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.

2021/03/05

Come to Jesus

I wrote "Some Kinda Change" after Lisa's Hotcakes stopped playing (we never actually broke up). T-Bone and I practised it in V+T, but I felt it was more a song for me or some band in my head than for the duo. It needed a bass.

The song is some kind of story, but I didn't really set out to tell a story. The suggestions of story evolved out of word play. I seem not to be able to write about nothing. As with several of my songs, there's a relationship in it. The relationship in "The Easy Way" is hetero, but this one's a lez thing. Lesbians having adventures. People in my songs have the adventures I don't have.

That snarly guitar near the centre? For years, that and the vocal were the song, and this production stuck close to that feel. In fact, that guitar is a scratch guitar, the one you play first as a guide so you can then add other instruments. I thought I'd replace it, but I liked it better than every other take.

I played live drums again, like "Nasty Boy." I hit the snare on 2 and 4 with eighth notes on the floor tom, all the way through except for the stops in the middle section. I'm old. It was exhausting but exhilarating, but I was happy with the result.

I wish I could have recorded the drums better, but for some reason it had not yet occurred to me that I own a PA, which has a mixing board with six inputs that I could have used to mix several drum mics into the stereo signal that my computer interface accepts. In future, whenever I want to record live drums.

"Some Kinda Change" goes back to my roots in simple, hard-edged music: Neil Young, Keith Richards, the Stooges, the Gun Club, the Jim Carroll Band.  There's sin in here, as in some of my other songs. There's even some Jesus. My approach to music and art are to struggle against both personal and human limitations and to make something good from whatever bits and pieces of talent I have. This song is a good illustration.