On moths and butterflies

As we watched a moth banging against the bathroom window my youngest asked me to reflect on the difference between moths and butterflies two nights ago and I confessed that I had no idea.

Good ol’ internet tells me the difference is that butterflies rest with wings closed while moths rest with wings open. I admit that this is the last difference that would have come to my mind. I had focused on diurnal versus nocturnal behaviors and a moth’s tendency to fly based on the light of the stars. Moths apparently also make a “silky” cocoon while butterflies use a famously shiny chrysalis.

The kids always come up with the most delightful questions and I enjoy it when I get stumped. Like last year when the oldest asked me if butterflies pee. In fact, they do release a water when they’ve taken in too much moisture from nectar. Which I joked was a delicacy among faeries and used by witches in their love potions. “It’s terribly difficult to get a butterfly to pee. You have to have the patience of a witch.” Which has become a shorthand in our household. “I was so patient, Mom. I was like a witch waiting for a butterfly to pee.”

Guilt. The white kind.

We all step in it sometimes. Social faux pas after social faux pas. As a big talker — hello @bigmouthdiva — I step in it all the time. I get unfriended and unfollowed on social media quite often. As someone who cracks jokes and has big opinions and tries to put myself at ease with patter I do have a tendency to offend. But I think it’s okay. It’s better to step in a mess than avoid it altogether.

I’m not suggesting white people go into black spaces and take over, but didn’t I learn a ton about USA life by attending meetings of African-American organizations over the years? Did I go with an open heart and try to lend my ear and then signal boost the message I found there? Was a large chunk of my social identity not formed by the marginalized voices of America?

It was starting out with a bit of an advantage as I was an outsider as the French kid in a New York school and later a Yankee in a southern school. Already ostracized in some ways and literally told to “go back where you came from” on a regular basis I was free to move into any social groups I wanted to explore. I’d always be the freak. The group that was the most welcoming to a drama queen like me happened to be the LGBT+ community and from there I learned self acceptance in the face of all opposition. Self acceptance even in the face of hatred from ones own kin. Freaks must develop a spine of stainless steel.

That lesson, one I learned young and leaned on during dark times (a lesson of self love that keeps me grateful to the queer community in more ways than I can count) is also what allowed me to listen to the voices of other marginalized groups and to absorb those messages of acceptance in the face of racism.

But then there was white guilt among my own people. White guilt when they talk about being fearful of stepping on toes or offending or getting crushed by call-out culture. These are all perfectly legitimate fears and yet they’re bullshit. That guilt is really fear of being uncomfortable and it prevents most people with social capital from attempting to understand people they don’t know as well as their own community. Most often their own community is one comprised of folks that look and sound and earn like themselves.

Embrace your otherness. Visit communities where you do not fit in. Listen and learn and set aside your discomfort. Do not ask your black friend to guide you, go it alone and know what it’s like for marginalized groups when they’re expected to operate in the dominant culture. Feel it in your bones. Sink into your otherness. See what you can learn from communities that are not like your own.

So no matter how many people I offend I will continue to try with my whole heart. From the first time I worked as the only white person at an all African-American nonprofit when I was sixteen years old and then a TV show about a local subculture followed by even more places where I did not really fit in, until the near future where I am somehow helping to teach white kids about our local indigenous community (Me? Yeah, okay, sure.) I’ll keep putting myself out there. Because guilt is useless if it isn’t occasionally set aside in favor of healing action.

Sam Chardin Vancouver Mom Top 30 Blogger

Yours truly was honored to be a part of the Top 30 Mom Bloggers in Vancouver by vancouvermom.ca and given the opportunity to mingle with a group of motivated writer moms. If there’s one skill I’ve perfected it’s how to parallel park. Second to that is working a room and meeting new people at an awards event.

Rule #1 for attending an awards show: Only attend if you’re nominated or presenting. I learned the hard way attending awards show in Hollywood that unless I have a reason to be there I will hate it. Also, go with the goal of meeting three new interesting people.

Tip #2: Dress for the camera not the room.
You better believe my many years with movie stars taught me how to test an outfit by photographing it; with flash and all. Polaroid used to be particularly useful for this purpose as it was unflattering and revealed any material that might be translucent with a flash pop. For the room I was overdressed but for the camera I was spot on. That’s a polka-dot pun, my sweeties.

Tip #3 Make friends with the photographer
This isn’t merely self serving. Angela Hubbard Photography was working her dang butt off and I want to always acknowledge and celebrate the hard work of those who are running around with equipment making us look fabulous. She said, “I never have my photo taken!” and that’s precisely why we’re posing together, honey.

Tip #4 You’re there to celebrate your achievement so don’t hide.
Now, I have been caught mid-sneeze in a group photo and that’s always a sad moment, but the one thing I can control is not to hide away. Flaunt. There is room for all of us to show it off.

Tip #5 Take photos with the banner.
Years from now you will have forgotten what this event was for in your albums full of red-carpet events. Attending so many cool events I had to learn to take a picture of myself in front of the event poster in order to keep track.

Tip #6 Wear comfortable shoes.
Because life is too short to be uncomfortable.

Singing tips

Some of us are born with a nice singing voice, but regardless of natural ability there are things we can do that will improve our ability. Whether you’re singing on a stage or around a campfire, don’t be shy about practicing and leveling up.

Firstly, whether you’re new or not you should always rehearse with scales. Warming up is important but the reason why singers doing scales is a cliche is that you’re looking to push into the edges of your ability. Just as an athlete works out their muscles to exhaustion so they can get stronger, you want to sing to just beyond your comfort in your high and low notes. This will expand your range and strengthen your ability. Don’t expect your very high and very low notes to sound good when you’re practicing. You’re not looking for beauty here, only expansion.

While you’re practicing, move around sometimes. It’s important to keep moving and flowing while you’re singing. This helps solidify your technique and will force you to stop thinking about what you sound like. When I was stuck in my head I had a coach make me do rolls across the stage while we were working on an aria. You don’t have to get that wacky with it but squats and even some dancing can be helpful to release areas of tension.

Visualizing helps me and I find this one particularly helpful:

The power line is the breathing on the vowel, which never stops releasing a steady stream of air. The birds are the consonants of the word, which blocks the vowel but does not stop the flow of air or sound. The exception to this is a staccato sound but most of the time we’re expected to create a bel canto sustained and smooth tone. The power line is the air always creating a tone, the birds don’t stop the sound, they merely touch down on the power line of constant sound, they don’t stop it completely.

It’s also important to learn your own range and voice type. Once you know yours then a lot of your song choices will fall into place. Note that your voice type is probably not the one you’re attracted to listening to most of the time. It’s almost a perverse truism that we prefer to listen to the voices of people who do not sound like ourselves. For example, my partner kills at karaoke but had a tendency to choose higher-pitched pieces suitable for a tenor. I had to tell him he’s actually a baritone and should be choosing to croon along to Tom Jones.

I’m trash at karaoke despite having a large set of pipes. Reason being that most pop music for women is written for the alto / mezzo voice and not my high-pitched insanity. Try not to beat yourself up if that’s also the case for you.

So you can be good at one type of music and suck in another. I’m terrific on Verdi and terrible at pop music. Which can also be a bit of a gut punch when you’re dying on the karaoke stage.

You good?

New Yorkers use the question “you good?” for a far greater variety of situations than most. One way I’ve seen it employed as a form of allyship is when riding public transit.

Picture a young woman getting hassled by someone on a bus and a big fella sitting nearby takes off his headphones and gives her a head bob and a quick, “You good?” If she doesn’t answer, he comes over to sit next to her.

I’ve employed it myself. Seeing a couple in a the middle of a drunken fight. I’ll follow them for a while until there is a break in the shouting and I can make eye contact with the woman. “You good?” She might wave me off. Or she might give me the pleading look that says, stay with me. Stay here. Stay as a witness.

I know a lot of people dislike taking public transit because they prefer the safety of their car but I have found transit is the best place to be a good ally. It helps if you have this question at your disposal.

MomChoir & finding your soulmate

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a partner who supports my creative endeavors and does everything he can to allow me space and time to write weird novels about fertility cults and so I can perform in operas. He’s a mensch.

Sam wins the trifecta at the Nice Hippodrome de la Côte d’Azur as her man looks on in disgust c. 2003

There did come a time in recent years though where I felt myself spread too thin. My girls are young and I wanted to be there for them, and even starting my own proofreading business that allows me flexible hours, the commute to performances on nights and weekends was a step beyond what I could reasonably handle.

I was fortunate that an energetic singer, mom of three, and choir director started a new group in my neighborhood just over a year ago comprised entirely of local mothers. I joined MomChoir in September and it has been a large part of what is proving to be a transformative year for me.

MomChoir director Katy Cadman proving the adage that singers will always be featured in the press with their mouths hanging open. You know, like a carp. (Andy Prest / North Shore News)

Let me back up by saying I have always been internally opposed to sororities as a concept. When I attended Emerson College I was strongly encouraged by gorgeous young friends to join their professional sorority Kappa Gamma Chi and even ended up an “honorary” member as I lived with so many of them. But I never officially pledged. I was working a full-time job to afford the steep tuition and I didn’t think I could give them the time and money their Greek life appeared to require.

How funny now to find myself in a group of nearly sixty women I cherish. We have frequent social gatherings and I find nothing but support and mutual admiration. Unlike so many past experiences in groups of women where neuroticism and back-handed compliments seemed to rule the day (oh, Egg Pictures and the PTA, I’m looking at you right now), this crew has been nothing but delightful.

Soprano II Francesca Smilgin-Box made a cake for a casual gathering that proves the adage no one parties better than a mom on a babysitter deadline.

We’re busy professional moms who had ovaries of steel enough to audition for a choir. Many had not sung in public since high school, if ever. Many had to be lovingly bullied by their family into attending the audition. “Honey, I love you, but if I have to watch Singin’ in the Rain with you again I will smash the television with my left shoe.”

Many — if not most — have suffered loss. Perhaps it’s simply that no one gets through life unscathed, but this is a group that has known personal, physical, emotional life tragedies. They’re women who faced down demons and it made them kinder not harder.

Compassion is not an attribute I would have attached to a university sorority, but I’m learning that there is one overarching definition to sisterhood: Mutual Support. When done correctly? There is a bottomless well of love and admiration in a room full of women who’ve suffered.

I need to digress for a moment and talk about (of all things) soulmates.

Many years ago, in Yosemite National Park, I had a fella declare that I was his one and only soulmate. I kissed him in response, but in my brain? Y’all. I felt like he had just told me with all sincerity that he believed in The Tooth Fairy.

Yosemite in the ’00s is a timeless beauty.
The author in Yosemite in the ’00s is a timeless asshole.

This was not merely me being a cynical unromatic jerkface, I swear. Nor was it my basic requirement for evidence that a thing exists. Is soulmate a thing beyond zinging brain chemistry and compatible sexuality?

It actually took me many years to realize why I felt so much pity for him and only recent events that reminded me of a core basis for happiness. If you don’t know this already then let me shout it:

This is a reality that many people learn when they become parents.

That there are broken-hearted darlings out there believing that their one and only true love is gone and thus they may never be cherished again pains me. I know it might feel like a truth because western culture and the Romantic Ideal is a lie that we’re peddled by most of our pop culture from a very young age. You must choose between — you are not permitted to love multiple people. And I’m not talking about the ever-trendy polyamory here, although there is a space for that discussion another time.

It was a few weeks ago when I was awash in a Yosemite-sized cataract of emotion for my Mastery crew and thus pondering this truth anew. I was reflecting on how fortunate I feel to love a plethora of people all over this planet when this visual popped up for Pi Day. I don’t know who made it but it is wonderful.

This is what I’m trying to say right here.

I love a lot of people. Truly and deeply and for everything that they are. All of their broken parts and their scars.

One of my MomChoir sisters posted a behind-the-scenes video to a fight song we’re slaying with in an upcoming concert, and Sagan help me, I am done. If I make it through this song without tears down my face it’ll be a minor secular miracle.

So this is what artists do. We put our whole hearts into the world and we give you permission to break them because we won’t ever stop loving you even if you hate us. And we’ve hearts big enough to nurture the world.

Local fans can attend Sweet Scarlet‘s upcoming fundraiser for the Pacific Post-partum Support Society, It Takes a Village, with MomChoir.

Buy tickets here
for the 11 May concert, but it will sell out soon because we’re ADORABLE.

Members of MomChoir proving the old adage that there’s always that one.

Reframe anything

The kids at school have started to tear apart this stone wall.

As I was silently reflecting on how stone walls are some of the most long-lasting human edifices in history yet a few kids can tear one apart in a matter of hours, a mom started to growl about the mess. Then, a new teacher piped up, “This tells me they need some materials to build their own ideas. We should get them some logs and rocks to play with in the woodlot.”

A lot of things have changed since I was at school. I mean, I grant you this is especially true for me as I attended boarding school when I was ten years old that was run by nuns and lived with them in a mansion on a hill. So I’m this weird Dickensian throwback who is constantly amazed at the patience and empathy of modern educators. And I’m often struck by how many things can be reframed. It’s a habit in educators that I’m trying to develop for myself. Instead of being angry with the person who has perpetrated damage on you, ask yourself about the unmet need.

Meanwhile, a few lines sung from Bye Bye Birdie can cheer up grumpy parents. Because we all feel like Paul Lynde sometimes.

Eat some bugs

I attended the Healthy Family Expo with my youngest and we partook of a number of free samples. I realized later that if the kid were to have an allergic reaction I would have no idea which of the many exotic foods might be the culprit.

Like those delicious morsels? They’re made with crickets.

Now, as it happens, I’m a long-time fan of using insects for protein. Back when Evolution was my favorite store in New York City in 1998, I even bought a book on how to cook with cricket flour. (LOL like I was going to bake with any kind of flour.) But that was before we learned the insect populations are plummeting. Yikes.

Fortunately, though, these crickets are farm-raised back in Ontario so we’re not adding to the problem by eating these buggers.

And also fortunate, the little one didn’t have any allergic reactions. She even managed to stuff her face and jump on a trampoline with no ill effect.

It was a nice mommy and kid day at the expo. We ate a lot of weird stuff and didn’t puke — which is apparently my general assessment of a good day.

Sauna time

My friend has been extolling the virtues of sauna time to prevent some of the post-exercise soreness that I so often battle. And my partner loves going for a schvitz a few times a week so I decided to give it a try. Apparently, even Lady Gaga was all about it. Who am I to argue?

Well, here are some things that my male partner and male friend were not able to warn me about. The fact is, it’s harder for women. I have fewer excuses than most as I live near a public recreation center that features a new sauna and comes included in the price of admission. And yet…

I should have realized that I was heading into what is essentially one of the few male spaces left in a westernized and modern culture. Growing up for a bit of my childhood in Denmark I was no stranger to a place where grown men are naked and sweating, but it’s different when you’re a child. For one thing, I didn’t see the point of sitting still and being quiet so the sauna was not an appealing space.

My first time in the sauna as an adult I decided that I’d worn the wrong clothing. Most of the other people in there were in swimsuits. As I’m not interested in heated chlorine and thrush, this was not appealing. I wore my regular running clothes instead. Only after a few minutes in the punishing heat did I consider what it might be doing to my expensive and well-guarded sports bra.

Determined not to be put off by my wrong clothing choice and the fact that I was the only woman in the sauna that first day, I carried on. I’d been hearing too much about the benefits of a schvitz to give up.

I was in the small sauna with four men and one of them kept crankily complaining anytime someone left the sauna as opening the door let the heat escape. Eventually, his complaints became about women in particular. “They don’t even stay in here for more than five minutes. What’s the point?” I said nothing and carried on, now afraid to leave “too soon” even though this was my first time in a sauna. Great. Now I have to die in here rather than be the first to leave. We were in there for twenty-five minutes.

Feeling a bit of anxiety about the second time going to the sauna I had at least planned ahead with the clothing. I wore a loose-fitting tank top and running shorts. Once again, I was the only woman and all the men were wearing wet swim trunks. They spoke to each other — some in foreign languages. Fine. No problem. Just wish that one dude would stop staring at my chest. I guess this was the wrong clothing choice, too.

Third round, knees shaking a bit with anxiety. Oh, good. A woman is in there. Probably Korean and wearing a swimsuit, she does not appear to speak English as the four men in there with us shit-talk women who stay too short a time. Again. Different dudes, same topic.

But am I the type of person who gives up in the face of invading a male space? Or am I someone who sees a private room at a party with only Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger smoking cigars with two other men and decide that this is the room I belong in? Reader, you know I had my first (and last cigar) that night because I will not be excluded and screw you for trying.

So I’m that type of person. Bloody minded.

Fourth round. My partner at this point is laughing at my anxiety it’s getting so bad but I am determined. He’s amazed at my bad luck. So I head over there. Three guys in the sauna. No problem. Two of them in a corner are chatting loudly and being a bit obnoxious but at least they’re not shit-talking women. Okay. Eventually, the other solo guy is all, “Can everyone in here read English?” Awkward silence. He asks again, more silence from us. “Because that sign over there clearly says not to talk in here.” The two dudes in the corner flash a look at him. I’m sitting in between them all. “What an asshole,” one of them mutters to the other. “Yeah, I’m the asshole,” says the cranky regular.

Me in the middle thinks, “Here we go.”

And I think back to all those scenes set in steam rooms and saunas in movies and television shows that I’ve seen over the years. Sometimes it’s mafia stories because we know that no one is wearing a wire and so that’s when you order the hit. Sometimes, it’s just to show off pure machismo in a movie because the lead actor worked hard for that body and he’s going to make the audience admire his chest hair, damn it.

This is a man’s space and I am not welcome here.

Nevertheless, I know I will persist.

Angry dude settled down as the other two guys were all, “Let’s get out of here.” I guess they couldn’t handle the heat.