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LINCOLN and SPIELBERG vs. POPCORN

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If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”

                                                           Abraham Lincoln

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I LOVE Steven Spielberg, the director of motion pictures like Schindler’s List and Lincoln. And, I LOVE popcorn too!

I have a huge crush on Spielberg’s abilities and vision. He’s not beatifyingly perfect, just like any paramour we admire. But he’s done enough to get on my register of platonic lovers. Fortunately, these two loves (Spielberg/Popcorn) don’t need to live mutually exclusive existences in my life. I can be polygamous in this sphere and encounter no moral or legal burdens…Life is good!

Quality filmmaking is something of which I’m in awe. Spielberg is a good part of the reason.

I don’t typically go to the theatre with the idea of watching something memorable or amazing. There are so many important pieces to the movie puzzle that need to fit seamlessly in place, meaning that there is only about one or two made each year that shine brilliantly – and that’s in a good year! It’s just entertainment usually and I accept this.

And so because of that, the movie-going experience is really about the popcorn.

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The intoxicating mix of hot maiz crunch suffused in systolic-elevating sodium accompanied by a finish of atherosclerotic-inducing butter fats is orgasmic to the senses. Discerning the subtle flavours and textures within a good popcorn is akin to drinking wine and picking up the nuances of smoke, and blackberry and citrus.

Just gliding by a theatre with the aroma of popcorn wafting reminds me of the cartoon scenes of a character floating nose-first dreamily through the air, the waving lines of scent drawing him into the open window with its steamingly-aromatic apple pie. It’s majorly unhealthy stuff but it pulls me in like iron filings to a magnet.

There are rare occasions that I go to see a movie where the wonder of the flavour profile of the popcorn gets lost in the beauty of the film itself. Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN is one of those occasions. Spielberg and actor Daniel Day-Lewis and screenwriter Tony Kushner make harmony of a tragic and desperate time in American history.

Lincoln is not cinematic perfection but it comes close enough to bump popcorn as the real motivation for entering the theatre.

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Honestly though, Spielberg drives me crazy when he brings on board a bunch of well-known actors into his epics- I don’t want to see former TV bartender Ted Danson in Saving Private Ryan, just as the iconic faces of  Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Epatha Merkerson in Lincoln pull me jarringly out of the story in which I’m immersed. It’s small stuff Steven, I know, but Hollywood is full of quality, unknown actors that don’t send me back into an episode of Law & Order or Cheers!

More importantly, what Lincoln DOES have:

  • There is the exquisite beauty of the cinematography that delicately brushes each scene like a Dutch Master’s painting that you could lose yourself in for hours and absorb all that it encompasses and symbolizes.
  • Warm amber oil-lamp light on Daniel Day-Lewis’s face. There is a complete story told in all of the well-worn facial wrinkles and crevices in his countenance. These are the marks of a man who has struggled with the vexing morality of life and death decisions that changed the lives of thousands upon thousands of families.

  • Exquisite, nuanced acting by Day-Lewis sculpts a total person of Lincoln with human foibles but mostly principled and heart-felt virtues that many of us believe Lincoln to have possessed. The quality of the writing combined with Day-Lewis’s acting could have made a memorable movie if filmed entirely in Lincoln’s shower under fluorescent lights…I wonder how Lincoln bathed in those days??
  • A reminder that the reality of the political world that lives today is not greatly changed from 150 years ago, or likely 1,500 years ago. The horse-trading and arm twisting that occur in our political chambers of Congress or Parliament are nothing new and are the price to be paid for decisions made by many of differing backgrounds and circumstances. Bullies versus nerds versus whatever playground personalities play out in any arena of substance, real or trivial.
  • The interplay between Sally Field’s Mary Lincoln character, deeply worried about her own family’s plight versus the worries that Abraham Lincoln necessarily feels for the multitude of suffering families is mesmerizing and poignant. Agonizing choices don’t get any more difficult or bitter than this.

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Lincoln, like any film worth its weight in butter-drenched popcorn, sends me into the recesses of my own life and experiences.

I walk the earth in a place and a time where life is lived in an historic cocoon. War, disease, poverty, torture and rape, natural disaster, financial ruin all happen somewhere else, and to someone else. I haven’t personally experienced any of this. Setbacks, sure. But minor stuff in reality.

The intensity and drama of  the films The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln are all human tragedies of Shakespearean magnitude and beyond. And these are but a few of Spielberg’s roll call.

These features all provide us a reminder of what life can or could be, given different times or governments. By displaying to me the real lives lived by others in traumatic circumstances, it serves me well to observe and reflect on what it is that allows me to live a peaceful, prosperous life. Films such as these give me the opportunity to live vicareously the trying experiences of others and still walk away unscathed…slightly changed but unscathed nonetheless.

Steven Spielberg keeps my head out of the clouds of complacency, and occasionally, when he’s at the top of his game, my fingers out of the popcorn bag.

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SEX with PUMPKINS and IDEAS

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I wanted to grow a 1000 lb. pumpkin…just like Howard.

Howard Dill, of Windsor, Nova Scotia grew enormous pumpkins, called Atlantic Giants. Super GINORMOUS pumpkins…1000+ pound orange gourds. And then he sold the seeds to others who wanted to try growing these monsters. And just this year a Rhode Island gardener grew the very first 1 ton pumpkin (2009 pounds). Dill died 4 years back, but he was the father of today’s Heaviest Pumpkin contests that take place all over North America.

A few years ago I organized a pumpkin growing contest with my work colleagues using some of Dill’s seeds. We all planted and lovingly tended the expanding fleshy gourds in our yards. In running this event for about 4 years, the largest one grown by any of us tipped the scale at just under 300 pounds. My personal orange globe never came close to winning, which is probably why I stopped running the event after 4 years. I can only take so much failure!

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I read Howard Dill’s pumpkin growing instruction sheet–it’s all in the sex!

Great Pumpkins need (or at least want) sex just like the rest of us.

There is a whole catalogue of things you need to know and do to make a huge pumpkin, but one of the crucially important things is to fertilize the female at just the right time. Birds and bees can’t be entrusted with this important job.

When no one was watching (I’m a modest kind of guy and don’t want my neighbours viewing my sex life!), I would go out into my backyard with my Q-Tip (the penis). I’d wiggle it back and forth (I’m sexy and I know it!) over the pollen of healthy, robust looking male pumpkin flowers. Then, I’d plunge it down deep into the receptive centre of the female flower (the vagina). This is where and when conception occurs. We have pumpkin pregnancy!

Ideas are like giant pumpkins. To make extraordinary new ones, they benefit by some “great sex”!

The globe is filled with amazing people with amazing ideas. There are musicians, artists, scientists, writers, teachers, garbage collectors, animal trainers who brilliantly and consistently think of new and better ways to do everything imaginable. Little tweaks of what’s already there can turn lead into gold. Big, game-changing, innovative ideas become the diamonds.

And I believe that both gold and diamonds are buried within each of us and can be unearthed and brought to the surface with “Idea Sex”.

Bringing two seemingly-unrelated thoughts together is a mating ritual that often ends up arrested. But sometimes, just sometimes, a new idea baby is conceived that is unique and contains its own DNA and genetics that separate it from every other idea out there.

  • Triathlons combined 3 sports that had been popular for years into one giant, long marathon that enjoys huge popularity.
  • Fusion cuisine takes 2 or more ethnic food types and combines them into a new but exciting meal like “Haggis Pakoras”.
  • Cross-country skiing used to be just the classic back and forth motion to propel your body forward…then someone said, “maybe this would be faster and more efficient if we pushed our skis off to the sides like we were skating”…BOOM a new species of skiing was born.

One bigger example…Ryanair. This Irish air carrier could see that the costs of running airlines were so high that eventually most people would avoid air travel altogether. Labour costs, food costs, and fuel costs were putting lots of airlines out of business eg. United, Northwest Air, Mexicana, even American Airlines declared bankruptcy. It was just too expensive. So Ryanair married the idea of putting an airline and a Wal Mart together.

A No-Frills airline…no free food, no free luggage, immovable, tightly-packed  seats, fewer bathrooms on board, shoulder to shoulder with a superstore in the sky. They have you trapped at 35,000 feet for two or three hours, so why not use their staff (high labour cost) to push liquor and tobacco and perfume and food and and and. All of a sudden, an airline could take its high costs and make a decent living from something that was in its death throws.

What I’m suggesting here is that we all have some areas of passion in our lives that could benefit from idea sex. Things that get us out of (or into perhaps) our La-Z-Boys and doing something…reading, writing, knitting, soccer, piano playing, weight lifting, swimming, woodworking, motocross racing, skiing, gardening…you name it…there are a million things that we do or think about that we enjoy and/or are good at.

Why not let these ideas and interests cross-pollinate and marry into something unique and beautiful. I’m an enthusiastic and greedy consumer of others’ ideas and constructs. I love to immerse myself in all kinds of music and books and movies and technical doodads. The intelligence and ceaseless creativity of human minds continually leave me in awe of what has been manifested by others. But I tire of being a watcher, a spectator always gazing out at the lighthouse for direction.

A couple of maybe far-out examples??

Woodworking and Pianos…how about an Ikea-style “Piano in a Box” that the purchaser puts together at home with an Allen Wrench and a TON of patience!!

Reading and Swimming– swimming laps in a pool can be tedious and mind-numbing…perhaps a radio-transmitted audiobook into a water-resistant earpiece to help pass the time…now that’s multi-tasking!

I like to play my guitar, but I get tired of one genre of music sometimes. So, I play an old folksy tune like James Taylor’s Carolina In My Mind but with a calypso beat. I know…It’s not a huge leap of an idea but it gets my mind moving in directions where ideas are more forthcoming which is the space that I want to be in.

I’m not growing or having sex with Howard Dill’s giant pumpkins these days (although I might some day again), but I am searching for great idea sex in the idea factory that is my mind!

Just writing this blog exercises my mind to the point of cerebral exhaustion sometimes. But like all sex, when it makes you hot and sweaty, the end result is usually satisfying!

Become a Radical MODERATE!

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MODERATION. I hate the word. In a non-moderate kind of way. It races up my spine like nails scratching down a blackboard.

Someone has said to you, “I like you in moderation“. Huh?

This, like Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence speaking to Romeo, “Love each other in moderation. That is the key to long-lasting love. Too fast is as bad as too slow” is just too confusing for me. What genuine meaning is there in love or anything else in life that corresponds to the word “moderation”?

I spend a lot of time when I speak and write trying to find and use the word that comes closest to expressing the exact point I’m making. English is a huge language vocabularily – and it’s expanding too, I just made up the word vocabularily, and you probably understand its meaning— which means we can say what we want in the clearest, subtlest, and most pinpoint way. I can shoot an arrow metaphorically and hit the bullseye 99% of the time because of this wonderful language. That’s cool because you can’t do that in every language out there!

I hope that people who read what I write understand what I’m saying because I expend a good deal of effort trying to make myself clear (NOTE: to be honest, this IS a work-in-progress). Verbal and written communication aren’t art forms in the sense that the Mona Lisa, or perhaps poetry, is art…it shouldn’t be left up to the receiver to decode and find their own individual interpretation of the words. When we communicate with each other, we shouldn’t have to say, “This what I think he meant to say with this statement”.

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

-Donald Rumsfeld

Obfuscation is not the AIM.

Many people are just damned lazy about their use of language.

Communication is fraught with often innocent people who don’t think in terms of how their words will be heard and construed by others. So often a simple statement in an e-mail comes across as heartless, insensitive, and hurtful, or just plain not understandable. “Did she say she’s vegan or a Brontosaurus burger eater?” A moment or two spent in thinking of how a phrase could possibly be interpreted by another person would go a hugely long way in smoothing our interactions with friends and colleagues.

But occasionally, an ambiguous word pops up that somehow gets into frequent usage, and the sad thing is, it means many different things to many different people.  The word I’m thinking of here, of course, is MODERATION.

If I remove 2 pickles and a slice of cheese, then that’s moderation. Cutting it by 2/3rds seems too extreme, wouldn’t you agree?

In the recent U.S. election, Mitt Romney was described as a “Moderate Republican”. Romney was moderate like a HUMMER is a compact car. Someone who thinks that a)healthcare is a frill for the upper echelon,b) who believes that only heterosexuals are his equals, c)who fancies women bound in binders…well…this stretches moderation as it might be interpreted like gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe on a scorching summer day.

When I go to see my doctor I’ll sometimes mention that I’d like to lose 10 pounds so that I can run my marathon races a bit faster. What does she say? “Try eating in moderation”. Ohhh…

SUPER, I think…

Well, right now I eat a large sized bowl of butterscotch ice cream for dessert each evening. Moderation would be scaling that back by about a quarter cup…problem solved; the weight should drop off now.

Not so fast, I discover. My dietitian wife who knows far more about these things tells me that moderation in this case means not only should I have a “small” bowl of ice cream just twice a week, but I should stop eating French fries and potato chips altogether. My brain tells me that this isn’t moderation; this is starvation, a far cry further.

When a 400-pound man is told to exercise by his health professional, the statement often used is “exercise in moderation”. I’m thinking that a 400 lb man got to be 400 pounds by walking to the fridge and telling himself that he’s had his workout for the day. So moderation means a slight uptick of activity, something like walking the long way around the house to the fridge. That should do it, right?

An anorexic teen who eats next to nothing and is told to use moderation in exercise so that they can gain some weight will hear moderation to mean, “only run 10 miles every day instead of the 12 you’ve been doing all along…and maybe only purge once each day instead of twice.” Not helpful.

Moderation is a useless word and does more harm than good. Let’s dump it as a tool for communication and substitute REAL tools with REAL meaning.

Eat 1500 calories, and ice cream just one time each week.

Run only 5 miles 3 times each week.

I love you with all my heart.”

These statements have real meaning and are concrete in their message.

Let’s use the word moderation, not in moderation, but oh, shall we say…NEVER. It doesn’t have a use in our language other than to confuse and perhaps allow us to rationalize the things we know are bad for us. And there are so many ways I can rationalize the bad things I do without going within a city block of the word moderation.

Words are meant to communicate and have meaning.

Moderation…YOU are a sad excuse for a word.

I’M A WORLD CITIZEN…NOT Just A Canadian!

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It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.”

                                 –Arthur C. Clarke.

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My son Will was touring around London, England last week and sauntered into massive Hyde Park and its famous “Speakers’ Corner” where a balding, middle-aged gent raised his finger pointedly to extol on the subject of the day.

Speakers’ Corner is the site of the everyday person’s soapbox- a place to speak your personal beliefs to an assemblage and for sharing of ideas and debate. And given the sometimes…shall we say… quirky views of certain speakers, it could double as the site of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest“!

So today, just a few days after Remembrance Day in Canada and reflecting on wars and the state of humanity, I’d like to clamber up on my virtual World Wide Web soapbox and expound for a few minutes on a subject dear to my heart. I feel a little like Linus strutting to centre stage in Charlie Brown’s Christmas to recite the meaning of Christmas…please feel free to shout me down off my pedestal if you disagree, or give me a big High 5 if you’re approving of my message.

Hem, hem, hem…

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen… Well, maybe I’m just being overly sensitive, but I feel like I’m hearing a lot of insular nationalist-type talk by those around me and in the press.

The 100-mile diet and discussions about keeping jobs at home  (personally, I should probably be on the 100-calorie diet, and I love the concept of working FROM home, two ideas that come into massive and messy conflict while working at a home office desk only 100 feet removed from the refrigerator) are a couple of examples of the stuff I’m talking about here.

What I hear when I encounter these sorts of statements is… FEAR! And it’s not groundless fear, not the “all we have to fear is fear itself” sort of stuff, but fear nonetheless.

People feel a threat to their security, their lives, and their livelihoods. I understand this. The world is a competitive place that can be scary. Canadians and other Westerners are feeling the imposing threat of corporations with deep pockets and citizens of many other countries who are willing to work hard and save hard and sacrifice for themselves and their children.

Today, these “others” are living the life of sacrifice that Canadians lived 100 years ago that allowed us to later become the envy of all. We now live the life of kings and queens. Our royal lifestyle came at a price of hard-work and innovation and risk and investment, and… I hesitate to add, good government too. Now that we have all of this, we understandably want to keep it.

But I don’t believe in beggaring our worldly neighbours to allow us to continue to live in this regal style. I want both us AND our fellow global citizens to live a wonderful, rich life. Fairness demands this. How can we say otherwise?

I don’t want us to just GIVE everyone a wealthy livelihood. It should and must be earned, just as our retention of this lifestyle should continue to be earned.

The 100-mile diet has some validity if you are looking at it from an environmental perspective…less carbon fuels for transport goes the argument. I want to guard the environment too. But there are many who see it differently– It’s about US versus THEM. Save our jobs so THEY can’t take them. “I Object”, I say to the judge.

THEY are US, WE are THEM.

Beggar thy neighbour is not in my principles’ code.

When talking about nationalism, you really can’t avoid the words of George Orwell, who said that nationalism is ‘the worst enemy of peace’. According to him, nationalism is a feeling that one’s country is superior to another. With the amazing connectedness in today’s world, we need to migrate ourselves from a view of Nationalism to a view of Globalism. I’m from Canada, but I am a Global Citizen. My neighbour in Mexico growing grape tomatoes is equal to my neighbour across the lake growing wine grapes.

If a farmer in Peru is willing to work hard for a small paycheque in order to provide me with some wonderful, ripe fruit or vegetable at a price that is attractive to me, then he/she deserves my dollar in order to enrich her pocket, as well as her family’s health and education. Hopefully, one day, my dollars will afford her the opportunity to buy some automated equipment that will make her more productive and earn even more of my dollars. Why should he/she live a life of poverty so that my neighbours and I can wallow in relative wealth?

Millions and millions of Chinese citizens have and are working in sweat-shop conditions making items for my consumption. Do I feel good about this?…NOPE. But I also know that millions and millions are scrounging their way bit-by-bit into the middle class. I know that Asian factories and corporations are being shut down until pay increases come the way of the worker. And if this means I pay 20 cents more for a T-shirt at Wal Mart, then so be it.

Sew a pair of pants here, so they can’t sew a pair of pants there. We’re beyond this. There are lots of jobs available here now and for years to come so long as we make ourselves a smart society, either from advanced entrepreneurialism, advanced education, or advanced training. Our destiny and good fortune relies on making something better of ourselves, not taking something away from others.

We’re all world citizens…could we start acting like we all are deserving of a piece of the pie?

The great thing about travelling outside our own country is meeting people from different countries, different skin colours, different languages and realizing we’re all individuals with hopes and fears and desires for ourselves and our children…we have so much in common, despite our differences.

I am a World Citizen, not just a Canadian!

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The year is 2030 and the din in the stadium is deafening.

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The World Cup soccer (football) final game made up of a mixed-nationality team playing out of  Honduras and another mixed-nationality team playing out of Azerbaijan is about to get underway — the best players from any city, any country, any continent, are lined up at centre field for the starting kick.

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A tumultuous cheer swells and reverberates in a wave around the stadium…

“GO WORLD”

I WOKE UP GROUCHY! 8 things to do…

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He lowered the window of the fast-moving train and then, nonchalant as an acorn lazily dropping from an oak tree, tossed his bag of lunch trash out into the breeze to land in the sunflowers growing beside the tracks.

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I was on a train from Milan to Venice, sharing a compartment with a Catholic priest dressed in his black formality, and maybe one or two other travellers. The bucolic countryside scenery of a beautiful sunny Italian day was heart-lifting. It was just into the early afternoon when the priest pulled out his paper bag containing cheese, bread, fruit and spicy, sliced meats. He sat across from me on the bench seats and chewed contentedly on a typical Italian repast. It was a while back in time so I can’t quite remember if he had some wine to sip on as well. It being Italy, he probably did.

Eventually, he finished up his little meal. He placed the wrappings of paper and plastic and the detritus of his snack neatly back into the bag it had come from. And then, with total casual aplomb, he stood up, lowered the compartment window, and flung the bag out into the pastoral countryside before raising the window and contentedly taking his seat once again.

I thought I would have a stroke. My anger rose to a boil quickly at this unanticipated sight of premeditated littering and befouling of the environment. A priest, for God’s sake!! I wanted to punch him right then and there. My mind raced with rage as I considered pulling the Swiss Army Knife stashed in my backpack that was easily accessible in the overhead bin. I envisioned myself plunging the knife into the throat of the priest and enjoying the sight of blood and retribution for his sin. A sacrifice was in order. He must pay…and so…

I did NOTHING!

I was grouchy for the rest of that day.

The priest had ruined for me what had been a supreme day. He didn’t have to diddle with me, he… just… threw… out… some… garbage!

I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse…you jump off the train or one of my boys will push you off the train…

And today, years later, I feel resentment and anger building whenever I think of that instant in a European railcar.

I don’t feel like Oscar the Grouch very often. I remind myself almost daily of the charmed existence that I live. In historic terms, I live the life that kings dreamed of hundreds of years ago. I have a warm, dry castle. I eat sumptuous foods in overly abundant quantities. I have health and good teeth that aren’t filled with rot. I have entertainment of my choosing (music, drama, comedy) provided in my home 24/7.

But, for no apparent reason, once in a long while, I wake up feeling crabby and grouchy. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s man hormones…maybe it’s a low pressure weather system with grey clouds…perhaps I’m worrying about the health of an ailing family member. Do YOU always know why you’re irritable?

I don’t like feeling grouchy, and I’m sure those around me don’t revel in the sulky, “don’t bug me” attitude that exudes from my curled-under lip. I’m just not pleasant to be around. So, I sometimes try a few things to get past the feeling and bring the Bluebird of Happiness back to my window ledge:

  1. Avoid the news- newspapers and TV news are great means of disseminating information, but the real reason they exist is to bring in eyeballs and make money from advertisers. They do this with as many sensational and tragic headlines as they can think up. Newspaper and magazine sales skyrocket when a hurricane strikes, or Justin Bieber breaks up with his girlfriend. 90% of the news has no effect on you so why get tied up in knots by it all.
  2. Change up routine- routines are wonderful, they give us a sense of stability in our lives that often keeps us sane. But sometimes, I escape the routine and change my milieu and go to a different coffee shop for the first time (so long as it’s Tim Hortons, I own shares;) ). Read a book about something that doesn’t typically interest me. Drive a different road to work and observe the different stores and people  along the route. Play a song on the guitar or piano that I haven’t played in eons. Try a different form of exercise like roller blading or badminton. Make up a new recipe using no more than 4 ingredients. 
  3. Hyperfocus on one thing – for just 30 minutes or an hour. We live in a soupy milieu of computers, and TV’s, and cellphones and a ton of different stimuli that distract us from many important things we could do. So I say to myself, I’ll read one whole chapter of the book I bought last month but haven’t read more than 3 pages at a time. Or, I’ll do the full P90X workout CD, start to finish. Or, I’ll go through 3 boxes in the storage room, get rid of a bunch of stuff, and consolidate them into one.

    This is how I’ve seen them do that YOGA stuff….just focus!

  4. Think about where I’d like to go on vacation...immerse myself in thoughts of a desirable vacation…one I’ve had where all the food was fantastic and the air was warm…OR the vacation that I’d like to have. Close my eyes and allow my senses to experience it like it’s happening now. It’s like listening to music from a time when I was supremely happy…I hear the first few notes or bars of the song, and I feel the emotions, and smell the fragrance of that happy time. Bring on the full sensory experience.
  5. Learn to smell my own crap – aka the “Jewish Mother’s” voice. Sometimes we’re a bit down and grouchy because we know we haven’t been true to our own principles. Some examples? It’s easier to just ignore the insensitive way I spoke to a co-worker. Not booking the cat for her annual shots is weighing on me but maybe I’ll do it tomorrow (yeah, right!). I should phone a relative who’s not been so well? Just do it and not only will she feel better, but I really will too!  I try to see myself for who I am…acknowledging when I’m not living up to my own standards can be difficult. When we at least smell our own crap, we can decide consciously if it can be flushed away and forgotten, or kept and cleaned up. Don’t be afraid to throw away the things that you know aren’t you..are you doing things to impress others?
  6. Buy a lotto ticket- there was a guy in B.C. last week who bought a lottery ticket on the way to his own father’s funeral. He’d bought lottery tickets for years and years, and this time, of all times, he won $25 million. Even when the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, positive things can happen…it’s all about hope!
  7. Acceptance- sometimes I want to soak and marinade in my own self-pity and crabbiness. An acceptance that some days are diamond, and some days are stone (thanks, John Denver!) is just part of our existence. Making this choice is fine so long as I can remove myself and my mood from others…just because I’m grouchy doesn’t mean everyone else should be miserable too. The bluebird’s happy song is that much sweeter after we’ve listened to the clucks of the Chicken of Depression!
  8. Chocolate- a little chocolate stretches an incredibly LONG way in lifting a grey grouchy mood. All of that sugar and cocoa butter and antioxidants. Put “eat chocolate” at the top of your list of things to do today. Chocolate is to grouchiness as apples are to doctors.

If none of the above stuff does the trick, I close my eyes, all of those squiggly lines appear like in a TV scene, and I go back in time and imagine—

…the priest opens the train window to toss his trash just as a huge gust of wind miraculously whips through the compartment. It catches his billowing vestments and like the Flying Nun, out the window he soars screaming, thrashing into a lush patch of prickly pear cactus alongside the tracks.  

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Then, his lunch bag drifts dreamily back into the compartment like the feather in Forrest Gump. I bend over to pick it up gently and with a contented smile, drop it smugly into the garbage bin next to the door. Sitting back down, without a care in the world, I gaze once again out the window and admire the beautiful olive groves whizzing past.

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If Hillary was President…

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Congratulations U.S.A.!

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You guys got my heart racing faster than when Sexy Clint Eastwood and Slutty Honey Boo Boo came trick-or-treating at my door this HalloweenThe rest of the world and I screamed at the possibility. But you thankfully came through in the end, and elected Barack Obama. 

50 years from now, I believe that Obama will be seen as an extraordinary president in the pantheon of Lincoln and Roosevelt. His legacy today is obscured by the day-to-day flotsam thrown at his feet and in his face that prevents us from seeing his skills and accomplishments. He does have his faults for sure. But he sees the forest and not just the wind-blown trees that keep toppling in his way, making his forward momentum a frustratingly difficult but worthwhile slog.

And for this, I’d like to give thanks:

(From Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”)

Chaplain: Let us praise God. O Lord…
…Ooh, You are so big…
…So absolutely huge.
…Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell You.
Forgive us, O Lord, for this, our dreadful toadying, and…
Congregation: And barefaced flattery.
Chaplain: But You are so strong and, well, just so super.
Congregation: Fantastic.
Chaplain: Amen.
Congregation: Amen.

And so, shall we move on?

I’m not a real “politico”, but the US election involved major issues that transcended politics. Issues that affect real people in real ways. There were national, international, and intensely personal matters that would have been disturbed significantly by the election of a Republican president. A rip in the fabric of time like Marty McFly returning to Hill Valley, California and marrying his own mother.

The Republicans would have slashed taxes to 0% for the top 1%, made carrying of automatic weapons to school compulsory for all kindergarten students and I’m pretty sure they would have made hiring of women at anything above minimum wage an indictable offence subject to the death penalty. I read all of this on a FOX News network blog (or was it the National Enquirer?), so it must be true. My head hurts thinking of what could have happened with a sequel to George W. Bush. U.S. voters made the right choice on November 6, but the undertow currents are still pulling ferociously, trying to drag the electorate under.

But isn’t the US still a great country?

Sure, I think it is in a (dwindling) financial and military sense. But socially it’s trying to emulate Dickens world of Scrooge or Oliver – it lives in the 19th century and refuses to wake up from a bad dream. Its education system is fraying at the seams. Millions without medical coverage are at risk of financial ruin (and unable to get the liposuction and breast augmentations they so desperately want!). Crumbling infrastructure is compounded by HUGE deficits and debts.

Yet fear of the changing colours, social mores, and languages of its burgeoning immigrant population has people walling themselves off from the new reality.

Despite all of the problems that exist, the US made a wonderful choice 4 years ago in electing not just a smart, charismatic guy, but a black-skinned man who knows his basketball too. I was mightily surprised when Obama won, but pleased.

Each person needs a sense of hope in their world. The election of a black man told millions that there was hope in theirs’ and their childrens’ lives. It reaffirmed the “American Dream” that says that anyone can rise through the social, economic and educational ranks with perseverance and determination. Electing just another rich, white guy tells half of the population that they don’t really matter…21st century slavery may be against the law, but it really lives on if you are black or brown or anything other than white, and your leader is ALWAYS a rich, white dude.

But, with the shifting demographic tides, will the next momentous move in 4 or at most 8 years be the election of a woman…and could it be Hillary Clinton? Or in the Trudeau, Kennedy fashion, maybe Chelsea Clinton.  Let me rephrase thisplease let it be Hillary  or Chelsea and NOT Sarah…yes, Sarah Palin, the “Dan Quayle” of the 2008 election.

Twenty five years ago, the thought of an elected black president would have been a laughably outrageous, outlandish, foolish concept. The same was true for a woman president. Silly as a computer in every home, and phones without cords. But throw in a burgeoning hispanic population from Cuba, Mexico, and a few other Latin American countries and a couple of decades later…SHAZZAM…little Barry Obama wins.

Four years from now, statistically, the skin tones of the population will continue to darken and the aging demographic and longer lifespan of women will push the percentage of women vs. men voters to a higher level than today.

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Bada bing bada boom!!…a woman President.

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I want a woman president elected who has strength and integrity, but still has some woman in her (Margaret Thatcher need not apply!). She should be empathetic, and smart, and worldly, and mature, and have vision. But especially, she should be able to have a disagreement with the other little tykes in the sandbox and still find a solution that makes everyone at least reasonably happy. Half a tootsie roll for everyone. We men aren’t very good at this. If my kids borrow my car and it comes back with a scratch…my response?:

YOU SHALL NEVER DRIVE THIS CAR AGAIN, EVER! DISCUSSION OVER…

My good wife’s response:

WHAT WILL YOU DO TO MAKE UP FOR THIS SO THAT I CAN TRUST YOU IN THE FUTURE?

Now which of these approaches is likely to have the most long-term success? I know I don’t have to answer the question because it’s obvious. Well, obvious except when you’re a manly rage of hormones in the heat of the moment. So, my next question becomes:

WHO DO YOU WANT WITH THEIR FINGER ON THE NUCLEAR WEAPON BUTTON, OR REGULATING THE NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE?

Our world will become a kinder, gentler, saner place with Barack and then Hillary and Chelsea (but not Sarah) in charge.  And we’ll all laugh when Hillary gets caught checking out the man-thongs her male interns are wearing … take that Bill!

But of course she won’t do anything of the sort because…well…because women just don’t do that sort of thing… I don’t think… do they?

There’s no time like the present…I’m starting to wear my HILLARY 2016 button next week.

Today I Am…Tomorrow I Can Be…

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News item from Westover (Me.) weekly Enterprise, August 19, 1966: RAIN OF STONES REPORTED.”

Cover of "Carrie"

This is the opening line to Stephen King’s first published novel, CARRIE, a story about a poor little high-school girl with menstrual problems who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who tease her. Sort of a man’s take on PMS!

I’m not, or at least I wasn’t, a huge fan of author Stephen King. Widely known for his populist horror thrillers, he’s sold bazillions of books, most of which have been made into movies with varying levels of success.

At this point, with his name recognition and popularity, Stephen King could write a COOKBOOK highlighting the culinary use of all of the bloody, dismembered human bodies he’s written of in his novels – now add in one cup of eviscerated intestine –  and it would become an instant bestseller. Fully-coloured, glossy photographs and all…it will make a great Christmas gift!  I’m envious and amazed at what King has accomplished in his genre of literature.

I could list for you a number of people in my own circle who I know and love that I think are amazing (I won’t because if I missed one by accident, I would look like a dick). There is also a bunch of well-known people in this world I admire. I may not necessarily LIKE them – I don’t need to like them, to appreciate their accomplishments – but I admire their creativity or thinking abilities, or physical prowess- and in either case, I think it comes down to the notion that they have developed amazing capabilities of focus and drive to make something where there was nothing before.

A current short list of these people for me might look like:

  • Stephen King
  • Aaron Sorkin– brilliant TV and movie screenwriter of superb dialogue with credits such as West Wing, The Newsroom, and The Social Network
  • Lance Armstrong– with or without drugs, he climbed mountains – competing against other similarly drug-pumped athletes – with fantastic determination and strength of will.
  • Hillary Clinton– unshakable and smart, and part of two “dream” teams of which she could easily have been the leader…Bill Clinton’s and Barak Obama’s.
  • Payton Manning– an NFL quarterback (silly, I know) who plays a brawny game like a brainy chess master.
  • Sarah McLachlan- Canadian singer/songwriter with such a great voice that also speaks for women’s, children’s, and animal issues.

I’ll likely never be a famous songwriter/singer like James Taylor. I’ll likely never be a famous writer like Stephen King. Actually – although I hope this isn’t true – I may never write a book…EVER. And yet, my desire to be creative has never been stronger.

For years, I’ve allowed my creativity to be governed. I’ve spent the majority of my life concerned about what others think…about me and the things I do. I’ve worked really hard to not look dumb, to not embarrass myself and others around me. I’ve pigeon-holed myself based on a litany of voices in my head that say I SHOULD get a good university education, I SHOULD get married, I SHOULD have 2.5 children, I SHOULD be nice to everyone, I SHOULD chew my food with my mouth closed…I SHOULD SHOULD SHOULD. And to quote a dubiously-famous motivator, Anthony Robbins:

I SHOULD all over myself” 

 
But back to Stephen King. King has reminded me that we don’t have to be those things that others, or ourselves, tell us we should be. He has written library shelves full of books that are largely horror. He 65 years old now and could just get up each morning and shuffle over to his La-Z-Boy chair and enjoy a life of total leisure. Or…he could continue to easily and systematically pump out – like a weekly Harlequin romance novel – more of his standard horror fare and make Brink’s armoured-truck loads of money.

So what HAS he done?

He threw the “SHOULD HAVE” in the trash. In the past year, he wrote and published another novel called “11/22/63”. HORROR?…nope…at least not in the sense that we tend to think of horror. I guess that a story about someone perched in a 6th floor window overlooking a crowded Dallas, Texas street and taking a murderous rifle shot at the head of the sitting American President could be considered horror.

But his book is a well-researched and intriguingly-written novel based on a true historic and history-changing event in modern times. Even though I was just 6 years old at the time, I can remember when I heard about John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It was that big a deal! King develops fully-fleshed out characters and complex situations that are totally removed from his usual fantastical horror creations. It’s a great book from an unexpected source.

How and why did he take the leap to this?

Sorry if you expect me to have the answer here, but…Well, honestly, I don’t know. Boredom?  Desire to write in a more “respectable” genre? Nightmares that wouldn’t rest until he wrote the dreams down?

What I really like here, and what I personally take from this is that we don’t have to be the things we tell ourselves we should or must be—

Horror writer today, historic fiction-writer tomorrow…

Health care worker today, entrepreneur tomorrow…

Bank employee today, college instructor tomorrow…

Concert violinist today, Country fiddle player tomorrow…

Stand aside…I’m making the LEAP!

Ten years ago I was working with bacteria, doing lab tests day in and day out. Throat cultures for Strep, urine cultures for E. coli, vaginal cultures for yeast. It was fun and interesting at the beginning of my career 20 years earlier but it became as boring as watching gonorrhoea bacteria grow.

Computers were just becoming big in clinical labs, and so I took a course on data management and reporting. I learned and learned, and taught myself more and some more still until I became the  lab data expert, another nerdy kind of role. But it was different nerdy. It challenged my mind every day, and now I don’t work with the smelly, yucky specimens. Today, I work in the lab world still, but in a different “country” within the lab. But this world too will grow routine someday soon, and so I’m thinking about where the next challenge lies.

Our lives, like plants in a garden oasis, are living things that need to be thought about, tended, and nurtured. Seasons change, some plants die back, others thrive and grow stronger in the coming spring. We plant fresh seeds.

Change can be a frightening thing, but my experiences have ultimately shown me that it’s exhilarating too. Feelings of disappointment, frustration, loss, or general sadness that go on and on tell me that now is the time to begin the search for the counterbalancing positive to them. Emerson referred to it as the “Law of Compensation”… an opposite condition must emerge to offset the initial condition.

To be in the driver’s seat of change and to make the parachute jump out of the airplane is terrifying and tremendous at the same time. I think that Stephen King- just like you and me who pulls on his or her pants one leg at a time– was needing to feel a brisk, fresh wind in his face, strapped on his parachute, yelled

Today I am…Tomorrow I Can Be…”

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and took the big jump!

HOT Investing Boosts My HOT Libido

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No one heard it, but I screamed inside.

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I lost $25,000 in a minute the day the FBI invaded the corporate offices of YBM Magnex. Evaporated…lost like a whisper in a hurricane (think “Sandy”).

My sex drive went down the sewer with the money! There would be NO Viagra resurrection!

For months I had done my homework and learned everything I could about the publicly-traded company. It used rare earth minerals to produce small magnets used in all sorts of electronic devices. Its sales and profits were skyrocketing. Its share price on the Toronto Stock Exchange was at a bargain price. It was a no-brainer for someone (like me) who knew what they were doing.

Sure, there were some speculative rumours in the press about possible shady dealings; the company brought in outside inspectors and internationally-respected auditing firms to review and inspect their operations. The outside experts put on their visors and pored over the books and then put on hard hats and toured YBM factories in eastern European cities.

CLEAN AS A WHISTLE”

they all said.

BUY BUY BUY”

I said!

And just a few days or weeks later, the FBI burst into their offices and closed down a big Russian money-laundering operation that was the real basis for the company and its success. I had done my homework, and still I kissed my sweet money goodbye. The company, the inspectors, and all of the auditors had kicked my ass. OUCH!

Easy come…easy go…it’s JUST money…

I’ve been a stock market investor for many years. Long gone for me are the days of “hot tips” from friends who know a friend of a cousin whose barber cut the hair of the CEO of something like “Kid Napping Centres“, a hot new daycare operation that would make quadrillions.

One day I would double my money, only to lose it all the following week on another  icy-cold-“hot tip”, another daycare business called…hmmm… let’s call it…”Touching Moments“! Hot tips are like hot flashes…a dark foreboding sign of what you’re about to lose…or, maybe celebrate??

So now, I love spending hours of time reading research and annual reports of possible companies of which I might want to buy a teensy-tiny piece. I read them cover to cover. When I invest, I want to know the ins-and-outs of the business and how and why it makes money… especially how the money it makes will end up in MY pocket. Balance Sheets with little or no debt and robust Cash Flow statements make my blood sing and dance through my arteries with harmonious, happy hemoglobin…! Warren Buffett and Kevin O’Leary would be mighty proud of the digging I do before hitting the BUY button.

Buying shares in good companies that make great products and services, and also make money for their investors is said to increase the libido of the investor. Those graphs they show you with the arrows pointing upwards…that is SO phallic! A contented, affluent capitalist with bucks bursting out of their Armani pockets or Gucci purse, is a lustful, turned-on muchacho(a). Even if they have hair like Donald Trump.

It only makes sense. When we’re happy and content, the state of relaxation that comes with it allows the juices to flow that allow the “juices to flow”, right? Money issues are at the root of many many relationship problems, so it only makes sense that a lack of money concerns leads to a less stressful couple…leading to a more relaxed and more frequent “coupling”.

There’s another tiny zone between the “SEX”es for making good investments…

Sure, sex is complicated. As a heterosexual man, believe me, I know this! This bears repeating…sex is complicated…

A lot of factors are a part of the convoluted puzzle that drives our sexual passions. I could wander off in a myriad of directions talking about hormones, and attraction issues, and busy lifestyles, and health issues, yada yada yada.

But for me, and I stress that I’m only speaking for myself here…making a great investing decision and reaping the rewards of a nice gain in a stock I’ve chosen based on my own independent thinking and research, leads to a pretty fair libidinous leap. How else can I say it…It makes me horny!

About 70% of multimillionaires, a group I definitely am NOT a part of — with a mean net worth of a whopping $90 million — say they enjoy better and more adventurous sex, according to a 2007 survey by Prince & Associates Inc., a marketing research firm. Christian Grey of 50 Shades of Grey fictional fame would definitely qualify in this assemblage…do you think he would be the popular BDSM stud he’s become without the mega-bucks behind him? Poor guys can’t get away with this stuff!

I’m gonna guess that for both men and women, a raging flush of testosterone accompanies a rising share price in their stocks or funds…kind of like the feeling you might get when you ace an exam in school, or your country’s team wins the World Cup, or you get a big tax return cheque in the mail. A win is a win, and to the winner go the spoils. The spoils here culminate in the bedroom celebration, or whatever lubricious location strikes your fancy.

I learned a BIG lesson the day that YBM Magnex crashed and burned, other than that financial shrinkage also brings on shrinkage of another variety…even the responsible ADULTS we believe in and trust don’t always know what they’re talking about.

So…what makes YOU happier…sex or money…or neither?

BUT…Do we really have to choose?