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Hard Day’s . . . Night

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The Night Sky by  Blake Nancarrow

The Night Sky by Blake Nancarrow

Legend has it that after a particularly long recording session, Ringo Starr left Abbey Road muttering something like “That was a hard day’s…” when he looked up, realized the time and said, “…night.”

True or not, I’m sure you’ve shared that experience: a long work day during which you rarely look up and made worse if you don’t leave the office or have a window. The concept of time that was once gauged by the sun is now dictated by the clock. How many times in the winter have you looked up at 5 p.m. and said, “It looks like nine o’clock at night!” Yes, but who said what nine o’clock looks like?

Indeed the appearance of time, day and night, has changed since the invention (and popularity) of gas then electric light. Compounded with the popularlity of “smart” devices, we are inundated with light to the point that we can’t sleep. And if we can’t sleep then, well, shouldn’t we be productive?

We haven’t always slept through the night. In the distant past, we used to go to bed “early,” dog tired after a labourious day, wake up later in the night or early morning, do stuff in the dark, fall asleep again, and wake up with rooster. Some people still do this, only they write, as Karen Emslie tells us in her Aeon piece, “Broken Sleep.”

Unfortunately this schedule doen’t work for many people. Perhaps we’ve been programmed. Regardless, light affects our melatonin which affects our sleep which affects our mood which determines our mental and physical health. Sure there are pills and exercises and sex and yoga and mantras, but let’s to go to the source: light. Humans cannot cope in a world without darkness, says Rebecca Boyle in her article “The End of Night,” published in Aeon. Not only does it rob us of biological needs but it compels us to produce, to be “on” all the time. We’re surrounded by (very rich) role models, leading us to believe if Highly Successful Person can be highly successful with only four hours’ sleep, then so can I because I’m efficient, not a slacker like other people! For the record, I count myself among the “other people.” You really don’t want to around me when I’ve only had four hours’ sleep. In fact, I think that says something about Highly Successful Person too.

The idea that we must be productive most of the time makes me wonder about the definition of productive. From my North American perspective, it appears to mean making something tangible. Thinking isn’t seen as productive. Oh, you’ll hear lots of discussion about “creatives” and “knowledge workers” “innovating” in “collaborative work environments,” but I think that’s all marketing spin. As I sit alone in my home office by my window looking out onto a tree and a neighbouring building, I wonder what a boss would think, all buttoned up in a dark blue wool suit. He or she would likely scold me for daydreaming then request a status report on something, probably the very thing I was “daydreaming” about.

One thing I do daydream/think about is space. It gives us perspective. Once upon a time I witnessed the northern lights. Recently, my Facebook feed was filled with other people’s photos of the glorious phenomenon. I’d like to see the northern lights again as well as the other celestial shows, but judging from Toronto’s light-polluted night sky, I’ll have to drive pretty far north to do so. Having lived in a city for most of my life, I used to shrug this off. Then I saw the wonderful doc The City Dark and I realized I’m missing something–something important.

It’s a hard day’s night, indeed.

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Travel Bug

I have some news: I’m travelling to Japan for a month! The prospects make me excited and terrified. At first this was because I didn’t speak Japanese, but I’ve since learned this obstacle isn’t insurmountable. What has me more worried is money, which entirely in character. What is out of character is that I haven’t planned enough. Too late now, right? Anyway it’s all part of my long-term plan to lift my eyes from the page and see the world for myself.

With that in mind, I’ve invested in a backpack

45 L of Travelling Goodness!

45 L of Travelling Goodness!

… and light hiking boots

Sexy and Sturdy, Yes?

Sexy and Sturdy, Yes?

My to-do/to-buy list is long and tedious so I shan’t bore you with it, suffice to say that every time I scratch something off I add something else. Gah!

More later. Till then, if you want to see my photos, scroll down to my Flickr account. I’ll be adding photos of my trip.

[Enter Time Cliché Here]

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Time is one of those things what we all want more of, yet when we’re each allotted our twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year it all gets frittered away.

I’m not alone when I get to the end of any given day and wonder what happened. What did I get done? Was I even productive? These questions are more keenly felt when you freelance. I manage to get to my desk by 9 am most mornings, though I wonder if I should get up earlier. I take small breaks to stretch then an hour at noon for lunch. I look at my page count and wonder what I’d done for three hours. I fire up again at one, take tea at three then calmly carry one. By five I look at my page count and chide myself for being too unproductive.

My cranky computer takes enough time to save (or think about saving) for me to open email. The pressure mounts again: Can I do this? Wanna do that? Please give us another. Sigh. Flag for later, sorry can’t, bugger off you. I see starred emails and the guilt overwhelms until I hit close and open my newly saved document almost dripping with blood-red edits.

If I see one more list about how I can get my shit together or why I’m such a failure or why I’m super-awesome-great or how I cannot live as a woman without reading this list of pastel-covered books I will puke. No. That isn’t a joke. I got the bag-lined bin beside me. I warn you. Projectiled lunch is but a buzzfeed away.

Relighting the Fire with a Spark

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In the process of tidying up some errant code from some old posts that I moved from another platform I realized that my writing was much saltier once upon a time. Recently, I’ve been posting book reviews, gardening missives, and moans about accessibiltiy issues. Christ almighty, I sound like an old lady! But why? My friends and co-workers would heartily disagree (I hope, anyway) that I’m retiring and resigned. Thinking about it I realized that much of my piss and vinegar is reserved for Facebook, which I reserve for folks I know. I also admit that I pick my battles a little more; anger is exhausting and, frankly, many of its targets are undeserving of my energy. Having said that, I really should take a stand more often. So, among my resolutions for 2013: spout off more. There’s more to me than books reviews, walking sticks, and weed pulling.

This Vinyl Femme

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The paths that are our individual lives are untravelled despite the experiences of others. This is because it is our journey and while others can provide a map, you always feel like John Cabot or Christopher Columbus—the map ain’t quite right, but it will do. So it is with my record collection. The songs are expressions of emotion from the artists’ who make you feel like you’re comrades in songs. But in the end this complete stranger’s need to write was entirely different than yours. It’s just skewed perception and heightened emotion that makes me believe that Johnette Napolitano, Neko Case, and I all went out with the same guy. My life was turned upside down and inside out over the past five years, little of it resembling what previously existed. This convoluted twist led me straight to my poor, neglected record collection. I think it must be the best lover I’ve ever had and far more loyal. It’s always there, always forgiving, and never forgets. Plus you never have to clean up after it.

The film High Fidelity starring John Cusack hit very close to home to the point that when I moved into my new apartment I did a double take on my record collection. Since everything else had changed, why not this? Should I forego the traditional alphabetical and year released strategy of organization which had stood me in good stead for so many years? Or should I shuffle the wax in order of life experience? Almost every record has a story. There’s Jack Elliot’s Muleskinner Blues that I discovered at the library sale for a quarter. There are the unmentionables that my friend thought I ought to own. There’s Joy Division that I bought used since I thought it important to own, played it once, and got so depressed I couldn’t play it again. There’s the Gun Club that I bought for four bucks from a buddy who routinely sold off portions of his record collection only to buy it again. Then, like most musicphiles, there are the albums we’re way too embarrassed to admit to owning, wonder why the hell we bought them, but cannot bring ourselves to sell since they’d probably work well on a mixed tape.

As for life and long players, well, I’ve discovered serious overlap in songs. Case in point: Concrete Blonde’s debut self-titled album. I got this CD as one of the first upon the purchase of my player. Then it became practically the only record I played when my then-boyfriend travelled across the country on an excursion to find himself. He later called me when he found himself covered in second-degree burns and needed to get home! Later, when we split, I played it only to cry my eyes out. Now, I play it to learn the chords.

Then there’s the Replacements’ Let It Be with the gorgeously poignant song “Answering Machine.” That, predictably, was the first song I put on my first answering machine that my mum bought for me at the Canadian Tire in downtown Ottawa. Funny, that answering machine died a few months after my relationship did. The record, on the other hand, lingers on.

So what’s my point. Perhaps this is an open-letter apology to my long-ignored record collection. For too many years its growth has been neglected and when additions were made, they were done in fits and starts. I, like many fans, have an emotional connection to my musical recordings. These aren’t things I give up to easily, but I am eager to share and read about. I take pride in being able to the spot influences and nods to other artists. This artistic expression, this effort of blood, sweat and beers, has spanned time space and neuroses by a mere fraction of a diamond hitting a groove on a flat piece of vinyl. The tortured feelings emanating from a laser hitting a burned surface has driven me to the waiting embrace of Jack Daniels and the comfort of a Kleenex box. It has fired me up and calmed me down.

Now how is this different from anyone else? Apart from being verbose, I find few soulmates among women in this regard. Record collecting appears often the domain of men. Female friends who used to work in record shops found most record buyers albums were male. This has usually been true through the history of rock and roll. Women usually buy singles. This trend doesn’t appear to have changed much at least from my observations of record shops. I am the only XX-chromosomed human intensely perusing the record bins at thrift stores and CD racks at Sam the Record Man. My gender-mates can sometimes be found at the indie shops, but men usually dominate there too.

This must say something about me. My collection certainly does as it does for so many others. One’s personality can’t help but be reflected by it. This is why I designate a certain amount of time to nosing my way through people’s record collections at parties. If nothing else, it’s an icebreaker. Some take it as an insult that my flipping is a comment on the liveliness of the gathering. Others take it as an inspection of their “street cred.” Still others are able to pump their chests at the finding of a rare Maximum Rock and Roll compilation only to be outed by a well worn Olivia Newton John release. I don’t criticize such finds too much – living in glass houses and all.

In fact, such diversity in taste is a good thing. If the art is indeed a reflection of your life, crazy mixed up collections simply make you that much more dynamic and interesting. There may be a few ruts, but I prefer to think of them as grooves. A friend of mine declared recently that her goal in life, before marriage and babies, is owning every song she liked. A worthy goal, I think.

Special treats for me aren’t manicures or clothes or lipsticks. Rather, they are imported CDs from an artist I can’t afford to buy at any other time. Given the current rising price of CDs, however, these treats are becoming few and far between. On the other hand, I like to think of my continued purchases of CDs as cigarettes, except I’ll live long enough to listen to them when I’m old. What a life!

Whatever

THIS MACHINE MOCKS FASCISTS

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jacqueline valencia

writer. film and literary critic.

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