• Category Archives inspirations & influences
  • Not Ashamed: Ridiculously Musically Eclectic

    If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.


    Of all the things on my list, this is probably one of the top 5 I’m most hesitant to post. You see, I am a musician. The best thing, in my opinion, that I have put out into the world is songs. And musicians are judged more harshly than most anyone else when it comes to their musical tastes.

    Now, I completely own up to the fact that my opinions of people are influenced by their musical tastes. I love people who, in my opinion, have seriously questionable musical tastes. But I also see that almost all of my closest friends share many of my favourite bands and musicians. And the thought of being in close relationships with people who hate the music I find most important makes me cringe. (Been there, done that, never going back.) So I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t factor in the musical tastes of others when forming opinions. I honestly believe that a person’s musical favourites say a lot about them.

    That said…

    I was raised in a home that was full of music. We all grew up wanting our own stereos and then played music non-stop on whatever we had access to. We all loved music, though most my family didn’t all love the same music. Plus, my dad and eldest brother were (are) pretty eclectic themselves. And then most, if not all, my friends loved music. There was more overlap there than there was in the music family members loved, but it still wasn’t complete overlap. Which means I had access and exposure to a wide range of music. Lucky me!

    With the internet, I also had access to music nobody I knew was listening to. Access to All The Music!!! Lucky, lucky me!

    Wee me with headphones
    Pretty sure the stereo was the nicest, most magical thing we owned.

    Like most creative teenagers, my friends were vocally and strongly opinionated about music. So there were whole swaths of music that I either avoided completely or that I wouldn’t admit that I enjoyed. It was risky even to say, “I don’t like their music, but they’re clearly talented.” Nope. Just keep your mouth shut.

    Which is to say that I was not always not ashamed of my musical tastes.

    But, sometime around age 21, I started to care a whole lot less about other people’s opinions of my tastes and looks and actions. I also started hanging out with more musicians and realising that, as much as people judge us strongly for our tastes, it’s a good thing for us to be atypically eclectic. The broader my tastes, the broader the influences on my own music. Even if you don’t hear it, there are bits of songs that occurred to me to approach in particular ways because of some song or genre you might not expect me to enjoy.

    People talk a lot about guilty pleasures. I’m not going to claim that all pleasures are okay; there are a lot of questionable people with even more questionable pleasures. But I absolutely refuse to have musical guilty pleasures. Why bring shame in to taint my enjoyment of a song? Not going to happen.

    As a bonus, I learned years ago that the quickest way to get certain kinds of boys who were hitting on me to leave me alone was to be forthright about the music I loved that they considered crap. “Yes, I see you posturing there. Do you see me skanking during the song you’re mad the DJ is playing or bobbing my head to Public Enemy as I chat with my friend? Oh, you’re leaving? Such a shame…”

    Me glaring at someone at a club
    It wasn’t like I was an inviting person to start with…

    I’m not claiming I love all music. Though, so far, I’ve found that there’s usually a song or two of the types I’ve heard that I enjoy. And not just obscure things. I’m sure I lose my punk card, my goth card, my alternative card, and an assortment of other cool kid membership cards when I gleefully sing along to Taylor Swift or have kitchen dance parties with Jay-Z and Rihanna. When I put on some Genesis or Dire Straits or Fleetwood Mac on purpose. When I don’t protest if my guitarist says I have to check out the new JT (that’s Justin Timberlake, cool kids) album. And I know plenty of rock kids who don’t get it when I spend a night listening to nothing but Chopin’s piano pieces or won’t let them switch albums until I’m done with the whole Salt-N-Pepa album I’m in the middle of. And so on and so forth.

    Please also note that I’m not claiming to be an expert on everyone I like to listen to. Not at all. I haven’t had the luxury (of time or of memory) for that since I was about 15. Even then, I always felt a little obnoxious trying to prove I was a super-fan via knowledge of trivia. Because that’s not what it’s about.

    I love wallowing in songs I’ve enjoyed for ages. I love hearing new things I enjoy. I love to lose myself in a song, an album, a playlist. I love songs that make me cry and songs that make me dance and songs that make me want to grab someone pretty and do scandalous things.

    Me dancing whilst I sing
    Wallowing in my own music, hoping for scandal

    If we’re listening to music from my collection and it’s on shuffle and I warn you that you will probably end up disappointed in me, that’s not an apology. Not at all.

    If we’re listening and something shuffles up that I skip, it’s not shame. It might be that I know you’ll be offended and I’m sparing you or it might be something added to my massive collection by a friend or partner that I have yet to clear out.

    If I explain that I know a song I love is kind of lame but there’s this particular emotional context. I’m not ashamed of loving the song. I’m just acknowledging that some of my tastes have more to do with emotions than with the actual song.

    But my own ridiculously eclectic musical tastes are not something of which I’m ashamed. And I sincerely believe they make me a better musician. Rawr!

    Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).


  • Not Ashamed: Daydreamer

    If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.


    “Your head’s in the clouds again, isn’t it?”

    From a young age, it was clear that my daydreaming was problematic.

    Daydreamers don’t pay enough attention to adults.

    Daydreamers don’t concentrate enough on grown up things.

    Daydreamers rudely live in a world that others can’t access.

    Daydreamers are impractical.

    Daydreamers are too easily distracted.

    Shame on us!

    Shame on us?

    picture of space (Two galaxies: NGC 2207 and IC 2163)

    I don’t think so.

    Daydreamers don’t stay needlessly trapped in a mundane world.

    Daydreamers are the visionaries who change our world with their innovations and inventions.

    Daydreamers are the ones who push on for big goals because that daydreaming helped them grow deep roots that would let them survive trials.

    Daydreamers are the artists, able to transport even the non-daydreamers to other worlds because they (the daydreamers) have spent time in those worlds though their bodies are trapped in this one.

    Daydreamers are accessing a little more magic and, therefore, a little more joy, even if that joy isn’t what you see as joy.

    So, yes, indeed, I am unabashedly a daydreamer. And the older and busier I get, the more decadent and nourishing my daydream time is. I wallow in that as often as possible. And I’m not inclined to apologise, much less feel ashamed. I love my inner world too much to sully it with unnecessary shame.

    p.s. My head isn’t in the clouds; it’s in the stars and in entirely other worlds.

    Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).


  • Vampires, Evil, and Sunlight

    I’m foregoing a clever title for this. I think names of people, places, things, or ideas are important. And, when it comes to the act of naming, I either immediately know the name or I spend loads of time working one out. It is literally taking me less time to tell you why I’m not giving this a clever title than it would probably take to come up with that clever title. This matters to me because, at the moment, I’m fitting in loads and loads of creative endeavours. Music, poems, books, and blogs, to name a few.

    One of those other blogs is Most Worlds, a blog I’m doing with my talented arts writer friend, Cat. This month, we’re writing on one of our favourite themes: vampires. Which is how I finally had a chance to really understand that different people “need” different things to find a vampire story satisfying. And that is how I ended up writing Cat an email about a realisation I had dealing with vampires and evil and why I don’t particularly favour vampires who must be evil. Which, in turn, is how I ended up standing in the shower contemplating vampires, evil, and sunlight until the water got cold. Obviously, that meant a blog. (I’ve already got my posts for Most Worlds written for the month, so this is supplemental reading that I might just link to…)

    First, I’m going to tell you two things about me that will be relevant here.

    Thing One: When I was about 13, my class to a trip to a park where I knew I was going to end up riding a rollercoaster. Now, for those who enjoy any sort of thrill ride, what seems to be happening at a subconscious level is that your brain sees danger, the brain chemicals that deal with danger are released (a heady mix), and then you evade danger over and over (cue more brain chemicals), and you walk away feeling victorious. Yay! Your brain is quick to let you know that, hey, this makes thrills enjoyable. HAVE MORE! For those who don’t enjoy thrill rides, the brain doesn’t seem to get past the chemicals that deal with danger, it doesn’t seem to give you the achievement for evading death.

    When I rode the rollercoaster (as when I’ve been faced with other things meant to provide entertainment via the titillation of fear and thrills), my brain shrieked over the danger, but then it told itself that was rubbish as there was plenty of evidence that there was little to no actual danger. Which, my brain noted, was good because danger leads to fear, and fear is actually not a pleasant feeling. My brain then confirmed that we had paid to give our control to a random stranger so that we could be slammed around in cars with shrieking other strangers. Yeah, yeah we had. Well, my brain was bored, not titillated, and not impressed with my choices.

    So, no, I don’t enjoy thrill rides or anything else that works on the fear = titillation equation. If, on the other hand, your horror film has a riveting plot or can engage emotions other than fear, there’s hope. That is why I read and watch horror anyway, because I’m intrigued by stories of how humans might behave in unusual circumstances or I’m really curious about the traits of monsters. This is why, in spite of my fear of heights, I have been known to enjoy the borderline-thrill-sport of rappelling, because I’ve always done it somewhere where my physical location (hanging on a rope, high above nature) allows me to seem some breathtaking beauty that wasn’t part of my usual experience.

    Thing One in summary: I get no pleasure from fear. I am probably an android.

    Thing Two: Part of the beliefs that make up my spiritual path is that no human will be forced to be good or to be evil. Every human has a choice, even in the face of whatever feelings or urges or circumstances might be pushing them one way or the other. And, should one make choices that could be considered evil, there is always a chance at redemption. Moral agency and the chance at redemption are big catalysts and supports behind my core life values and motivators of love and light.

    Yes, we can talk about vampires now. But first I want to assure you that I am quite capable of both distinguishing fiction from reality and of suspending my disbelief for the sake of enjoyment.

    From what I can tell and what I’ve read, around the time the vampire really entered the public mind via the novel Dracula, the vampire was an awesome and symbolic way to address Victorian sexual standards (among other things). That Dracula was a being who just was evil and had no motivation other than being evil was frightening. Even more frightening was that he could make poor Lucy into a vampire against her will and, therefore, make her evil against her will. The sexual titillation (though admittedly rape-y if we stop to think about it and definitely based in norms and standards that have changed), the exploration of the then-new modern woman via Mina, and the intriguing look at gender norms especially in the face of huge emotion work for me. The fear-based titillation, as you can guess, did not. Does not.

    Worse, whilst I can set aside that these are different times and the things that do work for me aren’t nearly as relevant to my emotional or mental experience of the story as they probably ought to be, and whilst I can suspend disbelief enough to go along with fantastic things like vampires, I hit a massive wall when it comes to setting aside my belief in moral agency or in the only redemption being death. If vampires are real, I’d expect that there’d be a different moral code applied to them from On High, and that they’d be evil not for being vampires or for drinking blood but for the way in which they obtained and drank that blood.

    This applies to all vampire things. Even as I stopped to point out to myself vampire stories I enjoy that don’t involve an angelic vampire, I realised that those stories still had room for the struggle to be good. For the ability to cling to what was left of their humanity. For example, I love Lost Boys, but those are vampires who are clearly evil and, it’s implied, were made evil by become vampires. But then I realised that, via the half-vampires, my precious moral agency and chance for redemption before death still existed. Michael and Star and Laddie could still fight what they were. They might have been tricked into drinking Max’s blood, but they were resisting the last step that would seal their fate.

    Perhaps you’ve realised that one of the allures of the vampire who is evil and can’t help it is the chance for the reader or viewer to imagine a life where they can do all the immoral and unethical things that tempt them as humans without having to take any responsibility. I mean, if you’re an evil vampire, can you really help yourself? And if you know me, you might expect me to totally buy into that particular allure. But I have accepted the responsibility of my actions (the good or bad, the times I didn’t get a thing I wanted because I stuck to my morals and ethics) and I am a staunch believer in the value of personal responsibility. Even when it sucks. (From a darker angle, I’ve had plenty of chances to remind myself and others that, for instance, someone being drunk did not excuse them being a crap friend, a jerk, an abuser, a rapist, etc.)

    Now, sunlight…

    Often, in media where things are symbolic (which certainly includes at least the original vampire stories), the sun is symbolic of Christ and its light is symbolic of the light of Christ. When the sunlight weakens or kills a vampire, we are supposed to see it as symbolic of Christ destroying evil. Even setting aside Christianity, there are plenty of spiritual paths that will get behind the power of light to purge and purify, to cast out what is bad or evil. And, sure, I can get behind that, but…

    If you read my Most Worlds posts this month, you’ll see I’m a fan of the vampire being able to go out in sunlight. (That’s actually one of the things I treasure in the original Dracula novel.) In my original draft, at the first instance of mentioning such vampires and my pleasure at that trait, I’d quickly and thoughtlessly written that was because removing the safety of sunlight made for more tasty fear. I’ve since revised that sentence, because, as we’ve established, I don’t actually find fear titillating or in any way enjoyable.

    Before I get to the “real” thing I want to say here, I want to admit two lesser reasons I like it when vampires can go in sunlight:

    • I’m a pale person. Very pale. Careful efforts to get my skin to have a little colour (so that I’d be pale and not actually translucent and, therefore, less prone to quick damage) all ended painfully. And I like my paleness just fine, but I watch my cat nap in a sunbeam or see what appears to be lazy and languorous joy in sunbathers and I get a little jealous. Just a little. I am not a vampire and the sun sensitivity can be a drag. I can easily extrapolate to imagining how, for instance, you’ll never again see the beauty of a landscape in sunlight. Sadness!
    • We now live in a world with electricity, 24 hour markets and restaurants, and an apparently declining belief in Christianity. So limiting a vampire to darkness doesn’t really do much anymore in terms of adding an interesting logistic to work around. And the initial intended symbol of the sunlight as the light of Christ burning out evil is now more of an empty trope, an easy answer at the end of a story.

    But here’s the thing that really matters…Because I can’t believe in the vampire who is, simply by virtue of being a vampire, evil…and because the harm done by sunlight is supposed to be symbolic of Christ burning that evil away (or at least weakening it)…that symbol isn’t powerful to me. Whereas, because I know that symbol exists, a vampire who can walk in the sunlight suggests to my brain, even if the writer thoroughly doesn’t think so, that this is a creature who has moral agency and, even she does choose evil, a chance at redemption.

    Which isn’t to say I’m against sunlight harming or killing vampires. Looking at my top films, 3/5 of them show vampires who are negatively impacted by the sun. If it just weakens them, it offers an interesting plot complication. If it kills them…well, as long as it doesn’t look like a lazy writer just leaned on that, sure. I’m offended by lazy writing, not by sunlight killing vampires. I just have a special soft spot for the times it doesn’t. I am a sucker for hope.


  • Explain Yourself!

    As observant readers know, I don’t talk about the meaning behind the lyrics I write. I’ve been thinking lately about explaining myself, explaining why I don’t explain myself, via blog. I was almost derailed, though, as I read the introduction to a book of lyrics by one of my favourite artists (Brian Molko of Placebo). Brian doesn’t even like to have his lyrics written out for people to read and, whilst I don’t share that particular dislike, the reasons he provided made sense. Suddenly, I felt like I’d already put so much out there just by providing lyrics…But here I am, explaining myself. Oddly, the thing that has me finally writing up what I hope will be a comprehensive guide to why I don’t like to explain what/whom lyrics are about is the decision to actually do a little explaining as part of the release of my band’s Each to Each EP. No, I know, it doesn’t make sense. Welcome to the chaos of my brain!

    Loki's brain is a cat in a box

    Now, without further preface:

    Why I Don’t Like To Explain My Lyrics

    (A list I scribbled whilst on the tube)

    1. I can’t be the only person who loved a song and found meaning in it and then read or heard the band talking about what they meant by it and was completely put off the song or confused…and it ceased to be meaningful to me. Sometimes, for the sake of being fed by art, it’s better we don’t understand what the artist intended.
    2. Lyrics ought to stand on their own, in the context of a song, without need for explanation. Writing them without intent to explain them keeps me from taking sloppy shortcuts. Because…
    3. In an ideal world, my songs are all over the place and people are hearing them without explanation. And…
    4. People are finding their own connection to the lyrics, their own meaning. Mine matters and there’s something to be said for authorial intent, but who am I to deny you the meaning you find? People are, I believe, most likely to find a meaning that speaks to their understanding and their context or to find, in those things that they connect with that are outside their context, a way to open their minds and hearts.
    5. Sometimes, the feelings that are captured in lyrics are fleeting. They might last only as long as it takes me to write. They might even be mostly worked out but just a pushy ghost whispering words in my heart by the time I have a moment to write. If I was hurt by you or doubted you for one brief moment, there’s no reason to have you feel hurt or upset every time you hear a song that was written in that moment.

      Bowie turns his back on you

      On a related note…

    6. Lyrics, like other art forms, sometimes dramatise a feeling or an experience. We’re trying to help evoke a massive emotion in just a few minutes; we don’t have years of building up the emotional context. (Or maybe I realised the best words to get the emotion and the rhyme/metre is to use a word that’s a bit more than things strictly, literally were. Ah, artistic license…)

      Little girl pounds at a window...text: FEELINGS

      This leads to two reasons I don’t want to tell you the story behind a song:

      1. Yes, it’s an authentic emotion I’m describing, but it doesn’t mean that every moment of whatever we were doing was this massively horrible or amazing. I don’t want anyone taking it the wrong way.
      2. I don’t want people who care about me to know that something is really that massively big because they would worry. They don’t need to worry. Better they assume it’s just dramatised. (I promise, if I need help, I’ll reach out.)
    7. Whilst the feelings or my side of a story are mine to share, I don’t necessarily want to cast aspersions on or cause discomfort in the other person(s) involved. Especially if I was being a bit dramatic. Even if I wasn’t, I’m not actually hateful and I hope that even those who’ve done the worst to me have gone on to become better people and have happy lives. (I’ve actually had more than one person who quite sincerely apologised to me, years after the fact, when they realised how horrid they’d been.)
    8. I don’t want to feed anyone’s egos. I don’t want to make famous (or infamous) people who did me ache. The only way in which I let them linger in my life is by turning them into something good (lyrics, poems, characters in stories, art!). If the worst they did was break my heart by not returning a feeling, my emotions are still not here for their egos. They need to go find some other girl or boy to help them feel that, someone to whom they return the feeling so that it’s a healthy situation. (And, whilst some people think they know which songs are about them, I’ve had some of my closest friends guess incorrectly about a song’s inspiration. So, if someone tells you I wrote it about them, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about…)
    9. Often, I’ve used the song to process through and be mostly done with an emotion or a dark moment. If we’re performing, I’m willing to put myself back in that emotion to give you a good show (I am a fan of emotional authenticity). Outside that context, however, I want to be done with the feeling. (Why dwell on an old hurt when life delivers new hurts?) And some things will creep back in far too easily if I tell you what the song was about. I try to have the same policy with emotional self harm as I do with physical, which is to say I avoid it these days.
    10. The meanings of the songs evolve, even for me. You know how sometimes you hear a song and it means one thing, and then you live a little more and the song evolves to mean something else? There are a few of my songs where that’s what’s happened. (Bruise Me, for instance…and I swear I intend to write about that in the tidbit I’m going to post about Bruise Me in the days after the album release, so read that for a concrete example.)

    Having told you all that, and feeling pretty sure I’ve covered all my reasons (nine is a good number), I’m going to go write some tidbits about the songs on the album…give you a little peek at what’s behind some of the songs.

    Crowley (from Supernatural) pulls out a list and says, "Let me tell you about my feels."

    Of course, whilst I prefer not to talk about the meanings, I’m always interested in hearing what the songs mean to someone else. Even if, as occasionally happens, what someone hears in them is so far from my truth when I wrote them that I get confused. It gives me a chance to discover nuances and consider other perspectives. So do keep finding meaning. For me, if people are connecting and finding meaning, the songs are doing what they’re meant to do, and that means my life has been worth living…worth singing about.

    xx


  • It’s Full of Stars!

    I’ve come to a healthy decision, I think, in terms of image. And I am pretty sure that a number of people I know might benefit from the journey and the decision it led to. Because all of us have an image, a way that others perceive and think of us based on what they see of us, whether or not we are deliberate about cultivating it. So, I’m going to lay out the stones that make up this path and see if I can walk you down it and show you my destination. First, some stones…

    Stone One… I have always known (growing up on Bowie) that image is an important aspect of an artist. I have often been taught the importance of at least appearing to be a good person, the right person for a job, and that sort of thing. Like everyone, I’ve benefited from the added enjoyment of an artist whose awesome art is only made more interesting by their cool image. I also understand why, even if I hate it, image matters for non-artists. We humans tell each other not to judge books by their covers…And we can work on that, but judging books by covers is a large part of the history of how we survived. I won’t argue it’s always a good thing, because it’s more complex than that. This stone is more about acknowledging that we live in a world where image is part of the equation and that there are times I’ve gotten some enjoyment from others’ images. Whether or not we like it, we all have images.

    http://vimeo.com/83696019

    Here. Enjoy Bowie’s image mastery.

    Also, when you’re on this side of the microphone or keyboard, there’s always someone pushing an image on you or asking if you’ve taken your image into account. It’s part of the business of art, something you have to deal with if you want your art to see the light of day. I do. I want that very much. But that’s where my love of authenticity strongly asserts itself. I know that image is important, even if I’d rather not have to spare it a thought. I want to have my music and my words in all of your heads, so I have to at least stop and assess this issue.

    Stone Two… The other night, I stayed up way too late talking with a friend as I tried to sort out a small bio. She did the smart thing and looked at what other bios in my peer group for this might look like and suggested changes to help mine mesh better. We sent emails back and forth, replying multiple times to each other before we’d read replies to our replies, explaining why changes were a good idea or felt bad, and finally ended up with the original idea I’d sent her….just the order of a couple sentences switched rather than a massive re-write.

    Stone Three… Longer term than that, some essays on women on the autism spectrum and the way that they use mirroring to seem “normal” have had me thinking about the extent to which we all do mirroring as part of fitting into our societies. Because there are plenty of things that indicate that I might be on the spectrum, and because I am a massive fan of authenticity, this all brought up some concern. I spent a bit quietly freaking out, wondering how much of me was really me. (I take self-knowledge and authenticity Very Seriously.)

    Stone Four… Two days ago, I stumbled across this essay on the issue of identity and the ideal self in the film Velvet Goldmine. I suspect you can pull out some useful tidbits to bring on our journey even if you’ve not seen the film, so I’ll wait here whilst you go have a read. (Really, it’s an important part of how I got to my destination, so it’s worth me waiting here all alone whilst you read…)

    Identity and the Ideal Self in Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine

    Screencap from Velvet Goldmine. Arthur points at TV and shouts, "That's me! That's me, Dad! That's me!"

    Read it? Okay then….

    As most of you know, my passion is making music. I pour everything into my band, and let any leftover drops fall into my efforts at writing poetry and fiction. This means that the dreaded bio is a regular part of my life. If I’m lucky, someone else writes something that is close enough to good and true that I can just sigh and let it be. However, there are still bios that are mine to write. In an age where our art can go well beyond just those who already know us, the bio is part of how we communicate our image.

    This is me, standing on Stone One. Admitting this isn’t just about tricking someone into giving me an office job or letting me hang out with them. This is about my life’s passion. So let’s revisit Stone Two.

    Postcard style image. Text: Don't mistake this fake smile and professional body language. I'd punch you in the throat if I knew I wouldn't lose my job.

    Day jobs require massive work on my image.

    I’d written a short bio that I knew was true to who and how I am, but I also knew there was at least one potential problem. In it, I said something I often say about me, that I’m a scifi girl. I know that at least one of the editors for the project that needed this bio hates when adult females call themselves girls (or that’s been my impression of her feeling). I understand her objection (or I think I do) and totally acknowledge the validity of it.

    Important note: I want to be very clear that the editor in question is someone I both like and respect. And even if I’ve misunderstood her reasons, I’m sure that her reasons are reasonable and intelligent. Nothing I write here ought to be seen as a criticism of or attack on her or those who share her opinion (including other friends of mine).

    What I think I understand as her issue with adult females referring to themselves as girls is that, so often, women who call themselves girls are doing it in a way that diminishes their power and capability. This is a true and troubling thing. On the other hand, I tend to call everyone girls and boys. In my head, when I refer to myself as a girl, it’s because “woman” just sounds so serious and so much more grown up than I tend to be, “lady” either sounds goofy in the wrong way or like the object of the term is better behaved than I tend to be, and most other terms for females are either sterile (like “female”) or the sort of word you are best just using in jest (like “broad”). But a girl…she’s a female who’s not necessarily a grown up, even if she’s an adult. She might be serious, but she’s just as inclined to silliness. There’s a light-heartedness in that that I have had to fight hard to include in myself.

    Me in silly hats

    Me. Fighting hard.

    (Update 2014-09-22: Just had a great chat with the editor in question and wanted to clarify on her behalf and with her permission. Especially since I totally agree. So, in her own words: My thing re: “girl” for adult women is really just about the UNEXAMINED use. Like automatically referring to “the men” and “the girls” when everyone’s an adult. But examined usage and self-identification as a girl, no matter your age, is not a thing I have a problem with! I guess it’s mostly a self-identification vs. cultural infantilization things; those are two very difference usages.)

    So, there was this bio where I’d called myself a scifi girl…but I didn’t want to annoy the awesome editor who’d given my work a chance (and loved it!)….It was a three sentence bio, and every. single. sentence. got analysed to death that night. Why did I feel it was an essential part of describing who I was? Why was expressing it in those words important to me? (Was it important to me?)

    Me as a space girl with laser gun.
    Clearly important to me.

    And, in case you think it’s just that I’m too much a navel-gazer…People who read that bio may very well find it influencing their view of me and of the work it accompanies. This could very well lead to more or fewer readers. It could also very well lead to editors loving me (and giving me more chances) or hating me and not wanting to publish things written by the likes of me. I felt like the weight of my writing career was on that tiny bio. Ugh!

    Okay, on to Stone Three. I think that a lot of us spend at least a portion of our lives trying to figure out who we are. And many of us hope that we have figured out who we actually are. Even if we let our choices be influenced by friends and family, we might quietly keep a mental list of what our actual preferences are (and label it Guilty Pleasures or Secret Dreams). Even if we get adept at mirroring (and, to remind you, this is a normal thing that all humans do; it’s part of how, for instance, small children figure out how to behave and how you figured out what was okay to wear to your last job, to that party, to a funeral, etc), one hopes that we’d still be aware of when we’re doing that so that we know who we really are or want to be. For people who, on some level, sense that they are quite different and that mirroring is a very important part of how they survive in the world, would it start to become so habitual that they stopped really noticing when they weren’t being themselves? And, if they noticed that they’d mirrored themselves into being someone that wasn’t authentically them, would they be able to break the mirrors?

    As I’ve mentioned, self-knowledge and authenticity are Very Important to me. As I wrote that bio, I was writing sentences that are about the part of me that I feel quite sure is really, truly me. Using words that feel true to my perception of that really, truly me. Which is why, in the end, I decided to risk it. To use those words and at least know that any judgement of me was based on authentic me (even if it might be a misunderstood idea of authentic me). Better to be hated for who I am than loved—or hated—for who I’m not. No need to smash mirrors there. Even if left entirely alone…nobody to see me or judge me….the things in that bio weren’t me mirroring. At this point, I thought I had reached my destination….

    Except that my brain was still turning this over for the life lessons, for the ways I could extend this to the other parts of who I am and what I do. Especially because I make rock music, and image definitely figures into that. Let’s not kid ourselves. (Even Hendrix chose his bassist based entirely on liking the look of the guy. Unless I’ve misunderstood, Noel Redding had never played bass before.) So, even sitting there and telling myself I’d reached my destination, I knew I hadn’t. There was a bigger place down the path…

    Fortunately, Stone Four fell in front of me; I didn’t have to go looking for it. Love it when that happens.

    Just in case you didn’t actually read the essay (in which case, shame on you!), here’s the important bit from that for me: The rockstar in the film was being what he thought he needed to be to create the image that would sell records. He was unhappy and destined for failure. The reporter in the film moved closer to true fulfilment as he realised and lived closer to his true self (which was something like the image that the rockstar was trying to pretend to be). That same basic persona was heaven for one and hell for the other.

    Maxwell Demon from Velvet Goldmine

    That this is the persona in question doesn’t hurt my interest

    I stood on Stone Four a few hours (to be fair, I went about my day but let it rest in the back of my head…I don’t have the luxury of just standing around and pondering for hours). I didn’t initially realise that this was a stone on the path. And then…one of those epiphanies that feels kind of obvious…so, if this is obvious to you, be kind. I’m sure I’ve out-figured you somewhere…ha!

    Destination/Epiphany/Decision: The best image to work on is one built on your idea of who your idealised self is. (This does not apply if you’re pursuing goals in life that don’t actually reflect your true heart. Also, if that’s the case, even my non-ideal self is sad for you and wishes you happier destinations. Anyway….)

    This is something most of us already kind of do. We set New Year’s Resolutions based on who that best person is we think we can be. We show our best business or people-person face when we go to a job interview. We put on our best selves when we meet new people (and when it’s a false best self, we watch relationships crumble…so be extra careful with this one). Even those who try not to do this probably have certain bad habits or less-awesome behaviours that you’ll never see unless you live with them.

    Animated gif of a cat jumping a piece of paper as soon as it's done being printed.

    Me? I have patience issues….

    Here’s the thing….If you’re working on being your idealised self, you’re working on behaving the way you want to behave. Even if this doesn’t make people crazy about you the way you’d like, you’ll be loved—or hated—for who you truly are. You’ll have built desired behaviours and characteristics, because a lot of who we are is built on the habit of how we behave or think about ourselves. You win. And if it just so happens that your idealised self is the image that also speaks to others in a way that moves your art or cause ahead or that gains you awesome friends, at least the effort you’re putting into upholding your image (to keep that movement or those people) will also be effort put into being the person you most want to be. Again, you win. (Also, if you decide that you were wrong about who you thought your best self is, you got there authentically and you can then change your efforts—authentically—towards that new idea of who your ideal self is.)

    I’m a massive geek. Part of that, since I was 3 years old, has been role playing games. You make a character sheet that describes who your character is and then you sit at a table or run around a room and you pretend to be that person. For me, one of the main tactics in deciding the concept for my character (that kernel of an idea about who she is that I’d then flesh out into someone I could pretend to be as I slew dragons or vampires or whatever the game master threw my way) has been choosing a part of who I am or who I wish I were and turning it up a little bit. Often, I’d choose one trait or one issue and build around that. But the characters that were the most enjoyable to play for a long time, regardless of other players and the game masters, were those that were built to be an amplified form of whatever my idealised version of self was at the time. This was also kind of cool in that I got to learn some lessons about which traits I thought I wanted but really didn’t enjoy having. Some pieces of the picture I had of my ideal self have survived since I was 3 years old; some have disappeared and been replaced.

    Me with many sparkly things on my face

    Lasting part of ideal self: no restraint with sparkly things on my face

    (Note: I’ve always been what has seemed authentically me to me. But, with this new place I’ve reached, I’ve now given myself permission in advance to never pretend I’m something other than the person I am or am trying to be. The issue of image is laid to rest. It’s now an issue of “who do I think the best me is?”)

    So whilst I will never be as perfect at some (many?) things as I’d like, this is how I play the game now. Except that we’re not talking about a game. We’re talking about the thing that finally motivates me to throw myself entirely into trying to be my idealised self. Because I look at the life I want…I see that door I want to kick down, to shine out the best of who I am in song and in word, and I realise that the best way to shine out that best is to try to be my idealised self. She’s not perfect; she won’t please or appeal to everyone. But, when you love me, you’ll love actual me. And, if you hate me, you’ll hate actual me (and never have to second guess yourself…it’s okay…go find another someone to give the time to…it’s truly a shinier path for us all).

    And, when I kick that door down, I won’t wear myself out trying to maintain an image that I hate. It’s a freedom it seems many people, in and out of the public eye, would bask in. Me? I’m going to shine and I’m going to bask. Join me?

    Image from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Quote: It's full of stars!


  • Ziggy Played Guitar

    On the Varnish twitter, I had this exchange:

    Twitter conversation where I mention that Ziggy Stardust album was huge influence and friend suggests I blog about it.

    And, because I hate to disappoint a pretty girl…and because it seems a completely obvious topic…Here’s a post about David Bowie‘s album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and its influence on my life. Of course, as I’ve contemplated this post the last month, new bits have wiggled into my brain, so I’m sure this isn’t going to be an exhaustive list. In fact, I can think of specific moments and interactions that aren’t covered here, but that aren’t for sharing, in which my early exposure to this album are factors.

    First, I want to note that I am serious when I say that you need to listen to this album. If you like rock music at all, it deserves a chance. If you liked the film Velvet Goldmine, this is the Bowie that inspired that film (as much as Bowie reportedly hated the film because, in my opinion, it told the fairy tale of what glam was and not the truth of what his actual story was). In fact, if you want to go and listen now (or listen whilst you read–as I’m listening whilst I type), that would be great. This blog post will be here for you when you’re ready…

    Album cover

    Those of you who are diligent readers and followers know that I’ve mentioned the album more than once. In addition to assorted tweets, I can find it in this Varnish vlog:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuXw1yIZUEU

    It’s also been mentioned in posts on this blog, here and here.

    In case you don’t read those, I have to give credit where it’s due. This album, like much of the great rock from the ’70s and earlier, entered my ears thanks to my dad. He might not want to take the credit for all the things the album did to me and for me, but I’m going to call it one of his great contributions to my life.

    (Side note: It’s really hard to write this whilst listening to the album cos I keep having to stop to sing along.)

    Not to minimise the influence it had on me musically, but let’s sort of sweep through that bit. I never doubted this album rocked. This wasn’t soft rock or something to make soccer mums feel like they were edgy whilst actually being sanitised, stock tropes. It rocked. It was the reason that I understood that you could be a proper rockstar with electric guitars and keys. That you could be a proper rockstar with acoustic guitars. And there could be orchestral instruments, not just guitar/bass/drums and still be proper rock music. (Hey, I was young, so this was big to me…And since it was my touchstone, whilst he wasn’t the first to do it, this was the album that really drove it home and that came to mind as I formed my thoughts about what could be proper rock music.) You could even throw in some slower songs and still have an album that was serious rock music.

    This album pretty much blew my mind in a way that cemented Bowie as my favourite musician. (As a girl who’s grown up to have few favourite anythings, that’s a big deal.) And, because of that, it meant that I was open to all Bowie. Which meant that, unlike many others I could have chosen as favourites, I was into someone who did a range of musical styles. If you listen through his catalog, if you look at those with whom he has toured and worked, you’re going to see range. Sure, I was going to get range just growing up with the influences of those in my family. But, let’s be honest, there are times in your life when the rockstars have more influence on your tastes than your parents or siblings…

    And, if I’m being really honest, when I pictured myself as a rockstar, even from a young age, it was Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie that was my template for so long. When I need a go-to album, whether I’m trying to decide what to listen to or I need to be motivated in general or reminded of the big dream that hatched in me when I was wee, this is the one.

    Huh…Okay, that was a bit longer than I’d thought…But, I’ll leave that as proof that there’s more to this than even I realised. Ha!

    In addition to the musical influence, here are some other things (and I’m going to write little paragraphs and ignore transitional sentences cos we all know I get too verbose sometimes…) in the order they showed up in my brainstorm of things this album impacted, not necessarily in order of importance.

    This album (and things it caused further down this list) were basically like a gateway drug to my other musical favourites, Manic Street Preachers and Placebo. This matters to me, because those two bands also have had a huge impact on my life. Some of this is due to the next cluster of things. (Oh, and I feel it bears noting that I found Bauhaus and all the music in genres connected to them because they covered Ziggy Stardust…) But, yes, the way that Richey James Edwards and Nicky Wire and Brian Molko looked helped turn my eyes and ears toward their bands…I was seriously relieved when the music was good. (Because a pretty face isn’t enough…I can’t enjoy looking at someone pretty if their music makes me want to puncture my eardrums.)

    My love of boys in makeup surely must have been implanted by the look of Ziggy (and other incarnations of Bowie). I did get that it wasn’t the societal norm, but Ziggy Stardust made it clear to me that it was well cool and quite alright. Which may be why…

    There is no doubt that this contributed to the alternate model of what an attractive man is that guides my taste in boys. Forget tanned, muscular, super masculine boys. There are a few I’ve thought were fit, but I’ll take my boys tall and thin and pretty. (So, yes, I’m sure it can also be blamed for some poor choices I made in boys, but those mainly led to songs so I’m going to call it good.)

    And, of course, that leads to the topics of bisexuality and androgyny. For those of you who’ve looked at pictures of or paid attention to Bowie, you can see how a girl who fancied Bowie might see those things are not entirely abnormal. Thanks to this, I didn’t grow up with a negative attitude about people who weren’t straight (thank goodness…that likely saved me loads of personal pain…). And, yes, widened my ideas about what was appropriate for boys and girls. It wasn’t just looks. That was part of it, but I couldn’t see the androgyny and not also think about what society was telling me were appropriate ‘gender’ roles or activities for a girl or boy. Again, something for which I’m super grateful.

    As a non-standard girlie, it won’t be a surprise to you that there was a point where I wanted to cast off girl things and just be boyish. But, due to my love of glam (by which I mean the pretty picture this album painted in my head of what it was to be glam), even boyish Amber fancied makeup and sparkly things. To be honest, part of that period of my life was set off by some unhealthiness, and I truly credit not losing track of myself entirely to the fact that I could play boy in my head and still put on the makeup and glitter I loved (but might otherwise have considered too girlie). And, on a completely shallow level, I’d have to say that my life has been prettier, shinier, sparklier for the influence of this album. For the dream of glam.

    As a girl who doesn’t like to have to choose between good things, I also have a fondness for things that combine multiple tastes. If you’re not familiar with this album, the Ziggy Stardust persona was an alien. And a number of the songs on the album are about aliens and such. Those who’ve paid attention know that, in addition to being a rockstar, I’m a scifi girl. A geek. And, look, an album that was scifi and rock! I know I wasn’t born yet, but since I believe time isn’t linear, I’m going to just claim that Bowie wrote this for me. Ha! (If you want to check out another thing I love that’s scifi and rock, please watch the 1984 film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Seriously. And, yes, I do like the pretty boy in there…yum!)

    Ah. Okay. This one is on the verge of too private, but I’m going to say this anyway. There have been some dark moments in my life where the song Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide helped pull me through. Yep. That’s all I want to say about that. But, in case you’re somewhere ugly, ‘you’re not alone’.

    Not quite as heavy, and keeping it brief again cos I don’t feel a need to list his troubles…This album and the things I read about Bowie as I got interested taught me that rockstars can be imperfect humans. I didn’t have some delusion that I was worshipping a perfect being. In fact, the imperfections and struggles I saw both let me like him more and kept me from worship. (I don’t judge people who have some kind of rockstar worship thing; I just think that it has the potential to lead to some negative situations and a girl like me was better off without.) When I talk about how seeing that people with similar demons had made it to musical fame helped me, Bowie was the first. I could be flawed and have my dreams. My flaws and troubles could lead to art.

    Back to less heavy stuff. This album and Bowie in general taught me that, yes, the music is important, but there’s more to rock than that. I learned watching clips of Bowie that some performance, some theatre, can add to the experience for the fans. What that involves can (and should) vary, as appropriate. But the reality is that music isn’t just music. It can be, but shows where someone is really performing the songs, not just standing there and aiming for technical perfection? Way more engaging for me. When you see me perform, it’s all coming from a genuine place. But the reason I decided to just let that happen instead of holding it in and standing nicely at the mic was first set off by the vision Bowie planted in my head of what it would look like to be a rockstar. If I perform the songs, that is more genuine to the emotions of the songs and to what goes on in me when I write as well. So, it’s a win for us all!

    Related to that, Bowie was how I first clearly understood that rock isn’t just music. That rockstars are also their images. I don’t want to have a fight with those of you who will argue the ideal that music ought to be purely loved for being music. And, yes, I’ve seen people who were great musicians but crummy at performance and image and it hurt them. And, no, I’m not sure that’s fair. But it’s the reality of our world. I feel fortunate that I ended up someone with (I think) some kind of good taste in appearance, so that I don’t feel like I’m not being me whether I’m wearing frocks or jeans. So, if rock music is part image (and more than one source has assured me that this is true, whether or not people want to admit it), I’m lucky that I have a bit of an eye for looks. I’m also grateful that, because Bowie helped me see how the looks and the music can be so effectively intertwined, it wasn’t a shock or a betrayal as I started to make music and watch music being made by others and saw that image mattered. (Again, I’m being genuine me and thanking my lucky stars that my preferred aesthetics match my music and seem to work well in general for the rockstar part of my life goals. I’m not suggesting people should be fake. Ehm…yeah…this could be a whole other post…maybe when I’m in the mood for arguments or controversy…For what it’s worth, there are people I love who so hate that image impacts musical success that I avoid the topic with them. I get it. I do.) Onward!

    This may seem small to you, but is huge to me. It turns out that my beloved Varnish guitarist Jason also loves Bowie and this album. And the glam thing and songs from this album directly led to our forming a band. Not with intent to recreate Ziggy Stardust…In more roundabout ways. But they are certainly part of why, one night, I told Jason I was writing songs and he said we ought to have a band…And then there was Varnish and my dreams were finally getting a chance. And striving for those dreams in the more concrete way only possible once I went from dreaming to doing has massively, massively impacted my life. Really, it deserves to be said again: MASSIVELY. And, so, if you like the music I make or you’ve discovered me through the music or in the last few years and that’s been at all a good thing–I really hope it has–The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars has also impacted your life. Hurrah!

    Finally, a few years ago, as I was pulling together this simple Halloween costume, I realised that it was a partial step toward being a Moonage Daydream. (Or a scifi lullaby, if you’re more in a Placebo mode.)

    Me in a simple 'spacegirl' costumeSpacegirl face

    I’d love, someday, to know that my music was a massive positive influence on someone. I’d love to have one of my albums mean enough to merit a blog post that’s long (too long?) and explicates ways in which it impacted someone’s whole outlook and dreams. And, if that happens and you find your way here, make sure you’ve given this album a chance and you’ve paused a moment to thank Bowie. He might not be the only influence, but he was one of the first and biggest.

    Thanks, Lady Stardust, for coming down from space with your rock ‘n’ roll message.

    xxx
    Amber


  • Simmering in Yesterday

    I don’t know why, but the last few months have been heavy on the nostalgia and on regaining/rebuilding things I love from my past. Whether the nostalgia or the reconnecting started first is sort of a “chicken or egg” situation. But, much like with chickens and eggs, it doesn’t matter which came first as long as the goodness exists, right?

    Picture of fried chicken and fried eggs
    If you fry nostalgia and reconnecting, I will eat them too

     

    I’m working to rebuild some faded relationships. Fortunately, none of these were fights or horrible moments. Just suddenly realising there was distance and wondering how that happened (later, I tell you the most likely reason). Even more fortunate, most of these people have been open to it. My happy heart!

    I’m burrowing into music and photos that remind me of past goodness and make me feel a sort of happy pining. Like this one, in case you’d like to start making up stories:

    Amber kissing a lot of people
    Not too bad for 2 weeks…

     

    I may even have found a place to go dancing! To music I like a lot! (See my post on dancing from a few months ago to understand why this is huge.) This discovery was the silver lining to a slightly grey cloud. And when the DJ played Placebo on request, the grey was consumed by the shining of the silver. Squee!

    I’m even poking at gaming that doesn’t involve a computer/console again, which means building character concepts and playlists for them. And reconnecting with the people with whom I most like to do this.

    The list goes on. And it seems like most items tie back to music (even if I’d have to explain why music is an important part of certain items).

    Working on stuff for Varnish whilst we don’t have a bassist is, honestly, less fulfilling than when it’s a complete band of people I adore and we’re finishing songs and playing shows. So I suspect that this surge of things might be a subconscious effort on my part to make sure that my emotional nooks and crannies are filled and that music is continuing to feed me.

    And here are some facts about me that seem important in the current state of affairs:

    I want to make music I’m passionate about with people I’m passionate about. Settling isn’t an option (though someone is welcome to try to throw loads of money at me and change my mind…haha).

    I don’t get lonely; I merely have moments when I pine for a specific person. And my best state for working out most things is solo. Add to these things that my life is full of great people..I’m never happy to have anyone I love feel forgotten, but this is how it happens. I don’t forget; I just fall into working things out and suddenly realise there’s someone I’ve neglected. So this is a public apology to those to whom this applies. I wouldn’t be an artist or rockstar if I didn’t have some social issues, right? (But, seriously, I apologise. And I’m working to balance my own optimal approach to things with the fact that the people I love ought never doubt it.) For the rest of you, this might still be something to know about me, cos it’s also part of why I don’t throw myself at every opportunity to build new friendships and go out to play. It’s not personal, I’m just socially overwhelmed apparently.

    In May, I wrote a post where I talked about feelings, among other things. One conclusion in there was that I feel a lot and I feel deeply. And, if you doubt it, see how few of my posts on this blog do not have some conjugation of the word “feel” in them. And imagine what a soft-hearted, feeling sort of girlie I must be just based on this blog…I’m not thin-skinned, mind you. I’ve had enough nasty comments from people who didn’t like that I was different or unkind actions from friends’ significant others who didn’t understand that I wasn’t a threat…And poking fun, done correctly, is part of many of my friendships. But, yes, I’m a soft-hearted, feeling sort of girl. And the more I reconnect to these past bits and snuggle into the “nostalgia that isn’t sad,” the gooier this heart feels. And I like it. And I’m not wont to apologise for it. Especially when it’s positive emotions (and as long as I’m still also strong…rar!)

    Me crying...
    I even cry in public (and blur pregnant faces…you’re welcome… also, never let me wear red eye shadow on a “goodbye day” again, okay?)
    More of me crying
    See, soft-hearted, feeling girl. (At least I had sunglasses on at this point…It was a long cry…)

     

    Related, whether it’s people or music or pastimes, I love to love unabashedly. No wonder I’m a geek…And I love that I’m simmering in yesterday, stewing in the nostalgia and the regaining, cos that stuff is seriously lovelovelove.

    So, this is the mushy stew that’s me right now. I am comfort food. Comfort food in glitter and eyeliner and some pretty cool boots. Yum!

    My tall, shiny boots
    When these boots die, my coolness will take a serious hit…

     

    What makes you mushy? What pieces of goodness from your past have slipped away and could be happily, healthily reclaimed? What facts about yourself could make it easier to sort that out if people knew them?

    Now, I’m going to sleep. Cos it’s nice when something I love so much is also something science says I need. Heh.

    xxx


  • Not That Kind of Conservative

    I’ve been thinking a lot about when to be generous and when to be conservative in my life. And here’s some of what I’ve sorted about where I either currently stand or where I think I ought to stand.

    Be generous when:
    Tipping my server
    Seasoning my food
    Showing love to those who matter to me
    Shining out what light I have

    Bright eye shadow and loads of it
    I also apparently believe in generous amounts of bright makeup sometimes…

     

    Be conservative when:
    Deciding whom and what to give my time to
    Giving my trust
    Giving up my privacy

    On a similar track, I believe in:
    Dreaming big whilst not losing track of reality.
    Giving everything I can to the people and things I believe in whilst not bankrupting myself (in any way).
    Letting myself fully relish my loves and joys without neglecting my responsibilities.
    Giving frequent, sincere compliments/praise and being thoughtful about offering criticism.

    When do you dive in and when do you walk away? Cos I think that says a lot about a person…

    (Because I know I’ll be busy all weekend getting ready for the show, I’m getting this ready Thursday night and telling the app to publish it for me early Saturday. Hopefully, you’re reading this at that time…Otherwise, I swear that’s what happened and I’m sorry it’s late…)


  • Dancing Queen

    I was a dancing queen. For a while there, I never missed the chance to dance all night. And, by all night, I mean I’d show up around 9pm and dance until they kicked me out at 4am. I wasn’t there to socialise or flirt or drink. Water and the occasional “hello” were the only things likely to pass my lips. I danced.

    And I didn’t just sway. I didn’t just shuffle. I moved. I dove into the dance.

    A good night was one that ended the next morning, drenched in sweat. Muscles worn. Scars on my feet and ankles that didn’t go away entirely until I’d been away from the dance floor for almost a year.

    girl dancing

     

    I was raised on dancing. That’s what we do in my family. From the time we’re wee and barely able to stand on our own, we dance. When one sibling didn’t plan for dancing at their wedding, we pulled a car up close enough to give us music and we all danced anyway.

    I always say that music has to move me or make me want to move or I just can’t give it a chance. The other night, I didn’t even like the music I was overhearing, but I found myself moving my head and swaying a bit anyway. Just like I’ve accidentally found myself getting emotional over songs that really weren’t my style but had lyrics that hit just right.

    I think it’s in my genes. Or I was socialised into it too early to know that it was nurture, not nature.

    Whatever it is, I just know that dancing is a deeper fall into the music. No surprise I fall into music, get lost. But when my body gets added in…It’s like worship, meditation, transportation to a whole other place.

    If I’m celebrating, it’s one of the best ways I know to throw in my joyous energies.

    If life is beating me down, it’s a whole other state of being where all the troubles and hurts pour out, just for a moment, and I’m outside of them.

    If the music I’m hearing (at a show or a club) is good, if it moves me, it’s like full-body applause. (And if you’re at one of my shows and you dance, that’s how I see it…)

    And if I’m putting on a show for you, the dancing on stage is me committing to the songs I’m giving and their emotions. It’s part of the emotional integrity of the set. And as I draped over a yoga ball doing vocal exercises the other day, I found myself wondering what it would be like if I someday didn’t feel moved to dance whilst we performed. Not even to one song. And I don’t see it. I can’t see not at least swaying, swinging my hips, nodding my head.

    So, at the end of the day, when I assess my music (don’t all creators assess their creations?), I always figure that there’s at least that. I feel the songs. And other people have danced, so other people felt them too. Which I figure means I must be doing okay…


  • No Happy Songs

    This last week, one of the incredible bloggers I follow online (The Bloggess) let us all know she’s been struggling with depression. In fact, it’s something that she struggles with regularly and is really open about. What she’s learned, writing her blog that’s a great mix of socially inappropriate and bizarre humour along with some inspiring and very open writing on mental health struggles, is that being open helps people. She’s even built an online community full of people who are supportive…If you’re feeling down and want a laugh, go read. If you’re feeling down and need to reach out, go read and comment. I watched the comments save a life this last week.

    And that’s probably why this particular topic (on my list of possible topics…cos I do keep a list…) jumped out at me as I pondered what to write for my blog this week. It’s this little mass of things all around music that isn’t happy. And it will answer a question I never answered before.

    Really, there are two questions I’m answering here. Let’s start with the one I never answered. And because I feel like this is important, I’m going to break some of my own privacy rules. Hopefully, someday some way this helps somebody. Because if I can shine some light out, my life has been worth it 🙂

    “Why don’t you listen to happy music?”

    When I was less on top of my depression, because I’m one of the many who has some depression issues (I’m not going to elaborate here…some other time, maybe…), many well-intentioned people asked that question in some way or another.

    “Isn’t the music you listen to making it worse?” was another way it was phrased.

    I was always inclined toward the unhappy stuff…the sad, the angry, the heartbroken, the frustrated, the lost, the pining…And, surely, I ought to counteract that by listening to happy music, right?

    Some of you are saying, “Right!” Maybe cos you never struggled with depression or maybe cos, for you, that actually worked.

    But some of you are shaking your heads, backing away from that advice slowly…carefully…aware of the danger it holds.

    You see, when I listened to happy music (I tried…I really did), it made things worse. Sometimes, it was just too jarring. Sometimes, it felt like it was pushing me toward mania. Sometimes, it just made me feel like I was the only pathetic loser who couldn’t be happy like everyone else. That happy music was just nasty razor claws slashing at my little heart and brain as it pushed me closer to the ugly feelings that were already attacking me. It was screaming, scrabbling ants in my brain or the mockery of every popular person at school who was making themselves feel better by putting me down.

    In short, really, really not good. (Plus, honestly, music vs physiological factors causing depression doesn’t seem like a fight music can win…So a bit of a misguided bit of advice for a girl whose issues weren’t all in her mind, if you will.)

    The one exception, which only worked out sometimes, was if I could dance to it. If I was in a place where I could put all that energy and scrabbling into the physical act of dancing. Even then, it wasn’t joyful, happy, depression-free dancing. It was frenetic and desperate. It was like trying to exorcise my demons. And since a girl can’t literally spend her whole life dancing…And since there’s little release in that sort of dancing (lucky if the release of the dancing balanced out the horrible feelings the music created)…Yeah, not a case for the happy music.

    On the other hand, there was the music I was listening to…the sad, the angry, etc etc etc…

    To be fair, yes, it did move me to tears or to violence (though, to my credit, I didn’t go out hitting other people or even putting holes in the walls of my room…but I did enjoy mosh pits and I kicked a lot of empty boxes into bits, among other things). But the actions that music pushed me toward actually did feel like a release. At the end of a desperate night sobbing, for instance, I did feel lighter for just a moment. A blessed, blessed moment. (Though, just because it’s one of my little pet peeves about when depression is misunderstood, the fact I was crying does not mean that depression is the same thing as just feeling sad. Very much not the case…)

    Younger me moping
    See? I couldn’t even take happy pictures :p

     

    There was more to it, though. And here’s where I transition…Finishing up answering the first question whilst answering part of the second question.

    “If you believe in light…if you’re a positive person now…if you’re the sweetheart you seem to be…if you’re on top of your depression…why is your music not happy music?”

    These days, I can listen to happy songs. I mean, I will probably go mad if it goes all silly and chipper for long bits of time…but I have days where the song stuck in my head is exultant…hopeful…happy.

    But I’ve only written a couple of songs that are happy songs. The rest are sad, angry, heartbroken, frustrated, lost, pining…

    And here’s my two-part answer. Part one is the second part of my answer to the first question.

    When I listened (still listen) to the songs that aren’t happy, they help(ed) me. I knew that someone else had felt something like what I was feeling. That many of them felt it and survived it. That they could even turn it into something beautiful. I wasn’t the only one. I wasn’t the only pathetic loser who couldn’t be happy like everyone else. There were others, which meant we…we weren’t pathetic losers. We were just one other kind of human experience. And we could survive it. Sure, some of those who made the songs I love(d) ended their lives. But most didn’t. Most kept surviving. And, oh, they made music. Music!

    That music, even when it pushed me to tears or violent actions, made me feel better. It didn’t heal me, but it also helped pull me just enough back from the edge…To quote one of those songs:

    “But don’t forget the songs
    That made you cry
    And the songs that saved your life”

    -The Smiths, Rubber Ring

    So, one reason I write that sort of song is in the sincere hope that someone (you or someone you love maybe) will find that one of my songs does for you what all those not-happy songs did for me. Cos you’re not alone. You’re not the only one. And, like me, you can find a way to make it through. And maybe, just maybe, there’s music or art in you. You won’t just make it through, but you’ll turn the horrible things you’re feeling into art. There are few greater things one can do…(And even if you can’t do that, you can allow yourself to learn compassion from what you’ve felt…to reach out to someone else, so that we create a chain of people who have helped keep each other from falling into the pit.)

    The second part of my answer is a bit more selfish.

    Yes, I now consider myself a positive and optimistic person. But that doesn’t mean my depression is gone. It doesn’t mean my sadness, anger, heartbreak, etc etc etc are gone. They aren’t; I doubt they will ever entirely go. I doubt, even if I didn’t have physiological things that tend me toward them, that life on this planet ever lets anyone be entirely free of those emotions.

    But I learned, from the songs I love and from all those therapists who suggest art for therapy, that I can turn them into songs, and that helps. It’s like siphoning out some of my poison and turning it (I hope) into the antivenin. Even the belief that getting it out of me and putting it into the world is helpful is, in itself, helpful.

    There are other reasons, but those are the important ones. Those are the ones that matter for this post.

    What I always found strange was that the right sort of encouraging songs were okay. They weren’t happy and telling me I was broken…They were acknowledging that things were broken but it was worth it to keep fighting…That maybe, just maybe, I was warrior enough. Turns out, I was never allergic to hope, even when I trash-talked it. Maybe that’s why, without meaning to, I left little seeds of hope in most of my songs. May they grow up to big, beautiful trees in your soul. May they bear the fruit that feeds you and keeps you fighting through all the ugly things inside of you and outside of you. Let me put down roots in your heart…

    xxx