31 December 2015

Prelude: National Choreography Month

This is the first National Choreography Month (Nachmo) I've been able to participate in in two years. While I was able to manage NaNoWriMo through both years of college, choreography is a little more time-intensive so I couldn't do Nachmo.

I'm feeling pretty uninspired for this too. But at least I have a tiny bit of a game plan right now (which is better than my last NaNoWriMo attempt... I didn't even have a game plan at the end of NaNoWriMo, to be honest).

I haven't been inspired to do any softshoe (ballet/pointe or jazz) choreography since before Brittney died. When she died, of course, I still had a couple of works-in-progress to finish so the effect wasn't immediate, but once I had finished all of those, I was screwed. Nothing has really caught my attention since. I've written a few original pieces since then, but I worked far too hard for every single one of them (as in: pulling teeth out of a crocodile would be easier) and although I think there's some really beautiful sequencing in some of them, none of them consumed me the way that, say, Sanctuary did. To further the example (and to inform the newcomers), Sanctuary basically ate my life for about three months until I finally choreographed it. The song wouldn't let go of me and I could not rest until I had completed the dance to it. And until Brittney died, that was generally my process: I would stumble on a certain song that I just HAD to choreograph and then my brain would keep mulling over the song whether or not I consciously tried to choreograph it until I had worked out the dance. I had no choice. The song more or less grabbed me and dragged me along for the ride.

Now I know there are dry spots. I know it's not always going to be that easy. But what shocked me was how dead I feel now that there are no ideas, no sparks, nothing to catch my fancy. It seriously feels as if my soul has died. I always thought there might be at least a little something you could coax out though it would be harder than before. But no -- there is nothing. Just apathy.

But -- that's softshoe disciplines. Tap is another story.

I'm always reluctant to choreograph tap because I'm such a novice at it. I've spent so many years dancing and choreographing melody and (occasionally) lyric that although I have pretty good rhythm, I hardly ever choreograph it. Right now, though, even though I couldn't choreograph a pointe dance if my life depended on it, I have tap dance ideas oozing out of my ears. I'm finding myself tap-dancing around the house more than ever before, even though at the moment I'm taking five times more ballet classes than tap ones. So finally it occurred to me that rather than beat myself into the ground trying to come up with the next Sanctuary when it's simply not there, I should do something completely different.

I have decided to spend Nachmo (I keep wanting to type 'nacho') choreographing small tap dances. Solos, mostly, but maybe a couple of trios or something. Also, since this year Nachmo has rolled out a music video submission page (jury's still out on whether or not they will accept Canadian work at this point), that's my new goal (which is why I'm planning on doing solos and small dances rather than focusing on my great love and higher skill level, namely choreographing huge groups -- I don't have huge groups to work with right now). Maybe it's a new year's resolution? I don't know. I suppose it was a new year's resolution that got me choreographing in the first place, so it might be worth a shot.

I'm not sure how many dances I'm going to shoot for. If inspiration hits, it's totally feasible for me to choreograph an entire tap dance in a day (*cough* The Double), but then again, I don't know if I want to bank on that for thirty straight days, particularly when you take into account my work schedule and my dance schedule. I'm thinking maybe two or three small dances a week... if I can even find that many songs to work with. Right now the (still rough) setlist includes the likes of:

~ Chase That (Ambition) - Lecrae
~ Love Divine - Phil Keaggy
~ On The Other Side - Michael W. Smith
~ Wall Of Sound - Loyd Boldman
~ Independence Day - White Heart (haven't choreographed some White Heart in a good long time)
~ Jingle Ka-Ching - VeggieTales (hear me out... with the right treatment, this is prime satire material)
~ Rattle Me, Shake Me - David Meece (because it would be a fantastic video)
~ Surrender - ELO (I can't listen to this one without dancing anyway, so I might as well make it official)
~ Westminster Bridge - Doctor Who season one soundtrack
~ What Is The Measure Of Your Success? - Steve Taylor (this one is a maybe).

If I wind up sticking with exactly that, that's one song every three days. It just might be doable. But in the meantime, I'll keep combing my music library for more potential tap pieces and the list might get a bit of an overhaul yet.

30 December 2015

Dancing At The Edge Of Time And Memory

23 November 2015, 12.08am.

On Sunday we got a call that my grandpa -- already in frail health -- has been diagnosed with a superbug.

He may die.

Apparently the last couple of weeks he's been talking about how he's so exhausted and how he just wants to sleep and not have to wake up.

At first I took this news fairly resolutely -- he's been ill for several years now and it's always kind of in the back of one's mind... this Christmas could be the last.

But then suddenly I remembered that he's been asking for months for my sisters and I to come and do a dance performance in the nursing home where he lives now. I didn't have anything prepared and I wanted to wait until I actually had several pieces in a danceable state. And then life happened and I forgot. When I remembered today that I had said I would -- and especially how he's been looking forward to it -- I cried as if my heart would break. What if we don't get it together in time? What if he never gets to see us dance? He's been so excited to see us dance and I haven't given it to him yet. And maybe now it's too late.

Plus, there's this matter of living on the edge of time, knowing it's coming but not knowing exactly when, walking on pins and needles, knowing he can't live forever but not ready to live without him yet. And what do you say to a person who's close to death? With the three deaths earlier this year, I had no warning, no time to say anything I might have wanted to say. They were just taken and I had to live with the fallout. But now I have the chance to say anything I want -- but I don't know yet. And the stupid thing is, I probably won't know what -- if anything -- I have to say to him until after it's too late.

I do this all the time. Going to the doctor is an exercise in frustration because I have a whole big list of questions going into the appointment but when they ask if I have any questions, every single one of those questions is completely gone. And I don't remember until I get home and start coughing again and go, oh yeah -- I cough until I can't breathe for nearly a full minute. Is that a problem? Same at the bank -- "Do you have any other banking?" "I DON'T KNOW MY BRAIN DOESN'T WORK WHEN I'M IN A PROFESSIONAL BUILDING." And it terrifies me that I'm going to think of something I wanted very badly to say to him two minutes after he dies. And then I'll hate myself for the rest of my life because this time I actually had the chance to put a sentence together and I didn't because I totally forgot every word in the English language and what if that was something he really needed to hear?

30 December 2015, 12.52am.

Against all sanity, I arranged this performance. Yes, over Christmas. Yes, despite not having rehearsal space. No, I have no idea what the floor is actually like in the performing space. No, neither dance piece is really in great shape. We perform in fourteen hours.

I'm so done with everything. I had set aside today for rehearsing, particularly my solo, which I have yet to do full-out all the way through (also I remembered that I still HATE solos). Instead, I have spent thirteen hours going over the house with a fine-toothed comb looking for the power cord for my video camera.

This may not seem like a big deal, but the fact is that if I want to get into the performing arts, I will eventually need a portfolio of my previous work. In dance, that's video footage. This performance will be particularly valuable as it will be me performing my own choreography -- that counts double. It shows both my skill as a dancer (don't laugh) and my style of choreography. This doesn't even include the educational factor for me -- if I have footage of myself performing my own work that I can review later, it will provide invaluable feedback on what worked and what didn't and I can use that information to refine what I do and how I do it.

Except, of course, I can't use the video camera because it can't be charged because I can't find the stupid power cord.

So as a result of this fruitless search I am now frustrated beyond words, I haven't practiced at all, I've lost an entire day of my life that could have been productive, and I still don't have a useable video camera. To buy a new cord for my perfectly good and now utterly useless six hundred dollar camera? $125. For the cord.

My grandpa had better enjoy this show. He's going to be the only one lucky enough to see it.

25 December 2015

Christmas For The Broken (Music Day)

Usually I'm that really annoying hyper-Christmas person who starts working Boney M. and Michael W. Smith into the music rotation in the middle of August. But this year, it's already Christmas Day and I'm still not feeling it.

It was an awful year. It was right around this time of year that I heard from Brittney for the very last time -- although I didn't know it. It was at Christmas 2014 that I last saw my cousin, my aunt, the family friend we lost, and an entire family unit out of our extended family -- we didn't know it then either. I distinctly remember my uncle hugging me after our family Christmas last year and telling me to 'be good' -- his usual way of saying goodbye. Less than a month later, he left his wife, God abandoned me, and so began the Year From Hell.

How do you celebrate Christmas when the loving family who swore they'd love each other and stick together through thick and thin is either dead, banished, or not speaking to each other?

Peace on earth and good will to men.

This year I learnt that despite all my extended family's insistence to the contrary, their love for each other is EXTREMELY fickle. And if these people are willing to leave spouses and children, if they are willing to skip freaking Christmas after a year like this because of some spat with some in-law, how much longer until it's me they're leaving? How long until they tell me they don't love me anymore, the same way they're telling everyone else? How do you expect me, your niece, to believe you care for me and want the best for me when you are willing to walk out on your own spouse just because you decided you didn't like them anymore?

Does anybody not see what is wrong with this?

Title: Where Are You Christmas
Artist: The Piano Guys
Album: A Family Christmas
Year: 2013
Label: Portrait
iTunes here; YouTube here.

This arrangement is a prime example of when the beautiful is so lovely is also makes one sad -- or at least melancholy. It's an experience that's getting more and more rare these days, but one that really should be getting more frequent. There's 'sad because it's so awful,' there's 'sad because the lyrics are sad,' there's 'sad because of extenuating circumstances,' but this is the increasingly rare 'sad because of its sheer beauty.' The piano melody throughout the piece gets me every time. And then the girl's plaintive voice comes in with that question: where are you, Christmas? and it somehow sounds just like me.

What happened to Christmas with all my aunt and uncles laughing, with the voices of all of the children ringing happily off the ceiling? What happened to Christmas where love pervaded the room and not an awkward tiptoeing around pretty much every single subject we always used to talk about?

Death happens. I get that. My cousin didn't really have a choice in the matter. But divorce -- that's another story. That's your own selfish choice. That is a very clear message that the people you said you committed to don't matter. You committed to me. Don't I matter?

I can never be assured of that again.

19 December 2015

Music Day - Comedian

So guess who else has a Kickstarter going?

Steve Taylor is perhaps the most controversial and most well-known figure in CCM history. He is one of those rare figures in CCM who has managed to be both controversial and well-known for longer than a year. Plenty have been controversial (Petra, post-¡Alarma!-era Daniel Amos), but are not known by today's generation of Christians -- their perceived sins were forgotten after a year or two. And plenty have been well-known (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith), but not really boat-rockers.

Steve Taylor, however, managed to get signed to Sparrow Records -- historically one of the biggest labels in CCM -- which gave him a far bigger potential audience to start with. Add to that a few strong opinions about controversial topics, his knowledge of sarcasm as a first language, and an uncanny ability to pick just the right details and/or wordplay to infuse colour and the unexpected into a song, and you have a recipe for an infamous artist. Even after he stopped releasing solo work, he kept writing songs... my generation of CCM listeners is well acquainted with songs like Breakfast, Shine, Reality, and Million Pieces (Kissing Your Cares Goodbye), all made famous by the Newsboys.

Then the Newsboys Americanised and the brilliant songwriting of Steve Taylor seemed doomed to disappear forever.

But then, two years ago, he launched a Kickstarter campaign with the eventual goal of recording another album with himself on vocals -- his first in over twenty years (the previous Steve Taylor album, Squint, came out in 1993). Naturally, hungry fans pounced on it and if memory serves the campaign was fully funded in twenty-four hours.

This song was a result of that campaign and the resulting album.

Title: Comedian
Artist: Steve Taylor And The Perfect Foil
Album: Goliath
Year: 2014
Label: Independent release
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Now there is another Kickstarter campaign in the works. Steve and his band (which includes Newsboys alum Peter Furler on drums) intend to record an EP, so if you want more of this, go support it here.

Now -- if you're still with me after all that ancient history and the advert -- about the actual song.

I'm not even going to attempt to explain a Steve Taylor lyric because I'll probably get it wrong, so read the lyrics and form your own conclusions here. There's some really great wordplay in the first three verses though (The saints came marching in this morning / And they marched back out the door / Wholly offended...).

Musically speaking, this might be called progressive (I don't actually know, I suck at this genre-classification thing). The music is really sparse until the three-and-a-half-minute mark when the cymbals start competing with Steve's voice for first place in the mix. An electric guitar joins in about a minute later, only to drop out for the ending: a haunting synthesized half-spoken repetition of the phrase Man makes plans / God laughs... (although maybe it only sounds haunting to me because I was watching the Doctor Who episode The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances last night... the voice in the song reminds me a LOT of the voice of the kid saying "Are you my mummy?") This song is significantly mellower than the rest of the album (I very nearly featured Double Negative today instead of Comedian), so if slow songs aren't your thing -- and I don't blame you -- do check out the rest of the album, because if memory serves, this is actually by far the most mellow song on it.

07 December 2015

The Musical From Afar and Chronic Indecisiveness

28 November 2015, 11.04pm.

Christmas musical weekend at my college. And I'm not there.

I see the pictures from my friends who are still there. I can almost smell the makeup and hairspray and plywood from the set, I can see the spotlights cutting through the artificial fog on the state-of-the-art set, I can still hear the voices of the school's best singers and performers, I can feel the angel robe draping over me, and I can still taste the apples we were provided with backstage.

How many times since I graduated have I dreamed about this place? Literally dreamed -- at least once a week I find myself back in the dorm hallway, overjoyed to be back. Invariably I find a friend or two and am disoriented when I find a freshman in a room that once held someone else. And then I wake up. Suddenly the nine-hour drive I thought was behind me is undone, and I'm still here in Alberta.

It wasn't school itself that I liked. I didn't exactly enjoy finishing out a ridiculously hectic semester by writing four papers in 36 hours. Oh sure, I loved some of the classes (all the performing ones, anyway -- musical theatre workshop and choir and dance and voice lessons), but mostly what I liked was performing. And in prairie Canada, that school was probably the best place to go to cut one's theatrical teeth. If I could go to that college without having to actually take history classes, that would almost be a dream come true -- something so good I might commit to never leaving.

So why am I not there this year? And why am I not sure if I'm going back next year?

First answer: money. College is not cheap. Especially when your $1800-a-semester meal plan is basically unusable to due the horrendous schedule and you end up spending even more money to buy food because you're not actually eating in the cafeteria.

Second answer: dance. Longtime readers know how much I love dance. I thought I could give it up -- and I committed to giving it up for two years when I went to college. Long story short, I didn't have to give it up entirely, but I did have to go from training at Advanced One to taking classes at Grade Three. And I lost a lot of stamina, a lot of technique, and a lot of the joy in my life. I've spent my year in Alberta so far overdosing on dance classes -- I'm currently taking the heaviest dance schedule I've ever attempted and I still feel so far behind my peers who kept training at the advanced level during my two-year absence. The stamina and technique and definitely the joy is back in my life, but the thing is, to return to college, to return to theatre, I have to give this up. Yes, there are some dance classes at the school, but the reality is that for all intents and purposes, I have to give up dance. I have to pick one or the other. I have to either go back to college, back to theatre and the life it infused into me after years of just being a shell and turn my back on dancing or I have to stay here, keep training at my actual skill level in dance and dying inside every time I see backstage pictures from the many performances that the school puts on every year.

I've been agonising over this decision ever since I realised this past semester how much I loved acting. And the pressure only got higher when the people around me, the people in my program and the people in my dorm started telling me that I should stay, that I should continue on for a Bachelor's degree in performing. I didn't know what to do with that. I'd never received such validation -- ever, in anything. Most of the time, people never notice me as a person, let alone any strengths I have.

And I'm going to end up hating myself, no matter what decision I make. It probably won't matter if I pick theatre or if I pick dance. I'm always going to be thinking, what if I had done the other thing...?

27 November 2015

Music Day - Dancing On The Head Of The Serpent

I don't know how these guys do it. I really don't. How does a Swedish metal band write Sunday School lyrics with cheesy clichès and oddball lyric rhythms all over the place with illogical lyric construction in what is clearly not their native tongue and still manage to create songs that automatically make my day better?

Of course, by the time they recorded this song, Ulf Christiansson and company had a much better grip of the English language, but seriously, the idea of dancing on Satan's head is so ludicrous that nobody on this side of the ocean would even think of it, never mind actually write and record a song around it.

But in the hands of a band that performs with such exuberance and passion, the idea is fun rather than dumb. I mean, just listen to that bombastic keyboard riff and that bass and guitar chugging through the chorus and Ulf Christiansson's big voice belting it out like there's no tomorrow. These guys were out to praise Jesus and have the time. of. their. lives. doing it. Such fun is contagious. Maybe that's what's behind the appeal of their music. That and they were pretty fantastic musicians in their own right. These guys were such good players and they had so much fun playing that one can easily overlook the occasional awkward lyric.

Title: Dancing On The Head Of The Serpent
Artist: Jerusalem
Album: Dancing On The Head Of The Serpent
Year: 1987
Label: Lamb & Lion Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Party on, man.

15 November 2015

NaNoWriMo Day 14 - The Story

I suppose I should post about the actual content of my novel.

It's turning out to be a church drama (which is actually kind of fun): hundred-year-old small-town old-school Baptist church with secrets.

The main character is called Natalie. She hosts a TV show that basically goes around Canada and investigates/covers ghost stories. She and her co-host Matt are sent to film an episode in a small Bible-belt town. Things get weird when it turns out to be the town in which Natalie spent the first twelve years of her life. And she'd never heard anything about a ghost.

They go to the town and find that unlike most ghosts, this one has no firm identity or even a set legend around it. No-one's ever actually seen anything more than its shadow, and there are three possibilities as to whose spirit it might be.

But Natalie's not focused on the strangeness of the ghost story. While on location, she finds out that her closest childhood friend, a musical prodigy, vanished eighteen years ago, and nobody ever found out what happened to her.

In conducting an unofficial investigation into Sonora's disappearance, she dredges up all kinds of ancient history, stuff the church and the community would like to forget about. There's the shooting death of a nine-year-old, the church elder caught in an affair, the attempt on the previous pastor's life, the 'prodigal daughter'... At first it just seems like the town had a seriously messed up past, but as Natalie digs deeper, she finds that Sonora is the epicentre of everything that's happened there in the past 35 years. And even though Sonora's long gone, it's not all over.

Not only has Natalie been accused of causing Sonora's (unproven) death, she's digging into secrets that the town has spent 35 years trying to hide and she's got a camera crew with her. The silence surrounding Sonora's entire life needs to be broken and only Natalie can do it -- but the same gun that killed Sonora's sister is setting its sights on her...

So how is it actually going?

Awful, to be honest. The bulk of my word count is primarily made up of fictional deacon meeting minutes and annual reports (the fact that these bits are the most interesting parts of my novel is a testimony to how much the overall novel sucks). I started the contest writing 5k a day and am now having a hard time stringing three words together. My brain is completely tapped out. I try to think about my novel and there are literally no thoughts in my head. My main character should be fun to write, but she has no real internal thought process. She just kind of 'does things.' She doesn't really 'think' in words and sentences and flowery metaphors like most of my characters in other stories, she just kind of evaluates the situation and takes action without putting it into words, even mentally. I never realised before how much I depend on my characters' long-winded flowery internal monologues to eat up word count until this year. Basically, I have to write 50k of straight-up actual plot, which apparently I've never truly done before. I've never had a problem with the DoRD (Department of Redundancy Department) until this year, and the sudden change this year is entirely because I have literally no more words, so I have my characters repeat everything three times and just change the wording each time.

In short: I actually really hate my novel. Not even in a joking sense. I seriously hate this novel. It has so much potential, but no feeling.

Stats time!
Official NaNoWriMo Goal For Day 14: 23,338 words
Current Word Count: 40,727 words
Mary Poppins References: 1
Daniel Amos References: 2
Number Of Character Smoke Breaks: 1
Number Of Characters Who Actually Smoke: 0
Bags Of Doritos Consumed: like 5 (those miniscule 'fun size' ones that have like five chips each)

08 November 2015

NaNoWriMo Day 8: We Have Music!

So... Day 8 of National Novel Writing Month.

As I've lamented on this blog already, I had a ridiculous amount of trouble even thinking of an idea of what to write this year. Usually my problem is more like 'which of these 17 awesome ideas do I write this year?'

So this year, lacking any other ideas, I dug up a novel I started back in 2008 that had long since died of extensive family histories and minute geographical details (A.K.A. lack of ability to make the actual plot believable), gave it a chronological overhaul, revamped the main character's life, infused a plethora of juicy secrets, and decided that if I really absolutely had to, I could use this one for NaNoWriMo. All the time, of course, I was hoping for a much more exciting plot to come along.

Obviously, none ever came.

I came up with one heck of a backstory for a nonexistent story, but that was it. It was either my impossible ghost-mystery plot or my backstory-without-a-plot. I went with the ghost mystery.

One of my biggest hang-ups about this year was not knowing what my novel's 'soundtrack' should be. Often my novels are heavily inspired by music: last year's Kyrie came from Mr. Mister's song of the same name (although the Newsboys' Elle G. was another strong influence); Angel Falls (2013) was directly inspired by the Veil Of Ashes song; the plot of Chasm (2011) was entirely inspired by the Flyleaf song and a radio interview with Stryper, and so forth. And even in my novels that aren't named after songs, you can always tell what I was listening to that year just by reading the novel. And this year I had nothing. None of the music I listened to captured me at all. And even once I had a plot, I couldn't find music that fit. None of it felt right. I lifted the title from a Daniel Amos song, but even that song didn't fit the feel of the story. But I had no other ideas, so I had to use this intricate, impossible story-without-music.

It's funny how I always think I'm such a pantser (technical NaNoWriMo term for 'writer who makes crap up as they go along') until I actually attempt to do it and realise how much I suck at trusting my imagination. That said, I'm actually quite a long way ahead, but that was mostly because I hated my plot so much that I wanted to get away from it as soon as possible so I've been writing like a madwoman so I could finish it sooner. It's actually starting to pick up a bit (now that I've used up almost every single one of my plot points).

But today -- oh, today was a glorious day! for I decided, while writing, that I hadn't heard Steve Taylor's Hero in a while. And then his song Jenny. And then Sin For A Season. And somewhere between Jenny and Sin For A Season, I realised that those two songs perfectly described the two main players in the central conflict. (Of course, this happens when I'm over half-done the novel.)

Of course, by now my brain was in Steve Taylor mode, so I listened to two and a half entire albums. And nearly every single song applied to at least one character or one aspect of the situation.

So on this, my eighth day of panicking, I would just like to say:
Thanks, Steve Taylor. You saved my novel.

And now, stats time!
Official NaNoWriMo Goal For Day 8: 13,336 words
Current Word Count: 27,461 words
Number Of Characters Killed: 0 in story; like 5 in backstory
Number Of Song References: 0 (what is wrong with me?)
Number Of Doctor Who Episodes Watched: 4
Number Of Injured Wrists: 1
Snow Days: 0

07 November 2015

Music Day - Little Crosses

(Apologies for the late post -- Internet was out yesterday.)

So the other day I was thinking, Man... I haven't seen a good Kickstarter project in a long time. Then I logged into Facebook that night and saw not one, not two, but FOUR different projects.

1. The Choir is reissuing what is widely referred to as their best album (Circle Slide) on vinyl.
2. The 77s are releasing like four of their early albums on vinyl.
3. Phil Keaggy's making a new album.
4. And Jerry Chamberlain of Daniel Amos fame is recording a solo album.

Jerry Chamberlain is perhaps one of my favourite guitarists. As I've said before on this blog, I'm not really into guitar, even as a listener. Just not my thing (plus I think it's way overused -- I'm looking at you, CCM industry). Yeah, I'm a rocker, but I listen to that for the keyboards and the bass.

But Jerry Chamberlain and his guitar have been a crucial part of Daniel Amos since its inception in the late 70's. He was a huge part in DA's shift from country to... whatever Doppelgänger actually is. He did leave the band for a time in the mid-80's (during which time his shoes were ably filled by Tim Chandler), but he returned to work alongside Chandler in the '90s sometime and I believe that's still the state of affairs in the band today.

So here's a Chamberlain-penned track from DA's seminal album Doppelgänger.

Title: Little Crosses
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Doppelgänger
Year: 1983
Label: Alarma Records and Tapes
iTunes here; YouTube here. Buy the (deluxe remastered two-disc edition) CD from the band here.

It's a brilliantly sarcastic jab at Christians' tendency to put measure their spirituality (or even our very salvation) with pictures of crosses at sunset and flowers after the rain and mustard seeds as necklace pendants and pewter fishes on their bumpers. There's a delicious inversion of Matthew 6:20 in the first verse. And it's set to rock music, so really, what's not to like?

05 November 2015

Self-Doubt: The Things I Say

- I'm being a moron.

- This is the same thing I did last time. I'm just rehashing an old idea.

- No-one's going to come see this/want to be a part of this.

- I don't know what I even want to say, never mind how to say it.

- I'm not healthy enough.

- I'm too old. No-one will want me.

- There's no money in this.

- Everyone wants it 'fierce' (at best) or 'erotic' (at worst).

- I can't afford this.

- I'm so physically spent...

- I don't know if this is what God wants.

- I don't know if God can use this.

- Maybe I'm just being a prideful little prick and I'm not actually as good as I think I am.

29 October 2015

Kyrie - Communication In Art (A Ramble)

I can't get over Kyrie.

For those who don't know, Kyrie is the name of my most recent novel, written November 2014. It's still in rough draft form, but I've reread it every three weeks since I finished it.

It was my first real foray into literary fiction (though I didn't realise at the time that that's what I was writing). Usually my novels are pretty plot-driven (get back to 'your' time before the plague kills you, destroy the magical jewel in the Red Cave before an entire civilisation dies, find your kidnapped wife before you go crazy with loneliness, that sort of thing), but in Kyrie, the plot mostly centered on the development of a relationship. When I wrote Kyrie, I was giving a lot of thought to the concept of being an artist -- being that weird 'unambitious' relative that everybody pretends doesn't exist, trying to distill truth and beauty into a medium of choice in a world that increasingly despises truth and beauty. And so the character Kyrie spent a lot of the book working out those same questions that I had, with the help of the book's first-person narrator, also a performing artist.

Spoiler alert: Kyrie dies before all of the questions are resolved. And that leaves her friend not only taking up the mantle of her unanswered questions, it leaves him with additional questions of his own regarding this almost-ethereal artist friend that seemed a step removed even from his world: questions about what she really knew, understood, and saw that she hadn't yet been able to communicate, as well as questions about the nature of her death (he's not convinced her death was a complete accident).

It's eerie now to think that I wrote Kyrie before my friend died (of lung failure), before my cousin died (of an asthma attack), before half my extended family died (of divorce). Kyrie's backstory involves a family whose harsh opinions she's actively trying to escape (how much do I want to escape the desolate landscape formerly known as family gatherings?) and Kyrie herself dies of an asthma attack. Again, I wrote Kyrie's death before 2015, with all the hell it would bring, dawned.

And maybe that's another part of why the writer's block is SO strong. If I write something 'bad,' in which the characters die or their families are torn to pieces... what if it actually happens in real life? I know that's pretty much impossible and the fact that Kyrie died of lung failure and then so did my friend and cousin is probably a coincidence... but when my cousin died I realised this stuff happens in real life. Real people die, and you can't get them back. Looking back, I think my treatment of Kyrie's friend's grief was actually pretty true-to-life, but to have it written in words somehow cheapens the depth of it. And here we come back to communication, truth, and beauty (not that we were actually there, come to think of it, but this is a ramble-post so let's roll with it). As a writer, how can I communicate the depths of this kind of hellish grief without cheapening it? How do I tune the phrases, the mood, the character's voice to give the proper amount of weight to it without swinging into melodramatic territory?

16 October 2015

Music Day - Missing Person

Another piece of my childhood (and also one of the few songs on my list of songs to feature on Music Day that actually sort of applies to my life right now).

I think this was actually my introduction to Michael W. Smith. I was young -- about five -- when this was the big hit on Christian radio, and I mostly kept liking it out of nostalgia. But this is one of those MWS lyrics (and one of the very few mainstream CCM lyrics) that actually hints at the reality of being a less-than-perfect Christian whose life is not all together. Christian music needs this reminder in the worst way. We have so many songs (and, increasingly, films) that tell you 'come to Jesus and everything will be perfect,' but that's simply not true; and we as Christians need to stop perpetuating that lie. What's more, we need to stop believing it.

One of the biggest things I miss about not being ticked off at God is being able to tell people I'm praying for them. I feel like it's hypocritical for me to tell others I'm praying for them when I can't even pray for myself. But now I just feel so useless when my friends are having problems. I wish I could help -- but I feel blocked from doing the one thing that I can actually (physically) do.

Where did that person go? I used to pray about everything, all the time. I used to really believe prayer could move proverbial mountains. I used to pray for everyone who I knew needed something. Of course I would do anything I could physically as well, but if I couldn't do anything else, I would at least pray. And I don't even have that anymore. It's funny how much I miss it. But I don't know how to take it back.

There was a boy who had the faith to move a mountain
And like a child he would believe without a reason
Without a trace he disappeared into the void and
I've been searching for that missing person...

Title: Missing Person
Artist: Michael W. Smith
Album: Live The Life
Year: 1998
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Props to MWS for writing this. Most other artists could have written this song and it would have been horribly neglected (though it was so badly needed). But Michael W. Smith, with nearly two decades of CCM popularity under his belt, could write this song and get it on the radio -- despite the melancholy, 'lost' theme of the lyric -- simply because his name was attached to it. And it took off. The chorus absolutely soars. Probably one of the catchiest things mainstream CCM ever produced. Play this for anybody who listened to Christian radio in the late '90s and see if they don't belt out that chorus at the top of their lungs. The smooth melody, the yearning vocal, the vulnerable lyric (the verses are primarily spoken, adding to the vulnerable feel), the melancholy guitar riff, and even the electric organ accents could not be anything but a hit in Christian circles thirsty for something honest.

09 October 2015

Music Day - Dig Here, Revisited

This Music Day will have a slightly different feel to it.
I featured this album once before, upon its release in June 2013. At that time in my life, I had just been accepted to college and I was in a whirlwind of terror as I realised my life was about to change very drastically (little did I know...). I had been a Daniel Amos fan for all of four months.

I liked the album quite a lot when it first came out. As a writer with a literary/poetic bent, I fell deeply in love with nearly every lyric. Terry Taylor has been writing songs professionally for over a quarter century and his ability to turn a phrase, paint a mental image, and/or juxtapose two concepts for maximum irony is very finely honed.

Even the musical backdrops captured my imagination. At that point in my life, I listened to music almost exclusively for the lyrics. If you had tried to get me into a song based on a 'really sweet guitar solo' or an 'awesome' chord progression in the bridge, well... not going to happen. I really didn't care about the music as long as it generally sounded cool as a whole. Of course, two years in a college music program has since utterly reformed the way I listen to songs, but even at the time I loved the music of this album. It was rich, it was lush, it was full-bodied, it was part Dr. Seuss, part brooding Van Gogh, part rock band, part orchestra.

Fast forward two years. Well, two and a half. A lot has happened... my beloved rattletrap gave up the ghost, I graduated from college with not only an Associate of Arts in music, but a lead role in a stage musical under my belt, I lost an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, and two good friends to death of various kinds. For the first time in my life, I have truly known heartache. Depression is one thing, heartache is another. They are intertwined, but I'm not sure they're quite the same thing.

Today I listened to this album for the first time since all those deaths. Different things catch my attention now, and other things that hit me before hit harder now. I had already noticed (how could anyone not?) that this album explores the topic of death quite a lot. On the brink of leaving my family for college two years ago, I thought I knew what that was -- the end of my old life of being surrounded by family, the end of free time. And although I'm back in Alberta with my family now, in a way I was right. Nothing is the same now as it was then, and it never will be.

To hear these lyrics again in this new reality that I can't get away from, this reality that half my family is essentially dead, hits a tender spot I walled off the night my mother texted me that my uncle left his wife:

You left me ruined on the inside
Taught me love's a wrecking crew...

I need to dream again...

So why should we take his big bitter pill
And wash it down with a bucket of our tears?

You hide Yourself away somewhere behind a thundercloud...

My heartbeat is the pounding of Your iron hand breaking me...

In my head
Here it comes
Ruthless hum of dread...

And the spot that still flames red with anger and pain from the night I begged God for a miracle and received only cold static in reply:

We were anxious for our prayers to be answered
But our angels were distracted and so slow...

The same rock that we stood on crushed us...

I've never been more alive
Now that I've died...

Another bad guy wins
More good friends die
They mounted up like eagles
Now they're dropping like flies...

In a pauper's field of dreams
I'm walking in between open-mouthed graves
Anxious to be fed...

Listening to this album today brought me a comfort that has eluded me for a year. It didn't fix anything -- my family is still in shambles. It was a temporary comfort. But there's that... I don't know, camaraderie? that comes from hearing your pain in words that someone else penned. It makes you feel not quite as alone.

Album: Dig Here Said The Angel
Artist: Daniel Amos
Year: 2013
Label: Independent release (Kickstarter-funded)
iTunes here; buy the CD from the band here. Buy the vinyl from the band here.
Lyrics for the album here (click on the song titles).

06 October 2015

This Is How We Die

Written 29 September 2015, 11.38pm.

I mentioned in a recent post how all my creativity is gone. As if it was never there -- just gone. NaNoWriMo is coming up and although I'm coming up with the occasional one-sentence plot idea (which is almost always enough to get me a full-blown novel), none of them capture me. None of them offer characters, setting, motivation -- just a sentence of a potential plot with everything to offer and yet nothing. Usually I can't write fast enough in my notebook to keep up with the thing.

Part of it, I think, is that my novel last year (Kyrie) was so different, so intense, so poetic... it's far and away the best thing I have ever written. And I know that the next thing I write will not come close to that level. I like to think I'm okay with that -- maybe I am, maybe I'm not. But the really different thing is that even though I wrote it almost a year ago now, that book has never let me go. I have literally re-read it once every couple weeks ever since I finished it. I find myself needing to re-read it, even though I practically have it memorised, typos and all. Something about that book was the true me -- the one I've never really been able to find. It synthesized all my hopes and dreams and fear and pain and I keep coming back to it because it understands me like none of my other work has. Today, in fact, I wrote an epilogue to it (in typical Kate fashion, I didn't actually write an ending for it at the time because I couldn't think of one). Until today, I had not added a single word to that book. It's the original November 2014 rough draft that I keep re-reading.

But part of it, I think (and this now includes choreography and photography, not just writing), is that reality hit me this year. I was talking with a friend the other day and we were talking about how I often feel like I have my head in the clouds. And she said something along the line of, "Yeah... but you're at least aware of the real world." This year, though, I saw people die. I watched several marriages die, and nobody cared about them. (We should give funerals for marriages. A dead marriage kills the couple and any children and siblings(-in-law) and parents and nieces and nephews. When a person dies, it's one person. It's awful, of course. But when a marriage dies, it's akin to genocide.)

The thing is, yes, I was aware of reality, but I ran on sort of a parallel track -- a track with dreams and passion and love and hope. I touched the real world, but I wasn't locked into it. I could pull back when I felt I should. I could observe it and step in when I felt the occasion required it. Maybe it was escapism, but it kept me sane. And anyway, I wasn't pretending the real world didn't exist, I was just a step removed from all the hysteria that constantly seems to consume people (have you SEEN a Facebook news feed lately?). But now, with all those deaths in such quick succession with little to no warning, I can't get out of the real world. I can't step back into my imagination, my creative brain, my world of participation in the arts, no matter how hard I try. It's as if a door has been locked, and I'm on the wrong side of it without a spare key.

And today I realised -- this is how it happens.

This is how people become the soulless cold unfeeling drones that I so dreaded becoming. This is how it happens. People die -- real people; people you love. And then so does the artistic brain. I always thought people's spirits died when they went to college or got a 9-to-5 job. But now I've done both, and although both made my life significantly busier, it did not kill the spark of creativity, of love for life. The divorces in my extended family, however, did. Suddenly I realised nothing would ever be the same, there would always be someone missing, and no amount of art can replace them or bring them back and bridge the chasm between what should be and what is. So what's the point? Maybe there is none. (This is another one of those things which I swore I'd never say.) Maybe I just toil out the next mile at hand and I pretend the lively Kate never existed -- not in this world, because in a way, she never did. She was one step outside of it. And that one step represented an entire world of inspiration.

(Tangent: maybe that's why Kyrie resonates so much with me. The story takes place over the course of a year and a half, and it chronicles a college junior's friendship with a freshman named Kyrie, from the time he meets her till the moment of her death. It's sort of Mary Poppins-esque. And throughout the book -- mostly due to the first-person narrator -- Kyrie is often depicted as a tiny bit otherworldly. She, too, ran on a parallel track to the rest of the world.)

25 September 2015

Music Day - Walkin' In Faith

Written 10 January 2014, 11.07pm.

Discovered this through the Frontline Records Facebook page last week. I clicked the link they posted and stuck one earbud in, expecting some decent background-music rock. Within the first twenty seconds of the song, I put in the second earbud.

This thing rocks hard, but it's melodic. It's kind of like a heavier version of White Heart, or a less over-the-top version of '80s Stryper. Think White Heart's Dr Jekyll And Mr Christian with a little more muscle (and slightly less stellar vocals, but that's only because nobody can top Rick Florian). Also, turns out these guys are Canadian, which makes them even better.

Their guitarist is awesome. His playing makes me think of Oz Fox (Stryper). It's some seriously good stuff. Usually I kind of zone out a song's guitar work (Daniel Amos and Prodigal being the only exceptions), but not with what I've heard of this band so far. This is really compelling. I can't put my finger on it, but it's darn good.

Title: Walkin' In Faith
Artist: Angelica
Album: Walkin' In Faith
Year: 1991
Label: Frontline Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

24 September 2015

In Hiding

(Otherwise known as 'Previous Post Part II.')

I feel like I'm running in a circle. I hate harping on these deaths that have so destroyed my life, but I can't get away from them. I know I'm being annoying because that's all I talk about, all I think about, all I can see, but I don't know how to get out. It's like being stuck in a video game crash, constantly looping back to the time of death and/or destruction. And because I feel like I'm being annoying, I'm being quiet/shy/reserved/distant again. Nobody needs to hear me whine -- again -- about how stupid it all is (and yet, look what I'm doing right at this moment...).

So I'm emotionally in hiding. I spent all of four months truly out in the open and enjoying my life, and just when I was enjoying this newfound exuberant life that I didn't even know I was capable of, it all got taken away. I've hidden myself away -- again. It took over twenty years for me to feel safe enough to come out of my shell, and now it's all for naught.

And I wonder if that's not why I can't come up with anything artistic -- no choreography, no writing, no joy in dancing, nothing -- because on order to connect with people you have to be vulnerable, and right now I absolutely refuse. Nobody is allowed in anymore. I want them to be, but I can't bring myself to allow it. What if I just get close to someone and they die too? I legitimately cannot handle another death. An uncle attempted suicide not long ago, and though it was intercepted and he's still here, I almost had a nervous breakdown. I have to wall myself off; I have to not love anybody and then it won't hurt when they leave. I need to build this wall, I need to protect what remains of my heart if I want to survive. And even as I think this, I keep telling myself I can't afford to think like that. I can't go through life in a cocoon... but neither can I go through life when people keep dying and getting hurt and hurting each other and killing themselves. I can't live with or without you.

I miss the people I had before I went into hiding. But I can't connect with them. I'm too different now. I'm too pulled within myself, I'm too single-minded. I need too much of their love, and it's unfair of me to ask so much of them.

...I swore I would never say these things again.

I swore I would never succumb to feeling like nobody cared. I swore I would never shy away from people -- from my friends. I swore I would never put on the mask again. I swore I would breathe deeply in the richness of life. I swore I would live in full colour, with my heart on my sleeve. I swore I would never forget how loved I was.

22 September 2015

Hamster Wheel

Written 14 August 2015.

Warning: whiny post.

I feel like I'm spinning my tires, in every aspect of my life.

Work: I have a decent job, and it's all right. It's hard on the body, but then so is my dream career so I can't really complain.

Spiritually: I don't even know. I just -- how do you talk to the same God who just stood there and watched a nine-year-old die in a horrific, torturous way, despite the desparate prayers of those who loved her?

Creatively: I haven't choreographed a dance in two months. I haven't had a single writing idea since I finished Kyrie last November. I don't know if it's grief or exhaustion or burnout or what, but I sit and listen to songs that I know I had ideas for and... nothing happens. Absolutely nothing happens.

I've been researching what it actually takes to get into the choreography industry. Nobody actually knows. Seriously. Nobody. I've found lots of information on how to choreograph a dance (I have completed fifty-two works to date... pretty sure that's taken care of), and lots of information on what kind of salary the average big-name-dance-company choreographer makes... but nobody can actually tell you how to get from 'first piece' to 'choreographer for the Royal Ballet.' You can't expect me to believe that you just walk up to the Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet (or whichever company) and say, "Hey, so I'd like to be your choreographer," and seriously expect them to hire me right there. There's got to be a process, a ladder to climb -- but what are the steps?

This is so hard. (I know, everyone says that no matter where they are or what sort of life they have.) I'm exhausted from school -- it was invigorating for me in my self-confidence, but it absolutely drained me physically. I literally ate one meal a day and slept four hours a night (if I was lucky) for the entire second semester because I needed that time to stay on top of my homework load. And even now, four months later, I'm still feeling the effects of this. My lungs have considerably worsened. I wake up some mornings wanting to curl up and die because I'm so spent and all I've done is open my eyes. I had hoped to spend my summer practicing dance and finally getting to do some choreography now that I don't have papers and music theory hanging over my head. I have choreographed literally nothing.

19 September 2015

Music Day - How I Wish I Knew

When I hear you crying
When I feel you dying
When your heart starts fading away
How I wish I knew what to say...

I'm actually on the other side of this song right now. The people around me are asking this question: 'what is it you want to hear?' 'why can't you just move on?'

I wish I knew too. I wish I knew how to pick up the pieces enough to stop the rage that consumes me now. I wish I knew how to be glad that my cousin is with Jesus. I wish I knew how to believe God loves me. I wish I knew what would make everything even sort of okay again.


This is classic Choir -- slow, acoustic guitar with intense poetic imagery.

Title: How I Wish I Knew
Artist: The Choir
Year: 2005
Label: Galaxy 21
iTunes here; YouTube here.

31 August 2015

Grief: Art and Time

Written 19 July 2015, 11.35pm. All references to elapsed time are based on this composition date.

Grief is a strange thing.

On one hand, I feel like I should be processing everything by creating art -- writing, dancing, something. That's how I escape everything else. But inspiration doesn't come... I'm not a total slave to 'the muse' but I've been doing this long enough that certain project ideas will sort of draw me in. I've gotten fairly good at knowing which ideas are ready to be concretely worked out and which ones need more incubation time. Lately though, there aren't really any ideas at all.

This is strange for me. Ever since I could read I've had writing ideas, and I've had choreography percolating in my head since I was seven. To suddenly not have that is so strange. It's like a part of me is gone -- gone beyond the stars where my friend and my cousin disappeared to.

I remember about five months after my friend's mother died, asking how she was doing and if she'd been doing anything artistic lately. She told me no, she hadn't really, the last time she tried to do something artistic she ended up painting an entire canvas black. It seemed odd to me at the time, but I thought Hey, people have different ways of processing grief. But now I can relate to that. The emptiness of everything, the trying to forget, the acute awareness that you feel nothing and wishing you could and then wishing you wouldn't. I almost have to forget what happened and the role they played in my life if I'm going to be able to get out of bed every morning, but if I forget them, all kinds of guilt comes crashing in on me at two-week intervals and I become a basket case. I can't go on like this.

The worst of it is when people seem to think that I should be over it. You don't get over this. You don't -- not ever. Even before it happened to me I knew that death changes everything in the lives of those close to them. And this wasn't just one... this was three in three months. The last was at the end of April... that's only two and a half months ago. Surely you don't expect me to be back to 'all's right with the world' yet? Who recovers from the death of a child? Who recovers from the death of a very close friend? Who on earth is over it in less than three months?

I know it's awkward. I know it's hard to know what to say. I've been (or at least tried to be) the comforter too. But please, please... don't expect me to be 'over it.' You don't 'get over' this. You just don't.

And in the absence of art to escape and now that I no longer even have time to listen to music anymore... don't leave me. I've lost so many people already this year, don't walk away from me if you can at all help it.

28 August 2015

Music Day - Tears In Your Eyes

Hold on to your hats, people.

Title: Tears In Your Eyes
Artist: Undercover
Album: Branded
Year: 1986
Label: Broken Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

When I first heard this song, I didn't breathe for the entire duration of the song. It grabs you by the throat, figuratively and almost literally. It's partly because it's just so fast musically, but it's also partly because the vocal is so raw and angry. I didn't want to miss a single word. It's a manic burst of speed metal that barely makes the two-minute mark but doesn't feel that short because it's so full of sheer passion... full of love and the passion of a broken heart.

In terms of vocal delivery, the inflections remind me of ¡Alarma!-era Terry Scott Taylor of Daniel Amos (specifically this song's 'Don't say you never knew / You knew exactly what to do' with 'Dead the innocent / Gone the hour / He needs you now...' from DA's Youth With A Machine or 'Please sit up straight at the table / And eat your words' from DA's Memory Lane).

How many times will you shut the door?
How many times must I be ignored?
How many times? again I try
How many times will I get no reply?

16 August 2015

Guests At The Banquet

This morning as I sat in the church foyer, people-watching, I noticed how... I don't know, inclusive? our particular church is.

You often hear people day they don't feel 'good enough' for church. We have songs like Casting Crowns' If We Are The Body and Does Anybody Hear Her?, Connie Scott's Come On Leah, L.S. Underground's Shaded Pain, Rob Frazier's Come On Elaine, all of which paint pictures of people who needed Jesus but were run out by the church. And this is true. This is all true. I've seen it happen. I was almost one of them. There are still far too many people who demand you meet their standard before they let you in their church. But that's not the point of this post.

I was looking around the foyer from my vantage point on the edge of it. I saw the greeters -- a black woman and a white woman -- talking and laughing together in the moments when there weren't people to greet. I saw Europeans, blacks, Natives, and Filipinos. I watched my (white) brother talk to his Native friend and my (European) father catch up with a young half-Filipino. I saw young kids (elementary age) talking to white-haired ladies and time-weathered men as if they were good friends -- and indeed they were.

I saw many people with walkers and canes, one in a cast, and several in wheelchairs. I saw a handful of amputees. I saw one half-blind woman get a coffee for a man in a wheelchair. I saw several people with tics.

The pastor was right in the thick of it. He sat at a table drinking coffee and talking with an autistic man and several old ladies. He waved and smiled at the man in a wheelchair, came and spoke with me (knowing I've been going through a lot), greeted everyone he passed by name with twinkling eyes and a warm smile.

All this is a casual, fairly superficial observation. This is what a newcomer would have seen if they had entered this church for the first time this morning. This doesn't even include the stories that I know lie behind these faces: the adopted child, the cancer survivor, the person with anxiety issues, the ladies whose husbands have left them, the widows and widowers, the foster children, the people with depression.

All these people with different stories and experiences and backgrounds, all in the same building, in the same network pool of friends and family. Many are 'broken' in the world's eyes -- witness the wheelchairs and walkers. Some are 'outcasts' -- the depressed, the divorcées. But here in this building, while they may not all be close friends with everybody else, there is a sense of camaraderie -- we're all in this together. Nobody looks down on the handicapped, the abandoned, the ones with mental issues, the ones with a different skin colour. Are we perfect? Nope. And that's part of what makes this a safe haven for us.

It all reminded me of a song.
The poor are coming
The lame are running
With their sleazy clothes and orthopaedic shoes
There's a harelip salesman shouting out the news
"Come to the banquet at the world's end!"
(Banquet At The World's End, Daniel Amos, 1993)

And an even older song:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children in the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world...

The Story Of How I Did Not Lose My Arms

In the spirit of a kinder, gentler, happier time (back when this blog had a name very obviously thought up by a fourteen-year-old), I shall now relate a probably-mundane story from my day.

Friday we were hanging trusses (that's 'roof parts' for you big-city pencil pushers). So I'm on the absolute top of a rickety scaffolding (on wheels -- blocked wheels, but wheels nonetheless) some two, two and a half storeys high. Below this rig is six inches of concrete. My dad is on the top of the wall to my right, and my uncle is on the wall to my left. On the ground in front of me is the telehandler ('crane,' pencil pushers). Attached to one of the forks of the telehandler is a chain -- wrapped around the carriage and hooked back on itself so the other end dangles free.

The process is as follows: a truss is carried over the ground to the telehandler and positioned so that the centre, the peak, is under the chain. The free end of the chain is looped around the centre post and hooked back on itself so the telehandler can raise it up to us.

These trusses are forty feet wide, and since they're made of 2x6s, they're kind of floppy. Hence three of us up at roof height -- to control the thing. Because I'm in the centre, I'm responsible for the tallest and heaviest point of the truss (a really smart place to put the 5'3" 150-pound college kid -- the centre of the truss is twice my height). The chain and I are the only things holding it upright until my dad and my uncle get some nails in (and even the chain has to be a bit slack so my dad and my uncle can make sure it's seated properly).

We developed a pretty good rhythm over the first ten trusses. So on the last one, the eleventh one, the telehandler brought the truss up to us, my dad got his end set in place but not yet nailed down, I grabbed one of the 2x6 'webs' near the centre to steady it, my uncle stretched out to grab his end. Something happened -- I'm not sure what, but my dad said later that the telehandler dropped the truss on the walls a bit abruptly, enough to bump it -- but I saw the chain on the top post of the truss come undone. The hook just jumped right off the chain. I saw blue sky where the grey chain link should have been.

Suddenly I'm the only thing preventing a 250-pound truss from falling several storeys to crush the telehandler and the operator as well as destroying the truss itself -- oh, and we're already two and a half weeks behind on this job. Every muscle begins to tighten, begins to brace for that terrifying few seconds when the truss will be pulling against me, trying to fall, before my dad or my uncle will be able to wrench it back -- if they even can, being twenty feet away from the balance point.

All this flew through my head in a split second as I watched the hook drop back into place on the same link of the chain that it had just left.

Those muscles that had begun to tense had not yet finished tightening as commanded. It all happened that fast.

The telehandler operator's response when we told him what happened? "Oh yeah, I totally planned that."

14 August 2015

Music Day - What Then

This is legitimately the best lyric I have ever heard Greg Volz sing.

It's a big-picture look at nearly every human endeavour we set out on. Business, religion, art -- all the things we get so wrapped up in and get so emotionally involved with -- all of them are called to account over the course of this lyric. None of these pursuits are inherently evil, but, as the great Steve Taylor once put it, what is the measure of your success? Am I expecting to swing out into eternity on the quality of my artistic output?

Title: What Then
Artist: Greg X Volz
Album: The Exodus
Year: 1991
Label: River Records
iTunes here; live version on YouTube here (fair warning: dude can sing, but he can't dance).

When the actors have played their last drama
And the mimic has made his last fall...
When the crowds seeking pleasure have all vanished
And have gone out in the darkness again...
What then?

31 July 2015

Music Day - Central Theme

I don't mind music with lyrics that praise God. Really, I don't. What I can't stand is music that tells you, very explicitly, that they're worshipping God. (If, by 'worship,' you mean 'repeating the same two phrases over and over and over and over and over and over again, ad nauseam.') (What was that Jesus said about those who pray with vain repetitions? Oh right... "do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them." -- Matthew chapter six.)

No, I like music with intelligent praise lyrics. I'm not generally a science nerd, but when it comes to worshipping God, science is probably one of the best things to look to if you want to stand in awe. I mean, God created some seriously cool stuff (the spectrum of light and colour and sound alone is freaking cool).

However, Christians have by and large decided that science doesn't exist. Their loss. Now they've reduced themselves to repeating the same two lyrics over and over and over and... so on, ad nauseum. And since Christians have also decided, by and large, that art in almost all forms also doesn't exist (or is pure evil), they also don't have the creativity or the language skills to even come up with anything more creative than the same two lines (and three chords).

Good praise music, with actual intellectual meaning behind it, is almost impossible to come by -- simply because it almost doesn't exist. I could count on one hand the praise songs (that I know of) that fall into the 'not-insipid' category. One such song comes to us from -- who else? -- Daniel Amos.

Not only is it different from everybody in today's praise-and-worship music machine (I won't mention Chris Tomlin or Hillsong by name), lyrically it captures part of the sheer majesty and size of God by comparing it to space (as in starts-and-planets space, not empty space). It's an infinitesimally small part in real life, but it's a lot bigger than most of us think about on a regular basis. Plus, the syncopated guitar picking in the chorus (Jesus in the centre / Revolving around Him...) is absolutely wonderful.

Title: Central Theme
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: ¡Alarma!
Year: 1981
Label: Stunt Records
iTunes here; YouTube here; full album available from the band's website here (scroll down just a little bit).
Lyrics here.

More Daniel Amos lore: This song is the kickoff point (the prelude, really) for DA's four-album series collectively entitled The ¡Alarma! Chronicles, a huge artistic undertaking that saw the band move from new wave to rock to synthpop to ethereal keyboard arrangements. Although the Chronicles covered (broadly) apathy, deception, technology, and death, they begin and end with God -- the central theme and the beautiful one.

Solar screams
(I am nothing)
Vibrations under the rings
How great You are
Moon like a gong
(I am nothing)
Deep hollow song
How great You are...

18 July 2015

Music Day - Darn Floor, Big Bite

Originally written January 2014.

I got Darn Floor - Big Bite for Christmas [2013]. I'm falling in love with this band all over again.

I've wanted this album for a while. As soon as you begin to integrate yourself into the DA fanbase, you hear nothing except how good this album is. Even the gorgeous Dig Here Said The Angel couldn't top it for a good cross-section of the fans.

The CD is available on their website, but due to the fact that I bought Dig Here three times (digital, CD, and vinyl) (the vinyl arrived the day before New Year's and HOLY DEUCE it is beautiful), plus the ¡Alarma! reissue, I had no money left for DFBB. I was okay with waiting, but until I did get the CD, I took a vow of Darn Floor celibacy.

See, when I first ordered the Vox Humana CD, I totally overdosed on Travelog, William Blake, and (It's The Eighties, So Where's Our) Rocket Packs on YouTube while waiting for it to arrive. When it finally did arrive, listening to it was sort of anticlimactic. Not because it's not a good album (I think I actually listen to Vox Humana the most, overall), but because I already knew what was coming. So I didn't want to ruin the album that so many called DA's masterpiece before I could actually listen to it all at once at my leisure (the same way I first got to experience the masterpiece that is Dig Here). So I didn't listen to any of the songs on YouTube, I didn't preview them on iTunes, I didn't read the lyrics on the Daniel Amos website. I wanted to know nothing about the album until I had it in my hands... whenever that might be.

Naturally, DFBB was at the top of my Christmas wish list (literally), and since I'm basically impossible to buy for, my family sticks pretty darn closely to that list. It wasn't too much of a surprise to unwrap that one. And there was much rejoicing (and answering of the question, "Darn Floor, Big Bite? What the heck kind of album title is that?").

I will restrain myself from fangirling over the entire album here (oh, but am I ever tempted...). Today I'll stick to one song -- the title track.

I have a question about this song: how was this not a monster hit? It is infectious, catchy, fun to listen to, catchy, deep, poetic, catchy, intense, and heck, it would even be a great karaoke song. Did I mention it's catchy? You can't not bop your head to this. Seriously, I'll listen to this once in the morning after breakfast and I'll be dancing to the darn thing all day long. It's great.

It starts out with an irresistible bass/drum rhythm. Baptists, turn away, for the beat menace has come to vex your soul. You will dance to this, whether you like it or not. (This is church-ese for 'This song grooves like a boss.') I love the swagger in Terry Taylor's vocal here, especially how it later gives way to questioning -- without losing the swagger.

I also like the lyrical structure of the song, especially that doubtful repetition of every third line of the verses: Do I know You now? Do I know You now?... Will You save me now? Will You save me now?... Could have been a dream; Could have been a dream...

The musical structure is amazing too. It starts with the bass groove and the drums, then for the pre-chorus, the rhythm changes into a rolling, warbling guitar line before stripping the sound back to drums and bass for the chorus. At the end, after the final chorus when Terry's repeating No I can't get it right... they start into a good old classic rock thing (complete with cymbals), then it concludes with a deep graceful bow.

Fantastic stuff. If you don't listen to anything else I feature on Music Day, listen to this one.

Title: Darn Floor - Big Bite
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Darn Floor - Big Bite
Year: 1987
Label: Frontline
iTunes here; YouTube here.
Buy the deluxe two-disc edition of the album directly from the band here. (You won't regret it, I promise.)

Also, for those not familiar with Daniel Amos lore: The 'darn floor - big bite' theme of both this song and the album came from the story of Koko the gorilla, who, when asked to describe an earthquake, signed 'Darn floor. Big bite.' Inspired by this story, Daniel Amos/Terry Scott Taylor spent the entire DFBB album exploring the analogy of humans in Koko's place, trying to describe God with mere [sign] language. The results are quite stunning. The poetic value (of the lyrics) alone is breath-taking.

You touch my hair and cheek sometimes
Feel in yourself this flesh and blood
My poor flesh and blood...
I think I met an angel once
But I can't really know for sure
Do I know you now
Do I know you now?

09 July 2015

Music Day - Magnificent

Yes, Music Day comes early this week.

Today would have been my dear friend's twenty-third birthday. Alas, she took her first step beyond the stars on the first of February.

She taught me tactfulness, the joy of being thankful for little things, grace, and patience... so much patience. She was the kind of person who would take pictures of the way the Christmas tree lights were reflecting on her guitar strings, the type of person who would fangirl over Arthur Conan Doyle (before BBC's Sherlock), the type of person who would create a graph explaining why the Canadian holiday calendar is better than the American one based entirely on turkey consumption.

She hated winter. It seems somehow cruel that her last glimpse of this world was in the dead of it. She was relentlessly encouraging and always ready to pray for me, even though usually I was just freaking out over nothing.

She told me once that U2 was one of her favourite bands. I'd heard of them, but never actually heard any of their music until after the last time I saw her alive. I didn't hear this particular song until not long after she died.

Title: Magnificent
Artist: U2
Album: No Line On The Horizon
Year: 2009
iTunes here; YouTube here.

At the time she told me U2 was her favourite band, I was on my CCM-only kick and I was horrified that she would listen to something like U2 -- they weren't CCM-approved (obviously, this was before my DA days). We actually had quite a falling out over it and I don't know if the rift ever really healed completely -- although we did try to carry on. To some degree we did. Although the last time we really spoke to each other face-to-face, just before we parted, she apologised again for everything. At the time I was taken aback. I had long since forgiven and forgotten, and it actually took me a minute to figure out what she was talking about. I sort of dashed off an apology of my own, and she left.

I wish I had taken time to formulate my words more lovingly that day. Not that they weren't loving, but I was distracted and delivered them flippantly. I wish I had tuned everything else out, looked her right in the eye, and told her, 'I've already forgiven you. Quit carrying this burden.'

But I didn't know... no-one ever knows.

At the time she had less than two years left.

I miss her so much my heart literally, physically hurts. I can't count the amount of times I've thought, Hey, I should tell Brittney about this, or I should ask Brittney for her advice -- she'd understand. My comfort is that she is with the Magnificent; the one who had provided her with her love for the literary, her lovely singing voice, her phenomenal photography instinct, her level-headedness and her kindness.

Only love
Only love can leave such a mark
But only love
Only love can heal such a scar...

Justified till we die
You and I will magnify
The Magnificent

Brittney's blog.

07 July 2015

Rock Climbing, Art, and Mediocrity

Originally written 30 January 2014.

Art. God. College. Calling. People. Knowledge. Family. Dance. Engage.

A couple of the buzzwords in my head lately. There are others: isolation, depression, why?

I know God doesn't have to answer to me, but if I don't know the point of being at college, why bother being at college?

In chapel the other day, the speaker (the president of the college) was using rock climbing terms as his metaphors. One was 'dyno,' or 'dynamic movement,' which is when the climber leaves his three-point hold on the rock to leap up to the next hold. Sometimes the only way for the climber to progress any further up the rock is to let go, push off out of his other holds in a leap up to the next. Obviously that parallels life, but what is the hold that I'm leaping for? It would be stupid to let go without at least seeing the next hold (if not any further)... isn't it? I don't know.

The more I read from artists and about artists, the more I see the theme that God has entrusted artists with something he does not entrust to many: I don't feel I know enough about this yet to be able to tell exactly what, but it seems to have something to do with seeing and giving grace to a world starved for it, something to do with drawing the laity into a deeper communion with God and each other, something almost kind of like prophecy -- warning sometimes and providing hope sometimes. It's a high responsibility and I don't even know where to start handling it yet. Perhaps this is why some of the greatest art in history has come from Christians -- such responsibility can't be managed without full reliance on God. Art without God so easily gets stilted and hollow (or, nowadays, commercialised), and a world awash with that sort of 'art' degrades the whole idea of art -- even good art.

Another word that was used in the 'rock climbing chapel' was 'engage.' Engage with business, engage with science, engage with sports, engage the arts, engage the world. Engage with the arts -- how? I'm at best a mediocre dancer, I'm not training 60 hours a week like the pros do, and I'm not even healthy enough to dance for very long or very well. But to engage in the arts would mean I would have to be one of the best. I'm already too old for this. To train myself to that level where I'm even on the art world's radar... that would be the next thing to impossible. I would go crazy just trying to reach that level, never mind actually trying to maintain it once I'm there.

I've been settling back on these excuses, rationalising that no-one will ever see my dancing anyway because it's not suggestive enough for the world's stage. But this is exactly what I rail against all the time in Christian music -- this mediocrity, this sense of, 'well, I'm good enough... I'm better than the rest.' But if I won't stand for that in music made by Christians, how dare I stand for that in dance done by Christians?

All these excuses -- what am I afraid of? The work that will go into it? Actually succeeding?

04 July 2015

Music Day - Say Goodbye To Neverland

If I had heard this song two years ago, this would have been my theme song for the summer of 2013. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with the fact that Vox Humana (*cough* Sanctuary) was the soundtrack to that summer, but this puts into words the entire train of thought that was eating my mind at the time.

No you can't go back
Or defy the clock
Brace your mind for impact
Let your soul absorb the shock...

Sparse instrumentation (actually, this has 'award-winning modern dance' written all over it), and a gentle but sad vocal delivery, as if speaking to a child -- how do you break this news? How do you soften the blow? How do you pick up and carry on, knowing that life is fleeting...?

No you don't have wings
That was just pretend
Blistered feet keep moving
Give your spirit to the wind...

This perhaps sums up the entire mood of the song. I wish you could see the film playing in my mind. Blistered feet keep moving... like a dancer who's lost the fire for the dance, just going through the motions, mere technicality. Give your spirit to the wind... just like everybody else. Sacrifice your hopes, your dreams, your passions, your gifts on the altar of the 9-to-5 job. Let your soul die... nay, take the knife and kill it with your own hand. Only the wind may have it... so say the clones around us demanding that we fit their mould.

Breathe in, breathe out
Heart don't fail
Embrace the moment...

And yet, keep going. Keep going. The sad reminder that tomorrow is not promised to us, and we have to make the effort to enjoy it while we can, before it's snatched away. Add to that the potential for regrets to be compounded upon each other so quickly... It's a heavy lyric, and the chorus is almost a literal reminder to the listener: Breathe in, breathe out... then the plea for another moment, another chance to get it right: Heart don't fail... And then words that sometimes don't even make sense, they slip out so easily and without thought in this age of stock sunsets on Facebook: Embrace the moment...

Title: Say Goodbye To Neverland
Artist: The Choir
Album: Burning Like The Midnight Sun
Year: 2010
iTunes here; YouTube here. Buy directly from The Choir here.

13 June 2015

Music Day - For Annie

Trigger warning: suicide.

It's quite nice when a rock band puts out a song that features a string section and even a bit of brass (tasteful brass -- not those Sheila Walsh-esque saxophone solos). Of course, I wouldn't want them to do that all the time -- if I wanted that I'd just listen to classical music -- but every once in a while it's a nice departure.

Here, the strings adds a poignancy to a tragic story that's replayed every day.

The song is about a young person called Annie. It details the loneliness and quiet despair she lives in until she decides to do something about it (which, of course, we've all been told to do through inspirational Facebook pictures, right?). Her solution:

Locked inside the bathroom
She grabs a jar of pills
The medicine that cures
Becomes the poison that kills...

The lyric climaxes here, with that juxtaposition of irony. Without even two measures to let you catch your breath, Greg Volz tells you straight up: it's too late for Annie. She's dead. She's gone. You will never see her again.

And now that they have your attention, they tell you the silver lining (if there can really be one in a situation like this): we each have the power to stop other people's stories from ending this way. There is another Annie somewhere, who hasn't grabbed the pill jar yet... and she could be sitting beside you right now. Your next words to her could be the last she hears.

What would you tell her? What would I tell her?

Title: For Annie
Artist: Petra
Album: Never Say Die
Year: 1981
iTunes here; YouTube here.

09 June 2015

Covers That Need To Happen #1

Can we just take a moment to talk about a cover that really needs to happen?

Okay. Russ Taff's song Higher. Seriously. Go listen. You have full permission to groove. (I should probably throw an '80s-music warning on this song though. Then again, this entire blog should have an '80s-music warning on it.)

And now, picture Freedom-era White Heart covering this. Tommy Sims on that bass, Gersh on the keys... and I can't even properly handle the thought of Rick Florian's voice over that.

05 June 2015

Music Day - Reach

Been thinking a lot, fighting quite a bit. And listening to a lot of DAS (well, music in general). There's a triad of his songs that seem to work together as a trilogy for me now: Reach, In Your Hands, and Slo Glo One (better known as Glory). Today I shall prattle on about the first one.

Reach actually took a really long time to grow on me. I always appreciated the chorus, but something about the song irked me; something about the execution of it. I never could figure out what it was, but apparently it's not an issue now because I can't remember what it was that bugged me (probably the tempo -- I'm still young enough to like my music fast and fairly complex).

I have a history of locking up inside myself ('history,' heck -- I'm doing it as I type), convinced that nobody could love me, even if they tried. I actually believed (and sometimes still do believe) that for somebody, anybody, to care about me was impossible. Depression is funny that way... it seems so obvious to other people on the outside that people love me and that I'm resisting their love, but depression is truly a mental illness. It actually blinds us to things like that. It's not a wilful ignorance of our 'worth' -- we actually truly cannot see it. We need you to tell us every single day that you love us because our diseased minds discard the truth mere minutes after you speak it to us. You can't rely on our 'knowing' you love us though you never say anything and you can't rely on thinking 'well, I told her that one time that she was pretty cool.' Depression is hell-bent on destroying those it infects. One offhand instance of 'You're pretty cool,' as much as you may sincerely mean something by it, simply does not stand up against my own mind telling itself it's worthless twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.

For years people would get frustrated with me. They would always say to me, "Just let yourself be loved!" They tried to say it kindly, but there was often pent-up frustration in their voices. I could not wrap my head around this idea that they seemed to take for granted. Here I was figuratively screaming for somebody to care for more than five seconds, and you're telling me it's my fault? I can't let you love me if you're not showing any love for me to allow in. That phrase is still a source of frustration for me.

(End rant -- my apologies...)

But although Brian Healy uses the words, Let Him love you, he does not stop there, and that's what gives his exhortation more weight. He doesn't expect that vague, tired phrase to magically fix everything, and realising the weakness of language itself makes a huge difference in how one comes across because it does inform and change how you communicate. Healy continues his thought with Let Him show you... Let Him touch you... Let Him heal you. Reach out your hands... and take what He has to offer. It's a gentle invitation, not an outburst of exasperation. And ultimately it's not by my strength that I can reach out and take it anyway. Grace has to visit me in order for me to have the strength to take it. Taking and accepting love is perhaps harder even than almost anything I can think of. To give love is easy enough. Even when the other person doesn't want your love, it's relatively easy to give it. But to take love someone else is holding out to you... that's well-nigh impossible. There's something in my mind that still tells me it's not real, it's a facade like everything else. It'll turn out to be just somebody else trying to relive their guilt about not loving me by pretending to love me.

How do you surrender yourself to someone else's love?

Title: Reach
Artist: Dead Artist Syndrome
Album: Prints Of Darkness
Year: 1990
iTunes here; YouTube here.