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The Outsiders

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It’s an ugly truth.

Show me the food and I’m there.

For the past month, I’ve been crash-learning to become an instructor, but a sidebar to this story is that I’ll pretty much go anywhere they promise to feed me.

You see I’m in the midst of a 5 session tutor-training program at my local college campus. Cookies, muffins and coffee are provided as a courtesy and an incentive. Damn it, they know me well.

I’m hammering away at becoming a volunteer tutor to literacy-challenged adults (verbalizing the word illiterate doesn’t conform to modern polite discussion I’m told) and since I have a passion for reading and writing, it feels like a perfect Cinderella glass-slipper fit.

Cinderella? CinderFella?… as per my usual state in life, once again I find myself in a classroom surrounded by women. Seven or 8 women, all shapes and sizes, all sharply intelligent, aged between about 30 and 70 years.

YUP, no men… NADA… just me as the solo Testoster-lad. I look around the room and discover myself in that “Familiar as my own face in the glass; as the speech of my own tongue” (Victor Hugo).- role of describing myself as the token male in the group.

I’m an outsider.

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I’m surprised there aren’t some men involved. It seems that almost everything I associate myself with (laboratory career, yoga, spin/boot camp classes, soup kitchen, chick flicks) becomes a hen party where I’m frequently the solitary rooster… what’s with that?

If I felt that I was somehow effeminate… or had homosexual leanings… maybe if I grew a set of breasts (moobs don’t count)… maybe if I cut back on my sugar consumption… then perhaps, just perhaps it somehow would make logical sense, maybe become even a touch understandable. So many maybes and ifs.

I need some sort of translator or transmogrifier to explain to me the reasons behind my ability to GPS the hots spots where women congregate. Do you think Donald Trump might be able to explain it to me?

I’m an outsider.

There are times when I’m conscious of the way Janis Ian must have felt when she penned the tune “At Seventeen“… the heart-rending  anthem for those (young girls) who see themselves as outsiders in their own world, their own society.

Of course Janis Ian mournfully lamented the outsider’s life… in most ways, I happily cherish the outsider role I find myself in, it’s a part of my comfort zone.

The adult student(s) I’ll be working one-on-one with will be an outsider(s). I know this. They live their lives in morbid fear of being discovered for what they can’t do (read/write) that so many others can.

It’s a secret pact they work hard at keeping, like my Alzheimer’s afflicted brother who verbally stickhandles around his deteriorating memory with graceful aplomb.

It’s sad but hopeful too because outsiders are often the ones who become superheroes. Outsiders can see the things and people that need help, need change. They’ve lived their lives with their nose against the glass looking in, watching and listening to the insiders.

……….

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While I was gnawing my way through a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie at tutor-training the other day, Mary, the guest instructor, shared 3 rules for being a good writer. She said:

  1. Read lots.
  2. Write frequently and consistently.
  3. Carefully observe the subtle nuances of life surrounding you.

That third point is critically important in writing.

It’s as if we take a microscope to our world and drill in on the fine points, like a lab tech discerning one type of white blood cell from another in a blood smear. People rely on that lab person to know the details and fine points in order to diagnose and treat their disease.

Similarly, people reading stories rely on the writer to dig in deep and carefully paint a picture in the reader’s mind so it’s as if they were present themselves. It’s exhilarating to feel ourselves within the story.

Blue sky isn’t just blue sky, it’s indigo like blocks of igloo ice at dusk. A richly detailed picture painted in our mind.

It’s the writer that pays attention closely and observes as each day’s seconds press onward into minutes and hours, the world churning and mingling in a semi-organized tangle.

Closely observing and simultaneously participating actively in life don’t go together seamlessly. Knowing this, the writer more often sits in silence, absorbing the shading and subtlety of each moment… the egg yolk tinge of sunset, the subdued upward shift of the speaker’s eye as they concentrate on an important point.

Where was I again? Ah yes… Outsiders. Outsiders show up to life in a huge variety of Halloween costumes, often unrecognizable to the casual observer.

As a frequent outsider myself, I understand my role when I meet with my new student next week will be to look past the costume and find the real person, the real fears and worries behind his bluster and awkward humour.

I’ll need my writer’s superhero observational powers to uncover the true nature of his unease and motivations.

It will be challenging and hard work for us both.

It might be difficult, it might be inelegant, but I hope I’ll work past my own rookie fears to help make another outsider aware of his own superhero abilities.

And if it helps, I’ll even share my cookies.

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Oh, What A Lucky Man… He Was…

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He rose groggy from his snug bed at 4:09 am, absorbing the chilly touch of the wood floor on his toes and shuffled past the window’s view.

Somewhat startling, it appeared as if fresh snow was a light sugar coating on the shrubs in the front yard, the Kerria, the Boston Ivy climbing up the wooden trellis… the Ponderosa Pines all tip-covered in white frosting. How???

He was taken aback as it didn’t make reasonable sense. When his eyes closed just a few hours earlier it had been 8 degrees celsius outside… had a rogue Arctic front sprinted in from the north like an Olympic athlete in such a short time?

Playing detective and investigating further, he wandered sleepily through the quiet house darkness to the back dining room.

As he grew closer to the large picture window overlooking the yard and chicken coop, bright golden light flooded the floor in front of him.

Now that makes sense, he whispered.

An almost-full moon hanging high in the sky was blanketing the outdoors and pressing through the house windows with a coat of lustrous brightness, much the same as snow on the coldest, darkest nights of winter.

Tiny pinprick stars in the sky surrounded the spotlight-bright moon as if the stars were actually moons circling the true Earth moon.

Despite his early morning wooziness, a recognition grew inside him that not everything greeting us is initially as it seems. There is a subtleness and complexity to life that evades us unless we look more closely or evaluate more fully. And superficial looks lead us to luck.

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It can be easy to simply believe that luck is either happily with us or tragically against us.

Luck that isn’t merely coincidental circumstance… the narrowly missed car/bicycle crash, the bullet or knife that evades an artery by a fraction of an inch, the whispered hot stock tip that actually results in a ten-bagger (10 times the original investment)… is really a horse of a different colour.

I used to say NO a lot…

NO is a very useful word to utter when it’s something you truly don’t want to do. Say NO when you really mean it.

But I used to say NO often because I was fearful, nervous, afraid of not succeeding or making an embarrassing dumb fool of myself. I have an extraordinary capacity to do and say embarrassing stuff. Even still.

I feared raising my hand in Miss Mole’s high school Science or Mr. Warneke’s Math classes even if I felt confident in my answer… the scary WHAT IF‘s ruled the inner hallways of my head. Those kids that did raise their hands didn’t always have the right answers. Are they destitute druggies filling the soup kitchen lines now? Hmmmm…. I hope not.

My WHAT IF has largely been replaced with my WTF now. Who cares if I ask a dumb question or don’t know an answer? So long as I’m not hurting anyone else with my words or questions… who cares?

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I say YES a lot more now than ever.

YES is a very useful thing to say when it’s something that enthuses and excites me and fills me with a heartbeating rush of desire to accomplish or try a new adventure, large or small.

Sure I’m still a bit fearful, nervous, afraid of not succeeding or making an embarrassing dumb fool of myself. Not every YES turns into a pot of gold… not very leprechaun is a magically delicious lucky charm.

Irrational fear (you really should be afraid of loaded guns and mama bears!) … like that fear of rejection when I didn’t ask a girl out on a date in my teens, or the fear of giving a botched presentation… is a barrier that holds us back from truly living, dying long before we take our last breath.

Fear be damned.

I don’t rely on luck…

I rely on chances popping up like Blue Jay batters… regular chances to spot and then walk through an open door and finding the inner strength to say YES when I see the opening.

I rely on the 1,000 hour rule to give me more and more opportunities to find open doors. Skills we hone are the building blocks to more doors.

I rely on Idea Sex… mixing and blending ideas makes my mind sharper, more creative. Sharpness means more chance and opportunity to progress and grow and feel an enthusiastic glow from the new things I try …

Of course, my amalgamated thoughts on luck and opportunity and a life lived more fully could be as untrue and as false as “moon snow” in the middle of the night.

The good thing is I don’t mind looking silly if I’m wrong anymore. Luck is on my side.

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Moms and Realizing That Heaven Does Exist

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Nasty, bloody, bombing-type scary terrorists have Moms.

Adolf Hitler had a Mom. Klara Pölzl.

Dogs and cats and horses have Moms.

Even groper-pig Donald Trump had a Mom, although he probably thought of her as a MILF. Mary Anne MacLeod.

I had a Mom. Lila Margueretta Miller.

You have/had a Mom.

No matter how small or unimportant, no matter how great or powerful, and yes, no matter how scary or terrible a person… for better or worse… we ALL have a mother.

I didn’t have a mother for a long time.

I adored her in life although I feel bad for the shit I put her through in my young lad days. The trauma of the frequent knock-em-down brawls my older brother and I had, probably took 5, maybe even 10 years off her life. I can still see the look of frustration and hurt in her eyes.

Mom died suddenly when I was 15. I treasure her memory in the heaven of her afterlife.

As I grow older (I’m almost the age when she died now), the faded memory of her voice and her vision slips further and further out to sea. Now, Lila – my Mom – is mostly a mirage of a ship on the horizon, a person I loved that drifts way off overseas in the distance but is never totally out of range .

Sometimes in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, she slips in and talks quietly to me, reassuring me better than any drug when I’m scared, “It’s alright son, this too shall pass…” …

Mom was one of the first inhabitants of my ghost town that’s grown like a lush Garden of Eden over time.

Like in an old spaghetti-western movie, there is a whole ghost town that lives in my head. People, pets, places, and buildings from my past.

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Think of all the people that have died that you’ve known and who have touched you in your life. It likely numbers in the hundreds when you dredge up family, friends, neighbours, teachers, film and music stars.

The occupants of the ghost town are different in ages and personalities and sometimes a single resident of the town can live on in different forms – you might remember your Granddad as a robust younger man as well as a much older, grey-haired senior persona.

Or long-gone Nipper, my family’s beloved Water Spaniel dog as I was growing up. He lives on in my ghost town.

This is my lens of the world gone by.

Maybe, just maybe… that is what heaven truly is.

Heaven and hell and everything in-between are all constructs, a synthesis mix of reality and fantasy we’ve pieced together in the internal workings of our minds.

My heavenly vision is a “cloud” that drifts aimlessly in the overarching sky of my mind.

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Heaven is that place where people live a second life, or multiple second lives because with each passing of an individual, that person’s soul breathes and walks inside the head of many… sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, co-workers, acquaintances.

It’s kind of morbid but it’s also quite uplifting at the same time.

It would take me hours to go through the people I have known and loved in my life that are no longer standing, breathing oxygen into their short-lived lungs on terra firma.

The interior of my head is like a TV show where I have some minor control over the appearance and movements of the characters I’ve known.

Interestingly, my mind won’t allow me to shape the personality or general sense of that person. I can’t rewrite their story because the subconscious knows the truth, or at least my perception of that individual. These were real people, not fictional Ebenezer Scrooges or Emma Woodhouses.

You may feel reassured by the notion of immortality. If you do, I’m happy for you.

I wish I found comfort in the image that heaven exists in some Christian biblical form, or like Jannah in the Qu’ran. I can’t.

My time in heaven will only live on for a generation or two beyond when I take my very last delicious bite of Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar. I’ll slowly fade to dust in the ghost towns of others. Time’s winds will carry me softly into sweet oblivion.

In the end, whether you believe in a traditional heaven or not, we will all roam, shadow-like, the hallowed halls of our loved ones’ and friends’ heads for months and years, wandering and laughing in a withering haze, like filmy baseball players disappearing into a cornfield maze.

Sooner or later, we will all chuckle and giggle at the same joke at the end of this very very long day.

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I Love You Chrissy Metz…

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If I were a REALLY fat person I wouldn’t be brave enough to put myself through the humiliation.

I met Chrissy Metz for the first time a week or two ago and I think I’ve fallen for her. Kind of like how I fell for Sarah Baker on Louis CK’s show a couple of years ago.

I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’m probably as superficial as they come.

Nope, not probably. I’m Trump superficial (but not quite as misogynistic or xenophobic). I treasure obvious eye-appeal.

Women, foods, scenery, book covers, you name it. I love the blatantly pretty and dishy.

First, a little segue.

I went for a short walk this week along the Penticton beachfront during a coffee break while volunteering at the soup kitchen. As I strolled the quietly winding pathway past couples sitting on benches looking out and enjoying the day I felt myself melding and absorbing into the wonder of a spectacular autumn day.

The sky was royal blue with a few white jet contrails crisscrossing like Twitter hashtags. Light lapping waves whispered along Okanagan Lake’s sandy shoreline.

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The morning air was clean-smelling, mild and crisp, and the hillsides of the valley stood out like a 3D cutout against the bright azure background… and I heard my inner voice speaking, reflecting, “is there any place in the world as beautiful and desirable as this?”

Snapping to, I immediately self-corrected because I know that while I do truly live surrounded by scenic eye candy, my own experience has shown me that there are a million spectacular and wonderful places to live.

As a matter of fact, YOU live in an impressive and unforgettable place. I know you do.

You might even find yourself describing your home town/city/countryside to others as GOD’S COUNTRY.

And you’re right. It is.

We ALL live in God’s Country. Yup.

Don’t laugh or guffaw at me, because those of you who know me, also know that God and I are not really on speaking terms… he/she has adamantly refused to speak to me and in turn I’ve ignored him/her… or was it vice versa?

I know it’s childish but it’s the way I handle my relationship with omnipotent beings. I’ve never talked to Superman or Wonder Woman either.

Anyway, God’s Country is an expression we use to symbolize how much we appreciate our magnificent physical surroundings.

I’ve lived in a number of areas in Canada (the big cities, the prairies and the northern tundra are all incredible) and I’ve visited a number of spots in the world…. every one was amazing in a unique and pleasurable way.

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Sorry about that lengthy diversion. I’m back to Chrissy Metz now. Sort of.

When I returned to the soup kitchen after my waterfront stroll, I passed by the two industrial-size garbage bins out front, then wended through the growing throng of those lined up an hour or more ahead of time waiting for the front door of the Soupateria to open for lunch.

The group is outfitted mostly in polyester and synthetic Salvation Army-provided jackets and worn, torn sweaters, and bruised Value Village T-shirts. Stained, crooked and missing teeth are common. Some smoke, some check cellphones they can’t afford, quiet chatter amongst friends and acquaintances.

These are the folks on the other end of the 1% scale we hear about so much these days, except instead of sitting atop the 99% pile, they slide downwards and reside on the bottom 1% end.

There’s salt and pepper bearded John with the FM disk jockey voice who could pass for a salty sea Captain.

30-something Margaret with short blonde hair and the wrinkled face of a 70 year-old.

Rob with his angry-looking countenance and silver dumbbell nose piercing.

Talkative rotund Peter who loves chatting about serial killers.

Matt the young meth addict with a ravaged face, one blatantly bulging lower cheek as if he’s holding a hard-boiled egg inside his mouth.

Robin the distinguished-looking aboriginal man with his gentle tan-toned Spaniel companion by his side.

I look around but can’t spot my friendly favourites, Mary and Joseph – they’re not here today, I hope they’re OK – and many others I recognize as regulars but don’t know by name.

I like most of these people. They’re real people who’ve lived real lives, mostly enormously difficult lives.

And like the scenic beauty that exists everywhere one chooses to live or visit, there’s a human beauty here that’s not always immediately visible to the surface scan of the eyes.

I’m consciously aware of the beauty even in this group, all of the people everywhere that don’t fit the perfection mould… and that makes me think of Chrissy Metz.

Yup, I’m finally back to Chrissy Metz.

There’s a new fall TV show I’ve watched twice now called THIS IS US.

It’s an earnest, heartwarming kind of show produced by the same people who made the series 30-Something in the 1980’s. The characters are quickly drawing me in with their worries and warmth, their flaws, their humanness, their humour.

But the one who stands out most for this guy is the character Kate played by Chrissy Metz. Ms. Metz has acted in other shows but this is my first encounter with her.

She plays the role of a 36 year-old fat girl. Not plump fat, but 300-400 pounds fat. Breaking chairs fat.

She speaks the unspeakable, informing us about the world as she experiences it.

I love her intelligence and practicality. I love the strength of character she exhibits. I love the pain and embarrassment she feels and still manages to bear. I love the humour she mines and hauls to the surface despite her anxieties.

And so, despite my shallowness and superficiality, I find another source of inspiration in the beauty of the not-so-obvious in our world.

There’s the poke-me-in-the-eye delights of mountains and lakes and skies, the sweet mimosa sunsets and spectacular structures built by humanity.

And there’s also the power and strength and beauty of those who live their lives in a challenging way every minute of every day, in soup kitchen lines and in serious acting roles.

I love you Chrissy Metz.

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