Know thyself

I'm feeling better about my late kitty. It seems that admitting to myself that I was still grieving helped a fair amount. I still have things to work on with the therapist, but at least maybe I can start in a better place.

I'm not big on looking back or rehashing my past. What's done is done. I can't change any of it. All I can do is be as present as possible and move forward in a better way than I did at certain points in that past.

But I was wondering today why it took me so long to know exactly what I wanted and needed in life. Some people seem to figure that out early in their lives. Most people have sussed it out well before their midlife crises. But for me, it wasn't until I hit my 50s that I really understood myself and what I needed.

I dislike the term "late bloomer" and disliked being tagged with it. The term sounds innocent enough, but it's pretty much always used as a pejorative. Blooming late is wrong, a bit awkward. Should have bloomed earlier. Suffering from arrested development or immaturity or any number of things that are not generally looked upon with approval. Better late than never, but much better early than late, right?

There are certainly advantages to knowing yourself and what you really want and need early in life. For one thing, you're probably in a better position then to go for it. You have youth, energy, and drive. And for another, and if you can reach what you need, you get to enjoy it for longer. You don't spend so much of your life trying this and that, walking down blind alleys, straying off course. You might well accomplish more.

I couldn't make that happen. For whatever reason, I stayed a bud for a long time. I did try all kinds of things. I did wander down blind alleys. And often I would think I had found The Thing, my passion, only to realize that I'd missed the mark. I began to think I didn't have any one passion, that I was a Renaissance woman--or a dilettante. I think you have to be good at things to be the former.

As it happened, my passion was staring me in the face and had been for decades. But I had to change before I could realize it.

I was brought up Catholic with an Augustinian twist. Emotion was not to be trusted. Only reason was to be trusted. And yet when it came to important life decisions, reason failed me.

And that is to be expected. I just didn't know it until a few years ago. You can't make important decisions by reason alone. A real Mr. Spock couldn't do it either. Decision-making requires a "gut-check." You have to know not only what you think about a decision but how you feel about it. And due to my upbringing, and perhaps my own inclination, I was rarely sure of how I felt. It's no wonder that decisions were difficult for me and usually did not make me happy. You shouldn't follow your heart blindly, but if you exclude it from decision-making, the decisions you reach are unlikely to be satisfying.

I don't think there is anything magical about one's 50s, but for me it turned out to be a good decade. I finally grew up in ways that I never had in the previous decades. I figured myself out in ways that I had never done previously. I learned who I was and what I really wanted. I began to trust my emotions and understand how I really felt. Not all at once, but over time. It took a few tries to hone my decision-making skills.

The decisions to study counselling and fashion merchandising were both good ones, even if not my ultimate passion. Those courses of study were better than any others that I had done. The counselling program was, in fact, a major contributor to my emotional growth. It was right for me at the time, and what I learned will always be part of me. Same with the fashion program. There was a lot more heart involved in that one, but I wasn't listening to my heart quite well enough yet.

When I finally did, my way was clear. And I was astonished that I had not realized it sooner. I had to do music in some way. I have been steeped in music for as long as I can remember, listening to all kinds of music on my parents' stereo, getting infected with the rock and roll bug from seeing the Beatles on TV, getting further infected by watching bands in high school. I already loved to sing. I learned to play guitar. I started to write songs. I played in bands. I formed bands. And then I got disillusioned and went off to explore other things. I thought I had retired from music. But you never forget your first love, and sometimes it's the one you ought to be with.

So here I am with my youth well behind me, playing guitar in a band, singing, writing better songs than ever, and happy as a clam. I don't have to wonder whether music is the right choice for me. It resonates through every fibre of my being. It makes my heart sing. I could bore you to tears with trying to describe what making and listening to music mean to me. Suffice it to say that I'm no longer wondering whether I have a passion. I should have known it all along, but I didn't. Now I do. Blooming late is better than not blooming at all. And sometimes a late bloom is spectacular, all the more so for being unexpected.


Acknowledging grief

I've been depressed for about a month. I kept saying that it started after the last Lisa's Hotcakes show, and that has something to do with it. For various and sundry reasons, I haven't had enough music in my life during that month. No band shows, no open mic. I managed to write one song during this blue period, and curiously it's a hippie song about hope (but with a noisy guitar). Must be my underlying optimism.

That is my basic temperament, which has made this extended depression all the more puzzling. Usually I snap out of these things in about two or three days. Not this time. I have even booked an appointment to see a therapist. I'm not ashamed to say so. When I need to talk with someone, then I do, and there's no shame in it. I have purposely chosen someone who uses a cognitive-behavioural approach. I don't need to hash out my childhood. I need to figure out techniques to help break out of the cycle. Depression causes inaction, and inaction leads to further depression. And there are ways to increase action.

Depression alone is very bad for an artist. It saps energy, It saps creativity. Truly I do not wish for bipolar disorder, but from an artistic standpoint it's actually better to deal with bipolar disorder than depression. I veer into positive territory, even to the point of elation sometimes, but never with the kind of energy that would be really helpful for writing. The bipolar cycle for artists is well known: create, sometimes wildly, during mania; edit during depression. I have only half of that.

My song-a-day idea is pretty well shot. But it was overly ambitious. I need to sit down and work on songs every day, but I should not expect necessarily to complete them. I saw someone posting about "52 in 52"—a song a week. I probably can't hold myself to that either, but it's certainly a more sensible number. The point is to keep working. But it's very difficult to walk through molasses.

I think I had a breakthrough during my ritual last night. You might recall that we had to let our beloved kitty go on January 10. Sweetie and I both went through an intense period of grief. Our kitty was such a huge part of our lives, and she had the most wonderful personality. So I expected to grieve. But I didn't expect it to last so long.

When I would tell Sweetie that I was depressed, she would remind me that it had not been all that long since we had lost our fur baby. And I acknowledged that I would still get reminders of her and feel sad. But I guess I didn't realize until last night just how strong the grief still was. I had figured it was taking its normal course and becoming less intense over time. And that has been the case for the most part.

But I think I was also denying that the underlying pain could still be so intense, even more than a month later. Be strong. It's not "decent." I must have got over it. She was "just a cat." Nobody said these things to me. They were all in my head.

When I cast a circle, sit quietly before my candles, and express gratitude for all the good and bad in my day, I sometimes discover hidden truths. Last night, it hit me hard. And I didn't deny it. I'm still grieving. And that's just the way it is. There is no "decent" time, not even when you're grieving over the loss of a pet.

This house is just so empty. I work at home, all day. I no longer have my little constant companion, the one that slept on my lap and kept me warm, and one that demanded my attention at different times of the day, the one that purred and cuddled. She was an indoor cat. She was more a part of this house that we are. And she was so much a part of my life. There's still a gaping hole where she used to be.

Am I overly sensitive? Maybe. But that's me. I might not have usefully manic periods in which to create, but my emotions and I are very much in touch with each other. That's my creative well. People like me have to learn to set boundaries and find inner strength and not always be on the verge of a breakdown, but I would much rather pull back a little from being too sensitive than to be a rock and an island and try to move in the other direction.

I know I will have plenty to talk about when I see the therapist. I hope she does grief counselling as well.


Sparkle and shine

"You are that special someone / We all want to meet" (me, "Bullet")
You know that person. Or maybe you're one of the few who are that person. There's something about them that is compelling to those around them. Everyone wants to know them. Everyone wants to be known by them. Everyone wants to be close to them and to be liked by them. There's something special about them that you can't quite put your finger on. They sparkle.

That's it: they sparkle.

I have never been a sparkly person, but I'm not complaining. I have wonderful friends who love me and might even think I sparkle, and I feel very blessed about that. But I'm not one of the real sparkly people. I don't think I was cut out to be a sparkly person. I'm one of the people who is drawn to sparkly people.

And I am friends with some sparkly people! There are sparkly people who like me, even love me.

Sparkly people aren't better than others. I know many good and interesting people who, like myself, aren't someone to whom masses of people are drawn. But that's what happens with sparkly people. Everyone knows they sparkle. They might not know it themselves, but I imagine they figure it out.

I also imagine that it's not necessarily enviable to be a sparkly person. Everyone wants a piece of you. Everyone wants some of your time. It's like being a celebrity within your own circle, and that can sometimes be difficult.

Everyone wants to be friends with sparkly people, but sparkly people can't be friends with everyone. It's just not possible. Which can sometimes lead to sad outcomes, like in this quietly amazing comic, which illustrates the inherent insecurity of at least some of us non-sparkly types.

But hopefully, everyone who wants to can find at least one sparkly person to be friends with. And I hope that sparkly people like being who they are. I imagine they do, which is part of their sparkliness. They're not perfect, but they project a certain confidence, a je ne sais quoi, that we love about them.


Brand V

I love Twitter. Facebook and LinkedIn are useful, but I put up with them more than I really like using them. Twitter is different. Twitter is functional, beautiful, and fun. The software geek in me finds it elegant in its simplicity.

I know that everything changes, but I love the fact that Twitter is fundamentally the same as it ever was, and that's because you don't fix what ain't broke (cough cough, Facebook). The one thing they did fix was server capacity. No more Fail Whale! I don't miss that.

I know it's fundamentally the same because I was a fairly early adopter, having been dragged there by an online friend. Those were the days when people still tweeted what they had for lunch (as opposed to taking pictures of it and posting them, not exactly an improvement). I used Twitter to stay in touch with certain people, but I didn't really take advantage of it. Few did then. It was just fun and sometimes a bit silly. A time sink. I went back and forth between making my account public and private. Finally I just deleted my accounts and walked away.

That was quite a few years ago. I quit because didn't feel any need for Twitter. I had too many other online distractions. But then along came the band. And the band needed to be on Twitter. Because in the time since I had left, Twitter itself had not changed much, but how people used it had.

Twitter had become about creating brands.

Brand loyalty

So I opened an account for myself and one for the band. I don't know why I did both. Mostly it was because I wanted to follow different kinds of accounts, and I wanted to keep those lists separate. The Hotcakes list is all about music, specifically things like other bands with whom we might play shows, media, promotion, record labels, anything that could possibly help us in our career. My own list is partly about music—as a songwriter and fan—but also about the other things I'm interested in, such as fashion, politics, feminism, and food.

The need for the band Twitter account was obvious. Every indie band is a little business. A brand. We need to do whatever we can to make connections, to become known, to create our niche in the entertainment universe. It's an uphill battle at the best of times (and these are far from the best of times), but Twitter is a big help in establishing the Lisa's Hotcakes brand. I tweet about upcoming gigs and about music that we've recorded. I retweet tweets from bands that we like and other interesting stuff. In interact with people in various areas of the business. And I try to do some interesting tweeting myself. It's been valuable for the contacts alone.

The need for my own personal brand is less obvious. I'm beginning to have some need for that as a songwriter, but even without that, for whatever reason, I enjoy establishing my own little self in the great big Twitterverse. It's funny how it's not like blogging. I'm "me" in Twitter, but I don't share everything. Hopefully, I'm a more interesting side of me, in pithy little 140-character chunks. Tweets are a unique form of discourse. And I like to have followers. And more followers. Why? I don't know. It's about communcation, I guess. I like to share my thought-chunks with more people, and sometimes get feedback.

Lead and follow

About followers—there are all kinds of reasons that people follow a Twitter account. Among my followers there are certainly people who want to sell me something. When I lose a follower, I always hope it's one of those folks, because I'm not buying, and they don't want me in their feed any longer. Otherwise, I'm not sure why anyone other than my friends would follow me. Maybe I'm interesting! At least often enough.

I know why I follow others. Some people give me news, some give views, some just catch and hold my attention. That's mostly what it's about for me. I follow people who can hold my interest for whatever reason. I follow people because they're good at Twitter.

There a major dividing line in Twitter: those who follow more than they are followed, and those who are followed more than they follow. I'm in the former category along with most of the rest of us. The latter category are celebrities of various kinds and at various levels of celebrity. The Hotcakes account ratio is pretty good, although we're not yet among the celebrities.

One cool thing about Twitter is that some celebrities will reply to you. They don't follow you, but they know when you reply to something they've posted. There are some in my feed who are particularly good about that, and I appreciate it. It makes me like them that much more and maybe want to buy their records or their books or their clothes or to eat their food or to vote for them. Others either get too many tweets or don't like my replies or who knows what, but I pretty much never hear from them. It's not that I expect to. But when someone actually takes the time to send replies to someone they don't know, and sometimes quite lovely replies, then as far as I'm concerned they win Twitter.

I don't think I would ever make my stream private again. Facebook is my private "Twitter stream." On Twitter, I am very public. And I love being public. I love the fact that I'm connected, at least potentially, to the entire Twitterverse, and everyone else in it to me. I'm fascinated by the possibilities!

Tweet and retweet

Sometimes people, including celebrities, will "favorite" your tweet. That means they liked it. But sometimes they will retweet your tweet, which means it goes to all their followers. I know I've gained followers because someone that someone else likes and follows saw my tweet in their feed, and either they find me interesting or they just like the fact that we follow the same person. Retweeting is the real power of Twitter, because it creates a web of connections. I generally don't pay attention to the people someone will list in their "follow Friday" tweets. But I have often followed someone because I saw an actual tweet from them and it was good, or else I just thought, hey, there's someone I'd like to follow.

There is quite a lot of etiquette on Twitter, not all of it obvious. One thing is that you really should upload a photo or avatar. Without that, you are represented by the default "egg." And the egg means you're either a newbie who doesn't know better or someone who doesn't care enough about their Twitter stream.

Another is about how much to tweet. Some of that depends on who (or what) you are, but in general if you tweet too much it will be perceived as spam. At least to me. If I see a person or club who posts or retweets several or even dozens of tweets in rapid succession, my eye learns to skip over them. Tweeting frequently during the day seems to me to be a good strategy—thus the popularity of automated management software like Hootsuite—but tweeting all in a lump, not so much. And then, there is tweeting too little, which seem to me a way for people to forget who you are, unless of course you're very famous.

There is a lot of strategy to tweeting. For the band, the tweets about gigs and with links to songs are important, but so are tweets that have nothing directly to do with the band. For both accounts, I want to get people's attention, and when people are looking at so much informaiton in a day, that takes some doing. So sometimes I might want to be a bit outrageous, more so with my own account than with the band's. And I always want to be clever and interesting.

Not too peevish

I have my own pet tweet peeves. One is when tweets are really updates on Facebook. If the update is too long for a tweet, it gets cut off and followed by a link to Facebook. Really, people, Facebook and Twitter are two different things. I know it takes a lot of time and effort to keep up with both, but I really don't like it when your tweet isn't actually a tweet. I do not want to get dragged to Facebook! A related pet peeve is when people use Twitter to ask you to "like" their Facebook page. I get it. We need both. But really, when I'm on Twitter, I'd like to think about Facebook as little as possible. And I would rather follow your twitter stream than "like" your Facebook page. I bet I'm not alone in that.

Despite pet peeves, I really am a Twitter fangirl. I hope it sticks around for a while and doesn't change too much. I want to hit that sweet spot of being followed more than I follow!

As for why people whom I don't know would want to read my or the band's tweets, there is only one way to find out: follow @v_diz and/or @lisashotcakes.