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I Think That I Shall Never See….

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renoir painting.jpg

OMG… Overwhelm…

…  there is so much beauty surrounding me when I step outside my door each morning this week… although…

… my neighbours don’t seem to agree when they catch a rogue glimpse of me in my PJ’s … Eyes on your own property!

I feel like I’m walking within a revered and historic painting.

The Sistine Chapel in my lap.

Renoir and Monet and Van Gogh have spent the night hours artistically brush-stroking a setting for my feast of the morning.

The palette of blues – some pale, some shimmering – where Okanagan Lake and the clear, cloudless sky kiss good morning is like looking into an infinite cosmos.

Spring.

Oh, it’s not only visual beauty, the almond and tulip, the honeysuckle and daphne… but also the musical sounds, the intoxicating scents, the touch of the warm air on my skin.

The white-crowns and California Quail serenade like a morning coffee percolator, the Ponderosa pines perfume the still air, the just-awakened sun gently massaging my shoulders in a genial hug.

It’s a horn-of-plenty and it’s a vernal geyser.

Okanagan Spring.jpg

Beauty of all kinds is deliciously special to us because of its rarity, like isolated gemstones buried fathoms beneath the earth’s surface.

When we cast our eyes or ears on the spring splendour, it’s all the sweeter because we’ve waited and lived by the gate of delayed gratification, like the virginity stop sign that holds back our ardour well past that other gate, the gate of fleshly desire.

Winter’s chill days have migrated north and a new flock of days… longer, milder days… have wandered into this area to feed and grow fat in our valleys and hills before pulling up stakes once more in daylight-dwindling October to depart with the Snowbirds.

Springtime is the sweetest, juiciest bite of the seasons.

Antonio Vivaldi knew this when he captured it in his violin concerto of Spring.

In the spring, at the end of the day,
you should smell like dirt.

Margaret Atwood

But the real reason I love and crave spring so much isn’t merely about the artistic, it’s also about physics and energy.

We all pretty much know that energy is neither created nor destroyed (my Grade 11 Physics class taught me something, right) ? It exists everywhere, sometimes sitting in silent repose, patiently waiting to reveal its vitality.

Spring, for me, is when that cooped up, dusty old energy hibernating inside me like a spore, a spore that for months or years awaits the perfect moment to return to growth, comes bustling to the surface, crying out for its orgasm.

Yes, orgasm, it’s that powerful.

California Quail.jpg

The energy unleashed on a mild spring day feels exhilarating, boundless and inspiring.

Everything and everyone bustles in the outdoors, it’s as if an Orange Is The New Black prison break has occurred and everyone jumps into the enticing pond just beyond the fences.

The outdoor markets of cities and towns sprout tables of green onions and lettuce where children rush and gambol between them like frisky young lambs.

Even the sounds of lawnmowers and leaf blowers and hedge trimmers aren’t so annoying when the backdrop is fresh, new growth from lush plantings.

The unforgivable becomes happily tolerable when the air is alive with hummingbirds and robins and peach blossoms.

Today… this week… I must sip and savour all of this wonder, this perennial miracle of spring.

I have no excuse to let it slip unnoticed, unappreciated, unloved.

As I wander the pathways of my garden, surrounded by Lily-of-the-Valley sprouts and the soft cooing of the chickens, I inhale deeply into my pores.

When I am gone from this earth, I’ll not need worry about the existence of a heaven.

Each year for many decades now, I’ve been given a front row seat to this heaven that exists in my mortal world.

It doesn’t ask anything from me other than to pay attention and maybe not ruin it all by insisting on wearing my pyjamas outside.

Pyjamas outside.jpg

Ah… Yeahhhhhh!

 

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Is There A Right Way To “R”etire?

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rocking chair3

My “R” word. Retirement.

There. I said it.

For me, saying Retirement is akin to verbalizing “Voldemort”, you know, Harry Potter’s deadly nemesis… “he whose name shall not be spoken“.

Shits and giggles.

Last night, I “worked” again after 6 months time away.

Bartending.

Pouring Pinot Gris, popping Budweisers, mixing Lamb’s Navy Rum with Coke, concocting a pretty Caesar.

Paid work.

It was fun to be back in the alcoholic saddle once more.

Now technically, I’ve been retired for almost 4 years (how did that time go by?).

But really, gosh darn it, I’m not even close to being retired. I’ve rejigged and rebranded, but retired? Nope. I’ll delve into this a bit further on.

Most people I meet in my age category are either retired or thinking about pulling the plug soon’ish.

I love it when I come across a 70 or even 80 year-old who still gets up most days and journeys off to an office or whatever, where they continue plying their trade, working their knowledge and experience because they love and need that stimulation and enjoyment.

Retirement, Schretirement.

Hallelujah for them.

working 80 year old

I suppose that each of us at some point searches within, finding what retirement could mean in our own life.

Used to be that folks worked til 65 and then collapsed on a couch or a rocking chair and died a year or two later on. Now, not so much…

  • For some, the retirement ideal means a day filled with nothingness.
  • Others retire to a life of leisure and play.
  • For yet others, retiring is quitting the 9-5 aspect of work, but then taking on consulting work in their same field, scaling back the time input but not changing the focus of their efforts.
  • Some folks parlay a fun hobby or treasured interest into a new career more enjoyable than their lifelong vocation.
  • There are the ones like Linda at my gym who take a scattershot approach to each day; a hybrid blend of various pet interests, paid work, and volunteerism. Linda divides her days into about 4 or 5 segments where she exercises (gym, curling, golf), volunteers at the school, reads a library book, takes a yoga class, attends a local lecture in the evening.
  • And sadly, for some, the thought of retirement is an unattainable dream, at least along the lines of what marketing dreamcatchers would have us buy into. Either a lack of savings, or employment income that rarely soared above a minimum wage, leaves a gaping hole of cashlessness where a monthly cheque of passive income (dividends, company pension, dividends) would be desirable.

You may know that I have a few pet peeves… things like the totally subjective (might I say “fake”!) meaning of words like moderation, or middle class, or retirement.

When we say these words, every person has a different version of just what that means. You know, potato, potahto.

Example? I’m running in a half marathon race in two weeks. At this stage of my training, a 15k run is a moderate run distance. In your world, a 5k walk may be crazy big, or… if you’re crazy (in my mind) perhaps a 42.2 k run is your everyday. Moderate? Who knows… Same goes for retirement.

Moderation?…….         or ……        Moderation??

My personal definition of retirement means deciding what each day will look like because I have the freedom to chart my course. The point of leaving work isn’t so that I’ll will never earn money again because that’s somehow bad. The point of it all is to have control over my time. TIME, more valuable than BITCOIN or Gold.

I work most days but it’s a rare day when someone pays me to do something. There’s a different feeling, a different philosophy and approach to work when there’s a $$ figure attached.

I liked my job as a medical lab tech/database miner and reporter but I didn’t love it. Or at least I didn’t love it after doing it for 30+ years.

I enjoyed the people I worked alongside, but the work itself? Well, it lost its luster and uniqueness and excitement years ago. The adrenaline rush I would get when called in at 2 am to do blood tests and crossmatches on car crash victims had long passed.

I suffer from boredom anxiety. It’s a blessing and a curse.

I need newness and creative expression. I need to be doing something different on a regular basis. That’s just me.

My “retirement” story is a lot like Linda’s, above. I exercise daily. I cook and play guitar. I garden and tutor English. I chop vegetables at the soup kitchen, I read and write blog posts. I savour warm sunny days and feed the chickens. I puff a cigar from time to time and renovate bedrooms. I bartend.

The retirement story we’ve been hearing about in our society is still relatively new.

People haven’t been retiring in droves for much more than a century now, but that’s still plenty old in terms of our personal memories.

Our memories have strong mental pictures and associations with retirement that mostly have to do with people in their later years. People with lots of gray hair. Grandparents, elderly neighbours, aging parents. Those are the stories we know, so those are the stories we attach to retirement.

But, powerful as these stories may be, they don’t dictate what retirement is, or what retirement could be. Those stories are changing, and dramatically, for those who retire younger and healthier.

When your day comes, or if it has already come, you’ll need to decide what your retirement story will be. It’s your book, your story.

There’s no “r”ight way, no wrong way…

There are so many possible visions and choices… like playing some gentle music in a care home for the elderly…

I decided it would be a great retirement “gig” to play my guitar occasionally at seniors’ homes.

So first, I went online, looked up and practiced playing some of my parents’ and grandparents’ old tunes. 

Then, I was able to get myself hired by a Penticton nursing home to sing for patients by their bedsides.

After serenading one cute, bedridden older lady for a little while,  I got up to leave and said, “I hope you get better soon.”

She smiled sweetly at me and replied, “I hope you get better too.”

Willie.jpg

Sunshone On My Shoulders

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… something touched me deep inside
the day… the music died… 

Long EZ plane 2

October 14, 1997 – A gorgeous sunny late-afternoon over the ragged coast edge of the Pacific Ocean. The plane went into a steep bank, then in a surreal second, plunged downwards in an abrupt nose-down descent.

Yes, another news report, the kind we encounter from time to time as we go about our normal day.

We listen but our heartbeat doesn’t change rhythm or pace, our eyes don’t cloud up with misty tears. 

At first, rescuers could not identify the pilot’s body because the face was burned beyond recognition, but authorities were later able to identify him by his fingerprints.

But once every year or two, a report of this nature catches our interest more than others. When you get to the list of names below you’ll see what I mean.

John Denver, the singer and songwriter who was the voice of wholesome sincerity and simple country pleasures in the 1970’s, died when the light plane he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay in California.

A Rocky Mountain High battered into a deep-sea low… the day… the music died.

The experimental Long-EZ aircraft was macerated and mangled into the earth and rocks… in a momentary inhale, the metronome lost a tick of its time forever.

The death of those who’ve affected our own world, our outlooks, our philosophies, have greater meaning and impact than those of strangers. It’s natural.

John Denver

This morning I’ve been practicing one of John Denver’s 1970’s hit songs, Sunshine On My Shoulders, on my guitar.

I’ve put this tune with it’s simple melody and simpler yet moving lyrics on my set list to play at an Open Mic tonight.

The distinctive, repetitive hammer-on of the G chord into an Am7 is instantly recognizable and comforting in its lilt. Then, the chorus hook transition from Am7 to Bm to C invokes a deep inner emotional tug, stirring up smiles and tears.

Simple stuff but it reminds me of the power of music.

I’m a sucker for the purity and simplicity of John Denver’s songs.

While playing this song, my (lack of) focus veered and soared away into the clouds with the music.

Maybe it was the distressing thought of young hockey players tragically perishing in a bus crash this week.

Maybe it was the heartbreak of lost potential, the devastation of what could have been. Futures denied.

……………….

Whatever the volcanic heat and pressure that rose upwards, it brought to the surface of my mind the many other musical performers besides Denver who’ve perished in airplane mishaps over the past 50 years or so.

Ricky Nelson

  • Glenn Miller
  • Buddy Holly
  • Patsy Cline
  • Jim Croce
  • Otis Redding
  • Jim Reeves
  • Ricky Nelson
  • Stan Rogers
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd

The death of musical icons (I was crushed when Harry Chapin died in a car crash in 1981) is often like losing a close family member or a treasured pet.

A fragrant puff of smoke rises in a gypsy dance then dissipates in the breeze. Gone.

Maybe you were deeply affected by the death of Elvis or Whitney or Kurt or Michael (I don’t even need to list their last names, you know who I’m referring to).

We live the trajectory of our lives to our very own very personal soundtrack.

The writers and musicians who gift us this soundtrack meld with our soul, helping to explain us to ourselves and others.

Don’t you think every funeral or Celebration of Life should be accompanied… not just by the photos that show us what the lost beloved looked like as they grew and aged from childhood to (hopefully) old age, but…

… also the musical sounds that communicate and define that flesh and blood human in ways truly deeper than their physical appearance.

  • A devout Christian should have Amazing Grace and Rock of Ages resounding.
  • An ardent Naturalist should have bird songs and ephemeral new-age music.
  • A Spiritualist should have yoga chanting and sitar strings sending them off.
  • A deeply-felt Feminist should have the sounds of Joni Mitchell and Lady Gaga and Pussy Riot and The Dixie Chicks.

Paul, a good friend of mine in Hamilton, will need to have a week-long Celebration of Life to begin to capture his love of the musician community. It is an entity unto itself, the way we worship the superhuman skill set of a Wayne Gretzky or a Lindsay Vonn or a Michael Jordan. He was handcuffed to music, all music, all genres, at birth and the keys were tossed away.

Of course when Don McLean opined about the airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly (and Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper) and the day the music died… he was feeling that deep sadness that envelopes us when a treasured limb is cut off. The feeling of loss is cavernous and raw and slow to dissipate.

Snap to it now.

All this talk of premature dying has me down in the dumps (yeah, it’s grey and cloudy outside too!).

I’m going to pick up my guitar and raise myself from the depths with a couple of verses of Rocky Mountain High. I want to feel and hear the eagles soar…

John Denver and so many of his harmonious brethren have flown and are gone, but they’ve left us with lots of tunes to help us arise and feel the joy of Sunshine On My Shoulders.

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost all the time makes me high

John Denver with muppets.png

 

 

 

K-Tel vs Amazon… and the Winner Is?

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Capitol record club

Those were the days my friend…

OK, dammit I’ll admit it… it really gets under my skin when people talk about the “good old days”.

Good old days… Did you mean those good old days of cruel slavery and gruesome world wars and where women were unable to vote or own property?

Hmmmm… are we talking about the REAL “Good Old Days” or “New Age Trump days”?

Good old days was one of my Dad’s favourite expressions and I often hear it today when I’m in the company of the elder generation (notice how I’m carefully avoiding placing myself in this category… you know… VANITY is my name!)

I’ll know I’ve crossed the Rubicon to advanced Seniordom (SeniorDUMB?) when I believe that ALL things in the world were better when I was younger. Canned peas definitely were NOT a positive feature of my childhood dinners.

C’mon, every day is fresh and new and has the wide-eyed capacity to be a good day, or sometimes bad. Let’s face it, there are days of exhausting trial.

There are so many exceptionally positive things about the world of 2018 compared to, say, the world of 1918 (speaking of world wars).

Under the category of not better but different makes me search through my inner hard drive for some stuff that was popular in my young days and is now defunct, non-visible, like, gone… gone… gone.

I cast back in my memory banks wondering whatever happened to Capital Record Company, or K-Tel, or Book-of-the-Month Club.

In my 1960’s and ’70’s early youth, I loved all of those companies.

What a delight I’d feel, almost like a Christmas morn awakening, when I opened a cardboard mailing package containing a monthly LP record by Three Dog Night (“One is the loneliest number….), or peeling the plastic covering off K-Tel’s 40 Greatest Beach Hits of 1969… or a brand new shiny hardcover edition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

three dog night

It felt like the planet had delivered the Science-Fiction model of humanity that Montreal’s Expo 67 promised visitors with its motto, Man and His World.

The Jetson’s maybe wasn’t just a cartoon. Good dog Astro!

Further, whatever happened to daily milk truck delivery or eggs, or potato chip or soda pop or orange juice deliveries, all brought by separate delivery truck?

It was crazy the stuff that could be trundled up my street by some middle-aged family man (or woman, we had an egg lady) in an old delivery truck. We never locked our house so they could deposit their goods inside the door.

These were iconic entities of my youth along with the one-armed Fuller Brush man who’d regularly appear at our door, or the knife-sharpening guy who walked up the road ringing a handbell and dragging a pull cart.

But best of all for us kids, was the Good Humor Truck, more affectionately known as the YUMMY MAN.

Yup, the ice cream truck with its sing-song jingle and its heavy insulated doors that hid the delectable Strawberry Shortcakes and Buried Treasures and Tiger Stripes.

He’d open one of those doors and big wafts of ice-cold clouds poured out while he reached in for our precious jewels of creamy sweetness.

good humor truck.jpg

Over the decades we lost these services as bigger and bigger grocery chains took control over the shopping experience with lower and lower prices and the convenience factor that put most of our daily needs and wants in one spot.

Gone was the need to traipse from the baker to the butcher to the dairy, the megastore had them all.

Truck-to-door delivery service wilted away like autumn frostbitten flowers… but much like clothing fashion that circles back around… the Phoenix has arisen from the ashes and we now have…

… a return to the past with home delivery of millions of products by the likes of Amazon and Best Buy and grocery stores and hundreds of others online.

The good old days we hear about have returned with steroidal gusto…

The crazy busy, the telecommuters and agoraphobics of the world have found a sweet spot where they really never need leave their safe houses.

Want to watch a movie tonight? Easy-peasy, just order from Apple or Netflix. You can lie back in bed, wireless iPad linked in, while the pizza boy delivers your intermission snack right to your comfy bedside.

The world will once again come to you with low prices and free delivery. Eggs and milk and books and music (oh, did someone mention PORN?) are available in a flash and a click.

Soon enough the Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers and Millennials will be looking back in their rearview memory mirrors and reflecting fondly on their good old days just as every generation before has done.

It’s the Circle of Life where everything old becomes new again and the world wakes up from its humble slumber and forges off to work newly dressed in a shiny tech-happy wrapper.

From time to time in my nostalgic moments, I find myself wondering why songwriters and musicians don’t make music of the quality they used to, you know, like in the good old days?

But know what? I’m kidding myself even there. I’ve paused at the edge of the Rubicon, not quite ready to make the crossing.

In my youth there was only one Three Dog Night.

Today, there are dozens, hundreds… thousands of musicians and songwriters as good as or better than Three Dog Night…

Yes, these ARE the good days my friend…

Good-old-days

Are You Winning The Wind Game?

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March Wind

March wind is a jolly fellow;
He likes to joke and play.
He turns umbrellas inside out
And blows men’s hats away.

He calls the pussy willows
And whispers in each ear,
“Wake up you lazy little seeds;
Don’t you know that spring is here?”

kites.jpg

March is the month of wind.

As a kid I awoke in the morning reminded of the sky-high possibilities of kite flying in the raging breath of March breezes.

It was time for me and my buddies to put down our beat-up hockey sticks and bring out fresh diamond kites as well as those weird contraptions called box kites that I could never figure how to fly.

Lion winds. Hobo winds.

Cold winds, warm winds.

No winds, sunny winds.

I’m a big boy now and March in the Okanagan Valley this year has been full of rain and largely free of gales, but the metaphorical winds remain steadfast and perennial.

Wind – like a lot of things in life – is how we come to see and feel it rather than how it comes to us… how we perceive the breezes and gusts.

Every day can feel like an eternity of wind, which can be a bastard… or a sweetheart.

So, what’s your score? how did the wind blow in your world this week?

scoreboard

Here’s how I perceived and scored my game winds this week…

  • Run Training: In early morning semi-darkness I shouldered into a stiff south wind on the backside of the running track. It slapped and cursed me in the face and chest each time around the track… I cursed back. And in the end, I ran harder and still zipped around the course at the pace I had assigned myself, gasping for air as I reached the finish stripe on the track.

I overcame and still won.

Two days later I finished an indoor (no wind!) 8 k tempo training run (in preparation for May’s Vancouver Half Marathon) a minute faster than my goal time. Another small victory.

SCORE: Me 1, Wind 0.

  • Tutoring: I sat next to my Syrian friend, struggling with the trials of teaching him English. We have heaps of fun together but the winds were so strong this week that we seemed to take one step forward, then 2 steps back. I searched for calm eddies and ideas where I could pass the message into his head so that he may one day soon find quality work and support his young family in this new and foreign country. He wants it badly and I want it for him… but…

I concede that the wind won the struggle this week as my student could barely remember how to spell his own name in English. Vowels be accursed.

Score: Me 1, Wind 1.

  • Cooking: There was a cantankerous wind in the soup kitchen line this week when one of the patrons pulled out a needle and prepared to shoot up his fix just 3 spots from the serving window.

The other patrons in line let out yelps of panic and angry disgust. Who could blame them?

Score a point for each side here as we gently ushered him outdoors to finish his “work”… he scored a hit in a private, safe place… we even delivered him a sandwich and dessert outside… and the other guests in line remained safe and well fed.

Sad story and a sad Tie.

Score: Me 2, Wind 2.

  • Performing: I played my guitar at a new place in town on Tuesday night. A restaurant/pub-by kind of place.

There were lots of stiff noise winds… the sounds of loud drinking voices and general restaurant hubbub. The sound system was sub-par which made performing and drawing in the audience a wee bit o’ a bitch.

On the plus side, those who were listening to us sing were loudly enthusiastic and positive. Also, the trial of noise and poorer sound quality were good tests of our ability to concentrate and focus on the music despite the obstacles.

The song lived on and that fugly wind storm lost this battle.

Score: Me 3, Wind 2.

strong wind

Wind can be exhausting or exhilarating, yes? Sometimes both at the same moment.

OK, I narrowly escaped with a win this past week as the last winds of March faded away. My lion ate the lamb which makes me a terrible vegan.

Winter winds are shrivelling quickly and we can feel the revving of the summer T-bird, a wind with its own personality and presence.

Inner success is feeling those winds blow, knowing that they’ve come to test you, then turning up your powers and buckling down to overcome and turn tears into smiles.

The wind is a friend that can dress like an enemy… a sweetheart that looks like a bastard…

The score in the game of wind is all in our perception.

Perception