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A Simple Sunny Day Conversation

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… muddled darkness still filled the winter-chilled room when I slid back into my dream …

William Goldman, Nora Ephron and Aaron Sorkin sat in a haze of talkers’ block, frustratingly biting fingernails and pulling hair over a discussion of how… how and why they write their movie screenplays.

Yes…

THE William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, The Princess Bride),

Yes…

THE Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia) and

Yes…

THE Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network, Molly’s Game).

Three spirited and gifted talents, hardworking Jewish folks, mystically wired to type out brilliant lines of cinematic dialogue that the world slurps up like delicious soup from a beautiful pottery bowl in the sunshine.

…………………..

Butch Cassidy: Do you believe I’m broke already?
Etta Place: Why is there never any money, Butch?
Butch Cassidy: Well, I swear, Etta, I don’t know. I’ve been working like a dog all my life and I can’t get a penny ahead
Etta Place: Sundance says it’s because you’re a soft touch, and always taking expensive vacations, and buying drinks for everyone, and you’re a rotten gambler.
Butch Cassidy: Well that might have something to do with it.
William Goldman

Butch and sundance.jpg

…………………..

Just like in the movies they wrote, the conversation flows like silky sap from maple trees in early spring.
 .

Why do we bother writing if it’ll all just be rain down a drain when we’re gone?’

‘And why am I trying to write lines coming from people who are smarter than me? I don’t think it can be done.’

‘Sure, and why do we make tasty foods to eat when the basic building blocks of healthy life don’t require any flavour, or at least pleasant flavour?’

All so serious.

Nora smiled and sighed loudly. Shaking her head, she tilted up to the royal blue, squinting into the sun beating down on them as they sipped margaritas on Sorkin’s back patio overlooking the resonant Pacific on California’s coast. A slew of gulls squealed and shrieked over the waves.

Guys, this is silly. There is no reason to writing.’

‘There is no reason to life. It just is.’

‘Stop obsessing about why and enjoy the trip, the process.’

You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it,‘ she added, not knowing why.

Nora was always so grounded. So sensible. Or maybe it was the tequila-tainted inebriation talking.

But of course, Nora is dead and has access to metaphysical ideas and thought that the rest of us here on earth can’t see yet.

Except dreams.

Dreams allow us that delicious fusion of combining life with death, truth with fiction, oil with water.

…………………..

Sally (on faking orgasms): “Nothing. It’s just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one time or other have done it so you do the math.”

Nora Ephron

Sally Orgasm2.jpg

…………………..

People don’t talk in real life like they do in the movies. That’s the beauty of what we do.’

Real people don’t kidnap couples from the side of the road and boldly declare, “We’re Bonnie and Clyde. We rob banks!” Never been said outside of a movie theatre.’

Yeah or … “You can’t handle the truth! Son we live in a world that has walls, and those have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it, you, you lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury, you have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence while grotesque and incomprehensible, to you, saves lives.” ‘

‘That’s true, we can’t write the boring stuff, but we can take conversations and make them sound alive, believable as if it really happened just the way we wrote it. Audiences want to believe’

Believe, huh? No one believes or cares that we wrote crap for years that no producer or studio would touch.

…………………..

NEWSROOM’s Will McAvoy (to college students proudly calling America the greatest country in the world): “There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”

Aaron Sorkin

Newsroom .jpg

…………………..

Aaron jumped up and after a slight wobble, arrowed himself back into the house, returning just as quickly with a thick, yellowing manuscript in his hand.

‘Look, I wrote this screenplay for Warren Beatty years ago. It’s called Ocean of Storms. It’s embarrassing. There’s no music in this. It’s totally missing any rhythm. I wish I could write it from scratch all over again.’

‘Shit you guys… I’m dead … Sleepless no more… so listen up while you can.’

Nora leaned forward, scanning the faces of both men. Goldman and Sorkin straightened in their leisure chairs, looking all the part of schoolboys in short pants ready to be chastised by the wise schoolmarm.

‘We all want instant perfection. You want a meaning to writing or life? I’ll give you my secret. Free, keep your dimes in your pockets.’

‘You do what you do well and know that it will never be good enough.’

‘You write and you write and you get a teeny fraction better, maybe not every day but at least every year or every decade. And you capture joy like children’s marbles knowing that your abilities and understanding are tiptoeing up a mountain who’s peak is in the clouds and you’ll never see the peak no matter how high you climb because the little secret is… there is no peak.’

‘All you do is keep making the mountain higher and higher like you’re some Godless one who can build their own mountain. And once in a while you stop climbing and look around at the beautiful scenery below because the higher you climb the more magnificent the view becomes.’

‘We’re all a bunch of Shakespearean fools, or insecure Charlie Brown’s. The climber one day stumbles and falls, but the mountain still stands there for others to ascend and make larger.’

The limey margaritas tingled and settled inside in a soft, mellow pillow…

… my dreamy haze was lifting in early morning light as, in a muted unusual moment, all three, the great dialogue communicators, sat quietly, reflecting on a simple, sunny day conversation.

Sunshine on Pacific.jpg

 

 

 

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The Smartest Gal In The Room?… A Grand Fiction

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sarah sanders.jpg

I’ve sat in the darkness and sobbed salty, wet tears… tears from knowing that no one has ever suggested I’m the Smartest Guy in the Room and … sigh … never will.

It’s all good and well though, cuz I know I’m not alone.

When I watch Sarah Huckabee-Sanders walk into the Press Briefing Room of the White House, I think much the same about her.

Intellect need not apply. Sarah is today’s Queen of Grand Fiction. We all know who the King is.

I feel humiliated and dirty like a well-worn diaper when I watch and listen to her, maybe even like a male rape victim… beat up and confused.

But c’mon, really, is that a fair assessment?

Sarah’s doing a job, paying the bills, makin’ the bacon. She has conviction and blind faith. She has more balls than Sean Spicer (Spicey) was ever endowed.

No one has ever accused her of sexually harassing the poor men and women of the press. There’s never a suspicion that she’s grabbed anyone by the pussy or penis. She’s just good folk.

So, is Huckabee-Sanders just a hard-working Mom who’s found a place in the world to bring in a few dollars to support her family? Is any level of bottom feeding acceptable when it comes to feeding Scarlett, Huck, and George? Does she peer into her morning mirror and smile at herself with satisfaction at an important job well-done?

My only answers must be… drumroll please… NO. NO. And please NO.

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Huckabee-Sanders is a propagandized parrot that grew up at the knee of ignorance who continues to chew and regurgitate beefy Washington Whoppers fed to her in the back rooms of Maniac Mansion.

She can’t help it. Her ignorant sneers of disgust and self-deception are built-in.

It’s in her genes. After all, her father Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas Governor, was interviewed by Canada’s Rick Mercer once, and asked this question:

Our capitol building in Canada is actually a downscale model of your Capitol building, except it’s made out of ice. It’s an igloo, you see. Now, we’re worried about global warming and the fact that it might, uh, melt, so we’re putting a dome over it but in order to pay for it we have to attract tourists. Would you be interested in visiting Canada’s National Igloo?”

Huckabee smiled into the camera, and looking the perfect politician, beamed congratulations to Canadians on the success of their campaign.

“Hi, I’m governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, wanting to say, congratulations, Canada, on preserving your National Igloo.”

The very same Mike Huckabee attempted runs at the presidency in both 2008 and 2016, proud daughter Sarah at his side. Warms my heart.

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Sarah and Dad Mike

Just like her boss, Sarah is totally fascinating to watch. She’s a 35 year old buzz bomb.

Normally, you know, I take a passing, ho-hum, interest in American politics.

But the past year’s fun and frolics in Washington have me mesmerized. I can’t help it. I’m totally entranced by the characters and plotlines that are moment-to-moment stunning in beauty and scope.

I’m in awe of this scenario playing out in much the same way I felt when I stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon and looked over the magnificence. It feels otherworldly and breathtaking and… dangerous.

Huckabee-Sanders is a Waste Management officer that collects all the foul, ugly “stuff” off the floor of Trump’s Oval Office and then gleefully returns to the Press Room with a disdainful curl of her lip. Once installed at the lectern, she opens the garbage bag and begins flinging the musty trash into the gobsmacked gathering.

It’s hilarious and fascinating… and yes, scary as all hell.

Here, let me put it another way.

In my musical world, I play with a little cool gadget called a looper.

The looper is a metal box, about the size of a cigarette package (do people still smoke cigarettes?) that sits on the floor with a button (my button is definitely smaller than yours!).

When I want to tape a short segment of my guitar playing, I press the button with my foot and the loop records my guitar licks until I press the button with my foot once again.

When I come back around to the same place in the song I just recorded, I press the looper button twice with my foot and it replays the section I recorded earlier.

This allows me to play another slice of music that adds a layer onto what I’ve already played. In effect, I become a one-man band as I play with myself (hmmm… maybe I should re-word that section! Fuhgettaboutit!).

Sarah Huckabee-Sanders often reminds me of my looper in the manner that she says something totally fabricated and ridiculous, and then when questioned further, loops back and adds another sonic layer of absurdity over the base line she’s already laid.

Sarah’s a press room virtuoso (a) with a southern drawl.

Each day, senselessness is produced anew.

As Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times this November: “For some 20 minutes every afternoon, down is up, paralysis is progress, enmity is harmony, stupid is smart, villain is victim, disgrace is honor, plutocracy is populism and Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia if anyone would summon the nerve to investigate her (because, you know, that never, ever happens). I watch and listen with sheer awe.”

I could dish up innumerable strange utterances that have come from Huckabee-Sanders throat but I can’t type and giggle incessantly at the same time.

Sure, I normally abhor reality TV, but the real-life version is too intoxicating to ignore. If only Shakespeare had lived to write his comedies and tragedies in the 21st century. The source material is endless.

The cast and characters of this American tragi-comedy have given me something akin to ice cream brain-freeze. I love it and I hate it.

Just because reporters say something over and over and over again doesn’t start to make it true.”

Hopefully, one day Sarah Huckabee-Sanders will listen and take her own words to heart.

A bright, active imagination like hers could be put to productive use if she joined a club of writers and added her voice to the world of Grand Fiction.

In the meanwhile, Huckabee-Sanders brings bittersweet levity and laughter to millions like myself as we await the arrival of divinely perfumed spring.

I avidly look forward to Sarah’s next press conference and find myself pondering if maybe… maybe… sweet songsters Hall & Oates were prescient when writing their tunes in the 1970’s:

If you feel like leaving you know you can go
But why don’t you stay until tomorrow?
And if you want to be free
You know all you got to do is say so
Sarah, smile
Oh, won’t you smile awhile for me, Sarah?

A Thing or Two I’ve Learned in 2017

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Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.

Patti Smith

…………….

Today, some navel-gazing… a few assorted ragtag thoughts that float through my mind as we near the final weary coughs of 2017 and prepare to draw in an invigorating infantile inhalation of 2018.

Calendar 2017.jpg

New words and expressions I’ve learned this year: FAKE NEWS, Rip a New One, Throw Shade, Unpack an Idea, Man Flu…

…………….

The notion that, in my world today, a passing decade has a similar meaning and inner sensation to the passing of just a year in my early life.

Do you know how long a year takes when it’s going away?” Dunbar repeated to Clevinger. “This long.” He snapped his fingers.

“A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you’re an old man…” 

“… You’re inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before that you were stepping into high school, and an unhooked brassiere was as a close as you ever hoped to get to Paradise. Only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten-week summer vacation that lasted a hundred thousand years and still ended too soon.  

Joseph Heller

…………….

Manhood is a dangerous occupation, perhaps exceeded only by womanhood, but best lived as humanhood.

Men are sitting at the twilight of their golden empire, the human equivalent of the Industrial Revolution being succeeded by the Information Age. Men are seeking final testosterone-laced solace in a Trump that is dripping blood, halfway crumpled to the boxing canvas.

…………….

• I am at my best when I am in a sense of discomfort.

I think my wife nailed it this week when she brought this to my attention. It had never occurred to me that I thrive when I walk the sharp knife-edge of my personal cliff.

I constantly seek newness and innovation, heart-raising experiences that if nothing else, fool me into believing that I’m alive.

Sure, there’s discomfort and pain, but when lightly blended with patience and perseverance, and maybe even some luck, lead to elation and celebration.

Most of my early years were lived in the shadows, timid and fearful of danger, both real and perceived ones. For certain, I still have lots of fears, but as I’ve aged, my ability to distinguish between real and perceived peril has matured and enlightened.

You and I have our own version of when we are near the edge of the cliff. The precipice varies hugely for each individual. Your cliff edge may be further or nearer than mine, but it exists in every one of us.

Endorphins are those naturally delicious chemicals that dance along the rim of our precipice.

A few examples of experiences that have triggered varying degrees of loose-bowel discomfort for me over time are:

  • training for the Ironman race, training for marathons and half marathons, Tough Mudders, boot camp classes…
  • sliding down Nicaraguan volcano mountainsides…
  • cooking and eating Peruvian guinea pigs…
  • consuming the street foods of New Delhi, India…
  • ripping down a bedroom wall with no idea how I’d rebuild, reconstruct the sucker…
  • sipping snake wine in China…
  • writing a blog that I share weekly with anyone in the entire world who cares to read my thoughts…
  • playing my guitar and singing in the public spotlight, sharing my abilities, my voice and my songwriting for audiences to love or hate, or egads, worse, ignore…
  • learning anew each week about how best to tutor and teach individuals, young and old, male and female, English speaking or otherwise.

Today, I can usually recognize those fears that are a true danger to my life and limb, and those that are mere contraptions, shadowy smoke and mirrors, constructed within my head.

skydiving joy.jpg

The mere thought of skydiving used to scare the sh*t out of me.

But here are the numbers: In 2012, 19 people died in parachuting accidents in the United States, or roughly one person per 100,000 jumps.

In contrast, motor vehicle deaths worldwide sit at 27 per 100,000 (only 6 per 100,000 in Canada)… now for a number’s guy like me, this makes my statistical odds pretty damned good for jumping out of a plane and surviving in 2018, right? It’s already booked…

The most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains…

Alain de Botton

…………….

• Some of the most uplifting and pleasing moments I experience are as easy as plying words, ideas, metaphors, attempting to forge originality in blog posts like this, or the notes and lyrics in songwriting.

Creativity in all its forms is like a wonderful wide-awake dream – an amazing source of inner joy.

No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life”

Friedrich Nietzsche

…………….

Finally, allow me this end of 2017 to share a few words with you in poster form… something called the Holstee Manifesto.

A few years back, Holstee’s founders, Dave, Mike and Fabian sat together on the steps of Union Square in New York to write down how they define success. The goal was to create something they could reflect back on if they ever felt stuck or found themselves living according to someone else’s definition of happiness.

This is Your Life… make every day a personal loving and learning adventure… welcome to 2018.

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Ghosts of Christmas 1957… God Save The Queen

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Christmas Singers

Sfffftttt pftttttttt clunnnkkk… The rambunctious sounds of children’s bare feet on chilly oakwood floors awoke Mom and Dad after their far-too-short sleep post-Santa preparations by the living room fireplace.

Wednesday, December 25, 1957.

Baby’s First Christmas… MY First Christmas…

My brothers and sisters rushed with visible excitement into the living room of our 2 storey brick-clad Pottruff Road house before the morning darkness had even considered dissipating.

Dreams of science books, 45 rpm records, meccano and train sets, transistor radios, and cushy borg-lined slippers around the Scotch Pine tree, ransacked the insides of my sibs’ young heads.

The skies outside that morn were sooty grey and misty; a cool, light rain drizzled down on our Hamilton, Ontario home. The red mercury-filled thermometer outside our backdoor teeter-tottered up and down around the freezing point throughout the day.

No, a soft, fluffy white Christmas wouldn’t grace our Steeltown this Christmas day.

Five months into my existence, I celebrated my first Christmas without teeth, without the use of words, without control over my bowels, without any idea of what the world I lived in would look like 60 years later.

My mother’s eyes were no doubt red-rimmed so early, her head groggy from Christmas gift buying and wrapping as she collapsed on the couch (we called it a chesterfield then) in the reflected light of the Christmas tree.

In her exhaustion from all the preparations for a family of 7, she still had yet to prepare the sage and onion-scented stuffing for the turkey.

Here she was a worn out 45 year old with a brood of 5, and one – ME – a newborn.

We were the standard WASP Canadian family of 1957 and the Queen’s Christmas message coming over our radio would have been a moment of collective calm.

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Queen Elizabeth’s 1957 Christmas Message

I’m not a staunch monarchist.

I guess in a fashion similar to my religious tastes, I don’t really believe in it, but I happily accept its meaning and power to others.

I barely notice the rumblings of the folks who rummage around inside Buckingham or Kensington Palace.

I don’t dislike the Royal clan. I even truly admire the royal pageantry and regal trappings just as I admire the awe-inspiring beauty of the inside of an historic cathedral. Beauty is beauty regardless of the philosophy or circumstance that brought it to be.

Harkening back to my first Christmas reminds me that Queen Elizabeth II broadcast her very first TV Christmas message this day. It wasn’t her first Christmas missive but it was the first where she could be seen in the flesh as she spoke.

Here’s a sampling of the words she spoke (listen to it in her own voice here)  on Christmas day 60 years ago:

… But it is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery. 
.
They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honestly counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint. 
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At this critical moment in our history we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth.
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Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest.
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We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future. 
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It has always been easy to hate and destroy. To build and to cherish is much more difficult. That is why we can take a pride in the new Commonwealth we are building.
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Last October I opened the new Canadian Parliament, and as you know this was the first time that any Sovereign had done so in Ottawa. Once again I was overwhelmed by the loyalty and enthusiasm of my Canadian people. 
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Also during 1957 my husband and I paid visits to Portugal, France, Denmark and the United States of America… 

 

Really? 60 years ago? No way….

Over the years, I’ve rarely plunked down and listened to the Queen’s short talk where she opined on the state of the world.

It was my late father-in-law’s routine to insist on hearing her each year and I would smile at the tradition that meant a great deal to him and so little to me.

However, this Christmas season, as I nostalgically listen to Johnny Mathis sing I’ll Be Home For Christmas or the Muppets and John Denver sing The Twelve Days of Christmas where Fozzie Bear forgets his line (“Seven swans a-swimming”) and Miss Piggy over-emphasizes hers (“Five gold rings, ba-dum, bum, bum.)… or as I hum along to some of the actual hits of Christmas 1957 : Sam Cook You Send Me… Elvis Jailhouse Rock… Buddy Holly Peggy Sue… Everly Brothers Wake Up Little Susie

… I may settle into a warm chair with an eggnog latte and listen in with interest to a few moments of the Queen’s Christmas message, 2017.

I guess I’ve forgotten in the last while how invigorating it can be to listen in when a true statesman or stateswoman speaks of bright, positive opportunities and choices.

This year – more than any other year I can recall in my lifetime – the desire to listen to someone of substance say a few gentle, wise words about the goodness in the world, someone who attempts to speak to unity of disparate and desperate people of the world, someone who attempts to raise the bar of what humanity is and can be… well, my good friends… this is a part of the Christmas spirit I may need reminding of …

And in four short words… here are two institutions you’ll rarely hear me speak of in such tones of full, true reverence and admiration:

God Save The Queen…

… and yes … Merry Christmas To All …

Denver and muppets.jpg

BABY It’s Cold Outside…

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“This is my brother Larry, the BABY!!”
My baby pic

Most would cringe and cower at these words, thinking “Oh shit, here we go again…”, mortified.

Most would hear those as fighting words.

Most would shudder especially when they reach 20, 30, 40, 50 years of age. BABY?!

Not me…

I always blushed with humble pride, almost as if I had done something skillful and miraculous to attain such an honour.

“Yes, well, it was nothing really, anyone who put in the 10,000 hours of intense effort could be the baby too.

But no 10,000 hours of training or effort are required to be the “baby”, simply luck of the birth order lottery.

Birth order… I guess it just has to be all the talk of Christmas and swaddled babies that somehow has me thinking about our own non-virgin births (I don’t want to tattle on your Mom and Dad, but yup, they did the dirty!) and the glittering point on the constellation where we shine within our family galaxy.

Reading things into birth order is akin to being a tea leaf reader or apprenticing as a Zodiac or Chinese Horoscope disciple. There may be some tenuous and practical connections, but the level of hogwash skepticism and requirement for faith is higher than that of pure science. If nothing else, it’s fun and entertaining, yes?

birthorder

……….

1st child: When the first swallows a coin, you rush the child to the hospital and demand x-rays.

2nd child: When the second swallows a coin, you carefully watch for the coin to pass.

3rd child: When the third swallows a coin you deduct it from his allowance!!

……….

I was born the youngest i.e. the BABY… of 5.

Three or 4 years separated each of us, meaning that the range of eldest to youngest was about 15 years… 15 years and 13 days to be exact.

When you hit 60 years of age, the title “BABY” begins to feel ridiculous, almost an insult or joke on the bearer.

Even so, I’ve always kind of treasured my role, my spot as the youngest. Youngest has a cachet, a semblance of specialness and reverence.

To be introduced as the baby has been a high honour while at the same time one needing guarded vigilance and defence.

Vigilance because inevitably, introduction as the baby in the family also comes with a tag-on comment, “yeah, he has always gotten away with murder, he is so spoiled”. 

What the H…? My hockey-skilled pugnaciousness comes to the forefront when I’m described as “spoiled”.

Are you kidding me? Spoiled? Me? Spoiled? Screw you….

Spoiled?

I delivered newspapers and magazines door-to-door every day from the time I was enrolled in Mrs. Putns’ Grade 1 class all the way up til the day I got my first McJob at 15 … yeah, at McDonalds.

Spoiled?

I always felt left out and empty because my sibs could go see boobies and bums on the movie screen or sip Singapore Slings in the bar years before I could even attempt to sneak in.

Spoiled?!

I was never lavished with parental gifts of expensive bicycles or cars or lavish vacation trips to Mexico or Hawaii. My parents never paid a cent for my college education.

I’m sorry, do I sound defensive? Maybe just a tad?

OK, I’ll grant you that I coasted just a wee bit in elementary and high school when teachers recognized me as another “Green” kid.

Every one of my older siblings had skipped a grade in school, so it was naturally assumed I’d been bestowed with a heaping dollop of inherent intellect. No proof required. 2 + 2 = … 6?

Wrong!

Sometimes it took the whole school year for amiable Miss Taylor or Mr. French to realize that I had maggot brain and was the simpleton in the family group!

There’s even a 2007 study that shows a correlation between IQ and birth order: the more older siblings one has, the lower one’s IQ. Not my fault… Dummy’dom is my fate! Thanks Mom and Dad…

(ASIDE: A recent study at Brock University in Ontario noted: “… men may be more likely to be homosexual if they share their birth mother with older brothers. Each older brother increases a man’s odds of being homosexual by approximately 33%.”… so… dummy’dom but not gay’dom for me… life is like a 50/50 draw.)

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Now occasionally in school I was presented with Proof of Intelligence trials. Apparently, handing in one of my brother’s or sister’s previous year’s crumpled test sheets that they had aced wasn’t always accepted. WTF!?

One early testing trauma – my potential Waterloo – I encountered as the Baby was the Grade 6 Music Sight Reading Award. This was my opportunity to sink or swim in the family intellect pool.

Each of my 4 sibling elders had previously passed the challenging test of being capable of reading and singing music by sight from notation on the musical staff. The sight reading certificate was part of the Green family lore and pride.

Judgment day grew near… I spent sleepless juvenile nights awaiting my fate, a fate I felt certain would finally expose and recognize me as the “dunce” of the family.

The dreaded moment descended and Mrs. Brewer watched closely, her eyes burning into my sweaty-browed face, listening as I diligently sight read and sang the music sheet set in front of me…

… my most joyous childhood day was when I proudly received the Sight Singing certificate.

Now I’ve read that some qualities of a last born include being manipulative, charming, blames others, attention seeker, tenacious, people person, natural salesperson, precocious, engaging, affectionate, and… loves surprises.

The surprise of passing my Sight Reading Test was much more than a minor moment of crossing a tricky obstacle, a youthful Tough Mudder challenge.

I’d arrived. I truly belonged in the family, here was the proof!

I still possess and proudly admire the certificate to this day.

……….

Baby it’s cold outside. Christmas grows nearer and I love watching some TV Christmas classics like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Isn’t it charming and captivating when Clarice tells young Rudolph that he’s cute ?

And on this bright mid-December morning, wouldn’t you agree that it’s equally charming when child and family therapist Meri Wallace, author of Birth Order Blues says:

“The youngest can be cute because of ‘forever being the baby.'”

I’m cute! I’m cuuuutttteeeee…

Last born

HOGWASH!

The Sunshine in Artistic Endeavour

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Sunshine lollipops.jpg

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows… do you thrive on sunshine and luxuriously lengthy days like me?

Know what? I’m really missing them. I do every year at this time.

I’m addicted to bright, long sunlit days as thoroughly as I’m addicted to smooth milk chocolate and cheesecake. It’s all soothingly warm yumminess inside.

But at this time of year the sweet chocolate is frozen solid and hard to bite; I realize that those chocolate warming rays must come from a different star when the days are so damned short.

Over time, I’ve figured out that the sun radiates in my world when I participate in a kaleidoscope of new and old experiences, a clutter of things.

Just this week, I’ve had lots of sensory input to excite my eyes and ears and tastebuds and make me partly forget about the hulking, smothering darkness.

Sitting here in the early morning 50 shades of grey, I hear an occasional Canada goose honking in the distance over Okanagan Lake. I’m pondering how all this input ties together in some sort of seamless fabric, even though on the surface, it appears tattered and fragmented… like thin sheets of fragile ice on the small puddles perched at the end of my driveway.

So, here’s a sampling of my week’s inputs:

  1. Musical harmony practice with guitar and voice. We’re working on pieces like this and this.
  2. Volunteering at the soup kitchen with a crazily productive chef and a large crowd of chilled and hungry lunchers.
  3. A night of salty popcorn munching at the theatre while absorbing Charles Dickens’ world in the flick, “The Man Who Invented Christmas“.
  4. A college inservice for volunteer tutors like myself, all about knowing and understanding the “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP).
  5. A saintly church visit for Christmas Musaic choral harmony for my heathen ears.

Shake it all up and whaddya got? Hmmmm….

Are there gossamer webs and connections in the things that we do and interest us at our core?

As a person trying to be curious and understanding of the relationships between seemingly unrelated events i.e. Idea Sex… I’m sitting back, looking for commonalities in these occasions, a lovely ribbon that ties and makes some sense on a scale of creative output.

Using that concept of Idea Sex, I’m seeking glimmers of order in the chaos.

Music… volunteerism… cinema… learning and new insights… more music.

Yes, it’s a random muddle but the mere fact that I’m writing about it here I think shows some blend of creative thinking, where I jostle and mingle ideas looking for connections.

For instance, suppose I’m wanting to connect “music to learning and new insights“, or “volunteerism to cinema“. Rather than asking how they can be connected, I picture both of them in my mind and ask, “How am I feeling, seeing them together?

“Does playing and listening to music build my childlike enthusiasm for general learning and growth and vice versa?”

“Are there moments when I’m volunteering that make a dramatic or comedic impact within me like a well-crafted movie?”

OK, maybe there isn’t a correlation here at all.

I could, and usually do, arrive at a minimalistic solution to this question that contains the least baggage and explains the most (otherwise known as, and I love this term… Occam’s razor). 

Occam’s razor would likely come up with a simple trashy response like, “it’s a random jumble much like Billy’s walk across the yard in The Family Circus.”

Family Circus.gif

Really, it makes sense.

Some thoughts and ideas belong in the shitty cesspool. Do you think the correlation graph below is a keeper?

spelling bee chart

 

Maybe not, but some correlation is important.

It really comes down to the creative process. Writers, musicians, and artistic sorts of all types need to find fresh approaches to their craft, uncovering metaphors that smell like fresh bread arising in the heat of the oven, drawing the consumer of their art to the alluring scent.

Idea Sex or finding connections isn’t easy. It’s friggin‘ hard.

Art, like life, is hard.

Done with an attitude of enthusiasm and gusto, art, of any sort, like life, can be deliciously pleasurable.

In my seething brain I’m seeking beauty and sunshine in the darkest days of December because the sun adamantly refuses to give it to me directly.

I have to make my own brightness through writing and music and cinema and volunteering.

Occam’s razor had it right. That’s a simple correlation.

Sunshine… on my shoulders … makes me happy….

Sunshine 2

Soup Kitchen Santa

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Today, a fictional short story based on a non-fictional person…

soup kitchen santa

If they had a chimney on this building, I could sneak in and bring us all out some warm cookies!”

John stood in line with the other early-comers in front of the plate-glass doors to the Soupateria. A few wispy snowflakes swirled and played in the morning’s light breeze.

His deep voice and laughter rang out over the quiet chatter of the others.

Looking at him, listening to him, you could become convinced in your ears and in your head – at least in the month of December – that Santa Claus himself had found his way south and joined the crowd waiting for some hot soup on a chilly Okanagan day, supping with those he had delivered special gifts to over many decades in their youth.

John hadn’t the stereotypical physique of Santa, he was fit and rode a bedraggled bicycle, no reindeer in the lead, on the chilliest of days.

He didn’t sport a rosy nose or chubby cheeks beneath the faded Santa hat that he wore today for the first time this year, instead of his usual Toronto Maple Leaf toque.

“You like cookies Betty Ann?”, he chuckledShe smiled a toothless grin and nodded.

What he did have was a fluffy grey-white beard, wire-rimmed glasses, a winsome, devilish smile and a charm in his speech that brought smiles to the faces of adults and children alike. You couldn’t be faulted for calling him jolly.

The tenor of his deep voice rang out loudly – like a low, rumbling avalanche in the distant hillside – as if he had a microphone hidden away in his woollen sweater or his old ski jacket.

John hadn’t worked a day in years even though he was probably 15 years short of normal retirement age.

His last job as a gardener ended with a soulless whimper one balmy day after lunch; he snuck in a nap while leaned against the tire of the boss’s work truck, and then just declined to get back up to mow the customer’s backyard lawn.

John was sweet and warm and jolly… and slightly deluded.

It wasn’t only you or I that might be fooled by his similarities to Saint Nick. Nope.

When John looked at himself in the mirror each day, the man staring back, he was convinced, was Saint Nicholas.

John believed in Santa Claus – John believed in himself. John is a current day Miracle on 34th Street.

After filing through the long lineup at the soup serving window, mischievously and with one eyebrow raised, he searched the dessert counter for a prized chocolate chip muffin.

Every day he prayed for chocolate chip muffins.

He’d chuckle when the serving person at the counter handed him his prize, then, solitary, he’d sit quietly at a far end table and munch away at his soup and sandwich with headphones wrapped over his toque and ears.

When he sipped the last dribs of hot chocolate and swallowed the final bite of his muffin, he turned his attention to the others lined up at the long tables and worked his way through the group, chatting in animation and laughter.

I don’t know John well other than our regular friendly small talk conversations outside the soup kitchen as he patiently waited for “door opening”.

A soup kitchen volunteer once told me that John had an older autistic brother that lived with him in a small basement apartment a block away from the beach.

For a long time, a couple of years at least, I’ve observed John and his gentle calm demeanour as he jabbered with the heavily tattooed; the itinerant fruit pickers from Quebec, Mexico, or France; those with pockmarked faces from meth abuse; and others indistinguishable from anyone else you know.

Last week, near the end of my dishwashing shift, a clatter arose in the dining hall behind me. No biggee. Just usual squabbling.

I finished off rinsing a bowl in the deep stainless-steel sink, popped it into the dish rack, then turned slowly to see what the din was about.

Often a minor kerfuffle breaks out amongst the Soupateria denizens over a toe clumsily stepped on or when someone gets deeply offended by a sandwich uneaten. Most arguments are worked out within seconds and calm settles back in like a duvet shaken over a bed.

This time was different. I looked out into the big room as a sizeable throng rushed out the front door as a smaller throng rushed back in. Hmmmm, that’s not typical.

The ones rushing in were signalling to us volunteers with crazed looks on their faces.

Man down!“, one woman yelled. The surreal scene began to take on the sheen of a movie set, I almost expected to hear another voice cry out… “CUT!

I had an immediate jolt of “this was happening“. For months, I had thought about this moment each time I came in to help out.

Fentanyl.

Linda, kitchen supervisor for the day, and I looked at each other with trepidation. We knew where the kit was located that we had hoped to never need to locate.  We also both knew that we were the only ones trained on site.

We were slightly stunned but our glances turned into reflex action; we both scurried towards the noise and activity.

Weaving through the crowded group, we exited the building onto the cement walkway out front where a human circle had formed like the ones kids make around a schoolyard fight.

There was no surprise in seeing a man’s body splayed on the hard ground, a few snowflakes resting on his dark blue ski jacket. Motionless and quiet. Still, with no breath.

The surprise arose when I saw the Santa hat on the victim’s head.

John.

Grey, lifeless, unsmiling John; his skin and beard colour not differing by many tonal shades.

The next few minutes – it might have been 5, maybe 10, maybe an hour, who knows –  were a blur as Linda and I went throughout the steps of administering naloxone as best we could remember.

Because of my previous lab experience in needle use, I did the injections into John while Linda made some attempts at artificial respiration. I drew up a cc of the drug into the syringe and plunged it into his now-exposed shoulder.

We waited and watched. One go round and we could see that John wasn’t responding. No movement, no breathing, no less grey.

There were sirens in the distant background. Linda said, “it’s been 3 minutes now, I think you should give him another shot.

I had the next needle deep beneath his skin when, oblivious to anything more than 12 inches away, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The EMT’s had arrived.

…………….

John… Santa… still ashen-grey, was whisked away with sirens blaring.

The crowd dispersed quietly as Linda and I gathered the detritus left on the sidewalk, the  plastic containers and latex gloves, the bits of paper and empty naloxone vials.

The last thing I picked up was John’s weathered Santa hat.

I carefully folded it and placed it into my apron pocket. I’d give it back to John after he recovered, next time I saw him riding his bike or at the soup kitchen window.

Later that evening, I received a phone call from Linda.

Quietly, haltingly, she said that John hadn’t made it. Street Santa was gone.

I hung up the phone and reflected. Our streets are replete with those who appear normal – well-adjusted – on the surface. And yet World War III has been waging all along in the background.

I guess I’ll track down John’s brother and return his Santa hat now.

Santa hat

 

 

 

 

How’s Your Loonie Year? 8 Investment Entrees…

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boring-businessman.png

BEWARE: If you don’t get off on boring “NUMBERS” stuff…

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… then click your way out of here right now.

Go jack up on some TRUMP’ed up FAKE NEWS and make your day happier. The enticing blood in the streets is found on other sites!

OK, let’s move on, my fellow Numbers’ Nerds.

It’s approaching the end of the year, days are staggeringly short, and the perturbed cats are perched at the back door, yowling at me because it’s cold outside, as if I’m God and have control over the outdoor temperatures.

All of this tells me the year 2017 is winding down and I have to look hard in the investing mirror and ask myself the tough question… who is the fairest investor of all?

I know that no song sounds the same to any two people. No investment looks as golden to any two people. We see the world through ourselves.

I’ve been an avid stock market participant since I was 10 years old in my Parkdale Steelers’ hockey pads, and so it’s a critically important question now that I’m on the “R” (shhhh, retirement) payroll.

Larry… I say to myself… Do I add value to my financial investments, or should I take a back seat and let someone else with “credentials” make the decisions about my New Worth and living income?

It’s a question I nervously skirt around, afraid of knowing the answer because I truly love reading investment reports, digging into Balance Sheets and Income Statements, deciphering and calculating to see if my choices are “value-adding” or “value-destructing”.

For sure it’s Number’s Nerd stuff.

Numerotica.

I’ve previously stated here that my annual goal of ROI (return on investment) or change in Net Worth is 15%.

ACTUAL Annual Returns? 1 year … 12.0%  –  3 year… 16.1%  –  5 year… 11.2%  –  10 year… 11.4%

There’s the nasty truth… Warren Buffett need not worry about being dethroned. I’ve modestly underperformed my 15% goal in every category except the 3-year return.

This year would be highly positive and I’d be bouncing off the clouds… except… the exchange differential between the US$ and CAN$ has narrowed sharply which has shaved nearly 10% off my returns (most of my stocks are U.S. based), leaving me… drum roll please… only ahead by about 6% at this point in the calendar year.

Cleese bring Monsieur a bucket

Bring Monsieur a bucket…

OK, I’m disappointed but not crushed.

I know that I need to eke out a return of at least 7-8% each year so that I don’t impinge on the principal value of what we’ve saved and invested for decades.

From this perspective, I’ve done OK as the upward momentum has been sustained, just not blown out of the water which I would truly prefer. Wouldn’t we all?

And now I’ve gone and added pressure to my decision-making in the last 6 months by boosting my goal returns to 20%, without sacrificing quality, safety, and security.

This means more diligence, more disciplined searching and selection.

In my earlier financier alter-ego, I scoured for quality undervalued stocks (that pay dividends) that I felt should provide a decent return with no quantitative idea of what “decent” really meant.

“Yeah, that company is kinda undervalued by most financial metrics, so I’ll buy some”.

girl and bull.jpg

But now… now… I’ve nailed down my idea of what my bottom line expectation is for any investment I hit the BUY order on.

Bottom line? If the company I’m sussing out doesn’t have at least a 40% discount to its historical price based on reasonable assumptions, then I move onwards, seeking out the next possibility.

This narrows my selection list dramatically, ruling out tons of amazing quality companies that have produced fantastic returns…

FACEBOOK is a perfect example. I used to own Facebook but it stubbornly – happily – went up and up and up. FB is a great company with stupendous profits and return on equity, but then I looked at its price on the market and saw that it was sky-high relative to those returns.

SELL, I cried out. Great company, but not a great price to buy or own.

Here’s how I see it: It’s like if I wanted the new iPhone X and one day it was priced at $600. Then the following week, Apple decided to boost the selling price to $1400. Sure, it’s a great purchase at a $600 price, but I’m not going to lay down $1400, even though millions of others likely would. It’s about discipline.

A few other current classic examples of “too richly valued for my blood”? GOOGLE, Microsoft, 3M & McDonalds… great companies all for years or decades but too expensive to invest in at today’s prices. I do own Apple, Disney, Microsoft, Deere and United Technologies but wouldn’t add any more at today’s prices.

Discipline … Discipline.

There is a flip side.

Even though markets are at all-time highs, there are still some pretty fair companies available for purchase at reasonable prices. Most names you’ll even recognize.

More often than not, these companies have a short-term reason for their prices sitting at low levels, but when examined closely, these reasons appear temporary and not permanently destructive. Well-known brand names are resilient and difficult to destroy (although not impossible, just ask the department stores).

VS sales brawl

OK, akin to a Black Friday sale, I have a set of bargain basement choices for you- some examples of undervalued and unloved stocks on today’s market (almost entirely U.S.-based; Canada, sadly, has meagre selections for my tasting enjoyment)… I’ve included their annual dividend payout in brackets after their name  :

  1. L Brands (4.8%) –

    Every man’s candy store has been the Victoria’s Secret catalogue… Bath & Body Works is icing on the cake. Despite Weinstein and Cosby and Spacey and Franken and… OMG… this page doesn’t have space for all the names… sex and sexy still sells. Vive la difference entre Mars et Venus!

  2. AMC Networks (0.0%) –

    Watched The Walking Dead lately? Yeah, me neither, too much gory blood for me, but zillions do… AMC makes TWD and a bunch of other cable shows (including previously, Mad Men and Breaking Bad)… ’nuff said…

  3. CVS Pharmacies (2.8%) –

    I’ve always been impressed by the CVS drug chain stores whenever I’ve visited the U.S…. arthritis and diabetes and ED and wrinkles mean drugs and cosmetics are staples in every age group.

  4. Penske Automotive (2.8%) –

    Luxury car (BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati) brand sales have a wonderful habit of staying strong regardless of economic up or down trends. Penske sells and services all of these as well as those big 18-wheeler trucks that crowd our highway lanes! Zoom Zoom!

  5. Starbucks (2.1%) –

    I would have never believed that a $5 cup of coffee or green tea could make a sustainable franchise. Boy was I wrong… $5 is the cheap cup now, and caffeine is no FAKE NEWS. I’m a regular customer now, Tim Hortons be damned!

  6. Magna International (2.0%) –

    Finally, a Canadian company in the mix that competes well internationally. If you drive ANY car today, chances are pretty good that Magna produced a sizeable chunk of the parts that surround you on your drive.

  7. J. M. Smucker (2.8%) –

    PB + J your favourite sandwich too? Actually, I prefer PB and banana, but no matter. For more than a century, Jerome Monroe Smucker’s company has placed jams and peanut butters, syrups and ice cream toppings on the tabletops of North Americans and others internationally.

  8. Cardinal Health (3.3%) –

    Specializing in the distribution of pharmaceuticals and medical products, it serves more than 100,000 locations. In addition, the company also manufactures medical and surgical products, including gloves, surgical apparel and fluid management products. Cardinal Health provides medical products to over 75 percent of hospitals in the United States. The sickness industry is very healthy…

…………….

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That’s 8 Delicious Temptations – if my enticing sweet talk has you drooling with these delectable selections, lick the peanut buttah off your fingers and investigate them for yourself.

But please don’t rely on my sterling judgment to be anything except Fool’s Gold until you’ve looked more closely yourself. I won’t rely on others out there to make my final investing decision, and neither should you.

If you’re just starting out in the investment world, I wish you wealth and wellness and healthy returns.

If you’re an older Number’s Nerd like me with a few notches on your profit & losses belt, I’m willing to suffer your slings and arrows if you disagree with my choices.

I’ll also gladly entertain any gold nuggets you’ve unearthed that I’ve overlooked.

I got wrinkles round my eyes, I got grey in my hair
I’m puttin’ on a little bit of weight but I don’t seem to care
Fool say, hey slick, you lookin’ good, lie, lie, lie
That fool in my mirror’s singin’ the same old song… Guy Clark

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For now, this fool has decided to stick with my own investment counsel… and if you managed to stick with me through today’s financial numbers’ maze… yawn…  I’d suggest a nap is in order…

Sleeping business guy.jpg

Wonder of Wonders… Miracle of Miracles…

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Fiddler

In song, a fictitious fiddler perched precariously on a roof… leaving the wonder of his music afloat in the flaming sunset… the miracle of his existence tenuous…

… in real life, and far less romantically, I indelicately leapt to perch precariously, and smeared some of my own DNA on the Capitol landscape.

It bled like stink and hurt like hell.

Washington, DC – It was stupid of me to attempt to jump up on the concrete barrier in
front of the imposing Lincoln Memorial.

An innocent impulse of childlike enthusiasm and impulsiveness overtook me, creating a slip and gash of my knee and shin, scraping skin and bone across the unforgiving concrete.

I was overflowing with enthusiasm about simultaneously viewing the wondrous Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall… all were visible from one convenient location on the Washington Mall, and in my mind, would be even better so when elevated by about 3 feet on top of the cement barrier.

OUCH!

Are you as wide-eyed intrigued and awestruck as I am by the kaleidoscope of amazing natural and man-made parts of our world?

The skies over us are azure blankets to the countless wonders and miracles in life.

I’ve reflected in blogs past about my successful quest in visiting each Canadian province and territory.

I’ve blah-blah’ed on to outline my desire to touch ground on each of the continents as well as each of the 50 US States.

These fanciful aspirations must have been drifting through my dreams last night – I awoke in the early darkness with mini thought-balloons bouncing between my ears about the “official” wonders of the world.

A word of advice? Never debate your mind-thoughts in the middle of the night, they’re rambunctious and unruly 3 year olds who adamantly refuse to sit still and behave.

My foggy brain meandered in circles of pity, that bastard berating voice telling me how woefully inadequate I’ve been in failing to see and touch so many worldwide miracles that exist.

Case in point: I’ve yet to visit even one of the original ancient 7 wonders.

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The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were:

  • the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt.
  • the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece.
  • the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
  • the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
  • the Colossus of Rhodes.
  • the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt.

Yup, nada. Not a one. Sad. Loser.

I mustered a spirited defence and volleyed a response to my sub-conscious: “Wait a minute, I’m able to place checkmarks beside 5 of 7 of the “new” wonders” …
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The “New” Seven Wonders of the World

  • √ Chichen Itza, Mexico.
  • Christ Redeemer, Brazil.
  • The Great Wall, China.
  • Machu Picchu, Peru.
  • Petra, Jordan.
  • The Roman Colosseum, Italy.
  • The Taj Mahal, India.

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Still not satisfied with my Wonders’ count, I reloaded further ammunition into my argument. Touché!

I’ve touched, smelled, tasted, absorbed, spoken to, and smiled at earthly masterpieces, experiencing some magnificent physical marvels that, similar to a well-written book or unimaginably beautiful painting, filled me with an overarching sense of reverence and awe.

I’ve seen and breathed in the air of specialness near and far. Personal defining moments.

So today, I give you my own personal life experience 7 Wonders.

 

The “Larry” Seven Wonders

of a Random Baby Boomer’s World

  • Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

&

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Washington, DC – USA

Gettysburg-Nation-Cemetery.jpg

I’ve combined two iconic American war-related sites into one spot.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War.

The battle was bloody and fierce with the largest number of casualties of the entire war (Combined Union and Confederate casualties at Gettysburg totalled 7,058 dead – 33,250 wounded – 10,800 missing), and is often described as the war’s turning point. Union Maj. General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, halting Lee’s invasion of the North.

A few months after the battle, on November 19, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

The battlefields and cemeteries and museums of Gettysburg imprinted in me the tragedy and futility of war in heartbreaking contrast to the beauty of the surrounding fields and farms.

vietnam vet memorial 2.jpg

The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall is made up of two seemingly unending 75.21 m long walls, etched with the names of the killed servicemen honoured in panels of horizontal rows.

At the highest tip (the apex where they meet) of the walls, they are 3.1 m high, and then taper away to a height of just 20 cm at their extremities. Symbolically, this is described as a “wound that is closed and healing”.

When a visitor stands before the wall, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names, a symbolic way of bringing the past and present together.

The wall listed 58,191 names when it was completed in 1983. Simple names that exude power and emotion similar to the aged gravestones of Gettysburg.

This was the war that I “lived and experienced” as a youth each night on my black and white TV screen, watching the body bags unloading from the chasm of monster-sized airplanes.

  • Machu Picchu – Peru

machu picchu.jpg

At the conclusion of an 8 hour mountainous hike, this is probably the most stunning vista I’ve ever experienced, as we surmounted a final hill and spied the Incan citadel from the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu.

The 15th century citadel situated on a mountain ridge 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level is located near Cusco, Peru, where we studied Spanish for 3 and a half months.

Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu – built in the classical Inca style, with finely cut, polished dry-stone walls – was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472).

If a picture paints a thousand words, Machu Picchu is the artistic soul of a million million words. To experience it first hand is to sip from the cup of spirituality.

 

  • Niagara Falls – Canada

Niagara

Despite being a huge tourist trap, this was a frequent childhood haunt for me. My Ontario family would visit the cataract most summers with out-of-town guests.

There is special magic when you stand just feet away from the parapet, feeling the rumble of the water, and the uneasy sense of being drawn in by the cascading, rushing water as it bravely leaps into the chasm.

  • Igloo Church, Inuvik, Canada

Igloo church.jpg

Our Lady of Victory Church, often called the Igloo Church, was opened in Canada’s Arctic in 1960 after two years of construction.

Brother Maurice Larocque, a Catholic missionary to the Arctic, who had previously been a carpenter, designed the church despite a lack of any formal architectural training, sketching it on two sheets of plywood that are displayed in the building’s upper storeys. Its unique structural system, “a dome within a dome”, protects the church with a foundation consisting of a bowl-shaped concrete slab on a gravel bed atop the permafrost.

I saw this building in the summer of 1978 in the Land of the Midnight Sun (and Winter Darkness). The day was warm and dusty, and any igloo looks out of place in the heat and dry, but I knew then, and now, that bone-chilling, eyelash freezing winter filled with hoar frost and ice is always lurking nearby in the far north.

  • Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

Sagrada familia.jpg

The Sagrada Familia is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (1852–1926). Gaudi’s work on the building is part of a  UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica, as distinct from a cathedral, which must be the seat of a bishop.

The Sagrada Familia, like any of Gaudi’s many structures, are in the category of “love ’em or hate ’em“… “unique” hardly captures his vision of art and architecture. The church exterior is akin to a child’s pop-up storybook filled with picturesque Bible tales.

Barcelona is a beautiful rose in my bouquet of world cities thanks to Gaudi.

  • Terracotta Warriors – Xian, China

terracotta warriors.jpg

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. A form of funerary art, it was all buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE. It’s purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

The buried “army” was discovered in 1974 by two local farmers in Xian, Shaanxi province.

The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The life-sized army includes warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates are that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army hold more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.

The scope and detail of this underground discovery still leaves me shaking my head in amazement.

  • Dachau – Germany

Dachau concentration camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany, intended to hold political prisoners.

It is located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, outside of Munich.  It was enlarged to include forced labor, and eventually, the imprisonment of Jews, German and Austrian criminals, and eventually foreign nationals from countries that Germany occupied or invaded.

Prisoners lived in near-starvation and constant fear of brutal treatment and imminent death. There were 32,000 documented deaths at the camp, and thousands more undocumented.

I stepped through the gates of the camp as a “tourist” in 1979 and immediately felt a heavy enveloping curtain of pain and a huge weight of human tragedy.

 

  • Grand Ole Opry House – Nashville, USA

Grand-Ole-Opry

Music is an important part of my world – music of all types.

And what is more welcoming and friendly and joy-inducing than a beautiful church-like haven (even the seats of the Opry are pews) to sweet sounds of instruments and voice? The Opry House is a modern mecca for those of us who love the sound of the fiddle and the steel guitar.

Listening to the final group song of the evening a few years back, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, left a chill in my spine, even to this day… yes, that’s the power of music.

……………….

And there you have it in wondrous fashion. 1 natural wonder, 2 distinctive churches, 3 war-related memorial sites, and 3 man-made spectacles.

OK, did you notice? You did?

Yeah, I cheated.

That was 8 wonders, 9 if you separate out the Gettysburg and Vietnam Veterans’ Wall. And given half a chance, I could list dozens more spectacular moments and vistas that I’ve been lucky enough to glimpse in my days.

And despite all these incredible facades and edifices sprinkled around the world… if we view our world in another way, there are wonders and miracles to be had without setting alight on an airplane, or a ship, or a train.

I leave you with the following poem to reflect upon:

Seven Wonders of the World

I think the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ are:
1. To See
2. To Hear
3. To Touch
4. To Taste
5. To Feel
6. To Laugh
7. To Love.

The things we overlook as simple and ordinary and that
we take for granted are truly wondrous!

A gentle reminder —
that the most precious things in life
cannot be built by hand or bought by man.

Author: Unknown

 

 

 

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow…

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Stevie_Nicks_and_Lindsey_Buckingham.jpg

Do you hear Lindsey, Stevie, and Fleetwood Mac floating past in the background?

I’m not a religious guy.

You may know this.

Not religious in the traditional sense of God and heaven and hell and all that.

But I find beautiful moments of inspiration and indeed, spirituality, in the things I see and hear, and the people I encounter.

Last week, I played my guitar and sang at a local church supper. They know I’m not religious.

I carefully chose songs to play that I figured were humble and kind, you know, innocuous from a “Godly” perspective.

I strummed and picked my guitar and was having a great time crooning away… If you could read my mind love what a tale my thoughts ….

I figured that 15 or 16 songs would be plenty for the occasion, but then I reached the end of my playlist.

The group asked for just one or two more songs. An encore? For me? My ego jumped a tall fence like a bounding deer.

I have a pretty big repertoire of tunes in my quiver and so I happily launched into another song.

The first verse and chorus sailed along smoothly… and then… I realized as I approached the second verse that the song I was singing contained sexual, nudity-type references. Not nasty, violent or hurtful stuff, but adult in nature.

Oh SHIT (sorry… SHOOT!). Panic city. There were children and elderly in the group.

What were my choices? Should I stop singing now? A whole novella of coping ideas ran up and down the hallways of my brain as I smiled outwardly and sang onward.

I squirmed uncomfortably inside as I neared the part in the lyrics that I figured was somewhat incompatible with proper Christian values…  at least while ensconced in God’s shelter.

Now I know good Christians have sex, lots of it if they’re lucky, so I wasn’t unleashing some erotic blasphemy into their happy haven. But I fretted (get it?, guitar playing… fretted? Never mind!) nonetheless.

My solution?

As I meandered into the lyrical minefield I slowly lowered the volume of my voice and craftily turned my head away from the microphone in a truly artistic way so that the mic wouldn’t pick up the “naughty” lyrics.

From the corner of my eye, I spied no one appearing uncomfortable.

Whew… maybe I had managed to wiggle my way out of God’s wrath from above… maybe.

lightning

I’m sorry. Excuse me.

All of this is irrelevant and unrelated to what I was going to tell you. You know, the inspiring part.

Have I mentioned that this post is about inspiration? It is.

After I finished playing, I was conversing with some of these good church folk who were so warm and appreciative.

I stopped to chat with a darling little 90 year old lady who smiled and expressed her appreciation to me (she obviously missed my sex-related lyrics!… or maybe NOT!). Then she commented that she had played guitar herself in her younger years.

She asked, “do you think it’s too late for me to take some guitar lessons?”

That was the sweetest music of the night in my ears. “Of course not.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

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Life and love and learning (and sex) don’t have to end when we strike upon some magical age like 60, 70, 80, 90.

Len at my gym is 93 this year and lifts weights like a robust 40 year old.

On another stimulating tangent, this past weekend I felt inspired by two others in my sphere.

By late fall, I’m usually well past the summer mindset where long running stints are possible.

Like skiing in April or golfing in October, the season just seems to be finished and stowed away like Christmas ornaments on New Year’s Day. We move on.

But last Sunday, my brother … my almost-4-years-older-than-me brother… ran his very first Marathon race in Ontario. That’s 26.2 miles ….42.2 kilometres… more than 4 hours of non-stop running. His body is a well-tuned middle-aged+ machine. Incroyable!

I’ve done marathon runs in my 30’s, 40’s, 50’s … I know how incredibly demanding it is and how much mental strength it takes to train for the endurance run.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

The same day, a local friend of mine ran through icy and snow patches in a 20 kilometre trail running event along the Kettle Valley Trail line. She’s in her early 30’s but dedication and motivation and perseverance hang over her like an energetic halo.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

There I have a trio of perfect inspirational examples… one in her 30’s… one, his 60’s… another in her 90’s.

All of these people are “ordinary” in the sense that they aren’t superhuman to the best of my awareness. But they have “extraordinary” heart and drive powered by a youthful zest.

They each contain their own clues of how they reach for something special. I want those clues to become mine.

Each of them makes my heart beat quicker, and gives me a boost of inspiration.

As I grow older it becomes easier and easier to inwardly reflect and focus backwards to the days when, as Billy Joel sings, “I wore a younger man’s clothes“. Memories are wonderful gems that we can hug and admire and treasure.

But looking in the mirror at what is and has been is a delicious distraction, a distraction that shouldn’t prevent me from gazing out the window and discovering what else lies on the future horizon… ravishing orange-flavoured sunsets can be followed by amazingly bright and cheery sunrises.

The best thing I can do today is to finish writing this blog post, learn a new song (maybe one about sex) on my guitar, think about all the inspirational people that surround me, smile, and say to myself, 

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

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