A good sheila

I'm not much of a monarchist. As a citizen not only of Canada, the home I chose 20 years ago, but also of the United States, the land of my birth, I should not really be a monarchist at all. The American Revolution, after all, was fought in a declaration of independence from the British monarchy (although probably more directly to escape British mercantilism). If any Canadian should be an anti-monarchist, it would be me.

As well, even some Brits join in the derision of the often dysfunctional Windsor family. Prince Philip is an old crank. Charles is a Luddite weirdo who seems fated to remain Crown Prince for his entire life. His first marriage was a sham. The first marriage of his sister Anne ended in divorce as did the marriage of his brother Andrew. Even the addition to the family of the beautiful and stylish Catherine Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, as well as the birth of a son to her and Charles's son William, second in line to the throne, has done little to rehabilitate the image of the family as a whole. Many consider the monarchy to be an expensive anachronism.

And yet...I just watched the Queen's Christmas message. I couldn't care less about whatever the Prime Minster had to say, but I wanted to listen to the Queen. The video was particularly well done, featuring the excellent Queen's Guard Band playing "God Save the Queen" at the beginning and "The First Noël" at the end. In between, Her Majesty spoke of the benefit of quiet reflection, something she herself had done while thinking of the 60 years since her first Christmas message as Queen, how much had changed since then and how much had remained the same. She mentioned how she was looking forward to the next Commnonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, and how the Commonwealth still allows member countries to discuss matters with one other in mutual respect. She said nothing earth shaking. No one would ever expect her to. But it was a lovely and uplifting message. I smiled at her obvious joy in the birth of her great-grandson. The message made me happy that she is officially (if somewhat ceremonially) Canada's head of state. And I have never been sorry that I affirmed (no swearing on a Bible for me) my allegience to her as sovereign when I became a Canadian citizen.

I love the United States. I love Canada. And I love that Canada is not the US, no matter how much some people (and some governments) try to make us so. God save the Queen, eh?

(If you are wondering about the title, it's a Monty Python reference. Look it up.)


Underprivileged men

Recently, we have seen the #MeninistTwitter hashtag. It's a play on "feminist," and it was started by men complaining that they too are oppressed. The feed has been leavened with many well-deserved sarcastic comments, notably from blogger and feminist Charles Clymer, but it continues to rumble on. As foolish and sometimes scary as the tweets tend to be, they have made me realize that all men are not created equal.

I have long known that privilege does not exist in neat standalone categories. Sure it's great to be male. Men benefit from systemic male privilege. The world is made by and for them. They hold the most power in pretty much any sphere that counts.

As good as it is to be male, it's far better to be a white male, and even better than that to be a white male with money, and best of all to be a rich, heterosexual, able-bodied white male. All males benefit from privilege, but due to beneficial intersections some perceive it much more strongly. I would venture to say that for at least some non-white men, whatever privilege they experience by virtue of being male can feel much reduced because of race and class prejudice.

This is not to excuse misogyny. Nothing excuses misogyny. And indeed, women are absolutely the wrong target for men who feel they lack privilege. They should go after the men who pull the strings, the ones who benefit from things like white and wealth privilege as well as male privilege. If they're feeling powerless, it's stupid and unproductive to go after those who also lack power. Seek the powerful and give them an earful.


My tiny musical slice of 2013

First, a word from our sponsor. In 2013, my band Lisa's Hotcakes released a six-song EP called Hotter. In a just world, or at least in my world, it would be on "favourite" lists everywhere. Is it one of the great records of all time? Probably not. Is it really good? Hell yeah. Is it better than some of the records on this list? I think so. If you listen to it, you might think so too.

Year of Team Slumber

This was the year that Slumberland Records took over my hard drive. Slumberland is a tiny label based in the Bay Area. It's the epitome of a small, indie label in that it reflects the taste of its owner. As it so happens, I think his taste is great. I don't love all Slumberland releases, but chances are pretty good that I will like whatever they like enough to release.

The second album from Veronica Falls, Waiting for something to Happen, came out early in the year. I love Veronica Falls. I love this album more than I love their debut. If I had bought vinyl, I would have worn the grooves out by now. The album is not groundbreaking, but I don't care. It's Veronica Falls, and it makes me feel good. I can't think of anything I don't like on this album.

Next came Discipline & Desire from Wax Idols. I had loved the Wax Idols debut, No Future, a variant on lo-fi garage surf punk. The singles released between albums indicated a shift in direction, and I wasn't sure about that. But when I heard Discipline & Desire, I was won over completely. And the best part was that it didn't blow me away from the start. It drew me in more and more with each listen, and that's usually a sign of something that will stay with me for a long time. Another album with one great song after another and that really creates a powerful, beautiful whole, something that should be listened to completely and in sequence. And by everyone.

After those two, I started digging into the Slumberland catalogue and watching for new releases. The New Life from Girls Names was OK, if perhaps a bit dull compared to their previous (and very different) Dead to Me. Long Enough to Leave by the Mantles gave me my fix of lo-fi garage pop. Weird Sister, the debut album from Joanna Gruesome, was a delightful discovery—energetic lo-fi pop rock with flashes of dissonance. But it was Jinx from Bay-area band Weekend (not to be confused with the Weekend or the Weeknd) that really grabbed me. "Mirror," the opening song, has become one of my favourite lead-off songs, and the rest of the album flows over and through me in a very pleasing way. For me, there are echoes of my favourite periods of the Cure and Radiohead in this album.

Big deal releases

Last year, I was lured into the world of electronica by the siren song of Katie Stelmanis. I love her voice. I liked Austra's first album. I like Olympia even more. I'm hoping we will sing one of her songs in our choir. I was also lured into liking dance music by Arcade Fire. I have always liked Arcade Fire even if I didn't love them, and I was very impressed by the previous album, The Suburbs. Reflektor doesn't blow me away, but I quite like it, and I was prepared not to like it after all the ridiculous hype that accompanied its release. And further on the semi-electronic-dance front, it took a long time for me to get around to buying Synthetica by Metric, a band I love, because I kept thinking I might buy a CD (yes, sometimes I buy CDs). When I finally downloaded it, I liked it as I like all Metric, but for me it's not at the level of Fantasies, their previous release. I do love "Breathing Underwater," which reminds me of the beautiful song they did for one of the Twilight soundtracks, "Eclipse (I'm All Yours)."

Arcade Fire seems to have turned on its own crazy hype machine. In the case of Savages, I think the hype came more from their label and from the indie media. Before they had made any studio recordings, they were being hailed as the second coming of post-punk. An edgy, all-female, post-punk band, gushed the media, as though that were noteworthy any longer (and as though Wax Idols hadn't already claimed that honour). I went to see the Savages show at the Biltmore because I had to find out if they were as good as their hype. And what I experienced was a powerful, memorable show from a band that most certainly did live up to all that hype. On record, however, not quite as much, despite Silence Yourself having won a Mercury Prize in the UK. The music is great, the lyrics much less so, and all the overwrought repetition in refrains doesn't make the lyrics better. But it's still a good record and a reminder that I would see the band live again if I got the chance. Funnily enough, the band reminds me less of Siouxsie and the Banshees, to whom they are often compared, than a kind of edgy U2—ringing guitar, driving bass, massive drums, and fervent vocals.

Guitarist Marnie Stern was also hyped pretty heavily by Pitchfork and others. As it happens, The Chronicles of Marnia is more than just a clever title. Stern is a virtuoso finger-tapper who dialled it back somewhat for this album, which features strong songwriting and playing. The only thing that bugs me are her non-verbal vocalizations.

Sneaking up

Away from the hype, there were other treasures to be found. I don't generally go for quiet, country-flavoured folk music, but another voice drew me in, that of my friend Leah Abramson. The second Abramson Singers album, Late Riser, deserves to be heard far and wide. Leah is a wonderful songwriter, and this album is both beautifully crafted and filled with joy and pain. "Jack of Diamonds" could be a hit single somewhere. "Marguerite" is a gorgeous bilingual historical ballad, an original that sounds traditional. And "How To Love a Drowning Man" is quietly heartbreaking.

I made some discoveries as well. I read about La Luz, a surf band from Seattle, in She Shreds magazine. At the time, they had not released their first album, but they did shortly afterward, and It's Alive is very enjoyable. While on tour they and their van got crunched by a semi. They were OK, but their equipment was destroyed. I see they are now back in action, so maybe they will come north soon. I also found a band from Toronto called Magneta Lane, who released a four-song EP called Witchrock after having issued three full-length albums previously. The lead song, "Burn," is as incendiary as the title implies. I don't think the rest quite lives up to that song, but it's still good.

There were some old favourites too. Bleached released their first full-length record after a few singles. Ride Your Heart surprised me by being better than the singles that came before, which I had liked. Crocodiles released Crimes of Passion, which isn't as passionate as its title would imply but is still good. On my list, just not near the top.

And then there is the return of Throwing Muses with Purgatory / Paradise, their first album in 10 years. I like to listen to works as a whole, but at over an hour (about twice my usual attention span), Purgatory / Paradise is something I don't take on casually. But each time I listen to its fragmented, tormented songs, the album grows on me more and more. At first I thought it was really a Kristin Hersh solo album with Dave Narcizo and Bernard Georges backing her up, but slowly I realized just how brilliantly collaborative it is. It's beautiful, it makes you tap your feet, and it hurts like reality. What more could you ask for?

Stuff other people gave a shit about

But I didn't, at least not very much. I don't much like Foxygen. I think Tegan and Sara are way overrated. I really don't like the new dance pop direction, and I cringe a little when I hear "Closer" on the radio. I appreciate the return of My Bloody Valentine, and I appreciate their innovation, but I can't listen for very long. I have never understood the appeal of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and I know I'm very uncool for thinking so. I might like Johnny Marr's first solo album, but I haven't prioritized buying it. I was a Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan back when they were more artsy and abrasive. Now, not so much. And I really could not care less about Daft Fucking Punk polluting the airwaves with light dance pop crap. People really take that stuff seriously?

Chacun à son goût

My list is not even close to complete. I like what I like. There are genres I don't know well. There are genres that don't get me off. Pop music is either extremely fragmented or wonderfully diverse, depending on how you look at it, but the fact is that we all listen to different things. I gravitate toward rock music, and specifically post-punk, garage, punk-pop, basically any music made with guitars, bass, and drums—with some exceptions. So my list is skewed compared to an aggregator list that I looked at.

My favourite record of 2013 out of all of these listed (other than Hotter), one I love and appreciate more with each listening, is Discipline & Desire by Wax Idols. It's number 431 on the aggregator chart, with many albums rated higher (several of which are on my list) that I think are inferior. My second favourite is Waiting for Something to Happen by Veronica Falls. That one comes in at 450 on the aggregator. So it goes. At least they rated higher than Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus.

I'm always up for expanding my horizons, but I'm willing to argue that the shit I like is better than the shit that critics like. And if you check out something on my list that you didn't know about before, then my work is done.


Now is the winter

Twenty years is a generation, at least in the old way of reckoning. I'm calling my first 20 years "spring," the second 20 "summer," the third "autumn," and the period I am about to enter "winter." I might live to be older than 80 (my mom is 94), or I might not make it that far, but either way I figure I'm moving into the winter phase of my life.

Winter isn't dead. Winter can be full of surprises. A winter snowfall is beautiful! There are storms and avalanches in winter. Around here winter sometimes brings thunder and lightning, and often powerful wind. Winter is full of sports and activities. Occasionally, flowers bloom in winter, such as the camellia. But camellias and snowdrops are harbingers of spring. Unless scientists figure out how to reverse aging, I will not have another spring.

It's weird to contemplate your own mortality, to think about the fact that you're not always going to be here. Until recently, it seemed so far away. Now I'm more aware that it's really not. I still have plenty of living to do, but I don't have another 60 years. I probably don't even have 40. Next summer it will have been 20 years since I migrated from New England to British Columbia. I've lived here for nearly a third of my life! Autumn went by awfully quickly.

It's OK really. I have no desire to live forever. If such a thing ever became possible, I'm pretty sure people would eventually do themselves in just to escape. Life is sweeter because its span is finite. I want to keep living for a while longer, of course, but I've reached a point where even if I were taken tomorrow, I wouldn't feel ripped off (if there were a "me" to feel anything afterward, which there isn't).

Still, the slow deterioration of age is not fun. I need my reading glasses to read and use my computer now. I have to be more careful about what I eat. Pains sometimes appear in various and sundry places. After I've been dancing for a while, the first time I bend my knees after I stop (you know why) is quite the reminder of how my body is working these days. My sexual attractiveness is diminished, to say the least. But for the most part I'm healthy, libidinous (for all the good it does), and at least somewhat active, and I'm very thankful for that.

Less fun for me is the reduction of possibilities, or at least of probability. Not long ago, I was studying fashion merchandising in the hope of making a drastic career change. But even if I had kept at it until I earned a certificate, would I have been able to find myself a position or even contract work? Even though I am usually pegged for early 40s, that's not so young in fashion. Older women like my idol Anna Wintour have been in the business since they were young. Starting at my age would not have been impossible, but the probability of success was low. Counselling might have been a more realistic possibility, if I could have lasted through graduate school and a lengthy practicum.

But my passion is for that rock and roll music, and there the possibilities are definitely reduced. The music I love is a young person's game. Those in the business who are older have been doing it for a long time, and their careers are established. I've been doing it for a long time, but only on and off, not concertedly. My career is far from established, and my experience does me little good, other than that I know what I'm doing. Musically anyway. As for the rest of the game, well, you already saw how that's going, or not going, as the case may be.

Regrets, I've had a few. Some people say they never have them, but I'm not sure I believe that. To regret is human. But even though I wish I'd done a few things differently, what I don't do is dwell on those regrets. Past is past. I can only move forward and do whatever I can do given the ongoing constriction of possibilities.

We make adjustments at various times of our lives, and now seems like a pretty good time for me. I have to play music. I have to be involved in music. It's in my blood. A lot of things about the music business make me crazy, but I am very unhappy when I am not making music, and by that I mean in public, not just "for fun" (which is OK but not really that much fun for me). And I don't want to be unhappy. So somehow I have to figure out how an alta kocker like me can still fit into the business. I can always play, but as a communicator, I need to reach out and touch people. That is easier said than done, and becomes more difficult as I get older.

So I am seeking a way forward musically. Maybe more than one way. And I will find a way forward, or die trying. Since we're all going to die anyway, better to die trying than just to die, right? And if you never stop trying, you can't fail.

Don't give up!!!!!


If a tree falls

Suppose you have a really cool concept for a shop. It's not unique, but it's distinctive, and you know it's a good idea. You're pretty sure people will like it. You invest time and money to bring this shop into existence. You rent a space and create an enticing interior. You stock it with interesting, high-quality goods priced to sell.

You open the doors, send out some announcements, and wait for business. A few people find your shop and think it's cool. Others pass it by. Most don't even know it exists. Some know but never check it out. For whatever reason, they're not interested. You send out more announcements, but by this time your shop opening is old news. And there are so many other cool shops. You think yours is cooler, or at least as cool, but it doesn't matter because people are shopping elsewhere. If that keeps up, you're out of business.

You might have the best idea around, but if you don't market it properly, it might as well not exist.

It's the economy, stupid

People are good at different things, and it's rare when someone is good at a lot of things. It's even rarer when someone is good at things that don't usually go together, such as art and business. Artists make art. Promoters and marketers make products enticing to potential buyers and known to the world. It's not often that you find someone who is a great artist and is also good at marketing and promotion.

That, however, is what DIY is all about. When you do it yourself, you have to do everything, or find someone for not much money who can do it for you. You have to learn what you don't know already. You have to embrace things you might not really like. You have to become good at something you might not want to do. I posted a new acronym on Twitter this week: DIWY. That stands for "do it wrong yourself." It's much easier than doing it right.

Some musicians are adept at playing the game. They create an appealing product. They promote it well, often with video and artwork. They attract attention. They get people interested. They are good at timing, so that the interest persists. They effectively market what they produce, and they are rewarded for it.

That would not be me.

When it comes to music, I'm passionate about writing, playing, and recording. It's what I know best. It's what I do best. Marketing and promotion, not so much. I can learn how to do them better. Indeed I have done so. But I don't learn things very well that I don't really like, and I have a hard time bringing the requisite enthusiasm to them.

There have been rare times when record companies fell over themselves to sign bands: the British Invasion and its aftermath in the 1960s, the punk and early post-punk era in the late 1970s and early '80s, and the grunge period in the early 1990s. When Sweetie and I were in the biz 30 years ago, things weren't easy, but there was a scene going on, and a lot of people who were interested in new music. We had to do a lot ourselves, but there were also people willing to take chances. For the past couple of decades, however, things have changed for the worse. We're pretty much on our own now. There are lots of opportunities to get your music out in public, but you have to do even more promotion and marketing than ever. And then, even if if you lead a horse to water and show him how cool and refreshing it is, he will drink only if he damn well pleases. There are lots of springs around.

Lessons learned?

Love Hz, the first Lisa's Hotcakes EP, kind of trickled out into the world. It was originally intended as a demo, and then it became a digital release, and finally our drummer T obtained artwork and then burned and distributed some copies. We were learning both about the business as it is now (nothing like it used to be) and about ourselves. The EP got a surprising amount of notice considering its haphazard marketing.

For Hotter, I swore I would do it right. And yet somehow, I did it wrong again. This article from CD Baby was horribly enlightening and made perfect sense. As Sweetie said after she read the article, what we were mostly missing was a "runway." I should have sent out promotion in advance of the release (more than I did, and systematically). I should have addressed all the mailers I would need and then when we had the discs shipped them out all at once. I should have assembled a list of people and places to hit with Bandcamp links immediately upon release. The CD artwork was minimalist on purpose, and certainly you can't miss that red, but maybe we should have been less minimalist. And now, the window of opportunity is looking pretty narrow. These days, it doesn't take long before a CD (or any product launch) is old news.

Nothing is ever a total loss, of course. The CD is receiving some local airplay. Maybe it will get airplay elsewhere in the country or even outside. Maybe someone with power and influence will listen to it and like what they hear. Maybe it will get a bounce when we least expect it. There are all kinds of possibilities. But much lower probabilities. We have lost the few advantages we could have made for ourselves, and now we hope for the best, whatever that might be.

We believe in the product and in ourselves. We know that when people see us play, they like what they hear. We know that Hotter has six strong songs on it, well played and well produced. All killer, no filler! But unless people listen, they will never know that. If you haven't heard G belt out "If I Have Not Love," you're missing something special.

There are so many bands and so much music, so we truly appreciate everyone who comes to shows and everyone who has bought or even listened to our music. We don't know how the story is going to go from here, but it's still going.


You've got a long way to go, baby

I learned something I didn't want to know this week. Either the party of which I am a member is less feminist than I thought, or my feminism is more radical than I thought. Or both.

Just to be clear, when I say I am a feminist, I am not espousing legal equality for women in a man's world. That's the Sheryl Sandberg school of feminist thought (if it can be called that) in which you can be on a level playing field with men as long as it's their field and their rules. Rather, as a feminist I envision a world in which the playing field is level because it was made by and belongs to everyone. In my feminist world, women participate fully not by being like men but by changing the rules.

Utopia? I don't think so. But I'm starting to wonder if my party thinks so.

Don't get me wrong. I belong to this political party because for the most part I belong in this political party. Its policies are the best fit with my values. Of the three major federal parties in Canada, it is the one in which I feel most at home. But that feeling was shaken last week.

There was this fundraising event. It was promoted by some women in Toronto. It was for women to, as the invitation put it, "really get to know" the party leader, to have "cocktails and conversation" with him. It was not about asking political questions, but rather much more casual questions such as "what is your favourite virtue."

As soon as I saw the invitation, it instantly struck me as sexist and condescending, aimed at women who read Cosmopolitan and used to watch Sex and the City. Not that there's anything wrong with either of those. I was a faithful viewer of SitC. But to have a political event marketed in such a way, to have the leader presented as a sex symbol, seemed to me to be treating women as uninterested in politics so that they had to be lured in. One commentator called it a "pink sandbox."

There's no question the event found its target audience. I don't pretend those women don't exist. At $250 a pop, it sold out (possibly thanks to the widespread criticism on Twitter and in the media) and raised a whopping sum for a fund that helps women run for public office. I applaud the result. But even after several days of consideration, I'm still appalled by the approach.

From what I saw, the event and its marketing were criticized by some and defended by others (including one of the organizers) for the wrong reasons. Even the media were asking the wrong questions. I don't think it's problematic to have an event exclusively for women. Neither is there a problem with acknowledging that women have a long way to go to catch up to where men are in the political process. None of the parties has enough female MPs. The problem was that the marketing made it feel like the event was some kind of tea party for the women's auxiliary of the party. It was hard for me to believe that high-powered, clearly well-heeled women would take this kind of approach.

For me personally, the problem became worse in a party discussion forum. There were people there, both women and men, who understood my objections and agreed that the event was insulting to women. Some disagreed, and I expected that. But some could not see my point at all. I got things like "you're overreacting" and "what's wrong with an event aimed at women" (the wrong question again). The discussion got derailed, as these sorts of things are wont to do (and I share some of the blame), and I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.

I still think my party is the right place for me. There is no question the situation would be worse in one party, and I think no better in the other, and I don't support the policies of either. I will still work hard to help the party and the candidate in my riding win the next election. I still think our policies support full participation of women in the political process at all levels. But the patriarchy dies hard, even among progressives and otherwise enlightened people. I thought my feminism was fairly mainstream, but I'm beginning to see that there is work to do in my chosen political home. Feminism as I define it is too important to me not to have it be part of the core values of my party.


Conventional wisdom

Sunday morning view from Upper Village
I spent this past weekend in Whistler, B.C., not skiing or snowboarding or taking part in other outdoor activities but holed up in a hotel talking politics. Lots of politics. I was there as a delegate from my riding association to the biennial convention of the Liberal Party of Canada British Columbia, the provincial association of the national party. I volunteered to go because the opportunity presented itself, and I thought it would be an interesting experience. And it definitely was.

The main order of business for the weekend was to elect a new executive for the association. Many of the positions had only one candidate, so those candidates were acclaimed, but president, vice-president, and finance chair were all being contested.

The most important thing I did on Friday night was to participate in a "bear pit" session in which the candidates were asked questions. Sadly, I was late, but I did see the two candidates for president answering questions. After that, I popped into the hospitality suites hosted by the candidates. Mostly those are just about drinking and socializing, but I did manage to speak with one of the candidates and got an answer to my question that pretty much convinced me to vote for him.

Saturday was a full day. First there was a breakfast to honour Hedy Fry, MP for Vancouver Centre, on the 20th anniversary of her first election to the House of Commons. It was a good buffet breakfast, and Fry is an entertaining speaker. Senator Mobina Jaffer introduced herself to me and to many others in the room, and I touched base with Mary Pynenberg, who is president of the National Women's Liberal Commission. After breakfast, there was a "caucus check-in" with Fry and Jaffer, who were the only members available—Senator Larry Campbell was unable to attend, and MP Joyce Murray was acting as observer for the Liberal Party at the Conservative Party of Canada convention in Calgary. As you can see, the Liberals are not currently doing well in B.C. But the session was lively, with good answers to questions from both Fry and Jaffer. I then participated in a workshop on formulating an "elevator pitch"—a very brief statement of why you're a Liberal and why anyone should vote for us.

The convention took place at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, and the staff did an excellent job of facilitating the proceedings. The breakfast buffet had been very good, and the lunch buffet was even better. Lots of variety, local produce (nearby Pemberton is known for potatoes and other vegetables), labels for various dietary restrictions, and all delicious, including the pecan pie, of which I should not have had a second piece (but it was so good). There was some business during lunch, followed by a very entertaining and informative talk by Scott Stratten, the "unmarketing" guru. His examples of social networking gone both wrong and right were great!

After that, I went to a workshop run by Ryan Adam, who had worked for Obama for America in both 2008 and 2012. Great lessons to be learned there about engagement and getting people on your side. Following that, I got to hear brief speeches from all the candidates who were contesting offices, so that helped make up for my having missed part of the bear pit session. I skipped on the "red tie gala" dinner to have a wonderful dinner with Sweetie at Araxi. We needed some time together! She had been amusing herself quite well in Whistler Village and at the hotel taking advantage of the facilities. Later it was time for more hospitality suites, this time hosted by candidates for national party executive offices, the vote for which will be at the national convention in Montreal in February.

On Sunday, we got to fall back! I don't like Daylight Saving Time, but if you're going to pick a weekend to fall back, that was the right one. I hadn't stayed up too late, but it was still nice to have that extra hour. I participated in one workshop in the morning on policy, hosted by national policy chair Maryanne Kampouris. She kept us very interested, and answered many questions. After the workshop, we had a really short annual general meeting, which mostly consisted of the outgoing president's report and a finance report. Around noon, the result of the vote was announced and the new executive team brought to the stage. After a brief speech from the new president, Braeden Caley, we were on our way.

I learned a lot over the course of the weekend. I met people from all over B.C. I have a better understanding of how the party is organized at both the riding level and the provincial level. I learned that I might just be a policy wonk (loved that workshop), and I know I want to be more involved with the Women's Commission. I got to make policy suggestions. I learned that a lot of Liberal delegates, both younger and older, are very stylish, not just the women but the men as well. I could have indulged my inner fashionista even more! In hindsight, I should have found a way to get in touch with the few other delegates from my riding, although I did manage to find one person.

One thing I learned is that I am not a person who eats, drinks, and breathes politics. For so many of the delegates, politics is their lives. I am very interested in politics and have been for most of my life, but not quite at the same level as the "keeners." As social a person as I am, it's not quite a natural fit for me. I am still a musician first, and I don't think there were many if any others quite like me at the convention.

But I do think it's important for people to be involved, and I will continue to be involved. I know I'm interested in policy. I'm a good worker bee when it comes to things like campaigns. I might find some way to participate directly at the riding level. I think it's vitally important for Canada that the LPC return to government, and I want to do what I can to help that to happen. I think that most Canadians still believe in Liberal policies. They just don't realize they do, because first we screwed up and lost their trust, and then we allowed the other parties to define us. No more of that! We have less than two years to engage the electorate, riding by riding. We will. And I will help.


You say you want a revolution

English comedian Russell Brand stirred the pot last week with an interview he did on BBC Newsnight. He was being interviewed because he had been guest editor at The New Statesman and wrote a political essay in which he said that he has never voted. When questioned about that, Brand took off on a diatribe about voting, the current corrupt political system, and the need for a revolution, which by the end of the interview he said was inevitable.

I don't need to post a link. Either you've seen the video already, or you've read about it, or you don't care and are not reading this anyway.

Brand was articulate, if not always coherent or consistent. For instance, he noted that the current system is causing the destruction of the ecosystem, but during the interview he sipped from a plastic bottle. He seemed not to have started with a plan, and told the interviewer that he couldn't come up with a new paradigm (a frequently repeated word) on the spot, but by the end he was calling for a socialist system with massive redistribution of wealth.

It's anyone's guess at this point whether Brand was being serious, comedic, or both. He was certainly being provocative. What is more important is how many people posted the video with favourable comments.

Do those people really want a socialist system with massive redistribution of wealth? It's not that it couldn't be accomplished. It's only that the track record for such things is quite poor. In the past, socialist systems have resulted in everyone being equally poor, except for those at the top. Also except for those on the black market. When individual enterprise is stifled or discouraged, black markets flourish. That's because with some exception, people are not socialists by nature. They are creators and sellers and traders and buyers. Free enterprise is as old as humanity.

When Brand made sense, he made a lot of sense. Maybe those are the parts that people are responding to. The current system has certainly reached a level of corruption that is threatening us all. Especially in the US, but probably in the UK as well, and certainly in other countries, including Canada, the gap between rich and poor is still growing. And even though everyone who counts (or can count) understands that human activity is contributing to climate change, governments are pretty well united in doing little or nothing.

When things get really bad, as in many ways is true now, there is always a temptation to want to wipe the slate clean. Incremental change is slow and often does not fix fundamental problems. But as tempting as it may be, the "year one" approach also has a poor track record. The first years of the French Revolution were hell for many people, not just aristocrats, and it took a long time for real democracy to establish itself in France. Pretty much every year of the Khmers Rouge was bad. People eventually realize that muddling through and making small changes, however unsatisfying that might be, is preferable to a scorched earth policy.

And the trouble with saying that voting legitimizes the current system is that the current system is not a result of too much voting but rather too little, and too little political engagement. In any democracy, the people who are in public office were put there by the few who bothered to vote. In Canada, imagine if the groundswell of enthusiasm among young people during the last federal election had translated into enthusiastic voting. Do you think Stephen Harper would be prime minister if enough people, especially young people, voted in elections? And the turnout gets progressively worse at the provincial level and then at the local level. We get the leaders we vote for and don't vote for.

If the system were squeaky clean after this putative socialist revolution, would Russell Brand vote then? Because unless the socialist utopia is a dictatorship (which they all seem to have been so far), there need to be elections. It's hard to get someone who has never voted to vote. Voting and feeling that voting matters are the habits of a lifetime.

It's also easy to call for revolution and proclaim that it's inevitable. It's quite another to make it happen. That takes even more engagement, more planning, and more energy than any amount of involvement with electoral politics.

I totally agree that inequality is reaching extreme levels. I agree that none of us, governments included, are doing nearly enough to stop destroying the earth. And I submit that there are far too many men (usually men) who hold massive power that has nothing to do with being elected, and our elected leaders are doing nothing about it because of the corruption of money in the electoral system. It's no wonder someone like Brand feels it has all become a bad joke. But the answer is not to disengage and say a revolution has to happen. The answer is to engage more, to demand campaign finance reform, to demand reform and regulation of the financial system, to demand meaningful action on climate change and to participate in that action.

Words are cheap. It's easy to imagine change. It's easy to march or demonstrate for change. It's a lot harder to make it happen. And we are the only ones who can do so.


Hotter song 6: If I Have Not Love

I started mentally producing Hotter long before we went into the studio. I figured out not just an idea of how each song would sound but the order of songs and how they would flow into each other. Ideally, after having released Love Hz, a four-song EP, I wanted six songs on this one. I had five. And I didn't have what I wanted to close the record.

So I wrote a song to order, which is something I had never done before. I knew which key I wanted it in. I knew what general feel I wanted. I felt that it should bookend "We Have Only Begun" in some way. And as with that song, I worked out the chords and phrasing but had no lyrics. The deadline was self-imposed, but I really wanted to meet it. I knew I had to finish something to give the band enough time to learn and rehearse it. But I was stuck.

Then Sweetie and I discovered a film that was profoundly affecting. It didn't so much change my life as affirm the path I have been discovering for years. It's always a thrill to recognize when someone thinks the way you do. The film was Cloud Atlas. Sweetie had read the book. I had not but I had read about the film. We rented it on our cable system's video-on-demand service.

It was magnificent! Sweetie helped me through some of the more confusing parts, but overall I didn't find it that difficult to figure out. I didn't love each of the six stories equally, but I did love them all. The one about Sonmi-451 especially. Lots of people can't stand the film, but we loved it so much that we watched it again the next night, before the video-on-demand had expired. If anything, I loved it even more. I didn't have to work as hard to figure out what was going on, so I understood things that I had not the first time.

I wrote the first verse as a take-off on Sonmi's story. The second verse became a more generalized comment, less about the film than about the present world.

I can't remember if I had written the chorus before or after I saw the film. At any rate, that part did not come from the film. It comes from the Christian Bible, the first letter of Paul to the believers in Corinth. It's a famous passage that often is read at weddings. I'm not a Christian, but that passage on love speaks to me. I can't change the world if I don't first change myself.

As sometimes is the case, the song I thought I was writing turned into something else with the band. I love interacting with other musicians! Sometimes I have a very solid idea of how a song should go, but when I don't, I really appreciate input from my band mates. The song began as yet another Cure-wannabe song, a straight ahead post punk rocker. But during the verses and the first chorus, I got T to cut the beat in half on the drums while C continued to play straight time on the bass. It broke out for the instrumental break, backed off again for the bridge, and finally galloped through the final choruses and outro. The original key of E minor was too low for G to sing comfortably, so we bumped it up to F# minor (and I used a capo on the guitar for the second time).

That outline was in place when we went into the studio, but little more. We had barely rehearsed the song, even instrumentally, and even less so all together. It was the most difficult bed track to get. We had saved it for the end of the first day, and we weren't happy with what we had. So we tackled it first thing the next day, before any of us was really awake. Somehow, that worked.

The rest of that day was for lead vocals and second guitar. As with the bed track, we saved this vocal for last, since we were not entirely sure we would have time to finish the song. G had been having some difficulty with what I had written for the chorus, and she said that she didn't think she could get the power we needed with those notes. I was in a bit of a panic at that point, late on the second day in a row of recording. But I didn't want to give up on the song. I asked her something completely unreasonable: if she could rewrite the difficult parts of make it work for her voice and then do the vocal. Amazingly, she didn't say no. She did the rewrite.

When she started doing vocal takes, I could hear in her voice how tired she was. I don't remember what I said, or what Jesse said, but somehow she worked up a final burst of energy. Or maybe it was another shot of bourbon! At any rate, she blasted through that vocal, which she had just rewritten, as though she'd been rehearsing it for weeks. She covered an octave plus two and hit the high A not once but four times, a note she says she can hit only when singing karaoke while drunk. I was blown away. For the second time, I cried.

I'm glad G did such a good job with the vocal, because I'm not nearly as happy with the guitar break. I hadn't really rehearsed it. I had some ideas of what to do, but mostly I was winging it. I played it too safe. Considering all that, I guess I should be happy it came out as well as it did. Some parts I actually like quite a lot, like the final run.

I love all the songs on Hotter, but "If I Have Not Love" has a special place in my heart. It was the difficult child. It needed extra help and extra care. I wasn't sure if it was going to turn out. It took a village, or at least a band, to make it happen. And in the end, it surprised and delighted me. For me, it's the perfect end to the record.


Hotter song 5: Under the Midnight Moon

I already wrote about "Hotcakes Army" when it went out as a preview, so I'll skip over that.

I have learned a lot about songwriting in the last few years. Some of it should have been obvious to me, especially that songwriting is like any writing. You sit down and work on it, same as if you were writing a novel or an essay. Or poetry, which it's somewhat more akin to. But at any rate, even though the Muse does strike from time to time, you can't just wait for that to happen as if by magic. You might get the rare song out of that non-process, but you won't get much.

Sometimes, however, songs seem to have a mysterious origin. It almost feels as though there really is a Muse of some sort sending inspiration. That was the case with "Under the Midnight Moon." I started writing the first verse, thinking it was about a failed relationship. Nothing so unusual. I had been thinking about Game of Thrones and the line in Melissandra's prayer, oft repeated: "For the night is dark and full of terrors." And I had thought, no, it's not. The night is full of wonder, and darkness is nothing to fear.

I reached the chorus, about the protagonist finding relief from her crappy relationship under the night sky, comforted by darkness. Inside is where things suck, outside she is free. I was thinking of her being embraced by the night surrounding her. I also needed a rhyme for "close." Suddenly, the ghost appeared. I don't know why I went for the word "ghost," a near-rhyme. I don't normally think about ghosts. I'm not a believer in ghosts. I've never met one! But that lonely ghost pushed his way into the song. And suddenly the song was quite different.

Instead of the protagonist being comforted by the darkness, she was being comforted by a ghost. An incubus. And before I knew it, death was all through the song. Her true liberation lay with being with the ghost, and there's only one way that could happen.

I couldn't believe what I'd done. I wept when I realized what the story was saying.

I wrote the first three verses, the chorus, and that final bit. I thought the song was finished. I also didn't think it was a Hotcakes song, but I played it for the others anyway. And they really liked it, G especially. She wanted to sing it. So I thought that somehow we could make it work, even though it's very different from other material we do. She and I worked on it mostly just between ourselves with an acoustic guitar.

There was one problem: the story was confusing. It was clear in my mind, but I realized that maybe I'd left too much in my mind and not put enough into the lyrics. My brain filled in the rest when I played the song, but others couldn't do that. When I had a songwriting lesson with Leah Abramson of the Abramson Singers, my reward for having contributed to her Indiegogo campaign to raise money to press vinyl, "Under the Midnight Moon" was one of the songs I brought. She agreed that the story might need a bit more, that it wasn't clear what was going on. She gave some suggestions on how to approach fixing it (and lots of great suggestions on general—she teaches songwriting at UBC and writes beautiful songs).

The song wasn't too long, so I came up with the fourth verse. I hadn't put the protagonist outside in a verse, but now I did, and made it clearer what was only hinted at in the chorus and the final section. And in the process, I got to be a bit naughty, which G liked. The fourth verse provided the missing link between how bad things were inside and how beautiful things were outside, under the moon.

I wanted to record the song, but I wasn't sure we would have enough time. We had already decided that T would sit out, leaving just guitar, bass, and vocals. The lead instrument is really the bass. We did the bed track with guitar, bass, and click track (to keep time). Usually we did at least two takes for basics, but I'm not sure we did for this one. On vocal day, G was very warmed up. I love her voice on this one. I added one more guitar to get a little jangle. I did background vocal only on the final section. I wanted the first part to sound kind of like a distant echo, and then to do the full harmony on the second part. I thought about adding some kind of percussion, but we never did. In the end, the simplicity of the production is probably for the best. It lets G's voice shine through.


Hotter song 3: Bullet

Unlike "Because I Care," I know exactly where and how "Bullet" came from. It started with two things. One was something I read about the shootings at the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, about how some boyfriends/husbands sacrificed themselves to protect their girlfriends/wives. I thought, courage and self-sacrifice aren't gendered things. I would do the same for my partner, even a close friend, and I know many others who would as well. The other thing was my usual theme of how important love and friendship are to me. I really would rather be taken than to lose someone I love.

The words and music both pretty much flew out. I wrote "Bullet" on my acoustic guitar. Originally, it was in the key of A, but it felt better in B. However, the first position of B major is not an easy chord to play, and certainly is difficult when you want the guitar to ring. So I used a capo to change the key to B. And I bought a capo to use with my electric guitar for the first time ever.

I wrote the two-line refrain first. I think it was one of those things that I scribbled on a piece of paper in the car while I was stopped at a red light. Or maybe I kept singing it to myself until I got home. After that, the verses almost wrote themselves.

The words to the verses are purposely simple, just a 1960s-ish pop song about love. I grew up listening to a lot of those. But then comes the refrain, and suddenly the sweet pop song is about death. I was pretty happy with that.

Even though I was singing the song just by myself while I was working it out, I always intended for it to be a duet. Think Everly Brothers, a sound that was later imitated by the Beatles. I taught G the melody line that I had come up with, and then I sang the other part. We're not sisters, but I think we managed to work out a pretty close sound.

As usual, the bridge posed some difficulty. I knew the song needed a bridge. Unlike the rest of the song, I laboured over those two lines. When I hit upon the new chord on the second line, I knew I had something good. I could already hear that two-part harmony in my head, and G and I made it happen. It is totally supposed to evoke the '60s.

It was G who suggested not starting the duet until the second verse, which I think works to great effect and makes each verse more distinct. T came up with the idea that the drums would drop only to the kick drum in the chorus. And C added that distinctive slide down an octave after the word "to" in the first line.

The song came fairly quickly in the studio. It was one of the oldest of the set, so we had rehearsed it a lot and played it at shows more than once. I used my Mustang with the capo for the basic guitar track. Because I really wanted a full sound, I added a second rhythm guitar part with the Stratocaster, playing the same chords in different positions than the first. I did the lead part separately, also with the Strat, using my antique (seriously, it's 30 years old) Boss flanger for that swirly effect. I knew what I wanted to play. I didn't quite nail it, but close (should have done one more take—hoping you won't notice). G nailed her vocal part pretty quickly, and later I added my harmony part. The last thing I added was the tambourine.

Jesse did his usual brilliant job in quickly getting a decent mix. He made the guitars even more swirly. But I had some specific requirements, such as to get a real duet balance in the vocals. I wanted more tambourine, but Jesse thought the level was good. I think I should have fought for that one! I got a little tambourine back during mastering. Overall I'm very happy with how this one came out. Hope you all sing along with the morbid refrain!


Hotter song 2: Because I Care

I can't remember the details of how I wrote "Because I Care." I know it wasn't originally as much of a power pop tune as it turned out. Given the chords at the end of each verse, I think this was a Cure-wannabe song that ended up quite different (which is probably a good thing—don't want to be ripping off "Just Like Heaven" too obviously). The lyrics tell a story. It's not a story that actually happened, but it could have happened. As with "We Have Only Begun," I was playing with word combinations, and through that a story took shape.

I came up with the chorus somewhat separately from the verses, and I worried that it sounded too different. Too calypso or something. That changed when the other Hotcakes got hold of it. Somehow, they made it work in a way that I couldn't in my head or playing by myself. I also got used to the idea of the chorus feeling lighter, musically, than the verses, and I really love how the band brought back the heavier part at the end of the chorus.

The song is a bit long, I know. If I could have told the story with one less verse, I would have, but it seems to need all the verses. And despite the length, I felt the song needed a bridge as well. It started out feeling obligatory and uncertain, as bridges sometimes do. I thought maybe that B minor chord was just an attempt to make it different. But over time the bridge solidified, and now it's one of my favourites. I think it works well. And I think the B minor is essential.

In the studio, the bed track wasn't too difficult to get right. We had rehearsed this song a lot and played it out several times. My only concern was making sure the tempo was steady. And T nailed it. Still, I think I replaced the rhythm guitar, removing a relentless one and replacing it with something a bit more subtle, especially in the bridge. I kept the second guitar quite simple. I almost nailed the solo and like the overall feel of it.

Gisele sang this one fairly early in the session on vocal day, but I like how the vocal came out. I adore that slight trill she does in the final chorus on the word "stay" just before the repeated refrain. She gets total credit for that, because I can't sing it, at least not well. The harmony vocal was pretty easy for me, even though it's high, and I thought we had a good mesh on those parts, especially at the end of the bridge and on the refrain on the last chorus.

And then there's the cowbell. I knew I wanted a cowbell in there. The others were dubious, but I was in charge of percussion. I didn't want to overdo it, but it was the sound I wanted. I even played up the calypso feel! We had been dropping down to guitar and vocals only for that part, but now we're considering dropping to vocals and percussion only, if we can make it work. I love how the band comes back in for that second chorus. This song makes me chair dance! I hope it works that way for others.


Hotter song 1: We Have Only Begun

I wrote "We Have Only Begun" as a set opener, something simple and not too fast. For several reasons, it felt right to be the opener for Hotter as well.

When I wrote it, I was in the midst of one of the worst depressions I've experienced in recent years. It was bad enough that I sought help rather than trying to tough it out on my own. Being depressed is not a good time for creativity, and I was very stuck trying to write anything new.

To try to break through, I decided to go very basic. I came up with the chords, the melody, and the phrasing. But I couldn't figure out any actual lyrics! I didn't know what I wanted to say. I kept singing the melody and phrasing to myself to try to find something that would fit in. I made several false starts. With the phrasing so fixed in my mind, I started to try out words and lines without much regard for whether they made sense or not. And finally the song began to take shape. I wrote the verses out of order and rearranged them. I tweaked the vocabulary more than I have often done to fit cooler words into the phrasing. I didn't just want to fall back on my usual pathetic vocabulary.

It's curious that such a hopeful song would come out of such a depressive period and also such a struggle to create. I guess it was part of my fighting back. I got help, but I also had to be active in my own healing.

The song wasn't an easy sell with the other Hotcakes. They weren't sure about it at first, but it grew on them.

In the studio, it was not a difficult song for which to get a good bed track. I think I kept the live rhythm guitar. Nothing complex about it! T stayed nice and steady on the drums, with those little rolls on the bridge, and C did simple but tasty licks on the bass. G did the vocal somewhere in the middle of vocal day, so she was fairly well warmed up. She was deliberate in singing all but the refrain of the first two verses in her head voice, even the third line, which goes lower. And then on the third line of the third verse, she switched to a very strong chest voice. On the last time through the repeating refrain at the end, she went up on the note on the second syllable of "reason," something I don't think she had done before. I think it's brilliant. But I had to adjust my harmony line!

I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the second guitar. I cranked the Marshall up louder than for any other song. I wanted to keep the sound on the edge of feeding back without getting out of control, so I moved toward or away from the amp as required. And I played that sucker from the heart. I put everything I had into that. I messed up that one harmonic in the third verse (it goes "clunk" instead of ringing), but I left it. I'm pretty sure I was crying at the end of the take because it was such a release. I know I cried when I heard the playback for the first time. That song had come out of a great deal of pain, and now it was recorded.

During the remix, I noticed that the song was sounding too nice, not jagged enough. "Needs more Lou Reed," I said to Jesse Gander, our engineer and co-producer. Amazingly he knew what I meant. We kicked up the rhythm guitar, and I liked the result much better. That guitar is supposed to feel relentless. Jesse is brilliant.


The sum of its parts

In these days of digital downloads, people can buy individual songs, and often do (if they even buy). They don't necessarily buy and listen to an entire album. And yet musicians and producers continue to create albums, works that comprise individual songs but are designed as a whole. Listening to an album in sequence is an experience unlike listening to the individual songs. Songs are like snapshots from a journey; the album is the entire journey. And when an album is well conceived, every piece feels like it's exactly where it ought to be.

Being an alterkacher (old fart), I still listen to albums, and I appreciate when people create albums purposefully. The songs go together. They fit with one another. They might tell a story or convey a theme. The key of one song flows into the key of the next. Tempos vary in a way that feels right. At the very least, an album captures a particular time in the creative process--the time of writing the songs, developing the songs, and recording them in a studio. A lot can go into that process: joy, pain, difficulty, personal breakthroughs. Does a listener ever perceive that? Perhaps. Recording artists always hope so.

Hotter, the new EP from my band Lisa's Hotcakes, is not a song cycle. It does not tell a single story. The songs are individual stories. I wrote most of them separately over a span of time, and they were unrelated to each other. Or so I thought, until I realized that as usual there was a theme to the songs I wanted to include on the record. Love Hz, the previous EP, was a quick snapshot of a band that was still quite new. Hotter shows where we've gone in a year. The selection of songs and the order in which they are presented are purposeful, both lyrically and musically. Indeed, the last song, "If I Have Not Love," was written specifically to be the closer of the record and as a kind of bookend to the opener, "We Have Only Begun."

There's a lot about love in Hotter. I don't think I write "silly love songs" like Macca, but love is a major theme in my life, so of course I write about it. Love of humanity, love in friendship, romantic love, love overcoming pain and loss. Love that has to start with me, that has to transform me, before I can hope to make any positive change in the world.

Hope is kind of a new theme for me. I'm no Polyanna. I can see all the things that are going to shit. And maybe those are going to prevail. But I don't think so. We tend to see stories about when things go wrong. It's not often we see stories about things getting better, but they happen. Human beings have got this far. We've been stupid and shortsighted enough that maybe we've destroyed our only home, but maybe we are also smart enough to fix the damage we've done. And maybe we will continue to muddle through as we so often do.

Thank you for any listening and buying you do! But if you wouldn't mind, listen to the songs in order. I'm very happy with the individual songs and how they each came out, but we really did create a six-song whole. I hope you get to experience that and maybe, just maybe, feel some of what we put into it.


Serenely raging

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Those are the original words of what has become known as the Serenity Prayer, attributed to Catholic theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, although he could not remember with certainty that he wrote them. There are actually several lines after that about enjoying the moment and surrendering to God's will. Most people are familiar with a briefer, somewhat altered version that comes from Alcoholics Anonymous.

The serenity Prayer is one of those bits of folk wisdom that many people just accept as true. I'm a bit contrarian, and there is little that I don't question. For one thing, I think wisdom is overrated. Same for serenity. More importantly, what about those things that this wisdom says cannot be changed? What if they are completely unacceptable? Might it not be better to tilt at windmills on the off chance that you might actually do more good than if you were to become serenely accepting of the unacceptable?

Here are the words of a writer more after my own heart:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas wrote that poem for his dying father. But since death is the end of every life, and we're all on the path toward it, perhaps it's never too early to start raging. I'm pretty sure there will be an overabundance of serenity in death. Nothingness is pretty serene. I'm more in favour of raging against the unacceptable than accepting it serenely.

I'm approaching an age when I'm supposed to have acquired some amount of wisdom. And I think I have. I don't rage against nearly as many things as I did when I was younger. I choose my battles. But I don't think I will ever be ready to become serenely boring. That would feel like death to me.

I have changed many things in my life that obviously could be changed, including things I thought at first could NOT be changed. Therein lies the danger in going too quickly to acceptance. Perhaps wisdom is incorrect, at least sometimes. Perhaps an object that seems immovable can, in fact, be budged. Perhaps a problem that seems intractable can, in fact, be solved. Going too quickly to acceptance might prevent us from learning that something can be changed.

I intend to live until I die.


Twice as nice

It's Bisexuality Day. Or Bisexual Pride Day. Or something like that. A day for bisexuals, at any rate. A day for us to say we're proud of who we are, or at the very least unashamed. I'm never sure if "pride" is really the right word for something like sexual orientation. It's not an accomplishment! It just is.

Most people grow up realizing that they find people of the opposite sex to be sexually attractive. They know this because their bodies tell them so. The signs are unmistakable. And we have no more control over this attraction than we do over our heartbeats.

Others, far fewer, realize at some point that their bodies are telling them a different story. Despite being surrounded by a predominantly heterosexual world, they realize that they find people of the same sex to be sexually attractive. That's just the way it is.

It's strange when you realize, or maybe acknowledge, that you're not like the others. But at least it makes sense in a way. Same instead of opposite. It's either/or, and we're used to either/or. How much stranger it is when you realize that for you, it's actually both/and! When you realize that she stirs you and he stirs you in very similar ways.

Maybe you can't imagine that. A lot of people seem not to be able to. Or they deny that it's possible. But the body does not lie. Those of us who feel this way know that the doubters and accusers are wrong. They don't get it. And really, if it's not about you, then it's not, and just shut up. We know ourselves.

The funny thing is that even though it's strange to start with, soon it seems pretty normal, and it becomes more difficult to imagine that a person can go through life finding every single member of half of the human race to be sexually unattractive. Obviously that's true for the vast majority, but it still seems strange to me.

I can no longer imagine being any other way. Not looking for converts though. We all have to do what makes us happy and what our bodies tell us to do. You can't force it. I think all sexual attraction is a marvelous thing. Mine is no more marvelous than anyone else's. But certainly no less so.


Home queer home

The 25th annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival wrapped last night with a party at a West End dance club called Celebrities. Sweetie and I came in late as volunteers, but I did one shift and she was able to do three. We also went to several of the films: five for me, I think eight or nine for her. Volunteering, working with great people, chatting with really nice film goers, seeing friends and acquaintances, and watching some really good films—it was all a wonderful experience. À la prochaine!

For anyone taken aback by the word "queer," it's quite common in these parts. I know it's still derrogatory in many places, but we reclaimed the word a long time ago. We have a queer film festival, queer arts festival, other queer events, and even Qmunity, which bills itself as a "queer resource centre." I think it's a fantastic word. I will sometimes use the usual string of letters in writing, but the bloody thing keeps getting longer, and I would rather say "queer." There are definitely reasons to assert our separate identities as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, questioning, etc. etc. etc., but somehow to me queer feels inclusive without erasing anything. The Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts don't always have much in common except for the fact that we are neither straight nor narrow. We're here, we're queer, and everyone is getting used to it.

VQFF really is a wonderfully diverse and inclusive event. Its programming reflects that. The staff and board of Out on Screen, the organization the produces the festival as well as the Out in Schools initiative, reflect that as well. Festival volunteers, including me this year (and hopefully in years to come), also reflect the diversity.

For me as a femme bisexual woman married to a femme bisexual woman, diverity and inclusiveness are important. Even more important is feeling at home. Not all queer events feel that way. Many of the Pride festivities seem to be mostly about gay boys and drag queens doing the same things they have done for decades, which to me feels boringly conservative. It's not surprising that there is a separate Dyke March and Festival as well as a Trans March during Pride week. If a space doesn't include you, you make your own space. I felt that last night at Celebrities, where the live entertainment consisted of, yep, drag queens. It was the first time at the festival that I felt like I was in someone else's world.

Moreover, it's often difficult for bisexual people to feel at home anywhere. We're gay, we're straight, we're both and neither. The film Pariah, a beautiful, emotional coming-of-age story about a black lesbian teenager, included the Trope of the Evil Bisexual. That hurt a bit, but of course such people exist, people who have a gay fling and then run back to their straight lives. As with any group, there are all kinds of bisexuals. It's like being a lawyer. You have to keep telling people that you're one of the good kind while they continue to doubt that such a kind exists.

That's why I love "queer," and that's why I love the VQFF. I belong. I am included. I am home.


Hotter: Sneak preview

The second EP by Lisa's Hotcakes, which we are calling Hotter, is recorded and mastered. But it doesn't have any artwork yet. CDs have not been manufactured. But we have these songs! So it was time to let one slip part way out the door.

"Hotcakes Army" is available on SoundCloud. You can't download it. We're not selling anything until the CDs are ready. But you can listen! You can listen right here:

The song began life on an airplane. I had been detained in secondary security at Vancouver International Airport. You don't want to be detained in secondary security. It is a Kafkaesque nightmare. They take you aside and make you go into a room. There are people at wickets who move very slowly and seem to do little other than move papers hither and yon. No one speaks to you after the receptionist tells you to sit and wait. And you wait. You have no idea what is going on, but you do know that you are in danger of missing your flight. Finally, they let you go, often as mysteriously as they pulled you aside. With luck, you can still make it to your gate.

I've been in secondary security twice. Once was a random baggage check, prompted by who knows what. This time it was because I was travelling on business to the US (where my office is) but using my Canadian passport. All patriotic and stuff, but a bad idea. I know better now. I always use my US passport now when I travel to the US for any reason.

Once on my flight, I started to scribble in my notebook. I wrote the first verse about being stuck in secondary security, the raised fist chorus, the second verse that continued the theme, and then I got stuck. I put it away. It wasn't until another flight much later that I looked at the notebook again and got inspired to write a third verse (with a feminist angle) and a bridge and thus finish the song. The music grew out of the repeating riff that leads off the song.

It's kind of serious and kind of tongue-in-cheek at the same time. I felt like making a serious or at least semi-serious point with a bit of humour. The bridge is definitely a parody of a military recruitment ad. I was thinking of the Clash when I wrote it. An Us against the System kind of thing.

We recorded the bed tracks in the middle of the session. I didn't keep a diary, but I think we probably did two takes. This was not a difficult song for any of us. T gave it a good strong beat, which fit very well for a surf-ish song. C pulsed along and matched the recurring guitar riff.

I can't remember if I replaced that rhythm track or not. I do remember that I played it on my Mustang through my Marshall DC15S. The second guitar, however, is my Stratocaster, with whammy bar. This song is why I bought that guitar! But I'm also in love with the guitar, so I'm very glad I bought it (and got a good deal). I put the non-vintage (1992, but American-made) Strat through my vintage Fender Deluxe Reverb amplifier. I pretty much never use that amp because it's very powerful and doesn't distort until it gets too loud for most situations. But in the studio I could play as loud as I wanted. I didn't put that Hawaii-5-0 quote in the solo on purpose. It just happened.

G nailed the vocal pretty quickly. I love how she buys into the words even when they're very tongue in cheek. I think that makes the song more effective. I had not realized until I heard her sing in the studio that she elongates the end of the word "enemies" in the chorus. I love it! I kept my harmony vocals simple. They are most important in the second half of the bridge, and that's where they are strongest.

There's a little slap-back echo on the vocal to give it that 1960s feel. The lead guitar reverb is the spring reverb built into the Fender amp. I record using reverb from the amp and an occasional effects pedal (mine are antique analogue Boss pedals, still going strong), though none on this song. Just the whammy bar at the end of the repeating guitar riff.

 Hotter has six songs on it designed to work as a whole. Two of the songs have not yet been performed on stage! Some songs might surprise you. At least we hope so. Can't wait until you can hear the rest of it!



I am amazingly disoriented.

It's not like I've never taken a week of vacation before. It's not like I haven't spent a week in Hawaii before. It's not like I haven't dealt with crossing three time zones before. But for some reason or combination of reasons, I'm feeling completely discombobulated. And I took the day off!

Earlier today, I walked up to the Safeway because there is almost no food in the house. We don't usually get more than emergency this or that at Safeway anyway, but it all seemed quite strange. I bought the yogurt I knew we needed and left. I couldn't deal with any more. On the way home through the park, I almost cried.

Nineteen years ago, Sweetie and I left Boston. I had grown up in small town New England, but as soon as I moved to Boston to go to university, I knew that was where I wanted to stay. Boston was where Sweetie and I met, fell in love, played in various bands together, and made a life. It was home. And yet there came a time when it was no longer home, when we got restless, when we needed a change. A big change, as it turned out. The other side of the country and across an international boundary!

Now Vancouver is home. We love the area, the ocean, the mountains, the river. We have a house here, surrounded by gardens. And maybe most importantly, we have friends, good friends, friends we care about and who care about us, friends we can share with. This actually wasn't true until a few years ago. I think it's quite true that Vancouver is a difficult place in which to form real friendships. But we both put ourselves out there, figured out a few things, and found ways to connect with people. And that just made this beautiful place that much more of a home.

And yet...the disorientation. This was our third time on Kaua'i since 2006. And not just to Kaua'i, but to Hanalei, a small town on the north shore of the island. I'm not sure why we were drawn there in the first place, but even though we have been there for a total of only three weeks in seven years, it feels like a second home. We love the town. We love Hanalei Bay. The green is probably especially attractive to these rain forest dwellers. Kauai is beautiful, but most of the lowland part of the island is very dry, the southwest especially so. Hanalei is lush. And rain? Well, we're used to rain, although the downpour we experienced that came from the tail end of tropical depression Flossie tested that.

Even when we're not in Hanalei, we think about whether we should move there, or retire there, or at least spend more time there. We are both generally healthy, but the little things that bother us here seem to go away in the tropical heat. We're more active, since we go swimming every day, sometimes more than once, and walk around a lot. We eat (sustainable) fish and fruit and salad. OK, and ice cream too. We love dressing for the weather, and in my case putting on as little as possible. Showing it off (on the beach, anyway) until it deteriorates entirely!

I realize that if we moved there (before retirement), we would have to work. And we both wonder if living there would take the shine off it. As well, even though Hawaii doesn't really seem like the United States, it is, and we would rather not live in the US for any number of reasons. And finally, we would be very far away from friends and family.

Still, there's a definite feeling of home there for us. We're thinking we might try a two-week test next time.

Meanwhile, a fresh pot helped with my reorientation. I think I'll make another.


Aloha spirit

Na Pali Coast
Today is the last full day for Sweetie and me in Hanalei on the island of Kaua'i. This is the third time we have come here, and the second time we have stayed in this beautiful rental house nicely situated between beach and town. Each time we have come, we have stayed for a week. We keep thinking we should make it two weeks, which would allow a better balance of activities and relaxation, but this time we were mostly about kicking back anyway.

We took a catamaran cruise to the Na Pali Coast that included a great snorkeling interlude, and we had one hour massages side by side in a tent that opens onto the ocean. Those were our main tourist activities. The rest of the time we did a lot of swimming in water warm enough for a wuss like me, had a few dinners out and two dinners that we made ourselves at the house (ahi tuna both times), spent a couple of hours at the Kaua'i Museum in Lihu'e, and had a great shopping trip to a. ell atelier in Kapa'a, a boutique that features locally designed, locally made, and sustainable clothing and accessories.

There is so much that we love about Hawai'i in general and this island in particular. We both seem to thrive in a warmer climate. We find that the island has much more fresh, local, and often organic produce than it did just a few years ago. The Hanalei farmers and craft market was hopping! And although not everyone here is an angel, we do find a prevailing "spirit of aloha."

The word aloha is used for both "hello" and "goodbye" but the meaning goes much deeper. We hear a lot of talk about "aloha spirit," which means among other things a spirit of generosity, sharing, and living lightly with respect for nature. "Don't be a dick," actor Wil Wheaton famously tweeted. Aloha spirit is the opposite of being a dick. On a small island with a fragile ecosystem, people want to help each other and help the land.

Print dress from a. ell by Scrapbook Clothing
We always try to participate not only in a general way but in at least one specific way—to wit, by picking up at least one hitchhiker. There is a bus that runs along the main highway around the island, but it doesn't run very often. Still, some people don't have a car, so hitchhiking is common. Last time we were here, we picked up a young woman on our way back from Kapa'a and brought her to Hanalei. She was great company, told us some interesting things about local flora, and left us with several apple bananas, which we love, that she had picked herself. This time, we were driving back from a lovely dinner in Kapa'a in the dark, and we picked up a young woman and man and brought them to a produce farm south of Princeville. They were living in a cabin on the farm. Part of what they picked covered their board, and the rest made them cash. We were glad to be able to spread our own aloha spirit, if only in a small way.

Vacation is one thing. Living in paradise is another. The weather is being particularly crazy today. Everything is expensive here. You either get used to the feral roosters crowing, and not only at daybreak, or they make you crazy. And there is only so much to do here. I remember a boat captain on Maui who said that periodically he would fly to the mainland just so he could go to a few concerts that weren't Hawai'ian music.

The humidity is pretty amazing! If I lived here, I would probably have my hair cut differently. Right now, it's like a bush. The upside is that moisturizer for your skin is almost redundant! We learned last time that if you use your usual night cream on your face, it feels like it's still on your skin in the morning.

We do love this place. We muse about retiring here or even moving here before retirement, although Medicare is broke and the Affordable Care Act is not really what it ought to be yet and maybe won't be during our lifetimes. But it's probably best, at least for now, if we just come stay here periodically. Right now, I miss our house, our kitty, our band, our friends. I want to get back to my guitars and my gardens and having more ingredients with which to cook. We have a show to play on Saturday and two masters (alternates) of our upcoming record to listen to.

We will bid a sad farewell to Kauai but know that we will be back again. We will say a happy hello to Vancouver and do our best to bring aloha spirit with us to the place that is still our home.

Mahalo for reading!


Return of the native

I fell in love with my garden again. I should say "gardens," plural, because in our case the entire lot is something other than lawn. To wit, several garden areas made up mostly of plants native to this part of the country or nearby. The only grass I mow is on the edges of the lot and actually belongs to the city.

I started this project after our first major renovation in which a dilapidated detached garage was removed, a deck and bathroom built over a carport and shed off the back of the house, and fencing installed around most of the perimeter. By the time the builders were done, what was once the back lawn was nothing but dirt and rocks. It looked like a war zone.

Side garden 2005. Flowering currant, turf grass, no trees.
We thought about renting one of those tiny graders, but we never did. Instead, we slowly rehabilitated the back of the lot, regrading manually as we did so. We also slowly and painfully removed the turf from the side and front of the lot. Instead of grass, I planted native trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and ground covers. I built a stone walkway through the side garden and some dirt paths in the back. Because we did not have a natural spot for a rock garden, I piled some of the nastiest mess into the middle of the back garden and covered it with soil and rocks, creating a mound. I reserved one area in what I thought was a sunny corner for a vegetable garden.

Not only are native plants suited to the climate; they are also suited to the rather acidic soil that we have here. Except for the vegetable garden, I never brought any soil into these gardens. As well, the gardens are xerescaped, meaning that once a plant becomes established, it should no longer need watering. And if it does need watering, it might not have been correctly sited. I've lost a few plants along the way because they just weren't right for the spot where I planted them.

Mock orange flower
Now, after 10 years, we have gardens that to a large extent maintain themselves. We have small-ish trees such as Pacific dogwood, black hawthorne, vine maple, and paper birch. We have shrubs small and large like the beautiful ocean spray, mock orange, black twinberry, salmonberry, yellow flowering currant, and snowberry. We have a few varieties of fern and several low-growing perennials such as vanilla leaf, false Solomon's seal, wild ginger, yellow violet, a few species of penstemon, and two kinds of wild strawberry. We also have lots of birds, bees, squirrels, and snails, and seemingly a healthy ecosystem in the soil.

Self-maintaining to a large extent, but not entirely. In the autumn and winter, we do some cleanup, mostly removing dead leaves and trimming off flower stalks. I also get out my trusty hedge trimmer. Some of the shrubs get rangy or just plain huge. A hard pruning doesn't hurt them but ends up making them grow better. And in the spring and really all growing season, there are invasive plants, also known as weeds. Dandelion and it's late season cousin (the one with the tougher stem), creeping buttercup, holly from the nearby park, and quite a few small plants the names of which I do not know. There is also an abundance of maple seedlings from the sycamore that's as old as the house, and somewhat fewer horse chestnut seedlings from the huge boulevard tree that belongs to the city. I don't want any of these things in my gardens. I don't want them competing for resources or crowding out the natives. So we get down on our knees and dig out the weeds.

Rehabilitation of nodding onion (after grass removal)
I was really into the gardening and landscaping for several years. Then when things got fairly well established and there wasn't that much to do other than maintenance, I slacked off a bit. And then I got distracted by other things. The garden suffered. I lost some plants. Some others lost ground to grasses and other invaders. I didn't keep up with the weeding.

This year, we seem to be back on track. Sweetie started it with an aggressive weeding campaign earlier in the summer. And recently I have stepped up my own maintenance. The garden is getting back its shape. It's a semi-wild garden, but we don't want it to run completely wild. It has its own shape and form.

Nodding onion flower up close
In a lot of ways, it's a silly time of year to get all enthusiastic again. Most of my plants bloom in spring and early summer. At this point, the only flowers left are some ocean spray (slowly browning), nodding onion, bits of penstemon, and some of the non-native succulents in the rock garden. But I still love being up close with my plants. I don't really love the weeding itself. It's tedious and back-breaking. But I'm treating it as habitat rehabilitation. I'm carefully extracting things like grass and buttercup and maple seedlings and allowing the plants I want to have a better chance. I'm being very careful about what I clear, but I find that some of the natives have jumped out of their original locations, especially violet, nodding onion, and strawberry, which goes everywhere. I'm letting some of them stay at least to see if they help keep the weeds down. And they're pretty growing in smaller cluster, sometimes sharing space.

Not many people appreciate the garden, but I'm proud of it. I love how I don't have to water it. I love how it's like a mini-wildlife habitat. And sometimes someone visits who understands what I have done. They are pleased and I am gratified.

I was on the leading edge in the early 2000s. Now both native plant gardening and xerescaping are starting to go mainstream, especially with many locations under watering restrictions during the summer. I'm glad I'm back to communing with my babies. I think they're happier for it.