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8 Ways to An Inspired Life

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creativity ocean.jpg

We live in a vast swollen ocean of inspiration and creativity.

A sea that, at times, is ugly, frustrating, even tempestuous, but also tranquil and stunningly beguiling at others.

The choice is ours alone… to swim in its liquid warmth, tickled and massaged by rainbow-striped fish swirling around and beneath us… or to remain in the colourless dry “safety” of the boat absent from its beneath-the-surface ethereal wonders.

I was reading an article the other day of an interview with singer/songwriter James Taylor where he said something like: “I never thought of myself as a songwriter, but then I sat down and wrote, and wrote, and over time I discovered that I really could be a songwriter.”

That’s kind of a capsule summary of my thoughts and approach to creativity.

woody allen success

We become something by believing, trusting that we can do, and then, at last, by doing.

By “showing up”.

Every time I:

  • pick up a book
  • sit in a movie theatre
  • listen to a song I love
  • ponder a beautiful painting
  • cheer an athlete cross the finish line
  • spy an airplane passing overhead…

… I’m inspired.

How can I not be?

These are all amazing diamond-dusted creations of an individual person or persons.

They weren’t formed through some supernatural magic (although in some back eddy of my mind I can almost believe they were).

They were all folded and formed and thrust like a volcano from the depths of the sea by the actions and fortitude and dogged determination of the human mind and physical effort.

When I awake in the morning, it’s like I’ve arisen in a stolid prairie field with a wide swath of openness, virgin soil, before me.

My first breaths allow me to decide… to choose… if I’ll leave the broad expanse before me fallow, untended, bereft of new life and growth…

or…

… do I absorb a deep breath of clean, fresh open-sky air and purposefully decide to plant and nurture a pasture filled with verdant growth and beauty, replete with colour and texture and expression.

Sure it involves work, but the rewards are life enhancing.

prairie 2.jpg

In order to fulfill my desire to be inspired, here are 8 rules, the work-to-reward system I follow:

  1. Proactive and decisive – there’s just no way to grow creative flowers without plowing the field and planting the seeds. Do something. Start small but do something. Decide today. Write a paragraph, sew a seam, run a block. It’s one foot in front of the other, over and over.
  2. Fail quickly and gloriously – as I grow older, my “who cares” voice has gained ground, and so failure, a word that once was anathema in my life, has become a calling card to likely success. Failure is rarely “fun”, but it’s a necessary evil to pass through to building a creative life. Failure takes courage.
  3. Laziness – procrastination (I can hear Carly Simon singing right now… PROCRASTIN-AY-AY-TION) is one of my bigly’est sins. The mental and physical effort we need to make ourselves creative takes considerable prodding and spent “calories”. Couch potatoes need not apply.
  4. Focus intently – this is another weak zone for me. I start in and before 10 minutes have melted away in writing a blog post, practicing guitar, preparing a lavish birthday cake… my mind begins a bastardly wander that needs electric fencing to keep under control… if only I had a little sheep-pig named Babe to keep my bemused head “contained”.
  5. Stay actively healthy – whatever paths we follow, the bearing we choose to pursue… we need a healthy physical presence to realize a worthwhile ending. Hemingway undoubtably spent much too much time drinking and smoking, but I’ve seen the desk at his Finca Vigia in Cuba where he wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls... no chair for sitting, it stands upright high where he would stand for countless hours typing his words. Sitting is the new smoking – Hemingway was ironically ahead of his time.
  6. Be willing to adapt – a common theme I’ve observed as I, and those around me age, is that the “mature” mind slowly evolves toward a gelling process that freezes opinion and one’s attitude and approach to life. Old Codger… Old Coot… are often accurate descriptions of a senior mind that has become set and unwilling or unable to bend and adapt. A local senior newspaper columnist remains stuck on the notion that everything is terribly wrong in today’s world, and terrifically right back in his youth.
  7. Pay attention to the world with an open mind – creativity is a sun-kissed virtue that relies on a free and open set of eyes and ears, unlocked to the shadowed nuance of our daily existence. An inquisitive, curious mind bursts opens like a morning glory flower to the subtlety of the breezes, the scents, the minute visions of what is meant and felt, and not merely said. Absorb the texture of a toddler’s gentle fingers, the shadow cast by a streetlight across a moonlit lawn.
  8. Embrace Idea Sex – well, surprise surprise… I’d say embrace sex of ANY kind, but from the viewing stand that overlooks the lyrical valley of inspiration, a swirling and blending of idea juices is what inevitably produces the sweetest fruit on the tree of our lives. Creativity thrives on combinations of thought balloons, ideas, notions, perspectives. The iPhone, as one small but world-altering example, employs a big seductive pile of idea sex where a bunch of technology snowflakes are rolled together to make a huge avalanche of a snowball.

apps

Ho hum you might say.

You may be thinking that a whole lot of what I’ve said above is pretty cliche’ish.

Right. I get it.

Gorgeous scarlet-flamed sunsets are cliche’ish too.

And yet, you and I, repeatedly over our years, gather ourselves on a quiet bench, listening to hushed waves lap at the sandy ocean front as the drowsy sun kisses the ocean goodnight.

Cliches are easy truths… that’s why they’ve become cliches.

Inspiration is the hardest easy truth.

once upon a time

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How to Make Trump Soup

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I have nothing to put in my soup, you see,
Not a bone or a bean or a black-eyed pea,
So I’ll just climb in the pot to see
If I can make a soup out of me.
I’ll put in some pepper and salt and I’ll sit
In the bubbling water–I won’t scream a bit.
I’ll sing while I simmer, I’ll smile while I’m stewing,
I’ll taste myself often to see how I’m doing.
I’ll stir me around with this big wooden spoon
And serve myself up at a quarter to noon.
So bring out your soup bowls,
You gobblers and snackers.
Farewell–and I hope you enjoy me with crackers!

… with apologies to Shel Silverstein

Trump Soup.jpg

Donald Trump stood in line at the Penticton Soup Kitchen (Soupateria) one morning – I think it was Thursday – this week.

It’s true. I saw him with my own eyes.

Of course, I could be mildly confused but that’s a different story for another day.

It was a sunny (-less) day without a cloud in the sky, but no obvious sun either… a fog of forest-fire grey smoke still hung throughout the Okanagan Valley like damp laundry on the line in a “No Campfires Allowed” provincial campground …

But not only is there 50 Shades of Grey haze hanging out, but there’s also a ubiquitous orange-scoured miasma that’s been persistently hanging on and blanketing the entire planet since, well, I’d have to say mid-January.

Scan the news, pick up a paper, open your ears, the stinky cloud is everywhere.

The bouquet of excrement is strong.

Anyway, I saw him standing there in the lazy, disorganized line that was gradually forming by the glass-fronted doors of the soup kitchen. There were little pockets of quiet chatter amidst the shaggy group. One or two were talking to themselves.

The Donald caught my eye with a hostile gaze as I passed by, taking a few empty cardboard potato boxes to the recycling dumpster that sits like a quiet blue elephant nearby the front entrance.

donald t.jpg

Before I could turn away or pretend we hadn’t had a “moment”, he latched onto me and began bellowing through his rectal-pursed lips.

“Look… I’m coming into the kitchen and getting you guys organized.

It will be so simple. We’re gonna make a huge pot of my new recipe… Trump Soup.

It’s gonna be fantastic. Best ever. Everyone loves it and they haven’t even tried it yet.”

I tried to pull away and sneak in the back door but he was on me before I could close and bar the door.

There we both were, Trump vs Billy Bush-style, in the narrow back hallway, jammed between trays of day-old bread and boxes of freshly picked Sunrise apples.

Nervously, I melted away from his toxic breath. I felt afraid that he might grab me by the pussy (hmmmm, something doesn’t add up here!).

Fine!

In resignation, I lead him through the door into the main dining area set up with about 2 dozen long, blue-grey tables. Bread crumbs littered the beige vinyl floor where the sandwich makers had just finished their task.

We veered to the right and into the production kitchen. Delicious smells sifted quickly into my nose.

I reluctantly prepared to introduce him around the industrious, knife-wielding group of volunteers attired in purple and navy blue aprons.

Donald didn’t lose a step, brushing me aside with a shove of his arm, while totally ignoring all of the volunteer staff busily chopping carrots and onions.

He headed straight to the huge 35 L. soup cauldron simmering over a gas flame. A delicate vegetable broth scent rose up to meet his gaze, his interrogation of the soup.

Listening closely I heard him mumble under his breath… “Natural Gas stove, hmmmmpf… no jobs there… we’ll change it to coal.

A quick dismissive sniff and he decisively turned on his heels.

Then, raising both of his little hands and making zeros with his thumb and forefinger, he addressed the group.

People, this soup is terrible, it’s a disaster.” Sneer.

Five or six confused helpers raised their eyebrows, checking each other out for reactions.

“We are gonna repeal and replace this soup…

… this stuff is worse than the Holocaust… and one other thing!”. 

Ceiling fans spun furiously overhead to dispel the rising heat wave sweeping the stainless steel laden kitchen. Localized global warming?

He lifted an eyebrow and angrily spat: “It’s those fruit-picking “Kweebeckoys” Frenchy kids outside with their long braids and hippie clothes. They’ve gotta go back to where they came from. And the Mexicano guys too.”

quebecois kids.jpg

“Before we open the door for lunch, we’re gonna build a wall to keep them outta here. And dammit, they’ll pay for it to be built with the money they stole from OUR local farmers.”

“Let’s put the good folks in the lineup out there to work – the ones who were born right here and not in Kenya like that other wacko President – we’ll get them back to work so fast, it will be a beautiful beautiful thing.”

“Back to good-paying jobs in the orchards picking and packing. They’ll love us. I guarantee it.”

A glow of White Nationalist pride lit his chubby face – JOB accomplished – while pink-tinged embarrassed looks shrouded my and my co-volunteers’ faces.

“Ok everyone… I’m heading back to Air Force One… I’m leaving you to make this new Trump soup… lots of stinky garlic and onions, you decide, I don’t do details… doesn’t matter … what matters is that we repeal and replace that other soup.

“I don’t care how good it is or how much people have enjoyed it for years here. Doesn’t matter.”

“And you, over there…”

He pointed and glared at John, an elderly stooped gentleman born in Poland 80 years earlier.

Good John, who has diligently helped out in the kitchen twice each week since his retirement 17 years ago.

“I like you, but I don’t think you’re contributing enough. You’re fired.”

“Thank you for your service.”

“Let’s make this soup kitchen great again!… Look I have baseball caps with that emblazoned on them for you to wear.

Course, you’ll have to pay for them.”

……………….

Hands

Friends, we’re all in this soup pot together on this beautiful blue planet.

We can cry. We can stew. We can fester. And we can laugh.

But we can’t ignore forever.

History has already written that story.

………..

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. (1958)

Martin Luther King

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

 

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed a Mountain…

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Stairway to heaven

I’d love to live to 100… but, if I don’t… well… if the news about anti-depressants being detected in municipal water systems is true, at least I’ll knock on the Pearly Gates with an upbeat smile on my face.

I may even throw a tiny teehee at St. Peter about whether I’m in the right place…

……………….

(Tragically, three friends die in a car crash, and they find themselves at the gates of heaven. Before entering, they are each asked a question by St. Peter. 
“When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning upon you, what would you like to hear them say about you?”, asks St. Peter. 
The first guy says, “I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time, and a great family man.” 
The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.” 
The last guy replies, “I would like to hear them say…… LOOK!!! HE’S MOVING!!!!!”)

……………….

That’s me!

I’m not really afraid of the actual dying part, but I am nervously anxious of missing out on all those things that are important around me.

There is a universe of incredible beauty that wraps itself around us in warmth and comfort… the melody lines of the songbirds, the peach-blushed fiery sunsets and star-speckled inky night skies… the cozy love and generosity of our treasured ones.

I don’t want to leave any of that grace, that splendour, in the rear view mirror. Must all of the soul-elevating harmonic music disappear?

Years back, I used to think that once my kids were born, I could at last die happily knowing there would be investment and insurance $$ to give them a good forward push down the toboggan hill of life. What more could I possibly need from this world?

toboggan

But here I am – still – today, brimming with I’m-so-lucky pride over my grown up kids, and I’m acclimatizing myself to the idea that I’d really like to see the cute faces of, and share time with my yet-to-be-born angelic grandkids.

And I’d still love to visit a ton of places like Cairo, Moscow, Budapest, San Antonio, Texas and The Alamo (here’s a moving modern-day hurting song about the Alamo that I studied in a songwriting course).

So… life at 100. Yea or Nay? Would you like a piece of that cake?

In 2011, the Canadian Census enumerated 5,825 people aged 100 years and older, or a rate of 17.4 centenarians per 100,000 persons. The 2016 census counted 8,230 centenarians, a 41.3 per cent jump over the 2011 figures. That’s pretty impressive.

Yup, our odds are on the increase.

But, I’m already nearing the dropping off point where my Ma died (aged 61).

And in another decade I’ll catch up to my Dad’s departure gate of life (age 73). “Those passengers in Age Rows 70-75 may now approach the gate.

I sense that I’m stepping ever closer to the raggedy sharp edge of a cliff with no railings and no safety net below.

The weighty question: Do our parents write the rough draft of our autobiographies?

I’m going for a “To 100 or Bust” re-write of my life story, but we’ll see what happens.

100 years old.jpg

Here’s the plan: I’m doing some positive stuff that my parents were culturally blind to in terms of health and longevity. They knew nothing about fibre content of various foods, Type 2 diabetes, or the true lung and heart choking seriousness of smoking and weight control.

It’s a crap shoot but I figure I can do a few things to nudge my odds up the steep wall… what’s to lose?… my grandkids deserve a TMI-sharing curmudgeon in their lives.

Will current scientific knowledge and my own resolve get me over the genetic hurdles I face, and welcome me into the Centenarian Club?:

  • I exercise just about every day… run, yoga, bike, boot camp, tennis, HIIT train, swim, spin class. It’s a part of my habit train that I can’t and don’t want to get off. Endorphins and muscles are just too much fun!
  • I sleep 7-8 hours most days… add in delicious naps and I can get to 9 if I’m lucky. Unlucky you to be around me when I miss those zzz’s… I don’t function well on poor or shortened sleep.
  • I try to help others… I often feel damned guilty about not picking up hitchhikers, but my altruism comes through in other areas like working at the soup kitchen and tutoring ESL and literacy students. I pretend it’s only to help others, but it makes ME feel good.
  • I eat a fair bit of fresh fruits and vegetables (my parents thought – OMG! – that canned green peas were health food). And under the TMI category… my bowel habits are exemplary! That’s the GOOD! Here’s the BAD!: I do eat more meat than I know is best and I have an insatiable sweet tooth for baked goods and chocolate.
  • I drink scads of water plus a cup or two of coffee (via latte) each day and one or two glasses of wine or light beer each week. Depending on the science article-of-the-week (Fake News?), this may be helpful. I know it’s enjoyable.
  • I drive my car between the lines on the road and generally stick pretty close to the posted speed limits… which is why I love driving in Utah or Montana with their 85 miles per hour legal highway speeds!
  • I exercise my mind with reading and blog writing and practicing guitar. The mere mental exercise of trying to remember the recipes for a ton of mixed drinks in my occasional bartending “retirement” job is a huge cerebral workout. Then add in figuring out what the new words mean that my kids throw at me is a bonus (e.g. “He was the BOMB!”… “What? he blew up?”)
  • I hang around as much as possible with people that are supportive, make me smile and sport upbeat positivity. I cross the street to avoid the unfortunate Debbie or Donald Downers who throw gloomy anchors in all directions.

You may have noticed that I like certain numbers. Investment returns of at least 15% annually… 10,000 practice hours… or 1,000 hours… 8 hours of sleep… sub 2-hours for a half marathon run.

Life is a cup of meaning in the joy of numbers.

Today I’m adding a new number to my list.

100. 

I like goal setting as an incentive to a milestone or mountain peak.

Why don’t we climb up this mountain and see if we can summit and high five at the 100 peak of life?

mountain peak.jpg

Cinematic Prosody… Which Movie and TV Soundtracks Run Through Your Head?

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heart and heaven

It can singe and melt the icy sinews of your heart… or…

… it can feather-float you to the heavens.

I’m talking music.

We all know that the occasions, the special moments of our lives- the melancholy, the joyous, the romantic, the heartbroken – are marked, like scratchy tick marks on a jail cell wall – on our interior core by the music scent wafting through our ears at the time.

But aside from those life-marking events, music is also a crucial ingredient of our enjoyment of the artistic media we consume. And so, I’m pondering today about movie or TV music that has penetrated deeply to our inner core in barely recognizable ways.

You may have already reflected on this and designed your own soundtrack “favourites” list, or perhaps you’ve coasted along merrily, experiencing and enjoying without a conscious awareness.

I bring this up right now because I’ve grown aware lately – almost like the discovery of a hidden cave grown over with vines – that the beginning theme music to the Netflix show House of Cards has me entranced.

There’s a symbolic weight that presses into my chest when it starts up. It needs playing at high volume to feel the mass and ravenous teeth of Jeff Beals’ score.

It grabs on and transfixes me immediately. Just listen carefully to its incessant, droning undertrack of alternating bass notes interspersed by a haunting trumpet line that screams POWER.

It’s like JAWS music – duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn … set to modern political intrigue… what could be more ironic, more iconic than a music score that impels us to think of sharks and dangerous power. It’s obvious if you think about it.

A few years back I took an online songwriting course through COURSERA where instructor Pat Pattison brought to me a new word that has changed my approach to songwriting as well as listening to music.

The word is PROSODY.

Prosody is matching the rhythm and sound in music as you would in poetry. Melodic synergy.

Musically, this means coordinating the meaning and sound of the music to the meaning and the sound of the lyrics… in other words… making musical poetry.

In soundtrack music, the meaning doesn’t always come from words. It’s possible to make the case that the meaning of words are more powerfully affected by the sound of music than by the other way around.

The challenge of writing music that achieves prosody is no easy feat. Most TV and movie soundtracks leave no audible footprints in the sand, no languorous aftertaste.

But there are quite a few notable and memorable movie and TV music themes that invoke the feelings and the emotions that coax a good story into becoming a great story…

GREASE

Rocky is better because of the music, Cheers was better because of it: MASH, The Sopranos, The Godfather, Chariots of Fire, Hawaii Five-O, The Muppet Show, Forrest Gump, Grease were all elevated by the accompaniment of their music theme and score.

Just as an aside, many people might add the multitude of movie scores produced by John Williams to their memorable list.

You’ll remember the Star Wars franchise, the Indiana Jones features, ET and many more, but I’ve never been a huge fan of his over-produced symphonic knock-you-over-the-head scores.

While not bad obviously – he’s made a ton of soundtracks and a ton of money for himself – but they’re not on my list.

I find a lack of nuance and variety in his writing that detracts from the potential, the prosody.

But now that I’ve knocked him down, I have to turn around and resurrect his status because the theme music he composed for Schindler’s List is nothing short of a lifetime masterpiece. I can’t listen to the stream of mournful violin notes without tearing up and envisioning the solitary, red-coated little Jewish girl. Overwhelming prosody.

Strong music themes generating harmonic prosody become a deliciously lingering earworm that when absorbed, bring a flood of cinematic ripplings through our minds, often tied to inner smiles or touches of melancholy. They’re beautiful, disturbing, bliss-inducing, unescapable.

House of Cards means more to me, has a weightier meaning because of the background theme. It makes gravity feel 3 times heavier than normal.

Now THAT’s prosody.

Prosody