Musical Musings on a Rambling River

Moving Forward to Stay Balanced  

Hello, happy summer wonder! This week the weather has been gloriously sunny here, which means outdoor water play whenever possible, and frequent watering of the garden to keep the plants from turning into leaf crisps. Water and sun, sun and water, how wonderful. 

One question I get asked fairly often is how do I keep going, making weekly videos, writing lots of songs, putting myself out there in live-streams or on stage, as well as juggling family and work life… how do I keep doing all of this? This is a tough question to answer. I think there’s a variety of things that I have to do to keep all of the balls in the air. It means I am making some major adjustments in my life, the biggest, ongoing one is to keep moving. Energy in motion tends to stay in motion, according to Newton. Life is like a bicycle. It’s always easier to keep moving once you’re moving.  

My experience of the past year has been somewhat unique in the music world. I was not playing many shows before the pandemic; I was dancing with burn out and felt very discouraged and stuck. Covid 19 was a big game changer for me. Before the pandemic I was working three to four days per week as a behavioural consultant, and helping lots with the care of my baby granddaughter (my daughter also worked) as well as taking care of my adult son who has a developmental disability. I was singing and playing guitar almost every day, as well as writing songs quite frequently, but a lot less than I wanted to, and all of my new songs were really sad. I felt so overwhelmed almost all of the time. I had all kinds of problems with my neck, arms and hands, and I was constantly sick, maxing out on sick days, and slowly working fewer and fewer hours at my paid employment.  

Then the pandemic struck and I got to work from home, and I really cut back big time, to essentials. This is one of the biggest things I’ve done to keep moving forward – cut back where it makes sense to at the time. I actually left my paid employment this past March to focus on caring for my family and on developing my music career. I will need to earn an income again really soon, but this has been a wonderful music-focussed time for me. I feel like I am miles ahead of where I was pre-pandemic. Ready to create something really super cool and exciting over the coming year.  

Another important part of keeping going is keeping focused on staying healthy, taking care of oneself in order to continue to stay in motion. I really love the Indigenous healing tool of the medicine wheel, and it’s four quadrants of self-care: physical, mental/intellectual, social, and emotional/spiritual. I have used it quite a bit when doing counselling with clients, and I use it every six months to a year or so, to make a self-care plan for myself. It’s very thorough. It also demonstrates the complexity of staying healthy and in balance, and how everything we do is interrelated. In addition to this tool, I also study psychology and trauma, do regular morning pages, am on a lifelong journey of learning how to set boundaries, and I practice being grateful for one thing every morning. Gratitude is like any other muscle, and sometimes there doesn’t seem like much to be grateful for. When I first started my gratitude practice I was struggling with depression, and the only thing I could think of that I was grateful for was the existence of colour. Focusing just a little bit on gratitude allowed me to also open up the flow of other emotions, and to keep those moving as well. All the emotions need to move, none is without purpose. Now most days I do actually feel grateful, especially for my family and the fact that I’m alive. And flowers; I find flowers and plants and Mother Nature so incredibly healing and nurturing. I think that living in a small village (Telkwa, BC) on the edge of a pristine river, which at one time felt like a restrictive prison, helps me to keep moving and remain in balance.  

And of course, I am doing music to such a great extent because it’s a major passion for me, and I find it feeds my soul. It helps me to process emotion in a playful and healthy way, and helps me to connect with other people in a way that nothing else does. It isn’t difficult to keep doing a lot of music when the rest of my life is in some sort of balance. It’s a lifelong love affair.  

And speaking of boundaries, this week I have decided that after this particular blog post, I need to take a break from writing a weekly blog so that I can put my focus on song-writing and making videos for my Youtube channel. And working on my new album project which I am recording in August (with a superstellar team of amazing musicians)!!! I hope to start writing a blog again in September.  

There’s nothing perfect in life, not even in keeping moving to stay balanced. I continue to choose over and over again to let myself be not perfect, to keep learning, to try and keep a beginners joy and excitement about what I’m doing. There’s definitely anxiety for me in that, and the dragon guarding the treasure is pretty menacing. It’s takes courage to keep moving on a music career and keep putting myself into the view of others. But everyone is called on to be courageous in life. We live in an alarming world. The need to continue moving forward to keep balanced continues, forever.  With lots of little breaks along the way.

Thank you for reading this post! Check out my Youtube channel on July 19 for the launch of my first real music video, Running in Jeans. And other updates will come out frequently on my Facebook and Instagram pages (links on my home page on this website). I wish you a wonderful summer 2021!

Busy Buzzy Bumbling Days 

Oh the irrationality of dreams! I have been waking up a lot this week with wild and crazy and somewhat disturbing dreams. I can’t turn off the brain it seems. I spend all night searching, driving, running up mountains, panicking, and fighting with scary orphanage people. I wake up with headaches from lack of sleep, take an acetaminophen and get on with things. These days are too full, the emotions are high, it’s never ever boring, and it carries right on over to sleep time. ARG!  

In the midst of my own life I have been very moved and concerned by the recent discovery of the bodies of hundreds of children buried in unmarked graves at residential school sites. I believe that at night when I sleep my brain is mixing my concern and love for my own kids and grandkids with my sadness and alarm for the children and families harmed by residential schools. I’m having wild dreams, but I cannot claim anywhere near what an Indigenous person must be going through in these times. I am incredibly inspired by the collective and individual healing that Indigenous people are doing. I plan to continue learning in a culturally humble way, and reach out to see what I can do to support Indigenous rights over the coming weeks, months and years. 

This week has been exciting! On Wednesday I went up Hudson Bay Mountain with Eli Larsen and Davemachine Livesey to record the rest of the footage for Running in Jeans! My first music video with a story line and a cast of characters. Filming was super fun and really good exercise, climbing and running and jumping in an exhilarating panoramic mountain setting. We didn’t even have to fight mosquitos, it was just perfect. The video will be released mid-July, so please stay tuned!  

I also did an interview with Lynn Mackenzie from the Moose FM radio yesterday morning. She had amazing questions, and I felt like my tongue was tied in the middle and I gave completely insufficient bumbling answers. I intend to write down as many questions as I can remember and practice answering them out loud so I am better able to give authentic and grounded answers in the next interview.  

I am suddenly very aware that I will be needing an income within a couple of months, and music just isn’t going to cut it. I’ve gotten to a point where my music sometimes pays for itself, and sometimes I can afford a bag of apples on top of that. This is wonderful, but that does not pay for everything else. So I’m working on some professional development, planning to open my own counselling, consulting and education practice sometime in the near future. Aiaiai a sense of overwhelm encroaches. I’m doing too much! Always!   

This morning I am heading over to my son’s new house to train his new staff. I am deep in the transition phase of almost having an empty nest. I’m more likely to cry about it than grin right now, but I am pretty sure it will work out well, and Alex will enjoy his new surroundings. And he can always move home if it doesn’t work out. 

Thank you for reading my blog post! I hope you have a fun and safe weekend. I’ll be back next week. And next week is song writing extraordinaire! Woohoo! All the best, Theresa MM. 

Song Thoughts - Close the Distance - Staying Connected When Apart 

Wow, is this really my fifth blog post? The weeks are going by quickly. This week I am bundled up in blankies, sipping tea and fighting a flu bug. Not too sick to write though. I love the flexibility of working from home. This week’s blog is about the fourth and final song on my Burnt Toast EP. There are so many reasons that this song, Close the Distance, perfectly fits what is currently going on in my life, my family, and in the world. Pandemic times UG! But the last week or so has been very exciting, as the public health orders loosen up; hope is arriving on the horizon for live shows and increased social opportunities. It’s also been exciting as my family is preparing for my son to move into his own home. He has a developmental disability and autism, so he will have staff 24/7. I am both excited for and dreading the change. It will be good for both him and us to have more independence from each other, but more distance between us scares me in so many ways. What an emotional time! 

I wrote Close the Distance a couple of years ago, as one of my weekly song posts for a Facebook group I am part of, Get Your Ass Writing Songs. I was thinking of my niece Natalie and my nephew Leo, and how hard it is to be part of their lives as they grow up in different towns and provinces. Covid 19 has made it even harder to stay connected. I know that my family is not alone in this experience; it seems to be the norm now for families to be spread out across great distances. And then the pandemic went and put a painful pause on the in-person visits we usually have to strengthen that thread between us. I hope this little song makes it to some ears and helps even in a tiny way for someone.   

So what do we do with all this distance? It is a struggle to stay connected when apart, but there must be ways to do so. When I was a kid I had pen pals, but I don’t send or receive many letters anymore. Facebook is nice for the photo sharing opportunities, and seems to be the main mode of connection these days, but it isn’t the same. I love facetime or video conferencing, but not everyone feels comfortable on screen. A quick phone call seems to be a rare thing. I’ve never been much for talking on the phone. So maybe we just need to grieve this lost time together? Adapt? I write songs to help process feelings; everyone needs some sort of playful emotional release during this pandemic and beyond. But wouldn’t it be great if we could just beam ourselves around like they do on space shows? And I love the image of the Earth’s crust folding up on giant hinges for brief periods of time. For the length of time it takes to get some hugs, a meal, together, actual people presence. How do you stay connected during times of separation from loved ones? I seem to have more questions than answers today. Time to go curl up and rest and get better…  

That’s the last song on this EP, but it’s definitely not the last blog post I plan to write. There’s also the music video for Running in Jeans, some live shows are getting booked over the summer, and I have a new album project started. I hope you keep healthy and well, and please check in with me again next week! 

Song Thoughts - Running in Jeans - Fun for Everyone 

One evening a couple of years ago, I was sitting at the supper table with my husband (Dave) and son (Alex). We were munching away and talking, and enjoying a delicious meal. We always love our own food, yum. As we chewed and chatted, we saw a woman run past on the busy street in front of our house. She had an impressively long stride, and she was wearing jeans. It made our meal so much better that we kept talking and laughing about it after. She really made our day. Somehow a catchy little tune wormed its way into my consciousness, based on the phrase, “running in jeans”.  

A few weeks later we were at a campfire potluck with some friends, when the tune just spontaneously came to me and I led a rousing first rendition of Running in Jeans. It was so much fun that we all stood up and ran on the spot, and everyone there took a turn improvising a verse. Then, a couple of months after that, my family and I went to Kispiox Valley Music Festival, and another version of Running in Jeans was born at a late night campfire. A whole new set of verses flowed out of a bunch of other fun friends. That’s where one friend (thanks Morag!) added the word ‘chafing’ to the song and took it to a whole new level.  

It might have helped that a lot of us were wearing jeans at both of these campfires. But I think it’s really because Running in Jeans is just for fun; and everyone needs the chance to not be too serious in life.  

Part of the grant I am receiving from Creative BC’s Amplify BC program is to make a music video for Running in Jeans. Eli Larsen is rocking the filming and production for it. A few friends, and my very supportive spouse have made it really fun so far. The music video features a fuzzy bear (shucks that’s me), the McKay sisters, Lauren, Heather and Lindsay, and Lauren’s daughter Lotte, as well as some young friends, Eliana and Marida Yatziv. I don’t want to spoil the surprise but I will say that we got up bright and early on a Saturday morning to chase a bus down Coalmine Road in Telkwa. That was such a laugh, wow. Eliana asked if we could do it every weekend, I really wish we could. Huge thank you to bus driver Komi Pelawalo for getting into it with us, what a blast. The video release date is mid-July, so stay tuned for more on that!! 

And if you think of a new verse for Running in Jeans, please record yourself singing it, or write it down, and send it to me! I’d love to hear what inspires you about running in jeans. I’ll thank you with a free download code for the song, and who knows, I might even end up singing it in public sometime.    

Thank you for reading this week’s blog post! Next week I am going to write about the fourth and final song off of my Burnt Toast EP, Close the Distance.

Song Thoughts - Burnt Toast - It Ain't Fun to Eat but it's nice to sing about 

Everyone is up against something difficult in this life; difficulties are unavoidable. Covid 19 has introduced some unexpected hardships into most peoples’ lives. And there were hard times before then, and there will be after. We’re never truly finished the job of striving towards balance, health, excellence, whatever we’re striving towards. It’s an active process, and it sucks a lot of the time. Burnt Toast is one of my songs about finding one’s courage and strength to go on, even when there are no clear solutions to incredibly massive problems.

The images in this song came from an exercise I did a couple of years ago, in Linda McRae’s song-writing class at Smithers Adult Guitar Camp. They’re images that are connected to my closest family members. Songbird, to me, is representative of my two mothers (bio and adoptive), and amethyst was my grandma’s favourite gem stone. And burnt toast is pretty unappetizing stuff, y’know. I can never scrape enough of the charcoal off to really enjoy eating it. Especially when it’s really burnt. Life can be like that. 

The guitar camp where this song was written is based at the edge of Tyhee Lake, so there were loons making crazy beautiful sounds all week. It was very therapeutic to finally be able to do something so sane and normal, and self-care focussed. I won’t go into full details because it involves family members and private stories. Maybe in ten or twenty or thirty years (or never) it will be far enough behind us that I will share about it in more detail. But it was kind of at the end of a very troubling time for our family. There are on-going repercussions from that time that we are still dealing with, but the worst is hopefully over. At one point in the months preceding the writing of Burnt Toast I found myself on my knees, sobbing in the basement, with my hands in the potato bin, as I brought in the harvest. I cried so hard that day; my heart was broken by what my family member was going through. It’s true that these deeply emotional experiences change a person. Those feelings can be all-consuming and terrifying. Song-writing has been a life saver for me, to get these things into words and melodies. And to have people around to encourage each other and celebrate music together at guitar camp was just what I needed at the time I wrote this song. It was the one song on the Burnt Toast EP that I asked Colin Maskell (my producer, audio engineer and all round amazing music team mate) for more studio time on. We went back into the studio and redid the vocals, because there was one little word that came out in a way that grated my nerves so much!!!      

I often feel very lonely and aimless as a musician, even though music helps with the loneliness. And I’m pretty good at putting one foot in front of the other, which usually leads to more forward motion and helps a lot. But people can’t be replaced by activities (although creative solitude is also absolutely necessary). There are always way more things to be done than time available, and a sense of overwhelm is often not far away. I think I will always need these type of songs, songs like Burnt Toast, to manage my emotional world. I encourage everyone to do creative things, to find your form of play and make the time for it as often as possible. Even tiny doses of play is the best medicine for any heart!  

Thanks for reading once again. And thank you to those who reach out to me, it means so much to hear from you. I get a lot of encouragement from these genuine connections.  Next week I will write about Running in Jeans!      

Song Thoughts - Tree Line, Climbing Up and Sliding Down 

This is the first track on my EP Burnt Toast. There's also a more live sounding version of it on my album Porcupine. I really want to make a music video with this one! It is my most commented on song when I play it live. People like it. They love it. It’s very rhythmic, and there’s a tempo change in it that makes people laugh. At first I was a bit unnerved by that, until I realized they weren’t laughing at me. Climbing up and sliding down is pretty universally fun; even if you don’t ski you can probably enjoy the sentiment. Otters know it, kids know it, it’s what water parks are built on. Skiers definitely know it.

For a couple of dreamy years I had every Friday off. I was addicted to back country skiing. My kids were in school. So I would drive up Hudson Bay Mountain, skin up and do a few tree runs, eat my lunch, enjoy the stunning view up there on top of the world, and come back down the mountain feeling amazing. I was often accompanied by my friend Sarah, or my dog Sally. I often went by myself. Skiing is one of those activities that you can do quite happily on your own (with a big pack of supplies, safety gear and a cell phone). On the days I went without a dog I would get to see amazing wildlife, like foxes and wolverines (hence the wolverine tracks in the lyrics). I often skied on the weekend too, but I remember my solo missions the best. These days I have not been skiing addictively like I used to do. Those were the golden days of my life.  

Since our son Alex finished high school almost nine years ago I have been home a lot more than I ever dreamed I would be. He has a developmental disability and cannot be left alone. It took a whole year after he finished school to get any kind of services for him. He’s actually really easy going and fun to be around, for the most part. He loves music; he’s patiently listened to all of my songs almost as many times as I have. He’s a staunch music festival lover and can always be found in front of the main stage. But I‘ve often looked back on those skiing days with longing. Our huge and exciting news is that soon Alex is going to be living in his own house with his own 24 hour staff. So we will get more flexibility and freedom. Sad to miss all those moments together, but relieved to have someone share the care. Perhaps some new kind of golden days are ahead of us.  

Whenever I am skiing I feel poignantly what a metaphor it is for the rest of life. It is very slow, hard work to get up that mountain. It’s always hard. It involves a lot of sweat, tons of it, dripping down your butt crack. And the ride down isn’t always that smooth and perfectly mastered. There is a lot of learning to do on those usually forgiving snowy slopes. Yet it feels like play, and is incredibly rewarding. It is amazing for the self-confidence, to be able to do such an independent activity, get the body moving strongly, in harmony with the mountain, with Mother Nature.  

So, in sharing this song, I hope that you have your own activities that bring these types of sensations, satisfactions. Life is hard enough without some sort of play to get you through.  

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back next week with some more musical musings on a rambling river… and the next title on my new EP Burnt Toast.

The Very Personal Meanings of Success 

My first blog post. So many firsts this year! I love how life continues to be full of firsts. It’s been a long time since I was in elementary school, but I often feel like I somehow still am. I am definitely into a lifelong learning approach to everything.   

I released my EP, Burnt Toast, this past Friday, April 30 2021. This EP is the most polished and fleshed out recorded version of my music so far, with a full band of incredible musicians backing me up and making beautiful sounds. So for this very special first blog post I am going to focus on one aspect of developing and releasing music. Something that is super important: the definition of success. Over the past year I have been taking every professional music business webinar I can find and fit into my schedule, and quite a few industry professionals have mentioned that this is a vital part of a creative career. Defining what success means to me.  

This year I have had the intense privilege of my Burnt Toast EP project being supported by a grant from Creative BC; it has made it a lot more financially feasible to produce and share these four songs. I felt pretty successful when I got the email saying I am getting this grant. This has not, however, led to huge acclamations from media and radio, or massive CD and download sales. I have not shot to stardom, and am not in super high demand for interviews or private concerts. It does not necessarily even mean that I will get more grants to help pay for more recordings. The grant system is highly competitive and a lot of other extremely deserving artists are trying hard to get these carrots, to try and keep their careers going. Success is elusive if I focus on financial success as a most important success value. 

I have always believed that the most important things in my life are the relationships I have with my immediate family, and then radiating outward to extended family, friends, community and so forth. In music, I believe an important aspect of success means developing relationships that are mutually supportive and uplifting. The most important thing about any job is the people you work with, and music is no different. This year as I have focussed on joining any webinar or conference possible, I have met people from my home province of British Columbia, from all over Canada, and from other countries. This has been incredibly encouraging to me to keep making music and connecting. I am gaining some really supportive friendships with interesting people who share a musical passion and I am inspired by their vision. I believe we can help each other to create and keep a momentum going. People need people. Being part of this network of communities is a huge success in my heart and mind.   

Another aspect of success that is important to me, is that success includes continuing to be present for my family, and to continue to provide for my family’s needs. This one is really difficult. I ended up going to school for social work because it was more feasible as a young single mother in my early twenties than going to music school. To continue to do art and music on the side, while raising a family and working has been intense and super hard. I can see why a lot of people get discouraged and perhaps do not even try. Delaying personal goals and making huge sacrifices is necessary to raise children. And women are much more likely to be the primary caregivers and make more of these sacrifices. I have lived my life, and continue to do so, out of necessity and commitment, in the traditional woman’s roles, as well as a breadwinner. Now, as my children transition to adulthood, I am still very involved, and there is a new generation to provide for. The beautiful circle of life goes on and I am still very much part of it. When I was twenty I used to think that I would raise my kids and then party in my fourties. Well, it’s not quite as simple as that, lol! I still need to earn an income and there is much work to be done. But I do get to put my social work career more to the side now, be creative and find more ways to put music in the forefront, which is amazing. I am enjoying the payoff of having kept a dual career focus for so many years.  

Success also doesn’t mean feeling successful all the time. Failure is a massive part of any creative endeavour. I often refer to Ed Catmull’s book CREATIVITY.INC when I am feeling low about how my music career is going. One of the founders of Pixar Studios, he writes about the fact that failure is an important part of any creative process, and he gives an example of an inspiring Pixar staff member who says he always aims to fail fast and hard to get that out of the way. I love this idea, and it has helped me with some pretty major oopsies on my part. I’m especially inclined to make a fool of myself in front of colleagues. I get very easily star-struck by new people, totally blinded; I will say and do some pretty dumb out-of-character stuff, especially when I am meeting people who are further along in their careers than I am. Failure doesn’t feel good, it feels like crap. It takes enormous courage to keep going when failure is flailing me. When week after week my new songs sound like my old ones, no one responds to my promo emails, or I get a rejection email from a grantor, including juror comments saying my assessment track is not good enough, I feel low and miserable and wonder if I should just go apply for a full time job somewhere. Give up on this infernal dream. In order to value these learning experiences, I have a couple of “rejection” folders; I keep these as souvenirs for myself. Each rejection email or letter is a little thorn to absorb and move on from, even though these are easier to take than not hearing anything back. There’s always some value in every attempt; I have always learned something. SO in a roundabout and painful way, failure is actually success. Oh great! How convenient! Get ready for more failure, woohoo! 

In thinking about what success means to me, I have come to the realization that it is truly about sharing a message of caring and courage with as many as people I can possibly reach. An ever-increasing number. The internet, especially social media, is great for this. It’s a more than a little bit terrifying too, and not nearly as physically tangible as raking in money and buying things. I’m not against money (I gladly take e-transfers to either my business or personal email addresses). But I am astounded by and grateful for the numbers of people watching at least part of my live-stream shows on Facebook and Instagram. I feel uber-successful some moments of some days because of the watches and likes and encouragement.  

So, I suppose my conclusion here is that success really is personally defined. It comes and goes. It’s not a thing, it’s an experience, and it is quite fleeting. Kind of like waves, like any other feeling, it rises and falls.  

Anyway, thank you for reading this fairly long first blog post. I will be writing one of these a week for the next few months, as I move forward developing a bunch of new projects.  

All the best to you on your creative journeys!