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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Relax, Will Ya?

Okay, Christmas is over, the New Year is almost upon us and then it's back to work.  If you've taken any time off between Christmas and New Years, have you managed to relax at all?  I wonder :-).

Most of us who are busy, busy, busy with our lives, don't know how to wind down when we actually have the chance to.  We may look forward to having some downtime, but when we actually get it, we don't know what to do with it!  Or, it suits us for awhile and then we get bored and restless.  Sometimes I think it's because we really don't know HOW to wind down, as much as we think we want to.

So my New Year's gift to you is this video.  Before I let you hit the play button, I should tell you that I've actually had the mp3 file of this guided meditation on my computer for some time and every now and then when I really need to relax but I'm having trouble, I throw on the earplugs and hit the play button.  It usually puts me to sleep, but that's okay too.  Sometimes, it's just a nice way of forgetting about the rest of the world for awhile.

It is a Buddhist meditation, but actually all that is "Buddhist" about it is the use of some Buddhist terminology like "mindfulness".  Mindfulness is simply the state of being acutely aware.

Unfortunately, the video is in two parts, so you'll have to hit play to get the last part.  I do have an mp3 file of the complete Body Scan so if you'd like it, just let me know and I'll email it to you.

Now.

Follow the instructions.

Find a quiet place.

Loosen any tight clothing.

And prepare to relax.

Happy New Year :-)

Part One:



Part Two:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Is It Ready Yet?

Back in March, I wrote an article all about my new CD, Shades of Grey, even though it was not quite ready to be put out there.  I was pretty sure that it would be released within a couple of weeks at that point.  But no.

I was kind of waylaid when I was given the opportunity to compose music for a local television news program. It would be a good chance to earn some real money and I jumped at it.  So I spent the better part of four months working on it in collaboration with a couple of people from the station.  Well, up until a couple of weeks ago I thought I was just putting the finishing touches on it.  Then I found out that they had actually enlisted another composer to submit music.

One thing I am not is competitive.  Actually, the truth is that I am TOO competitive, and a very sore loser.  So that's why I don't like to be pitted up against anyone else in any situation under any circumstances.  Had I known that someone else was also submitting music, I would not have participated.  You might consider that an imperfection, but there you go.  And of course, once I realized that someone else was submitting music, I gave up all hope.  Which proved to be correct.  So I pretty much wasted four months.  They did give me something called a "kill fee", a term I've never heard before.  I guess the idea is to pay you for your efforts, which is fair, but of course it comes nowhere near the time and effort spent.   Most of all, it's just discouraging.

So I decided to throw myself back into my own music right away just to give myself a sense of accomplishment, and today I finally finished mastering "Grey Shades".

Warning:  the next part of this article is rather technical!

I have never mastered my own work before, but I discovered a program called Izotope Ozone which has all kinds of lovely pre-sets (a MUST for me!) so that I could just hit a pre-set and see what it did to my mix.  I lost objectivity several times...to the point where my daughter came downstairs one day and say "It sounds TERRIBLE!!"  I threw her out of the room, but realized she was right and so I started all over again.  Mastering is a mysterious process.  You mix everything down and then you take the stereo mix and master it...some will tell you that mastering really only has to do with making all of the songs of equal volume and give each one a clean beginning and end.  But it's what mastering does to the mix itself that is the biggest mystery.  It changes the overall sound and gives it that "Oomph!" that the original mix doesn't have.  A lot of people like the idea of the mix being really "loud", on par with professional recordings out there.  Loud is okay as long as it doesn't take out the dynamics...the soft spots should still be soft, not harsh, and the "loud" parts should not kill your ears.  I will never be a mastering master.  But it's been interesting.

My daughter and I more or less designed the cover together.  I had the idea of featuring my convertible somehow and wouldn't it be funny to have my feet sticking out and everything grey except my painted toenails?  So I took some photos and Gracie did the design from there.  The picture was taken in my driveway, so she superimposed an ocean scene in the background and then she made it into a Polaroid picture look.  We fooled around with different things, and what you see is the result.

And now it's done.  I have put the songs up on Soundclick, a website I have been with for many years.  You can listen to the songs in full and you can buy them individually or the whole album.  Soon I will also have it on iTunes and a lot of the other digital music services.

The difficulty is in letting go.  I tweaked and re-mixed and re-mastered many times and the temptation is to do more.  But it's time to let it go.

Now what?
IJ

Saturday, September 10, 2011

99 Cents or Nuthin'

It has been a rather strange summer.  First of all, it (summer) didn't show up until about August.  Before that, it was cool, grey and sometimes rainy all the way through the spring and into July.  And although I took the month of August off from teaching, I worked all the way through it trying to come up with a new music theme for CHEK Television.  I'm very happy to have the work, but it certainly kept summer at a distance for me.  My studio is in the basement of my home, and it is dark and kind of secluded, so although I took breaks by going out into the backyard and going for walks, I was locked up in there working for hours at a time.  Next week, many of my students are returning and that's the end of that "break"!

I consider myself very fortunate to do what I love to do for a living, but the truth of it is that it often isn't enough of an actual living and if I was on my own without a spouse who supports me, I'd probably not be able to do what I love as much as I have.  Young people who are just starting out as musicians or in bands and who want to make a living at it, have a long road ahead of them.  The simple truth is that the general public does not want to pay for music.  Every time you see artists out there performing, 90% of the time they are either making very little in terms what the venue pays them, or they are making nothing at all!  If they have a CD to sell, they'd be lucky to sell a handful at any one performance.  It's almost impossible to get on traditional radio unless you're either Lady Gaga or an oldies band from the 50's to the 70's, and if you try to sell your music through iTunes or other digital services, you have to pay for your songs to be there and normally see very little return on actual sales.

I lost a lot of money as a performer.  I spent thousands on the recording and manufacturing of my CDs and traveled quite a bit to the mainland and here on the island to try to sell them, but not nearly enough to break even.  I could have worked harder at it, I could have joined other groups or had longer road trips but I would have been a female on my own out there and that didn't appeal to me, especially with a young family at home at the time.  But that's just my own story.

As a whole, the music "business" has struggled terribly in the last few years.  A lot of record labels and publishers went under in the past 10 years for many reasons, including the fact that many of them had lived high off the hog for many years on the backs of their artists, and suddenly traditional CD sales tumbled.  They didn't figure out how to embrace new technology (ie, internet downloading) before it overcame them.  If you give people the opportunity to have something for free, or to pay for it, what do you think most people will do?  Instead of using the technology to their benefit, record labels and conglomerates were reactionary, simply suing people like single parents with teenagers who did a lot of downloading, for millions of dollars, hoping to discourage the activity.  This made them out to be bullies and didn't scare anybody.  Not great publicity.

There is now a whole generation of people, my adult children included, who know how to download music on their iPods and other devices, and who have not paid a cent for any of it.   Most of them believe that all music should be free, not because they hold a grudge against the business of it, but because for their generation it has always been that way.  All of this leaves bands and artists at a huge disadvantage.

While we all thought that the internet was going to provide an even playing field for artists and bands, in that anyone in the world could find us and become a fan of our music, instead we have become lost in our sheer numbers.  We got sucked into the idea that "millions of people" would hear our music, which wasn't anywhere near the truth.  Millions of people were overwhelmed at the amount of music on the web and had no idea how to find something that they liked.  This is what record labels used to be good at (other than just make big money off their artists);  they were a kind of conduit for good music, giving the cream of the crop an opportunity to rise.  Radio stations are also to blame for abandoning the original intent of "just playing good music";  a lot of them became a part of a huge conglomerate (think Clear Channel in the US), where some executive far away decided what music would be played instead of it being the decision of the local radio station's music director.  This made it nearly impossible for artists or bands in a community to be heard on their local radio stations.  Besides that, instead of radio stations playing a variety of music, their playlists became narrower and narrower as they hired consultants to tell them what kind of music would bring in the big bucks from their advertisers.

Some social media websites have tried to become "the place" to find new music, and iTunes and Pandora have come up with technology that takes your choice in music and tries to find other artists or bands that might appeal to you.  But those artists and bands have to pay money to be there and many of them simply can't afford it, or have no idea where to start.  YouTube is a place to freely share your music in the hopes of getting some attention and even some sales, but the majority of these viral musical acts are 10-year-old phenoms who can sing like Rhianna or Justin Bieber, himself a result of millions of YouTube hits, and again, the artist or band gets lost in the cacophony.

I don't think the future is so bleak that music will disappear, of course.  People LOVE music and they love all kinds of it!  We just haven't found a model yet that will make it feasible for more new artists to earn a decent living at it.  I admit, I downloaded a lot of music in the "free" way until I finally realized that I was really just defeating my own purpose.  Now I pay the 99 cents or, more often these days, $1.29 for every song that I desire to own.  And even though I know most of that money is only going to iTunes, at least I know I am morally supporting the artist or band who wrote and recorded that song and spent money out of their own pockets to do so.  In these difficult economic times, the arts are the first to have any kind of government funding pulled, so it's even more important to support artists on an individual basis.

And that's my appeal to any of you out there reading this blog...do your favourite artists a favour and pay for their music so they can continue to produce it!

Off the soapbox now :-)....and back to the studio for me...

IJ


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lying Liars and Their Lies

That title is a bit of a take-off on an Al Franken book called Lies (And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them), a mostly comedic look at the BS of politicians on the extreme right in the US.  I say "mostly" because he was obviously also trying to make some rather serious points somewhere in between the funny lines.

We love to catch politicians in the act of lying;  in some ways I think we even expect it.  For instance, when a person running for some kind of office begins making political promises, we pretty much expect them to break one or two of those promises when they actually win.  Most of them will site all kinds of excuses, such as the ever-changing political climate or not having known the true state of affairs until they came into power.  The list of excuses goes on, and we smugly sit back with our "I told you so" smirks.

There is a Geiko commercial featuring Abe and Mary Lincoln, when she asks him whether or not what she is wearing is making her butt look too big...he hesitates for a long while, and then...well, I'll let you see for yourselves:


Sometimes honesty can be a difficult thing!

But lying, in and of itself, is not so funny.  Children begin to the learn the art of lying at or around the age of three-and-a-half for many reasons.  Even though the behaviour is discouraged, as we all know, most of us will continue to lie, maybe only rarely for one reason or another for the rest of our lives.

On the extreme side, the Casey Anthony case in the US, aside from being a terribly sad story about the death of a little girl, was also a very public demonstration of how families can be destroyed by lies.  One Anthony family member after the other (all except Casey, of course, who never did take the stand and face up to her lies) sat in front of the courtroom and the cameras and cried in response to the lies and deception covering up the death of little Cayley.  And because no one was telling the truth it seems, especially Casey, we'll never know how that little girl died and why. 

So why do we lie?  There are many reasons we might be tempted to;  to save face, to protect ourselves or protect someone else, and sometimes it's simply because we don't want to hurt an other's feelings.  Is there any occasion where it might be considered okay to lie?  That's something none of us can really answer with any confidence.  Trust between two people is a very fragile thing;  it takes only one little lie to destroy trust and often months or even years to build it back again.  I have been on both sides of that equation, and neither is a very nice place to be.  Most of us hopefully learn from those experiences.  But if you've ever been in any kind of relationship with a habitual liar, someone who either can't help themselves or simply won't stop, you know how terribly destructive lying can be.

An interesting phrase I learned a few years back is "lying by omission".  Sometimes we will use the excuse that we didn't actually lie because we didn't say anything.  But leaving out information, especially important information, is also a form of lying.  That bit of information can often make the whole difference and change the entire scope of a story and we know it!

Yep, we KNOW when we're lying; we know when we're twisting the facts just a little in our favour or leaving out certain information.  The most difficult thing is learning to be honest with ourselves first...that little voice in our heads can often make all kinds of excuses for us to make us feel better, but ultimately, as they say, the truth will set us free.  Learning to look at ourselves in the mirror is the first step and we can't possibly expect others in our lives to be upfront and truthful if we ourselves are not.

Lastly, how do we deal with the people in our lives who we know are habitually lying to us?  I have had a couple of relationships like that, and I know that you probably have had at one time or another too.  Do we give up on these people?  Do we try to make them face themselves, or do we simply hope that one day they'll see the error of their ways on their own?  When you sit there with that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach telling you you've been deceived yet again, you can't help but beat yourself up for continuing a relationship with that person in the first place.  But I can also see why people stick with their husband's or wives, for example, in spite of the lies that are buried in the back yard.  Love is a powerful and forgiving thing, and if there wasn't love to begin with, the decision would be obvious.

To forgive, or to let go...if I ever find a definitive answer to that one, I will honestly let you know.  In the meantime, I vow to continue working on myself because I know that the best teacher is by example.

IJ



Friday, July 1, 2011

Canada's 144th Birthday

I remember my mother telling me all about becoming a Canadian citizen back in the 1950's with great pride.  She worked hard at overcoming her Danish accent and learned to read and write in English, answering all of the questions on her citizen test correctly.  She told me that she likely knew more about Canada than many Canadian born citizens did, and I think she was probably right.

There were a lot of other Danes who emigrated from Denmark to Canada or the US back then, and also when my Grandfather on my father's side did in 1912.  He was just a teenager when his parents sent him to the U.S. to be educated, sponsored by his rich aunt and uncle.  My grandfather didn't like his aunt and uncle much, so he left and travelled all over the U.S. before finally coming to Canada.  He must have liked it here because he went back to fetch and marry my Grandmother, and they both came back to Canada to live permanently.  Either that or he was avoiding conscription in the U.S. :-).

I remember clearly Canada's Centennial in 1967.  There were songs and celebrations everywhere,  including my back yard.  Expo '67 was in full swing in Montreal, so I decided to create a mini expo in my back yard that summer, complete with mini pavillions and flags from different countries.  In school we sang the Centennial Song, "Ca-a-a-n-a-a-d-a-a (one little, two little, three Canadians)...we-ee-ee-ee love thee (now there are 20 million)".  I think this was the first time that I became aware of my citizenry and felt real pride in being Canadian.  Holy cow, that was 44 years ago.

As an older, and perhaps more cynical Canadian now, there are some directions we've taken as a country in the past few years that I don't agree with, three that stand out in particular.  In no particular order, the first has to do with our Canadian Armed Forces;  we used to have the reputation of being peacekeepers and I was always proud of that fact.  But it seems that since the Somalia Affair, where Canadian soldiers created a scandal when they beat a teenage Somalian to death and posed for pictures with him, things have gone downhill.  I have a nephew in the forces who has been to Afghanistan several times, and I don't know how I feel about that either.  I certainly support him, but I'm not sure what purpose it has served for all of them to risk their lives in that place.  And with all of the unrest in Arab countries, I don't know that I like the idea of Canadian soldiers being deployed to "protect" citizens of those countries if it means dropping bombs and firing bullets.  What's so peacekeeping about that?

The second direction we've gone in lately that doesn't please me has to do with our environment.  We are a country of abundant natural resources, but I think we can find a way to make use of them without destroying everything else in the process.  Environment should not be trumped by commerce.  Our government doesn't want to clamp down on industries that pollute and it doesn't appear to want to support green initiatives (which I think is the only way of the future), unless it makes them look good, or unless they are obliged to. 

Now don't get me wrong, I am not a diehard tree hugger, but I am practical!  Doesn't it make sense that if you spend all you have, there's nothing left?  If there are companies and industries out there who know how to do what they do without making a mess, shouldn't we do everything to encourage them?   For Pete's sake, it's pure ignorance and stupidity not to!

The last thing that concerns me is an attitude that is spreading about immigrants.  Because of this "war on terror" state of mind we've been subjected to in the last few years, there are more and more Canadians who want to pretty much close our borders, if not completely, then to anyone who looks or acts like they might strap a bomb to themselves and push the button.  We have been brainwashed to think that immigrants are potential enemies.  What kind of attitude is that?  We are a country of immigrants, the majority of them wanting to live here because they think Canada is a wonderful place to plant roots.   And because our birthrate is not high, we actually DEPEND on the influx of immigrants to build our numbers and add to the tax base.  So come on, people, let's stop with the paranoia.  Most of us wouldn't even be here if it weren't for our immigrant ancestors.

There is no perfect country, but where I live comes pretty close.  I'm biased, of course :-).  A country isn't a static thing, it is always a work in progress, and I think we stand out best when we demonstrate our peaceful, respectful side to the rest of the world, and when we celebrate our many cultures.  That's the Canada I'm proud of.

Happy Canada Day...Bon FĂȘte du Canada!

IJ


Monday, June 20, 2011

Hello Moe

I just finished chasing her around the house for the umpteenth time today...she had a stinky butt and I was trying to clean it before she wiped herself on the floor yet again.  For the most part, she is pretty well trained and clean, though, and this was a more unusual incident.  She is the cutest thing, and an absolute terror.  In fact, right now she's ripping up my legs trying to jump up on the chair where I'm sitting.

I'm talking about our new addition to the family, Moe.  She was supposed to be a "he", an unusual thing for a calico cat.  Turned out she wasn't all that unusual.  She and her three siblings were left in a cardboard box by a bus stop somewhere in Vancouver back in April.  A fellow saw the box was moving and opened it up to find them, barely four or five weeks old, squirming around each other.  He knew of someone who adopted cats here in Victoria and called her up.  Monica, who already has a menagerie of animals...cats, dogs, tarantulas (yes, tarantulas) and even more...was ready and willing to take them in and find them new homes through a cat rescue organization that she belongs to. My daughter Dana had been telling her friends that we were looking for a new cat, and one of them had heard about Monica and the box of kittens, so Dana got in touch with her.  And that is how it all began.

Since we lost our good ol' cat Picard last year, I knew I'd eventually get another one.  I wanted a kitten as opposed to a grown cat for all of the obvious reasons;  they're cute, they're funny and they're cute.  Did I say they're cute?  But I have to admit, I had forgotten how crazy they can be!  Moe does all the cute kitten things, but when she is wide awake, she's like a whirling fuzz ball on crack.  We call her "psycatic".  I know Picard was like that once, but by the time he passed away he was as mellow as mellow can be.

We've had her for over a month now and she has grown tremendously, although I don't think she will be a large cat.  She has the run of the house and has pretty much adapted herself to us, although we're still getting used to all of that energy from her.  She has a little bit of a heart murmur, but the vet says she'll probably grow out of it, and so far it has not affected her energy level in the least.  I picked her name off a list that my other daughter Gracie wrote out.  She (or he, as I thought she was then) looked like a Moe.  And though we discovered Moe was a female, we thought the name still worked.

Woooosshhhh...there she goes again, racing past me into the diningroom.  The bell on the new collar I put on her is ringing all over the house and I fear for my diningroom tablecloth.  I just had to put my good luck Chinese bamboo higher up on another table so she can't rip any more leaves off.   I don't think the throw on the couch will ever be the same, and my arms and legs are covered with pink scratches.

But I love her already.  Welcome home, Moe...





Sunday, May 22, 2011

Are We Still Here?

I'm confused.  I first heard that Dec.21st, 2012 was the date that the world was going to end because of the Mayan calendar coming to an end (or Nostradamus predicting it, or whatever you choose to pay attention to), and then a couple of days ago I heard that it was actually going to end on Saturday, May 21st, which of course it didn't.  And now I'm hearing that God is actually going to destroy the universe on Oct.21, 2011, five months AFTER the so-called Rapture. Can people get these dates straight please?  If I'm expected to prepare for the end, I should at least know when the end is going to be.

I was happily sitting with my best friends at my diningroom table drinking a beer when the end of the world was supposed to happen.  I couldn't think of a better place to be if the end was near.  The next day, I searched high and low for stories about the world NOT ending, and barely found a couple.  I guess it's not big news when the world doesn't end.  They were trying to interview Harold Camping, the minister who led his Christian followers to believe that the Rapture was going to happen at 6pm in every timezone, with massive earthquakes and natural disasters, and only those who believe being "saved" and disappearing up into heaven, leaving even their clothes behind.  The media found Mr. Camping at home, somewhat embarrassed and and expressing his "flabberghast" that it didn't happen.  Well, yeah.  Someone put up a billboard on some highway in the US afterwards that said simply "Well, that was awkward."

Some will use this (and already have) as an excuse to belittle all Christians and their beliefs. That, to me, is just as ignorant as following an old man who thinks he can pick the date that the world ends.  Live and let live. I feel a little bad for him, really.  I think this man sincerely believed that it was going to happen, and I think his followers were equally as convinced.  They were not much different from the suicide bombers who were told that if they succeeded in killing infidels in the name of Allah, they would be given the gift of 47 virgins when they arrived in heaven.  Only thing is that you can't prove they don't.  At least with the Rapture, we all know the result.  Awkward, indeed.

There is certainly a lesson to be learned from all of this.  And no, it's not that people who believe in the Rapture or 47 virgins are nuts.  The truth is that the world is going to end for us all one day, although not likely all at once.  We have a limited time on this planet, each of us, regardless of how we believe it's going to happen, or when.  There were a lot of jokes going around online about what we might like to be doing when the end comes...well, we probably won't have a lot of choice about that.  But it does make you think about that bucket list.

The conversation at the diningroom table at around 6pm on May 21st with my good friends was varied and upbeat.  But we did discuss the fact that we are most of us close to or over the age of 50 and we're facing the fact that we'd better get going on those things we've been meaning to do, or the places we've been meaning to visit very soon.  Whether it's like my friend Crystal who worries that there isn't enough time to read all of the books she wants to, or some of us who have always wanted to travel to a certain place, or whether it's just learning to live in the moment, which is my desire;  now's the time to get going and start doing.

So I'd like to thank Mr. Camping for starting that conversation.  I'm not sorry that his prediction didn't come true, and I feel bad that he went so far and did so much to convince us of his theory and only ended up flabberghasted.  But if we're all really smart, we'll use our time left now, however long it may be, to learn to live our lives more fully.


IJ

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Let Hatred Die

I was happily watching the only reality TV show that I can stand, "Celebrity Apprentice", when the station I was watching it on suddenly shared the breaking news that President Obama was going to speak.

I know, why in the world do I watch Celebrity Apprentice? you might be asking yourself.  I normally can't tolerate reality shows of any kind, but for some weird reason, I like that one.  Maybe it's watching these famous people make fools of themselves, or maybe it's the fact that some of them end up being kind of decent after all.  I hate Donald Trump, but I like his show.  What can I say?

Oh, wait...that's not what I wanted to write about.

I've been reading a lot of articles online and in magazines (yep, I still buy the occasional magazine) since the killing of Osama bin Laden, and what his death really means.  Time Magazine had a number of articles from different sources on various aspects of the event, including an interesting essay on the last page called "Where Victory Lies", discussing what bin Laden was able to change about the U.S. and what he couldn't touch, psychologically speaking.  There were interviews with those kids (who are almost grown up now) who were in the classroom with George Bush when he received the news about the twin towers, and there was also an interview with Rudy Giuliani on his perspective.  There were a number of opinion pieces on subjects like Pakistan and the CIA and a very good article describing the actual capture of bin Laden.

And recently there was a story on CNN about one of bin Laden's children who is claiming that international law has been "blatantly violated" because the U.S. basically just went into Pakistan uninvited and shot and killed five people, including the mastermind of the 9/11 devastation.  Well, I can't really say I disagree with him.  But what do you do?  I mean Osama bin Laden broke many laws, killed thousands of people, and was plotting to do even more damage.  So the international law argument is kind of moot in the wake of all that.

What Osama's death means and how it will affect everything from now on is only going to reveal itself with time.

But what I mostly fear is a continuation of this old "eye for an eye" attitude, in that killing bin Laden will only inflame certain groups and continue to prolong this "war on terror" that everyone is always talking about.  I mean, look at the Arab/Israeli conflict...it has gone on now for many years, mostly because they can't stop their revenges and retaliations, which leads to more revenge and retaliation.  The Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, although seemingly at peace with each other, appear to still have some rumblings recently.  Hatred and revenge just can't die.

Even in the U.S., people hate each other, they hate Obama and consider him a Muslim who wasn't even born on U.S. soil.  Not even the release of his official birth certificate could placate them.  TV personalities on both sides of the political spectrum have received too much attention for basically inciting hatred, and the killing of Osama bin Laden isn't going to end that.

So as much as I am...what should I say?  Awkwardly relieved?  Uncomfortably satisfied?...that bin Laden is gone, I think there are far more insidious problems that need to be addressed.  I can't say I would know where to begin, but hatred is certainly a human problem that we need to find a cure for.  Where is it coming from and why does it exist in the first place?  Hatred is a seed that grows and spreads like wildfire...adults pass hate on to their children, religious leaders teach their followers to hate those who do not follow their religion.  We turn our fears of people who are "different" into a hatred of them without even knowing who they are, we hate people of different political views, we even hate our kids' teams' opponents in hockey or baseball! 

It is hatred that comes from ignorance that needs to die.  Bin Laden is a personification of that.  He hated the west so much...the "infidels"...that he spent many lives and much of his money trying to take us down.  He has given a bad name to Muslims, who are as a whole a very peaceful people.  And if we're really smart, which I know we can be, then we have to start looking at our own lives, our prejudices and lack of awareness, and start making changes.

I know.  It's asking a lot.  And maybe I'm naive and/or idealistic to expect that the death of bin Laden is going to do much other than to piss a few more extremists off and cause westerners to do anything more than scream "one for our team", like it's a game.

But I'm not even going to use the word "hate" in my vocabulary anymore.  I simply dislike Donald Trump intensely.  Doesn't feel as powerful, but it'll do...

IJ


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Inhale, Exhale

News Bulletin:  I have been working on a song.  You might think "big deal, you write songs", but this is the first time in a long time that I have really focused on my own songwriting.  I found a little piece of a guitar progression that I had recorded maybe a year or two ago on my handy dandy mp3 recorder, and it struck me as interesting so I decided to go further with it.  That sounds easy enough, but it hasn't been.

I realize that I am very distracted by many things during the day whether it's reading emails, checking on stocks, prepping for my students, teaching, making calls;  and the list goes on.  The majority of my songwriting "life", I didn't have the same distractions.  I used to just sit in my bedroom on my bed and write.  So I decided that in order to really give it the attention it needs, I was going to turn everything off for an hour a day including the tv, phones, computers, etc. and just sit with my guitar in front of a piece of paper.  I've done this a few times now and have had mediocre results.

In the last week or so I've had a great deal of trouble sleeping, so one night after an hour of lying there, my mind darting through a whole alphabet of ideas and events, worries and frustrations, I decided to focus on the lyrics of that song.  And I realized that lying in the quiet and dark at 2am is a very good time to focus on lyrics;  there is nothing to distract you and your mind can find all kinds of interesting words and phrases and ideas.  So I finally got up and wrote a few of them down.  I had to fumble in my purse in the dark to find my hookbook and a pen and then I ran to the bathroom where there's a night light and I could see what I was writing.  I bought the hookbook years ago, but it has mostly been used for writing down to do lists, phone numbers and other eroneous bits of information.  This is the first time I used it for its original purpose.

When I crawled back into bed, happy with myself for coming up with some ideas, I started to think about how songwriting has always been so important to me, not just because I enjoyed the process, but because it started out as a way for me to express and resolve or even just emote the events of my life.  This is how it begins for many songwriters out there, often in their teens like I was, trying to make sense of everything.  Over the years the songs were like little storyboards of my daily struggles and triumphs.  Once I started thinking about myself as a potential commercial songwriter and artist, however, that changed a little.  I began to have to think about my songs in terms of how others might perceive them and whether or not they had a universal meaning or message, rather than just self-centred meanderings.  Some of the songs I wrote succeeded, I think, but eventually the idea of being a performing songwriter lost its sheen and in the last few years as I've mentioned, all of it has come to a standstill.

When I lay there the other night after having triumphantly found some lyrics and a new "storyboard" to follow, it hit me that I have very much missed that feeling and that I want to go back to the way it was.  Of course, so many things have happened since then and I know it won't be the same.  But I think I have to return to my old "bedroom writing" so that I can express what I want without worry about what anyone else will think.  So chances are that whatever songs I come up with in future may never drift outside my bedroom door.  And that's okay.

For me, songwriting has always been as natural as breathing.  I need to, as I did when I was 12, inhale life and then exhale my expression of it.

[Update:  For any of you who are interested:  I have now started a video series on my Songwriting Blog documenting the progress of the new song I'm writing.]

Friday, March 25, 2011

But Fear Itself

Franklin D. RooseveltCover of Franklin D. RooseveltI saw a cartoon in our local newspaper this morning.  The frame was divided in two;  on one side it had a drawing of the familiar Star Trek ship Enterprise with the words "What we envisioned future travel would look like."  On the other side, it said "What it's going to look like." with a drawing of a plane passenger going through security down to his shorts and a burly female security person yelling "Take off your shorts!!"

Since the events of 9/11, we in the western world have become more and more obsessed with security, imagining that if we build a better body scanner or a higher fence, somehow we will be more protected.  The craziness we have to experience going through security at an airport these days has become ridiculous.  At Laguardia airport on our family's return trip from New York a couple of years ago, there was a particularly cranky security guy yelling at the passenger ahead of me about his laptop.  I couldn't understand what the guard was saying, and when it came my turn, he scowled the same thing at me.  I froze, he had a southern accent and my ear just couldn't grasp the words...my daughter whispered in my ear "He wants you to take the laptop OUT of the bag!"  and I managed to do what he demanded before I got into more trouble.  He scowled again at me as I passed him.  Why should anyone have that kind of miserable power over anyone?  And yet, I wouldn't have dared confront him...who knows what kind of trouble that would have brought me.

And on my recent return trip from Maui, I was pull out of line by a security officer who wanted to wipe my hands with something.  I realized they were checking for explosives and the wipe was to detect chemicals on my hands.  I guess  he picked me because I didn't look suspicious enough?  After that it was off with the shoes, remove your outer clothing, walk through the scanner or have someone scan your body with that Star Wars wand.  Or, worse yet, someone will feel you up physically, and by the time you get on the plane, you feel dirty enough to want to take a shower.  And this is all for what?

The truth is that there will never be enough security for some people.  I have a family member who bolts her front door twice, each time she comes in or out, even when she's just bringing out her garbage.  She cuts her return address off all mailing envelopes she recycles, and tells me I should never get a vanity license plate for my car because "they'll be able to find you!"  She's elderly, so I imagine that has a lot to do with it.  But for somebody like that, the world is a scary place and anyone you don't know could be out to get you.  Maybe I'll feel the same way when I'm her age, but I hope not.

Maybe part of the problem is that we watch or listen to or read too much news, or we pay too much attention to "experts" who usually have some vested interest in scaring the bejesus out of us.  But ultimately, fear is something we do to ourselves.

The recent earthquake in Japan did a lot to invoke fear, especially for those of us living here on the west coast of North America.  First of all, there was the fear of a tsunami here, although it never really manifested.  Secondly, we watched the same loops of video over and over of the disastrous effects of not only the earthquake, but the resulting tsunami there in Japan, knowing full well it can and will happen here one of these days.  And then it was the fear of radiation spewing from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  On the local news here, they were interviewing people on the street who had already bought a supply of iodine tablets!  Worrying about the possibility of heightened radiation levels I can understand.  Some of us still have visions and memories of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.  But to be running about buying iodine tablets, seems to me, another sign of out of control fear and fear mongering.

I understand fear very well.  It is not rational and it can be all consuming.  And we certainly don't want to stick our heads in the sand when it comes to the realities around us, like madmen who want to kill all westerners and living close to fault lines in the earth's crust.  But let's do a little self-check and make sure we are not allowing fear to rule our daily existence.  What is the point and even the usefulness of that?  It simply leads to many nights of sleeplessness and days of bizarre behaviour.

One of the most famous lines came from Franklin D. Roosevelt (and often mistakenly attributed to Churchill) in his first inaugural address is  "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself---nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance".   And here are some other good and hopeful quotes regarding fear, some of them from those who knew a lot about the topic!

  • Fear is the lengthened shadow of ignorance.  ~Arnold Glasow
  • To fear is one thing.  To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.  ~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved
  • To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.  ~Bertrand Russell
  • Fear cannot take what you do not give it.  ~Christopher Coan
  • A cheerful frame of mind, reinforced by relaxation... is the medicine that puts all ghosts of fear on the run.  ~George Matthew Adams  
  • Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.  ~German Proverb
  • Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.  ~Author Unknown 
  • You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.  ~Mary Manin Morrissey
  • We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
So let's take a little time to remember that we don't have to allow fear to rule us all day, every day.  Take a moment to be in the "now" and remember everything that is good in your life!

IJ
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Friday, March 11, 2011

"Hello, How Are You Today?"


I had a most interesting phone conversation today, but for the life of me, I can't remember most of it.  It's not that the guy on the other end didn't try;  in fact, he tried too hard really.  He went on for 20 minutes, almost straight through, making points for his cause.  He was from a charitable organization, one that I used to send regular monthly contributions to.  I won't say what the organization is, because that's not the point.

For a number of years I supported this organization until I gradually began to feel less comfortable with it;  maybe I changed, maybe they did.  For the last two years that I supported it, I was rather resentful of the money I was giving them every month.  Now it's not that I sent a whole lot; it was minimal, really.  But I began to feel that I was wasting my money supporting something I was not 100% behind.  Finally, when I had to close a bank account for another reason, I used that opportunity to stop sending them cheques.  And of course, at first they did their utmost to convince me to continue.

And that became a problem.

I understand that charities and organizations who depend on the general public's generosity struggle a great deal with the financial aspect.  I recognize that it's not an easy job finding ways to convince people to send more money, or to send money at all.  A lot of them are proud of the fact when they have no government or corporate funding (as this fellow pronounced to me today), and do it all themselves.  And it's not easy.

But when they continue to call, or send emails or monthly newsletters as if I had a subscription...but ESPECIALLY when they continue to call...they are driving me even further away.  Not only that, but they are spending an awful lot of time and paper, and therefore that money that is so precious to them, on somebody who really is not interested.  Maybe there should be a "best before" date beside the names on their lists.  If the person they're calling doesn't change their mind within, say, three or four calls, give it a rest.  And stop sending newsletters that only get immediately thrown in the recycling box.

For the last 3 years, I have had continuous newsletters and phone calls from them.  And what struck me interesting about this conversation today was that this fellow really knew his stuff.  He could discuss issues here where I live (he was calling from across the country), and around the world in many areas of interest.  He knew histories of all kinds of problems, and, according to his monologue, he had actually been to many of these countries himself and witnessed all that he was speaking about.  He was a smart, intelligent man, well spoken and not the least bit provocative in a negative way.  And when he finally took a breath, I had a chance to say that I was no longer interested and had not been interested since I had stopped my payments several years ago, and could he kindly take my name off his list?

He said of course that could be done, and then he did the obvious thing;  he asked me why I had stopped my support in the first place.  So I told him why.  Whereupon he began again to tell me why I shouldn't feel that way.  And the conversation (or should I say monologue) picked up fervor again as he began to list all of the accomplishments, behind the scenes virtues and triumphs of said organization.  I felt myself "um-hmm"ing all over again for another ten minutes.  At one point he was speaking so much and so quickly, that he choked and coughed.

Finally, I was able to get a question in.  "How old are you?"  I asked him.  I knew I'd thrown him and that's what I needed to do.  "Um...I'm forty." he said.  "Oh, you sound younger." I took my opportunity to continue.

"You're obviously a very intelligent and well spoken person and (insert name of organization) is lucky to have you.  But I'm finished listening, so I'm going to have to hang up now."  And with that, we ended the conversation.  By this time I was actually feeling a bit of a headache coming on.  I swear that as much as he told me in that 20-25 minutes, much of it I didn't hear because I was spending a lot of the time trying to figure out how I was going to stop him without being rude.  That's something a lot of these callers depend on;  your politeness.  So everything he told me, was in fact, falling on deaf ears.  Was it worth the effort?

I'd guess they'll tell you that it is worth it, because if they can convince one person to part with their money...well, you know the rest.  Sometimes these people treat their causes like religion;  they believe in it so much that they spend all of their time and energy trying to convert everyone else around them, like religious fanatics.  And I don't know what the answer is when it comes to how they can solicit funds without turning people off.

But it'll be interesting to see if they ever call again.  And if they do, THEN what do I do??

IJ

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Old and Forgotten

Did you see Steve Jobs gleefully announcing the arrival of the second generation of iPad the other day?  Okay, maybe he wasn't quite gleeful...he does look terribly sick.  But I digress.

I love technology, I use it all the time.  But there are still a lot of people in the world who either don't have access or simply are not tech savvy.  Lots of them.  Including my Dad.

Now my Dad has never been very good at dealing with anything mechanical...it shocked me to find out that during World War II, my Dad, who was in the service, was in charge of checking the instrument panel of the airplanes they were testing at the base he was stationed at.  I'm sure the people in charge could NOT have known how tech-tarded my Dad actually was.  Okay, they didn't have that term back then, but you know what I mean.

My Dad is almost 89 and has Alzheimers, and he lives in a care facility.  Since I live in another city, my only means of communicating with him in between visits these days is an everyday, ordinary land line.  A phone, as they used to call them.  I am the one who calls him because he would have no way of remembering my number anymore, and it gives me comfort to hear his voice even if we don't talk much or for very long.

I had to move my Dad to another room in the same facility the other week.  They only give you one or two days' notice that the new room is available, so you have to jump on it or give it up to someone else.  When I had him all moved in, I called our local phone company, Telus, to change his land line to the new room.  Of course, I realized that there would probably be a delay and I figured I could live with that.  As it turned out, it was going to be a whole week before they could get a technician out to connect his line.  Why they needed a technician, I don't know.  There was a phone jack in the room already...but I decided, okay, we'll wait for the week.

When the day that his phone was supposed to be connected came and went and I still got an automated "This number is not in service", I called the phone company again.  Well, the technician went out there, they said, but he was told that there was no one there by that name.  Because the bill is sent to me, the tech asked for me, and not my father, even though I explained all of that when I orginally called to set it up.  So nobody did anything about it, and the technician left without doing anything.  I explained again to the customer service person I was talking to, that the bill was in my name but the phone was at my father's room in a care facility.  They passed me back and forth a couple of times, and finally a customer service representative typed out a new request for a technician.  "Is next Thursday alright with you?" he asked me.  Another whole week before they could get someone out there again??  I was getting mad.  "Another whole week?  Is there any way you can make it sooner?  My Dad has already been without a phone for a week and this is his only way to communicate with his family."  There wasn't even an ounce of sympathy in the guy's voice.  "No, next Thursday is the first available time."

Okay, so one land line for one old man doesn't mean much to anybody, I get it.  Phone companies are more interested in their cell phone sales and their big corporate contracts.  A story on the news recently was about the $37,000 bill that one Telus mobility customer received when she went to Africa and used her iPhone, thinking that she had paid for extra coverage there.  That made the news, but one old man without a land line won't.  I wrote out an angry letter to Telus because there was no email address to complain to, and at the end of the letter I pointed out that by the time this SNAIL MAIL letter got to them, my father would still be without a phone.

Actually, my father and other elderly members of both sides of my family are lucky.  They have people who care about them and make sure they have what they need as they get older and have more difficulty taking care of themselves.  But there are a lot of elderly people out there who are not so lucky, who are put away or kept in terrible conditions.  For example, in a story that came out recently in Toronto, an elderly woman was found unconscious and unresponsive in a basement with NO HEAT in the dead of winter, kept there by her son and daughter-in-law.  How can ANY human being do that to another, especially family??  Elder abuse can happen to anybody, even someone as famous as 90-year-old Mickey Rooney, who recently sat in front of Congress explaining the abuse he received at the hands of his wife and stepson over several years.

And of course these extreme cases make the news, but I think what is even more insidious is the fact that our society as a whole doesn't have much time or inclination to respond to or even think of the elderly.  Oh, except the scam artists of course.  Yes, old people are really popular with these predators who are trying to scam them out of what little money they have.  I've heard two stories recently from people I know whose older family members were the victims of a scam.  If I could have just two minutes with one of those scam artists, they'd...well, let's just say they'd never be the same again.

Most of us are going to be there one day...at or close to the point where we can't take care of ourselves anymore.  Hopefully someone will be there to look out for us, but in the meantime I think we can do a heck of a lot more to take care of the ones who so abley took care of us.  If you see and older person somewhere someday who needs a little help crossing the street or picking out some fruit in the grocery store, jump in and say hello.  It'll make their day, and yours too :-)

IJ

...just in case you were visualizing all 88+ year-olds as being helpless and ineffective, watch this:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Great Leveler

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. - Jorge Luis Borges

Two weeks ago I was with my friends up near Parksville at our annual spa getaway.  As we were getting out of the car at the entrance to the resort, I spotted a dead bird lying on the side of the parking lot.  For a moment, the two of us who spotted it paused, and expressed that moment of "aw".  It was freshly killed, although by what means I couldn't determine, and if I had reached down to touch it, it would probably have still been warm.  Instead, I turned away and walked into the resort with my friends, more or less forgetting about it.

One of my favourite Buddhist articles, and one I turn to and re-read every now and then, is called "Time and Impermanence in Middle Way Buddhism and Modern Physics" . It's an interesting, if somewhat mind boggling examination of the irreversible process of time and decay from both a physics and a Buddhist perspective, and ultimately it is a gentle reminder of the great leveler:  death.  Since the event of my mother's passing when I wasn't quite 15, I have been alternately curious and terrified of the idea of death.  In the western world, we tend to hide dead bodies, or when they are displayed, as in an open casket funeral, the bodies are dressed and made up in order to preserve something of the person that used to reside in them.  In other words, we try to make them look as if they might be sleeping, but not dead. We don't like to think of death and we do everything to avoid it, both emotionally and physically.

At the age of 15 I had no frame of reference to make sense of my mother's death;  it seemed only a cruel, dark and frightening event that I immediately began the process of trying to forget.  I have since experienced the passing of many people, some were close to me and others were simply acquaintances, and each time it happens, I am brought to that same emotional quagmire where there are no answers to any of the big questions.  It seems for many of us that the emptiness that comes with the death of a loved one always carries with it the same list of questions.  Why did that person die and where did they go, if anywhere?  Human beings are wired to wonder.  Some of us have our spiritual beliefs to fall back on when these life events throw us for a loop, and they give us comfort to some degree.  But even with all of those spiritual explanations to the mysteries of life, I'd venture to guess that the original questions still exist for many people, even if only at the back of their minds.  My mother's death sent me on that inevitable spiritual quest and eventually I found my peace with it.  I'm grateful my children haven't had to experience the same thing at such a young age.

But last year when we had to euthanize our cat, my daughters faced the end of a life for the first time.  Up to that point, they'd never gone through the loss of anyone dear to them, so this was as close as they'd been;  a sobering event and one that brought about the usual list of questions.  My daughters are both young adults, so they weren't exactly asking me "Mommy, why?", but I know they were both grappling with what it all meant.  I watched them grieve in a way they never had before, and became acutely aware of my own inability to take their pain away.

We buried Picard the cat in our back yard in a place where he used to love to lie in the summertime.  And for many days after we buried him, I wondered about what was happening to his body...perhaps a morbid line of thinking and disturbing to some degree, but it was also a strange kind of curiosity.  For a time I wondered to myself if maybe it would have been better to have him cremated; maybe to avoid the discomfort of having to imagine him decaying there.  But the decision to bury him had been made long before, and so he remained in the ground, a garden stone with his name on it marking his place.

The other day when I was cleaning the kitchen, I turned on the radio, and as I worked I listened to a CBC show called The Bottom Line with David Suzuki.  I'd never heard of it before, but my curiosity was piqued when I realized that this episode (Episode 8) was about the interconnectedness of our bodies and the earth around us.  They went into some detail about what happens to a dead body if it is left to the ravages of the outdoors, whether buried or not, over time.  As gross as it was, it was also quite fascinating, and it reminded me of that article I mentioned above.  But what was most interesting to me was the idea that the earth provides us with food and water and air in order to facilitate our lives, and when we die our bodies become the same for the creatures around us, whether we are buried or cremated.  You'll have to listen to it to get the real picture, and I warn you, some of it is a bit grotesque.  But I especially liked Suzuki's story of his father writing his own obituary and what he said in it, which was a kind of thread of thought that went through the whole episode.  Now you'll have to listen for yourself :-), and in fact you can hear a podcast of that episode if you go to the link above.

One life changing experience for me took place in February of 2000, when a friend of mine passed away from colon cancer.  I was not there at the end of her life, but I did visit her body at the invitation of her family at her wake.  I had not been present when my mother passed away either, nor had I ever seen a dead body before, so this was definitely a new experience for me and I was pretty hesitant at first to enter her room.  It was kept cold by an open window, probably to slow down the decomposing process (sorry to be so graphic!), and she lay on a bed which was decorated with flowers and hearts because it was near Valentine's Day.  I reluctantly sat down on a chair by her, and eventually decided I should say something to her, but it felt kind of strange talking to myself.  Which is really what I sensed I was doing.  After a respectable amount of time, I got up and left the room.  Days later it hit me that seeing her like that was very much like seeing a dead creature on the ground;  just an empty shell of something that used to be, about to disappear back into the earth.

That event changed a lot of things for me;  it gave me some of the answers that I had been seeking since my mother's passing and set me on another course of self discovery.  Those two events, my mother's and my friend's passing, became like bookends to my spiritual journey, not that I feel my journey has ended, but I do feel more comfortable with the way I view it now.  To me life and death are a perpetual, critical cycle, filled with many smaller cycles, each in balance, each requiring the end of another one before, so that it can begin. I'd forgotten all about the dead bird until we were checking out of the resort at the end of our weekend.  The bird's body was still there, but in those two days it had already become more or less skeletal, decomposing quite rapidly that short period of time;  going back to the earth that gave birth to it, giving its body back so that other creatures could be, for a short time, given life and allowed to thrive.

IJ

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shades of Grey

IJ in Maui on the lanai with a beer...
Winter on the wetcoast can be a grey and dreary affair, but for me this last month has been anything but dreary.  At the end of January I spent a marvelous 9 days in Maui with my husband, and only last weekend I was back at the spa with my fabulous friends on our annual getaway.  What a spoiled brat I am!

To top the whole month off, I have finally managed to finish recording my last CD...one that has taken me over 10 years to complete.  I've been pondering the question of why it has taken me so long;  the last CD I released was in 2000, and I actually released two of them very close together.   "Catnip" and "undressed" came when I was at the top of my game, having a very prolific period of writing, recording and performing.  But at this point, I haven't written a song for several years, I have stopped performing completely, and finishing this latest project has been such a long and arduous process.  What gives?

My only conclusion is that I was hijacked by personal events and menopause.  When I first got married and started having children the same thing happened.  Life got in the way of that self-centredness that is needed to write and/or record.  You can't be so terribly self-involved when you're raising kids.  But as they got a little older I was able to, for little bits of time, run upstairs and finish my first recording, Foolishly Fantasizing.  And in my 40's I was a lot freer to do those kinds of things, so writing and recording and performing became more of a focus.  But menopause brought that all to an abrupt halt.

Okay, I guess it wasn't really abrupt; it probably snuck up on me gradually and then became very apparent in my late 40's and into my 50's.  The inability to concentrate, the moodiness (which, you would think, would somehow drive some kind of creativity, but it didn't), the depressing physical symptoms, all came together in the form of a 'writus interruptous' and my usual creative flow was gone.  And other personal challenges with my family didn't help either.

So it was with great shock that I sat down two weeks ago and realized that I had actually finished the recording of "Shades of Grey".  And yesterday I came very close to finishing the mastering stage.  For those of you who don't know anything about recording, the mastering process in recording is like the final polish on a sculpture or the framing of a painting;  it essentially balances and equalizes all of the recorded songs so that they work together as a collection on a CD.

Now I'm very aware that in the 10 years since my last release, the music world has changed considerably.  It isn't as much about collections of songs in a CD these days;  now it's about "singles" the way it was back in the 50's and 60's.  You can simply put one song at a time out there in the universe and possibly see some sales from it on its own, but for me this is a collection of songs that all belong together.  The subjects of the songs range from longing and lust and letting go, to recognizing the reality of relationships, to getting older.  I've always been attracted to writing about what I consider the "grey areas" of life, so the CD title is a play on the word grey which is also the colour of a few strands of my hair these days!

And in a way, there is something very final and finished about it.  I said to my husband a year ago that I just wanted to get it done.  And if I never write again, at least I will feel that I've finished something rather than just letting it all just hang there.  So I am finally reaching that point.  Once the CD is done and the cover, which is being designed by myself and my daughter, is finished, I'll announce it here.  You'll be able to sample bits of it and I'll likely do another blog entry just about the songs themselves.  So stay tuned.

Now that I think of it, maybe the events of the last last few years will give me a new crop of songs!  You just never know...

IJ

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Godt Nytaar!

I am three quarters Danish;  my mother was born in the tiny fishing village of Karrebeksminde on the coast of the island of Sjaelland (Sealand, if you prefer) in Denmark.  Sjaelland is also home to Denmark's capitol, Copenhagen.  My father, as it turns out, was conceived on the high seas as my grandparents immigrated from Denmark to Canada.  He was their first child, born in Calgary, Alberta.

My parents met in Vancouver and were considered rather old when they had me;  my father was 35 and my mother 37.  As a result, I was an only child, and all through my childhood I heard about Denmark.  My parents both had Danish friends, so I remember visits between them, fat cigars smouldering, Danish delicacies like festsuppe and vienerbrod (translated literally as "feast soup" and Vienna bread or Danish pastry), and at Christmas, little Danish flags everywhere.  I remember visiting the Danish Lutheran Church in Vancouver, where I had been baptised, and its red roof and model ship hanging from the rafters, a site in pretty much every Danish Lutheran church, and I recall attending the Danish Bazaar in the church's basement every year.  My first words were a mishmash of Danish and English, and my mother loved to brag to her family back in Denmark that I spoke that language.  I found out years later that my Danish was actually pretty much a hybrid between the two languages and my grammar was all wrong, but as a child it seemed perfectly natural to me to converse in either language.  When I first went to school, I remember being given a spelling test and asked to spell the word "milk", which I dutifully spelled "melk" because that was the Danish spelling.  I was offended to be told that it was wrong.  How could it be wrong to spell something correctly in Danish??

Eventually, my Danish was overshadowed by English, although I kept it up in conversation with my parents over the years.  In the spring of 1970, my mother's sister, my Aunt May came to visit us.  It was a real adventure for me to have my Aunt May, who spoke a little English but not much, staying with us for a few weeks.  We introduced her to Vancouver, where she marvelled at the skyscrapers and mountains, both unheard of in Copenhagen.  I loved to tease her at her inability to pronouce English words starting with "th" and "shr" because they came out of her mouth sounding hilarious to me!  She good naturedly went along with my teasing and we got along famously.  I didn't know at the time that the reason my Aunt May came to visit was because my mother was dying, and this was their last chance to see each other.  When my aunt was preparing to fly back to Denmark, I was upset that my mother wouldn't let me go with them to the airport, but of course, I know better now.

My parents were planning a trip to Denmark when my mother passed away.  In a phone conversation with my Aunt May shortly after my mother's death, she convinced my father to rebook the trip for the following year, 1973.  And so that spring, my father and I flew to Europe, neither of us having been out of North America before.  By this time I was 15 and a real teenage brat, but we spent five weeks in the country of our heritage, travelling from Sjaelland to Lolland Falster where my grandparents were born, enjoying Copenhagen, riding bicycles and light trains and buses and visiting with everyone we could on both sides of the family.  I was able to see the house that my mother was born and grew up in, the church where my father's parents were married and the country that I had, up to then, only imagined.  I spent my 16th birthday in a pub with my Aunt May and my Dad, which would have been unheard of here in Canada.  My Aunt ordered me a pint of beer and after that, I was blitzed!

At a dinner out one evening, we decided to have Chinese food, and I was absolutely entranced listening to the Chinese waiters speak Danish...it was utterly fascinating to me.  I was also perturbed to hear the Danes talk about "pizza"...what?  There's no Danish word for pizza?  I bought and wore Danish clogs as my father and Aunt May and I wandered the streets of Copenhagen, visited the real Little Mermaid and enjoyed the sites and sounds.  There were beautiful castles, cobbled streets, fairgrounds, a depth of history I could barely grasp, great food and wonderful people.  When I said goodbye to my Aunt May, I was sure I would be back again some day.

As it turns out, I have not been there since, and I recently found out that my Aunt May passed away just before Christmas 2009 at the age of 95.  Many times I have had dreams about being there or flying there, but life has always found a way of distracted me from actually going.  I have kept in touch with some of my cousins, and every now and then I think about and talk about going back, perhaps with one or both of my daughters.  In the meantime, every Christmas I put Danish flags on our Christmas tree, and once every year or two I hold a smorgasborg for my good friends with traditional Danish food and lots of beer and schnapps.

My father remarried a couple of years after my mother passed away, and I inherited an unusually blended family of Danish and Chinese.  My brother, who looks more Chinese than caucasian, was told as a child by his Danish grandmother "Never forget that you're a Viking!"  I smile, imagining this little boy who always indentified more with his Chinese roots hearing that from his grandmother.  I often tease him that I'm going to bring out the Dane in him, but I have yet to succeed :-).

In the meantime I've never forgotten my Danish roots, and although my mother worked very hard at speaking English without an accent and becoming a Canadian, I'm happy that she and my father gave me such a wonderful, rich culture to celebrate.

Godt Nytaar means Happy New Year. 
To all of my readers, here's to a year full of happiness, harmony and good health!

IJ
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