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Variety: Building Your Courage to say YES

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Here’s a joke: I should be a very fit guitar-strumming homeless meth addict with an alcohol dependency and a huge bank account. (It’s alright, I don’t get it either…)

But you know, there is a saying, “you’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with.” 

I’d like to add an addendum… ” and… you’re the average of your five favourite activities/interests.”

My five?

Well… I live in a mixed salad bowl with a rainbow assortment of tasty characters; a potpourri of positive people jumbled together with a hodgepodge of projects and pursuits.

It’s a part of my ADHD approach to life, doing something different each hour of the day so that I don’t feel tediumized.

  • I write blogs
  • I run and swim and go to boot and spin classes, I go yoga stretching.
  • I chop vegetables at the soup kitchen
  • I read books
  • I mix and pour drinks at a Greek Restaurant
  • I play my guitar and sing my songs at Open Mic night
  • I research and buy and sell stocks online
  • I cook ethnic foods
  • I watch movies and eat too much popcorn
  • I tend chickens and gather eggs
  • I smoke cigars.

Variety.

variety

I thrive on variety.

Variety in the things I do and the people I hang around with.

I’m like my backyard chickens. Cluck cluck.

The girls are a worry right now because I see some unfriendly pecking going on in the hen’s yard.

Chickens are cannibals by nature.

They like to eat their own eggs. They like to eat their friends. A bored hen gets her jollies by picking and pecking on her friends and relatives.

Chickens need stimulation. VARIETY.

I’ve thrown some jingly cat toys in the yard to distract them from playing KFC on each other.

I need jingly things too. VARIETY.

I glaze over easily when I’m lacking stimulation and start to peck at the other birds of my tribe just because they’re there.

Not on you. Other people.

I don’t want to be a cannibal so I desperately seek variety. Variety in life means saying YES.

I spent most of my life saying NO… NO was the easy way to live. I became an expert at saying NO… I lived in fear of the YES word.

I grew up and became a (semi-)functioning adult when I finished Mohawk College in Hamilton at the age of 19.

I was offered 2 lab jobs on the same day.

One was in the Blood Bank of the hospital where I had just interned for a year; the other was a general lab position in pocket-sized Stanton Yellowknife Hospital in chilly northern Yellowknife, NWT.

Male and Female Logic

My scientific logical NO head said, “Larry, be realistic, take the safe and easy job here at home”.

My firework-laden, emotional YES heart said, “Larry, this is your chance, choose the unknown and go dance beneath the Northern Lights.”

I held my breath and hesitantly mumbled YES.

I think the fear we feel when we say NO is different from the fear we experience when we say YES.

The fear that holds the hand of NO is a running away fear.

The fear that makes love to YES is the fear of running towards something.

YES fear is better than NO fear, isn’t it?

freedom-of-fear

More and more I find I’m trying to grasp ahold of the YES fear…

I’m not the guy I was 10, 20, 30 years ago.

I want to experience the amazingly diverse world around me, sample the flavours of life, roll them sensuously over and around my tongue to feel and touch and taste those things foreign and different.

I want my heart to race with restorative enthusiasm and excitement and a beguiling anticipation of the unknown.

YES to Volcano surfing, YES to Snake Wine, YES to becoming a Bartender. YES. YES. YES.

Now I see you nodding your head, tsk-tsk’ing, and thinking I’ve gone all looney-tunes… well, you’re right, but let’s step back a second.

I am saying YES more… yup… but not an indiscriminate YES. I won’t say YES to everything.

Here’s a tiny example: When I write this weekly blog, it usually takes a bit of time and thought before I settle on a topic I want to pin to the wrestling canvas and put my eye to the telescope and zoom in more closely.

I don’t jump out of my chair and yell an orgasmic YES – like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally – to the first seed that feels its heart beat, then germinates and pops its head above the soil.

I know I’ll say YES eventually… eventually… once I’ve marched each potential idea up and down the echoing halls inside my head, turning them over and over before I finally begin to sense a stiffening VIAGRA-like boost of enthusiasm for the one.

YES!

Those “ADHD” things I do that I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They all began in the sparkling infinite stars-in-the-universe of ideas and possibilities. There is no counting the beautiful stars in an inky sky just as there is no counting the galaxy of ideas and pursuits. It only takes one YES to find and develop momentum.

Go ahead, choose another venture… another ADventure.

One by one the whirling, expanding universe hurls the losers out of the murky cloud of the Milky Way. A shortlist survives the onslaught and the strong gravitational force draws me into its orbit of excitement.

I’m just an average guy who dreams and schemes of finding extraordinary moments that lie hidden within an ordinary life waiting to be discovered, like a ravenous tiger concealed in the underbrush, patiently aware and ready for a tasty morsel to pass his way.

The best way I’ve found to unearth the extraordinary in a day is in seeking variety and being open to the unmapped journey, willing to travel down unknown side streets and paths that aren’t part of life’s standard itinerary.

Courage begins as a little thing that helps small people cast large shadows.

That’s why I’m reminding myself that YES fear is better than NO fear.

child shadow

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My Trivial Mind and How I Came To Love Alex Trebek…

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jeopardy-contestants

I’ll take STUD MUFFINS for $600 please Alex

(Who is Tom Cruise? Wrong! Liam Hemsworth? Sorry!! Larry Green? In your dreams MAN ON THE FRINGE!!!)

If I were GOOGLE and you asked me that JEOPARDY question… you know I’d say, “I’m feeling lucky.

Hi… my name is Larry and I’m a… Jeopardyaholic. It’s a sickness I’ll never fully overcome, HIV of the trivia mind.

As Mini-Me I loved staying home sick from school (“Mom, my tummy hurts, do I have to go to school today?” … it rarely worked) watching old time game shows like What’s My Line, Password, Concentration, The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game (I fell in love with a new young Miss every episode).

I liked them all but my very very favourite was always… you guessed it… JEOPARDY!

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Jeopardy was Trivial Pursuit long before that board game was ever in diapers.

First aired in 1964, Merv Griffin was Jeopardy’s creator and Art Fleming was the host in those days.

I know I’m not alone in my dependency. Like alcoholics and gamblers and sex addicts, there are millions of us Jeopardyaholics out there.

It’s been building for years… like booze and drugs it’s a nasty disease that the TV networks won’t remove from the air because there’s too much money to be made.

Just look at Ken Jennings (whaddya mean, who the hell is Ken Jennings?)… he triumphantly made over $2.5 million in winning 74 consecutive matches. He’s a very sick man who will never recover.

Of course today’s 74 year-old host Alex Trebek cheats… he’s given all the answers (sorry, QUESTIONS!) and he still makes $10 million per year.

trebek and jennings

Alex and the Big Kahuna winner Ken Jennings… Mahalo nui loa!!

When I hear the “THINK!” music – you know the Think music… that 30 second ditty that carves its way into your cerebral cortex like the little slime-covered larva (Ceti Eel) from some Star Trek movie – I immediately begin sweating in wonder worry, the anticipatory fever of second guessing my final answer.

I’ll not be modest here. I have a pretty good head for trifles and non-essentials.

Important stuff? Not so much.

I hold in high esteem the minds of those who can remember, assimilate and understand gene patterns and physics laws and philosophical treatises. I do.

In my previous lab life, I had swollen hot-air balloons full of respect for the scholarly genius of some of the technologists and physicians I worked with over 37 years.

I suffered from IS… Impostor Syndrome.

I felt like a white-coated fraudster when I compared myself to many of my colleagues. I was a rocket scientist who doesn’t know the sea from the sky.

Our world would be The Planet of the Apes if it weren’t for advanced thinkers.

 We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.

Stephen Hawking

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No Stephen, I can’t understand the universe.

I get the simple stuff.

I’ve always been pretty good at remembering and storing trivia, then regurgitating it back up.

I am the perfect Jeopardy contestant.

I can dress pretty and enter the swimsuit portion of the “Brain Game” of life’s pageant, but please don’t ask me how we’ll bring about World Peace.

The important, complex facts and ideas never seem to get enmeshed in the glomerular kidney filters of my mind… instead there are simple rainbow fields of delicate, spice and honey-scented flowers where upright architecturally-firm buildings should stand.

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time became an extremely brief history of reading and remembering for me. A fleet enema of incomprehension rushed like a raging tsunami through my brain and absolutely nothing remained in its after-flush.

Merely knowing that I’m writing about a game show this week shows how superficially shallow my mind surfs the much deeper waves of our ocean.

The bottom line here is that in the past year or so I’ve entertained the nutty notion of applying to be a contestant on Jeopardy.

I’ve seen many Canadians (including Alex Trebek himself) standing onstage going toe-to-toe with the more-typically American contestants.

Even one of my Hamilton Tiger Cat football players was a contestant recently (he was viciously mowed down by the knowledgable rush of the other players… Yup, smoked!).

But now, in a Trump-like gesture, an American version of Checkpoint Charlie has set up a wall to us friendly Canadian “eh-sayers”.

In the past few months, the producers of Jeopardy – in perhaps a “saving grace” action, saving my and my family’s personal red-faced embarrassment – have disallowed Canadians from applying online, citing new Canadian privacy rules regarding personal information on the Internet.

Nope, Canadians need not apply.

I feel hurt, unloved, ditched in the dumpster heartbroken… but perhaps… just a teensy relieved too.

But will I give up the fight? Nope…

It’s time to make lemonade from lemons.

If they don’t want this poor small peanuts Canadian competing against brilliant hordes of American experts? Fine.

flash forward

*FLASH FORWARD A COUPLE OF YEARS*

Alex Trebek looks tired and weary, like an aged prize fighter in the later rounds; remarkably robust yet worn down from too many answers and not enough questions.

It’s his time for Freedom 75.

So one day soon you’ll set your dog-tired ass down after dinner and flick on the TV set to catch a little R&R at the end of a trying workday.

Hmmmmm… Jeopardy? Why not?

The opening music swells as Johnny Gilbert eagerly announces the names of today’s 3 contestants … and then…

and here’s your NEW host… Larry Green”

Together, hand-in-hand, Alex Trebek and I stroll onto the stage, resplendent in our pressed and starched tuxedos…

… after a few fond words of congratulatory celebration… I give Alex a big farewell kiss on the lips – he’s still a handsome, sexy man after all, and I don’t mind kissing him since he’s shaved off his moustache…

… and then, I take my rightful “Walter Mitty” position behind the host’s lectern, breath a sigh of satisfied triumph, then read out the first category title… CANADIAN STUD MUFFINS

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Postscript: Wanna test your Jeopardy trivia skills online daily? Try this link

8 Things I Love About Graveyards

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Consider, friend, as you pass by: 

As you are now, so once was I. 

As I am now, you too shall be. 

Prepare, therefore, to follow me.”

huxley-cemetery

Air too sweet to inhale… ground too soft to tread upon… landscape too serenely beautiful to gaze at… Northern Cardinal song too bittersweet to gather.

If ever a place inhabits a mortal emotion, Huxley Cemetery in Hillsburg Ontario is my soulful home… and for reasons I may never truly understand.

The sense of calm, peace, reverence that seeps into me when I pass through its old wrought-iron gates is mystical and surreal… unexplainable.

I pass through the gate contemplatively, the soft grass beneath my feet still slightly damp with dew, inhaling the wild rose scent in the slightly humid air, even this early in the morning. Looking outward, the surrounding hills roll softly towards the horizon with luxuriant green crop growth.

In the stillness, I feel my grandmother Maggie Miller’s work-leathered hand take mine gently and walk me beneath the green, billowy elm trees, between the mixture of tall and squat headstones, her unearthly voice is the mild breeze that brushes my cheeks like a delicate kiss.

The only contact I’ve ever shared with my mother’s Mom is here in Huxley Cemetery, her heart long stopped beating before my birth. But it’s here that I feel her presence more than anywhere else.

She speaks to me in a hush as she points, “This is your Uncle Lloyd’s resting spot, he was such a scamp as a young boy, a smile that would melt any girl’s heart, including his own mother’s.” Uncle Lloyd was my favourite uncle with his gentle laughter and kind heart. Comfortable.

Despite the early morning and not so hot just yet, a couple of noisy cicadas call back and forth to each other from up in the elms. Early risers. Slender spokes of sunshine shoot through the tree branches highlighting script on some of the solid, upright markers.

We wander by many Miller, Gray, Mullin, and O’Reilly memorial headstones, some upright and statuesque, others cold and squat dark granite, all weathered but the carved names and dates still easily readable in the bright sunshine. All the Janes and Williams and Patricks and Sarahs, a litany of Irish heritage.

“Here’s your Great-Aunt Jennie’s – my big sister’s – resting place. Jennie and her husband Bill ran a nearby fish hatchery for years.” I remembered back to summer trips to visit Aunt Jennie and the ponds filled with wiggling trout, like moist earthworms on a driveway after an evening rain.

As a child I visited Huxley Cemetery on more than one occasion: annual visits with Mom and Dad to absorb the presence of Mom’s parents, Will and Maggie, their brothers and sisters; cousins dead from untreatable consumption and tragic farm accidents; funeral processions for Aunt Mabel and Uncle Lloyd.

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Myself with sister Betty and brother Robert visiting our grandparents’ grave.

Cemeteries – graveyards – are places to cry and smile and regret and laugh and reflect. Nowhere else can you discern the presence of your own ancestral past and a perspective of your personal vista laying before you better than in a cemetery.

Your focus becomes concentrated and consumed by thoughts of those you knew, or know of, and the people they must have been. Ordinary folks that feel almost legendary because their names are cast in stone like Napoleon or Shakespeare.

Merely knowing that they lived and breathed, laughed, farted, argued and ate lunch in the same way in their day that we do in this minute is humbling.

“The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Adonais

Over the years, I’ve savoured small snapshots in time leisurely roaming through graveyards of varying fashions:

… the gleaming bleached-white above-ground Havana cemetery that is as large as a small city.

… glass-fronted nichos in Cusco, Peru, little mortuary apartment buildings of the deceased where personal treasures are displayed as a poignant reminder of the person that once was.

… Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Stoney Creek, Ontario where my Mom and Dad lie resting on a smooth grassy rise.

… the Civil War cemeteries in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where 150 years back, just 3 days of battle produced a frightening 50,000 casualties, close to 8,000 dead, row after row of identical grave markers.

… the worn graveyard in Halifax, Nova Scotia where many of the 2,000 victims of the 1917 Halifax Harbour Explosion lie buried.

… the ancient Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris where 1 million souls are laid to rest including Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf.

Yup, I’m kind of a tombstone tourist.

Despite their ghoulish morbid reputation, graveyards – outdoor warehouses of expired humanity – hold an appeal for me for a lot of reasons. Here are just 8:

  1. Park-like. The pastoral beauty of majestic trees and grand sweeping lawns provides visual and sensual meditation, a place of tranquil repose for both the dead and the living.
  2. Reminder of our own mortality – it’s often said to us that we should live our lives as if we were going to die tomorrow. No place on earth is a better reminder of our mortality and the need to feel gratitude daily than a cemetery filled with long departed souls.
  3. Reminder of our loved ones – a cemetery takes us to the central heart of our lives, our heritage. Our daily activities take us far away from the ones we knew and treasured. In a graveyard, our hearts and heads return in reflection to our roots. Our own lives would never have come to be without the names we read on the grave markers.
  4. Great to see our enemies gone. Yes, we should all love our fellow human travellers, and especially so after their passing… I suppose. But… I can’t be quite so altruistically giving and so there are names carved on tombstones that are welcome additions: sometimes miserable sots who made our existence a trial, or those whom, in true evil, belong on the fiery road to hell. I’ll refrain from mentioning names here, but we all have a shortlist of those we’d prefer to see swept into the “dust to dust, ashes to ashes” file.
  5. Peace. Since cemeteries are generally so quiet, they’re a good place to go when I’m seeking serenity.
  6. Beauty of mankind’s constructions. Often set next to beautiful old churches, graveyards tell of the amazing skill and creative force that humanity engenders – limestone grey church walls rising to the sky filled with rainbow hues of stained glass, sunlight streaming through to the sacred place within. Then too the variety of grave markers – the stone used, the lamenting… sometimes bright… messages and poetry that pay testament to the passed.
  7. Stimulates our sense of ghouls and ghosts and fear. We mortals, still of the flesh and blood, derive a bizarre and supernatural pleasure occasionally from those things that make the hair stand up on the back of our necks, the unnatural thrill of plunging down a rollercoaster of containable fear.
  8. Focus on the Future – There’s nothing quite like standing in a cemetery – a bibliography of the past – surrounded by reminders of the fragility of your existence and pondering your future direction. You have a silent audience of departed souls to remind you that your choices matter.

One day you and I will possibly… probably… make an irrevocable last visit to a grassy graveyard, captured for eternity in a solid wooden box, a brassy urn  – our final stop on the tour, walking silently in the footsteps of our grandparents…

And as much as I love graveyards, I still play out my grand plan for holding that last visit at bay consisting of the 3 C’s… lots of Chocolate, Caffeine, and Carnal Activity (is that akin to Wine, Women and Song?).

Finally, I’ll leave you today with an old Canadian folk song (1864) that I sing at family gatherings in honour of my late grandmother Margaret Ann (Maggie) Gray-Miller:

I wandered today to the hill, Maggie
To watch the scene below-
The creek and the creaking old mill, Maggie
As we used to long, long ago

The green grove is gone from the hill, Maggie
Where first the daisies sprung
The creaking old mill is still, Maggie
Since you and I were young

And now we are aged and grey, Maggie
And the trials of life are nearly done
Let us sing of the days that are gone, Maggie
When You and I were young

A city so silent and lone, Maggie
Where the young, and the gay, and the best
In polished white mansions of stone, Maggie
Have each found a place to rest
Is built where the birds used to play, Maggie
And join in the songs that we sung
For we sang as lovely as they, Maggie
when you and I were young.

Oh, they say we are aged and grey, Maggie
As sprays by the white breakers flung
But to me, you’re as fair as you were, Maggie
When you and I were young

 

“I told you I was ill.”

Spike Milligan

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We’re Only BIG Kids…

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“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
—Flannery O’Connor

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Sleep is the new …

Do you ever wake up with library stack volumes of penetrating thoughts, insightful ideas, nagging worries… racing around the Indianapolis Speedway in your head?

Of course you do. We all do. Some to far greater extents than others.

The Speedway motor sounds are far too deafening to catch any more sleep and the racing cars keep knocking over the sheep you were counting jumping a fence.

Once the green START flag is raised, you might as well hold up the white flag of surrender and give up on any further zzzz‘s for that night.

I spent a good couple of hours during my “sleep time” a couple nights back reflecting, thinking foggy mountain circles on what I might write about this week.

This is a bit unusual for me. Tap tap tap.

More typically a blog topic idea comes fairly quickly at the start of each week; something catches my eye or my quirky imagination and then it’s my job to whip out a trusty lasso and wrangle the thought, the image, the idea into submission.

After doing this a couple of hundred times now, it’s rarely that difficult to electrify bright luminescence from the light bulb floating above my head.

My ADHD mind winds along the railway tracks, surmounting craggy hills, plunging down through lush green valleys, then presses through some dense Coquihalla fog as my writerly passageway gathers momentum and fills with a multitude of varying tangents… investing, running and other exercise modalities, gardening, writing, music writing and guitar playing, building things, Kama Sutra positions.

I try to read a lot of varied articles and book chapters to stimulate my thoughts, procreating the idea sex that directs me somewhere useful from a blog writing perspective.

This week the idea train had difficulty finding the station. I know it seems impossible, there being guiding tracks and all – clickety-clack – but nonetheless I struggled. A minor case of writer’s constipation?

Where did I end up when the train finally did pull into the station?

No dead ends.

1960 playground

CHILDHOOD

Back to childhood thoughts.

Eager boyhood dreams filled with impressions and memories about the innocent playfulness and the reality of childhood, then gazing into the grown-up future and living, loving and working as a big person.

I was virginally green, wide-eyed.

I thought big people were infallible.

Always right.

All knowing.

To be totally trusted.

Kind of like human forms of the God I heard and sang hymns about in church. I could have been abducted so easily, but then… who would have wanted me, this cherubic little hockey-playing paperboy?

It never occurred to me until years later – and it came as a shocking surprise I have to add – that grown-ups were… really… wait for it… little kids in big people clothes. Yup.

I could have written that 1988 movie “BIG” that starred Tom Hanks (I’m still dying to get a floor model piano that you play by jumping with your whole body) as a kid in a man-sized body playing in an adult world.

It hit the nail on the head.

We’re kids still inside, fallible, and nervously wondering if we have the right answers to the test questions.

big piano

The grassy playground beside my elementary school, Glen Echo, was a precursor, a SimLife preview of grown-up reality charged with more responsibilities and worries.

Years passed by and I grew bigger and older but I was still hopeful little Larry Green running around on the green park grass chasing after the Lucy-held football like Charlie Brown… chasing after the cute little Red-Haired Girl looking for love and affection… chasing after good marks in Arithmetic and Social Studies that would please my teacher Mrs. Putns… chasing after the excited crowd on the playground circling around one of the bigger bullies beating the bloody-nosed tar out of some poor pint-sized kid… chasing after a few dollars from my Hamilton Spectator paper route so I could buy that beautiful shiny bike with the banana seat (I soooo loved my bike with the banana seat!)

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What a gorgeous banana seat!

One day we wake up in an office cubicle or behind a cash register or computer keyboard.

Now we’re the grown-up. (Cue Elton John’s Circle of Life!)

The expectation and belief that adult-life is, would, be perfection and all-knowing is long gone in the realization that the playground grass has wilted but the players are pretty much still the same. It’s not a bad thing, rather only an eye-opening observation that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

We spend our years in cycles, patterns that replay from childhood to grave.

Within those patterns from time to time we experience the very human but mysterious deja-vu sensation, a memory of a flower’s perfumed scent from summer camp, a flush of arousal reminiscent of a teenage kiss, a catchy song chorus that transports us to Grade 9 math class.

Forget Elton John, cast aside the Pride Rock scenario.

My BIG dream, once I finally fell asleep the other early morning was filled with another song.

Harry Chapin sang, “All My Life’s a Circle“,

All my life’s a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
The moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.

All my life’s a circle;
But I can’t tell you why;
Season’s spinning round again;
The years keep rollin’ by.

It seems like I’ve been here before;
I can’t remember when;
But I have this funny feeling;
That we’ll all be together again.
No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;

There’s no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.

moon road