Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Waltz For Giger - or - A Bid For Attention

A week has gone by since the release of Instrumental, but to me it already feels much, much longer than that. The passage of time has been remarkably different for me since the release of Progress Report on February 19th. I've jumped into this whole business of trying to start a career as a working artist with both feet, in over my head pretty much from the moment I started, making a scrabble to promote myself and keep folks interested and entertained at the same time. Then there's been the constant measuring of my success, which the Internet provides so many tools for, watching the numbers of Likes, Views, Shares, and Downloads thanks to Insights, Stats, Dashboards, and the constant fucking popularity contest that inserts itself into every form of social media. These numbers are enough over-stimulation and real-time measurement of one's self-worth to fuel unneeded onslaughts of anxiety and depression that if I drank and didn't already have a therapist and a psychiatrist, I'd need to sit down with a bottle of bourbon while dredging for mental health professionals through this wretched portal.

Between releases feels like an eternity, and that, along with the anxiety-fueled need to keep an active profile so I don't start to slip from whatever awareness that I've built surrounding my efforts, is probably a large part if the reason I put out as much material in as many different ways as I do. And as I start to watch the decline of the initial spike in attention generated by a release, I can almost feel myself fading away; I can almost see my career slipping like grains of sand through my fingers. While undoubtedly this is largely in my own head, there is something to be said for the validity of figures and truth to be told in the number of downloads and followers that is steadily increasing. When I'm presented with those handy-dandy graphs by Facebook and the sites that host my music and see that activity has almost tripled in almost every category since February, I'm told that my frantic efforts may be paying off. I tell myself maybe I should relax and let the Internet and the existing awareness of my work do their own thing for a little while. But then the immediate numbers begin to decline... I see visits to this blog dwindle to a trickle, or that almost no one is being reached by my Facebook posts anymore... And the frantic mad scramble begins all over again, a continuing cycle that seems to be marking the passage of years instead of days. It probably doesn't help my new perception of time that I hardly ever sleep anymore, and when I do get a full eight hours, my immediate reaction to seeing how much time has passed is, "How many windows of opportunity to catch peoples' attention did I just miss?" It's hell. I love my job, I love the work, I really do, but constantly needing to get peoples' attention and try to hold it is not something that comes naturally to me, nor is it something I enjoy. I would very much like to not worry about it, and if it could be someone else's job and I could just make art at my leisure, that would very much be ideal. But it's part of my job now, because every aspect of trying to make a name and build a career as an artist is the life I'm choosing, and I'm also choosing to be an independent artist who is currently only working for tips.

And, well, don't they say that every job, even when you're doing work you love, has its parts you could do without?

Well, enough about the parts of my job that suck. What I'm trying to lead into is that, with this newest release, I'm partly just showing that I haven't been entirely idle and I'm also offering a little "filler" (but please, don't see it that way!) for a necessary gap because, while this release was planned, it's not exactly what I planned it to be. Lately, I'm not the only person who has been telling myself that I need to stop putting out every bit of material I create as soon as it's "finished." I mean, not only is it not really finished at the time, but if I can't keep a lid on some of my creations even for just a little while, I'll be posting everything immediately on SoundCloud and only releasing singles, and I'll never let my audience know anticipation and that's really no way to market one's product. And like it or not, that's another part of my job that I'm responsible for and have to learn my way around: marketing.

As part of an exercise in this, I kept the bonus tracks on Instrumental secret, though I'm sure many guessed that material from Delving for Devils was among them. If I was really good, I wouldn't have released "They Delving" the moment I had a rough cut of it and then pieced together the mini-EP to give it a somewhat proper release as soon as possible. I should have just kept a lid on my own personal excitement, maybe channeled it into some form of sadism, and released the tracks of Delving for Devils as hidden bonus tracks on Instrumental that no one could have guessed, thus giving more incentive for people to find out what they were by downloading the album. Instead, people have probably already figured it out for themselves that "They Delving" and the Whirlwind Mix of "Dusk Devils" were among the hidden tracks. But I did keep something to myself, and those bright individuals have probably also noted that, with the Alternate Spin of "Giger's Lullaby" accounted for on the main track listing, one of the hidden tracks has remained a secret.

I KEPT A FUCKING SECRET, Y'ALL! Sorry, had to let that out. I'm far more pleased about that than it merits, but we have to let ourselves experience life's little pleasures, now don't we? Still, a week was as long as I could hold out, and it has been a LONG week. I've kept myself busy networking and promoting, as well as writing new material and experimenting; there's also been the review for Max Lilja's Morphosis that I had been promising people, as well as other projects to catch up on. I did actually allow myself two days after putting up the review to spend most of my time relaxing and forcing myself to stay out of my music programs and away from the keys. Some of the time that I had with the house to myself for a week was actually spent relaxing and catching up on my DVD loans from the library. I promoted other artists on Record Store Day while actively resisting calling attention to myself and my currently all-digital medium. And the entire time, part of me was counting the days to April 21st and squirming while watching all those damn numbers rise and fall while not doing much of anything about them.

As today began to loom rather than seem an eternity away, I still counseled myself to maintain a relaxed attitude and not do any mad dashes to produce as much material as possible. You see, I had planned on revealing the bonus tracks of Instrumental today and, while making those tracks available for individual download, putting out another release that the one truly secret track would also be a part of. My plans for this release have evolved into something other than what I intended, though. One special fan and one pirate have gotten a glimpse of what that plan was to be, but I was not about to run myself ragged as I have been tending to in order to throw together a product that only I have in mind which, not to give too much away, is another EP that I've been working on material for that for once has almost nothing to do with Progress Report. I did share a finished track with the special fan I mentioned, as their support and contributions have been enormous and I want to be the kind of artist who develops a relationship with a gives back to their fans. In the process of sharing, the aforementioned pirate (who, to be fair, probably wasn't aware that they were getting their hands on something that wasn't intended for them) managed to snatch a copy of this track. I can only say, whoever you are, I sincerely hope you enjoy that song and, if you've come to realize that it was meant for one specific person, please respect that and keep this song to yourself for a while.

Anyway, not as much material for this forthcoming EP is ready, or as ready, as I would like, and rather than half-assing something or including a lot of already-released material for the sake of releasing just two-or-three new songs, I shifted course to something altogether different that I didn't even realize I already had all the makings for. As you will see or already know (this post is for a release that's already been out for a few hours, and I posted that release here earlier as a preliminary for this article), the truly secret track from Instrumental was a new mix of "Giger's Lullaby," not only with altered and added instrumentation, but with dance beats in the vein of jungle EDM (that's "electronic dance music" for those not in the know, as I wasn't until I asked someone who clearly thought that was a term I should know considering I do some beat-work in my songs). After the release of Instrumental, I kept on playing around with remixes after enjoying myself quite thoroughly in the process of creating "Dusk Devils (Whirlwind Mix)" and "Waltz for Giger"; that's the name of the revealed-as-of-today track, and let me share an aside about it: I've been struggling more so than usual to name a genre for "Giger's Lullaby" for as long as I've been asked by music hosting sites to tag it, and it never occurred to me until doing a jungle remix of the song that it's a waltz. It seems so freaking obvious now, like I should have just been able to describe it simply as a "gothic waltz" from the moment I started writing it, and it just seemed so ironic that it was in the process of turning it into something very unlike a waltz that I realized this...and so I named this remix "Waltz for Giger." Get it? Because it's not a waltz, but it made me realize it's source is a waltz... Anyway...

When setting to work with the idea of just playing around with remixes in mind, I found myself returning to "Giger's Lullaby" yet again. Well, that's not entirely true. I returned to "Waltz for Giger," because I loved the changes I had made to the instrumentation and thought it would make for a better version of "Giger's Lullaby" than even the Alternate Spin, which I had been so convinced would be the last incarnation of the song for quite a while, maybe ever, if I just took out the dance beats and turned it back into a waltz. I created a new version with some nice, mellow drumming, relying heavily on shaker, cymbals, and tambourine, which I've never used much before. The result was quite nice, but went without a name until today after it was already uploaded on the Internet, as I didn't want to pull another "Introducing... (Alternate II)" and I didn't want to have an Alternate Spin of a remix. I also didn't have any plans to release it, as the idea for the next mix came to mind rather quickly. I never got around to subtitling that version "Step Softly" until today. Hell, there were never any plans to release that version until today.

Because it still wasn't the the "perfected" version of "Giger's Lullaby" that I had envisioned. I had made even further alterations to the instrumentation that I liked, but upon subsequent listenings, I realized that the drumming was all wrong. I had to take a step back again, like I did with the Alternate Spin in regards to the version on Pentacental, and bring it close back to its source, which I only had in the form of the demo available on SoundCloud. I didn't even have that version on my computer anymore, so there was no way to cut and paste elements from the truly original version, but I decided that what needed to be done was to remove drums altogether from the first half of the song and have them enter at the moment they enter the original version. Or the first three versions, if you want to include the Pentacental version and the Alternate Spin in that, as the drums were kept the same in each of those. I wasn't, however, able to cut and paste the original drum track due to technical difficulties (that I still can't explain) though, so I did have to write a new drum track in the place where the original would go. Looking back on it, the original drum track wouldn't have worked with the addition of the electric guitars, anyway.

So it was that five versions of the same song ended up being five steps in the evolution of what I have named "Waltz with Lilith." I was thinking of female figures in Giger's works and was going to name this version "Waltz with Sil" after the alien hybrid he created for the film Species, but when I was going through his works on the Internet, I was reminded of Lilith, who is the basis of many of his works. Lilith, in turn, is a representation of a demi-goddess from many mythologies. In fact, I've done some light research on her, and I can't seem to pin down where she originates from whatsoever, but in various works of fantasy and science fiction she was the first wife of Adam, before Eve, and is the mother of all humanity. In the television series Supernatural, she is the mother of all demons. In True Blood, she was the first vampire and is a goddess to the vampires. Lilith pops up all over the place as if she has her origins in some sort of apocrypha, but as far as I can tell, she owes her origins purely to modern mythos, and I would dearly love if someone could tell me if I'm wrong and clear this up for me. But what it seems to repeatedly boil down to is she is the mother of all evil, which I think is a terribly unfair role to place her in over and over again, and so she has a special place in my heart. Naming this version for her and celebrating her as a myth and as a work of H.R. Giger seemed like a wonderful thing to do, and so it is.

Now, in trying to come up with a way to put "Waltz for Giger" on a new release today as I had originally planned, and realizing it wasn't going to happen in the company of mostly new songs, and realizing that it would also be kind of tacky to have more than one version of "Giger's Lullaby" on the originally conceived EP to fill any holes left by unfinished songs that weren't ready to be included and that I had refused to stress about, I also realized that I had six versions of "Lullaby" floating around, five of which were ready to be uploaded. The demo version was only available in MP3 format anymore, as downloadable from SoundCloud, and that presented a problem that fortunately had an unexpectedly easy solution. As you may not know, it's common for music hosting sites such as Bandcamp and Jamendo to only accept uploads in lossless audio formats. I won't go into explaining what that means exactly, but it presented a problem. The solution was as easy as a Google and finding that there's free sites for converting audio formats that are a simple to use as upload-then-download. With that, I had six versions of one song ready for upload and to put together in a small collection as their own EP, which I could quite easily package as I already had individual artwork cropped and edited and ready to go for most of them.

With a mad scramble that only lasted a couple of hours and mostly consisted of surfing images, photoshopping, uploading, and assembling, I was able to present A Waltz For Giger to the world, in memory of H.R. Giger and in loving appreciation of his art:

So here y'all go. A collection that's not just six versions of the same song, but also six steps in the evolution of one song which I just gave an account of painstaking detail that took up a lot more of my night than I was intending (holy shit, it's almost five in the morning already). All as part of my latest bid for your attention. Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Review - Morphosis, by Max Lilja

As I set out to add reviews of fellow musicians on this blog, I realized while mulling over the idea during my nearly paralyzing hesitation that there are a few aspects of this that are going to be difficult for me in the act of stepping into three roles at once: the struggling independent musician, the challenged writer, and the principled critic. It occurred to me the more I thought over what I would write in a review - particularly in a review for Max Lilja as I have said multiple times to my audience that I would be starting with his album, Morphosis - that this may not be fun and that I may have stepped in over my head. As of right now - as I write, now - I have a somewhat constricting feeling in my chest and find myself avoiding the actual act of reviewing.

Because I feel I must express first that I primarily wanted to include reviews on this blog as a means to promote my fellow independent musicians and to journal about music that I like that I have no personal stake in. But I do feel as though I have a personal stake in painting the artists that I am seeking to or have already connected with in the best possible light. After all, I have volunteered to review their music primarily because I like it. In the case of Max Lilja, I'm being persistent in attempting to coerce him into a collaborative project. So I want these artists to know that I support them, that I am doing whatever I can to promote their work, and that includes reviewing their work. But in the act of reviewing I must criticize, and I must do so honestly to maintain my personal integrity. This in turn challenges me as writer, for I must find nice, constructive ways to point out what I may view as an element in their art that could use some work, or should be altogether avoided.

This must be why most critics come off as total bastards. If you're an asshole, at least you're an asshole with integrity.

So here goes: I fell head-over-heels in love with Max Lilja's art the moment I encountered the video for "Revelation" through someone who happened to like both of our musician pages on Facebook. The cello is my favorite instrument, right up there with my own instrument, the piano, and the human voice, which was my previous instrument. While I used to be able to wield my voice like "an entire orchestra" and I've been tinkling away at the piano and taken lessons since I was quite small, I can't play the cello, which makes the instrument hold that much more wonder to me and makes me intensely fascinated by those who play it like "an entire orchestra." An aside - I'm using this quote from an old friend who was also one of the biggest fans of my singing and had once compared my abilities to those of Ani DiFranco as a guitarist, saying that just as Ani wields her guitar, I wielded my voice..."like an entire orchestra." Now hopefully I don't use that again for the rest of this article and I can shut up about how well I used to be able to sing. Because I'm letting myself get off-topic now, aren't I.

Focusing: As I've combed through the independent cellists of the world, particularly those who step outside of playing as part of an ensemble or as an accompanist and venture away from classical music, I've become aware that "ambient" cellists are not that uncommon, yet they are often snobbish and highly praised. They play the cello and that by itself already makes them better than you. They play their instrument outside of the box (or so they think) which means they are the equivalent of an arthouse filmmaker, which makes them better than you. And they play without a band or orchestra, usually using mixing boards and looping pedals, which means they are an army of one, which means they could kick your ass in the musical arena...which makes them better than you.

What they don't realize is that they are not nearly as unique as they think, and for fans of cello music, they easily start to blur together into an amorphous blob of tired sound. So when I approach the music of an independent cellist, I am always braced for "another ambient cellist." There's almost nothing as disappointing, because you know you're going to want to love it because you do buy into all those reasons they are better than you, and loving ambient cellists makes you almost as rare as those beautiful birds. Oh, goddesses, my review is turning into a psychoanalysis of myself. Newly discovered challenge in writing a review: you can't make the entire thing about yourself! When the hell did I even last mention the words "Max," "Lilja," and "Morphosis"?

Well, I'm going to tell you how Max Lilja sets himself apart from being "another ambient cellist" with Morphosis. (Nicely done...) I am not familiar with Lilja's former cello-metal band Apocalyptica (though it sounds right up my alley) or his first solo album, Plays Electronica by one Cello (I don't know if I have that title right), so I can't offer insights into his growth as an artist or how his latest album compares to any of his earlier work. All I know is that, with the opening track, "Revelation," Morphosis yanked me off my feet into a whole new experience of one of my favorite instruments. The music video accurately indicates that all of these incredible sounds were being achieved by Lilja and his cello, which tainted my whole first experience of the song with utter disbelief. But it wasn't just the sounds that caught me off-guard. After all, the most common and irritating feature of "ambient music" is god-awful, unearthly noise. It's when one can actually structure these sounds into rhythm, melody, and harmony that talent is made evident. This is where Lilja is knowledgeable and often excels. He doesn't just make noise for the sake of noise or record a succession of unique sounds and call it music. Lilja demonstrates that he is a composer, as he constructs overtures, grooves, and crescendos, layering his instrument to accentuate his beats, create bass lines, and weaves rhythms and leads into cohesive structures that are often, wonderfully and undeniably, rock and roll.

I've read that he was initially aiming for more trip-hop to his compositions and I've read a review that labeled his music "industrial-classical." As for myself, I see the industrial in "Revelation," the funk in "Flux," the classical in "Silent Highway," the orchestral trip-hop in "Black Lava," and the obnoxiously noise-oriented ambient in "Trench." There really is no box that the whole of Morphosis comfortably fits into. You could string a half-dozen sub-genres together or, as many modern musicians do, make up some obnoxious new category for an "original" and "fresh" steaming pile of crap, and you wouldn't be accurately describing this record. Whereas with other artists and other records that simply means "doesn't know what the fuck it is," with Morphosis it is a good thing...for the most part.

Lilja perhaps makes one of his biggest mistakes by leading with one of his strongest and most easily categorized songs in "Revelation." It is hugely misleading, preparing you for an industrial record that is nowhere to be found. While it is definitely "single" material and has a barbed groove that hooks you and pulls you into and through an intense and wonderful experience that makes you want to move, it is immediately followed by the quieter, somewhat haunting, more classically oriented "Silent Highway" and then the noise-funk of "Flux," and you find yourself wondering when another track like "Revelation" is going to come along...and it never does, as each track is unique among the others and is almost like flipping pages through a catalog or musical styles.

A prevailing sound throughout the record is, of course, electronic music, as (I imagine) it is not only the techniques that Lilja uses, but a variety of manipulated distortions to achieve his orchestra. Having never seen him play, I am using some guesswork as to how coaxes the sounds of electric basses, guitars, and even none-stringed instruments from his cello. It is undoubtedly impressive to see and probably makes for a hell of a show. But, as Lilja inadvertently pointed out when commenting on a review on his music, it often sounds like the work of your typical electronic keyboard synthesizers...and sometimes, unfortunately, not even very good ones. This is my harshest criticism of this record and what I was most afraid to type, but as it is my honest opinion (and keep in mind that it is my opinion) and this is a review, I feel I must write this. And I mean this as constructive criticism that I hope, if he reads this, the artist will recognize for what it is. With all disclaimers out of the way, I must simply say that his music is strongest when offering unique sounds accompanied by those that are undeniably or classically cello, and weakest when it sounds as though it is all being produced by a typical electronic keyboard. Still, I'd love to see him accomplish all of that live.

Gods, I'm glad to have that out of the way, because I love this record and honestly - no flattery being attempted - see greatness in this man and his art. I am very glad and not at all disappointed that I pre-ordered this record based on only two of its (very different) songs. As I prepared to write this - in fact, as I am writing this - I have been listening to nothing else, getting to know the songs as individuals and loving them as such. The title track is currently playing and I am reminded of Pink Floyd until classical cellos intrude and then rip the song into a synthesized noise that utterly jumps the groove. To sum it up, simply: this is good shit, y'all.

As I wrap this up, I urge all of you on Facebook to track down his musician page, Like it, and go exploring. Like most musicians with any sense who've retained control over their own work these days, he has a Bandcamp page where Morphosis is offered as a digital download, a CD, or both at very reasonable prices. The album is also being promoted and distributed by Fluttery Records which, I must say, looks to be a pretty kick-ass label worth looking into...as I admittedly have...I sent them an email...fingers crossed. Lastly, Max (may I call you Max?) also has an official website where you can find other projects he's featured in and, if you're fortunate enough to live in Finland, the dates of shows where he'll be playing the live set he's been working hard to put together. And I just found out I have until June 12th to find a way to attend a cello festival in New York!

I must also end this segment by mentioning that Max Lilja is not one of those cello snobs I was writing about earlier: he is willing to connect with and is very gracious toward his audience/fans. He may be avoiding discussing a collaboration with me, but this is me we're talking about. We all know I'm a bit of a monster and besides, every cellist I know is avoiding the topic of the c-word with me.

Well, that didn't end up feeling as gut-wrenchingly disloyal as I feared it would, but it was still kind of rough on me to say anything negative about an artist I adore. Y'all can look forward to me doing it again in the future. If, after reading this, he's still willing, my next review is going to include an interview with another fantastic cellist, James Radcliffe, and I'll be living and breathing and then dissecting and criticizing his album Present : Reflections. Fingers crossed about this, too: I spent most of yesterday in contact with him through various forms of social media and he may be utterly sick of me by now. We'll give it a few days.

Until you next read my words, have kind days and pleasant nights. May your inner snails always be resilient and determined. (Gods, Max, what poor animal are you torturing to make that sound?!)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

In which I post yet another social media post...Mostly to avoid writing more than I have to in a sleep-deprived state. You'll get all the important info. And you get a taste of my writing from a run-on title!

Just received this message, y'all! This is flattering and very exciting!Hi iv'e just downloaded "Instrumental" and...

Posted by The Lady Anonymous on Thursday, April 16, 2015

In Which I Tell You How To Enjoy Yourselves

The following is copied from a ridiculously long post on Google+ that I realized would be much better suited for a blog entry as I was writing it...yet I continued to write it and post it anyway before logging onto here to share it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Grand Instrumental!

Man, that took for-fucking-ever! Not really, but...man! The count was just racing toward the big 1000 and then at about 980, the visits just sort of ground to all-but-a-halt. Then, it was like every time I pushed a promo on social media, there'd be another 2-5 visitors, so I just had to start getting so obnoxious that I was annoying myself! I could have said "close enough" and just lied, justifying it with the thought that, oh well, it'll be 1,000 within two days at the most, but no, I have too much "integrity" (or some such bullshit) for that. Sorry I'm being a bit more vulgar than usual, but fuck, the exasperation was exasperating, and I'm so relieved to be writing this "celebration" post and to be able to finally post this hefty treat for y'all. Originally, I was just going to publish the SoundCloud release The Collection for download with some artwork attached. Then I kept getting new ideas, and then it was starting to be a matter of how many ideas I could manage to implement before the 1,000 visitors mark was reached.

A sort of competition was going on as well, unbeknownst to the folken. The number of visitors to this blog isn't the only count that has increased momentum since the 500 milestone and the release of Pentacental. Over at my Bandcamp site - which I have started to refer to as the Snail Tunes page after the link to the app on my Facebook and the link I made on this blog to the site (ha! I accidentally typed shite) - the floodgates opened and the visitors have been pouring in. You may remember that sometime during the week of Pentacental's release, the Snail Tunes unexpectedly reached the 500 milestone, also. Well, the increased momentum over at that site has not decreased; in fact, it got to the point a few days ago so as the number of visits at the Snail Tunes and at You Have Failed Us were neck-and-neck and I was tempted to start taking bets. Except that I wanted to keep what I was waiting for and what I had in store somewhat of a secret.

In the end, the Bandcamp site reached 1,000 visitors first, sometime very early in the am yesterday, I think. I'm not sure. Things have been kind of a blur lately. Not only because of my nocturnal instincts and my habit to of wearing myself ragged when I'm in work-mode, but also because of pain in my feet caused by neuropathy, I've been sleeping in a couple of short shifts a day. Then I get super caffeinated, take my (prescribed) drugs, and go full-tilt with creating and promoting until I can't focus anymore. Sleep for a couple of hours, then do it all again. In my last post, it was a source of making the article somewhat amusing that I recounted the events of the previous week from going through old Facebook posts. But that was in all seriousness. I have no concept of what day it is a lot of the time, I just know that I've run myself into the ground, slept, and restarted the cycle.

But all that's beside the point. The point was that the Snail Tunes had 1,000 visits before this blog, and up until the moment I had found that out, my intention was to celebrate whichever came first with the upcoming release (which has been ready minus the additions that I keep making for a couple of days now). When the time came, however, I was in the middle of working on a new track, a bonus track, for the release. And it seemed kind of wrong to celebrate one or the other, when I owe most of my music's current popularity to this blog. No, I would have to wait and celebrate both events together when You Have Failed Us finally reached it's mark. And it finally has!

So let's get all the typical thank you's out of the way and get to the release, shall we? Thank you friends, family, fans, and fellow artists. Thanks for your support, for listening, for following me on social media, for promoting me, for downloading and/or giving me money for my work. February 19th, the day I made the first post on this blog and released my debut EP, seems like forever ago, but really, it was only a short while ago. From having no recognition except as a singer and spoken-word performer in Portland Oregon over a decade ago to having 1,000 visits in less than two months to my music site and my blog is...well, it's fucking fantastic is what it is. This whole experience keeps being amazing and surreal. So, yeah...thanks! I mean, people in other countries are visiting this blog. It's currently having a small streak of popularity in Russia! Russia! Man, how wild is that?

As I was saying, the original plan was just to release The Collection as a compilation album. Not as my debut album, I must stress! That's still in the works. So I'm getting away with this not being my debut album by inserting that word: "compilation." Did you all say it with me, just then? At least mouthed it? Good. Because it's a compilation of the essential tracks (and the essential versions) from my three EPs (when compared to those little seven-track beauties, Delving For Devils is most definitely a "single," as is Progress Report Alternate Tracks. So, every song that I've released so far (and in the cases of songs with multiple versions, these are my favorite versions) is on this record.  Different from the Collection playlist is that the Alternate Spin of "Giger's Lullaby" from Delving For Devils is included rather than the version on Pentacental and it has switched spots in the track list with "Glory And Wrath." And, because of the ideas I kept having, there are three bonus tracks that will remain hidden until the album is downloaded. Other features include: track art associated with each track that identifies the EPs that the tracks are from. For example, if you're listening to "Winter's Salve - The Alternate Spin," a picture with the covers of both Progress Report - The Alternate Spin and Pentacental will show up on your media player. In the case of "Dusk Devils" and "Giger's Lullaby," the art that accompanied their online releases on SoundCloud will be displayed. Also, the download comes with a .PDF booklet of liner notes and the artwork that has become associated with my music to date.

And, perhaps most important of all, there is unheard content among the three bonus tracks at the end of the album, as in no one in the whole freaking world has heard it except for me, as I spent the last two nights recording it, and the timing of my finishing it and the blog reaching its goal just happened to coincide about exactly. Well, it did coincide exactly, as far as I'm concerned. I finished recording, checked the counter on my Blogger dashboard, and there was the number 1,005 burning itself into my retinas. All in all, this totals to 84 minutes of music! So, without further ado or a further to-do, here it is: No, it's not called The Collection.

I give you the compilation album formerly known as the SoundCloud playlist The Collection...

Now, I had a lot planned to say in this post, but as I haven't slept a full six-to-eight hours straight in I-can't-remember-how-long, and I was going to sleep, like, five hours ago, but then realized I needed to call in a prescription and now I'm waiting on a ride to the pharmacy, and y'all took forever to get this blog to the 1,000 (HELL YEAH!!!) visitor milestone so it's clearly all y'all's fault that I'm forgetting everything I wanted to say and I'm half-delerious to boot, but thank the goddesses there's an edit option and I can always come back and put more into this if I get inspired later...

I love using run-on sentences to convey delirium and fatigue. Well, I'm gonna leave this as is for now, and I sincerely hope you all enjoy, and I sincerely say THANK YOU again, so don't hesitate to download, because, of course, this is a name-your-price deal, and if you name "0," consider your support all the payment I need. You freaking earned this. But, as always, "tips" are appreciated and adored.

Here's to many good turns of this record! May your inner snails always be resilient and determined.

(Working hard or hardly working? You be the judge...)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Delving for Devils

I know this is coming a little late for all those who actively follow me on social media. This was released on Wednesday after all. Or was it Thursday? Technically, I guess today's Saturday... Well, at this point all I know is what released sometime earlier this week in the wee hours of the morning on whatever day it was. Ah, wait, I can check...

Okay, so the timeline goes something like this if I can accurately reassemble the events of the past week through Facebook posts: On the evening of Tuesday, April 7th, I had completed a rough cut of my newest song, "They Delving." This song took a little over a week to write, even though it had me pretty inspired from the get go. It started out with just going back through the synths that I had on hand to see if I had any that I might use to create some industrial noise or insert into some trip-hop beats. The one thing I had thought "Dusk Devils" (my previous song) was sorely lacking in was strange noises to bring it out of the solely orchestral genre. As far as that song was concerned, the only aspects of composing I had really expanded upon was experimenting with my beat-work by laying down multiple drum tracks, and I had made my string arrangements more complex. In fact, "Dusk Devils" seems to be almost entirely beats and strings in retrospect, with the piano driving it forward.

So anyway, I came across that windy synth someone somewhere decided to call "Solar" and I manipulated the hell out of it until it would be more appropriate to call it "Windy Synth," and I applied my new knowledge of beat-work, and then we were off, heading back into piano and string territory 'cause, well, piano and cello are my favorite instruments and I tend to lead with them. And when it comes right down to it, the piano is my strength, matched only by my ears when it comes to composing.

The song had started off really inspiring with new elements that I had never played with before, and it was going off in interesting directions, even if they were on more familiar ground with piano-and-strings compositions, but I got stuck. Not the frustrated nothing-is-working and this-song-has-gone-to-shite sort of stuck that is the bane of all musicians, just the sort of "Well, I don't know where this goes next, so I'm done for now" kind of stuck that seems to be a song's nice way of telling me to halt before I get my pissed off at it. This song and I had that kind of relationship from the get go, where it would excite me and come quite naturally, and then we would both agree that it was time to stop. There were times when I told myself I should be working, that I should sit down and open up this song and hammer something out, but I just felt too disinterested to follow through...until I was interested again, and then pretty much the moment my fingers touched the keys I'd be excited and we'd start flowing again.

There were challenges writing the string arrangements. At times, nothing seemed to sound right and it would take quite a while to come up with the right counterpart for the cello. The cello is what I usually lead with, though sometimes it's the bass. These two are my favorite elements of a string quartet as well as two of my favorite instruments because they complement other instruments so well, and sounds that can seem completely alien to a string instrument can be elicited from them. But the viola...the damn viola never wants to cooperate with me. It just almost never sounds right to me, but I need that register between a cello and a violin sometimes, so I have no choice, and then it feels like a battle of wills, or like my fingers just aren't made to produce the perfect riff when I finally stumble upon it. No, the viola is not my friend.

Yet when it dawned on me to drop all the instruments for a dramatic change to an entirely trip-hop arrangement mid-song, it was the viola riff that really carried it and kept the switch from sounding too jarring. And it was in writing this "trip-hop solo" that got things really flowing, from the moment I started writing it to the end of the first draft of the song. I used my favorite synth, "Fifth Element," that appears in the majority of my songs, in new and unrecognizable ways, tweaking it to the perfect levels of strangeness as if I knew exactly how it was going to end up sounding, and I used another old friend, "Neon Koto," in its unfamiliar bass register to accompany the electric bass guitar. When the first two measures of that arrangement were written and I started looping it, there was no stopping us until we reached the end, together.

So excited was I at this point that I couldn't refrain from posting the first draft on Facebook, which is how I know that it was Tuesday the 7th, at 9:08pm. Not a whole lot ended up being changed after that. I rewrote a bass line. I experimented with the levels, both on my new headphones - that were bought with a pharmacy refund (metallic orange, Musician's Friend!) that I had handed over to my mom...she was kind enough to buy me these so I didn't have to keep working with the crappy earbuds that came with my iPhone - and on the speakers of my mom's Ford Fiesta, also playing with the track panning for the first time. My intention had been to add vocal tracks as well, using my iPhone for a mic, but when I hit the "record" button, I received the message "There is not enough storage space to record with this instrument." Fuck, I thought. So I did something I still regret and deleted some of the oldest versions of finished songs as well as snippets I had played around with that had already been used in songs, and I tried again. "There is not enough storage space to record with this instrument." Fuck! Well, the only alternatives left to me were to use the mic on the laptop or the mic on the iPad. Which held absolutely zero appeal. Which is why this version is appended "1.0," because as soon as I get my hands on a mic that I can hold in my hand and I don't have to sing at a screen, I'm recording vocals for this song, because I know how they should sound, if not what they should say.

I do know that the theme of this song's lyrics is going to be about "digging" or "going deeper"..."delving," if you will. When I was titling the song, I typed "Delving," then thought that, while that was the right word, there needed to be another word in front of it. I don't know exactly what I started typing, but the predictive function suggested "They" and I mouthed the words together - "They Delving" - and loved the way they tasted. Or whatever you want to call the sensation on your tongue when words are pleasing when formed together. Come on, I know I'm not the only person who knows what I'm talking about here. Anyway, that's how the title was formed, and that's how the song came to be finished, as far as version 1.0 is concerned, at 3:25am on Wednesday the 8th, at which point I promised my Facebook followers that it would soon be released as a streaming "single" on Soundcloud, accompanied by a new version of "Giger's Lullaby."

Even as I was assembling Pentacental for downloadability, I knew that the version of "Giger's Lullaby" I had finally deemed an "official release" was not entirely to my satisfaction. It was good enough to put on a record, to let others listen to and judge, but I already wanted to make changes to it. Hell, I already knew what some of the changes were going to be. In some ways, I wanted it to sound more like the demo that I had had such a positive reaction to on Soundcloud. And I knew that I hated the piano toward the beginning. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time... Well, this song's always been really fucking difficult, and I'm not just saying that to be vulgar. It has been fucking difficult. The first time I shared a version of this song was on January 19th, a full month before the release of Progress Report. I might have begun work on it as early as December... It is one of my oldest songs, one of my first experiments, and I've always had difficulties with it. There are sections of this song that I absolutely love, or in some cases there's instrumentation that I love while some of the accompanying instrumentation, not so much. I've changed this song so many times...there was even a time when I lost a whole track on string arrangements and had to go back and rewrite it from the beginning. There's just always been parts of this song that have sounded wrong. I'll make a bunch of changes, be in love with what I've done when I'm finished, and I'll go back and something new will sound completely off.

So, already it was time for another rewrite. For one thing, I had sped it up too much. I needed a speed between this version's and the demo's. That was where I started, as well as removing that damn piano part. I was going to just rewrite it - I started out writing new chords - but it was more satisfying to just  rip it out completely, I hated it so much. And if I was going for a sound that was more like the demo, well, that section of piano hadn't been there to begin with. From there, the changes I made were more subtle, such as rewriting a section of bass or strings. As a whole, I'm happier with it, and this version will probably end up sticking around as the definitive version of the song until I finally perfect it, if that ever happens... But I am happy that it's out in the world, and to my surprise, people actually seem to like it.

Now, according to the picture we're putting together with my Facebook posts, it appears that I never slept after posting "They Delving 1.0" and worked through the night on the changes to "Giger's Lullaby," completing them and then posting these songs together as the "single" I had promised only a few hours earlier at 6:47am on Wednesday the 8th. In this post, I told my Facebook followers that I'd make these songs available for download at my Bandcamp site within the next day or two.

At this point, I think I was feeling rather leisurely about releasing any new content. I mean, I'd already technically released these songs when I made them available on Soundcloud, but when I say "release" I mean it in an official capacity, and all of my "official" releases are made through Bandcamp, as I consider the site not only a storage and selling tool, but my label. My career, such as it is, would not exist without that website, and I owe its existence quite a bit. It is one of the best resources any musician, aspiring or professional, could use to their advantage, and it's no wonder that I share it with the likes of Thom Yorke and Amanda Palmer, musicians that have a decade (two decades, in Yorke's case) of experience under their belts.

But I'm getting away from myself, my self being the focus of this blog and this article in particular. Ahem. So I stopped working with that announcement after working through the afternoon and evening of the 7th to the morning of the 8th. I think I slept a couple of hours, maybe ate something and watched a DVD. I'm on the third season of Hell on Wheels and the ninth season of Supernatural these days... I let myself relax, as far as relaxing goes these days. I mean, I'd just released Pentacental a week earlier and had the ride of a lifetime promoting it and keeping up with this blog, which I had made many improvements and additions to, as well as another post. As I look back through my Facebook posts, it looks as though I didn't even pay much attention to social media or make much of an effort in promoting for nearly an entire day...and then it looks as though I worked through the night of the 8th on the Whirlwind mix of "Dusk Devils."

I had probably slept for a few hours during the day on Wednesday, then had dinner while watching a show with my mom, as is our daily tradition. Then, while she was winding down for sleep, I was probably winding myself back up with coffee and donning my metallic orange headphones to get back to work.

Sure, I'd already assembled the "single" for "They Delving" and only promised my followers that it would be available for download, but to make it even more enticing, I decided to add another song as a surprise, and I had already been thinking of changes I would make to "Dusk Devils" since releasing Pentacental and hearing it a good number of times. The biggest change I wanted to make was to the tempo. I love the song's original version, I really do; in fact, I'm quite satisfied with the original version. It's lovely. But it always occurred to me that it could be faster and that it could probably use a little something other than multiple drum tracks to set it apart from just being another piano-and-strings composition.

Well, I did add another drum track to most of the song, but nothing to drastic all in all. I mostly just wanted to accentuate the tracks I already had. In fact, going into making this version, my goal was to make it so that all the changes were so subtle that if you hadn't heard the song before, you would automatically assume that this was the original version. That's my biggest issue with remixes is that the changes are often so glaring that upon hearing it, you know it's a remix even if you've never heard the original song. In general I don't like remixes. The only exceptions that come immediately to mind are tracks from Nine Inch Nails' Further Down The Spiral where you might mistake what you're hearing for the original version if you're not already familiar with The Downward Spiral.

So while I wanted some electronic effects and additional drums, I didn't want the changes to be too jarring. I wasn't entirely successful, in my opinion. While I think the new tempo and the additional drums work just fine, I'm not entirely convinced of the synth that accompanies the viola in a couple of spots, nor am I convinced of the first appearance of the electric guitar in the song. However, the metal riff that accompanies the "berserk" section of the song, where it already takes an uptempo turn into orchestral rock territory, works beautifully and would be essential to include if I were to ever do another rewrite of this song. With my history, that's not at all unlikely, even though I love the original version and, as a whole, I like this new mix and it was a lot of fun to work on. Maybe because it was a lot of fun to work on I might end up trying my hand at it again.

Back to the timeline: at 8:29am on Thursday, I had finished the Whirlwind Mix of "Dusk Devils," created a cover and a track list with credits, and uploaded the tracks and artwork, including the art that had accompanied each track on Soundcloud, to Bandcamp.com and published all of this in the "single or EP" category as Delving for Devils. Shortly after, someone bought the first copy of it that was downloaded. Well, according to cyber busking language, someone downloaded a copy and gave me a very generous tip. Which is enough for me to say, "Job well done, Me! Job well done!" And I actually let myself be relatively lazy and relax (though I haven't been entirely inactive, but I do want to keep some things from y'all or else I'll have no surprises for you) with only a tweet or a post here and there to let people know that this thing exists.

And now it's Friday night/Saturday morning, and I'm finally getting around to announcing this release on this here blog. Sorry it took so long, but the mini-EP ain't going anywhere, and it's looking as though I made up for the delay with the length of and level of detail in this post. Hopefully my personable writing style was enough to keep you riveted through the story of the thought and process that went into this creation and it's rather gradual release. Part of the point of these posts, after all, is to share the experience of creating; to share what goes into the music that you hear and what my journey into becoming a working artist has been like. 

For me, personally, it's been a lot of irregular sleep, forgetting to eat, and anxiety whenever I'm not putting effort into it. Like if I'm not at least advertising on social media or blogging about the act of creating, my life as a working artist might cease to exist, and I can't imagine anything worse than that right now. I love this, I really do, to the point that I am most definitely manic about it. I want this to work out for me so badly that every moment of not putting effort into it nags at me, telling me it's not quite real yet and that it may cease to be before ever becoming a fully realized reality. I have to wonder if that feeling will go away if ever I start to make enough money at this to support myself...

Which brings me to the final point of this post. This is my job, y'all. I'm working full time at this, and I'm working hard. It is busking and I am rebelling against the tried and true ways musicians usually make a living in many ways... I'm not actively seeking a label (in fact, I should post on here someday about my half-serious mission to collect rejection emails...well, I guess I just did), I'm not asking for money for my work (just trying to "strongly encourage" tips), and I'm not selling ad space on this blog and hopefully I never will. I can't promise that I'll never set a price on any of my work, but if I could avoid that, it would be ideal. To just make art and let people have full access to it and give money to me if they have it and if they want to would be the best possible job I could ever hope for and it would fit into my belief that art should be free, even though artists should be able to make a living making art.

So I will "strongly encourage" y'all to keep in mind that "Support Cyber Busking" button in the sidebar that will let you make a donation to me through Paypal. And I "strongly encourage" y'all to keep in mind that when you're given the option to "name your price" for my music at my Bandcamp site, you can enter ANY amount. You can, in effect, toss a quarter my way if you like what I'm doing. It is imperative to me that people feel free to download my work and download it for FREE with no guilt. But it's imperative to me as a working artist who is actively working their ass off at this job to urge you to toss whatever you feel is justified or whatever you have to spare my way if you want me to keep being active on this blog and to keep making music. Also, I'd like to remind everyone that all songs are available for individual download. If you only like one song on this release, just download that one song. And if you have a quarter to spare for that one song, that would be good news for me.

Okay, enough of that. Talking about the money-making aspect of a job is always extremely awkward for me, and I'm not just talking about making money but asking all of you to let me keep my job, which makes it that much more awkward for me... I guess it's about time I read Amanda Palmer's book The Art of Asking, because it is a necessary skill and one that I have yet to master. So all that babbling for the last paragraph-and-a-half...well, let's just sum it up as what I said a moment ago: I'm asking you all to let me keep me job, and you can do that through tips and donations. Thanks for whatever you have to give, I really, really appreciate it.

There. I guess that wasn't so hard.

Until next time, may all your inner snails remain resilient and determined.

(..and here's Your Lady, unshaven with no makeup...
but check out those awesome headphones!)

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Collection

First, a few updates about the blog itself: Two new pages are up for your viewing and listening pleasure. "The Songs" is essentially the post from March 12th that compiled behind-the-music stories and wound up surprising me by being the most-viewed post for quite a while - until the release of Pentacental, in fact. Rather than let it made into the archive ether, I thought it would be nice to have it stick around for new members of the audience, and as an advertising mechanism for myself to utilize. With the release of each new song, I'll be adding to it. It will only include original songs, so alternate versions don't count. However, "Winter's Salve," "Giger's Lullaby," and "Dusk Devils" have already been added, so there's new material even for those who are already familiar with the original post.

Along similar lines, the other new page, "The Records," has compiled the posts that accompanied the releases of each of the three (four, sort of) EPs. They're each edited for (hopefully most of the) grammatical errors and the most relevant content. For example, the entry for Pentacental doesn't begin with a rant about the trials of being a fledgling working artist. This is also mostly intended for new additions to our audience, but I will be adding onto it with time. In the case of "The Songs," each song is accompanied by a SoundCloud embed of a streaming play, while on "The Records" each release is accompanied by an embedded Bandcamp player with samples of the complete track list and links to download and Share. As soon as you come across a song you like on the latter, you can click on over to the Snail Tunes Store through the player and name your price and download. Essentially, I'm trying to make it as convenient as possible to discover and download songs of mine you like for free, folks. Take advantage of it/me. Please.

Above, and in the sidebar (where you may note other minor improvements, such as being able to subscribe to the blog by email or Google+) you'll see that I've put together a new SoundCloud playlist with a snazzy new cover image, titled "The Collection." This is not a new release. It's sorely tempting, as it's the length of an album and I could easily call it my first full-length album, and all there would be left to do is put together a few more pieces of artwork and assemble it all on Bandcamp, but Nothing Left To Lose is still on the way and will most likely include some of these songs. They may be different versions, which would make it more tempting to put this collection out after Nothing Left To Lose...we'll see what happens. And if the demand is great enough, I may make this available for download beforehand. I'll leave that up to you, folks. Make your voices heard. If there's demand for it, I'll do it, as I am very proud of this playlist.

It's the eleven most essential tracks I've released so far, the preferred versions in the cases where there's more than one, and as I can't decide whether I prefer the combination of "A Determined Snail" and "A Minor Distraction" or the individual versions, the combo is included at the end as a sort of bonus track. I'd like to take a moment to talk about the pre-Pentacental songs. I was so proud of that EP and so focused on promoting it that it hit me like a slap in the face the other day, while I was riding in the car, that I missed songs from Progress Report. At that moment in particular, I sorely missed "The Manic Widow" and had to queue it up on my iTunes right away. It really wasn't that long ago that I was trying to say farewell to the songs of my debut with The Alternate Spin so I could move onto other things. I mean, I had heard those songs - and I don't think I'm exaggerating here - over a hundred times each, and in a short span of time. But after devoting so much time and energy to Pentacental, it felt as though it had been a very long time since I had heard any of them.

That was a big motivating factor in putting together this collection. I realized just how much I love my songs and how much they're a part of me. Once they've taken on an audible form of playback, they're very much like living with people you really, really like, but get sick of on occasion. You put a little distance between you, and before you know it, you can't get enough of each other again. Hell, I've listened to this collection twice since putting it together, never mind how many times I heard the songs or pieces of them while meticulously assembling the playlist, which was a three hour project in itself. I bet you don't think of that when you listen to a playlist, but you've probably experienced it yourself when you're assembling one and want just the right songs to follow the others. It doesn't always work out to your satisfaction in the end, and you want to change it later, but you put a lot of thought into it and, in some of cases, a lot of time.

All in all, this collection is a nice portrait of how I've spent my time so far this year. I posted a similar sentiment on Facebook, but I had been thinking only as far back as the release date of Progress Report, February 19th, when in fact I had been working on some of these songs, even the likes of "Giger's Lullaby" and "Winter's Salve," as early as last December. So I hope you enjoy The Collection. It's what I have to show for the year so far, and I have say, Not bad, Me. Not bad at all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


It's been a long time since I've written about gender. To be honest, I was burnt out on the topic for quite a while. For several of my years in Portland, the subject had somewhat dominated my life. I was The Lady anoNYMous: Genderqueer Activist! with minor celebrity status, and was constantly educating people about the gender spectrum in life as a performer and in my personal life as somewhat of an oddity, even among Portland's teeming Trans community. My gender was practically my identity, and while that may be okay for some, I started finding myself in more and more situations where being able to fit in among the guys as I had as a teenager was becoming a useful tool and in some cases it was a survival technique...again. Instead of being able to sit and have a beer with or share a puff with someone and explain myself at length, it was becoming necessary to respond to male pronouns again, to sign documents as James Watkinson and respond to officials or corporate superiors when they spoke that name.

I felt like a traitor. I felt like my Trans card was being revoked. I felt like my identity was being violated and sucked away from me. And I had no idea how I could explain to my friends, fans, or community that I was in situations where I couldn't stand up for myself and sit people down and educate them. I was even finding myself in situations with my husband where he had to refer to me by male pronouns, and then he started doing so in our personal lives among friends. It was always a slip, always an understandable slip...and I died a little bit inside each time.

When I first started to hang out in Portland - to spend more time there than the town where my tiny apartment was located - I found myself spending time in a tightly knit community of mostly FTM (female-to-male) transgender folk who flitted among three or four houses that were shared by these early-twenties hippie-punk artists and activists. Many of them were immediately taken with me and with my writing and my voice. My singing voice was at its peak then: it was a tool I could wield like a weapon. One person compared it with Ani DiFranco's ability to make her guitar sound like an entire orchestra and claimed that I didn't even need instrumentation to back me. And yes, I do believe I was that good back then.

I was more comfortable around these folken than any I had ever encountered before. Without me even realizing it early on, they saw me as a shapeshifter, effortlessly and unconsciously taking on the forms of a flamboyant gay man, a butch dyke, a femme straight girl, or a foul-mouthed redneck from one moment to the next. And they could relate more than anyone I had ever been around. I didn't know it then, but I wasn't just transgender: I was Trans Everything. My identity was such a slippery thing that I would spend the next several years analyzing it through writing in an effort to pin it down, and I would speak about these efforts to receptive audiences. 

Transgender author and activist Kate Bernstein came to Portland with an interesting project in mind: to gather together young transgender writers and have them perform their own writings, linked by bits of ensemble pieces, in a show called The Language of Paradox that would open for her to perform her own work. This would be the second time she had done this project in Portland, and it would be the second time working with her for some of these young writers, including my best friend who had introduced me to the trans community in the first place. It was when my friend hooked me up with this project that The Lady anoNYMous became a performing artist. I became addicted to the stage and high on the attention that I received afterward when people would stop me in the street and ask when my next show was.

And naturally, that was when I realized there had to be a next show. And another, and another. The Language of Paradox continued after Kate left in different forms with some of the same writers and some different ones for each subsequent show. Eventually I was facilitating the project. We performed for benefits. We performed for Sexual Violence Awareness Week at Liberty Hall. We performed for Gender Awareness Week at Lewis & Clark Community College. I incorporated a cappella singing into my pieces, and I performed solo at benefits, house shows, and open mic nights. It was always on the subject of identity, and gender identity in particular. Many people didn't know what to make of me, including transfolk. I know there were some who thought I was a public mockery of the community, being a person who identified as female and went by female pronouns while presenting themself as male and opting not to go in for hormone therapies or sex reassignment surgeries. I know I was seen as having my cake and eating it too. As if it were some special privilege to be considered part of the trans community that I was not deserving of because I didn't meet certain requirements, because my appearance as a privileged white male could not possibly know the suffering of being born a woman and feeling like a man, or being born a man and trying to appear as and be treated as a woman.

The truth is that I lived in constant danger of being revealed as a fraud if I took advantage of my white male privilege in any way, and I had to keep on being loud about my speculations of gender and my identity as The Lady anoNYMous to be included in my community. When I began to be quiet about it, to be frustrated about it, and to have to survive as a chameleon outside of the Transgender Bubble that Portland provides...that is when my community and I began to drift apart, and even my dearest friends who had known me before I moved my life to the city were distancing themselves from me. Whenever someone caught wind that I had let myself be addressed as "James," they retreated another step away from me.

And I was tired of ceaselessly examining my identity and putting a million different labels on it while also crying out that "You Cannot Label Me!" It was almost a relief in some ways to be uprooted from Portland and transplanted in Kansas City where no one knew anything about the ways I had grown to identify myself and no one had ever heard of The Lady anoNYMous. All anyone knew about me was what my mother had told them. I was her gay son, Jimmy, moving from Portland after a traumatic break up. I taught people to call me Nym but left out anything having to do with The Lady when asked where my chosen name came from. People called me by male pronouns, but I had been long forming the opinion that that was entirely understandable and it would be unreasonable of me to be offended. I did not correct them. I did not educate them. So many of my friends would have been ashamed of me. I didn't care. I was something broken and completely different. I wasn't a performer or an activist or a member of a community anymore. I was the walking dead, and the only thing left was to finish myself off through whiskey and beer.

Well, we all know I didn't die, though it wasn't for lack of trying. I was ready to die, I had already accepted my death, but people didn't let me die, and a year later, after hours of therapy and over a dozen medications, here I am, disabled in some ways but making music and writing, and reclaiming my identity as The Lady anoNYMous.

And I reclaim my identity as Trans. It's not something anyone can revoke from you, and it's not a fad or a passing phase. My gender still isn't locked down, my sexual orientation isn't easy to describe, and yesterday I went make-up shopping with my mother (for her part, she's helping me out in trying to look my best even though I have a pretty hardcore case of psoriasis) and I immediately came home and tried it out, delighted to find little gifts of eyeshadow, mascara, and lipstick in a new makeup bag with my purchases from the Clinique counter. All while wearing carhartts and combat boots.

Through Facebook friends I became aware that yesterday was Trans Visibility Day. You know, a day for transfolk to step up and say, "Hey, I'm trans. We walk among you. We're your family, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your servers, your teachers, your mechanics, your... Well, we're here and we need your recognition. We need your protection from unjustified and unspeakable hatred. And we deserve equal rights and respect." My first thought was that I should do something for this day, that I should step up and say, "Hey, I'm trans and I'm making myself visible with the rest of my community." Then a voice inside me said, "That's not your community anymore. And look at you. You're not trans. You're still going by male pronouns and letting people call you by your birth name!"

Then a new voice spoke up, a voice that's been being nurtured by my time in therapy and by my acts of creation. It said, "Fuck that." It said, "You're still a kick-ass chick inside your head and you're at least as female as you are male. You're everything that you were and spoke of in Portland. No one can take that away. Just because you're getting more comfortable with yourself and with how others see you doesn't make you any less of an oddity. You are no less Trans."

And I decided to publicly say, yet again, that I am Trans, and you may not have known it, but we walk among you. I'm not here to educate everyone about the gender spectrum and to discuss my sexuality at length in a public forum anymore. That part of my life is over, because I did enough of that and I'm putting it behind me. Today I'm simply telling myself and others that no one is going to shame me into editing my identity, and I'm going to be visible and heard. I am Nym. The Lady anoNYMous, anoNYMous Raven, born James Watkinson, grew up being called Jimmy, and I don't care if you call me by male pronouns, but to be honest I do prefer female pronouns and to be treated with respect as a Lady with a capital-fucking-L, and if you don't like it, well, I could have kicked your ass before neuropathy turned my body against me, but just know that I could have and I could've done it in heels! So THERE!

The moral of the story: Trans people take on many forms and are often people you would least expect. We don't walk around with signs over our heads, and it's not really something we discuss unless we're getting to an intimate level with someone, emotionally or physically. Some people make their gender and their analysis of it their entire lives. They even make careers for themselves out of it. I'm not one of those people. I'm just a girly-boy from a small redneck town in Oregon, and that alone has spawned identities that would seem at odds in a single human being...but, well, here I am. I'm not going to analyze it to death anymore, and I'm not going to let anyone tell what I can or cannot identify myself as.

I'm just...here. And I have some stories to tell.

 (I had a little selfie photo shoot after trying on my new make-up...)