Saturday, March 31, 2012

stop the world and crash with you

When your worlds start colliding, you know you're in the right job. She said it casually, tossing it off with a laugh during a conversation about work and volunteering. The truth of it, though, immediately resonated with me.

My worlds have been on a collision trajectory since late 2008, when I left my real job and struck out on a freelance exploration voyage. As a freelancer, my volunteer commitments are never really very far removed from my paid gigs, my leisure choices tend to overlap with my professional interests. That's true for most of us, of course, particularly as the 9 to 5 job becomes increasingly anachronistic. But a freelancer is always (and never really) working.

This city of one million plus often feels like a small village to me. My circles are increasingly overlapping, and each new involvement generates another, and it all makes perfect sense. Civic engagement, it seems, truly feeds itself.

Oddly, one of the spin-offs of all these worlds colliding is that I am finally seeing the point of Twitter. Another wise woman once told me that Facebook is for connecting with people you know, Twitter is for connecting with people you want to know. I find myself tweeting more and more all the time, using it as a tool to connect with people, and increasingly with organizations, whom I want to draw into my universe. And unlike Facebook, Twitter hardly ever makes me scratch my head and wonder what they hell they were thinking, with those suggested connections.

Have your volunteer gigs or other civic circles changed over the years?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

captivating vernacular

The Secret Languages
- Drew Smith


Hamilton musician Drew Smith has become almost as referenced for his creative approach to producing videos of his songs as he is for making the music itself. You may recall the video for Love Teeth, featured a few months ago on this blog. The lovely and evocative video was produced by South Korean animator Sohee Jeon, Smith's former ESL student. More recently, Drew Smith's decision to outsource the video for Smoke and Mirrors to Asha Sarella, a teacher with a dance company in Bangalore, resulted in a beautifully choreographed Bollywood production. Oh yeah, and a feature in The New York Times.

Both songs appear on Drew Smith's second album, The Secret Languages, a sonic web of melodic entrapment.
Smith has a boldly ethereal voice, with qualities somewhat reminiscent of Thom Yorke, which floats over and weaves throughout richly layered instrumentation. There is a decadent complexity to The Secret Languages, a languorous escalation of sound textures that draws you in and hold you close.

There's a confidence to The Secret Languages that belies its sophomore status. With an assurance far more suited to a musician with a dozen albums and a handful of world tours behind him, Smith lays down ten solid tracks that just beg you to continually hit the repeat button. Not bad for a self-produced album.

I loved this album.

drewsmith.ca

Sunday, March 25, 2012

stroke my blue

I'd make a pretty lousy photo journalist. I'll never really progress beyond the basic point and shoot, although sometimes I do turn off the flash or even brave a black and white or saturated setting. Mostly though, I snap mundane photos with cluttered backgrounds. And because I take forever to set up the shot (no shooting with one hand as I run toward the action for me), facial expressions are generally starting to strain by the time I actually press the button.

Every now and then, though, an accidental shot will please me greatly. Like the above, where I inadvertently photographed my gloves lying in my lap just before I exited the rental vehicle. I love the sameness of hue between gloves and steering wheel, juxtaposed against their opposing textures. Possibly one of my favourite recent photos.

I also love the way this photo, taken while dicking around waiting for the Magnetic Fields to take the stage, turned the ceiling of the Vogue Theatre into an art deco playground. It reminds me of the curves of a guitar, as visualized by Dr. Seuss.

Both photos were taken in Vancouver, in my first trip back since Communique, which coincidentally inspired the basis for my latest BC Musician Magazine article,
You've Got to Hear This. It's a very loose and liberal interpretation of what went down at Communique, but if you were there, you may recognize some moments. Even if you weren't there, feel free to admire how I so seamlessly shifted the conversation to shameless self-promotion.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

in the arms of my sweet-lovin' band

The Magnetic Fields
- Vogue Theatre, Vancouver
March 18, 2012

Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields has a reputation for being downright curmudgeonly. After his sly gender-bending lyrics and his basso profondo voice, it's arguably his most endearing quality. Watching Merritt and long-time friend and band-mate, Claudia Gonson, bicker comfortably at each other like an old married couple was a charming bonus to Sunday night's fabulous concert.

The show, my first at the opulent old-world Vogue Theatre, was opened by Holcombe Waller and his ensemble from Portland. I was more a fan of his banter than his music, which we all agreed was of the Cat Stevens/Chris DeBurgh school of singer-songwriterliness. He would have been fun to go bar-hopping with, though.

The Magnetic Fields, though, were delightful. Much of the audience had left their velvety seats and migrated to the mosh pit prior to the start of the set, eliciting a sharp rebuke from Mr Merritt to sit down, much to my delight.

They played many of my favourites, drawing heavily from their famous three-album release, 69 Love Songs. Despite the fact that they all seemed to be suffering from nasty colds and SXSW exhaustion, they soldiered on, with mugs of hot water laced with lemon and honey.
Such rock stars!

When the final notes closed on the final song of the encore, the band was showered by flowers hucked lovingly onstage by some uber-fans. I learned later that many of these fans also brought offerings of chocolate, hard to find in the US.

Never underestimate the power of Smarties, though personally I would have gone for Coffee Crisp.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

so far

I have been involved in three bouts of hail.

I have walked into two record stores (Neptoon and Zulu) and came out of both of them richer in music.

I have spent soul-fortifying time with the OFKAR, Al, Wandering Coyote, Mel, Matthew, and Serah. I'm blessed to have good friends, here in my second home.

I have seen cherry trees in blossom, tulips and crocuses bursting with colour, and even what looked like a rose tree in full bloom.

I have had some damn fine sushi, as is only right and proper.

I have walked more in the past three days than I have in the previous three months. I think we can safely assume that my knee is now healed.

I have peed in some pretty sketchy bathrooms, but come home every night to my favourite hotel ever.

And tonight, I crossed another band off my list to see before I die.

Review of the Magnetic Fields concert at the Vogue Theatre, still to come.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

preparing to fly

It must be a holdover from the days of pre-connectivity, this need to get all loose ends tied up before leaving on a trip. I am well aware that I will have ample airport time to complete assignments, yet I still find myself slave to the to-do list in the days leading up to departure.

Perhaps it's my new pen, which strikes things off so deliciously and with such finality. A good striking-off pen is irresistible to a list junkie.

I have not been to the wet coast since the fall, and am anxious to spend time with the OFKAR and with my coastal friends, to walk my adopted oceanside neighbourhood and cruise the plethora of record stores. There will be a solid contingent of like-minded souls meeting up for the Magnetic Fields concert on Sunday, for which I am highly chuffed. I am counting on my friends to prop me up should I swoon if they play All My Little Words or Born on a Train or The Book of Love.

I must remember to bring along my magnificent new striking-out pen to cross "Magnetic Fields concert" off my bucket list.

What are you doing this weekend?
What was the last concert you attended?

Monday, March 12, 2012

go big or go home

One of the first things I did when I got to the East Village Sales and Experience Centre for the VIP sneak preview on Saturday was check out the interactive map that I did some work on. The second thing I did, naturally, was snap a photo of one of my own pop-up reviews. It's the real-life equivalent to Googling yourself.

It was quite an amazing afternoon. There was a great turnout of the curious and loads of interest in both the developments that were featured and in the area itself. There really is a lot to love about East Village.

For instance, this is me enjoying my new river-front condo. Can I pour you a little snort?

I took some rather cool photos (if I do say so myself) of the scale model that dominates the lobby of the centre. May I direct you over to my latest post at Cantos/National Music Centre to see some photos featuring the future NMC building that will be a cornerstone of the new East Village?

If music and pictures aren't your thing, perhaps you are more interested in words and food? Check out my article on the Calgary Food Truck scene that I am thrilled made it into the latest issue of EVE. Certainly one of the glossiest, most stylish magazines I have ever wormed my way into.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Stacy and Clinton, please call

It's four sizes too big for me. There's a gaping hole in the collar, a couple of missing buttons, and it's so stretched out of shape that's it's a foot longer in the front than it is in the back. Plus it's a really unflattering sort of beigy tan non-colour. It's my ugly sweater, my dirty little secret that all the neighbours have seen me wear.

My ugly sweater was butt-ugly even when I first I bought it fifteen or so years ago. My reason for the purchase has long since been forgotten, insanity perhaps, or toddler brain. But I must admit, what the sweater lacks in beauty, it makes up for in longevity.

I tell myself that I am only hanging onto it, so that somebody will spot me wearing it, take pity on me, and nominate me to be on What Not to Wear. If you are planning to do this (and I pray that you are), please hurry. All my other clothes are suddenly in various stages of shreddedness and I don't want to spend money on new clothes if Clinton and Stacy are just going to make me throw them away.

Have you got any shameful clothing secrets hiding in your closet?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

it's complicated: Fool For Love

Fool For Love
- Sage Theatre

Sam Shepard's fiery play, Fool For Love, is the first collaboration between Calgary's Sage Theatre and Edmonton's Shadow Theatre. Judging from the reaction to Wednesday's preview performance, it's a marriage of theatre companies that is well worth nurturing. Presumably any kinks had already been worked out of the performances during the Edmonton run, because the preview at Sage Theatre was exceptionally polished.

The one-act play unfolds in a shabby motel room in the Mojave desert. Outside, visible through the cheap blinds that adorn the windows, a parking lot and cacti provide the only distraction from the sparsely furnished room with the peeling wallpaper. Willie Nelson fittingly wails out his heartache as we take our seats.

Fool For Love is a short play, only 65 minutes long. But those 65 minutes are so consumed with raw passion and the fallout of toxic relationships that, had it been any longer, our heads would have exploded.

May and Eddie are the on-again off-again lovers who are embroiled in a fiery relationship that reveals itself to be increasingly disturbing, as the layers are gradually peeled away. While May and Eddie attract and repel each other like two crazed magnets, poor hapless Martin, May's new gentleman friend who comes to take her out to the movies, is forced to be a captive and silent witness to their drama.

Throughout it all, The Old Man sits off to the side in a rocking chair, a sort of dirt cowboy Greek chorus who challenges the two lovers' perception of their shared yet conflicting memories. He is the epitome of their troubled past, fraught with betrayal and abandonment.

Each actor in Sage/Shadow Theatres' production of Fool For Love nails perfectly the passion, fury, and confusion of people who are caught in a tangled mess where the sins of the father inevitably revisit the child. The troubled drifters of this desert wasteland will haunt your soul for days to come. Go see this.

Monday, March 05, 2012

a tale of two sciency books: with two-part titles

In an increasing but strictly unintentional trend, the number of non-fiction books I read this year continues to outnumber those of the fictional persuasion. Quite the reversal of my reading habits of a decade ago. The last two books I finished have both been non-fiction, both in the science realm.

Panic in Level 4:
Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science
- Richard Preston

Richard Preston sure knows how to pick fascinating topics. You may recall how compelling I found his earlier book, The Hot Zone, which dealt with the search for the source of the Ebola virus. Panic in Level 4 revisits that topic in one of its chapters, but there is surprisingly little redundancy in the current writing. Obviously it is a topic of endless fascination.

Equally, if not more, fascinating are Preston's chapters on the search for pi (in particular that of the brothers Chudnovsky, mathematical geniuses who built a super computer for that purpose in their New York apartment), the race to sequence the human genome (in which millions were rapidly made and lost in the resulting biotech bubble), and the little-known story of the grotesque and heart-breaking Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a chromosomal defect that results in victims self-cannibalizing.

I was reading the latter chapter at the hairdressers and almost lost an ear when my hairdresser, scissors in hand, looked over my shoulder to see a photo of a Lesch-Nyhan victim. The irony would have been exquisite.

Only one chapter in this book drags somewhat. The devastation of the eastern hemlock by the introduced parasite, the wooly idelgid, is a disturbing cautionary tale, but lacks the fascination factor of the other topics that are investigated in Panic in Level 4.

A fascinating read.

My Stroke of Insight:
A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
- Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

I am always puzzled as to why some people add their academic credentials to their signature. I can see the purpose of doing so for this book. My Stroke of Insight is geared toward the layest of laypersons and the addition of Ph.D. lends credence to the tale that unfolds within the pages.

When I first heard of its existence,
I was very curious to read this book. Having worked in neuroscience for thirteen years, specifically in stroke research, I was keen to gain some insight into the actual experience of stroke from a neuroanatomist who had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. So when a friend gave me this book some years later, I sure looked forward to reading it.

My Stroke of Insight is divided into three sections, pre-stroke, stroke, and post-stroke. The pre-stroke section includes simple and well-written neuroanatomy lessons. Aside from the unavoidable nomenclature, it avoids jargon and is a good introduction (or refresher course) to neuroscience.

The stroke section, in which the author describes with uncanny clarity the sensations that she experienced the morning of her stroke, was nothing short of riveting. Obviously Bolte Taylor pieced together her experiences considerably after the fact, but she manages to bring an immediacy to her story.

It is in the post-stroke section of My Stroke of Insight that the book begins to lose me. The timeframe of the story begins to skip around so much at this point that I was never certain whether what was being divulged happened days or months after the stroke. But that was relatively minor. The story of Bolte Taylor's heroic efforts at rehabilitation was quite astounding, both in the effort involved and even more so in the gradual refunctioning of the neural circuitry that had been damaged by the stoke.

By the last few chapters, however, Bolte Taylor gets all mystical and loses me. I understand how an event like a major stroke would make one reexamine the meaning of one's existence, but the endless talk of tapping into the peacefulness of her right hemisphere and becoming part of the cosmos was just too touchy-feely for me. I wanted science, damn it!

Overall though, My Stroke of Insight is worth reading, especially if you stop before it gets too annoying.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

catch me, we are falling

I don't understand those people who never open their blinds. What's the point of having windows if you can't look out? I like to watch the way the light changes and the shadows dance - the long shadows of winter, the dappled shade of summer. Sometimes what I see out that window delights me, sometimes it infuriates me.

The most infuriating sight I see out the front window is that idiot woman who drives her SUV down the street once a week, with her adolescent sons hanging onto the outside. She folds newspapers while she is driving and then hands them out the windows to her kids. They hop off the running boards, deliver each paper and then hop back onto the side of the vehicle while she drives to the next place, folding newspapers as she presumably steers with her knees.

How many illegal (and stupid) acts can you spot in the preceding paragraph?

We don't live on a particularly busy street, but it is icy, and I just hope I don't happen to be looking out the window the day one of those kids slips under the wheels.

On the other hand, the most delightful sight that I see on a regular basis are my neighbours' dogs, best friends. The grey house people regularly stop at the green house to pick up their dog and take them both for a walk. Sometimes they have play dates at each other's house - the dogs, that is. And they are both so insanely happy to see each other every single time.

They live four doors from each other and I often see the people who live across the street from me in the green house open their front door and peek out. Within seconds, I see the other dog come racing across the front lawns to arrive at their front door, all tail waggly, while on the other side of the door the other dog is practically apoplectic with excitement. It's just too cute.

What do you see when you look out your front window?