Life flash

– Gerard Way

OK, I’m not the SuperHero I make myself out to be.

No Oscars, no Emmys, no Grammys. NOPE. No tony international agency will declare 2014 as the year I accomplished everything I set out to do and then some.

But on the other hand, I did do some pretty cool things.

  • I felt blood rushing into my ears as I screamed like a little kid while ziplining a hundred metres above a rock-strewn canyon.
  • I dressed top to bottom in funky, furry green and played a chilly Mr. Grinch for thousands of passersby.
  • I wrote (and sang) songs with joy – sometimes sorrow – and passion in my musical heart.
  • I stood on the grey-clouded shores of north Africa and looked out on the endless Atlantic Ocean as Humphrey Bogart did years ago in Casablanca. And in Marrakesh, I sat naked in a Hammam (Moroccan spa) amongst locals before being propositioned by a male prostitute.
  • I perched on Arizona’s southern edge of the immense Grand Canyon – giant Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons soaring overhead and below.
  • I said so long to a 37-year long career as a Medical Lab Technologist and many wonderful co-workers that I enjoyed more than the work itself.

But all joy and cool things must be interspersed with sorrow and, as we all do in various measures, I said a few sad goodbyes to family members and friends who shared their life’s journey with me – giving to me, often without ever knowing.

If you’ve travelled this blog road with me a little – or a lot – you’ll perhaps know that I take stock of my life at the end of each year, reviewing where I’ve been, and charting a course for whatever mild flowing river or ferocious bounding seas that lie ahead.

It’s some instructive fun for me and I hope it gives you pause to think about the direction of your life.

I’ve come to an age and a stage where I know my productive, active years are passing quickly through the sands of time and there’s a touch more sand in the bottom of my hourglass than there is on the top. So, an urgency passes through me to see, do, taste, love, smell, grab a hold of … what I can while I can.

I’m a happy, lucky dude with the amazingly good fortune to live in a time and space that allows me to jump into my passions with fervour … today I’m healthy and alive so what more could I ask for?

Well, to answer my own question, I need to pursue another year’s worth of goals. Goals are what and who I am.

Next week, I’ll pull out my New Year’s Crystal Ball and go through my list of 2015 BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

But first, this week, let’s have a look back at the year of 2014 and get a sense of where I held up my end of the bargain I made with myself and where I let myself down. The dark type below is my 2014 goals as I wrote them a year ago, and the blue is the year-end results: positive or negative: pretty, ugly or indifferent.

On Casablanca Atlantic shores...

Playing Air Piano On Casablanca’s Atlantic shores…

2014 GOALS

BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and LFEG’s (Little Fuzzy Everyday Goals)

1. PHYSICAL/HEALTH

a) 100 burpees including pushups. I’m going at this lung-busting challenge with a few of my co-workers, so we can all DIE together. Most people I know, including me, hate the BURPEE. It’s hard once you get past 3 or 4 of these up/down/pushup/jump contortions, which is exactly why I’m doing it. I’ll enjoy the pain … afterwards!

RESULT? For once, procrastination was put aside and my friend Pam (who I did 100 non-stop pushups with last year) and I conquered this challenge by the end of July, adding 10 Burpees each couple of weeks until we hit the 100. They’re oh-so-tough but oh-so-satisfying. To kick it up a notch we could have pushed further by doing the 100 in less and less time, but instead we chose to move on to other physical challenges for variety. 

b) 2 more New-To-Me Sports (eg. Paintball, Kickboxing …). It’s important to keep refreshed with new things to keep our enthusiasm levels high. If you have any great suggestions for innovative new sports I can try… add your comment at the end, OK? Pole dancing is NOT an acceptable suggestion for this dude.

Sports? Hmmm … how about physical adventures? In one fine August week I joined Irish cousin visitors for a zipline cruise above deep, rocky canyons, then flew skyward overlooking Okanagan Lake with the help of a parachute towed behind a boat. 

c) Run 2 Half Marathons – both in sub-2 Hour time and as a stretch goal, finishing one in sub-1 hr and 55 minutes. Half marathon running is the perfect distance for feeling a sense of accomplishment without having to give over your life to training.

YUP… well … NOPE. I ran through torrential Vancouver spring rains in one half marathon (Time: 1 hr. 58 mins) then began another race in Penticton 2 weeks later but withdrew from the event after 5 kilometres with a painful calf muscle. My spirit is ALWAYS willing, but could someone please talk to the flesh …

d) Lose Enough Weight to See the Subtle Signs of a 6 pack Abs.- I work hard in training. A lot of that work includes the core (ie. Abdominal muscles). Isn’t it fair that I should see even a tiny ripple or two of ripped muscle that says that yes, it’s finally paying off?

Muscle definition is one part health-related stuff to one part ego matter, and my ego needs a teensy little meal to feed on here. I don’t have an actual weight loss goal, just enough to see the small sandbar ripples in the mirror.

Yes and No … I did drop a few pounds over the course of the year which is the ultimate key to a 6 pack, so if I tense my ab muscles REALLY hard I can see subtle signs of ripple if I tilt my head in just the right direction. Alas, the young lads on the beach have little to admire in my 6 pack (unless it’s labelled MOLSON).

2. CHARITABLE

a) 10% Charitable boost – I’m so lucky to have won the life lottery that gives me an unbelievable lifestyle. Supporting charities  (Plan International /UNICEF) that assist in enabling others to proudly develop their own systems and economies to live the way I can is a tiny tiny price to pay.

TOO Easy… this one gets done in the first week of January each year with 2 phone calls … to label this a goal achieved is really an overstatement, but because sharing is so important, it needs to be here. CHECK! 

b) Buy a coffee for the next person in the lineup at Tim Hortons once per month – Coffee is mentioned in the Tim Commandments given Moses:

Thou shalt be provided and drink coffee in healthful abundance“.

Huh, it’s not a commandment? Really? Well it should be.

Oh BOY I’m bad … I forget about this one so often despite it being so simple … maybe it’s the lack of caffeine in my system. Anyway, I can go for 3 or 4 months without doing this, so I have to make up for it by tossing a twoonie ($2 for the non-Canadians out there) through the Tim Hortons drive-thru window on consecutive visits to make up for lost time. I’ve had this happen to me on one or two occasions before and it brought a smile to my face, so I hope others have had the same experience when I leave my $2 behind for them …

3. WRITING

a) 50 Additional Blog Posts + 40 views/day on blog 

I’m not the most stylishly eloquent guy when it comes to verbal communication. In some ways, I suck at the whole talk thing.

That leaves writing as my favoured way of expressing what I have to say. A weekly blog allows me to think about and ponder the things that are meaningful to me, and then allows me to share my thoughts with you.

BIG YES! I love writing my blog posts. All 51 that I wrote in 2014. Fifty-two if you count this one.

I love the challenge of thinking of ideas to share. I love the focus of pulling disparate thoughts together into one cohesive whole. I love it that blog writing helps me to consider my beliefs in a deeper way than I might otherwise. I love exploring and teasing with sometimes naughty thoughts. And I love that many of you take the time to read and respond to what I have to say … thank you!

40 views per day as a goal? I remember a year ago when more than 20 views of my blog posts was a good day. The year 2014 brought me 20,000 readers meaning the daily average for 2014 is… drum roll please…. 54 views. From 149 countries. My most viewed post of the year? Your Castration Awaits: 8 Reasons Women Will Dominate Men in the 21st Century.

b) Take on Writing Another Novel – this past November (2013) I participated in the month long National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an internet-based 50,000 word novel-writing challenge.

It’s free, it’s motivating, and they give you lots of feedback and encouragement. I wrote about 2/3 of a novel that is really bad, but I loved doing it.

I’m psyched to take it on again and make my own sexy 50 Shades of Green.

WOW… a total MISS. The focus needed to make a novel materialize on a screen or page was directed elsewhere in 2014. As the year moved along, my passions became more intensified in the area of songwriting.

Songwriting takes time, lots of time.

Writing novels takes time, lots of time.

Songwriting was the winner of the battle and National Novel Writing Month was something I merely observed as an outsider. It was a worthwhile sacrifice in my eyes. But I hope to visit and participate in the writing challenge once again in future days.

4.  MUSICAL 

a) Purchase 12-string guitar – The guitar has been one of my best friends in life. It’s been there all through the peaks and valleys. But sometimes, a song just needs a little more depth than 6 strings radiate and a 12-string guitar can add that richness, like a teaspoon of full-fat cream in coffee.

ALMOST! I’ve been on the hunt, doing my research, trying out various 12-string models for the best sound, great projection, soft, easy action on the strings. I think I’m gonna have to pull the trigger on this goal early in 2015, so listen for the strains of Hotel California wafting in the breeze, OK?

b) Purchase a Baby Grand Piano – This is probably not a goal that will be attained this year, but it’s too important in my mind to not at least put it on the list for the next year or two.

Piano is a great late-night instrument that satisfies my spirituality needs. Singing a love ballad on a richly-toned grand in the semi-darkness at 11 pm. …well, it just soothes my savage soul.

I called this one right when I said it likely wouldn’t happen in 2014. It didn’t. But it won’t be coming off my list because the rich tones of a lovely piano are life-enhancing, the musical equivalent of sipping from the Holy Grail.

c) Learn more mandolin – I got a lovely mandolin gift last year. Like a 12-string guitar, the double sets of strings on a mandolin add musical dimensions that lift us dreamily towards the heavens. It’s time to give a bit of quality time and develop at least a minimal skill set.

A big SORTA. I did play the mandolin some. I did improve a little. But really, I do need to spend more “quality time” with this instrument if I ever hope to come close to the picking abilities of my friend Jimmy Ferguson in Oregon. The nice thing about mandolin is that I can pick a few notes in the background as accompaniment to develop some depth when I’m recording songs with my guitar as the prime instrument.

d) Write 6 more Songs and perform original songs publically. Writing songs is hard, but rewarding. For variety I’d like to write 2 country, 2 folk-ballad, 1  jazzy, and 1 rock’ish-style. This should stretch my imagination and creativity skills to the breaking point.

YES. I did write at least 6 songs and had a great time pushing into this underdeveloped area of my creative “me”. I’m so excited about this that I hope to spend even more time trying to get my 1,000 hours (10,000 hours is way too much for this ADHD dude) of practice in. Here’s a little teaser of a song I wrote (and play/sing) about an old songwriting hero of mine, Harry Chapin… Only Half a Lifetime

Performing publically is nervously challenging but fun. But now, finding the steely nerves to take my own songs to a stage and perform them publically is, for me, a huge leap. 2014 is the year for me to brace myself and do this. Besides, why should only my family suffer through hearing my dulcet vocal tones!

NOPE. This didn’t happen but I know I’m ready to climb the stairs to the stage of public performances of my own works. I’m feeling more confident than I ever have and I look forward to the sky-high adrenaline boost when the day arrives.

5. TRAVEL 

a) Visit at least 5 more American States – one of my long term goals is to visit each of the 50 American States – I’ve visited all of the Canadian provinces and territories in previous years. Last year I wandered and added 9 states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and DC) to my list that includes 9 others. This year I hope to knock off a bunch of western U.S. States and make it near to the halfway point.

DONE … CHECK! This fall we wandered south for a road trip on the western side of this continent… add Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to the finished side of the ledger – I felt the unfettered joy of legally driving at 140 kph in Utah and Idaho. 

IMG_4568

Grand Canyon

 

b) Touch Ground on One More Continent – One more of my long-term goals is to step on each of the continents. Africa, Australia, and Antarctica are out there calling my name like sweet sirens in the mist. See next item…

AGAIN…CHECK! Africa has been breached, although it only counts as a taste. Morocco sits atop the African continent leaving a HUGE land mass beneath to be seen and “tasted”.

c) Buy a Fez Hat in Fez, Morocco + get my hair cut by a “Barber in Seville” – A touchdown in Morocco this year would take me to the African continent, and allow me the opportunity to do a couple of things that are iconic of the area: Visit Casablanca and talk like Humphrey Bogart, buy the Fez hat that Steely Dan sang about in the 1970’s , and while in Spain, be sheared like Rossini’s famed Barber of Seville.

I’m on a roll … CHECK! While in Casablanca, I passed by Rick’s Cafe where Humphrey Bogart hung out, I bought a FEZ hat overlooking the medina of Fez, then crossed the Strait of Gibraltar where I had my locks shorn by a Barber of Sevilla. A trifecta accomplished!

6. MENTAL/EDUCATIONAL

a) Listen to at least 1 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk per month – I’d be hard-pressed to find a finer source of creative and thought-provoking material than is found in the inspiring TED talks. This is a Lego-block piece of the grey-matter material that makes the internet so great.

The end of that roll… NOPE. I listened to maybe 3 or 4 talks over the year but didn’t prioritize this sufficiently. I love inspirational journeys by those who have lived to talk of their great experiences. Now I need to walk the talk and listen to their talks. Got that?

b) Read at least one new book each month – whether it’s for escape or education or relaxation, books (PAPER or ELECTRONIC) are one of life’s wonders more crucial and dear to most of us than the physical 7 Wonders of the World.

Thanks to KOBO (electronic reader) and their 15%, 20%, 30% discounts, I’ve been sucked in, totally seduced into purchasing and reading books regularly. What is really nice is that I’m reading more fiction than I’ve read in years. Three of my favourite reads (2 fiction, 1 non-fiction) this year have been Jodi Picault’s Nineteen Minutes , Joshilyn Jackson’s gods in Alabama, and Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing – The Perils and Pleasures of A Creative Life.

7. FINANCIAL

a) 15% return – Each year, my goal is to bring home an additional 15% on my investments.

And each year I start out feeling nervous as hell because no matter how well I did the previous year, January 1 is right back to the starting blocks. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day and each year I have to prove my investing chops all over again as if last year never happened.

My 5-year average annual return is looking pretty fair at 22.7%  but then when you cook in the 2008 stock market plunge, my 10-year annual average is only 12.4%.

OK, I can breathe again as the year comes to a close.

The goal? 15% overall return.

The final tally with 3 market days remaining in the year? 15.2% … whew!!

My investing choices this year largely concentrated in the higher tech area, which is unusual for me. However, looking at the financial results for companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Intel made these easy choices given their ability to print huge $$ and Mr. Market not giving them credit for their huge sales. A buyout of Tim Hortons by Burger King late in the year didn’t hurt my results any either, although it did bruise my delicate Canadian psyche.

b) Retire, Debt-Free –  The year 2014 is my “Freedom 57″ year.

I hate the word retirement, it’s kinda like saying “I’m done with life“. We live in a golden age with countless choices of paths to wander.

As Yogi Berra said: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Retirement is just another fork in the road, and I’m choosing to take it.

I DO hate the word retirement, but for now, let’s just go with it and say that YES, it happened in 2014. I turned 57 on my last day as a paid laboratory technologist… ate some wonderful “BYE BYE PIES” with my wonderful colleagues to celebrate, then walked away after 37 years spent in labs from Ontario, to the Northwest Territories, to B.C. DEBT-FREE.

8. FOOD & EATING

a) Eat at least one box of Kraft Dinner per month – mmmmm. Kraft Dinner. God’s flavourful gift to men. Like the humour of Monty Python, Kraft dinner seems to be favoured by the male set. With or without ketchup, it’s a simple box of orange-hued macaroni ambrosia.

EASY PEASY … CHECK!… Need I say more!! A boy’s KD dream come true …

b) Drink Coffee with Only One Sugar – to counteract the ill effects of all that delicious Kraft Dinner, I’ll resolve this year to scale back my sugar (and/or Splenda) use. A couple of years back I shed my Canadian-ness by cutting back the double cream to a single dose in my coffee. This year will be the year of my sugar assault.

AND finally, one last CHECK! A few stalks of Caribbean sugar cane have lived this past year to tell their sweet story to their GrandCanes because of my daily sacrifice of the white stuff. But the sugar assault ends here … chocolate will never be so lucky to escape my clutches!

………………..

So, there you have a year all balled up like a pair of comfy, favourite socks and gently placed in a time drawer.

Why don’t you come back next week, and we’ll bang our heads together to plan out BHAG’s and LFEG’s for a fantastic 2015, shall we?

 

Well that sucked

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