14 July 2017

Music Day - Twist In My Sobriety

This is one of the few songs I bought for the musical arrangement, not the lyrics.

It's muted, hollow, deep, brooding, and can we all just take a second to appreciate that velvet alto vocal?

There's a lot of space in the mix, which gives the whole piece a sparse, haunted feel. There's enough sass in the lyrics and enough body in the vocal to give the song plenty of substance. To make it stand out from the myriad of slow '80s songs, this one features an oboe sting in the chorus that's almost sultry. The lyrical approach throughout is almost Beatle-esque, which of course adds to its appeal.

Title: Twist In My Sobriety
Artist: Tanita Tikaram
Album: Ancient Heart
Year: 1988
Label: Warner Music
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Look, my eyes are just holograms
Look, your love has drawn red from my hands
From my hands you know you'll never be
More than twist in my sobriety...

08 July 2017

Music Day - Beautiful Mystery

Here's a song I can almost guarantee you've never heard before. You hipster types, remember you heard it here first. You're welcome.

This man is one of the greatest songwriters (if not the greatest songwriter) ever to walk the face of the earth. He has forty-one years of professional experience -- this includes writing, playing, singing, touring, producing... the whole gamut. This is a guy whose been around the block a few times and lets his experience inform and deepen his songwriting. And we, the listeners, are richer for it.

Title: Beautiful Mystery
Artist: Terry Scott Taylor
Album: Bedroom Demos #3
Year: 2017
Label: Independently published on Patreon.
Only available on his Patreon page here.
If you like what you hear, please consider supporting his endeavours to make more music like this, right on his Patreon page. As a supporter myself, I can tell you that every penny you put to this is worth it.

Unfortunately, due to the rampant ageism (and the need to be 'safe and fun for the whole family' -- that is, 'no sarcasm or deep thought allowed') in the Christian music industry, Mr. Taylor and his work have been largely ignored. This is, at best, a crime against humanity. His observations and acknowledgement of the tension between art and society, faith and reason, the now and the not-yet are some of the most acute I have ever seen (and given my upbringing, church background, and post-secondary education, I've been exposed to more than your average number of theological tomes).

In this song, he explores this tension directly (cf. also his album (with his band Daniel Amos) Darn Floor - Big Bite). More specifically, he observes how people tend to try to fit Jesus into their own image of what they think He should be, how we tend to put God in a box far too small, how we try to tame the almighty God, the lion like Aslan.

When we could not grasp love this profound
We subdued it with a thorny crown
Whipped it into shape and nailed it down
Sealed the exit from the burial ground...

One last note: this song is actually a demo, recorded in his bedroom with nothing but an acoustic guitar, a MacBook, and a microphone. Yet it's deeper and more powerful than any of the tripe they're playing on hipster Spotify playlists. Its very simplicity allows the lyric to penetrate deeper.

Go take a listen. You might just enjoy it.

06 July 2017

To Those Who Survived The Darkness

As a person with severe high-functioning depression, I am often told dumb things like, 'just be happier,' or 'if you were more friendly, you wouldn't feel so lonely,' or 'it's your own fault, you know. You're too negative.'

Things like this always hurt, but I'm willing to forgive someone for saying them IF that person has never experienced depression themselves.

But in recent months, I've been hearing them from people -- good friends, even -- who know depression. They've walked this same path as me. Some of them have walked an even darker valley than I have. And by the grace of God, the sun is shining on them again. They have found a purpose in life, a reason to live. And that's fantastic. Really, it is.

But the thing is, they forget.

They forget what it's like to hate yourself so much that you literally cannot move. They forget what it's like when even a change in someone's tone of voice makes your mind spin out of control, wondering what you did and why everyone hates you all the time. And because they've forgotten, when one of their friends is in the same dark place, they spew out the same feel-good maxims that they loathed so much when they were in that same darkness.

Don't do this. Don't forget what it was like. Don't go back to that place yourself, but please remember it enough to stop you being insensitive to those of us still drowning in it.

02 July 2017

Camp NaNoWriMo - Intro

For Camp NaNoWriMo this month, I decided to finally finish my November 2016 novel. It had less than 11k left on it when the demands of college finally forced me to stop working on it. But I already had the ending of the story sketched out and I wanted to finish it eventually -- preferably this year.

Since I decided this is the month I'm going to finish it, I re-read the existing draft today to refresh myself about the characters and the storyline I'd already established. Ordinarily I don't re-read my novel drafts until well after I'm finished, and always at least a month or two after that. This, I believe, is the first time I've read through a novel draft while it was still in progress.

I don't remember any of my thought process while actually writing it. I was so stressed out and so dead tired that I mostly wrote in a half-asleep but highly anxious state. Unlike Kyrie, which consumed my every waking thought (and still does draw a lot of brainpower, even two and a half years later), half the time I forget this novel exists. So I was a little stunned at what I found.

This is a highly emotional -- even visceral -- story. There's a lot more struggle, a lot more conflict, (a lot more plot points that I can flesh out when I get around to revising it for publication...), a lot more poignancy and heartbreak here than in anything I've ever written before, even Kyrie. Basically the story follows an incredibly strong-willed (and sassy) homeless orphan, trying to survive a harsh winter on her own, too proud to admit she's struggling. Death, mockery, and rejection seems to follow her everywhere she goes and she's long since hardened her heart to it. What she does not know is that her father (who she never met) is in fact alive -- and he is looking for her. Of course, there are a myriad of dangers for a ten-year-old girl -- however feisty -- alone on the streets of a major city, and her own refusal to accept any kind of charity does not work in her favour.

Lately (as in the past year and a half or so), I've been drawn to the modern-day-parable style of writing. It's a format most people instantly connect with because it's so familiar, which makes it an incredibly powerful style of writing. It's a good way to drive home a point without being patronising, and it's surprising, actually, how much you can get away with in a 'fictional' allegory.

This is the style of this novel (it doesn't have a name yet). It's basically a long-form modern parable, and even as I, the author, read the beginning of the draft back to myself, the story affected me profoundly on a personal level. On one hand it moves slower than most of my fiction, yet it doesn't get as boring as some of my other stuff. Perhaps I'm finally beginning to learn how to pace things and not be frantic...?

The story is drawn (in a distant way) from my own life at the time I started it. Now, eight months after I abandoned it, the parallel between this novel and my life is even stronger and clearer -- so much so that it took my breath away. Even the amount of heartache in this novel weighs on me more than I expected.

There is, however, more heartbreak to come in this novel. I'm writing this blog post, in fact, in an attempt to put off making things worse for my protagonists. It's one of those it'll-get-worse-before-it-gets-better things, but the fact is I still have to write some pretty terrible afflictions before the mood of the story can turn the corner. This book needs to get written. These things need to happen. If I back out now and say 'they've suffered enough' and just skip to the happy ending, the story will lose its power. (As I write this I realise that even that sentence is a metaphor for my life... I won't get into that now, though, as that'll touch off a whole other rant. Suffice to say it hurts my heart.)

Something one of my college profs tried to drill into me over my internship was "Don't just 'try' -- do."

So here we go... I must harden my heart and write wretched things.

30 June 2017

Music Day - Dry Your Tears

Dry your tears, music fans. We have another opportunity to support decent music.

First, though, let me announce that the Adam Again Perfecta reissue campaign I mentioned last week has officially been fully funded!

I don't know a lot about this band. I own this, their debut, on vinyl, plus one song from their sophomore release, and I've heard that after those first two albums they jumped into the hard rock side of things.

This album basically is experimental electronic synthpop with lyrics written to the lonely soul. This song in particular is the traditional ninth-track slow song.

Honestly, I just needed this song tonight. My artist/dreamer soul is being crushed by the weight of merely existing. Lines like:

This life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
Ten thousand different people pass before my eyes
And every day another storyline begins
But every night you end with loneliness again...

...just resonate with me. I feel this. In every crevice of my wounded heart, I feel this.

But the band continues:

Don't let life be emotion taking you nowhere
Don't listen to the lies that tell you not to care...

I don't know if I can. But the point is, they plead with the listener to not harden their hearts. They validate us sensitive souls and tell us it's okay to feel. Sometimes that's all we need. And this theme runs throughout their lyrics (at least on this first album).

Title: Dry Your Tears
Artist: Mad At The World
Album: Mad At The World
Year: 1987
Label: Frontline Records.
iTunes here; YouTube here.
Behind-the-scenes footage of them recording this song here.

NEW ALBUM FORTHCOMING -- if everybody supports the Kickstarter project HERE. Apparently for this album, they're planning on working in their earlier electronic style, but for you rockers out there, they plan on making another album in their later style if this first one goes over well.

In a world where you see nothing everywhere
Close your eyes and pray
Heaven could be calling your name...

Five Inches

30 June 2010. Seven years ago today.

I had just gotten my driver's license a month and a half earlier. My parents had graciously bought me a (used) car, and on the 30th, my sister and I were on our way to our friends' house.

To get to their house, we had to make a left turn onto a bi-directional secondary highway. We had the stop sign, so I stopped. We were in prairie Alberta -- the land is flat and fairly clear as far as the eye can see. We were about a five-minute drive from the nearest town, and you can almost see that town from that intersection.

I was still a fairly cautious new driver, so I looked both ways twice. It had just been raining. My sister had been keeping the passenger window clear of fog with her sleeve so I could see out her window just fine, but I had to actually open my window to see down the road. Seeing no one in either direction, I began to make my turn.

Then I saw headlights coming from the opposite direction.

At first I wasn't too concerned. If I was quick enough I could continue into my lane and the truck would pass by me. I would be cutting it much closer than I would have liked, but it was doable...

As I pressed the accelerator to complete the turn more quickly, I suddenly realised that the truck was on the wrong side of the centre line. If I continued into the lane, I would hit it head on.

Something from the driving manual flashed through my head: If you must hit something and the ditch or something stationary isn't an option, try to hit something going the same direction as you are rather than head-on. I wrenched the wheel to the right, hoping I was still far enough back from the truck's path to get away with a sideswipe going the same direction. I kept my foot on the gas to accelerate my attempt to swing around. There was a flash of red in my windshield... a tremendous whoosh... the car whipped around...

We stopped moving. Without thinking, I told my sister to get out of the car and I turned to do the same. My lungs were burning. There was something in between me and the door. I pulled at it blindly, trying to get at the door handle. As I did so I realised my obstacle was the air bag.

Crap.

I knew from an accident my mother had been in years before that the air bag meant the car was totalled.

Finally I managed to get out. I didn't have the heart to even look back at the car as I ran to the side of the road where some of the witnesses were beckoning. A few seconds later I realised I had left my cell phone and ran back to the car to get it.

The car was filled with smoke and dust, but somehow I knew it wasn't on fire. I dug around between the front seats looking for the phone before finally finding it on the floor on the passenger side. The dust was irritating my eyes and it was getting harder and harder to breathe... The dust was like chalk -- thick and dry, but sticky when breathed in. After a failed attempt at getting the key out of the ignition, I merely grabbed my water bottle and went back to the side of the road.

I began to dial my dad's number, but one of the witnesses saw me with a phone in my hand and told me to call 9-1-1. I initially refused: "I have to call my dad." The witness insisted that I call 9-1-1 first. Lacking the presence of mind to formulate an argument, I punched in 9-1-1 and then handed my phone to the witness -- I had no earthly idea what I would say to the operator. From the moment I had realised that the air bag had gone off, every conscious thought had disappeared from my mind. I saw things and heard things and I reacted to them and remember them clearly even now, seven years later, but I could not formulate my own thoughts. And I was aware of that. It was one of the strangest experiences I've ever had. I remember trying to get myself to think a conscious thought, but I couldn't. Even the idea of calling my dad was coming from some internal unconscious autopilot.

I borrowed a phone from a bystander and dictated my dad's cell number to her. Years of hearing my mother quote it to customers over the phone had internalised it to such a point that even in a state of shock I could rattle it off. The witness sent the call and handed the phone to me.

He picked up, but there was a long pause before he spoke. Somewhere in my subconscious I realised that he wouldn't recognise this number on his caller ID. "Dad, it's Kate," I said as quickly as possible to prevent him hanging up. "I've been in an accident."

There was a reason I called my dad. My mother would have absolutely lost her mind -- she had just filled the car up with gas the previous night. She would have lectured me about the money I'd just wasted by totalling the car -- not to mention the inevitable increase in insurance costs.

My dad, however, is a little more able to focus on important things in an emergency. "Where are you?" he asked.

...And I couldn't remember.

I still remember sitting on the passenger seat in the witnesses' car (she had insisted my sister and I sit because we were both clearly rattled), staring straight at the highway sign, knowing it contained the information I needed, but not able to read the numbers. I struggled in vain to translate the shapes on the sign into words that my dad would be able to understand.

Finally I said, "The turn Mom told me to take." I hadn't wanted to say it like that -- it would only awaken even more of her ire because then she would think I was blaming her for this and she's HIGHLY sensitive about being blamed for anything -- but it was all I could come up with that he would understand.

"I'll be there in ten minutes," he said, and hung up. I handed the phone back to the witness and told my sister he was coming. She was freaking completely out and it was all that the witness could do to keep her seated and wait for the police. Meanwhile, the dust I'd inhaled from the air bag was beginning to burn in the back of my throat and my lungs began to feel sticky inside. I was coughing more and more in a vain effort to try and clear it, and no amount of water would take the burning away. (To this day, I suffer from a chronic cough and breathing issues.)

At some point, somebody had pushed my car to the side of the road not far from where I sat in the witness' car. It was the first proper look I'd gotten of it and I gasped.

When you draw a car, you draw the hood, then go up a bit for the cab, then down a bit for the trunk. Now imagine erasing the entire hood, or imagine cutting off the hood of the car in line with the windshield. That was what I saw. The entire front of my car was gone.

"Where's the engine?" I asked the witness.

"It's in pieces in the intersection," she said.

I half-stood and looked over the roof of the witness' car. I expected to see semi-recognisable car parts -- you know, part of a fluid tank here, hoses there, maybe jagged chunks of plastic or a few gears.

Instead, I saw shards.

Millions of shards, like shattered glass, catching the light and throwing it across the damp pavement. That was all that was left of the engine.

My dad and the police arrived around the same time. The ambulance arrived shortly afterward and checked the occupants of the truck (there had been a baby in the truck, who was the higher priority) (the baby survived -- actually they all did), then came over to my sister and me. My sister outright refused to let the paramedics check her, but my breathing was so laboured by now that I insisted they check me. I felt like I was suffocating.

They took me to the ambulance and began checking me all over: "Does this hurt?" they asked, pressing on various parts of my body. Nothing did, until they got to my throat.

"Does this hurt?" the paramedic asked, touching his fingertips lightly on my throat. It was the lightest of brushes, but with my breathing restricted already, he may as well have closed his fist around my windpipe. I recoiled instinctively, with a gasp for good measure as I tried to keep breathing.

Without another word they had me lie down and strapped me down on a back board.

"Are you taking me to the hospital?" I asked.

"Yes, for x-rays."

"Can you tell my dad where I'm going?" I asked.

"Sure." They swung the ambulance around and opened the back door. I heard them talking...

"Do you want to talk to him?" one of the paramedics called to me.

"I just want him to know where I'll be," I said.

They drove me to the hospital, no sirens, asking me questions the whole way. Name, address, date of birth, contact information, next-of-kin... then at the end of all this, they asked me what province I was in and what year it was, to establish that everything they'd just spent ten minutes taking detailed notes on had a reasonable chance of being accurate.

They took me to the hospital, but the x-ray room was in use, so they wheeled me into a room in the emergency department and left me there for the better part of two hours, with oxygen because I had been complaining this entire time that I couldn't breathe (though their instruments showed I was at 98% saturation). Strapped to a back board, completely immoblised, with the events of the previous half-hour playing on an infinite loop through my head, I had no choice but to consider what might have been -- what I'd just escaped. My dad and sister arrived and talked quietly with each other as they waited. My sister was still freaking out and my dad and the nursing staff were both trying to assure her that I was not actually dying, that these x-rays were only a precaution.

I, meanwhile, was being shocked by the brevity and frailty of my own life. Even as I lay immobile on a hospital bed, feeling whiplash set into my neck muscles, I was acutely aware that I had been given a second chance. Every second I was experiencing now was a bonus second -- one that I may not have had. I pictured what it would have been like if I had died: seeing the truck's headlights and maybe the flash of red -- and then immediately seeing the 'lights of Glory.' I realised, suddenly, that I was not done on earth. I still had a purpose to fulfil here. And there on a hospital bed, staring at the pocked ceiling because I had no other choice, I vowed I would find that purpose and pursue it with every ounce of drive I possessed. Time was short, and a long life was not guaranteed.

They took x-rays of my neck, then, as there were no fractures, let me go. My dad actually dropped us off at our friends' house anyway. Life continued. I was sore and stiff and coughing violently nearly 24/7, but otherwise it was as if nothing had happened.

Several days -- perhaps a week -- later, my parents and I went to the impound lot to look at the car and retrieve the cassettes from it (because priorities). With a few days distance from the event and now able to think in clear sentences again, I was still shocked at the state of it. One detail that particularly caught my attention was the driver's side -- the side of the initial impact.

One of the witnesses had told my dad after I had left in the ambulance that day, "At the last second, she tried to swing the other way -- that probably saved her."

This was borne out by the car itself. There were five inches between the sheared-off edge of where the front of the car had been and the hinge of the driver's door, and gradually more of the car remained the further one looked toward the passenger side. I remember thinking, my legs would have been in that space -- the space that had been torn open by the truck. Yet my legs were preserved. It was not lost on me that I might never have walked again, yet here I was, still able to walk and dance as if nothing had happened.

For a long time that catalysed my fire to keep dancing. To me it was a sign that dance was still in my future. If God had wanted me to stop dancing, He would likely have taken my legs away right there -- if not my life. But I had remained. There was still something more for me. And I determined to devote my life to finding what it was and doing it.

23 June 2017

Music Day - The Fine Line

Fell in love with this song last summer. After years of hearing about Adam Again and how great they were, it was this song that finally hooked me. It's actually about drugs -- which I know basically nothing about -- but it's so funky and cynical that I love it anyway. I don't usually like blues or jazz music, but here the band blends both genres with rock and the result is so fresh and different that you can't help but be entranced by it. If we're honest, though, my favourite part is the brooding chorus vocal from Riki Michele. It adds a little bit of sizzle to an already steaming song. My next favourite part is the syncopated guitar line at the beginning of the interlude (what can I say, it's the tap dancer in me).

Fun fact: Jon Knox of White Heart fame also drummed for this band.

Title: The Fine Line
Artist: Adam Again
Album: Homeboys
Year: 1990
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The devil in black
Break your mama's back
Feeling like a maniac...

P.S. -- There is a Kickstarter campaign NOW UNDER WAY (right here) to reissue their 1995 album Perfecta on CD and vinyl. Deadline to pledge is 30 June. Don't miss out on this! I funded last year's campaign to give Homeboys the same treatment, and I have no regrets.

17 June 2017

State of Mind - Intro

I've been working through a lot of things lately. To make a long story short, this past April I wound up in counselling (something longtime readers have probably seen coming since the inception of this blog). One day I'll probably post that story here -- it's all written out and waiting for the right time.

Through counselling, though, I've had to face the issues that I knew were haunting me and even a few that I had nearly forgotten were there... obviously the year 2015 is in there, as well as the youth group I attended as a teen, the trauma surrounding the birth of my youngest brother, and the loss of two of my best friends in the world (one to a significant move, one to death). But in our collective digging, I've begun to revisit my home life during my teen years...

I remember things being difficult at home in those years. The reason I stayed at that horrific youth group was to escape the horrors of home. But while the treatment I received at the hands of the Christian youth remained fairly fresh in my memory, the details of my life at home had not. I was in survival mode for the better part of ten years and did not have the luxury of properly encoding the memories... I was too busy trying to survive.

As a result of some of the things that have come up during counselling, I decided to go back through the draft archives of this blog and see what I had written and never published. I had originally started this blog as a place to escape (however temporarily) from the difficulties of my life at home, so I knew some of those drafts would probably touch on it.

What I found made me feel a bit sick, even though I had already lived it. I had wondered, sometimes, if I was exaggerating when I recalled those days in the counselling sessions. I wondered if perhaps I was being melodramatic -- I am, after all, an artist. But the posts I found proved that I was actually not doing those days enough justice. Things had actually been worse than I remembered them to be.

It's funny how much you can justify. It seems incomprehensible to me that someone would simply stay in an abusive situation and not attempt to get out -- yet I did that very thing. I knew even at the time that something was wrong, but I didn't realise until last week how wrong things really were. I once heard another domestic abuse victim (abused as a child) say, while talking about his experience, "I thought it was normal. I didn't know anything else. What is normal, anyway?" (It was actually hearing about that experience that made me realise that perhaps my own childhood experience had been at least borderline abusive.) Although I knew innately for years that my experience was not ideal, I thought perhaps it was just me being my melodramatic artist self reading far too much into things and being far too sensitive. To realise that it was all real and that something was at least as wrong as I had suspected... that's still kind of a blow. I'm still absorbing it.

As such, I don't really have a proper ending to this post. But I wanted to warn you all that this is where I am right now. Future posts may expand on this.

05 June 2017

If Society Could Change One Thing...

Do you want to help people who are struggling with mental illness, depression, grief, suicidal thoughts? Like, actually help them, without simply posting a hashtag that means LITERALLY nothing?

I'm serious. It's relatively simple.

It's this: don't ever say, 'you can come talk to me' or 'if you need help, call/text me' unless you REALLY mean it. Before you say this to ANYBODY, consider the possibility that we will actually take you up on it -- that one day, your text tone is going to go off at 2.36am and it's going to be that one person saying, 'hey, can we talk?'

If you are honestly not going to respond in that situation, bite your tongue. Don't make that offer.

See, the reason a lot of us don't reach out for help is because we've heard this before and we know it means nothing. People have said, 'hey, if you ever need anything, let me know,' but then when we did contact them because we needed someone, they didn't reply, or -- worse -- blew us off. (I personally am willing to give you a few minutes or even an hour or so because I don't expect everyone to have their phone on their person 24/7, but being blown off has no excuse. It means you read my text and decided I wasn't worth it.) It's hard for us to figure out who actually means it and would stay up all night for us if necessary and who's just saying it 'to be polite.'

Look -- I don't want your politeness. I live in Canada. I have politeness up the wazoo. I want your actual care and concern.

Don't say it if you don't mean it. Even if it's awkward not to say it. DO NOT say it if you don't mean it. If everyone lived like this (not saying things they don't really mean), it would ultimately mean that the depressed/suicidal people in your life will be able to be more willing to reach out to someone because then they will know that when people say this phrase they mean it. Don't contribute to the negative experiences. Don't be the last person to break their trust in humanity. Don't be the last bad experience they have before their final experience of life.

From experience: it takes an astronomical amount of courage to even go to one person for help -- no matter who it is. Even if it's your best friend. I don't know the actual statistics, but I would venture to guess that most people only attempt to contact one or two people before they get discouraged and make a permanent decision (if you know what I mean). I contacted exactly one person. I trusted that one person to recognise the danger I was in and get me the help I needed. In other words -- I trusted that one person literally with my life. I had only enough courage in my proverbial gas tank to contact one person. It used the last of my mental energy. He had to take over from me. Thankfully he did, but if he had blown me off, I wouldn't have contacted anybody else. I wouldn't have had the courage or energy to contact anybody else and I would be dead right now.

Before you say 'let me know if you need anything,' consider this: Are you willing to hold this person's life and death and their entire future in your hands one day when you least expect it?

If not, don't say it.

It's a small thing. But if everyone lives by this principle, it will change the complexion of society enough to give depressed and suicidal people a greater chance at life.

29 May 2017

Broken Magic

Written 29 May 2016.

Seventeen (now eighteen - 2017) years ago a child stood at the front of a church and watched as a covenant, the deepest and most magical of all promises, was made.

Fifteen years later she watched as it crumbled to the ground, as meaningless as a feather on the wind, only less beautiful.

And now she stands in the ruins of it, even as she prepares to be a witness to another, very similar, covenant.

The child who once stood in awe of the beauty around her now stands shattered, pieces of sharp glass held together by naught more than fairy floss, which could be cut by the glass it holds together at any second. Where once she threw rainbows of light and sparkled in the sun, she can only see darkness so thick that it can be felt, so heavy that it has the ability to suffocate.

This is what happens when the magic is broken and the covenant is disregarded. It hurts the people who created it and the people who broke it. But it also hurts those caught in the explosion, those who were at ground zero when it was initially forged, and those who watched the trust build in layer after slow layer as those fifteen years ran by, only to see it mangled by one of the very keepers of the covenant.

It is the very worst of betrayals; one of the most treacherous ones that does not end in a quick and frightening death. Instead it only initiates a slow breakdown in the world, in the way things should have been, in the way that the covenant keepers had pledged they would be.