I left my Heart in Paris and my Appendix in Berlin

Last year in early March, I was so stressed out from working up a high-stakes violin audition, living with a (now ex) boyfriend who was incapable of love, and getting bombarded by walls of anxiety texts from friends looking for advice or validation; that I downloaded an app that literally kicks you off your phone and MAKES YOU PAY to get back on. It’s called “Off the Grid,” and it is AMAZING. I made it so that friends could only solicit my emotional labour from 9-10am, and 5-7pm. (Realistically the problem was my boyfriend but I didn’t figure that out until 7 months later) On top of the $100/month I already pay for my phone bill, I added on another $5.95/month to have unlimited use of 5 apps that ensure my daily survival: Music, Clock, Transit, Google Maps* and Uber; plus the threat of a $1.29 penalty fee per infraction just to be able to NOT USE MY PHONE. (*I have zero sense of direction and there’s no way I’m going back to that dark time when my phone was in a repair shop for 2 months and I had to hand-draw maps in advance of every single place I went.)

I know what you’re thinking, “Do you have literally no self-control?!” “Can’t you just like, not respond to texts?! Or tell your friends to find a therapist??” And the answer is, nope. It stresses me out beyond belief to leave walls of text hanging in the air, unanswered, because I care WAY too much about other people’s needs. I’d probably help a complete stranger move during the apocalypse if they begged me nicely. I think because I’ve been disappointed so many times and know how it feels, I never want to be the one doing it to others. (I’m aware this needs re-evaluation)

Anyway, I was pretty excited to go on a 2-week tour to Europe with the Montreal Symphony in mid-March; to get out of the half-snow half-slush hellscape of Montreal and see a hint of spring. Embrace some new surroundings so I didn’t feel so tied to my phone. I could feel my anxiety dissipating already… I just had to pack my suitcase and get myself to the airport.

After a few days of extreme packing because I overthink everything, I’d finally assembled the perfect suitcase. All my outfits and shoes are perfectly planned out to accommodate the most possible color coordination combos; I have enough socks and underwear to defy all logic; travel pillow, travel blanket; some tasteful scarves to disguise the fact I’m wearing the same outfit for the third day in a row… 5 hours before my transatlantic flight, I’m making a last minute swap. The white blouse will match my jeans AND the green skirt while the purple one only really matches my jeans… when I get a whiff of a familiar scent from my suitcase.

It’s cat pee. My boyfriend’s cat has rage-pissed all over my beautifully packed suitcase, mirroring the way his human treats me in perfect feline symmetry. All over the clothing, books, inside my shoes… in and amongst the suitcase lining. I start frantically throwing all the clothes in the wash, hand-washing my black suede shoes in the bathtub (*tear*), and DOUSING my suitcase lining with baking soda, scrubbing it with hydrogen peroxide, then vacuuming all the powder up like some sort of hobo dry-cleaning service. I fucking HUSTLED, and made it to the airport smelling only a little bit like urine.            

WANTED: For Petty Pee

When I got to Germany, they had lost my suitcase, but I didn’t even care. I’d made it to a land without snow. I almost immediately started indulging in the local diet of beer, bread and sausage, and continued to do so for the next 12 days. I got constipated. Like, really constipated. So constipated I had to stop eating because there was no room for anything else… I felt like shit. I mean, I was probably 80% shit. But at this point I had a horrible cramp in my lower right side, a fever, and no appetite. Do these symptoms sound familiar to anyone? Yeah I hadn’t eaten too many brats, I had fucking appendicitis. I just didn’t know it yet.

For the last few days of my trip after the tour was done, I’d booked an AirBnb in Berlin to do some exploring, but all I wanted to do when I got there was go to my room, collapse on my bed and let the darkness consume me. Thing is, I had saved TWENTY WHOLE BUCKS by booking a “shared apartment” with a chain-smoking, neurotic old German lady with a penchant for leaving dildo boxes out in the open; who made it her business to knock on my door every few minutes to give me tips on Berlin or more rules to follow in her apartment. The Parliament Building is a “must-see, it’ll only take 6-7 hours. (I’d rather die) No eating or drinking in bed. (Where else am I supposed to do it?!) Don’t turn on the heat. But if you must, shut your window.

At one point I’m sitting on my bed fresh out of a hot shower, window wide open and heat on full blast, trying to simultaneously warm up and cool down from fever flashes. I’m so exhausted from pain I’m just staring at the wall. She comes in, ignores the fact I look like I’m about to drop dead, and asks me to squeegee her glass shower stall and then dry it with a towel. So here I am, appendix about to burst and kill me, on my hands and knees drying out her fucking shower so it doesn’t get water spots. Why? Because heaven forbid I disappoint this weird German lady.

After I finish, I calmly call an Uber to escort me to Emergency.

I leave most of my things in my room because I’m convinced the doctor will just push on my belly and I’ll let out a big fart or something and go back home… but he confirms I need to have my appendix removed the next morning and spend three days in the hospital recovering. I’d left my cell phone charger, my toothbrush, every single piece of clothing I’d packed… wet… and hanging to dry all over my room because of course I took advantage of the free laundry. But the last thing I want to do is contact my crackpot air bnb host to bring me all my things. So post-surgery, I just rest in my nifty hospital bed being doted on by nurses that don’t speak my language as my phone battery fizzles out; wearing half a paper-thin gown and hospital issued mesh underwear that broadcasts my entire ass to other hospital guests every time I walk to the washroom. I’m overcome with this feeling… Complete bliss.

I’ve been upgraded to “Off the Grid” premium, where for only $5000…

Living my Best Life

My Worst Recordings Ever, Episode 1

As a professional classical violinist, I have spent a lot of time recording myself. You need high quality demos for summer music festivals, scholarship and grant applications, university auditions, and orchestral auditions; and honestly I’d rather sit in the middle seat on a flight to China surrounded by babies. You have not seen me at my worst until you’ve witnessed me during a recording session. This coming from somebody who has screamed at innocent bystanders in an A&W for obstructing her path to a Beyond Meat burger with cheese in a post-concert hanger craze; one of the bystanders in fact, an old blind man.

Where a live classical music performance is already shrouded in the expectation of flawlessness (we’ll allow you to play 1-3 notes slightly off-pitch or rush one passage of 16th notes before mentally tossing you in the garbage); a studio recording is meant to display one at their VERY BEST. A representation of what they COULD sound like if they had the most amazing night’s sleep, got to the hall with no near-death Uber experiences, nailed every single technical obstacle exactly as they practiced it, and had a suspiciously healthy audience with no dark phlegmy hacks and crinkly cough drop wrappers saved for all the quiet moments.

Assuming you have thousands of dollars to throw around, you have unlimited chances during a recording session to re-do any passage that’s not to your liking, then you get your audio engineer to hack it all up and glue it back together making a polished musical-Frankenstein of only the best takes. If you’re not so financially blessed, you record as many full runs of the piece as possible on your own shitty equipment then pick the best one.

Cut to me on all fours in a room I’ve rented out in the Maritime Conservatory of Music, screaming and banging my fists into the carpeted cement floor after the 82nd take of Paganini’s 5th Caprice for a university demo. I don’t think more swear words were ever launched in that place, which also hosts ballet classes and children’s music programs. There are like 8000 notes in that 3 minute long mother fucker. Every time I fudged something, it was straight back to the beginning like Paperboy on the original Nintendo. Except I couldn’t throw my violin across the room like I would have with the controller.

The only alternative to this method of recording, other than quitting music, is to magically get an amazing take from a live performance. I have never had the best luck with this method, because I get NERVOUS as FUCK. No matter how much I prepare or how many performance-regulating drugs* I take, I inevitably shit the bed in at least 3 spots, rendering the recording useless. (*Musicians won’t admit it, but most of us have a bottle of beta blockers in the medicine cabinet that to an audition panel behind a screen, marks the difference between “this is a normal person” and “Jesus are they okay?! Are they being chased by a man with a knife??”)

In my “Lauren DeRoller” itunes folder, I have two sets of recordings: those made in a studio and fit for the ears of snobby music judges wearing suits so tight they can’t sit down properly (that’s how I imagine them); and those recorded live, which are not permitted to leave the safety of my computer. UNTIL TODAY. My friends. I think it is time we stop perpetuating this myth that the best musicians are those able to get from start to finish of a piece with zero mistakes. I would so much rather listen to a musician play from their heart with I dunno, 15 wrong notes, 2 memory slips and an audible curse word; than spit out Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto as though it was being played from a Midi file. Technically flawless but boring as fuck. Some of my live recordings are actually really good, save for a few spectacular donks.

The following recording takes this a little far, containing MOSTLY donk with a few “actually really good” moments; but I thought I’d start this series with the one that makes me laugh the most. Which is worth something too, God dammit. In grade 12, I put on a solo recital that showcased not only my stress-fueled violin skills, but yup… my mediocre piano abilities. I really did love playing the piano, but I would notoriously sight-read for my weekly lesson, never practicing at home. I am proud to say, it shows. (All the “dramatic pauses” you hear are me scrambling to find the notes)

P.S. If you listen to this and can’t tell what’s wrong with it, congratulations! You haven’t been jaded by the impossible standards of classical music culture and you are capable of simply… enjoying music. What a concept!

I give you, my favourite worst recording ever:

Rachmaninoff Piano Prelude in C# minor/Lauren DeRoller/2004

I’ll leave you with the “good” version.