performing

When you wish upon a star…

… or perhaps the Moon, magical things can start to happen.

It’s been a busy few months since I last wrote, but busy with all sorts of adventures! J. and I are well into our first six months of home ownership, and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster – every day I am in awe that I find myself in the most beautiful home I could’ve wished to spend my days in, but along with snow melting, we’re finding some interesting things to deal with, too. Like the fact that the previous owners poured a bunch of concrete over the sewage output, leaving absolutely no access to it (and definitely no X marking the spot under our lovely new carpets), so after several days of no water, jack hammering up the basement, striking gold (and by gold I mean what looked like miles of tangled dead animals), and covering it all up again… we can now wash our pants and flush toilets again. Huzzah!

Photography over winter has been slower, but this month wedding season kicks off again, and I’m also dying to show you some images I did for a big national commercial campaign! I’ve been trying all sorts of different shoots lately, learning lighting, and doing fun projects involving hopping into baths full of milk with my subjects – you can see some of my new images on my Facebook page.

But the BIG news lately has all been about music. I think last time I wrote, I was trying to raise funds to produce a little EP of a  handful of songs I’d written over the last couple of years. As of now, the EP is almost fully DONE, I was featured in a local paper, I have a music video, got local radio play, national play the very next day, and am somehow in CBC Music’s Searchlight contest 2016!

I need to take a step back for a moment. I need to reflect on the whirlwind that has been not just the last six months, but the last week. I need to let this sink in. Because when you wish upon a star, sometimes your dreams really do come true.

Exciting times! Had my first press interview for a local paper recently, had my first local radio airplay (reaction of which was filmed and kind of went all over Twitter…), and ended up being interviewed on CBC Radio the very next day. We finally recorded the video for Polaris, which was originally scheduled to be launched into the world a little closer to EP release this June, but it seems a chance submission I took into a national music contest liked it enough to include me in the first round, so it’s now live!

Originally we’d planned a wonderfully wintery outdoor shoot, but Winnipeg (being Winnipeg) had other plans – recording day arrived, and so did a giant weather warning of extreme cold and imminent blizzard-like conditions. (I can just about handle my minus tens, but minus forties in a dress… perhaps not so much!) Nobody wanted to give up, so we headed to Dave’s trusty all-purpose studio, where I stood in front of a white background, swayed around a bit… and lo and behold, we have a video!

I wanted to share a little about this song, too – my father recently asked me to sing at his upcoming wedding, and asked if the track would be appropriate. I couldn’t think of anything less appropriate for a wedding – though it may sound a bit power-ballad-y, the sentiment of the song isn’t about love at all. In the lead-up to the EP release (and during the course of this competition), I’ll be breaking down the lyrics to some of these tracks, and hope you enjoy learning a bit about the stories behind them.

I have the lyrics up to all the songs here, but if you wanted to read along, Polaris is:

The north star isn’t real unless aligning with my feelings
And life sometimes bleeds into the dreamworld

There’s thieves in my head and there’s a fire in my chest
And a madness that rides along the star-wind

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down
Will you remember any of this when life is on its way out?

The compass is a lie, leaves you washed up in turbulent tides
And what’s true is fighting for survival

But there are whispers instead, a rush of light soaring straight to your head
And you’ll find this is where the real adventure lies

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down
Will you remember any of this when life is on its way out?

You know it’s easy to fall into the mould
They’ll think you crazy, but you’ve got a hand to hold
And a wild heart, and a head that’s full of dreams
Don’t coast through when your spirit’s meant to gleam

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down
Will you remember any of this when life is on its way out?

The north star isn’t real unless aligning with my feelings
And life sometimes bleeds into the dreamworld

In all honesty, this song was written after I quit a job I’d been at for a grand total of five months. It took a number of hoops to jump through in order to land the position, and I was so excited to begin… but things aren’t always as they seem behind closed doors. An organization that appeared to exist with a vibrant culture of enthusiasm and creativity was filled on the inside with reports, numbers, and a group of people that I just didn’t fit in with. In all my adult life, I’ve never really had trouble fitting in – when I visited Vancouver for the first time, I was quickly dubbed “professional friend maker” – so working in an environment where I felt deliberately excluded was… difficult. I don’t know the reason for it. Although I have a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with MBTI.

When I was hired, I took one of my favourite things – a psychometric test! I really believed that a company that would even invest in something like this as part of an onboarding process was one I’d really do well in – but alas. I received my scores, and quickly got involved in making a “corporate culture book” in which I got to interview all members of staff, get to know them personally, and include their results as well as a write-up on what they did, what they were passionate about, and who they were as people. I love stuff like this. When I’d finished, we had an all-staff meeting to discuss our results. Staff were broken down into their respective results groups – leaders, strategists, planners, competitors, etc. I was the only member of staff who scored empathy. This should have been my first clue. #INFJproblems

Four months into the job, my grandmother passed away. It had been a gradual decline, one that was made worse by living halfway across the world. I was in the middle of an evening assignment for work taking part in a tour I had to do a writeup on when I saw my phone ringing. I knew – I don’t know how I knew, but I knew this was going to be the call with the dreaded news. I had no choice – I couldn’t answer it, but as soon as the tour was over, I called back. My world froze. She’d gone. My beautiful nan who’d pretty much raised me as a child, who taught me all sorts of life lessons, who made me feel like her pride and joy right up until the end – had passed. I spent the evening with my father, holding each other, crying, telling stories… and informed my work that I might be off for a couple of days.

I returned to two things later that week: 1. Another member of staff had also had a family member pass in the same week. There were e-mails upon e-mails in my inbox talking of gathering donations, delivering flowers, signing cards for her. I felt awful someone else was going through similar pain. But I also felt… perhaps wrongly so, but a slight tinge of anger. There was nothing acknowledging my grandma’s passing. There was nobody asking if I was doing okay; quite the opposite – people were upset I was now two days behind on work and quickly put me straight back to it. My CEO was out of the country at this point on work business, but e-mailed to see how I was doing. I appreciated this immensely – despite being thousands of miles away, she took the time to make sure I was holding up okay. I let her know what had happened upon my return and that I was a little upset about it on top of the grief – it’s not like I’d wanted any recognition or bouquets or anything, but for not a single soul to ask if I was okay, while someone else was showered in sympathy? It stung a little bit. Forgive me if that makes me sound like a terrible person.

Long story short, CEO calls supervisor. Supervisor becomes irate that I spoke to someone above her, calls me into the office for a highly unpleasant and insulting conversation, where I decided that I could not work in a place that had so little heart, so little regard for human beings as humans and not just worker bees. I left that day, and amidst job searching, decided to write this song.

Verse one:

The north star isn’t real unless aligning with my feelings
And life sometimes bleeds into the dreamworld
There’s thieves in my head and there’s a fire in my chest
And a madness that rides along the star-wind

I’ve always been sensitive. A favourite quote by one of my favourite writers (an action figure of whom sits atop my desk): “Beauty, of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.” Another: “She said she usually cried at least once each day, not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short.” This is what got me about that situation. Our life on this earth is finite. My first verse reflects the north star, Polaris, as the direction to aim for in a journey – and that if it doesn’t feel right, if you have a gut feeling that’s slightly off, then it’s not the right path for your journey. Life bleeding into the dreamworld was the frustration I felt at my everyday invading my dreams, thieves in my head telling me it’s simply what I had to do to make a living, stealing my time away from what felt right – from the fire in my chest – and thinking that this mode of living is like some form of madness. We are born into the world where creativity is encouraged, and as we become adults it is squashed out of us in favour of the mundane, bill-paying things. It’s sad, and it’s mad.

Chorus:

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down
Will you remember any of this when life is on its way out?

This is what I want people to remember. I want people to remember that current occupations, chores, reports, fallings out – should never eclipse what’s most important in life. I’ve always tried my best to live life with the knowledge of life’s ephemerality in the back of my mind – not to be morbid, always thinking that one day the hourglass will run out – but to always remember that each waking moment is a gift, and at the end of this life, it’s not the things we place such weight on in the immediate moment that we’ll look back on and think of time well spent. It’s the moments we made a difference, the moments we explored the world, or the moments we were there for a friend, the moments others were there for us, the moments we loved and the moments we saw each other as real human beings. It’s easy to get caught up in the temporary, but it must never eclipse the eternal. The next verse echoes this theme, into another (more punchy) chorus.

The compass is a lie, leaves you washed up in turbulent tides
And what’s true is fighting for survival
But there are whispers instead, a rush of light soaring straight to your head
And you’ll find this is where the real adventure lies

The bridge talks about my desire to always be there for others, and harkens back to my anxiety-ridden days when all I wished for was to be able to unleash everything on the inside out into the world, but feeling so trapped – like nobody would notice, that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I was in the grips of fear and I had no way out of my shackles. I desperately want people to know that if they have a dream, they can make it happen – and I’ll be there cheerleading the whole way.

You know it’s easy to fall into the mould
They’ll think you crazy, but you’ve got a hand to hold
And a wild heart, and a head that’s full of dreams
Don’t coast through when your spirit’s meant to gleam

That last line is a bit of a dedication to a friend of mine back in the UK, who told me once when I first joined a singing class, that we don’t have these burning passions and dreams inside us for no reason – if we feel so strongly about creating or doing something meaningful with our lives, then we have every obligation to do so. We don’t feel this way for nothing. We feel this way because this is what we are supposed to be doing.

The response to this song, even though it hasn’t got too far out of the harbour yet, has been overwhelming. I received a message last night from someone in another part of the country I’ve never met that moved me to tears. She’d experienced a horrible loss of a spouse, and had been feeling terrified of living alone in the aftermath, also dealing with all sorts of fear and anxiety. She heard my radio interview where I opened up about the journey from there to here (an ongoing journey I’m sure will never be complete, but one that will be full of growth and adventure!), and reached out to me.

“We are the only ones holding ourselves back, I am proof of that and so are you. You might be able to sing and create while living in sheltered security, but your song is much more beautiful if you open the door and sing it as a free bird, not a caged one. K. I’m going to do it. Your lyrics in Polaris, as I am interpreting them for my circumstance, has given me the kick I needed… Thank you for inspiring me. Since his passing I’ve been asking myself “what now?”, what is expected of a grown woman with adult children, right? What do I do with my time left? Where do I go from here? My answer is to love, it’s as simple as that and to be there for my children, and to experience joy, but I’m a simple person without a bucket list as every day is a gift, but I feel that now is my time to create. Since I was a young child I always wanted to be a famous writer and I’ve been writing since then, literally. Thank you. Take care. And good luck. I have a sticky note in my daybook that reads “vote for Emily” so I don’t forget.”

I couldn’t be more humbled, or more honoured. This contest isn’t about winning. This is just a song I hope reaches and touches people, that asks them what’s important in life, and lets them know they’re not alone.

That said, if you DO want to take two seconds and vote for me, just click here. 🙂 Soon I’ll share a clip of when I first wrote it in its rawest form, with just little old me in my living room and a cheap ukulele!

 

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When the heart is most afire, that is the time to write.

And that time is now. I have so much to say that it’s like something was set alight in my chest and my body is a moment frozen in time; the explosion was ignited but is held in stasis inside, ready to go off. I think it has to explode here. I want to write her a song. I want to write about songs. I want to write about incredible performances I’ve seen that made me proud to be a member of the human race. I want to write about my confusion and determination, to try and figure out a plan for the way forward. I want to write about so much happiness. So much sadness. The paradox of being. Thank goodness for words.

Do you ever lie awake at night with so many thoughts and ideas rattling around your brain you can’t possibly sleep? I know each of us is afforded the same amount of time per day, but I feel eternally that it’s not enough. I wish it were a real commodity; I’d buy so much from other people. Nights they spend in front of the television that will disappear into the past completely wasted. I’d scoop them all up and make so many things. Songs. Stories. Photographs. Memories. I sometimes wish I weren’t so invested in so many things.

But I can’t do things by halves. I pour every ounce of everything I am into everything I do, and it frustrates me and sometimes breaks my heart. When it’s not reciprocal, it hurts, and instead of seeing it as the simple fact that other people don’t always feel so extremely (and that’s okay), I feel saddened and alone and confused. My heart will always take my head in any fight, and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to change that. I’m a little all over the place right now, so this post probably will be, too. Thank you for bearing with me.

I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job at doing what I’m supposed to be doing lately. Storytelling, in some way or another. I’ve made some images, posted a song I wrote, and entered a writing competition with something I made over a few lunch hours, ending up with about 3,500 words. I love being able to tell stories in more than one way, but I sometimes question if I should.

Should I focus on one avenue at the cost of the others? If I want to be a real writer, I should spend all my storytelling time telling stories through the written word. If I want to be a half-decent musician, I should spend my time writing more songs, learning how to perform, and getting things recorded. If I want to be a photographer, I should spend more time taking and editing images. But I’m so very drawn to all three. Writing most. But sometimes an idea has to come out as music or art instead, and I don’t want to limit myself. But I don’t want to spread myself thin, either.


The Triad and the Harvest Moon

garyMusic is something I’ve been passionate about for probably close to the same amount of time as I’ve been on the planet. As a kid, I remember anxiously sitting by the radio, waiting for a song to come on to record onto a mix tape. I’ll still spend a few hundred dollars I don’t have travelling to other cities to see a favourite band. I curated mix CDs for friends for years (damn modern technology; how do you do that now?) and grew up listening to my dad’s punk and new wave, and to this day we basically have the same taste. We went to a Gary Numan show this week – something I was looking forward to (Godfather!) but had no idea how incredible it would be! This man blew me away. Everyone knows Cars, but holy crap. I loved everything he played, and his performance was mesmerising. It was as if the music had been injected into his every vein, fuelling his movement and delivery; the result an electric art piece (that rocked SO hard) that words fail to describe. Everyone in the audience was awe-struck. There was an excitement and wonder that filled the air as we watched him command the stage with body contortions and vast, stylized gestures that made it appear like he was channelling so much more than music. No wonder so many artists cite him as their biggest influence.

I’ve always adored music, but I never dreamed I’d ever be able to make it. I took classes in school, but always struggled with being able to read sheet music. I was in stage school for a brief period and loved it, but I lost a lot of confidence in my early-mid twenties and though I loved to sing, I’d ensure every window was closed and nobody was home before I ever dared sing along to something. My biggest reason for getting a car wasn’t for transportation; it was so I’d have a space where nobody would see me that I could sing in as much as I liked.

I wrote my first song at about this time last year, and I surprised myself. You know me; I like to write thousands of words at a time. A song is about 200. Yet it somehow worked. My little story fit into a couple of verses and a chorus. So I kept going. Now I’m in the habit of writing down stray sentences and turns of phrase in an ongoing Google document, and recording random bits of melody on my phone if inspiration strikes. But why am I doing it? I’m still terrified of performing, but I have this immense desire to create music. I want to keep writing songs, learning more chords, and strengthening my voice until it becomes one I’m actually proud of. Not because I need to entertain people; far from it. I think it’s because, like my old friend once told me, we don’t have these insatiable longings for no reason at all. We have them because we should be doing something about them. And I think my reason is to prove to myself that maybe I can be good. I’ve spent years trying to let what’s on the inside emerge externally; to become the person I’ve always wanted to be. Recognising the discrepancy between where I was and where I wanted to be and actually doing something about it. But I don’t think I’ll ever be done.


That reminds me. I finally got some work done on my tattoo! This thing has cursed my back for years, and the last time I tried to cover it up it ended with me leaving the shop in tears, insulted, and in ridiculous amounts of pain (chronic abnormality; my back is always in spasm and hurting, and having needles in it doesn’t tend to go well. I can sit through being inked anywhere else on my body!). I finally went back in to see Ivy, who’s been creating this wonderful piece on my arm, and she understood my situation. It was going to be a cover up of a messy, quarter-finished cover up attempt on a back that hurts just to touch: not fun, but it was time. She designed something perfect, and I’ve got the hardest piece done, even if it was quite possibly one of the most painful things of my entire life. A ship, to represent the sentiment of always sailing forward, even if you don’t know which direction you’re going. I refuse to ever settle and stay still when there is so much life to be lived. An albatross, too, because they are beautiful and strong and can last for days and days on nothing at all. And a Frank Turner lyric, “I face the horizon, the horizon is my home,” supporting the ship itself in the same typeface and style as everything on my arm. The sentiment is perfect, and it just encompasses (no pun intended) the way I absolutely have to live my life.

Anyway. Back to what I was saying. I want to make music. I also want to make art and edit images and create whimsical fairytales told by a single photograph. I’m almost at 1,000 on my photography/art type stuff Facebook page, and I could edit for hours and hours. I love compositing, creating magical stories, and I have so very much to learn still. And I want to learn it all. I want to be as good as Brooke Shaden. I have a shoot I’ve organised for December with close to thirty people taking part, and I’m so excited for the day, but I’m beyond excited for the editing process and the resultant album. But again, these things take time.

I also have to finish my novel. Now winter is here I’ll be spending far more time indoors and not running around barefoot in forests, and it’s been a goal to have the whole thing finished before I turn thirty. That’s only seven months away. But if people can Wri Nos in a Mo, I think I can do it. The Professor and I I’m sure will start our writing nights again, just like before. 🙂

There are a few things up in the air right now, but writing this stream of consciousness has helped settle me. This evening I will build a blanket fort and make epic grilled cheese sandwiches and light sparklers for Bonfire Night with one of my favourite people in the world. The rest will sort itself out. It always does. And life is full of a lot of wonderful.

Waking Up from Ash and Dust

Last time I wrote, I believe (it’s hard to keep track of because I’ve been privately publishing small “performance diaries” to chronicle this journey from the get go), I’d just decided to team up with a good friend and form a band together. I was all sorts of terrified and simultaneously excited at the possibility of something I’ve always wanted actually materialising, but most of all I was baffled that someone who’d actually been performing and writing/recording music and in other bands wanted to start one with me. The goal was two cover songs at an open mic – incidentally one of the things on my 30 Before 30 list.

And it happened. I didn’t throw up this time, but I did completely over-analyse it afterward and burst into tears, thoughts of having let my friend down flitting about my head along with worrying about if I was awkward on stage, if I was too stiff, if I sounded any good… people kept telling me it was great, but it was like their words were being thrown at my brain which had built a solid, impenetrable fortress around itself and couldn’t hear any of it. Then it happened again. I went from not being able to physically face the same direction or look at my friend to actually enjoying getting together to jam. There was something magical about having a far better musician than me actually be willing to sing and play songs I’ve always wanted to right there with me, and I’ve always been a sucker for great harmonies, and ever since we’ve been performing, I’ve lost count of how many times people have said how perfectly suited our voices are to each other. And it’s really difficult and strange and bizarre… and kind of amazing to keep hearing when your brain has told you otherwise for so long.

First performance

It’s been six weeks, filled with many jamming sessions, a handful of performances, and an almost complete turnaround in belief – I’ve always felt I was too quiet, too soft, too nervous, and too doubtful to ever fully sing properly. But even though I still wish I had a bigger voice, or could play more instruments, or could commit songs to memory in a heartbeat, the love of doing something has finally, finally outweighed the fear. Last performance was my first ever in front of the biggest audience yet without the safety net of lyrics and chords in front of me. We did an Imagine Dragons song and made it completely our own and I don’t think I forgot a single word. Afterward I noticed I hadn’t needed my water, which I’d chugged the time before because my throat was so dry with nerves, and I noticed I wasn’t shaking with post-performance analysis and anxiety, I was actually REALLY HAPPY and excited that I’d just done something I really never, ever thought would be possible. My heart wasn’t sinking to my feet any more. It was bursting with joy.

I was reading a blog post today from someone I am beyond proud to know, and these words struck such a chord (I swear that wasn’t intended):

Whether you’ll admit it or not, there are dreams you’ve kept since childhood. There are things out there that make you come alive. There is a burden in your soul that feels like its been lit on fire, and it makes it difficult to speak, and you fumble for the words, and you ache to quench the thirst. That’s not your heaping serving of cliché for the day. That’s just the truth. The truth, the truth, that we are often made for things so much bigger than we ever allow ourselves to have. We get small doses. We get little reminders. But honey, honey, what could it look like if you just opened the flood gates and let the passion pour out.

I felt that passion come pouring out when I finished my first short story. I feel it now I’m 30,000 words into a book in which every strange twist of my imagination is allowed to live and breathe forever. Once you hit the point of taking that step over the edge, into the unknown, and you realise it’s actually okay – it becomes a fuel to keep going. People always say things like “feel the fear and do it anyway”, “what have you got to lose”, or “what’s the worst that could happen?” But I thought to myself the other  day, before a practice session, perhaps some better words might be along the lines of “…but what if it’s brilliant?” Everything you ever try has the possibility to turn out a million different ways, and we have such a tendency to believe our capacities are far less than our true potential. We’re conditioned to believe it’s almost arrogant to go into something new thinking “I might be kind of good at this”. And so we don’t. We go in scared, if we even go in at all, because then at least if it does suck, it’s not like we didn’t expect it. It’s a self preservation thing; a mask that’s been so tightly glued to our faces that even we’ve forgotten it’s false, and we believe it. We believe that we are small. And we let those beliefs shape everything we’re ever brave enough to try.

I don’t know if anybody’s watching this season of The Voice UK (shh, guilty pleasure), but I remember seeing this little Irish ginger kid with a guitar auditioning with an absolutely arse kicking version of an Ellie Goulding song of all things. And he just WENT FOR IT. I looked him up on YouTube afterward, and he does it all the time. He doesn’t hit half the notes, but it doesn’t matter – his enthusiasm and commitment to just pouring that passion out into the world and rocking it is all he needs to just be absolutely brilliant. And he’s kind of become a bit of an inspiration. Every time I get nervous about hitting a note or trying a new song for the first time, we talk about “just gingering it”. Not thinking about nerves or worrying if it comes out wrong, just letting the excitement and love of music and hope for something awesome come out instead. And I think when you do it that way, perfection doesn’t even matter. My whole life I’ve been scared of showing anything I’ve created to anyone unless it’s 100% perfect first.

First video: Bastille’s Pompeii

I’ve spent the last six weeks learning how to jump in unprepared and ride on hope and enthusiasm and trust… That’s a big one. Trust in other people’s words for the first time, that maybe I’m not that awful at this thing I’ve wanted to do so badly for so long. I know I have such a long way to go. I need to learn more chords, I need to learn how to write a song, I need stage presence and I need to strengthen my range. I need to stop doubting and being afraid and just keep focusing on the passion and forcing myself to keep doing it. With writing, and with music… I’ve been wired with a longing to dive into them both, such a strong, deep desire to create, to get what’s on the inside of this head out into the world… I suppose some of the very same reasons I started a blog in the first place. To prove to  myself and to the world that what was on the outside, or what I saw in the mirror, wasn’t truly what existed inside. Wasn’t what I truly was. Another few words from my wise friend seem applicable here, too:

We’re all a lot deeper than we give ourselves credit for. And we live within a world that never lets us fully know that. It’s a culture that keeps our intensity, and the fire in our eyes, and the lost hope in our bones at bay because shallow sells and the harder questions make us wince. But you, you, will always be hungry to go deeper than this world has ever let you believe you could. Going deeper isn’t easy. It’s not pretty. But it is so, so, so, so, so, so, (so, so, so) life giving… This world is much, much shallower than your sweet identity.

And maybe you already cry over that at night. And maybe no one ever thought to tell you but, yea, you’re kind of deep. Deeper, deeper than you even allow yourself to see. But the scary truth in all of it is that we have to be the ones to wade out into deeper water…. If you choose to walk forward, leave some of the smallness behind, plenty of others will stay to pick up your load but you’ve got be the intentional one in all of this. The one who sets the space for something more. Or else, you’ll stay a clam shell. You’ll stay surface level. And no one will ever fault you for that but you’ll probably start to feel those concrete shoes getting buckled to your feet when you look at your hands and ask, wasn’t I supposed to do something more with these? 

Diving inside to retrieve that passion and intention has been a long time coming. Words cannot express how happy and free I finally feel, but moreso, how grateful, for those around me who’ve been my safety nets. My cheerleaders. Those who’ve made it their mission to get me to see that maybe I really can follow my dreams after all. We only have one life. And it absolutely cannot be guided by, or wasted on fear.