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Ship of (Writer’s) Foolishness

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Show me a man or a woman alone and I’ll show you a saint. Give me two and they’ll fall in love. Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call ‘society’. Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast. Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”

Stephen King – The Stand

Stephen King writing

… a paragraph like the one above, written by a mere mortal, a flesh and blood human like you or me.

A few words pounded out in a starry universe of millions upon millions of words, and yet… the purity and fluidity pours like some rare nectar that you want to sip slowly, langourously roll around your tongue, and savour.

When I’m in a reading cloud, I meander and stumble across a sentence in a book or an article somewhere that pierces me like an unexpected arrow. Some books fill the skies with arrows. And I sense a miracle of humanity.

This month marks 5 years since I began tapping out these weekly missives on a flock/pack/den/murder… of topics and ideas and even silliness.

268 blog posts and counting.

Writing 1,000 word weekly posts to an audience that measures in the low 100’s seems penny-ante paltry in comparison to the Twitter folks, or Stephen King author-types, or the writers of New York Times columns where consumers number easily in the millions… Katy Perry counts 100,000,000 Twitter followers all by herself.

I’m simply a pimple on a speck of dust, a Man on the Fringe. My writings may seem an act of foolishness or stubbornness. Maybe.

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But the hugeness of the audience size isn’t the point, at least in my case.

Size doesn’t always matter. One can swim equally well in this ocean regardless of whether the water depth is 1 metre or 400 metres. Minnow or whale, doesn’t matter.

I can conjure up many reasons for personal expression, whether visual art, music performance or composition, blog writing, foreplay.

Money.

Sure, this could be one because I truly enjoy the benefits of $$. But not in this case. I’m a liberal capitalist at heart but I don’t write for financial gain. I know… stupid, right?

Ego.

Like becoming the Master of my Domain, this could stroke my pleasure seeking id, but after 5 years surely my ego desires would be exhausted by now. Maybe not, perhaps I’ll gaze lovingly at myself in the mirror and think on that one a bit more.

Beauty.

New York Times bestselling author Professor (Sir) Ken Robinson says: “The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.

Yes. Whether writing or playing music on my guitar, this is the spiritual equivalent of a personal rainbow. A bouquet of deliciously scented flowers blooms when my inner muse lavishes an unexpected burst of transcendental words upon me that I could never have written alone. The arts confer a beauty that makes life’s worries and dangers worthwhile.

Habit.

Yes. Writing each week is a part of my habits and discipline, a train of energy that keeps my wheels on the track. Having you here to check in and occasionally consume my output is the carrot that entices me forward. I feed from your momentum, your expectation to make this happen, to hit PUBLISH every Sunday morning come rain or shine.

Habit matters. It irritates the hell out of me when I train for a running event for many months ahead of time, building my legs to a point where a couple of hours of non-stop use is possible, then discovering after a week of undisciplined, sloven laziness that my muscles have lost their tonal acuity. WTF!

Writing, like going to the gym, is the sweaty exercise of working a muscle consistently to prevent its rapid atrophy with disuse. Habit and discipline keep our muscles toned and healthy.

BONUS: Strong muscles, both physical and mental, are hot and sexy.

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Meaning and Purpose.

Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “the main search of mankind is not happiness or pleasure but meaning. “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose,”

Yes. Purpose. In my previous work-world life in the medical lab I always felt a sense of purpose in helping those dealing with illness or disease.

These days, in my visits to cut and chop onions, carrots, and my fingers at the soup kitchen, I derive a greater inner benefit than those on the other side of the soup counter because of the little comfort I help provide.

Writing gifts me some purpose too… but even more important is the deep dive into meaning.

Writing is the best way I’ve ever discovered to recognize my own thoughts on the world and its meaning to me. My brain isn’t expansive enough to figure it all out. Never will be. But my ability to know myself has increased exponentially through blog writing.

Words and Writing are a miracle of humanity.

Writing is solitary but the sharing of words is universal.

There is a well of sacred knowledge and thought inside each of us, its nose pressed against the screen door, waiting to be released.

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I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Stephen King – Shawshank Redemption

Boo… 8 Things That Scare Me…

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Do one thing that scares you every day”

Eleanor Roosevelt

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T Rex fear

I threw up my hotdog one early summer evening in a family restaurant, its walls adorned with Hamilton Tiger Cat football and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey photos… it was mustardy messy and the cloud of smell was … well… you fill in the rest.

The waiter was nice about it, then probably gagged a bit when he went back to the kitchen.

It was a fancy restaurant and I was just a little kid, but the impression it left still lays inside me today, dormant like a herpes virus waiting to rise to the cold-sore surface.

For years, I was nervous that I might throw up in a restaurant again. Fear. Scared. A beautifully coutured phobia in-waiting.

Ultimately silly.

Fear is your friend,” said Tim Ferriss in a TED talk. “Fear is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do. More often than not it shows you exactly what you should do. And the best results that I’ve had in life, the most enjoyable times, have all been from asking a simple question: What’s the worst that can happen?”

We all know that most of our fears are nonsense and should be stuffed in a coffin and buried six feet under, but there are some I hold onto because they make me more human. They are a part of me that makes me ME. (now there’s a sentence that a narcissist could embrace!).

Being a complete person means never having to say you deny your frailties and rough edges.

I’m full of rough edges.

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So, what are some of my biggest “rough-edged” fears now that I’m approaching my 7th decade on this beautiful blue planet?

  1. Driving at night and worrying I might hit and hurt or kill an animal. This is a biggie in my mind and yet it’s one of those fears I embrace and never wish to wash away. Tsunami waves of nausea roll through me when I’ve actually hit, or even think about killing an animal while driving, or for that matter, any other time.

2. A dog jumping out of the ether, barking and snarling at me while I’m running or cycling… my heart rate is already well up there, I don’t need any more stimulation thank you. I hate to see animals in pain or discomfort, and I hate to see me in pain or discomfort because of an animal sneak attack… back off Rover!

3. Walking into a social situation alone… my introversion tendencies rise to the surface. I’m pretty good at projecting a positive public face, but the childlike inner feelings of inadequacy bubble through me as I walk alone through a door to a party or gathering. If I looked in the mirror, I’m sure I’d see I’m wearing little boy shorts and my Parkdale Steelers hockey sweater.

4. Bungee Jumping. I can handle the thought of skydiving (today but not when I was younger). I’ve scuba dived. I’ve explored in narrow, dark underground caves. I’ve slogged my way through a Tough Mudder. But bungee? NO F***ing Way… that’s a stroke waiting to happen and I’m not going there… EVER!!

5. TV or Movie Killings. The realization that watching a TV show or movie of someone being killed – murdered – and knowing it doesn’t bother me (at least not the way I think it should) is bothersome. It makes me fear something within myself that accepts the violence… perversely even enjoys it, and does it over and over again. It also makes me wonder why consensual, loving sex isn’t more accepted on our screens. Which is the more positive choice?

6. One of my kids getting really sick or dying. This one really doesn’t need elaboration. There’s a hardwiring – a Constitutional amendment – in a parent’s head that insists that our issue should never ever pass on before we do. We had a close call once when our son was 9 years old. My heart bleeds for those many who have experienced the death of a child. It’s the devil’s kiss of lightning.

7. Getting near to vomiting or diarrhea on a plane… maybe this goes back to the hot dog incident as a child, beats me. A prison-like situation where you’re incarcerated in a sardine can in the sky? Often no access to a bathroom? … seat belt fastened and nowhere to go? Nowhere to go! UNCOMFORTABLE!

8. Boney M music. Yeah, I fear that electronic disco sound. I feel revulsion and frightening thoughts welling up inside me at the first kitschy Jamaican beats of their music. Why not play Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road and get this melodious mess out of our systems.

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And finally One bonus fear (every good blog list has a bonus!):

Dying suddenly without a chance to say goodbye. I’ve lived and felt the pain of not saying a final goodbye. It lies inside you, gnawing.

I’ve heard those many who say they’d like to be struck dead suddenly with a heart attack or stroke like a runaway truck on a London Bridge, swept away in a second.

Not me.

We can never express with the depth of our inner core, never capture the universe of emotion and love and respect and tenderness, the true multiplicity of feelings for our loved ones… not fully… until we’re in those final immersive moments.

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OK, now some old fears that fell away like my thick head of hair? I’ve had a few.

Here is a sampling of ones I’ve inhaled, held inside, and then eventually exhaled into misty clouds with age and maturity, like:

… getting to the end of my life and realizing that I wasted most of it…

… singing or speaking in public…

… in early blog posts: sharp criticism of my opinions…

… in my young years… premature ejaculation…

… wondering what people thought of me…

… not losing my virginity: ever…

Overcoming rational fear is about being a better person…

Fear doesn’t ever really go away, nor should it. But confronting it is the way to move forward.

Nowadays I try to face fear like a gladiator. Grrr. And usually I’m strong and brave but occasionally… rarely… my inner child arises and I’d like to suck my thumb in the corner – please don’t ever point a gun at my head, OK?

When I see myself overcoming part of a fear each day it lifts me up — I feel the thrive.  

It feeds my endorphin fix needs better than a needle in my arm.

Dealing with fear is always a choice.

One final thought. The Art of Manliness, one of my favorite websites on the Internet declares this “fear” rule:

“Whenever you are presented with a choice, ask yourself which option you would prefer to have taken in ten years.”

yoga at sunset

Grandma’s Feather Bed

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It could hold eight kids and four hound dogs
And a piggy we stole from the shed
We didn’t get much sleep but we had a lot of fun
On Grandma’s feather bed”

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Each week as I get myself into the mood for writing my blog posts, I sit and listen to a couple of music selections to summon the muse’s juice, the creative flow…

I’ll listen to some beautiful guitar music like Tommy Emmanuelle‘s Angelina, or Lady Antebellum‘s harmonic, banjo-laced Bartender, or John Denver‘s joyously enthusiastic Grandma’s Feather Bed.

This last song brought me around to thinking about grandparents, something  – sadly – I know little of.

Throughout my life when I’ve visited my grandparents, it’s been in a place of serene beauty and sleepy calmness.

You and I call it a cemetery.

Because of this, my life has lacked some of the colour that paints beauty on the canvas of our souls. I never snickered with my grandmother, or held a nail to assist my granddad build a birdhouse.

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While the concentric genealogy rings that radiate out from my grandparents are amazingly large and convoluted – there are descendants scattered in all directions like dandelion fluff in the wind – my own connection to them surprisingly feels real and flesh-like and personal like a private diary entry.

Weathered photos I view now bring the stillness and silence to life. These were real people… these were “my” real people.

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My Mom (bottom, centre) between her parents (my grandparents Maggie and Will) and “watermelon brothers” Lloyd and Clarence

Aside from one or two short early childhood visits I had from my paternal grandmother, Harriett, I never looked up at the face, heard the voice, or understood the demeanour of any of my grandparents.

I never played on Grandma’s feather bed.

All of my grandparents, except Harriett, were long passed by the time I arrived on the scene, so I never knew what I missed.

I never sat at the knee of my Granddad while he shared stories, or tales of wisdom gathered from a lifetime of joys and loves.  Never did I listen to the yarns of his hardships and struggles, those hard-earned everyday lessons that carry us over the stormy seas.

The only sense of grandparenthood I “enjoyed” was the embarrassment I felt when school chums errantly thought my parents – when they attended school functions –  WERE my grandparents. Yes, my mother was 45 and my Dad 50 when I was born, a more natural grandparent age. I was mortified. A child’s primeval thoughts.

I know my predecessors lived interesting but challenging lives. My grandparents lived through two World Wars and the Dirty Thirties, the Great Depression.

They survived a good portion of their lives in an era with little or no antibiotic therapy for infectious disease, no medications to manage pain effectively, no indoor plumbing, no electricity, no cars or airplanes, widespread child labour, high maternal and infant mortality, no voting or financial rights for women.

And as they aged, no doubt they lamented the passing of “the good ole days”.

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I never heard their stories in their own voices,  and unfortunately, stories about them weren’t shared much by my own parents, at least in my early recollection.

In the foreword to a family history book I edited and produced for a reunion in 2000, I wrote:

I regret that I was so young when my parents passed on, and that I wasn’t able to ask them all the questions that I’m now overflowing with. I want to know so desperately about the lives they led and the people they knew. I want to know about their parents and grandparents, and who they were as well.

I am frustrated that I, as children do, tuned out when they spoke of the days of their past, their memories and stories. They lived in another world and another time, and much of what they said and did is now gone from us all.

Today, I live with my own memories and I frequently “walk” through them, escaping to yesterday. The feel of the hardwood floors, the warmth of an open fireplace, the smell of cookies baking. These memories give me comfort because they are all I have of those days and my parents and my family at that time in our past. All of us live and “walk” through our memories of other times and places and receive comfort at times…

… I cannot turn the clock back, sit in a chair and make my grandmother or my mother be here with me and tell me the stories and memories that were important to them, now that I’m mature enough to sit and listen.

And yet, I still draw breath and I can draw together the pieces that I can find, add to that what I can recall as well as the insight and views of others who can remember, and give to those generations to come a feeling of their own past and a connection to it.”

Now, I don’t want to turn this post into a lecture at you, so let’s call it… an encouragement… yes, a signal or call to action. Sound the bugle!

If you have a parent or grandparent in your orbit with an active heartbeat, and still has a firm connection to their mental capacity… well… today is a good day to sit and have them share the moments of their past days with you. It can start with a simple question such as, “Who was your best friend as a kid Grampa/Dad?

Now, if they go rogue and unexpectedly veer off into uninhibited talk about their early sexual escapades (everyone has lurid scraps in their past!), try gently shifting the topic into an area such as gardening or canning peaches.

Or, if you’re really brave and have a strong stomach, well, dive right in, listen carefully and see if your own sexual deviances originate in an errant gene you picked up like a virulent bug.

You will learn about them and you will learn about you.

The passing of time brings change. It’s very foreign to me, but at the time of my Mom’s Mom’s passing, her casketed body was kept in the front room of the house for visitation of friends, neighbours, and family, and the funeral service was conducted there in the farmhouse in Hillsburg, Ontario.

Sure, different eras, but unchanged is the perennial belief in possibility… our grandparents were birthed and experienced their own childhoods clothed in a mantle of wonder and fascination, believing in the possible yet to come in their lives.

They too, like us, looked with excitement, and a little fear, toward future advancements and a world they knew was coming but couldn’t even imagine.

Hopefully they learned some lessons about the rhythm of life and living while snuggled safely under the blankets of their own Grandma’s feather bed.

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