Alt + Christmas Songs

I just went grocery shopping and they were already playing Christmas music, so I figure it’s fair game to post a few of my favorite “alternative” Christmas songs. I think they’re better than anything you’ll find in a retail establishment. Except for maybe the last one.


I came across this song while Mike and I were looking for a new band to play with. The band was looking for a new singer, and though I quickly decided I had neither the guts nor the pipes to audition, I did listen to this on repeat for days; wish it were longer!

The photo is a tree I remember fondly. There’s a massive magnolia not far away that flowers a month or so after Christmas every year, points if you’re familiar with these San Francisco landmarks!


Rob is a friend-of-a-friend who moved to Vietnam. A trip into the SoundCloud rabbit hole led me to this song of his, so lovely! (His GoodReads updates are amongst the most interesting in my feed, too.)


Late Breaking Christmas Eve Update: I had forgotten about this oh-so-California number from my friend and former bass teacher Alexis, but must include it!


Scott reminded me to include this one, Khruangbin’s version of the Charlie Brown Christmas / Vince Guaraldi classic:


I did NOT leave the best for last. I apologize, this one’s pretty bad, from Lawrence Arabia, who seems to hold weirdly mythical status in NZ. I’m fascinated by his stage presence so I like to go to his performances; we’ve also seen him (plus entourage) in the audience at other people’s shows. (Aside: he did a really interesting crowdfunding project in 2018, which of course I appreciated!)

He wrote of this:

It’s a jaunty song I wrote, inspired by a friend’s Christmas Eve one night stand. It’s got at least one appalling double entendre in it.

Merry Christmas!

For Nothing is Fixed: podcast and poems

“Fixed” as in: permanent / unmoving / unchanging;
“Fixed” as in: repaired, made whole.

On this theme I present this timely and provocative conversation between Viveka and Paramananda. So much of what Viveka says (and not just in this podcast!) resonates with my experience, in particular:

Just because we’re physically together doesn’t mean we’re vibing together… Just recognizing that when we’re physically together doesn’t mean that all bodies are able to be there in the same way has been a huge teaching for me.


How can we actually co-create a space that everyone is genuinely able to be welcome with others, to be welcoming others? …There’s something about the beautifulness of our differentiation where we can actually welcome each other fully.

Their conversation takes as its springboard this poem by James Baldwin, which Paramananda recites beautifully (and from memory!) at 4:40:

For Nothing Is Fixed
by James Baldwin

For nothing is fixed,
forever, forever, forever,
it is not fixed;
the earth is always shifting,
the light is always changing,
the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born,
and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails,
lovers cling to each other,
and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another,
the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.


Here’s another excerpt of a poem, which I heard for the first time this afternoon. Apparently it is stenciled on the streets of Salem, Massachussetts in such a way that it is only visible when it rains, and I wish I could find the poem in its entirety:


All around the globe, Right Now, people are busy filling in the cracks of our world with gold, and I’m deeply inspired.

No Surprises: a Regina Spektor Radiohead cover that’s perfect for these times

A couple weeks ago Triple J’s Like a Version re-released this 10-year old performance of Regina Spektor’s rendition of Radiohead’s No Surprises, with much better video quality this time around. It’s definitely near the top of my list of favorite covers, and it’s so perfect for these times.

If I were savvier with audio editing I’d release a version without the criminal audio stings at the beginning and end, alas! Here’s a link that starts after the initial sting, or click play below; either way, be ready with the volume control so you’re ready to bring it up after the initial sting and down again before the VERY mood-killing sting at the very end of the song:

If you liked that, there’s also an alternate audio version of the cover, also recorded back in 2010 as part of a fundraiser for post-earthquake Haiti and Chile and (via?) Doctors Without Borders. May we all find ways to be generous in troubled times, no matter what we have to contribute!

And of course, the original:

…plus the lyrics (source):

No Surprises
by Radiohead

A heart that’s full up like a landfill
A job that slowly kills you
Bruises that won’t heal

You look so tired, unhappy
Bring down the government
They don’t, they don’t speak for us
I’ll take a quiet life
A handshake of carbon monoxide

No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
Silent, silent

This is my final fit, my final bellyache with

No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises please

Such a pretty house, and such a pretty garden

No alarms and no surprises (let me out of here)
No alarms and no surprises (let me out of here)
No alarms and no surprises please (let me out of here)

Scott’s Bill Withers remix

He finally released this into the wild! This song has been ready to go for weeks and it’s SO GOOD; stoked to be able to share it outside our Lockdown Bubble.

I’m in the middle of a particularly challenging work situation and this section of the song is really speaking to me right now, alas:

You’re talking right to me
But you really ain’t saying a thang
You’re pouring muddy water on me
Trying to convince me it’s rain
You’re talking to me crazy
But you’re trying to make me feel insane

New song (and upcoming album!) from Farallons <3 <3 <3

Last week I got a notification from Kickstarter: the new Farallons album — which I had completely forgotten about backing — will be released soon! The one song they’re letting us listen to now on Bandcamp is just so beautiful, a vibrating, layered forest landscape true to the album’s name, Plant Life:

I loved reading the story of Plant Life, and I eagerly anticipate the full release ❤

And I really DO want that haircut reward I chose six years ago on Kickstarter (#lockdownhair), but alas, I’m a bit far away for that now… hoping they’ll save me a record instead, ha! And thanks to Scott for finally agreeing to trim my hair last night 😉

Guitarist & bassist / backup singer seeking other half of our garagey punk indie band (and other blasts from the past)

I just rediscovered some long-lost recordings of a garage band I used to play with:

Clearly we needed more practice, ha, but we had a lot of fun!

After the above band had broken up, my guitar-wielding friend Mike and I put this ad up on craigslist. We got a lot of fascinating / weird emails in response, but we only ever actually met up with these folks… they had a very specific thing going on that freaked us out a bit, so we never met up again. Then I’m guessing I must have moved back to Bolinas, ruining any hope of regular practice sessions? Cracks me up to look back at this stuff, especially as I’m thinking about my various identities over the years!


Trying to rustle up a drummer and a singer, maybe a singer who also plays keys and makes spacey fun blaster sounds? Maybe one or the other of you writes original songs?

Mike: kicks ass on the guitar / is most likely to show up with the lyrics and chord progressions for the new song he wants to play / has fancy gear and isn’t afraid to play two guitar tracks, looping one of them / dreams of turning the dial his amp up past 3 / is really good at keeping us on track / likes it when the rest of us are so psyched we jump up and down when we play / might still be 17, or somewhat stuck in the 80s punk scene / has been through two Blue Bear band workshops…

…the latter of which resulted in his meeting…

Elizabeth: really likes being onstage / has more enthusiasm than talent / plays much better basslines when she’s not also serving as lead singer / has a hard time not singing / laughs a lot / follows instructions well / writes for a living but has yet to muster a good original song / is most likely to get tix to a show / will be out of town a bit later this year traveling for work after her book comes out.

We are both in our 30s, live and practice in San Francisco, and secretly dream about quitting our day jobs and playing music all day long, on and off stage… though we seem to be stuck in the land of playing covers.

Are you the rest of our band???

Please be in touch if you:

  • play drums and/or sing and/or play keys or synth and/or write songs and want to hear them come alive
  • are more interested in having fun and staying positive than beating yourself or anyone else up if we botch the song
  • want to practice 1-2x a week and contemplate the occasional gig
  • want to come to shows with us for inspiration (faves of late = Ty Segall, White Fence, Thee Oh Sees, the Walkmen, !!!)
  • like some or all of the songs in the following list, which we’ve spent some time with…

Pulled Up – Talking Heads
Gigantic and Where is My Mind – Pixies
Saints – The Breeders
Teenagers from Mars – Misfits
What Do I Get? – Buzzcocks
Thin White Line – Sticks & Stones
The Bends and No Surprises – Radiohead
Ceremony – Joy Division
Last Nite and Someday – The Strokes
Jail La La and Bedroom Eyes – Dum Dum Girls
I Am the Ressurrection – Stone Roses
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs


On the possibility of integrating past identities

I’ve been thinking about the difference between trying to let go of past identities I’ve held dear, vs somehow integrating them.

An example of a past identity: throughout my high school and college years I obsessed about becoming a climbing bum, and then spent another several years attempting to live out that dream in Yosemite and Joshua Tree amongst the climbers I used to read about in magazines. It never really felt right, and to be fair, I did a lot more hanging out with climbers than I did actual climbing. I hesitate to mention to people that I ever “was” a climber — even though it was very much my thing, for thirteen years! — because I’ve learned that people who are into climbing get very excited to attach all sorts of ideas onto me that didn’t even fit back then.

Still, I cannot deny the Climber in me. Whenever my body touches stone, or uses its fingers and limbs to pull the rest of my body upward, I am overcome with a strong sense of knowing: THIS is what this body was born to do.

Is that true though? Continue reading “On the possibility of integrating past identities”

How being American in New Zealand shines some light on the Commonwealth

Toward the end of a yoga class I was attending this morning, the sounds of a very exuberant… school band? church band? began wafting in from the building directly across the street. Crashing cymbals, clunky piano, and off-key singing, oh my!

Our teacher closed the windows on that side of our room but frankly, I was more inspired by the live music. Much more moving than the canned soundtrack I’m getting a bit tired of hearing at every class, week after week; good thing I’m there for the yoga, not the music 😉

After class I stood under a tree and listened to the band for several minutes, inexplicable tears in my eyes, while they thrashed their way through This Little Light of Mine.

Wanting to keep that light shining a bit longer, when I got home I discovered this:

Other than having seen recent headlines that apparently they’re thinking of moving to Vancouver Island, or is it Vancouver? — I am totally out of the loop. Had no idea they had gospel at their wedding, and I approve!

But I suspect that my ignorance of all things Royal makes me yet another kind of minority here.


Living in New Zealand has oddly shed a lot of light on aspects of my experiences living in Canada, where my mother is from. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise given that both countries were colonized by the British, and are therefore part of the Commonwealth (aka the Commonwealth of Nations, formerly known as The British Commonwealth of Nations).

To a much lesser extent, living here has helped me recognize that certain experiences I’ve had in Hong Kong, where my father is from, are also the result of British influence.

Prefaced by some very substantive caveats (obviously not everyone is like this / I’ve observed far more similarities between New Zealand and Canada than New Zealand and Hong Kong / this is not an attempt to summarize ALL aspects of my experiences in those countries / etc), some of these common Commonwealth aspects I’ve noticed include:

  • British-style Tea as an Event (including varied, though always-specific personal expectations about preparing the beverage, and what to serve with it);
  • Less willingness to speak directly or engage in interpersonal conflict compared to my experience in the US, sometimes coupled with a bit more unexpressed intolerance of differing opinions;
  • A cultural commitment to remembering the lives lost during the first World War;
  • A sense that anything British is better than anything that might have been there before the British arrived (people / values / culture / animals / plants other than those deemed useful for selling back in Britain or elsewhere) or who might be arriving more recently, namely, immigrants from non-European countries;
  • An obsession with the British monarchy, including most recently the activities of Harry and Meghan… speaking of immigration.

The combination of these observations, plus several others that are much more subtle and difficult to articulate, have also given me a much stronger sense of my American-ness. Sometimes I even feel vague sense of pride that the American colonists of yore stood up to the British. It’s not constant, or concrete. “Pride” doesn’t even really feel like the appropriate word. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that it’s more a noticing that Americans chose a different path that resulted in some different outcomes, for better and for worse.

Most of what I feel as an American is a sense of shame that I am somehow representative of or responsible for the havoc wreaked around the world by American exports, including war and consumerist values. I cringe every time someone points out that something I tend to do is “so American.”

And I cringe even more when people here lump all Americans together when making an observation. Clearly they don’t understand that the US is an enormous AND enormously diverse country. No, not every single person in the country keeps the tap running while washing dishes, and no we certainly don’t all support our current president any more than all citizens of Commonwealth countries are the same or love the Queen.

I hold out hope that my particular way of being may help demonstrate that not ALL Americans are that bad, even if we do sometimes share some cultural similarities to each other, and even to the mythical America that Americans and non-Americans alike cling to.

May we all let our lights shine, no matter where we are from or where we find ourselves living now.

Opening the doors of the heart – a beautiful talk on kindness from Mary Grace Orr

It’s now been ten years since I attended my first Buddhist meditation retreat. The topic of the six-day retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center was Opening the Doors of the Heart, and we spent the majority of that time in glorious silence, whether sitting on our cushions, walking mindfully through the Fall-crispy-grass on the hills, doing our daily chores, and yes, cracking open our hearts, bit by bit.

Mary Grace Orr gave this beautiful talk a few nights in. (In the event that the link doesn’t work anymore, try this or this.)

I’ve listened to it countless times, and each time different sections catch me. It’s fascinating and humbling to listen again now, another decade’s worth of Metta (lovingkindness) practice under my belt, and still feel as though I have everything yet to learn!

Though the Triratna Buddhist community is my current spiritual home, I continue to feel so much gratitude for all the teachers of the Insight tradition who started me down this path. In particular, I am deeply grateful to James Fox for introducing me to the concept of Metta, and for encouraging me to deepen my practice by attending a retreat.

Saddhu, James, for everything you’ve accomplished with the Prison Yoga Project, and Thank You for inspiring me, then and now!