Home

The Lamp Is Burning Low …

Leave a comment

winter ghost 2.jpg

Winter almost ghosted us here …

As we creep alongside the start of a new month, there is finally a tiny white cupcake frosting layer on the ground.

Typically by this point, the Okanagan Valley has reliably weathered through a bum-chilling cold snap (or two) where the temperature slips downwards to -15C, occasionally even -18C or so.

Even though the temperatures haven’t dipped much below -5C this season, and snow has been virtually non-existent, the vistas outside my windows are at long last those that resemble true winter. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….

It’s in these greyer days of winter when my mind absorbs the darkness and wanders to the family and friends and acquaintances whose footsteps can no longer be heard treading the halls of real life.

In many ways, it’s surreal, like maybe they never truly existed, like whispers in the forest.

I know they did, but it still feels dreamy, water slipping between my fingers.

I had grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, in-laws, neighbours and friends; real fleshy, imperfect people who lived the same as me, ones that breathed and worked and fucked and worried and laughed and shit and sweat and dreamed…

moon dream

I dreamed of my boyhood friend Frank the other night.

When Frank died in a motorcycle accident in 1989 (age 32) I sobbed my memories and smiles and worries as I read the mournful letter his Mom sent me.

Her writing was a grief-laden waterfall of tears in words.

I washed over that painful parapet along with her in the bittersweet memory of youth lost. Heartbreak poured across the page from her pen.

I once saved Frank from the certainty of high school suspension when he was falling down drunk at a Grade 11 dance … we played touch football in the summer and street hockey beneath winter street lights … he and I shared a strange enjoyment of growing Venus Flytrap plants … he trounced me regularly at chess and ping-pong matches … we ate up the love in his Mom’s Hungarian cooking whenever – day or night – we walked through the door to his house … we consoled each other when our hearts were broken by pretty young attractions …

Thirty years on, and he, and others, still live inside me, the laughter and the tears.

We all carry an inner vision of those who mattered to us and are gone, those who were a part of shaping us from rough pieces of clay … I never met 3 of my 4 grandparents and yet I still envision them as components of my real world … a puzzle piece in my creation.

When I play my guitar quietly in the dim light of wintry evening darkness, my mind and heart wander the bygone roads where so many have travelled, where so many have faded into the fog.

These lives are the profusion of faces and voices I’ve known or known of … those whose memory lamp is burning low but not yet extinguished … within me.

candle burning

 

 

 

The Carousel of Cardio & Pain*

Leave a comment

MoS2 Template Master

Is there anything better than waking up to the screaming voices of tortured muscles and limbs?

Don’t answer that … yet!

You know, the body parts that have been stretched and run and twisted and pushed to a moderate degree beyond comfort while exercising.

It’s no secret that I’m a goal-oriented dude who, paradoxically prefers nothing better than hours and hours of slackadaisical repose… unless… a venture lays before me in the near future that requires a steady simmering build-up of energy.

I met a guy my age – Cary – at the gym the other day, he said… 10 years ago, I ran 10 kilometres in about 42 minutes.

I told him that my “younger” man goal had been to run a 40 minute 10k. I came up short by 21 seconds in 1990 and was never able to get my running fitness to that level ever again.

Cary had a pulmonary embolism 7 years ago and now pushes hard to run a 55 minute 10k.

I didn’t have a pulmonary embolus and I have to run hard now to make a 55 minute 10k.

Training for those runs as a young guy was stimulating … and also came with a modicum of pain. But back then, my mental stamina was strong and pushing hard through the pain was a price I happily paid to myself to compensate for the payoff of attaining my goals.

The training needed to run a 10k in 55 minutes or a half marathon in 2 hours now leaves me with about the same physical pain I experienced in 1990 with 40 minute 10k’s and 1.5 hour half marathons.

tough mudder

What has changed for me, above and beyond the natural aging process, is my mental strength. I can’t crush the gas pedal the way I once did.

Like a cascading river washing over rocks for centuries and millennia, the smoothing and wearing down over time has worked the same process on my mental stamina and grit.

The mere act of physically pushing over decades has polished down the keen edge of mental competitive spirit that once filled my head and body.

It’s kind of funny to me because the mental edge of sharpness that was present for running (and swimming and cycling) has more recently transferred – transformed – into an eager mental edge for improvement on the musical side of my character.

Today, I’m willing and passion-filled to push myself to refine and enhance my guitar skills – skills where I tended towards laziness in years’ past.

Do you find something similar happening to you in the areas of your world where you embrace an enthusiasm and zest – are you too morphing from the ardour of one facet of your life and experiencing a surge in another?

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same…

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange

David Bowie

I’ve changed … I’m always changing but …

I still love pushing myself and feeling a bit of muscular pain in the morning.

I still love crossing the finish line of a running race.

I still love the rush of endorphins when I strum the last chord of a song and I hear the whoops of the audience that felt a tiny river of joy … or memory … or love … that my song gave them.

The carousel that sometimes gives us pain may also leave a beautiful aftertaste of pleasure in its wake.

* with thanks to Margot H for the blog title.

carousel.jpg

 

 

My Island of Lost Focus

2 Comments

educated

The bloody epic battle between knowledge, education and understanding vs Trump World idiocy and xenophobia will end soon.

I have to have hope.

Reading leads me to greater understanding. Reading takes concentration and focus.

Educated (Tara Westover) and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Yuval Noah Harari).

These are the books I’m currently “reading”. They’re both excellent, somewhat disturbing books for our disturbing times. But ultimately they offer hope.

Hope is a human joy and strength.

Some people read a book or two each week. I’m lucky if I get through one per month (or 3 months).

I don’t read enough to truly satisfy my quest for greater understanding of humanity and I probably never will.

You see, I hope that if I read of someone else’s effort and expertise I can shorten the 10,000 hour requirement of getting weally good at something.

But I don’t seem capable of juggling my desire to participate in 10 activities simultaneously with any aplomb. Sad.

The clutter in my mind is a blessing and a curse. You too, right?

My daily to-do list starts as a focussed, “I’ll do these 3 things… well” affair that evolves into a list of a dozen items. It’s my pseudo-ADHD gene acting up.

Focus Lost.

Which brings me back to reading because reading demands focus and attention.

I just hate it when I’ve read a page of great writing only to discover that I’ve totally not absorbed a page of great writing. My mind has moved on to the next item(s) on my daily list. Squirrel!

Yup, Focus Lost.

Reading is only one example of My Island of Lost Focus.

Today I’m using you to help me focus on FOCUS.

So, what are 8 things I can do to re-establish focus in my daily world?

  1. Be ruthless in making a daily to-do list that doesn’t exceed 5 items. I’m sorry, but anything else will just have to wait (or be lost forever). Example from today’s list: 1. Write this blog post 2. Research and write up a list of potential investment choices for a friend who’s asked for my help 3. Write an e-mail of condolence to an old friend whose Mom died recently 4. Work on developing an introductory instrumental for a song my duet partner has written lyrics for 5. Investigate the purchase of an inexpensive used laptop for my Syrian student.
  2. Always do the most challenging point(s) early on in the day (before 11 am). Anything I do after the witching hour of 11 am or noon is just sheer gravy. Peak productivity for me happens for only a half dozen hours after my 5 am internal alarm rings. I admire those who have power surges in the evening, but when the sun sets, so does my kinetic energy.
  3. Take a short break every hour. Make a cup of tea or latte and then return to the task with a refreshed outlook.
  4. Or change tasks for the next hour, not all points need to be completed in one go so long as I come back to finish it the same day.

da vinci quote

 5. Be sure to share the important things that you want to do with your family and friends so that your feet are held to the fire. Motivation comes from the energy and input of the ones you admire and mirror. Remember you’re the average of all the people who surround you.


 6. Listen to some bright, peppy music to get the energy flowing back to its peak. Beach Boys, Eagles, even an old ’80’s song I listened to while run training by Wayne Gretzky’s former girlfriend Vikki Moss.

 7. Stay focussed on the bigger picture. A life can pass by so easily by doing only the tiny everyday items (laundry, vacuuming, washing the car) that obstruct our view of what we truly want to accomplish with our time. We’re all working in a world of limitless possibilities but we’re also in a world of limited time.

8. Finally, I must remember, like in Desiderata, Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself … And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

…………………….

Whew… that was a mere 8 Lessons for the 21st Century for me … OK … item #1 knocked off my to-do list (of course I got diverted while writing and have already completed numbers 4 and 5!).

Latte time, then it’s back to #2 and #3.

Oh, and thanks for keeping me from being a forlorn castaway on My Island of Lost Focus.

castaway.png

 

 

 

 

 

F*** What????

2 Comments

FuckedUpedness.jpeg

FuckedUpEdNess!

There, I said it… forgive me but… YAY!!

It’s a word I’ve anxiously saved and hoarded all of last year to make use of, so please excuse my bold application, but at last, its time has come.

And really, using it to describe my own actions (and those of the Man Down South) makes it OK to use, doesn’t it?

I’m writing this week’s post with a slightly rosy hue burning my cheeks (not the ones I’m sitting on!).

I spend a not-inconsiderable amount of time each day, week, and year, examining and studying, then finally purchasing (and selling) tiny amounts of publicly-traded companies in both Canada and the US.

My long-stated goal has been to swing a bat with care and sagacity to bring about an average return of about 15% on my accounts and those I advise on.

Each year (mostly), I happily highlight my investment acumen in the cases where I’ve made some head-swelling choices, and to be fair, grimly excoriate my less well-chosen trades on the markets.

BUT! The big bold F word above tells you which direction my choices have driven this past year… a Thelma and Louise skid off the steep cliffs of investment return. NEGATIVE!

Because I act as a kind of amateur investment advisor to my kids, I’ve already sent them each a letter of (FuckedUpedNess) apology and mea culpa for the bad news I wrought in their accounts that wasn’t so bad until … the final month of the year when the wheels were violently ripped off this market money wagon… CRASH!

To be a little gentle on myself, I know that all North American markets took a big haircut on the year. To be a little less gentle on others, I feel exasperated and irked with the Man Down South.

trump buck.jpg

But blaming others just isn’t healthy. I won’t go down that road. Please please please help me to not go down that road.

I know from lengthy experience that markets aren’t a solid, joyous ride up the rollercoaster…. on occasion, there is an underwear-staining heart-thumping tear down a steep track that we must expect.

OK… brass tacks … what’s all this FuckedUpedNess fuss about?

The bottom line: the return on my investments for 2018 was a sub-standard -1.76%.  My first down year since 2008. By comparison, the S&P 500 (the broad U.S. measure of markets) dropped 4.4% in 2018 and the TSX Composite fell 8.9%.

I hate it when I see my net worth sink even a little. When you invest on a serious level, net worth has a rough correlation with net self-esteem!

OUCH!

A negative result is different now than before.

I’m finding out in a non-fictional way today that negative returns have a real-life impact on a Retiree’s (there’s that nasty “R” word!) world… the regular bi-weekly paycheque has gone AWOL and is no longer a credit to balance the debits! The teeter-totter has lost one of its players.

But I’ve long known that a job is only one source of income. The American IRS suggests the average millionaire has seven sources of income. We should all strive for multiple streams of $, yes?

OK, enough delay… it’s time to pony up and share my results over the short and longer-terms.

I’m definitely no Warren Buffett when it comes to investing – the multi-billions keep slipping from my hands – but I’ve carried out my role in an OK kind-of-way over time, and more importantly, I love the pursuit, the challenge.

So here are my cumulative annualized returns over the past decade (to shrink my head a tiny bit, I’ve added in year 11 as that was the year of the big 2008 slide… a harrowing -37.1% return):

  • 1 year     -1.8%
  • 3 year     +6.1%
  • 5 year     +6.8%
  • 10 year   +19.7%
  • 11 year   +14.5%

Only over the 10 year period have I attained the pinnacle (15%+ returns) that I’ve been climbing towards. Clearly, my goals have outshot my reality. I’m not giving up!

And for this past year, I’m putting my investing acumen and self-accolades in the FUCKEDUPEDNESS column.

Guess I’ve gotta keep working on my swing (maybe I just haven’t reached my 10,000 hours of mastery yet). I hate those years when I strike out.

I don’t want to have to pull out that F word again next year!light sabre bat.jpg