Regina, Treaty 4: Amber Goodwyn

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(Intro by Wanda Schmöckel, Photo by Mike Rollo)

I was recently taken aback while reading a post on Amber Goodwyn’s Facebook page that marked her four-year “Regina-versary”. How, I thought to myself, can it be only four years since Amber moved to Regina? Because, in the short period of time this born-and-bred Montréaler has been in the Queen City, Amber has ascended what, for many, could have been a tough social slope in this tight-knit town, making friends with and strong connections to every facet of the arts community here – and getting a lot done in the process.

 You may already be acquainted with Amber through any number of ways. You might recall her excellent music coverage in Prairie Dog and Planet S magazines, or subscribed to the Queen City Walking Distance Distro that she handily organized (a DIY art exchange that sees local artists make and trade art care-packages that are delivered – on foot – in and around the city). You may well know Amber as her music-making and DJ-ing alter-ego Natural Sympathies, the moniker under which she first announced herself on CJTR (Regina’s community radio station) shortly after moving here. More recently, Amber took on the position of Operations and Program Manager for that station, and launched Plain A.I.R., a new artists-on-the-radio residency. The fact that she’s managed to get all this done while raising a full-of-beans toddler (Amber also became a mother in the time she’s been in Regina), is nothing short of remarkable.

 I personally first got to know Amber through our shared connections in film, but over time learned just how multifaceted this woman is; with a past life in Montréal as part of the music trio Cobra & Vulture, a founding member of the Double Negative film collective, and the publisher of the feminist smut-zine Lickety Split. Whether through music, writing, film, or encouraging anyone in possession of one to get acquainted with their own cervixes, Amber is someone who rolls up her sleeves, jumps right in, and gets to work in a way that inspires you to want to get to work too.

 In short, Amber is cool in the best possible way a person can be cool – not in a way that lords said coolness over everyone around her, but rather, by sharing her interests and enthusiasms in her characteristically friendly and easy-going way, she in turn encourages us to consider what whatever it is we regard as worthy of our attention and enthusiasm – and then commit to it wholly and completely. She’s smart, generous, thoughtful, funny, kind, and comfortable in her own skin, and the more I get to know her, the more impressed I am.

KC: What kinds of projects are you involved in right now?

 At the moment I’m recording a Natural Sympathies EP called Strange Heavens and working on my live show. The EP is a collection of space-themed songs about traveling to an alien planet - I’m all about subtle metaphors, ha ha! The songs are both silly and earnest and I’m having so much fun recording and playing them. I just don’t give a fuck anymore, perhaps because I’m old and wise now?

 This is the first time I’ve really worked on music since I left Montreal and the first time since I became a mother. Because I also work part-time, my available time for creative work is limited. So Natural Sympathies has become something of a feminist experiment: I can work as quietly or as loudly as I like to, whenever I can. I don’t have to coordinate with band members, which would be nearly impossible, and I don’t have to worry about carrying heavy gear around. It’s a mobile, flexible project that challenges me to be confident enough to go on stage solo and to own all my song writing choices. I also want to see more women on stages in Regina and it’s important for me to be the change I want to see in the world and all that.

 I’ve also just finished writing a short story about a fictional cult de-programming attempt. My partner (Mike Rollo) and I would like to adapt it for the screen and try to co-direct a short film sometime in the next couple of years. It would be the first time either of us will have made a narrative fiction film.

 Finally, I’m working on doing the best I can. I don’t like to be a slouch. I’m trying to do my best with my home life, to turn off my screens by 9:30pm and to satisfy my femme sartorial identity while embracing an ever-changing female body and a tight budget. I also lend a hand with underground music shows at Drone Factory whenever I can, which is Ernie Dulanowsky’s occasional event space. He’s the coolest dude in Regina, by the way.

 KC: What’s your day job? What do you like about it? What’s challenging?

 I work at 91.3FM CJTR, Regina Community Radio as the Operations and Production Manager; basically a Programming Director position. I looooove my job because it involves working with passionate and unique volunteer radio hosts every day: I learn so much, laugh so much and get challenged to help make great radio happen. It’s always been important for me to really believe in the work I do because I commit 100%. I used to work at CKUT 90.3FM in Montreal and so working at CJTR feels like coming home to community radio in my new town. Also, the live aspect of radio is thrilling and I’m inspired by the new technological and distribution possibilities that keep broadening the medium.

 Challenges include conflict resolution, which is inevitable when working with a large group of people with diverse perspectives. It’s also tricky trying to get everything I want to get done on a part-time basis. Because I’m the mother of a young child, my time outside of the office is quite truly unavailable for much overtime…and so I hustle!

 The station has been doing such a kick-ass job in all aspects this year. The programs are strong. We’ve just released a CD/digital compilation called Got It Covered: Saskatchewan Musicians Cover Each Other’s Music plus we’re celebrating fifteen years on air with a party on November 5th at The Exchange with the bands Library Voices, DGS Samurai Champs, Nick Faye, Megan Nash, Blake Berglund & Belle Plaine. Huzzah!

 KC: What’s important to you?

 Personal balance or else it all crashes down, so: naps and eating well. Also, an active inner life, meaning free time to be on my own: I get four hours one morning a week for my creative work and I guard it fiercely. I have some evenings also, if I’m not too creature exhausted…that’s part of it, being able to also just hang out. These are feminist issues to me, ways for women to be valued for all the different kinds of work we do as well as the right to be whole, healthy and happy human beings. Related to this, I really enjoyed the An Artist Residency in Motherhood movement that Lenka Clayton started. I must also give a shout-out to Mike for encouraging and supporting me in my pursuits and for being an equal partner in our home life.

 Social justice is close to my heart. I’ve made lots of noise in the past about sexual health, reproductive rights, and sex worker’s rights. I’m also concerned about race and class issues in Canada and support the Black Lives Matter and Justice For Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women actions. Transgender rights are also something I try to maintain awareness of. I’m trying to listen and engage in an intersectional, respectful and helpful way as a cis-gender white woman. Environmental justice is also important to me. It seems like we’re on the precipice of some major social/economic upheaval.

 I think it’s important to be honest about my life experiences and opinions because it breaks isolation and builds understanding. In particular, I like to be honest about the challenges I’ve had in my parenthood. For example, I was ambivalent about becoming a mother, which I believe is one of many natural reactions to a life-changing event. And the first year of my motherhood was incredibly lonely. I don’t want other people to feel like they aren’t good parents just because some outmoded societal pressures tell them they have to be, feel or parent in specific ways. Parenthood is already undervalued and overly commodified as it is.

 KC: What do you like most/least about Regina?

 I love the people I have met here; they are warm and funny and enthusiastic about the work they do. The arts community has been a haven and the music scene is super cool; I’m just getting to know the latter properly now that my kid is no longer a baby. Everyone has made us feel welcome, especially the communities surrounding CJTR, New Dance Horizons, FadaDance, the Film Department and the Faculty of Media, Arts and Performance at the University of Regina, Queer City Cinema, the Dunlop Art Gallery, Holophon Audio Arts, Prairie Dog Magazine and the Saskatchewan Filmpool.

 Regina is indelibly tied to a major change in my personal identity and so I find it difficult to translate my feelings about it into words. Leaving Montreal was very hard. After arriving in Regina I kind of layed low, listened, met people and worked on putting down roots. This past year of extroversion has felt a bit like a coming out party in contrast.

 My favourite places to dine in Regina are as follows: Hunter Gatherer for their breakfast (try The Ringer!), The Mercury for burgers and for masking the sounds of my wonderfully spirited kiddo, Malty National for their beer, Bushwakker for their beer and ambiance (I like beer), Caraway Grill for the best food in Canada, Afghan Cuisine for the best food on North Albert Street, Magpies’ Kitchen for the best food on south Albert street, The Diplomat for fancy 70s-style fancy-ness, 33 1/3 for their coffee and Dessarts for mainlining ice cream to me throughout my pregnancy, even in the middle of winter.

 I’m not a huge fan of the white suburban culture that permeates Regina. It makes me miss the cultural diversity, anarchy and queerness of cities like Toronto and Montreal. I wish that more touring bands stopped here too. Also, I’ve heard Reginans joke about Regina having “one of everything” but I think that that’s changing, as it should, because more of everything deepens our culture and keeps us rigorous and striving.

 KC: What is your impression of Saskatoon?

 I visit Saskatoon often because my in-laws and some old friends live there. I love Saskatoon; it feels like a vacation each time we go because my mother-in-law is such an excellent host! I enjoy the thriving downtown and super rad music scene.

 I’ve loved Saskatchewan, the province, for a long time because I’ve been visiting it for years with Mike, who’s originally from Regina. The landscape feels spiritual to me, especially in the southwest. I think I’ve seen more of Saskatchewan than most easterners, having travelled from Val Marie and the Grasslands National Park to small towns and ghost towns and up to Stanley Mission, thanks to Mike’s documentary film practice and travel bug. My former band Cobra & Vulture even made a psychedelic prairie rock record called Grasslands based on our travels.

 KC: How do you survive the winters?

Getting active outside whenever possible is critical and it’s something I want to get my daughter accustomed to. I’ve always appreciated the aesthetic qualities of winter; the light, colour tones, beauty of it. Winter is also a time when I hunker down and focus on my creative work. I feel grateful for four distinct seasons because they give a shape to my days and thus to my memories.  

I love cooking and especially love the excuse winter gives me to roast and braise with my oven. I’ve been working through The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser for the past year and plan to continue this winter.

Overall, I try to embody koselig, that Norwegian word with a meaning that ‘cozy’ doesn’t quite encompass.

 From the Proust Questionnaire: What or who is the greatest love of your life?

 My daughter, Fiona, is the greatest love of my life.  Here’s a poem I wrote for her:

I pull strands of baby hair
from a hot pink hair elastic,
roll them between my fingers
and toss them into the trash
like some casual sinner
who jettisons feathers
fallen from an angel’s wing.

 

Links:

 Natural Sympathies:

91.3FM CJTR, Regina Community Radio: www.cjtr.ca

Got it Covered: Saskatchewan Musicians Cover Each Other’s Music on BandCamp: http://cjtr.bandcamp.com

Amber Goodwyn art stuff: https://ambergoodwyn.wordpress.com

Mike Rollo, my partner: https://mrollo.com

Cobra & Vulture’s Grasslands album: https://cobraandvulture.bandcamp.com/album/grasslands

Drone Factory: https://www.facebook.com/dronefactorysk/

Lenka Clayton’s An Artist Residency In Motherhood: http://www.artistresidencyinmotherhood.com