2013th year of the common era

Being all witchy and stuff, my year started a while ago. Samhain (October 31–November 1) to be precise. So I've already been working on how to make this sun-round better. I joined SOCAN, the group that collects royalties for any of my published songs that get played. I joined the Songwriters Association of Canada, which was the sponsor of the very useful Songposium that I went to last autumn. Through SAC gatherings, I hope to find one or more songwriting partners. I joined MusicBC. I'm not sure yet what that is going to do for me (it's a bit like a local version of SAC), but I'm sure I'll find out. I started to aim for one completed song a day (whether any good or not) and have only two (good) songs to show for it, but I will get back on the horse once all this holiday foofaraw is done.

I guess that's Resolution #1 for the regular new year: get back on the songwriting horse.

I also resolve to go to an open mic night, most likely the one on Tuesdays that's run by Oswaldo Perez, who also books the British Ex-Servicemen's Association. I can play Hotcakes songs as well as songs that Hotcakes don't do. There might be one interruption to this. My acoustic guitar is in fine shape, but not its built-in pickup. The battery came loose, and it needs to be fixed. The quarter-inch jack also needs some work because the connection was always a bit unreliable (something I should have had taken care of right after I bought it, but that's water under the bridge).

I'm hoping open mic nights might also be semi-Hotcakes nights. The last time I asked our singer G if she wanted to duet, she was more amenable than she had been earlier. More confidence! And that's good in and of itself.

Anything non-musical, you might well ask? Good question. I will soon be back on the cross-trainer horse and no longer indulging in awesome crumbly shortbread cookies. I cleaned my desk off, but this office is still a mess. It just has one less messy place. And I find that I work better when my office isn't a pigsty, because then I like being here more. I'm also taking on some new duties at work and shifting a few of my current ones to my boss. We're going to share some of the administrative tasks so he can "get his hands dirty" (digging into the code).

I can and should always be a better spouse. I can be a better listener for everyone. I can work on my time management so that I have more time for the things I really want to do, like write and play and meet with friends.

And back to musical things, I know there will be band goals. It's probably not too soon to plan for the next recording, whatever form that might take. As I keep writing, we need to work more new songs into the mix so that we can have more flexibility about putting sets together. We will continue to try to book a gig a month and to get more notice through all means at our disposal, especially social networking.

I will continue paying attention to fashion and style, and I might get back to studying fashion merchandising. We'll see how the term off feels. I might also want to go visit some people who are far away. And Sweetie and I are planning to head to New York at Passover to see her (our) uncle and aunt. It will be my first seder! I imagine there will be more new experiences in store this year. I'm much more open to them than I used to be.

One curious fact of my life: my personal sun-round matches the turn of the year. When the common era year turns to 2013, it's my personal new year as well!

Wishing for good things in 2013 for my family, friends, and the whole friggin' world!


What did you expect?

When the Conservative Party of Canada had only a minority in the House of Commons, I thought that was quite bad enough, but at least the other parties could keep them in check. Without a majority, the Conservative government did not have carte blanche to push legislation through the House. They had to compromise. Opposition members could vote down any legislation that was totally unacceptable. And if it was a bill that a matter of confidence, such a vote would trigger an election.

Majority rules

I knew a Conservative majority would be a disaster for Canada. I said so over and over again during the election. I posted more than once on Facebook about the need to vote smart so that the Conservatives would not be allowed to win a majority. I am a proud member of the Liberal Party of Canada, but in my riding, I voted for the New Democratic Party candidate, because I did not want a vote split on the centre-left that might have allowed the Conservative candidate to slip up the middle. I hated not being able to vote for my party's candidate, but the NDP candidate (the incumbent MP) was much more likely to win. So I voted strategically. I don't think that's a great way to go, but unless we get rid of single member plurality ("first past the post") voting, it's an electoral reality. To me, nothing was more important than preventing a Conservative majority, one riding at a time.

There were many reasons that the Conservatives won a plurality of votes in a majority of ridings across the country. One, of course, is that they have the support of roughly a third of Canadian voters. This baffles me. Who are these people who actually think that Stephen Harper should be allowed to form a majority government? Do I know any of them? Is their vision of Canada really so radically different than mine? It would seem so.

I don't know if that core of support will ever shift. But it's only about a third of the vote. If enough other people had voted strategically in their ridings, as I did, it is very unlikely that the Conservatives would have won a majority of seats. There would have been more Liberal MPs from ridings where the Liberal candidate was stronger, and more NDP MPs from ridings where the NDP candidate was stronger. Sadly, or perhaps even tragically, not enough voters thought this way. In ridings where a non-Conservative candidate might have won, they stuck by their party's candidate, split the centre-left vote, and allowed the Conservative candidate to win. I consider those people to be partly responsible for the majority government we have suffered with for over a year, and with almost three more years to come.

The final group that is responsible for the Conservative majority is the vast number of elegible voters who did not vote. I don't have any data, but I think it most likely that if non-voters had stepped up, they would have voted somewhere on the centre-left. Conservative supporters did not stay home. They got out and voted. It's those who might have voted NDP or Liberal who stayed home.

Yes, I'm pointing fingers.

The predictable response

First Nations by themselves could not have changed the electoral outcome. I have to expect that they were unlikely to have voted Conservative. I imagine they knew well what a Conservative majority would do. Yet now they suffer probably more than any of us under the Harper government. So I applaud the Idle No More movement. The government needs to know that native people are opposed to its policies. Native leaders need to know that the way they are dealing with the government is not working. And the rest of us need to understand that there is a serious problem with relations between the country and its First Nations citizens.

Many non-natives are joining native people in demonstrations and expressions of solidarity with Chief Theresa Spence and with all native people. They are upset with the Harper government. They are ashamed of what it is doing in the name of Canada.

I wish they had prevented the Conservative majority when they had the chance. Seriously, what did they expect? The Conservative agenda wasn't hidden. I could have predicted that they would run roughshod over Canadian traditions, the democratic process, and human rights. In fact, I did.

Sadly, or perhaps tragically, Harper and his MPs form the duly elected government of Canada. Unless they do something illegal (no, wait, even that didn't work, since Harper was already found in contempt of Parliament), we're stuck with them until 2015. Does anyone really think Stephen Harper will back down and speak with Chief Spence? Her hunger strike is her own choice, and if she dies, it will also be her own choice. Harper has no incentive to admit that he has done anything wrong. And even if a person is absolutely in the right, coercion is still coercion, and a government would have to be in a serious position of weakness to respond to coercion. This government is not weak. There is no backbench rebellion brewing. Some polls show their support as high as 40 percent.

I'm not one for demonstrations. I think they are mostly exercises in feeling good about ourselves without actually doing anything other than taking time and going outside. But perhaps these demonstrations will bring the legitimate concerns of native people to the attention of more people. Perhaps they will even be an international embarrassment for Harper.

What I really want, though, is to see native leaders set out a plan for how we should move forward. The Indian Act has to go, but not without input from native people. There needs to be a framework for what will replace it that will allow native people to determine their own future. They have that right by treaty. Many of us are against the Harper government and the way it behaves. But we need to do something constructive while that government remains in power. It's easy to oppose. It's much more difficult to propose.

I also want to make sure that non-natives become allies but respect that this movement belongs to native people. I want the agenda to be theirs, not one imposed by non-native people with their own agendas. I have already seen signs of this movement being used by the many opposed to Harper for their own reasons. The last thing native people need is well-meaning non-natives of whatever political inclination taking their movement away.


Christmas skills

There are many people for whom Christmas is not a time of peace, love, and joy. People have anxiety or depression around Christmas for all kinds of reasons—lack of family, lack of money, sad associations from the past, and more.

I have reasons as well. I'm not a Christian. Except for Sweetie, my family are all far away. I miss my cousin's big family gathering (I have a lot of cousins). I don't even have a work Christmas party to go to (although I did enjoy a lovely Chanukah party earlier in the month).

Still, those things are not why I sometimes get depressed at Christmas. For me, it's because I don't "do" Christmas well. I'm not very skilled at it. Some people are extremely skilled at Christmas! And many do quite well enough at it. Sweetie is one. She's very good at decorating and excellent at finding the right gifts. Those are skills that I don't have. Christmas highlights my own holiday seasonal inadequacy. Sweetie didn't want to do any Christmas baking this year (she's good at that too), but I probably should have, because it's one thing that I actually am skilled at.

Even though Christmas has no religious significance for me, and I think much of the secular celebration is crap, I'm not really a "bah humbug" type. I love traditional Christmas carols, including the religious ones, because they're beautiful. We get a real Yule (or Christmas) tree every year, and I love that, all strung with lights and ornaments. I love Christmas food and Christmas gatherings. I love sending and receiving cards. I even love the Christmas story, although I think it's only a story. I cry whenever I watch A Charlie Brown Christmas when Linus quotes from the Gospel of Luke. The story is so beautiful that it's no wonder people think it's true, or want it to be true. So I can't just say "fuck Christmas" and not care about it. I do care.

The people who are skilled at Christmas seem to be innately good at it, but maybe it's not innate. I imagine some have more talent for Christmas than others, but maybe Christmas skill can be learned. In which case, I could learn it. I'm not sure how, but there ought to be a way. Maybe one thing is to start early. Stay alert all year long for clues from people as to what they might like and what they wish for. Shop early, ship early. Find some cool recipes and get back to Christmas baking, and give all of it away (as we have done in the past). Light more candles. I am the least craft-y person I know, but maybe I could learn to make a Yule/Christmas decoration. And maybe we could even add to the glut of Christmas parties by hosting a party of our own. Someone always needs one more winter celebration.

Christmas Eve can be hard when you know you haven't done these things, and it's far, far too late to start. So I will just have to make next year different. I've done that in other areas of my life. Why not Christmas too?

Meanwhile, chapeau! to you who love Christmas and are very good at it. I have great admiration for you. And I envy the happiness you get from the season and appreciate when I am the beneficiary of your Christmas largesse. I'll have what you're having.

Word of the year

Annching Wang is a clothing designer who makes beautiful clothes from sustainable fabrics. Her label is called Avery by Wang, if you're interested. I receive a newsletter from her by email. In the one she just sent, she spoke about her "word of the year"—"bloom," because her business grew and flowered.

When I read that, I realized what my word of the year for 2012 is: "friendship."

I am playing in Lisa's Hotcakes with two wonderful friends and my spouse, who is also my best friend. There were never auditions for the band. We started playing with our friend T just because we wanted to give it a try, and we liked it so much we kept playing. And when we asked among friends if anyone wanted to try singing with us, our friend G came over, and the result was magic. And not only has the band done quite well for its first year; playing together has allowed the friendship among all of us to grow. That friendship has been tested as well! You can't have a band without a few disagreements and rough times. But so far we have come through it all even stronger.

There is a woman who used to work at the grocery store where I shop every week. It's the kind of place where I get to know the people who work there, at least their names. And whenever she would be at cash, we would chat. She seemed like such a cool person. Last spring, I took a chance. I gave her my email address and asked if she wanted to meet up for coffee. I realize in hindsight that it sounded like a pickup line, but it wasn't. She took a chance as well. Since then, we have formed an amazing friendship. In just a few months, we have reached a trust level and depth of sharing that usually take years. I am so grateful for her! I will do my part so that our friendship continues to grow.

And then in the autumn, there was the best high school class reunion ever. I truly enjoyed seeing all the people who came. But there was more to it. There's a classmate with whom I've been friends since high school. We hung out with the same people and went to the same parties. She and I have kept up over the years, but only by infrequent emails and the occasional card. She had encouraged me to make the trip for the reunion. And since I came in a day early, we arranged to spend Saturday together. As soon as she pulled up and got out of the car, we knew that something was different, and better, between us. We spent the day driving hither and yon, doing a bit of shopping, having lunch, sipping coffee, and chatting non-stop for all the time we were in the car. I have always counted her among my friends even though she is far away. Now I count her among my best friends. And I wish she weren't so far away!

There was so much more. The woman who runs the book club and I grew closer. I had another reunion with a friend from back in our first band days whom I had not seen for many years. I spent a quick but lovely weekend with very good friends in San Francisco and met someone whom I had previously known only online and by phone. I kept up (when possible) with a friend from counselling school and two from tech writing school. I made a new friend in the first fashion course I took and another in the second course. I spent time with many other people whom I know in and around Vancouver as well as friend who drove all the way from Calgary. I got on the phone with some friends who are far away.

One of my favourite parts of being volunteer coordinator for last spring's Ladies Rock Camp Vancouver was spending time with some very cool women. I also made new connections through camp, including meeting and spending time with someone whose music I admire greatly. When you can go from fan to friend, that's pretty special!

I don't leave family out of friendship. I got to spend quality time this summer with my mom, my sister and brother-in-law, two of my cousins (briefly but it was still very nice), and Sweetie's uncle and aunt, who are wonderful people and whom I consider to be my family as well (and I know it works the other way).

I don't leave my Sweetie out of this. We both love the time we get to spend together. We really do have an wonderful friendship at the heart of our relationship.

It's funny. I knew all this was true, and I've been grateful for it all year long. But it wasn't until Annching sent her own word of the year that I was prompted to think of mine. Thank you, Annching. And thank you all! You've all been part of this year being one of the best ever.


Song-a-day? Not quite

At the start of this current lunar cycle last week, I said I would do something. I wanted to write a song a day. Sit down each day, write, come up with something, and finish it. I didn't think every song would be good. In fact, I figured most might not be. But I saw it as songwriting exercise. Keep at it and you get stronger. Or like any kind of practice. Keep at it and you get better.

So far, song-a-day has resulted in a single song and a lot of fragmentary ideas. Not exactly a success yet. The good thing is that the one song I produced is good. But that's not the point. The point was to do a songwriter "workout" every day.

First came the weekend. Sweetie and I were out Friday night. We were not out Saturday night, but it wasn't work time. And since then, I think it's a matter of my not having prioritized blocks of time. I let other stuff get in the way. I let other stuff come first. Or I was just exhausted by the time I did make time. A day job plus the usual household stuff plus a nascent career sometimes make Véronique a tired girl.

I haven't been to the gym in a few days either. I sense a pattern.

The lunar month has gotten off to a bad start. But I can't let the fact that I've written only one song and haven't been to the gym since last week affect tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. I have to make some changes in time management, something I've never been good at. But if I don't, then I'm not very serious about this project, am I. Or the getting-in-shape project. And if I'm not serious about either of those, then I might as well give up. And I'm not going to give up.

How does that saying go? If you never quit, you can't fail? Here's to never quitting! And to new days, fresh starts, and hope.



I started teaching myself how to play guitar when I was 16 years old. I had already been writing bad poetry. Does a young teen write any other kind? I started to turn those poems into songs. Why did I do this? Not because I was popular, that's for sure.

It sucks to be plagued by feelings of inadequacy, but it does have an upside—if you can turn it into art, or at least entertainment. Not cool? Play guitar. Still not cool? Write songs and sing them. Still not cool? Make it your life.

Seriously, the star of the basketball team and the head cheerleader do not end up playing music. Their lives don't require it. They aren't lonely. They aren't outcasts. They have nothing to prove.

I know I have come a long way since I was a teenager. I should hope so! I have far more self-confidence than I had then, and more than I had only a few years ago. And yet the sense of inadequacy never leaves. And so I still play guitar, still write songs, still sing (a bit), still get on stage and make music with my friends. I do it because I have to. I do it because of a need that would be unfulfilled if I didn't.

I'll never be cool, but who cares. I make music!


Music of 2012

I wrote a blog post last year called Albums from 2011 that I downloaded (and paid for). It would be about time for a similar entry for 2012. But I was looking at some other lists, and I realized something. There is so much that I haven't heard! I'm not keeping up.

eMusic.com does encourage me to download at least some new albums because I pay monthly for the subscription. And some I got from Bandcamp or directly from the artist. Of albums released in 2012, these are the ones I bought:
  • Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra - Theatre Is Evil
  • A.C. Newman - Shut Down the Streets
  • Apollo Ghosts - Landmark
  • Bloc Party - Four
  • The Corin Tucker Band - Kill My Blues
  • DIIV - Oshin
  • Dum Dum Girls - End of Daze (EP)
  • Grass Widow - Internal Logic
  • Holograms - Holograms
  • Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur
  • La Sera - Sees the Light
  • Ladyhawk - No Can Do
  • The New Values - The New Values
  • prOphecy Sun - Bird Curious
  • The Raveonettes - Observator
  • Stars - The North
  • Tyranahorse - Garbage Bears (EP)
  • White Lung - Sorry
  • Wintermitts - Océans
I don't see anything here that hit me quite like PJ Harvey's Let England Shake or the full-length debut from Veronica Falls or the Pack a.d.'s Unpersons or Feist's Metals, my top picks for 2011. But there are still high points. I was never an Amanda Palmer fan, but I'm definitely a fan of this album (and of her stage show). My love of lo-fi was satisfied by the Dum Dum Girls (better than Only in Dreams), Grass Widow (I downloaded all three of their albums), and La Sera (a side project by Katie Goodman of the Vivian Girls). Kill My Blues isn't great but is much better than Corin Tucker's previous 1,000 Years and totally blows away last year's Wild Flag from her former band mates Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss. I like pretty much everything the Raveonettes put out. They don't change much, but I still like their sound.

I like A.C. Newman's Shut Down the Streets, but I don't love it. Same with Four from Bloc Party, a band that I do love. Voyageur from Kathleen Edwards is pleasant. I find that Stars' The North pales in comparison to the previous In Our Bedrooms After the War. And Oshin by DIIV and the Holograms eponymously titled album are only OK.

You might not know, but there's a theme here: seven of the records are from Vancouver artists. Among those, my favourite is the Garbage Bears EP from our roommates Tyranahorse. It's frankly better than many other records I listened to. Apollo Ghosts is a new discovery for me, and a pleasant one. I like both Sorry and Océans and think they are steps forward for both bands. Ladyhawk are also a band I didn't know before, and I really like this album. The New Values are a punk band that do punk really well (and also form the current incarnation of the Modernettes behind John Armstrong). And Bird Curious from my friend prOphecy (who sings in Tyranahorse) is a curious and interesting listen.

I haven't got around to downloading Metric, Soundgarden, or Wax Idols, all of which I will probably like. I listened to one track from Neil Young's Psychedelic Pill and decided that however much I loved Neil and Crazy Horse over the years, this was the same old shit, and not even very inspired. Just long. One of the best things I downloaded was a single from Veronica Falls, "My Heart Beats" b/w "Killing Time." Can't wait for the new album!

I'm glad that nothing was as big for me as PJ or Veronica Falls or the Pack or Feist -- or Kathryn Calder, or Vivian Girls. That's because for me, the best record of 2012 was Love Hz by Lisa's Hotcakes. Of course I'm prejudiced because it's my own band's record, and it's only four songs, but give it a listen and tell me it's not worthy at least of this company if not of last year's.

I'm also glad that even the albums I love from 2012 didn't make that strong an impression on me, and I know why that's so. I am busy playing and writing. I'm still a fan, of course, but first I'm a musician, and I have work to do. I'm glad for inspiration, but I'm better off without any influences that are too strong. I'm helping to create the sound of a new band. I don't want it to sound like anyone else.


Winning at losing

I am a person who exercises.

I am a person who exercises.

I am a person who exercises.

It's a mantra I have to repeat until I convince myself that it's true. I haven't got there yet. All too often I am a person who does plenty of walking around the 'hood but doesn't exercise nearly enough.

Tuesday, however, I went to the gym and did a hard workout on the cross-trainer, plus a few other things. I did the same on Monday. I started going to the gym again a couple of weeks ago, sporadically. I had stayed away for several months due to what I thought was tendonitis but which I now think is a strained ligament, which heals quite slowly. I decided that I was going to take the next step in ignoring the pain emanating from my elbow. So far, it seems to be working. My elbow seems to be getting better, slowly. Exercise might not be helping it, but it seems not to be hurting it either.

There are lots of reasons for me to go to the gym, other than the fact that every month they bill my credit card, I feel better being aerobically fit. It's good for my heart (and various kinds of heart and circulatory conditions run in my family). I need a certain amount of upper arm strength to be able to play drums (my second instrument) for any length of time. And I need to be fit in general even to get on stage and play guitar and sing.

And, oh yeah, there's another reason I spend time on the cross-trainer using up an extra 400-some calories a day. I am overweight.

Overweight? As a feminist and a progressive, I'm not allowed to say that! Patriarchy! Fat shaming! I must accept myself as I am!

Sorry. That's a load of crap, at least for me.

I am not over a weight that someone else tells me I should be. In fact, last week, when I told a friend that I needed to lose some weight, she said she thought I was looking particularly good. I do carry it pretty well. But it doesn't feel good on me. It literally weighs me down. I just don't feel as good at this weight as I do when I'm at least 10 pound lighter, which I was not so long ago.

I'm not ashamed of myself or my shape. I just know that I can get to a lower weight, and that I will feel better, physically and mentally, when I do. Getting there will involve things I should be doing anyway—exercising regularly and eating sensibly (but not crazily—I'm a cook, and I love good food). I'm not a diet. I'm not going crazy with exercise. I'm just trying to engrain the habits I should have anyway.

No fat shaming. Seriously, no fat shaming! I know people of all kinds of shapes and sizes. I am unconcerned with their weight, whether it's a lot or a little. It's their business. No one should be discriminated against because they are larger or smaller than the norm. No one should be shamed or laughed at or scorned.

Just as my fat friends know what works for them, I know what works for me. And it's not being fat. I don't have the body for that. I don't have the body to be really thin either. I know my body quite well, and I know how it functions best. So yes, I will continue to work at dropping those 10 pounds. I will keep working on visualizing myself as someone who exercises. I will keep portions small because not only does that help me find a good weight; it also just makes me feel better. For years, I didn't realize that being uncomfortably full wasn't something normal. I know better now.

I don't obsess about this. I'll just do what I'm doing. And this might be the last you'll hear about it.