“music makes you smarter” is the hardwood floor…

Here: Imagine a visual of a doctor’s prescription note. Written on it:

MUSIC (must be Live!)  3 X week minimum

Dancing — daily.

That’s about right for me now. I experience a feeling of restlessness when I need Music. So much so that after texting or contacting a few friends, if no one can go with me, I go by myself. It’s not a bad thing to take myself out for an evening; I’m good company. I meet people who do interesting things, and make new friends. The music world is not a huge one. Though there are wonderful layers to it. I like doing my piece to support it, because it supports me, and most of such mutual support is Being There.

Like a writer without a reader–arts needs people to be there. To listen and hear, to watch and see.

As a writer and as a human, I need to experience, and I need for experience to be raw and full-on. That is the basic ingredient of art. (Though it’s easy to say I’ve had more than my share of raw and full-on these past two years.) It’s as if I need more of a different type of raw/full-on to mitigate or balance; maybe that’s why there’s the drive for music and dance in my new life. Not that they didn’t exist in my old, but the intensity at which I need–and I do say NEED–is fentanyl-level. (I use that word as I became conversant with that drug and my spouse’s need for it to see him to his end.) But I am loathe to medicate my experience, though I am fully aware that I could be on any number of meds to navigate post care-giving and grief. I do believe that grief is a normal part of life, and needs to be lived through, whatever that looks like. And I know those are provocative words. And more and more, I deeply believe it’s my bloody job to BE provocative. Let’s step outside, come to blows, and then go back in for a beer…is how I’m coming to see the artist’s role… So… onward:

When people post those wimpy pieces about how music makes children smarter, and how that is the reason for music lessons, I cringe, I feel angry, I feel sad. It’s as if someone looks at a visual masterpiece, and then comments on the nice hardwood floor in the gallery…really!?

So thoughts, and my list of reasons why music should be in all our lives.

1. Music goes with everything — from morning shower, to homework, to making love, to warding off road-rage…there is Sinatra, and reggae, and Foo Fighters, and of course jazz in all its iterations…. And there’s always the volume. And there’s Spotify. And there’s no excuse.

2. Music is a good indicator of capacity for life. If you don’t like music, you are probably dead; check your pulse, or ask someone to do it for you. Use it in your on-line dating profile to weed out people-to-avoid.

3. Music creates a living wall between you and bullshit. When you’re sitting on the right side of a band, on the other side is the office and the laundry and the bedroom, and the rest of your life…and all you need to think about is the notes and maybe the voice. And when to clap to say thank you.

4. Music is root canal filling for the soul. Take the small notes and begin to push it into the corners (souls have those, along with wrinkles and folds), and fill it and fill it–fill it well to avoid infection. Sometimes, most times, infection is warded off with alcohol–though if one has issues with this, music will do the job on its own. But fill and pack it in–you know how the dentist does it–grabbing your jaw, levering, bearing down… Let the music do its work. And as it does, it pushes out the bad. Leaves you with some serious chompers to eat up life.

5. Music creates wonder. And “wonder is respect for life.” (Wm. Steig quote) Music gives you reverence and irreverence, version and inversion. Respect creates integrity. Connect the dots.

6. In case you didn’t understand that last one–because I know I don’t always make sense at first–music helps you remember who you are. If you listen. That would be the “smart” piece right there…because 13 years of elementary and secondary education SHOULD help you learn who you are, but too often takes you further from that knowledge. Music will take you back to that place

7. Music will help you remember others and who they are, too. This works even if you aren’t a “musician”–as in “one who can play an instrument with others who can play instruments.” (part of how I define “musician”)

8. Playing music alone and/or with others, or listening, focuses you. It focuses me, anyway. When I’m playing (piano or my dad’s old sax), I can’t think about anything else; if my mind wanders, so do my fingers. In this, music is meditation. It fixes my mind on itself.

9. Music is so much more fun than prozac, effexor, and the dozens of other synthetic options. If it’s not enough for you, then mix with a cocktail of dance.

10. Music is… this will come. More to learn…

Note 1: Buy the band a round of beer. Just do it. It’ll make you feel good.

Note 2: If people label you groupie, just smile and correct: junkie will fit, thanks. Or music hag.

Music Hag: that’ll be another post…

the sharpest corner

I’ve neglected my blog. No, not neglected. Life has had many turns and a few sharp corners.

I re-read my post about our wonderful old dog, and that seems like so long ago. Just some months after that, I was re-hired to teach in the creative writing program at UBC, and I am happy to be back.

I’ve had two books published in this time: one is a nonfiction book of “lists” about mental well-being (happy-making stuff) for young people ages 9-10. This was a first, working with an educational publisher. It’s a slim little thing with few words. I wanted for it to open thoughts for those who don’t like a lot of words, and/or do like a lot of thoughts! And the second book is a ghost-written Boxcar Children book set at the Calgary Stampede. I enjoyed the research. And spending time in the city with my pal Amy, and cousins Gwen and Mike.

But 17 months ago a very sharp corner came, and my spouse was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Most people with ALS live for 3-4 years, but in Martin’s case, he passed away this past April. Except for 26 hours at GF Strong for his feeding tube installation, he was at home. My boys helped me to care for him. We have a wonderful GP who visited our home like an old-time doc, and the community health nurses and occupational therapist and physio were amazing. Our community of neighbours and friends carried us through months. They raised funds so we could renovate our downstairs. They organized and attended (and had fun!) at a huge event with multiple bands and auction items. And they brought food. I cooked twice in the last 12 weeks. and never had too much or too little, even though no one consciously organized the contributions. It’s just how it worked out; that seems like a miracle to me. Some days I’d open my front door for air, and there would be a foil-covered dish with a card left on the front step. Or a jar of home-made soup. Friends came and spent evenings with Martin so I could go to my flamenco classes for as long as I possibly could.

Family and relatives visited and took part in the care-giving, too. My brothers and nephew designed and got the new bathroom set up with contractors, and built ramps and access. Others cleaned, put food in the freezer… Martin’s brother came twice from Saskatchewan and made him laugh; that was good. (One of the most significant symptoms with ALS is emotional lability: you cry easily and hard, but you can laugh the same, too.)

We had a tribute service at the end of April, and it was all about stories and music. Guitars covered the stage and toward the end, those who can play got up and grabbed one and played along with Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. We closed with a New Orleans-style second line–musicians leading out of the church into the sun playing instruments.

I still hear the line: Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cus every little thing gonna be all right…

Through corners, I hold on. Even through this. Somehow. Sometimes I’ve closed my eyes. But I have to keep my ears open for the music. It’ll keep my heart open.


Marty and Cousin Gwen – August 2015

Centennial Beach