2021/06/30

Troublemaker 2.x

In 2017, I was asked to participate in the second round of Troublemakers, a program by community development group Reel Youth that matches young, queer filmmakers with queer community elders. It was the second year of the project, thus Troublemakers 2.0.

Most people seem to think I'm much less introverted and neurodiverse than I am. I have tried hard to fit into the normal world, and I think I give the impression that I'm better at it than is really the case. This is why people invite me to things like Troublemakers.

I said yes because I thought it was a great project and an honour to be asked to participate. But sometimes you should say no to things even if you disappoint the person asking, and that time I should have followed my gut.

It was a difficult weekend for me.  I was uncomfortable going in. I felt out of place. Group exercises felt awkward and sometimes even painful. I met many wonderful people that weekend, but I was just in the wrong frame of mind for a big group thing. I felt bad because I had put myself in the situation, and then bad again because I hate being a drag.

At the same time, the very young filmmaker I was assigned to work with had issues of his own. He wanted to make the interview entirely spontaneous. We tried that on the first day of shooting, but it left us with pretty much no usable footage. So on the final day, one of the mentors helped fix the questions, and then kept us on script while helping the filmmaker stay focused and positive. I could have prompted less generic questions, but I did not. I just wanted to cooperate with the process. I wanted the filmmaker to do well too.

It worked, pretty much. The film came out well enough. It's well shot and edited. I recognize the person speaking. The music stuff was good. I also talked about sex, which was about as close to the edge as we got. The rest is trivial. I hadn't let them know in advance about any other troublemaking, and the questions didn't go in that direction, so it's a pretty untroubled film.

I could have re-upped and participated in Troublemakers 5.0, but I knew it would be no better a fit for me now than it was four years ago. Instead, I'll write about the trouble I made that I should have talked about when I had the opportunity.

I went to a private Catholic school run by an order of teaching sisters. I was smart and had unrecognized ADHD, so I was often bored and in need of stimulation. I had a bad tendency to latch onto troublemakers and then join in with them. All the way through grade eight, I had excellent academic marks and terrible conduct marks.

By GIF version: Stoic atarianSVG version: WhiteTimberwolf - Vectorized PD image on English Wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2111203
None of that was "good trouble," just acting out. My troublemaking improved in high school. I became an environmentalist when that was still considered extreme. I wore a black armband on the first anniversary of the Kent State massacre. My friend and I were hauled into the principal's office for creating and distributing an unauthorized publication. I used my position as yearbook editor to make a political statement in the opening thematic section. As class valedictorian, I made a speech at graduation condemning the widening war in Vietnam, and I urged my fellow newly enfranchised 18-year-olds to vote for change.

At university I participated in antiwar protests. There was a big one in the autumn of 1972 in front of an armory where a Nixon fund-raising dinner was going on. We were run off by police after someone set fire to a car.

I had a folk music show on campus radio, and I aired a whole lot of controversial stuff during my four years at the mic, staying just this side of having the Jesuits come down on my musical selections.

In 1975 I was part of the Campaign for Economic Democracy, which Jeremy Rifkin led before he went off the deep end. We staged an all-night concert and protest at Concord Bridge, where President Jerry Ford made a speech commemorating the 200th anniversary of the start of the Revolutionary War (we did not succeed in interrupting the festivities).

After university, I got involved with the Clamshell Alliance. I was part of a huge protest at the Seabrook, New Hampshire nuclear power station. I was less afraid of meltdowns than I was concerned about the disposal of nuclear waste.

When I started making original music in the 1980s, it was raw and sharp and in yer face. I wrote anti-Reagan diatribes. I railed against the shallowness of modern life and the siren song of consumerism and wealth disparities. I had been brought up with strong ideals. They got pretty smashed up in 1968 and the years following, but I never lost them.

I shifted from music to acting in the late 1980s into the 90s. I was not making a lot of trouble then, other than for myself. I moved to Vancouver in 1994. I spent many years working, saving up to buy a house, and living through shit like 9/11. I made no appreciable trouble for many years.

I started to break out of that in 2006, the year I volunteered for a queer help line at Qmunity (then called The Centre). I even helped train new volunteers. In 2009, I volunteered at the first Girls Rock Camp Vancouver. At the time, it was still pretty subversive to help girls to make their own music and play together in bands, and this was an organization that was mostly run by queer women. I did GRCV for its first two years. I then helped to run Ladies Rock Camp so we could subvert the grown-ups too, and finally went back to GRVC for one more year.

Lisa's Hotcakes laughing, shipping containers in background
Thanks to Girls and Ladies rock camps, I connected with local musicians, local women, and local queer women. In 2012, my bass-playing spouse and I formed Lisa's Hotcakes with two other rock camp alumnae. Hotcakes wasn't exactly a subversive band, but it goes against the norm to have older women making their own music together. And we were three-quarters queer.

In 2014, after Hotcakes was done, I became a charter member of Femme City Choir, a group of queer femmes, all of whom were younger than me, usually much younger. While having fun singing, I got steeped in queer, activist Millennial thinking. I learned a lot from them, and when I didn't agree with them, I learned a lot on my own. They prompted me to re-evaluate just how progressive I was and where I could do better. My time in FCC was not always easy, but I think it was crucial to the way I think today.

I feel as though I've regained my youthful fervor for change, with a lifetime's-worth of better ideas of what those changes should be. I joined the BC Greens, not exactly the establishment party, and volunteered in the two most recent provincial elections. I helped make New West Pride the most accessible Pride festival around, and then worked to keep reducing and eliminating barriers.

The election of D. Trump as president of the United States certainly focused my thinking. He was much more alarming than Nixon or Reagan or even Dubya. My long-time anti-fascism became popular again. The non-racism I was brought up with became anti-racism. The feminism I had never lost became more important than ever.

Not all old people become conservative. I support land back to Indigenous peoples. I want radical, effective action to mitigate global heating. I want white supremacism to die with a stake through its heart. I'm not as energetic as I was when I was younger, but I'm still ready to make trouble to make change.

2021/06/07

All things in moderation

That was my mother's motto. She was pretty extreme about her moderation.

I had a glass of wine last night whilst watching TV, the end of a bottle that I've been using for cooking. It was a'ight. It mostly made me sleepy. I did not suffer for it. I'm glad for that. I'm still hoping that when real summer happens (we've had two pseudo-summers so far), I will be able to enjoy some beer. With company.

I pop into Twitter from time to time. I have posted or shared a few times and replied a few times. I'm not feeling compelled to go through every tweet in my feed that has shown up since the last time I looked. Apparently I'm using the hours (yes, hours) I used to spend on Twitter doings something else. I don't feel that I have the time to give to Twitter that I once did.

I miss knowing what's up with friends and neighbours. I miss feeling connected and better informed about issues. I do not miss the compulsion to check my timeline often, getting wound up by Twitter, or having to censor myself so as not to give offence. I do not miss GIFs, TikToks, or snark.

I am not going to preach the joys of reducing social media and/or screen time. Everyone has to figure out what works for them. The difference in my brain is still noticeable, but my brain is weird.

I'm currently reading The Obelisk Gate, the second book in The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. If anything, I'm even more absorbed in it than in the first book, The Fifth Season. Jemisin's world invention is astounding. And all while telling a rippin' yarn, she says important things about us and the society we live in.

I'm also reading another ostensible self-help book, another that I learned about through CBC Radio 1, called The Dance Cure by Dr. Peter Lovatt. If it helps my self, great, but I'm mostly interested in the what happens in our brain and body when we dance. Very interesting so far. Maybe I'll start bopping around the living room like no one is watching.

2021/05/08

The bluebird of Twitterlessness

 It's Day 6 without Twitter. All is calm. All is a'ight.

I've enjoyed using Twitter since 2007, back when normal people thought it was silly. My engagement ramped up when a certain twice-impeached former would-be dictator occupied the White House, the same time as those who had scratched their heads for 10 years signed up, and Twitter exploded.

I watched from the country next door as the country of my birth waved its Confederate battle flag, murdered its Black citizens, had its highest court packed with right-wing extremists, and almost lost its democracy. I went in even harder when COVID hit. We also had a provincial election, and then a U.S. presidential and congressional election. For lots of reasons, it was important for me to try to keep up with several streams of news and views.

For a while, I had been feeling that I might be consuming more media than was really good for me. I started wondering how much time I spent using Twitter, and what I might do with the time if I stayed off Twitter. It reached a critical point for me when I was reading Hunt, Gather, Parent (but that's a whole other story) and felt that I needed to stop consuming, to be thoughtful, and to consider what might need to change in my life.

The main thing I did more of without Twitter was read books. I finished Hunt, Gather, Parent, and then zipped through a novel for my local book club. I'm a fairly slow reader. I can't get rid of the reading-aloud voice in my head. But I feel as though this recent reading was rather effortless. I also found that I enjoy reading more. I had always though retirement would be good for reading, but until now, not so much.

I've written more as well, but otherwise I haven't added a specific activity other than reading. Reducing my media consumption is not magic. I would be spending time working in and enjoying my garden anyway. I haven't adding any extra cooking. I haven't played music! (Hmmmm.)

I noticed, though, that I was getting to things more quickly than I used to. I got dressed earlier, was out in the garden earlier. I even did some household chores that weren't particularly fun with much less procrastinating than usual.

An adult diagnosis of ADHD is hard to obtain, so let's just say that I have ADHD symptoms and have had them for as long as I can remember. Now, correlation does not equal causality, but since I got off Twitter, my symptoms have decreased noticeably.

Most obvious for me is distractibility. Why did it never occur to me that Twitter was the apotheosis of distraction? It was working as designed: drawing me away from whatever I was doing or trying to do, keeping me engaged, winding me up, and keeping me coming back for more.

Less distraction means better focus. Improved focus might be why reading feels easier. It helps in getting me through my day more like a functioning adult. My anxiety is lower. I'm feeling more relaxed than I have been for a while.

I had thought, or told myself, that Twitter was a net positive experience for me, that the good I got out of it and the satisfaction I got from using it outweighed any negative effects, which I have always known were there. I now know that even if the negative effects are few, they definitely weigh in my life more than the many positive effects.

This is not a controlled experiment, of course. Life is full of variables. I had my first vaccine jab several weeks ago, and although I haven't changed my behaviour and likely won't change much before jab #2, I'm probably a little more at ease and feel a little less endangered. Hunt, Gather, Parent curiously gave me, a non-parent, many things to consider.

There was a knock-on effect as well. Without Twitter, I spent much less time looking at my phone, and sat at my laptop only to do actual work and not just use to Twitter and let that turn into surfing aimlessly. Even my light use of Facebook got lighter. Mostly I watch for birthdays.

I haven't been off Twitter entirely. I respond to direct messages. But lately, I've been trimming my following list a bit at a time and then checking to see if my timeline seems more manageable. People in my city stay on the list. Twitter is a curiously good connection among people here whom I might not encounter otherwise. And I keep accounts I wouldn't want to be without, so far.

I need to know what's going on in the world. I need to keep myself open and learning. I need to stay in touch with neighbours. I also need to manage my anxiety level. I don't expect zero anxiety. I don't want to live in a bubble. But I can't let my need to stay connected have a negative effect on my well-being.

Somehow, I need to get what I want and mostly avoid what I don't want. I need the news and views and connections, but not full throttle. I'm not sure yet how I can make that happen.

(I shall now hypocritically post a link to this post on Twitter and Facebook.)

2021/04/17

Less than intoxicating

Hello, my name is Véronique, and I...stopped drinking.

I didn't resolve to quit. I wasn't drinking too much. In fact, I had been drinking less and less. But at some point around Christmas, I didn't buy any more beer or wine. The wine cellar was already down to a single bottle of Viognier ice wine. I recall one Irish coffee around the holidays, then no more.

I love beer and wine. I love alcoholic beverages of all kinds. But they no longer love me. Upon reflection, they never really did. When I was younger, I could better tolerate alcohol's ill effects, but I still suffered from many a hangover. As well, a combination of alcohol and my relaxant of choice can produce its own bad effects.

As I got older the ill effects became worse, and have become much worse since I turned into an old-age pensioner. I wouldn't get hung over. I'm reasonably sure it was migraine, or maybe even both, if that's possible. Brain capillaries misbehaving and brain dehydrated at the same time? Seems logical. If that sort of thing happened, I would lose the whole day. Sometimes I was sick to the point of not being able to keep down water for several hours.

There's nothing worse than having a raging migraine but being unable to ingest caffeine, and then getting a lack-of-caffeine headache added in.

The maddening thing would be that bad mornings after, even mildly bad, didn't always happen. In fact, they didn't happen very often, and they were unpredictable. Many times, I could have a couple of glasses of wine or two pints of beer and be fine the next day. But another time I would have a single glass of something and suffer the consequences. And the worse effects were getting frequent enough to finally convince me that I didn't want to go through one of those days again.

I sip more Oasis mango and peach-mango juice than I used to. They have a lot of sugar, so I try not to drink too much. Tasty though.

I really don't want to have to avoid alcohol entirely. I would love to share porch beers this summer (being optimistic). I very much enjoy a glass of good wine with food. And sometimes cider is particularly satisfying. But I'm a little afraid even to test the waters. I have an open bottle of white in the fridge from when I made ragù bolognese last week, and no immediate cooking need. Do I dare try a small glass?

I imagine I will at some point. I don't want that wine to become undrinkable or unusable. I don't want to go all summer without my current favourite summer craft beer, hazy (or New England-style) IPA. But I'm in no hurry. Aversion therapy works! Nasty, but effective. So it might take me a while to hop off the wagon. If indeed I do.

2021/03/12

Shape the world

The somewhat shambolic release of Shake the World was completed today. I uploaded my cartoon cover to OneRPM and clicked the button that will send the album out to streaming services -- some more quickly than others.

The album is far from slick, but then so was last year. This record is really a record of my 2020, the depression, the anxiety, the increased consumption of various coping things, the difficult learning curve, the intensity of being on the edge.

I could have used this as a demo and then recorded everything properly in a studio, or even more properly in my own studio. But that would have been a different album. There's nothing that says I can't re-record any of these songs if I feel like it. But this album exists, and it is what it is.

The work is not completed until I do some follow-up to see if I can interest anyone in playing this music on good old-fashioned campus and community radio, but I need to do other things as well. Spring is springing. Gardens to tend, books to read, dessert to bake. Drawing more pictures, taking walks, getting back on the bicycle. Getting vaccinated. Getting in good trouble. And soon, no doubt, I will be unable to resist heading back downstairs to Studio Exigu.

2021/03/10

For sin she must atone

"Tears of a Crone" started as a riff recorded on my phone, from about the same time as "Edge of Arpeg." It wasn't quite as bouncy at first. It got that way as I played it over and over, imagining different phrasings. Lyrics were not coming to me, and yet I knew it needed lyrics. Unlike "Edge," it didn't have its own melody.

It wasn't long before I was calling the riff "hip-hop." I don't know what prompted me to go in that direction. It's not like white grandauntie had ever demonstrated her flow. But it remained "hip-hop" as I tried to write lyrics.

And then, just as with "Nasty Boy," I found some lyrics. Judging by the notebook I found them in, I had written them not all that long ago, and yet I had no recollection of them. The rhyme scheme was AABB, like a lot of songs I've written. It soon became apparent that those As and Bs needed to be doubled. I threw out an entire verse that sucked, and then basically doubled the remaining doublets. I loved that process! I found I really liked having those four rhyming lines in a row to say what I wanted to say.

The chorus might be tongue-in-cheek. Sort of. Notice sin shows up yet again. Catholicism is hard to get away from!

Metronome, strummed Stratocaster, capo 5. That's the core of the song. Yes, I left the generated rhythm track in on purpose. Djembe felt right for the percussion, and I love any excuse to play it. I improvised off the rhythm guitar. Then I improvised the lead guitar off the djembe. It's odd to have a musical conversation with yourself, but I was really happy with how it worked.

I really enjoyed the chance to record quiet vocals. I do not have a big voice by any means. On my list to order: a decent pop screen. I did learn how to reduce the sound of plosive "p" and "b" hitting the diaphragm of the mic during the mix, because I had to, but much better to prevent it.

I think I'm proudest of this song. It came together late. I have no idea where some of those rhymes came from, but I love these lyrics. They feel very good in my mouth. And this recording was the most problem-free.

It's the answer to "nothing to say" in the opening song. It's a coda to the loud and messy "Shake the World." I had never written anything like it, and I don't know if I will again, but I'm glad I did it once.

2021/03/08

Shake the world all over

"Shake the World" was quickly written for the 2017 rock lotto to benefit Girls Rock Camp Vancouver. We needed one more song quickly. I brought in the chords and some lyrics, and the other members of lotto band Stussy (not Stüssy) added their parts.

This song is about young people. Greta Thunberg inspired me. My Millennial bandmates inspired me. Many young people inspire me. I don't say "the kids will save us," but they're often doing their part and sometimes more than their share.

The arrangement is similar to what we did in Stussy. I played drums pretty much as Sunny had done, with the snare off. I played the doubled flanged guitars at the end to evoke Ida's keyboard playing. We did a long outro at the show, and she led it. And finally, I played the bass part that Lauren played in that outro section. The guitar descends from A to G. But the bass plays D to G. That's what makes the odd tension in that chord, because the bass add a fourth to the normal triad chord and changes the feel completely.

This was a technically fraught recording. Many things went wrong that I had to overcome. The live drums that seemed fine before mastering again are fighting the compressor, although on this song that kind of fits. I always intended for the outro to have a psychedelic-era Beatles feel.