Around the bend, to the next blue sky.

Left: July 2006. Calcutta, India. Age 18. 134 lbs. Photo credit: Rosie Boggis  Right: July 2017. Vancouver, BC. Age 29. 180 lbs. Photo credit: my mom. 

Left: July 2006. Calcutta, India. Age 18. 134 lbs. Photo credit: Rosie Boggis

Right: July 2017. Vancouver, BC. Age 29. 180 lbs. Photo credit: my mom. 

[Listening to: The Next Blue Sky - Joel and Bill Plaskett]

Some things never change, I guess. On the left is an 18 year-old me in Calcutta about to board a long-haul train ride south to Hyderabad. On the right is 29 year old me, about to board a 4-day train from Vancouver to Toronto. Taken almost 11 years apart to the day, its funny how seemingly everything has changed, yet there are some essential pieces of my self that have somehow endured through it all. Maybe its just a coincidence, but even the idea that the desire for adventure has lived on as a major part of my adult self is really comforting for someone who feels existentially lost often. I have a tendency to get reflective, and sometimes in my mental wanderings I am reminded that nearly every awesome thing that has ever happened in my life can be traced back to some deliberate choice to hit the eject button from my comfort zone and wing it. 

And in that vein, I write this from a cafe in my new hometown of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. This move marks the most recent phase of adventurehood for us (myself, my wife, and our sassy two year-old). Now, admittedly, my personal conception of “home” has become a bit skewed over the past decade or so. Home is no longer a physical place for me - now its just a feeling. It’s the feeling I get when landing in Vancouver and smelling the ocean air. It’s getting to know an audience of would-be strangers and leaving the gig feeling closer to each one. It’s giggling at something knowing only my sister on the other side of the country would find it as funny as I do, and suddenly feeling like we’re in the same room. It’s seeing the big dipper from my bedroom window and realizing that we’re all more connected than we realize. And it’s knowing that my family loves me unconditionally, despite my quirks, whims, and unstable moods. Home lives in our senses, I think. It’s not a tangible home, but it’s a nice home, and I’m happy to live in it. And life really is beautiful. I feel really lucky. 

I realize it has been a long while (again) since my last update, but there has been so much going on and I feared I wouldn’t be able to do it coherently without being outrageously wordy. This has a been a pretty crazy year of excitement and change, and even though it may have been unsettling at times, the path still feels right and the days are never boring. I’m starting to think that life can be characterized more accurately by its setbacks than by its gifts. 

Was it John Lennon who said that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans? (Yes. Confirmed. I just googled it so you don’t have to. Excellent. Wise words, Mr Lennon.)

Anyways here’s a point-form update:

  • my debut full length record is being mixed at this very moment: In the months leading up to the move to Nova Scotia, the great Jim Bryson and I worked out of his private studio in Sittsville (ON) at building up a collection of my songs. I’m really excited to share these tunes with you all. We were both juggling with our own respective tour dates, personal lives, creative brains, and other commitments, but I’m really happy we managed to finish all of the tracking in Ottawa and can’t imagine a more appropriate way to wrap up my time there. 
  • Amateur lumberjack status: Our new home is 100% wood-heated. I’ve been using a chainsaw and a splitting axe nearly every day, and I feel really cool about it. I wear chaps three days a week now, and that has to count for something. 
  • In the time since moving to Nova Scotia a month ago, I have already left on music-related business twice. Once to the FMO Conference in Toronto, and the other to Nova Scotia Music Week in Truro. Both were awesome and filled my heart with musical joy and I feel particularly excited to be based on the east coast now. 
  • The summer was jam-packed with shows across Canada, many private event and wedding gigs, recording recording recording, family adventures, packing packing packing, writing writing writing, moving moving moving, and a renewed sense of childhood wonder as I get to explore a new part of this country and, as a result, a new part of my self. 

Anyways, I just wanted to give a little update. I’ll have some new things and news to share very soon! In the meantime, I should probably finish unpacking and get the studio set up again. Until then, please know that I thinking about you constantly and you’re sexy. 

Love always,

Mark 

Deserting Myself.

Howlin' at the moon. Arizona Desert. February 2016.

Howlin' at the moon. Arizona Desert. February 2016.

I just spent 9 days alone in the Arizona desert writing songs. The idea for the retreat came back in December after finally admitting to myself that my writing efforts over the past year had been less than fruitful (oh, and the songs were all complete crap) and that I needed to step up my game in the name of all that is meaningful and important in life…..(*snore*….see post for context). The purpose of the trip was to change my surroundings, eliminate distractions, and hopefully find inspiration for some new tunes. I chose the Arizona Desert because it offered the exact opposite of what February in Ottawa could: warmth, cacti, clear skies for stargazing, and increased accessibility to tacos. So, before long, I had cashed in all of my travel rewards and booked myself a modest (but free) little getaway. 

I found myself emotionally conflicted beforehand. Half of me knew it was the best thing I could be doing for my music, while the other half of me felt tremendously guilty about leaving my wife and baby behind knowing there was a chance that I could come home with nothing to show for it. Luckily, that wasn’t the case, and I came home with a bunch of full songs and lots of new ideas that I’m excited to see through (hooray). But, I still missed my ladies everyday and found myself reverting to that feeling of guilt during my least productive moments of the trip [Oh - I should also mention that this guilt was completely self-inflicted and that my wife was super supportive of the writing retreat idea the whole way through. She’s the coolest.]. 

There were definitely some unforeseen - yet wholly expected — challenges. 

My plan at the outset was to write a new song each day, but it only took one day of attempting to do that before I learned that it just wasn’t gonna happen that way.

Trying to force-write a song can be like trying to find a mate when you’re painfully lonely, have no self-confidence, and have been out of the game for too long. The stinky cologne of desperation can be detected by a prospective mate from so far away that by the time you’re in each other’s immediate vicinity, you might as well just not even bother trying. Just accept defeat, finish your beverage, go home, and prepare yourself some nachos in a giant casserole dish while you regroup [because if you’re interested in having your confidence slowly whittled away, at least this way it will be delicious]. 

It just seems like regardless of how well-intentioned your pursuits may be - whether to write a song or to secure some romance potential — the odds are quite high that you reek of creep vibes. Just chill out, stinky. The point of me saying this is that I learned on this trip how much of a creep I’ve been towards my own inspiration for so long — like a Peeping Tom who spies on imaginary songs that are way better than the songs he actually writes. This is a horribly unproductive, and awkwardly desperate way of going about this process. I’m just learning now that I need to put down the binoculars, climb down the tree, and introduce myself to these songs in person like a GD gentleman. Like romance, you can’t force inspiration. It will find you when the time is right. I guess the best thing we can do for ourselves in the meantime is to be patient, learn to be at peace with ourselves, and to not expect too much. The time will come.

Before going into the desert, I had expected to spend approximately 25 hours a day writing - as if I was some sort of nocturnal Beethoven-esque madman. Papers would be thrown everywhere with sloppily-written half-baked ideas written on them, coffee would be ever-present, and I’d do most of it wearing nothing but my underwear. But alas, that also didn’t happen as expected. Writing all day every day is hard! It’s especially tough when the inspiration isn’t there in the first place. So, I ended up spending about half the day each day going on aimless adventures through the desert on bicycle, attempting to bond with the cacti. With the warm sun on my face, the whistle of the wind teasing my ears, and the ever-changing sandscapes elusively making home for themselves, I managed to get some good thinking time in. At night, I would look up at the stars in fascination of just how many there are, while pondering just how many other people might be doing the exact same thing at that very moment in the privacy of their own thoughts. That stuff helped. 

It was a self-reflective journey more than anything. One of the biggest realizations I made about my writing style is that almost all of the music I’ve ever written is rooted in some form of sadness. Despite being an overtly happy person now, I definitely had an existentially rough few years when I was a bit younger, and the result was a very depressing bunch of songs. In fact, my inclination towards songwriting in general probably blossomed out of a need to express my disdain for the things I couldn’t change about a world that I didn’t see my place in yet. I mention this only because I guess this is the first time I’ve acknowledged that I should probably learn to write about all of the other emotions with the same sort of gusto. Luckily, the dark grey doom cloud of depression no longer lingers above me. I can still occasionally see it looming off in the distance — as if an impending storm — to remind me how far I’ve come but also how close it remains. It will always be a part of me. I am also reminded that simply ignoring it doesn’t protect me or anybody else from any unforeseen  disasters. Acknowledgement is key. 

In general, though, there is certainly something valuable about going on this type of writing retreat and dedicating an extended period of time to just creation. With the inability to force inspiration, the next best thing is to be well-prepared for it. While I was there —alone with my paper, my guitar, and my thoughts - I often felt like I was just living a relatively regular pseudo-vacationy sort of life, except that I was constantly “on-call” for songwriting duty. It was great in that regard. Any time a new idea would come, I was fully equipped and ready to get it down and build upon it with a sense of purpose. As diligent as I can try to be in my day-to-day life at home, it’s hard to switch off all of the other responsibilities that come along with work, family, and general grown-up stuff. I’ll definitely do this again. 

It remains to be seen, but I might try to do another [shorter] similar retreat soon, but in some remote Canadian location before the snow melts. I like the idea of having an album that was half written in +30C and half written in -30C. 

And that’s that, folks. Feeling groovy. I hope you are too.  

- Mark 

Re-birth day.

 

Hello.

It was my 28th birthday the other day. Life is funny. One day, you’re a free-spirited 18 year-old west coast kid with face piercings and a sorry attempt at a chinstrap beard—and then BAM!.... before you know it, you’re an “adult” [def: a large, old child with responsibilities who has to pay full-price for grilled cheese at restaurants] living in suburban Ottawa with a wife and a sleeping baby. The crazy part: in many ways, you’re still just as mystified by the notion of a real world as the 18 year-old was, the only difference is that now you’ve tried enough things and made enough mistakes to have a generally translucent idea of how you might want to fit into the world.

On my birthday morning, before anything had really happened, I received an e-mail through my website from a man named Henry. Henry is an elderly man from the UK who was writing to inform me that his best friend of 48 years, Malcolm Everett, had passed away this past August at the age of 82. Malcolm Everett was a man I briefly met during my busking days in when I still lived in Vancouver. He had become a genuine fan of my music during his visit to Canada in 2012, and we passed a few e-mails back and forth that summer...

Henry went on to tell me that he had inherited Malcolm’s enormous record collection, and that he was actually e-mailing me to let me know that my record was one of Malcolm’s favourites. He recalled Malcolm sharing some of his fondest memories of his trip to Canada, specifically the one in which he felt so moved by a street performer’s music that he walked up to to hug him afterwards. To this day, I am honoured to have been the recipient of that hug. Those are the types of connections that make art successful. I truly believe that. If art can make somebody feel something, anything in a way they never have before, it has served its most basic purpose. Henry’s e-mail reminded me just how important music is to me. I want to be able to share those types of moments with other human beings for the rest of my life. Henry signed off with: “He was my best friend for 48 years and I just want to thank you for making him happy when he saw you when he was in Canada.”

Shortly after reading that e-mail, I found myself lying peacefully on the couch with my three week-old baby napping on my chest. Unfazed by the pool of regurgitated breastmilk accumulating on my shirt, I laid there listening to her tiny little rhythmic breaths, and I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized in that instant that I actually have the power—through the choices I make and the actions I carry out in my own life—to be the best possible father I can be to her. I may never be the perfect father, but I can choose to be the best father that I, Mark Fossen, am capable of being. It was a beautiful moment of reflection as I recounted the types of lessons I have had to learn in life that I still find valuable today. After sifting through memories of my greatest adventures and all of the dumb shit I did in my early twenties, I dug a bit deeper and began to consider all of the people who have had profound impacts on my life. The list is very long so I won’t tackle it here, but that got me thinking of what it truly means to be a good role model. One overarching idea really stood out, and that is that you just can’t learn anything worthwhile from a hypocrite (well, except how to be super fucking annoying). The most inspiring people I have ever met are the ones who carry their own torch but choose to share that light with others, as opposed to the ones who simply tell you that you must have light in order to see where you’re going.

In general, I think it’s easy to get lost somewhere between where the heart already knows it belongs and where the minutiae of day-to-day life might lead us to believe we should be. We all have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and lifestyles to satisfy, but its heartbreaking to think that we could live our entire lives believing that’s all we are capable of. We are full of so much more than that.

It is no mystery that pursuing a career in the arts can be daunting. There is no clear-cut path to success, the rewards are often not monetary, and every artist’s definition of success is different. Many artists give up on their art because they feel the pressure to find a “real job”. I am definitely guilty of this. Despite playing out regularly, going on busking tours, and releasing self-produced budget EP’s, I have been pursuing it halfheartedly because I've been afraid to fully believe in myself. It’s crazy. I have somehow managed to live the last ten years of my life convincing myself that I don’t have what it takes to be an actual artist, but somehow in the process of pursuing a whole bunch of other shit I just didn’t care as much about, I actually became one! The issue is that I have never once given it as much attention as it really deserves. I have always been pursuing something else, just in case, for fear of failure or something. Of course I know now how completely ridiculous that is, and that failure doesn’t work that way. In everything I’ve done, music has always been there so prominently in the background that I have often forgotten about the foreground. It took two full rounds of postsecondary education, many odd jobs, a few heartbreaks, plenty of travel, lots of busking, many shitty gigs, and a hefty amount of crippling self-doubt to finally learn that the only “real job” any of us have in this life is to discover the thing that really makes us feel alive, and just do lots of that thing until we are old and grey. The world needs us to be the truest possible versions of ourselves so that others can be inspired to have the courage to be true to themselves. Of course it won’t be easy, but as the old adage goes, nothing worthwhile ever is. It will be really fucking challenging, but what’s wrong with that? I just think that if you’re going to work really hard at something, it should at least be something that puts a smile on your face every day.

During my daddy-daughter nap yesterday, I realized that my biggest fear is that one day I'll be trying to explain to my daughter the importance of listening to her heart and pursuing her passions in life, and then subsequently have to also explain to her why I never did. I never want to have to do that! I hope that my kids grow up to be brave and open-minded, to make informed choices, and most importantly to follow their hearts and stand by what is dear to them. But what kind of message would I be sending them if I wasn’t able to say I did the same for myself? Or worse, that I gave up on my dreams so I could be a better parent to them. That irony would stink. No, thank you! 

The last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind. I finished a long and existentially burdensome university degree, I became a father, and for the first time in my adult life I feel like I feel like I’m as close to where I’m meant to be as I ever will be. I consider myself very lucky to be able to make a decent enough living doing what I do, but it is time to step it up a bit and start putting more meaningful music out into the world. Not for me, but for my little Lucy and any other tiny people to come. 

I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of Malcolm Everett, and to thank his best friend Henry for reaching out to me. I will be forever grateful, and I will never forget the feeling I had on my 28th birthday for as long as I live. Thank you both.