I thought the backup was due to construction, which has continued on some nights well past when it was supposed to have been completed. I joined the lineup, thinking I wouldn't remain stuck for long.

I didn't recognize it for what it was—an RCMP roadblock—until I was committed.

They weren't letting anyone through without a stop. A member told me to pull over. She asked where I had been, and I told her. She asked if I had been drinking, and I told the truth, including the timing. She demanded my licence and then told me to get out of the car and walk to a point behind a police vehicle. There, she read a formal statement about suspicion of drinking and driving and then explained how the breathalyzer worked. I blew. We waited for the number.

We both saw the number come up. She told me what the legal limit was. My number was a fraction over that. But then she said that she was satisfied that I was fit to drive. I was surprised, but I wasn't going to go checking out the dental work of that gift horse. I got back into my car and drove away.

Just so you know, the cop was unfailingly polite through this whole thing. Firm, but polite. There is a reason that we respect the Mounties, despite some recent incidents. For the most part, they are consummate professionals. Maybe that was one reason why I remained curiously calm through the entire procedure.

If, if, if. If I had had my last drink a bit later, if I had left the club a little sooner, maybe even if I hadn't stopped for gas, my weekend might have been very different. The penalty for blowing over the limit when it's your first offence (as it would have been) is a roadside suspension. They would have impounded my car and taken my licence for 24 hours. I would not now be preparing to drive to the farmers market, the first stop in my usual Saturday morning routine.

If I had driven either of the other ways toward the highway, I would not have encountered the roadblock, and I doubt there was another in the area. You might think that would have been a happier outcome. I was calm during the ordeal, but it was still stressful. And yet, let's just call it what it is: a wake-up call. And a gift, not just from the Mountie, but from the goddess.

Decades ago, before I moved to Vancouver, a guy with whom I'd played in a band got busted for drinking and driving. He had to go to "drunk school"—mandatory classes. That was an early wake-up call. I changed my behaviour. I became more cautious. But not cautious enough. I knew it. I knew I had been on the road when I could easily have blown over the limit, with no margin for error. And however you feel about cops, I think we can all agree that operating a vehicle when you're not really in shape to do so can have tragic consequences, all too often for innocent parties. I never want to cause harm to anyone, myself included, because my judgment and reaction time are impaired by alcohol.

I already take transit when I know I will want to drink more than would be safe for driving. But clearly my calculations of safety have been a bit off. I'm still not likely to go completely sober even when I have to drive home, but I will need to drink less, or allow more time, or a combination of the two. I might still drive the route out of town that is less likely to have a roadblock because it's a good way to go. But if I am pulled over again, I am going to make sure I know that I will pass the test. And we'll all be safer for that. I was given a second chance. I don't expect a third.


Femme-tastic choir

Well, what do you know, I have a blog. I hadn't forgotten about it, but I wouldn't blame you if you thought I had. Just not feeling blog writing lately, I guess. I've never gone in for those "post something every day for a month" things. I don't always have something to say. But if I don't write every day, maybe that means I'm not a writer.

I have been writing though. Songs for V+T, sometimes in collaboration with my drummer T, which is a cool new experience. Poetry (more or less) for a project of which I am a part. I would say emails, but I don't think those count. Twitter?

At any rate, I hope this is the first of a few entries about Femme City Choir and what it means to me. Have I told you about Femme City Choir? I thought for sure I had, but I can't find evidence of having done so.

Last autumn, when it became clear that Lisa's Hotcakes wouldn't be playing as much as I wanted to (and before V+T got started), I joined a choir. A choir of femme-identified people of all genders.

I showed up the first week, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. I'm used to hanging around with people younger than myself. But here I was surrounded by women (mostly) in the their mid-20s (mostly). I was very conscious of being the granny. I also didn't know anyone there, although some of us had friends in common. The first hour was taken up by an explanation of the choir and the vision of the two directors as well as by introductions of ourselves. Then we started singing.

And a funny thing happened. I kind of fell in love. Not so much with the music, although I found I could enjoy singing even material that I wouldn't normally listen to, but with the people and the space we all created. I have known plenty of femme lesbians and bisexuals, but I think this was the first time I had ever been in a room in which everyone considered themselves femme--including one guy. It was a beautiful space! It felt very special. I realized that I wanted--nay, needed--this choir in my life.

I went to rehearsals. Slowly, I got to know the others. We gathered material. Sometimes I loved the songs, sometimes not so much, but singing was always fun and challenging. I found it was good for my voice and my range. Over the course of the fall there was some attrition, and those of us who stayed started to feel like a unit. We had a great December social. In January we had another intake. By that time a lot more people had heard about us. The group got large for a while, which felt a bit confusing at first, but slowly I got to know the new people, or at least their names. Again there was some attrition, as expected. About 30 of us stuck it out.

We had a mini-debut in February with a small group made up of those of us who had been there from the start. Eleven of us did extra rehearsals with the music director and sometimes an accompanist so that we could perform two songs at a benefit. The benefit performance went very well. It helped create a buzz in anticipation for our full debut.

That full choir debut happened last Saturday, June 7, at the Wise Hall in East Vancouver. We called it Femmestravaganza. We had four guest artists, and we performed two short sets ourselves. It was a fantastic night! We did a performance that was better than any of the rehearsals, which is what you hope for. The audience response was very gratifying. Femme City Choir has arrived!

Being part of the choir has given me a lot to think about, and now that we're on a summer break, I have time for reflection. I plan to write about those reflections. Meanwhile, here's a video that an audience member shot and posted, and hopefully an official video soon. We're proud of what we have created and especially proud of our fearless (truly) leaders, Kate Monstrr and Lau Sequins.

See you at New West Pride!


No-Mother's Day

Ribes aureum
It's my first No-Mother's Day. My mom left us in February after a long and good life.

I'm bombarded with Mother's Day reminders, of course, and it's not always easy. Mother's Day can be difficult for anyone who has lost or is estranged from their mother. But it's the same for the fatherless (or estranged-from-father) on Father's Day, singles on Valentine's Day, pagans on Christmas and Easter, and so on. The majority celebrate these things. I'm not going to take that away from them or whine that I'm left out. I don't expect anyone to accommodate my difference. No one is trying to hurt me. I'm happy to wish all mothers a Happy Mother's Day. I'm especially happy to see links on Facebook and elsewhere to articles about the actual origins of Mother's Day. This ain't no Hallmark holiday! At least it shouldn't be.

So have a great day, moms! I no longer have one and have never been one, but I think moms are totally rad. My mom loved yellow flowers, so this flowering currant is for her.