Da Punk Rock Princess Party Playlist

Well it’s here,  the Silly Season.  You know, that time of year when you go out for alcohol fueled social events with the people you work with.   If you are like me, there are some people who you like, some that are just simply people you work with and some that you would gladly throw under a bus (or a Mack truck) given the opportunity.    I’m one of the social organizers at my office, which means I get to spend extraordinary amounts of my personal time making sure the self-same people mentioned above have a great time at numerous social events, including the Christmas Party. 

My party is tomorrow, so tonight my task has been to put together a whole stack of CD’s burned from playlists on my iTunes.  Now my personal taste in music runs to punk rock, the nastier the better.  Screamo – bring it on.  Metal, love it.  Top 40 – shoot me now, my ears are bleeding.  I do know, however, that my personal idea of a great party song may not be everyone’s.  Especially since I work in the very conservative world of investment banking.   Our parties may be completely over the top in terms of money spent and debauchery indulged in, but musical tastes are firmly Top 40.  Ugghh.  But it has been a lot of fun going through my entire iTunes library, doing the “oh I totally forgot about that one” thing and trying to pick out a few songs that just might work.   I’ve put together a selection of my faves, so let’s see how Da Punk Rock Princess Party Playlist works on the bus.  I can’t wait. 

So what’s a punk rock princess like me to do, since I do need some CD’s people will actually listen to and not throw me off the bus over?  Easy – I enlist the help of my 20-something daughter to put together a great club vibe – dance party – top 40 playlist.  She’s doing a brilliant job.   And in case you are wondering WHY I need burned CD’s – we are traveling around our fair city in two limo buses, from the site of one over-indulgence to another.  In costume.  No kidding.  Lunch, bar hopping, bull riding, dinner, clubbing – it’s an all day (and half the night) event.  

Our costume theme this year is “Super Heroes and Villains”.   It’s a pretty good theme.  For the last two years I have been cursed with the worst costume ideas possible.  Once a theme was decided on, costume ideas were thrown into a hat and we had to pull one out.  Two years ago I pulled “Charlie Brown”.  There is no sexy Charlie Brown.  Work pants, hiking boots, a plaid shirt and ball cap  – there is no way to get your sexy on in that.  Well except for getting hit on by a remarkable number of women.   Then last year we had an Alice In Wonderland theme – from the movie – should have been a shoe in for great costume, right?   I got the freaking Turtle. Who even knew there was a turtle.   No lingerie is ever involved in turtle costumes.  

So this year I decided I didn’t care what the theme was, I had a fabulous costume and I was wearing it.  In a story worthy of its own blog posting, a good friend and I decided that we had to go to Vegas for Halloween this year.   And since we were going to see some friends playing at the  House of Blues on the Alternative Press/Nike Airwalk tour – a punk rock tour if there ever was one, I figured I’d be a punk rock princess.  So me, my tutu, striped tights, biker boots and top hat headed to Sin City for the Naughtiest Night of the Year.   It was an awesome costume and an awesome trip.  So that’s what I’m wearing to my work party.  I can’t see what can go wrong?

I’m going to post this tonight, without any fancy editing, so that I can report back on Thursday (tomorrow will be out of the question) on how it went.  Did I mention that my company is going through a very unhappy merger.  And that one person quit today.  More are considering that as a viable option.  So let’s throw us all together on a party bus, crank up the tunes and pour some shots.   It’s the Silly Season.

Punk Princess and Vampire

Ink Stains

You got what?   Where is it?  Can I see?  Wow, that is really big but it’s pretty.  Did it hurt a lot?  

This is the standard conversation I have whenever I tell someone about my tattoo.   I’m not talking about a little piece of flash, I’m talking about a custom piece of art that I designed, along with a very talented tattoo artist at Sacred Heart in Vancouver, BC and had permanently inked onto my body.  The answers are yes, I got a tattoo.  It starts on my left shoulder and curves around my body, finishing up under (and partly on) my left breast.  Ouch, yes that bit was nasty.   And yes, I can show you it, or at least part of it, otherwise I would end up naked in this public place.   Yes, it’s big and yes, it’s very pretty.  I designed it myself  – I didn’t want a skull or a rose or some block of blue ink – I wanted something unique and beautiful that meant a lot to me.  Every piece of it is symbolic to me.  It’s 8 hours of work and yes, it hurt a lot.  

For those of you who don’t have any ink work, let me just clear this up once and for all.  TATTOOS HURT, they hurt a lot.  It’s part of the process.   Reputable tattoo artists don’t use EMLA cream or anything similar and they prefer that you not take anything at all for pain (legal or otherwise).  The tattoo artist I work with said that pain is part of the aesthetic experience and that chemicals of any kind change the reaction of your skin to the needles and the way the ink takes.  So I went commando for mine.   All 8 hours, over 4 months.   And I wouldn’t have done anything different.  

If you happen to be a rock star (or an aspiring one) or live a wonderfully alternative lifestyle, tattoos and piercings are common, if not de rigueur.  They have become a right of passage and acceptance.  But in my circles, it’s not  common – like not at all.   The names of favourite artists are not traded by the side of the soccer field and new ink work is not part of any show and tell that I’ve been at.    And I’ve noticed that body art and piercings are way more acceptable in the Pacific Northwest (thank you Kirk Cobain) than they are in the East – although I think it’s also a growing phenomenon “back there”, but still much less common.    And if in addition you work in the very conservative world of investment banking, they are simply not done.  I have seen at least one instance when an indiscreetly revealed tattoo (it was a tiny symbol on the wrist) was the difference between someone landing  a job and not. 

So why did I decide, about 2 years ago, to go out and get inked in a big way?    The simple answer is that I’ve always loved tattoos;  I’ve admired them on other people and always wanted one.  I think they are hot.

But having given it quite a bit more thought, I realize now that there are also other reasons.    The obvious one is rebellion . . . and don’t we all like to think of ourselves as rebels from time to time.   Since the theme of my blog is, in many ways, rebellion, that one was obvious even to me.  I do know quite a few people who, upon reaching a certain age, or certain place in their lives, go out and get a piece of flash done.   For the uninitiated, flash is the term for those designs/symbols/images  that tattoo shops have up on their walls, or in books, that you can just walk in and pick out to have done in short order, fortified by a friend and maybe a couple of shots of Senor Patron. 

There is a world of difference between a piece of flash and tattoo art, which takes time to both conceive and execute.  My design took me about a year to think up and locate images of what I wanted, then another month or so for the artist to complete the drawings.  Then each session took 2 hours, one a month for four months because it hurts too freaking much to do all at once and you have to heal between sessions.  Riding the bus home from the tattooing sessions is always very surreal, feeling both drained and exhilarated.  It’s heady and, I fear, somewhat addictive.

Ownership is the other reason I got inked.   Ownership of my own body.  I was at a point in my life where I didn’t feel I owed the duty of my body to anyone, and that had been a long time coming.   So to stake my claim I did something that would have previously been impossible. It was heady,  liberating, empowering.  And now every day when I stand at the mirror, I can look at the visible symbol of my self-determination and I  LOVE IT.   

And I have realized that as I am pushing the boundaries of my “outside the lines” adventure, my ink work has become in some ways the  visible roadmap of my experiences.   Not obvious, not seen by the casual observer, but rich with symbol and meaning for me.   And if anyone gets close enough to see the whole work, they better like it!  I’m currently working on a design for a new piece to be worked in – I’m not quite there yet and it’s not a process to be rushed.  But I hope to have something new to add soon and more in the months ahead.

In heavy rotation:   Saw a crazy good local Vancouver band Incura last week – one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a long time, with about 100 people in a tiny club.  They rocked it.   And being in a poetic frame of mind, I’ve been listening to a lot of Third Eye Blind, Stephen Jenkins is one of the finest lyricists around and I’m loving “Motorcycle Driveby”  right now.

Printed Word:  Still working on Blink, but I pulled out to read again my favourite poem – must have been the 3eB influence.  I think these are some of the most beautiful lines in the English language:

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

“When You Are Old” by W.B Yeats.

We’re not groupies, we’re Band Aids. . .

We’re not groupies, we’re Band Aids.  We’re  here because we love the music.  Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane got this great line in one of my all time favourite movies, Almost Famous. 

I love music, all kinds of music and I love seeing great bands playing live in small venues.   And although I have a wide taste in music, ask any of my friends who my favourite band is and without hesitation they will tell you “Blue Rodeo“.    I first saw them playing at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto when I was at UofT  in the “80’s.   We drank at the Horseshoe because glasses of draft cost 10 cents and were delivered by the Irene, the craziest waitress ever, with her beehive hairdo, over the top make up and orthopedic shoes.  She had been a waitress there longer than most of us had been alive and was an institution, as was singing “Good Night Irene” at the end of a long night of 10 cent glasses.   The Horseshoe was also a great live music venue, showcasing all types of local musical talent.

So  it was at the Horseshoe that my path first crossed that of Greg Keeler and Jim Cuddy.  A few years later, a newly minted Poli Sci grad, I was having a lot of fun being a ski bum in Banff when they were playing the bar circuit out West and writing great songs like Western Sky and Cynthia.  More Blue Rodeo shows.   They popped back up on my radar in the 90’s in Vancouver.   I had settled down into married life and they were enjoying a lot of commercial success in Canada.   I saw them at the Queen Elizabeth theatre touring their record “Five Days in May” and it took me a while to connect the dots back to the Horseshoe days, but there it was.  And I was hooked.  Most years I get to see them play live a half-dozen times, and I’ve been doing that for close on 15 years now.  Their music never gets old (although we all seem to) they have a huge songbook and they always put on a fantastic show. 

So that’s the back story to last night’s adventure that was Way Past Normal.  Call it my adventure in gate crashing.  It started on Friday afternoon at work when one of my co-workers came back from lunch fairly bursting with something to tell me.  One of their friends worked at an engineering company that was putting on a big formal bash at the Hotel Vancouver on Saturday night.  And – here’s the kicker – the owner of the company was an old friend of Jim Cuddy’s  and Blue Rodeo was the entertainment for the party.   Well, with that challenge in hand, my weekend had a plan. 

All good adventures need a steady wingman, so I immediately emailed by partner in crime with the goods and the idea that we had to find a way into this party.    Of course she was in.   Saturday night found us dressed up and headed downtown on the bus, suitably fortified by the excellent bottle of wine we had with dinner.  Always play safe, no drinking and driving!   We headed into the Hotel Vancouver to scout out the territory.  I”m very familiar with the layout, having planned any number of corporate functions there, so we headed right up to the ballrooms on the 2nd floor.  It was deathly quiet.  No one in the corridors, just some bored coat check girls and a lot of security.  Hmmm, this was going to be harder than I thought.

Back down to the bar for a further fortification and regroup.   We chatted up our affable bartender who confirmed that Blue Rodeo was in fact playing there and encouraged us to bust on in.  Looking around at the Newly Wed and Nearly Dead in the bar, I’m not surprised  – it was probably the most fun he had all night!   So back up to the 2nd floor where things have gotten a lot livelier  – dinner must have been over.  But everyone is dressed up in suits and cocktails dresses, coats securely checked.  We are in jeans and boots and have our coats in hand.  Obvious much?   But not to be deterred, I decide that bold action is called for so I head straight up the first security guy I see and ask the obvious chick question “where’s the washroom?”   And bless him, he points me right down the corridor past all the party rooms and just like that we are in. 

We head down and coming right out of the first ballroom I hear the unmistakable sound of Greg singing.  This is no time to hesitate so I yell to the wingman “follow me” and just walk right on into the party.   Hesitate, look around furtively and we are sure to get bounced out (the jeans are a dead giveaway in the sea of gowns and tuxedos) so I boldly march right up to the dance floor in front of the stage and get in among the revellers there.  We are standing right in front of the stage!   We ditch the coats (another dead giveaway) and proceed to get into the party spirit, dancing and singing along.   Things got really funny at this point.  Having been to way too many BR shows, the guys in the band know us by sight.  We never hang around or make nuisances of ourselves, we just enjoy the shows and have fun.   We are only about 10 feet away from the stage and they look down and quite literally do a double take, mid-lyric.   We are so busted!   But hey, I think all musicians enjoy playing to fans rather than a room of drunk christmas party revelers who have never heard of them before, so we got a lot of flat-out laughs from the stage and the thumbs up to stay.   It was a great show, made even better by the adventure it took to get there and will definitely being going into the annals of Blue Rodeo adventures.   At the end of their set  we just headed right out and left them to wonder how we managed it.  

This was not my actual blog to post today – that one on tattoos is written , just needs a few finishing touches before publishing, but it was such a great night I woke up with the whole story running through my head and had to get up and write it down.  Way too early after my 3am bedtime, but  here I sit, cup of strong coffee in hand, recounting my Notes from Just Past Normal.   It was brilliant.   To protect the guilty there are no pictures from last night that I can post – except at some point I decided I REALLY liked my new Con’s.  Mobile Uploads should have a breathalyzer mode.

“I learned to play so I could be where people dance”  Jim Cuddy.

Colouring outside the lines

I have always wanted to write.  I have never been brave enough.   Sydney J. Harris, the  incomparable columnist for the Chicago Sun Times said “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”  So to save myself from at least one inconsolable regret, that of never seeing my writing published in any form, may I present my blog, Notes from Just Past Normal.  Why start a blog now?  I was inspired by a friend’s writing.  It was very good and it made me think; actually it made me think a lot.   And once I started thinking, I  just can’t seem to  stop.  I write in my head constantly: on the bus, walking the dog, out for a run, driving my car, at work.  It’s just one continuous outpouring of ideas that I email to myself, being the 21st century equivalent of a writer’s notebook.    I have quite a collection. 

Notes from Just Past Normal?   I’ve always played by the rules.  Actually I love rules.  Rules keep life simple.  Rules are about control.  If you play by the rules you will be accepted and liked.  Ok, so I’ll admit to having issues with a) control and b) being accepted.   So rules have always worked for me.   But occasionally, if we are very lucky, something happens in your life that is so unexpected, so outside the ordinary it can, quite literally, blast you right out of  those self-righteous and self-preserving rules.  There is always a choice, a yes or a no.   But  if you  are prepared to grab that chance, to say yes when no would be the safe choice and  if you are very, very lucky, something extraordinary can happen.   I got that chance and I grabbed it.  I said yes when no would have been so very acceptable.  And it changed me, it inspired me, I coloured way outside the lines.    And now I’m going to keep up that scribbling, keep pushing back the borders  and I’m sending back missives from that brave new world of Just Past Normal.  

Here’s what I think happens when we always play by the rules, always colour inside the lines.  The box gets smaller.  Our life box.  Every time you stay inside the border the box shrinks infinitesimally.  But over time, all those tiny shrinkages add up.   The possibilities of life become smaller, our world diminishes.   And the worst part is that you don’t even notice it happening.   Every day inside this shrinking box we sell  little pieces of our soul for career advancement, a new car, a bigger TV, a kitchen renovation.   

But colouring outside the lines, now there is a challenge.  Every time you scribble over the lines, you move the border of what is normal and ordinary in your own life.  When you first start, taking one, simple, autonomous scribble, no matter how small, can be paralyzing.  The fear of “what if”.  What if people think I’m crazy, what if they don’t like me anymore, what if I’m just a bit past normal? But grab hold of whatever inspired you, summon up your  courage, take that first step and POW, you start to move outside the box, you push back the borders, your life gets LARGER.  And the truly great thing is, the more you practice, the easier it gets.   Scribble goes the crayon and back goes the border.  The world starts to EXPAND, the feeling of what is possible just GROWS, the event horizon moves into the future.  It is scary as hell, but euphoric.  And once you get hooked on that feeling of euphoria, well there is no chemical substitute for the feeling that your life is simply full of opportunity, that anything is possible.  It just takes the courage to say yes that first time opportunity comes knocking. 

So here is what I’m challenging myself to do.   I’m going to grab hold of that big old crayon and scribble away as far out of the lines as I can, as often as I can.   I’m going to move past ordinary, I want extraordinary.  And just see what happens.   No regrets.  If you care to follow along, I’ll publish my escapades and my thoughts on them  – my Notes from Just Past Normal.   Hopefully they will be humourous and entertaining, though sometimes I expect they will be difficult and maybe even sad.   And for my good friends who are my partners in crime, my willing (or unwilling) accomplices, have no fear – all names and identifying details will be changes to protect the guilty.

The working title for my next blog is  “Ink Stains”.  One of my first really big scribbles –  I got a tattoo.  Not a little star or a butterfly, oh no, I got a big, custom designed piece of art permanently inked on my body.  I love it.  I”m always asked why?   Stand bye for some ruminations on ownership.

In heavy rotation:  Sons of Sylvia – Revelation.  Listen to these incredibly talented, genre crossing brothers from Nashville.  Next year you’ll be saying you knew them when. 

Printed Word:  The Lost Highway by David Adam Richards.  A dark meditation on a life of regret.   Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  Your subconscious knows everything you need to know about a person or situation in the first 30 seconds.   Everything else is just your conscious catching up.