Post#3268: The importance of sharing air

We had a house concert at Birdsong last weekend, our first one inside the house since the start of the pandemic. It required checking vaccination passports and that everyone be masked in the concert space; both things made me uncomfortable for different reasons, but it was worth it to be able to present live music in the cooler days of fall.

All summer we had concerts outside, seven of them over nine weeks, and were lucky for the warmer weather that held for every one of them. In our yard we can fit 65 people comfortably, and each our shows was sold out. After a winter and spring of deep isolation, the audiences for our shows were emotional, and deeply appreciative (if a bit weirded out) to be in company again. After the first couple of shows in particular, people effused praise, teary from the impact. Through the summer I was moved over and over again by the courage of musical performance, the generosity on display from the stage as musicians gave themselves wholly to their audiences for a few hours.

I had forgotten until this summer, about the magic of live performance, the unpredictable gaffes, the funny ones, the tiny crisis of a broken string or lost guitar pick. Not to mention the moments when it seems as though the performer is singing directly to your own experience, playing music reminiscent of a lost time, sharing glimpses of a world that could be through the clarity of their lyric buoyed by just the right run of notes. We can forge such a strong connection in those moments which pass between performer and audience. I think I had buried this yearning to connect during the months we turned inward, pushing them off rather than acknowledging the loss I felt.

During the flurry of cancellations in March 2020, one of the tickets I was most disappointed about giving up was for a Vancouver Opera production of Another Brick in The Wall (based on lyrics by Roger Waters). We had planned to make a weekend in the city with friends and see the Sunday matinee of the production, but as with everything else that spring we stayed home instead. I was disappointed but thought perhaps by fall we would be able to rebook those tickets. As we know, that’s not how the story turned out and here we are 18 months later, still unsure about being indoors with others.

The other night, with Shari Ulrich (a very well-known/much loved west coast performer) at the front of our dining room/parlour that passes for a concert space, I stood at the back of the at-capacity room (25 seats) and watched the assembled audience. All of them willing to take the risk of being inside together in order to participate in the intimacy, the rarity, of this opportunity. They leaned in, laughed at Shari’s stories, passed around the box of tissues after she sang her her adoption song. While live performance is always a blessing, a small audience in a small space is something else again. The concentration of energy, the directed focus – there is an electricity generated between participants that is palpable when you tune into it.

I found myself teary on Saturday night, with the performance itself, but more than that I felt the fragility of each of us in our need to be threaded through by shared experience and a culture we recognize from “before”. It is still a risk to be together like this, though lessened by the vaccine, but I wonder about the risks of not coming together during another long winter. More years without music, theatre, dance? More years without the exchange of energy between creatives? I don’t think we can do it and survive. For as long as we have been humans, we have made and shared art. We have sung together and danced around fires. We have told stories to pass the time on deep winter nights. Have travelled between towns and homes, sharing the latest news through lyric. And we have been audiences holding each other and the performer up as the glittering treasure that we are together. This is central, and it continues to feel like a threat at the same time. I’m not sure how to reconcile this exactly, except to be open to the small risks that might keep our fires alive as we head into winter.

Post #3267: Re-orienting

Every once and awhile I have to stop for a bit and re-orient myself. Figure out what my priorities are, what my writing life should look like, what’s going on in the world that I need to respond to. I follow a creative work practice that divides the year into quarters – where the beginning of each new quarter is a chance to start fresh and either re-commit to my goals, or discard them for new ones. When I take the time to do this with my creative practice, it has a spillover effect into other areas of my life and I find myself thinking about the whole package at once.

October 1st marked the start of the last quarter of the year, and coincidentally, Brian and I planned ages ago to take a week off of work for a writing retreat on Saturna Island. In the end, it turned out that we both had to work our jobs quite a lot, so we didn’t get nearly as much done on the creative front as we would have liked, but we both came away from our time with some new material to work with, and I spent more hours thinking about writing and creative practice overall than I have in a long time. Given that I’ve recently started a new job which is going to be quite demanding for awhile, it was the right time for some re-orienting and rescheduling of my life.

I recently wrote about some issues with attentional focus I had over the summer which I’ve realized were (at least in part) linked to an increase in mid-day sugar/refined carb intake. I’ve started to pay more attention to my eating habits again, and it seems to have helped somewhat. I suspect if I cut refined sugar entirely it would support my focus even more – but I’m not so interested in doing that with the holiday season right in front of us. Instead I’m limiting sugar to a small amount after dinner and just like that I’m not crashing or experiencing nearly as much mind-wandering during the day. This makes me hopeful about turning to some new writing projects this fall and winter, not to mention my ability to churn through the amount of thinking work needed in the new job role.

I have decided to discard the Small Comforts project I embarked on last winter as the pandemic deepened, in order to focus more fully on the monthly writing and editing of Comfort for the Apocalypse in addition to some other writing that explores place, object-based storytelling, and local relationships. I don’t know where this new work is going yet exactly, but I spent quite a bit of time this week working out possible pathways and I’m interested to follow them.

I have also wrapped up the dye studio for the season and narrowed my focus down to three weaving projects that I plan to complete in the next three months. Not that these will be my only projects, but they continue the work of the summer and one of them is a commission I have a deadline to finish (I just got the yarn and will start this project today). I have one significant sewing project that I’m just getting started on, as well as some basics I would like to add to my fall/winter wardrobe. We will see how much progress I make on all of it! I have a bad history with lined coats, having started several only to falter before the finish – so I’m making that one the priority while I still have interest in it.

Besides day trips to Victoria to see my parents, I don’t have any travel plans now that we have returned from Saturna. What I hope for in this interval before Christmas is weekends with time for both restoration (sleep, meditation, exercise) and creativity, and a big step back from the pace of summer. That doesn’t mean no socializing of course! This weekend we have both a house concert (masks required/vaccinated only) and a Thanksgiving dinner with friends. Restoration for me also means people – and I do long for a less isolated winter than last year on the dinner party front.

In some ways my re-orienting each quarter simply returns me to the place from where I’ve started, perhaps only separated by a few degrees each time. And yet it feels like a new course, a chance to move from one foot to the other, to revisit each time the important each day of our lives can be when lived with intention.

Post #3266: The wet coast returns

I am starting Day 4 of my new job and wow, have I ever learned a lot this wee – and do I ever still have a lot to learn!

But something did click for me yesterday which helped me understand why I am the person for this position, and that was the realization that my new role and team plays a connective function among many parties. That hadn’t been clear to me at the outset, it being a new role with no work description of any kind, I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly this new group is supposed to do. But once I heard “connector” everything I had read started to fit into a pattern that I understood, because connector is my central social role as a communicator, creative, and union advocate. And like that, it all fell into place. I know what I’m doing here and the next step is figuring out how to do it.

In the land of government, we almost never get the chance to stand a program up from scratch – mostly we step into a well-worn path, and sometimes we have to dismantle programs (12 years under the Conservatives saw a lot of that) – so I’m grateful to get to experience something truly unique in these last few years of my employment. At the same time, it’s like being a junior employee all over again; I’ve hade those first-week jitters even though I’ve been kicking around for 23 years. Good thing is, now I know who to ask for info and also Google exists which was not the case when I first started in the public service. Acronyms and organizations are only a quick search away!

One thing that’s been interesting this week is my return to normal working hours. For the last six years I’ve worked 6:30-2:30 because most of my team was back east. Now that I’m on west coast time again I’ve moved to an an 8-4 schedule, and am fitting my workouts in first thing in the morning instead of at the end of the day. Work + workout = the same length of day, but the order is reversed. While lifting heavy first thing in the morning is taking some adjustment, I have wanted to move to morning workouts for some time. For one, it gets it out of the way – but mostly, it doesn’t allow for me to make excuses all day about why I don’t have to work out. This week I’ve just gotten my gear on and went straight to the gym after coffee – twice in our garage gym, and twice at the local fitness centre. Besides a little creakiness in getting started, it’s been a nice switch.

The rains have returned full force today and I’m starting to think about fall textile projects. I have been warping one of the looms this week with a table runner that was featured in Handwoven magazine a few months ago. While I mostly want to work on my own designs, this project is an opportunity to work with mercerized cotton (which I haven’t done much of to date) and also explore shadow weave. It’s also a palate-cleanser after several “summer textile school” projects in plain weave, and a way to set myself up for the commission project I hope to get started on later this month. In addition to the weaving, I’ve continued to do bits and pieces of dyeing – and though I had planned to pack up the dye studio for the winter, I think I’ll keep the indigo vat going for a bit and keep a few supplies out for dyeing threads and other small things.

One thing I really need to get to is sewing some new fall/winter clothing. Since losing weight a couple of years ago, I still have not got a functional wardrobe for all seasons and have a hard time with the quality of most ready-to-wear clothing. I have a list of things I want to make, and fabric for most of them – so now I have to get down to putting the work in for some new things.

I did get a big studio clean done last week when I installed some new office furniture, though I didn’t get into the cupboards for a real stash bust on the fabric and yarn. I’m feeling pretty ready to be indoors though, with more drawer space for the bits and pieces and furniture that fits the space better (see my instagram photos on the right for the before and after).

This weekend I am anticipating the arrival of some friends who are coming to help sort out some of the belongings of a friend who died a little over five years ago. Her artworks (and all related materials) ended up in my crawlspace and I’ve started to worry that between rodents and potential water damage (we have a pressure tank down there), it isn’t the best place for them to be. Our goal is to winnow the material down more than we already have and get it stored in the loft of my zendo. At some point though, it needs to be well and truly dispensed with – and it’s not at all clear to me how that will happen. But I’m hopeful we can eliminate some of it this weekend given the passing of time since her death. At the time we initially dealt with it, everything was a bit too fresh and we still thought we might put on a show or have a sale. Now we’re all ready to see the end of it which will help with the decision-making process.

It really feels like another season today, and I’m ready to turn towards the industry of autumn. Good thing I have lots to keep me occupied as the days get a little darker.

Post #3265: Always things to do

Brian and I have been up at our cabin in the interior of BC for the last few days, almost a year since the last time we were here. Between Covid travel restrictions and forest fires, it’s been hard to get in here from the coast, and I’ve missed it. Fortunately, while we’ve been absent, one of our cabin partners continued on with the work and we’ve returned to a working bathroom and a pretty functional kitchen sink/counter area. Prior to this it’s been the outhouse and outdoor kitchen I built a few years ago – and while we have made do, it is sure nice to be able to use the washroom without going outside! And run water from a tap instead of a hose! For the longest time we didn’t even have a well, and we brought all our water in big jugs which we had to carry up the massive flight of stairs to the front door.

While we still have finishing work to do (floors, doors, window-casings, baseboards), we are not all that far away from the final inspection now – and not a minute too soon because I understand that there is pressure to close out our building permit this year (it’s been open for somewhere in the neighbourhood of seven years now). The irony of course is that during the time we were building the cabin (as an escape from the city), we have moved out of the city and so it’s become less of a *thing* than it was for me a few years ago. But still, we need to finish it and get the occupancy permit so that we are legal and also if we collectively want to sell it at any point we can. One thing that has happened in the intervening years is that real estate values have continued to go up and the place is currently worth quite a bit more than we’ve put into it financially. It wasn’t an investment property to begin with, but it may become one in the future. In the meantime it’s a great spot to come and do nothing a couple of times a year.

In the last few years I’ve started doing a lot of canning up here. One of the attractions of this area is that it’s very close to Keremeos (about an hour away) which has the least expensive canning produce in the province. This week we hit the fruit stand early in our trip and so had food-puttering activity all week long; we have cases of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, roasted salsa and nectarine jam coming home with us tomorrow.

Besides that, I haven’t done a ton up here this week – made it out for a couple of runs, did some writing and knitting, read some books, and slept in every morning on principle since I’m starting the new job Tuesday and I wanted to make sure I am really rested up for it.

Tomorrow we drive home to Gabriola where I will tear apart my office on Sunday. After five years of using the built-in furniture, I’ve decided to set things up a bit more effectively for my use by changing up the desk furniture and rearranging some of my studio storage. I’m looking forward to this as an opportunity to declutter and clean-out some of the corners, not to mention organize the mess of cables that connect up all my work equipment!

It seems that no matter where we are, there is always another project on the horizon!

Post #3264: And….. Change

I think I can finally say it….. because it became official at the start of this week with the signing of my paperwork….

As of today I am wrapping up my work position to go on holiday and when I return I’ll be starting a new job working in salmon stewardship. I’m not going to type the name of my program in here because I don’t want to be google-able in that way – but in broad terms, I am moving away from communications and into a job fostering partnerships and new directions in BC’s salmon story.

Some of you know that I have spent 20+ year of my life in government fisheries work, I am a certified fisheries field tech with a communications degree and a lifetime of union experience in fisheries-related workplaces to boot. So although this is a departure from my field of communications, I am bringing all the relevant skills and some of the necessary knowledge into the new role. The rest I’m just going to have to learn as I go (which is the part that excites me – I love that I get the opportunity to delve more deeply into this field at this stage of my career).

Earlier this week though, I was ready to pull the plug on the whole thing. The paperwork hadn’t happened and I was feeling a lot of stress. I thought the stress was related to feeling unprepared to make the job change, a fear of failure and all that. But then on Tuesday, the paperwork got signed… and immediately all my trepidation disappeared. I realized afterwards that it wasn’t the new job I was stressed about; the fact it might not come through was upsetting me. Since then I’ve been focused on wrapping up my current job, a big research report for Coast Guard, an internal accessibility survey, a number of external-facing projects I’ve been managing – and realizing that hot damn, I’ve been good at my job these last few years. I *am* good at my job. And that I’ll be fine going into a new one because I am able to work with people, and information, and systems which is what I’ve done my whole career (union and work).

The photo up top is one I took seven years ago, right before I moved into my current role, when I had the opportunity to attend the Adams River Sockeye festival as part of my job (something I’ve got to do more than once). I grew up on the west coast and have often been moved by the sight of migrating salmon. Since going to work in fisheries in my mid-twenties I have worked in the midst of an ecological crisis involving the loss of many stocks and species to climate change, habitat destruction, and overfishing. I cannot think about the beauty and resilience of these creatures without also feeling a great fear and sorrow for our future. I don’t move into this new role under any illusions about what can really be done in the face of it all. But in these last years of my career, change in perspective and practice with regard to salmon and other species is something I feel lucky to work on.

I’m only going into the new job as an assignment, which means that if things don’t work, I can step back in my other role again – but I’m hopeful that this will be a place of meaning and challenge for me, and that I can make an impact on this world in some small way before I’m gone from the workplace, before things change too much more for the worse.

Roderick Haig-Brown’s poem Pacific Salmon memorialized at TsĂștswecw Provincial Park on the banks of the Adams River.

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