#MeshCon 2013: all round geekery

Monkey HatI drank the #MeshCon cool-aid this year and it was awesome!

This is my fourth (possibly fifth) year attending the Mesh Conference.

Mesh continues to be my favourite digital media conference. It’s where I go to hear new ideas, find out what’s next, meet interesting new people and most importantly to be inspired.

Like any conference coming up on a decade Mesh can be hit and miss. I am nostalgic for the early years.  I loved the focus on breakout sessions and workshops and the “unconference” feel of early Mesh. In the first few years I came away feeling like I had learned as much from participants as I did facilitators and presenters.

The later years formats have focused more on large plenary sessions that feel a bit too much like talking heads. The breakout sessions sometimes lean more towards a presenter selling the audience on their digital product or service instead of sharing their knowledge and experience.

Mesh logoThe number one thing that will make or break a conference is meeting the right people. Who are the right people? For me, they are the people who inspire me. The people who I hear what they are doing and think ZOMG! That’s so cool! These people bring out inner my fan-girl-geek and I love soaking up the amazing things that are happening and being made to happen by these innovators.

I am personally really glad @MikeRiverso was able to attend this year. He’s volunteering at Mesh. I know Mike through the Toronto Area Gamers. I am totally envious and very proud of Mike. He is doing what many talk about and few do. He left a job he didn’t like in tech to do stuff he wants to do including shows with his improv comedy troupe, going to as many social media-tech-PR conferences as possible and taking a new degree in PR to re-direct his career focus. I think it is truly inspiring to watch someone really take action to change something they are not happy about in their life and transform that into something amazing and creative and positive.

Firefly RPGMike introduced me to Daniel Solis, who for some inexplicable reason  never made it onto my radar (someone please get this rock off me that I’ve been living under!). For those of who are thinking who the heck is Daniel Solis? He’s a game designer and…. AND…. he’s doing the art direction for the new Firefly game!!!! So, there went any professional decorum I might have tried to keep about me a quasi professional conference and my inner fan-girl took over.

Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.06.33 PMDaniel and I went to the afternoon workshop on 3D printing… cause 3D printing! It was my favourite session of the day. The best part was the transformation of the room right at the beginning. Like good attendees we had all taken our seats at our tables while the facilitators seemed to be setting up some 3D printing demo. After a few minutes they realized we were waiting for them and told the room that if we wanted to go over and see the machines we were welcome to do so. It was like someone had just opened the toy box. The whole room came to life as everyone huddled around to get a look. To make it even more spectacular they gave us take home souvenirs.

@LiavKoren did most of the presentation for the 3D printing workshop. I don’t know if he and Daniel knew each other in advance but following a failed attempt by Mike, Daniel and I to approach the climbing wall (we all decided we weren’t dressed for it) we ended up back inside with Liav when Daniel uttered those magic words want to play a game? 

Daniel had brought his prototype for Suspense Card Game. I’ll review in another post, it’s good, I should buy it, so should you.

Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 10.31.14 PM

Apparently starting up a table top (or floor top in this case) card game in the middle of a tech conference is a good way to draw attention. Jeremy Toeman @Jtoeman joined us for the next game Daniel introduced us to Koi Pond Card Game, also amazing, also deserves it’s own review. Also must remember to buy this!

This was the point in the conference when I realize that I’m playing awesome games with three of the conference guests that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise met if I wasn’t such a gaming fan-girl. Totally awesome experience.

Koi Pond

Throughout the game attendees and conference organizers dropped by to hear about the game and there were lots of photos of this strange non-tech activity.

Tweet pic from mesh organizer Mark Evans
Tweet pic from the meshcon twitter account
Tweet pic from Daniel for Suspense!
Tweet pic from Daniel for Koi Pond

Eventually we did get up off the floor and join the last of the networking session with mesh. I met more awesome people including Clint Tam who filled in on Koi Pond when Mike had to leave, Mary Margaret Jones, and new people many of the names I forget (I’m sorry, I suck with names, I hope to see you again tomorrow) including someone who has a dice-based drinking game (email me!).

This, for me, is what mesh is about. Not necessarily the games – yes, in this case the games! – but about connecting with people who have energy and ideas around all this new creative stuff, about leaving after a LONG day and feeling positive, energized and ready to go out into the world and do crazy good stuff.

Tomorrow is day 2 of the conference. Hoping to be able to see Justin Edmonstone again, Linda Williamson, and Elena Yunusov (it doesn’t feel like mesh without Elena). Also very excited to see Corey Reid for the first time on a panel and hoping to hear more about Maker Faire Toronto.

Meeting Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne

As part of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil month (April) we asked the party leaders, Minister of Health and health critics to be photographed receiving a Daffodil Pin.

This was my first opportunity to meet our new Premier Kathleen Wynne. Because it was a photo op, it was a very quick and informal meeting. It was a great experience. In the middle of what was a very busy hectic day (I’m sure most of her days are) she was able to be present in the moment and give our volunteers her time and her interest. She engaged with our youth volunteer and asked him about his personal cancer journey and working with youth in his community.

At this point in my career I have met a lot of politicians. Every so often there are a few who stand out because of the way they engage with people, even for just a moment, gets across that they are in politics because they genuinely believe they can make a difference in this world. I’ve had the pleasure to meet Minister Matthews on several occasions now and she has always come across as a caring and passionate individual. I was so pleased that Kathleen Wynne carried the same force of character with her as our first woman Premier and first openly gay Premier she is an amazing role model.

Big thanks to Saajid Sam Motola for being our photographer for the day.

Wynne 1629

 

Wynne Mattews 1588

 

Wynne Matthews 0R8A4790

 

Wynne Matthews Neil Currie Raymund Ong LR

Contemplating IVF

adoption

The journey to adding a child to our family has not been an easy one. Our original plan was adoption. We wanted to adopt a child, or siblings, five years of age or older with special needs. The process quickly got complicated.

The short version is that our adoption process was stalled indefinitely when five minutes into our first visit with the social worker she decided that in order for us to adopt I should sign up for life-long counselling because of a medical history that included a rape that happened 17 years ago. I was shocked, appalled and frustrated. You can read about that here. Not because I have anything against counselling but because of the judgement that this decision made about rape victims’ (1 in 4 women) capacity to be parents. We fought on for some time and tried to get CAS to clarify what type of counselling they would accept (psychiatric, psychologist or counsellor) and to this day we are still waiting for a response to that question. We could have pressed harder, we could have followed up more. But, we didn’t. We got tired and frustrated. We gave up.

The backup plan to adoption was simply – ha! – to have a baby ourselves. My mother had me and my brother later in life, there was no indication of any problems on either side, so we never thought this would be a problem.

Infertility was a subject that was as foreign to us as miscarriage (as discussed earlier).

IVF 242Perhaps another theme of this blog is taboo subjects. Infertility certainly falls into that category. The lack of discussion on infertility baffles me. I have learned more in the past year about the human reproductive systems than I have in my entire life. And, none of it is, difficult for a 14-year-old girl (or boy) to grasp. Why we are not taught these things as part of sex education is beyond me.

The whole infertility subject lies in a black box. Women and couples who are dealing with infertility are relegated to special doctors, clinics, online forums and Dr. Google. Dealing with infertility is scramble to try to find some – any! – reliable, publicly accessible information. Knowledge seems to be firewalled behind medical institutions and, as a patient, you simply cross your fingers and hope that your doctor is up to speed on all the advancements and treatments.

There is also isolation. Suddenly a feeling of being alone. You can’t simply look at another woman or couple to know if they may have had a similar experience and might be able to offer some guidance or advice.

Our journey from infertility diagnosis to contemplating In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was thankfully a short one. I say this because I now know that many women and couples face a much longer road.

ivf-fertilizedOur first pregnancy was assisted by Clomid and we were successful on the first round. Unfortunately that pregnancy miscarried and the miscarriage follow-up tests showed that I had cancer and a bilateral tubal blockage. This means that both fallopian tubes are closed making it physically impossible for my body to transport an egg through the tube to the uterus to be fertilized.

The silver lining in all of this is that a complete bilateral tubal blockage is one of very few situations where the Government of Ontario will pay for IVF.

Deciding on IVF has been difficult. If the government did not offer coverage for IVF then my answer would be a simple no. This would be based on a financial decision. After blood tests, hormone tests, lab fees, sperme and egg storage and the IVF procedure itself most couples in Ontario are facing somewhere between $15,000 – $20,000 per IVF cycle. And, that’s before the medications. That’s simply not a financial reality for me.

public_funding_ivfHowever, the government does pay for it. I feel like not taking the opportunity is a slap in the face to couples who would give almost anything to be in my position. Not to mention the people who worked very hard to convince the government to cover IVF (in some limited cases, so far). It also falls under the regret the things you do, not the things you do not do category. In a way I’ve won the IVF lottery and walking away from that feels senseless.

One question I’ve been asked a few times is: how will IVF treatments affect the cancer. I have a team of doctors at Mout Sinai and at Princess Margaret. The agreed consensus is that cancer treatments would seriously diminish my chances of successful IVF procedures. While IVF treatments may post a slight risk to cancer, but are not considered serious.

More difficult, and I hate to admit that I am influenced by this, is the social stigma. I have been told by many friends that they would simply never do IVF. In all cases these are women who have never had to make the choice between: do IVF or do not have a child.

Infertility AwarenessHearing these statements is difficult. It’s difficult because I know they are said from a place of caring. I assume the person saying them is trying to comfort and connect with me about this difficult decision. But, I don’t think it’s a statement that anyone who is not themselves faced with the choice can make. I certainly didn’t think about IVF until it became a choice between trying IVF or not having a child. I don’t think anyone comes to IVF without facing that choice. IVF is a measure of last resort and you have no idea what your measure of last resort is until you look it in the face.

It’s also difficult to hear because in many ways I think choosing IVF or any other fertility treatment should have no more social stigma to it than choosing to go off birth control or to not wear a condom.

poster_knocked-up-3Perhaps the most infuriating thing I hear women say is It’s always the ones who aren’t trying who get pregnant. Why, is it more socially acceptable to seemingly get pregnant by ‘accident’ than to make an informed and eyes-wide-open mutual decision to have a child?

These statements reflect a bizzarre social norm where when a woman pursues fertility treatments she is crossing a line and using science to do what her body cannot, and this is bad, taboo and stigmatized. But,  at the same time unplanned and surprise pregnancies are socially acceptable and celebrated to the point that they make up several mainstream blockbuster movies. It all feels very Kafkaesque.

I’m sure there is a feminist thesis in here about our social valuing of women being able to control their reproductive rights. But, I will leave that for another time.

Today, I acknowledge my internal conflict over the offer of funded IVF treatments. I acknowledge the tremendous amount of work that has been done by scientists, doctors, women before me, advocates and policy makers to allow me this choice. I don’t take this choice lightly. I will likely try at least one IVF treatment, because in the end I want to know I used all the options available to me. I am in a place where I can accept they may not work, but cannot accept that I did not try.

Board Game Geek: Diplomacy

board-gamesI love games! I love video games, role playing games, narrative games and board games! I probably spend half of my free time playing games.

I love board games and RPG’s in part because they have a social element to them that is, so far, lacking in video games. Sorry video gamers! DudeBro’s yelling fart and rape jokes over a headset is not socializing. Well, not for me anyways.

I love games so much that when I got married in February we had a game themed wedding. It was awesome! We found fun ways to be a bit different with all part of the wedding including a unique wedding registry using the Wantster site. Wantster lets you keep lists of things you want, and you can mark them off as you get them. It also doubles as a registry for friends and family who want to buy you something you’ve ‘wanted’. Using Wantster we were able to register for a mix of normal and not-so-normal wedding gifts. One of the gifts we registered for and received was the board game Diplomacy.

Registering for Diplomacy was the most commented-on item on the registry since the game has been known to end friendships and cause life-long bitterness.

diplomacyDiplomacy is a game where each player represents a country in Europe circa World War I (approximately, with some variations) and then proceeds to use strategy, cunning and diplomacy to take over the most territory. For a more detailed description check out boardgamegeek.com or Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia it was the favourite game of John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissenger and Walter Cronkite.

Unlike Risk and other strategy wargames what really caught me about Diplomacy was how it made social diplomacy a key element of the game.

Like any other strategy wargame you need to think several moves ahead and trying to anticipate what your opponent(s) are going to do. But, in Diplomacy this anticipation that in other games may simply be some trash talk at the table becomes central to the game.

Diplomacy 50thEach round begins with a session of Diplomacy where players invite other players to go off with them for secret diplomatic talks. You try to guess if the person who is offering you a deal for safe passage or to support you in a military invasion of another players’ territory is on your side or lying to your face. During these diplomatic talks players write down their military commands in secret. Then there is the big reveal where orders are collected and read allowed and you find out if you put your trust in the right ally or if you were duped and find yourself betrayed.

I am lucky enough to know many other board game geeks. I was very happy when a friend who knew the game well agreed to teach it. I invited several others who I knew were into board games and who would not take it personal when betrayal inevitably happened. This is definitely not a game for people who who may be offended by in-game lying. I can definitely see how tables get flipped with this game.

Diplomacy oldI thoroughly enjoyed the game. I drew Austria-Hungary, which was baffling for me. Right in the middle of things I really had no idea what to do. I went in with one goal: don’t be the first one out! It helped that many of the other players decided it was best to gang up on our gracious teacher because he is tricksy and sneaky (we love you Sandy!). Russia was stymied, France gave up everything to bring down Turkey (Sandy), and Germany and England formed a very profitable alliance that saw England in the lead by the time we had to finish.

That was one of two key learning I took away from my first time playing this game.

Lesson #1: Diplomacy is a day-long game

We tried to play it in an evening. Guests arrived at 6:30 we ordered food and started playing around 7:30 and no one was close to the required 18 territories to win by 11:30 pm. Definitely a game you want to book from the early afternoon through evening and make plans for food.

Lesson #2: Time keeping is a must

Sandy, our wise and glorious teacher, suggested from the beginning that we would need to set a timer on the diplomacy session in each round otherwise they would drag on too long and the game would last forever. We tried 5 minutes, but ended up with 10 minutes for spring turns and 5 minutes for fall turns with an additional 2 minutes each turn for players to write orders. I think this can be tightened up with experienced players. For us newbies it was a good amount of timing to keep play interesting. Players felt rushed but engaged and there was a lot of anticipation about what the orders would say.

Additional Lesson #3: Chose your players

Already said, but I thought I would highlight it. This is a game where you lie to your friends. I can definitely see the potential for people getting hurt or offended while playing this game. I’d really recommend choosing who you play with carefully. Ideally you want a group that is 100% okay with losing a game, who understands in-game vs. out-of-game and who will have fun watching the drama of a good game even if they are not winning.

Overall I think Diplomacy is my new favourite board game and I can’t wait to set up another game.

My Daffodil Day

Daffodil I want you to know you are not aloneEach year the Canadian Cancer Society creates awareness about the fight against cancer by selling daffodils. In previous years they were live flowers you could get cut or with a bulb so that you could plant them. Now, they are pins.

This year, we got an all-staff email asking us to help out by selling the daffodil pins in subway stations. Normally this is the sort of thing I’d avoid like the plague. It’s very public, and it’s selling stuff. These are two things I don’t do. However, I decided to participate, and I’m very glad I did. It was an amazing opportunity to put myself out there and engage with total strangers for a cause I believe in.

I got the Dundas subway station which is freezing at 7:00 am. Partnered up with another staff member I took the northbound trains, he the south.

To date, I’ve been an observer to the subway fundraising. I’ve seen the United Way Pizza Day and the Lunch Money Drive from Second Harvest and I’ve given and I’ve not given.

Daffodil volunteerStanding out there with my little daffodil box  did feel a bit ridiculous. But, I figured if I was going to do this, I was going to do it all the way. So for the next two hours, every time a train stopped and the doors opened, I shouted: Good Morning! April is Cancer Awareness Month! Show your support for the fight against cancer! Support cancer research / support free programs for patients. Sometimes I changed it up and called out some of the programs or asked people to get this season’s best fashion accessory. There wasn’t really one particular line that seemed to work better than another.

Most people avoided me. I noticed most people look down and to the left as they tried to avoid me. Some people gave me truly angry stares as I stood in their path with a daffodil. But ultimately they decided to avoid me, and not engage.

Women were ten times more likely (at least) to donate and take a daffodil than men.

There was no pattern in income. People from all walks of life, from all nationalities, gave.

I had recently watched Amy Palmer’s The Power of Asking TED Talk, and so, I made it a point to hold out a daffodil, not aggressively, just slightly and to look people in the eye.

I wear it for my motherThe most rewarding and most humbling experiences were the people who did stop to donate and take a daffodil. Some just donated, but many stopped to tell me their story. One woman told me how her father was currently fighting cancer and how scared she was, how much stress, how much unknown, how helpless she felt. She had tears in her eyes and I did too by the time she let me give her the daffodil.

People told me about their diagnosis, about their fear, about their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children who had fought cancer. Some survived, others did not.

In the short two hours I was out there asking people to donate money and wear a pin I was able to connect with people, complete strangers, in a very authentic way. As I looked directly at them, in their eyes, they engaged. They paused at the beginning of their very hectic day and shared things that were deeply personal with a me, a complete stranger. Afterwards I would thank them and everyone of them returned the thanks not in that off hand way that we so often do, but in a genuine – look me right in the eyes and let me know this brief moment we shared meant something to them.

I understand that standing on a subway platform selling daffodil pins for pocket change and small bills is pretty much the least I can do in the fight against cancer. But, it was an incredible experience and reminder that almost everyone out there is touched, in some way, by this disease and there is tremendous hope that cancer outcomes can be improved and lives will be saved and treatments will get better.

Family Caregiver Day

Full disclosure: I’m a staff member at the Canadian Cancer Society. They are not paying me to write this post. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.

The Big C

daffodilI seem to have fallen into a pattern alternating sad and happy posts on this blog. I promise this won’t continue indefinitely.

The complex reality is that a lot of sad things have happened this past year and those things have heavily influenced the way I now view and navigate the world. Living these experiences has changed me, and my life, but not in ways that I would have expected. If anything there is now more meaning and more value and more beauty.

There is no easy introduction to this subject: I have the cancer.*

This is the part where I pause, you look concerned and we both feel awkward and don’t know what to say.

cancer particlesI’ve discovered there’s a coming out process with cancer. You can’t simply drop the c-bomb on someone. Although, I have inadvertently done that with a few people I mistakenly thought were in the know. And now, for some, this blog will be the c-bomb (sorry). My coming out process usually involves a thought out piece of writing or a coffee date. I hope if you are finding out via this blog that you will consider this the former in lieu of the latter.

There’s also no good way to tell someone. Eventually you just blurt it out, and they look awkward and shocked and there’s that moment of awkward silence as you both stare past each other trying to think of something to say.

This is the part where I tell you not to worry. In my case it is not serious. In fact, I’m very very lucky. I have stage one ovarian cancer. I’m lucky because while ovarian cancer has a high mortality rate that is because it is not usually discovered until it is stage three or four.

General image not sex cord stromal

General image not sex cord stromal

In my case it was discovered early as part of a series of tests that were trying to discover why I was having fertility issues. It looks like an early stage of sex cord stromal type, which is good because it’s not epithelial – which is not so good. Also good news, after a battery of diagnostic tests including: blood tests, CT, tumor marker tests, more ultrasounds than I care to think about, and some minor surgical staging tests it has continued to be a stage one diagnosis.

Now we’re both feeling a bit more relieved we find ourselves at another awkward pause while you’re not sure if you should ask about what happens next. Am I going to lose my hair? Spend huge amounts of time in hospital? Be in agony with chemotherapy? No. Probably not.

histologyThe primary treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery. With stage 1 cancer of this type it’s not recommended to move to surgery too fast. At first this seemed counter intuitive. My reaction: WTF it’s cancer, get it out! However, in stage one the cancer cells are still converging into a tumor. So long as the histological grade of the tumor remains low, meaning it’s not affecting the tissue around it, it’s better to wait a bit until there is a clear pattern to the tumor formation. If surgery is done too soon there is a 40% chance of remission. Surgeries done a bit later have more success.

There are other ‘complicating’ factors for me like that small issue of wanting to try to have a child. I have a better chance of conception before any surgery is preformed.

Ironically, while the cancer is the thing that seems to freak people out the most when I let them know what has been going on with me this past year, so far it has the least impact on my day-to-day life. That will change. But not soon.

Next steps for me include more tests. Always. More. Tests. Making decisions around family planning. Then exploring cancer treatment options.

There will be some tough decisions ahead. Cancer treatment, even in Ontario, even with benefits is expensive. The average cost per course of cancer drugs is now over $75,000, and over half of the newer cancer drugs cost more than $20,000 per year. The reality for most cancer patients is that care decisions are balanced with financial decisions. I am one of the lucky ones, I have reasonable coverage, chemotherapy is not likely to be terribly onerous for me and does not seem to have a strong statistical variation on my five year survival rate. Overall, I’m early stage and my prognosis is extremely good.

Some amazing people have offered some financial support. At this point my recommendation is to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society or another well-recognized cancer charity.

*Note on pronunciation: “cancer” must be proceeded by “the”, “cancer” should be pronounced Kaaaann-Tzarrrrr preferably with a heavily nasal tone.

The links I’ve provided in this post are from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Full disclosure: I currently work for the Canadian Cancer Society.

The views expressed on this blog and on my social media channels are mine and mine alone and do not reflect those of my employer.

CanadianCancerSocietyLogoThe Society is a national, charitable, volunteer based organization whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of those living with cancer.

It’s an amazing organization. We raise money for research. Last year alone we invested $45 million in research. And, it has paid off. The Society was founded 75 years ago and at that time about 25% of people would survive their cancer diagnosis. Today, 60% will survive. That’s incredible! I’m fortunate to be in that 60%. Early detection saves many lives.

Beyond research one of the biggest benefits the Society has, for everyone – not just employees, are our community services. Including education workers, Smokers’ Helpline, advocacy (this is what I do), transportation programs and more. The most useful service for me going through this experience has been their Cancer Information Service where I can find all kinds of information on my cancer, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, supports and more.

Learning Guitar

Guitar girl bwI’ve owned an acoustic guitar for years. It was purchased in a fit of self-loathing rage.

When I was sixteen I was well on my way to becoming a classical musician. I played a variety of wind instruments including clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, saxophone and the giant baratone saxophone which was my favourite. I dabbled in brass and played some upright and electric bass. As long as I stayed away from percussion instruments I was pretty good. I played in youth symphonies, got selected for solos, scored high on my Royal Music Conservatory tests, got good teachers and even understudied to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Then I got tendinitius which progressed to arthritis.

Baritone saxIn my final year of exams my teacher graciously let me take a break in the middle of my exams to ice my hands, something that should have resulted in a failing grade. I knew then I had no future in music.

I’m not sure what masochistic part of me decided at this point to buy a guitar. I knew then, I know now, that guitar is possibly the worst choice of instrument for someone with arthritis.

Still, I loved music. Music was as much a part of me as my arm, or leg or lungs. There were these moments in orchestra when everything came together and it was a true out of body experience. I ceased to be aware of my own playing, my own finger work and just got lost in the sound of the whole. It was a living vibrant thing and, were I religious, it would be the closest I have come to touching something I would describe as a soul.

guitar artI think there was some part of me that knew I would always need to play. That creating music is not something I want to do, it’s something that is fundamental to who I am and how I navigate this world. It connects me to feelings and emotions that cannot find expression in words or any other form.

There are certain tones, chords, pitches that my body physically responds to in a visceral primal way. There are moments when music moves me so deeply that it takes all of my self control not to fall apart while standing at a bus stop listening to my iPod. These moments are amplified exponentially when I can actually play.

Simply put, music is my humanity.

Sadly, I think I have spent the last decade trying to cut myself off from this part of myself. If I couldn’t play music I didn’t really know who I was. I spent much of the next decade creating a new identity that did not involve music at my core. Most people who have met me in the last five years certainly would not associate me with music. I rarely talk about bands, don’t recommend artists, and I certainly don’t play.

guitar clutchStill, despite several moves and my husband’s slight frustration at moving several musical instruments including two almost-never-played guitars, I have never been able to make a clean break and give it up all together.

Every few months I pull out an instrument. I wait until my husband is at work, close the windows, find a quiet room and play. I play Mozart, Handle, Bach, I play jazz, blues and blue grass. There is a problem though. Playing an orchestra instrument, without the orchestra: not the same.

I realize now this is why, in that fit of self-loathing rage I bought a guitar and have held onto it all these years. A guitar is one of few instruments where entire rich compositions of music can be created for the one instrument, with vocals. And, unlike a piano it’s easily portable.

I will never be a professional preforming musician. I am never going to have the strength and dexterity in my fingers to put in the hours of practice needed to play to that level. But that is not why I need to play.

The first actual memory I have from after I found out that Sean had died was going to the park and writing the first song I had written in over a decade. It just came. It poured out of me. I paced around the park singing into the voice memo of my phone so that I could capture it all.

acoustic guitarOne of my deepest regrets is that despite writing and recording it, I was unable to play it at his memorial. I am forever grateful to Alyssa for playing this song on my behalf. I was the most beautiful gift anyone has ever given me. Still, I wish I had been able to do it myself.

I am truly lucky to know so very many talented people. And so, this year when one of those people offered to give a group of friends guitar lessons I signed up. Life happens, and organizing lessons around a dozen or more jobs, family commitments and life in general has meant the lessons have not so much happened. But, it gave me the starting point I needed to pull the guitar out of the closet, pick it up at least one hour every day, and play it.

So far I’m terrible. I’m thankful every day that this is not a violin and I don’t sound like I’m skinning a cat. I also have no idea how my parents put up with the years of squeaking and squacking that comes with learning reed wind instruments.

My fingers feel like they are giant meat sausages and I am at various points convinced they have grown to three times their regular size making it physically impossible to play a guitar. The first time I coordinated my fingers enough to play one chord I thought I might have broken some fingers. Learning the second chord wasn’t any easier.

guitar in fieldStill there is progress. Slow, minimal progress. I can play several simple melodies on the first four strings with reasonable precision, good tone, and in time with the metronome. I can also play the C and G7 chords reasonably well, but learning to switch between them without losing time is still some ways off.

Learning guitar, for me, is about re-connecting to a part of myself that I tried to kill but wouldn’t die. It’s honouring Sean’s memory. It’s accepting myself for who I am, flaws and all. It’s making a promise that one day I will be able to play the song I wrote.