Arguments with a Musician

There’s a musician I follow on Facebook who is driving me nuts, but I don’t know whether what is bugging me about them has more to do with me than them.

I worked with them from time to time back when I was in the film/TV industry, since they worked as both a score composer and session musician. They’ve had a long and far-ranging career in music — period — let alone the Canadian music scene. Their stories (and friends’ stories) are typically epic to read as they drop references to Leonard Cohen and Ray Charles. It’s helped, too, that they were a consummate professional, and rarely overbearing (considering the twin music/TV industry connections I mean this as a compliment).

Despite being an icon and pillar of the Toronto music scene, like everyone, they were affected by COVID last year. The doors closed not just on a handful of gigs (live and recorded), but all of them in one fell swoop. And within a few months they began posting updates decrying the dire situation musicians were in, along with anti-government diatribes. Now, here’s the thing: I don’t blame anyone in their industry — pillar or acolyte — wanting to express their frustration publicly with the lockdown conditions (for anyone reading this outside of Toronto, there hasn’t been live music or theatre performances for over 14 months). I especially understand anyone wanting to criticize our provincial government’s criminal negligence during this time. They’re posts could also be petty, seeming to express more disappointment about they’re lost prospects than, say, the thousands of others out of work, but I told myself: it’s a pandemic, how about we not hold people to too high a standard?

But something bothered me, particularly when the complaining didn’t subside and began to feel like whining. In other words, another Boomer with a swimming pool in their backyard shaking their fist at the sky when inconvenienced. What bothered me was that here was this person, as mentioned, a pillar. This person has a street named after them. Shouldn’t that sort of prestige, I asked myself, not come with any sense of responsibility toward a role of leadership? A sense of indebtedness to those less fortunate in their trade, to the degree they might realize that stomping their shoes on the ground wasn’t just a bad look, it was a missed opportunity for advocacy.

It reminded me of so many people in the film/TV industry who ground their teeth over any missed opportunity, taking like a mortal blow to their ego what people like myself had to endure on a regular basis just to land a gig that paid decently.

This person disappointed me, and I feel that there’s some of my own shit in that. I had few if no role models during those 20 years, and those who came closest could still say or do hurtful things, often because of their inflated sense of importance, or plain ol’ toxic masculinity (which ran from hot and cold taps back then). I don’t write about the industry very often because my relationship with it is bittersweet; there was a shit load of misogyny and general bad behaviour, which makes writing about it that much more difficult.

I would love nothing more than for this person on Facebook to stand taller, to look beyond their four-block radius, to think what might encourage or inspire others, rather than posting things like “TOO MUCH BIG-GOVERNMENT!”. It saddens me when people of a particular generation who were entitled to many more advantages than subsequent generations can’t see beyond their immediate domain. Worse still, when brought down a level or two from their prestige, appearing aggrieved.


Finding A Horizon

As a therapist I’ve had the honour of sharing many a client’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world since early this year. It is one of those rare experiences in my profession where everyone — client, client’s friends/family, and therapist — are all in the same situation, facing the same invisible antagonist.

One thing which began to sink in for me, probably around August where most people, including myself, despite being able to enjoy the peak of summer and the freedom to leave our homes and workplaces, each day and each week seemed to be a repeat of the last one. At the worst of times it certainly felt this way to me: Groundhog Day without the humour or inevitable expectation that, whether we like it or not, credits will eventually roll. Even with the chaos of the American election and the clown shows of our respective provincial governments’ COVID preparations as distractions, it became clear to me that part of our misery was in the sense that time itself wasn’t moving despite us objectively knowing that it was. And while it might have seemed an interesting question to ponder theoretically back in August, now, in mid-November with the cold weather setting in and winter’s icy grasp not far from us, I think it’s important to share something: we have to make plans.

One thing I have both heard and repeatedly felt is that there is nothing to look forward to. Yes, there are a few vaccine candidates coming down the pipe, but I think it would be unwise for us to lull ourselves into believing that anyone who isn’t a frontline medical worker or resident of a long term care home is going to see a needle until at least next summer (please prove me wrong). Until then there is, in other words, no horizon line for us to align our sense of perspective, our direction. And so, to combat this sense that we are all floating in a timeless vacuum — and, most importantly, its ensuing depression and existential anxiety — I strongly recommend that we find ways to look forward to things, even if we have to search them out. This occurred to me when I’ve spoken with people who were moving, either because they were taking advantage of lower rent at another location, or just getting out of the city for better real estate options elsewhere. I found myself feeling jealous. I was jealous because I could see that for the next few weeks or months they could set their minds to the myriad of things-to-do and anticipate when you’re changing your place of primary residence: insurance, mail forwarding, organizing with a moving company, painting the kitchen, new mattress, reimagining the work/home space. They had, in other words, things both mentally substantial and hands-on practical to look forward to, which also happened to be novel and even open-ended (all the things you want to do before you move to a new location vs. all the things you actually have time to do). It didn’t need to be sexy, or even expensive. And I could see the relief that this presented for them.

So how can we transpose this upon our present moment, say, for the rest of us who don’t have the ability to make such a broad change in our lives? Here’s what I might suggest: look at your calendar and start to think of some thing or activity that will allow you to look forward, that you might feel engaged with, so that you can feel involved. I just received a Toronto District School Board guide in the mail, filled with online continuing education courses ranging from learning public speaking to cooking Afro-Cuban cuisine. Now, imagine enrolling in one of these courses and marking down six subsequent weeks’ worth of regularly-scheduled events where you get to look forward to learning something new — wouldn’t that add some structure to your seemingly structureless life? Books are flying off the shelves of many a book retailer — would a monthly online book club organized between you and some (carefully chosen) friends be a good idea? Maybe instead of shaking your fist at our hapless politicians on Twitter you could get involved in the organization and publicity of local community events, political or otherwise. Perhaps things like these would help us feel involved in a world where it’s hard to feel seen and heard because of all the sturm und drang around us.

I suppose what I’m suggesting is finding ways, big and small, to create a series of horizon lines for ourselves — individually and as a community — until the day comes when we will be able to safely walk out of our homes and see each other, and hold each other closely. I would like that as much as the next person, but until then I feel it’s important, from a mental health perspective, that we find ways to keep ourselves focused by finding (or creating) structure for ourselves.


Banks & Business

Last year I got a call from my bank informing me that I needed to open a business account if I was going to continue receiving payments from my day job clients (which, at that time, went into a personal chequing account). I suppose that’s one way to know that your business is doing ok. But what followed was instructive.

First, I called the bank in order to set this up. But when they asked what my registered business name was, it seemed to come apart. I told them I didn’t have one — I’m a sole proprietor, and my name is the name of the business. I was told flat out that they couldn’t process my request until they had proof of my business being registered. So, I thought I’d make it super easy and go in-person to one of the two local branches I have a decent relationship with. And there I sat, speaking with a representative — a man probably 15+ years younger than me — and sure enough the same question came up: what was my registered business name? I shrugged and said it was my name: Matt Cahill, Psychotherapist. I told him that my business was registered with Canada Revenue and that I’d been making HST payments for the last seven years. In other words, I was legitimate (especially by virtue of them asking me to setup a business account). He seemed unable to understand what I was saying and, you guessed it, insisted that he couldn’t set up a business account without a registered business name. Seeing a brick wall in front of me, I thanked him for his time and left.

I spent the next couple of days figuring out what was wrong and, importantly, why was no one listening to me given that not everyone who starts their business is using a name like Speedy Lube, or Debbie’s House of Cheese. There are plenty of other professionals, like myself, who must be going by their name, I told myself. I decided to give it one more try, and booked an appointment at the other local branch. This time I came with a printed page from my online CRA business account (yes, like something one of my parents would have done in the 90s), which displayed my name with my registered HST number. When the moment came for the representative, a woman closer to my age, to ask me for my details, I just handed her the page. She glanced at it and entered the information and everything went as I’d initially thought it would a week earlier.

I walked away from this experience wondering, given what I went through, how someone who isn’t a white guy in his late 40s, who doesn’t have a 20+ year history with their bank would’ve have felt. I sure as hell felt frustrated that in my first two dealings, neither of the representatives bothered to consider the context of how my business is set up. I’m not running a cleaning company, I’m not a numbered corporation. I thought to myself: what if I was some kid trying to start a business? What if I wasn’t already established, had income coming in?

So, when I read this article in The Star (apologies if it is paywalled), about Vivian Kaye, a Black woman who, when she tried to start a business, couldn’t find a bank or business incubator who could understand the context of her business model — in this case, selling hair extensions for a predominantly Black clientele — even in spite of her eventual success, I felt angry. Particularly at what she calls “the quiet racism we have here in Canada.” It is a perception I’ve long heard from BIPOC Canadians, and each time I come across it I feel ashamed. Why, in the 21st century, are people such as Kaye having to practically teach banks about certain products, not to mention profitable sectors, that aren’t but should be on their radar? What, in other words, are banks, who are most often de facto gate-keepers for small business owners, doing to modernize their ability to understand the many different types of businesses (and perspectives) that are out there?


Radioland and Book #3 Update

I’ve written about Radioland (aka Book #2) before. It’s being submitted to publishers now that the industry has adjusted to the lockdown. Fingers are crossed. As tempting as it is to divert myself with this, I’m trying not to think about it. And yet…it’s The Second Book, the sophomore effort, etc etc. It’s a giant unnecessary burden — as well as a cliché! — to feel that somehow, of all things, this is the book that determines my future and not the last one (or the next). And so, yes, I’ve been a little concerned sometimes about this being some sort of reckoning of me as a writer, which is kind of silly. Whereas my mind is like Is the book good? Yes? Then that’s all you should really care about. And yet…

In other news, prior to the lockdown I started a third book, which I wrote about here. I didn’t expect to start another novel so soon — in fact, it’s the last thing I wanted — but something had been building up within me during the latter part of working on Radioland. It’s very different (and yet, the more I work on it, I can see how it falls into place with both The Society of Experience and Radioland’s themes). Don’t worry it has a name…buuut I’m not sharing it with anyone until it’s done. Let’s call it Book #3. What makes it different? Unlike the first two, it’s mostly a satire. Now, I can do humour, no problem. It comes second nature to me. And yet, devoting an entire book to it is something altogether different and a major challenge. I also have to say that I’ve not written anything so quickly before (I don’t share my word/page counts publicly, sorry, just like I don’t share my 10K race times). It’s the sort of book that wants everything out of me, and now. The good news is that I think it rocks. I don’t know where the hell it’s necessarily going (which perhaps also answers anyone’s question about how strictly I outline things), but I’m enjoying the trip.