Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Deja vu :p

I lost my job this week. :p  I got back from vacation on Monday & was handed my pink slip early Tuesday morning.  I do not yet know all the details of the long-rumoured reorganization, but I do know that (sadly) I was not alone. At least three other coworkers, two of them also long-term employees in their 50s, were also let go. :( 

As you can probably tell from some of my recent work-related posts, this was not entirely unexpected -- but it still sucks to have my career end this way after 28 years of loyal service & (until just recently, anyway) completely satisfactory performance. But it is also a relief that my work-related stress is at an end.  I am glad I'm not one of the ones who has to stick around and pick up the pieces. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. :p 

As I sat there in the conference room, I had this weird sense of deja vu. I hate to compare losing a job to losing a baby -- but they both do involve a certain measure of loss & grief.  Thinking "is this really happening to me??"... not entirely taking in everything that someone is trying to tell you... trying to sneak out of the building without seeing or being seen by anyone you know... then sitting on an almost-empty homebound train, staring out the window... and now finding myself unexpectedly off for the rest of the summer.... hmmmm. Almost the exact same time of year too. It will be 16 years on August 7th.

At any rate -- if I survived that terrible day 16 years ago, I can most certainly survive this.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Big Star still shines brightly

If it's spring/summer, I must be in the throes of a new musical obsession, lol. (Cases in point: Raspberries, 2012;  the Rascals, 2013.) 

The difference this time around being that while I listened to both the Raspberries & the Rascals in my 1960s/70s youth, and then rediscovered them in middle age, I don't think I had ever heard of Big Star until I started watching "That 70s Show" -- in the late 1990s, lol -- and wondering where the kick-ass theme song, "In the Street" (also known as "That 70s Song") came from.

(After writing that, I Googled the show to refresh my memory exactly when "That 70s Show" began. Interestingly, the first episode aired August 23, 1998 -- about two weeks after Katie's stillbirth. I always got a kick out of the show & the memories it evoked of my own mid/late 1970s teenaged years -- Eric, Donna, Kelso, Jackie, Hyde & Fez would have been exactly my age -- and every character reminded me of someone I really had known in high school, lol -- but beyond the nostalgia factor, the show no doubt provided a welcome distraction at a time when I really, really needed one.)  

Anyway, I noticed the name "Alex Chilton" as the song's author in the credits & that sounded vaguely familiar. (The theme was originally sung by someone named Todd Griffin, but in later seasons by Cheap Trick, which definitely IS a band I remember well from my teenaged years. I found this fun video of them doing the theme song on YouTube.... for comparison, here is Big Star's original version... and a clip of a later incarnation of Big Star, featuring Chilton and original drummer Jody Stephens, doing the song on the Leno show in 1994 -- a couple of years before "That 70s Show" began.) 

When I rediscovered the Raspberries a few years back & started exploring links online, the name Big Star kept coming up -- both bands cited as prime examples of the "power pop" genre at its finest. So I started Googling Big Star and listened to some clips of their songs via YouTube. 

If you've never heard of Big Star or Alex Chilton, you're not alone (and welcome to the cult, lol).  Obscure as they may be, Big Star has a bigger following today than they did when they first recorded and toured in the 1970s.  It seems that most people who hear their music love it (then & now) -- but for a variety of reasons (including record company distribution problems beyond their control), they just never found an audience -- at least, not at the time their records were originally released.  Maybe they jinxed themselves -- after all, they had the audacity to call themselves "Big Star" (although they did lift the name & logo from a local supermarket chain) and their first album "#1 Record."

Before Big Star, Alex Chilton had been a member of the Box Tops, whose song "The Letter" -- recorded when he was just 16 -- was one of the biggest hits of 1967.  ("The Letter" is one of those songs I clearly remember from my childhood. In fact, I can remember being at my grandmother's & watching "American Bandstand" the day Dick Clark revealed at the #1 song of the week.) Saleswise, the Box Tops proved to be the apex of Chilton's career. After Big Star's first three albums flopped, he spent some time in New York, dabbling in the punk and indie music scenes (he was a regular at CBGB in its heyday), playing cover tunes in hotel bars and at one point washing dishes for a living in New Orleans, where he eventually settled. He was always more influential than commercially successful, but eventually did earn a comfortable living from royalties (including from "That 70s Show") and reunion tours with Big Star and the Box Tops.

Over the years, Big Star's music continued to find new audiences and be re-recorded by other bands and musicians. The Bangles, for example (another band I love(d)), recorded the Big Star song "September Gurls" in the 1980s.  I've read that when the Bangles met Chilton & learned he had never received a penny in royalties from their version, they promptly wrote him a cheque in gratitude. 

Chilton died of a heart attack in 2010 at the far too young age of 59, just before a reconstituted version of Big Star was supposed to play at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.  (Apparently he had been feeling ill for some time but had not sought treatment, in part because he lacked health insurance.) Not long afterward, original bass player Andy Hummel also passed away (from cancer), and I remember reading both obituaries in the newspapers at the time.

Then last year, a documentary about Big Star, "Nothing Can Hurt Me," was released to critical acclaim. (I have yet to see it, but the promo clips on You Tube are intriguing.) 

More recently, my interest in Big Star and Chilton was piqued anew when I found a new book, "A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton" by Holly George-Warren. There was also a book, "Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band" by Rob Jovanovic, already in the music section -- recently updated to capitalize on the documentary -- and so I picked up both books and then read them, one after the other (with YouTube music clips as soundtracks).

There's aren't many books out there on the band -- so if you are into Big Star &/or Chilton big time, or want to learn more about them, both would be essential reading.  Both are well researched.  If you are more interested in the band as a whole, "Big Star" by Jovanovic is a good primer -- although I must confess I found the writing slightly flat. I did enjoy learning more in its pages about group founder Chris Bell, who tragically joined the "27 Club" in 1978 when he crashed his car into a lamppost, and whose huge contribution to the group has been overshadowed by Chilton's.  (Drummer Jody Stephens is the lone remaining member of the original lineup.)

"A Man Called Destruction" is primarily focused on Alex Chilton, and I personally found it to be the better written and more engaging of the two books. Chilton was a fascinating character -- gifted and talented, but also (like many geniuses, I suppose) conflicted and troubled -- an abuser of both drugs and alcohol (as well as, sometimes, women -- although he did eventually find marital happiness later in life) -- prone to undermining his own success,  and sometimes, yes, a bit of a jerk. 

While he & Big Star may both be gone, their legacy continues to grow as new generations (and those of us who missed out the first time around) continue to (re)discover their music. 

These were books numbers 6 & 7 that I've read so far this year (finished while I was on vacation).

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lazy hazy days of summer

(Actually not that hazy, thankfully. But I couldn't think of another title, lol.)

We are -- at long last -- on vacation. In the middle of a two-week stay with my parents. This wasn't exactly the vacation I wanted, but it's the vacation I got, and I am trying to make the most of it. It's slightly earlier in the summer than we usually come... but it was hard to get two weeks that suited everyone's busy schedules (not just our own), and this was the best we could do. Even so, my sister could not get time off work while I was here;  the Princess is (sadly) on her own family vacation, although we will see her before we leave.  So it's just me & dh and my parents.

And it is quiet. Almost a little too quiet, perhaps -- but I think it's mostly what I needed (for the first while, anyway), after some stress-filled days/weeks/months at work.  Reading -- books and blogs (I've finished two books since we got here and am now on a third, so expect some reviews in the near future) -- sleeping in late, staying up later to play cards & dominos, taking walks around this little town, popping in at the bakery for coffee & doughnuts (much to the curiosity of the regular locals), and stuffing myself silly with my parents' wonderful cooking. :) 

I realized, before we left, that I had taken only one vacation day & one personal day (for a lengthy medical appointment) since Christmas. Clearly, I needed a vacation. I am trying not to think about work and what awaits when I get back. I try to remember that it's just a little over 18 months until my 55th birthday & early retirement, if I want it.

My mother doesn't seem to want to hear me talk about early retirement, though. I've noticed whenever I mention it, she will make some comment about how "oh, someone better keep working" and about how dh & I will drive each other crazy being in the same house all days long.  (My father, at 75, still goes into the office most days, albeit his workload and pace is much slower than it was even just a few years ago.) 

Her comments irk me for reasons I can't entirely explain. While I tend to think of her as being a stay-at-home mom, she did almost always work herself, when I was growing up and continuing after I left home -- but with the exception of a few years of full-time work while I was in grade school, it was only ever part time, and she retired at 65.  She & my dad have always lived in small towns where the commute has never been longer than a short walk or even shorter drive. They've always lived close enough to the workplace to come home to eat lunch.  (My dad even takes a nap & watches "The Young & The Restless" before returning to work!!) While she has certainly worked hard all her life and faced her own challenges (including raising two kids, which I will admit I've never done, and cared for aging parents), she has never gotten up at 5 a.m. & commuted to & from a full-time, high-stress job, 10 hours a day, five days a week, for 24 years (I've actually been working for 28, but we've been living in our house & commuting for 24). 

Maybe she's genuinely concerned that we will need the additional income that working longer would bring -- although she also makes occasional cracks to the contrary about the supposed size of our bank account (I've gotten snide remarks from people in the past about how rich we must be since we don't have kids... but from my own mother...??!!). 

Maybe she's concerned that once I retire, I'll be home more often to check up on her. ;) 

Maybe she just doesn't want to be reminded that she has a daughter who is almost old enough to retire (because that would mean she is HOW old??).  ;) 

At any rate, if there's one lesson I've learned over the years, it's that, even when its doesn't turn out exactly as we've planned, life (and vacation) is too short not to be enjoyed.

Monday, June 30, 2014

"The Beatles: All These Years: Tune In" by Mark Lewisohn

I love them, yeah, yeah, yeah. ;) 

If you're a longtime reader of my blog, you'll know that I have had an almost lifelong love affair with the Beatles. (I recently did a search of my blog & tagged all the Beatles-related posts I could find with their own "The Beatles" label.) I can't remember a time when they weren't part of my life.

I had just turned 3 when they made their famous North American debut appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964;  I think I had just turned 5 when my mother took me to see them in the movie "Help!" in the spring of 1966, thereby setting me up for a lifetime of dreaming about Ringo's ring stuck on my finger and falling through trapdoors into cellars where tigers prowled. I was 9 when they broke up, a teenager as they established their solo careers (my sister & I owned several Wings albums between us), and a university student when John Lennon was murdered outside his Manhattan apartment building.

I've read a number of books about the Fab Four, collectively and individually, including Hunter Davies' 1968 authorized biography, The Beatles;  Shout! by Philip Norman;  and "The Beatles" by Bob Spitz (reviewed here). I am sure there are many Beatles fans who are far more knowledgeable than I -- but at the same time, I think I'm pretty well informed about the group and its history, probably more so than the average Joe or Jane on the street.

You would think there wouldn't be a whole lot more to discover about them that hasn't already been reported. And you might think that, knowing the Beatles story as well as I do, I would find yet another Beatles book a case of "been there, read that."

You would be wrong, on both counts.

"Does the world really need another book on the Beatles?"  their longtime road manager & Apple executive Neil Aspinall asked author Mark Lewisohn, when he was approached about this project. 

Well, yes -- apparently it does. "There's nothing like the Beatles story to legitimately go everywhere and strongly connect everything to everyone,"  Lewisohn says in the book's introduction, explaining why he decided to write the book, and to do so in the way that he has. "It's a blockbuster history with surprises at every turn, many heroes and a few villains, unparalleled triumphs, great joys and genuine tragedies, the ebbs and flows of human lives -- plus an avalanche of fortuitous chances and coincidences that defy probability. From the project's conception, I've seen it as the Beatles in their times -- them in their world and the world right about them."

And the book lives up to Lewisohn's vision for it. Familiar as I was with the contours of the Beatles' story, there was so, so much that I didn't know, or that was presented in a fresh new light, or with new information that questioned or challenged the veracity of old stories. Lewisohn does place the Beatles in the context of their times -- what it was like to grow up in Liverpool in the post-war years, how the British entertainment industry worked, just how unique the Beatles were as a group that was both a vocal group AND an instrumental group. The book is amazingly well researched, drawing on sources new & old, from Aspinall, who ended years of silence by speaking to Lewisohn shortly before his death, to the girls who used to frequent their legendary lunchtime shows at the Cavern Club.  There is much here that's familiar, but also much that's new. So yes, apparently we did need another book about the Beatles. :) 

I loved how Lewisohn pointed out interesting links and coincidences and near-misses of history throughout the book -- that "avalanche of fortuitous chances and coincidences that defy probability." A few examples: 
  • A 1962 photo session to publicize "Love Me Do" took place near the docks of Liverpool -- on the very spot where John Lennon's ancestors had lived when they arrived in Liverpool from Ireland, fleeing the potato famine. 
  • Producer George Martin took oboe lessons from the mother of Jane Asher, who later became Paul's girlfriend.
  • Paul and John's first meeting has long been pegged at a church fete on July 6, 1957 (28 years to the day before my wedding) -- but Lewisohn hints they may have actually met several months earlier, at a newsstand called -- of all things -- Abba (!).
  • And August 17, 1960, the first night the Beatles played in Hamburg, was 20 years to the day from the first Nazi air raids on Liverpool.  “Rock and roll music was taken to Hamburg by the children of the survivors, to be heard in turn by children who’d outlived the Allies’ revenge blitz of 1943,” Lewisohn writes.  
Overall, I think my familiarity with the Beatles story was a plus in reading this book. It took me several months to plow through this book -- but because I was familiar with the overall arc of the story and the main characters, I could pick it up and put it down, dip in & out, without losing the thread of the story. Obviously, I was predisposed to like it, and so it's hard for me to judge how someone new to the Beatles story might receive it. I imagine it could be a tad overwhelming -- but my bet is that you will find it highly entertaining as well as informative.  

This is actually just the first volume in a planned three-volume set, taking us from the Beatles' family origins in Liverpool, up to the end of 1962 -- with "Love Me Do" still hanging in on the charts, "Please Please Me" waiting in the wings for release in the new year, and the group poised on the verge of something very big. And get this -- what I read -- all 803 pages (plus notes) -- is an ABRIDGED version of the book. There is a longer, deluxe "author's cut" edition, running to 1,700+ pages (!!), but available only (for now, at least) in England.  I bought the hardcover when it first came out last fall/winter, but soon realized it was far too heavy to be lugging back & forth on the commuter train in my briefcase every day. So I got an e-version for my Kobo -- much lighter -- and consulted the notes for each chapter in the hardcover version as I read along.  

As I got closer to the end of the book, I found myself torn -- should I keep plowing on through to the close -- or linger on each page and savour it, before there were no more pages to read?? Sadly, Volume 2 is still being written. While Volume 1 took 10 years to research and write, Lewisohn doesn't think Volume 2 will take quite so long to put together. I've heard estimated delivery dates ranging anywhere from 2016 to 2020. (!!) (Presumably if Volume One was "Tune In," Volume Two will be "Turn On" and Volume Three, "Drop Out"??) 

I can hardly wait. :) 

This was book #5 that I've read so far this year. (Although I'm thinking that, at 800+ pages, maybe it should count as two or three books, lol.) 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The shadow child

Dh's cousin hosted a big family gathering over the weekend, and we had a lovely time. Lots of little kids running around, a new baby to ooh and ahh over. While such a gathering at one time would have been agonizing for me, I took it all in stride, didn't even give it much thought, really. Progress?

Until.

A., the tall, good-looking teenaged nephew of our hostess (dh's cousin's wife) was there -- and it was his 16th birthday. He'd already been to get his driver's learning permit, and there was much ado being made over him.

I was sitting at a table with my sister-in-law and another of dh's cousins, and they were remarking on how quickly all the kids were growing up. They wondered aloud about another cousin's son, J., and how old he was. They called him over and asked, and he said he would be 16 this fall. 

That set them off:  wow, Grade 11 this fall!! A driver's license!!  Off to university soon!!

I just sat there silently, with a half-smile frozen on my face. I knew very well, all too well, how old J. was. His mom, and A.'s mom and I were all pregnant together at our host & hostess's engagement party, 16 years ago this spring/summer.

Of course, I know how old Katie would be soon -- it's not like I'd forgotten.  But it was still jarring to hear others talking about these boys like that -- to realize all over again what I am missing out on -- and to realize for the umpteenth time that nobody else will ever, ever remember my daughter the way that I will. They know that I was pregnant, that I lost the baby -- but to them, she will only ever be a sad, hazy, shadowy memory of what might have been. The fine details, the fact that my little girl would be the contemporary of these two boys -- also be in high school and getting her driver's license and thinking about university -- are obviously lost on them.  

(I do think that J's mother remembers, since we were pregnant at the same time -- and my baby died, while hers lived. But she wasn't at the table with us then.) 

I stood up and offered to take everyone's paper plates to the garbage, and asked did anyone want anything else to drink, and that changed the subject, thankfully.

It didn't ruin the entire evening for me (as it once surely would have).  But it did sting.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#Asanonparent, here's what I think....

So, Peter McKay, Canada's federal Minister of Justice and (not insignificantly) new dad, has been having a rough few weeks.

First, he made some comments about why so few women are being appointed federal judges -- namely, that they simply aren't applying because of the "special bond" they have with their children.

Then, he got into a Twitter war with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, objecting to Trudeau's mention of legalizing marijuana to a group of students with a tweeted protest that began, "As a parent..."  This prompted a flurry of sarcastic responses under the hashtag #asaparent. (As I commented to Pamela at Silent Sorority, it reminded me of how she used to take articles that used the phrase "as a mom…” and then change them to “as an infertile…” -- sometimes with hilarious results.)

Then, some of McKay's messages to his staff members to mark Mother's Day & Father's Day were compared and contrasted -- and found wanting.  As reported in the Globe & Mail
Mr. MacKay’s Mother’s Day message to Justice Department staff, in recognizing those who hold “two full-time jobs” as colleagues and as mothers and caregivers, said that by the time many of them reach the office, they have “already changed diapers, packed lunches, run after school buses, dropped kids off at daycare, taken care of an aging loved one and maybe even thought about dinner.”

By contrast, the Father’s Day message spoke of “dedicated fathers, shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders.” In both the Mother’s and Father’s Day messages, and in his meeting with the Ontario lawyers, he cited what he’d learned from his own experience as the married father of a toddler.
The more I thought about it (#asanonparent), the more I wondered about two things that nobody else seemed to be mentioning or asking: 

(a)  Since when have bosses started issuing workplace messages to their employees related to Mother's Day & Father's Day?  (The only holiday I can ever remember where the higher-ups issued some kind of message or commentary was Christmas/New Year's/"the holidays" -- and that was abandoned quite some time ago.) 

And,

(b)  How many of the minister's staff members don't have children (quite a few, I would guess) -- and what words of praise & wisdom & recognition did he have to offer them?

McKay is still in his 40s, newly married to a highly accomplished woman and, as noted, a new dad.  Presumably, he should know better.  On the other hand, consider the party he belongs to and the company he keeps...

On the plus side, these events have inspired some great comment & opinion pieces in the press.
There's Tabitha Southey's wry commentary in the Globe & Mail:  
Compound all that with the self-righteous “As a parent...” and we have Russian nesting dolls of wrongness! As if people without children have no desire to see the country run well. Were all the minister’s opinions suspect before the birth of his son a year ago?...

But in general, and I say this as a parent, lots of us are morons, and those who sling our children about like moral cudgels are in the wrong – and what a vast land Mr. MacKay is proving the wrong to be!

...Basically, to hear Minister MacKay explain it, our Federal Courts are run by dozens of baby-eating Greek Titans – it’s all Kronoses over there with the occasional Joan Crawford thrown in.
And (needless to say) I adored this piece by Susan Delacourt in the Toronto Star, with insights such as:
...perhaps we should be asking how parenthood has become some kind of blanket assurance of noble motives in politics. Or why we assume that the mere fact of having children — not exactly a unique condition in human experience — gives a person a heightened capacity for compassion.

For parents or non-parents, isn’t the true test of empathy your ability to see yourself in someone else’s shoes — someone who doesn’t look or act or live like you? On this score, we have no reason to believe that Canadian parents are more, or less, caring than any other kind of people in the population.

...Being a parent is without a doubt something to celebrate, but it shouldn’t be a stick to whack political opponents. Nor should it be the price of admission to a conversation about what’s best for Canadian families — with kids or without them.
Amen!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Office odds & ends

I stopped at the department store counter of a well-known cosmetics brand this week at lunchtime.  My favourite swivel-up eye pencil broke off/ran out, mid-makeup, as I was rushing to get ready & out the door for work that morning -- thereby setting the tone for the rest of my day :p -- and I wanted to pick up another. I'm one of the counter manager's best and longest-running customers.  How long? I have a business card from her with an appointment written on it that dates back to 1991 (!!).  

"I'm thinking about retiring," she said to me quietly, as she wrapped up my purchase and looked around to see if any of her coworkers were listening. "I'm 60 now, and I've been here 25 years. Most of the girls these days don't stay more than two or three. I hate to say it, but I'm not as young as I used to be. It's hard spending all day on my feet, and I want to spend more time with my granddaughter." 

I told her I could relate. (Well, not to the granddaughter part, obviously, but generally.) 

Without going into all the gory details, there has been much change afoot at my workplace. (Again.) We've all been told we have to "step up our game."  And while I have been trying to adapt, and have never been rated a less than satisfactory performer before this point, I fear that, lately, I am not stepping high nor fast enough to suit some of the powers that be. :(   As another "older" coworker noted at a recent meeting where we were discussing the prospect of yet more changes, "we all know that change is a given these days, but over time, it does take a toll." 

Yes. Yes, it does. 

(Which is a long & roundabout explanation/excuse, at least in part, as to why I haven't been writing (or reading, or commenting) much lately. Apologies.)

*** *** ***

Also on the work-related front, pg coworker is off work again. She is actually "working from home," although I'm sure her dr would have done the paperwork to put her on short-term disability.  Even so, it's been a bit lonely at the office. And busy, especially with vacation season kicking in.

We're hoping to lure her into the office next week for a surprise baby shower.  It's actually a joint baby shower -- two of the guys in our office are also about to become new dads. Would you believe I'm on the planning committee?? (As one of just three people on our immediate team, including our mutual senior manager, I figured I would be conspicuous by my absence.)  I was secretly hoping the shower would take place while I was away on vacation, but no such luck...

One of the managers, about my age, actually wondered whether we should wait to have the shower until the baby is born. A few people said, "Why??" in puzzlement and there was an awkward pause as some of us, who are old enough to know that not all babies come home, particularly from a high risk pregnancy, exchanged glances.

I weighed in by saying, in a light-hearted way, that having a shower later was fun because we might  get to see the baby -- but it was nice at any time to know that your friends want to wish you well and celebrate with you.

I still think about my own baby shower sometimes -- planned, but never held. All I have is an invitation. I would have liked to have had, if not the presents (they would never have been used anyway), definitely the memories...