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GRATITUDE My Friend, GRATITUDE

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Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, do, dun, do, do
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right

…………………………………………………..

It’s almost December… now, without eating some magic mushrooms, in your wildest dreams, did you ever think your 2020 would look like this?

Without running a half marathon or swimming across a lake this year, I’m feeling exhausted and beat up –

– yup, beat up from the searing southern political winds of the last 4 years of alternative truths, anger and bitterness; this main course capped with a dessert serving of an almost year-long bout of a once-in-a-century viral tsunami. (Early Warning: I hate to offend, so if Donald Trump is/has been your beacon of hope for the world, you might want to check out of this post now).

Neither of these events have run their course yet, but a balmy breeze is showing hopeful signs of blowing over us in the near future. Once more, small gusts of hope are in the air.

I’m feeling a petite surge of idealism that was fading in my heart.

I suspect you likely feel much the same as me even if your political bent may not lean in the same direction as mine.

I woke up in the early morning hours last night feeling grateful and even a little inspired by this warm sensation (Larry, I hope you checked to make sure the warmth wasn’t something else?)

I’ve been writing this little self-discovery/self-indulgent blog for more than 8 years and 442 weekly posts…

… throughout, I’ve tried my best to root out a positive approach in my writing and my inner thinking, but I’ll freely admit to you, this past year of cynicism, irritability, and rampaging disease has been hard. REALLY HARD. And I know I’m a lucky one who has had no degree of suffering compared to so many others… perhaps you even.

But, I’m feeling so damned hopeful right now. A vaccine is on our doorstep. The hardened Trumpian view of the world as a series of covetous fiefdoms where each (country) works his/her/their hardest to improve only their own lot in a dog-eat-dog fashion is slipping.

The frightful tidal-wave has dwindled a teensy weensy bit.

Why is this hopeful? Shouldn’t we want the best for ourselves and our children and neighbours? Of course.

But MY neighbours and my neighbours children aren’t only those who live on my block, my province, my country.

My wife and I have travelled to many areas of the world and happily found that people are… people… those who don’t speak my language, share my religious beliefs, share my skin colour, my education or gender views, are, and should rightfully be entitled to my respect (so long as they respect my culture and beliefs as well.. and my personal experience is the great majority are very respectful).

My friends in Peru, or Brazil, or Germany, or China, India or Morocco, my refugee friends from Syria.. they all want a secure house to live in, nutritious food and education for their children, jobs and peace. They all want a vaccine as soon as possible to protect their family’s health the same as me and you.

Surely, with easy communication and technology we can see that the world is by nature and necessity, growing closer and closer together and not further apart. With care, there are enough resources and intelligence on this blue planet to give us all ample food security, safe housing, education, equality.

To give to you does not mean that you take away from me. If you prosper, and your neighbour prospers, the likelihood that I will prosper increases. If you have a good job, you will likely buy something from me or my next door neighbour. If you have peace in your backyard, there is less chance that my grandchildren will have to fight a war in their lifetimes.

I didn’t want to give a lecture or a sermon here (really? a sermon from an atheist, come on Larry!), but rather a simple message of hope as we enter the last few weeks of this so so momentous year, both to you and to me.

And so, with gratitude and hope, I want to thank you for this year.

I’m grateful that you’ve taken a few precious moments out of your Sundays, or whichever day you happen to drop by, to listen to my thoughts and ideas. Agreeing, or disagreeing. The fact that you check in buoys me.

I’m grateful for your comments on this blog site, or on Facebook, or in a personal e-mail. I read and appreciate every word, every thought you share back.

Ah, here comes the sun… Oh, what a lucky Man on the Fringe… I am.

And finally friends, here’s a little early Christmas recipe (tune) I whipped up for you in my musical kitchen this week (please listen through earbuds or headphones!)… sing along, you’ll improve my voice…. (if Mariah Carey can show some skin, why not ME! LOL)

On The Road To Becoming a Dinosaur…

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I’m not fully there yet … but, for God’s sake, just send in the meteor now to decimate me totally like the real dinosaurs.

Actually, I’d suggest shoving me off on some northern ice floe but those are mostly melted away now, replaced by Arctic yachts, Inuit bikinis and palm trees, yes?

WHAT? That sounds a bit desperate Larry.

So, am I correct in thinking that I’m losing my power, cracking open the door to irrelevance… to dinosaur’dom?

First, the glaringly obvious – yes, my arms are growing shorter (actually, it might be my spine *measure myself against the wall* … yes, it definitely IS my spine that is shorter)… my skin is getting scaly and rough… and when I get up to pee in the night (dinosaurs always got up to pee in the night, yes?), I sort of wobble back and forth on my legs like a T-Rex or a human toddler, until I feel my balance sensors kick in.

But not all the signs of dinosaur’osity are so undisguised.

It’s taken a few years for me to realize and understand this transfer of “power”, but it’s growing clearer to me that a transformation is underway and will likely develop more completely in years to come.

Sometimes, it takes a while to understand that small changes add up to a larger shift. Only when we look back afterwards, is it blindingly obvious.

OK, I sense your confusion. It might not be clear what I’m getting at, so let me go into more detail. I’ll give you 3 examples in today’s TedTalk… er.. LarryTalk!

1. PROFESSIONAL Work. I was a medical lab technologist for 37 years, most spent in the Microbiology trenches, hunched over agar plates, identifying bacteria, parasites, and fungi that cause infection and then informing doctors which antibiotics or other therapeutics would most likely be successful in eradicating the little microscopic buggers.

It was only in the last 5 years or so of my career that I became truly cognizant of the rapidity of change in knowledge and best-in-class treatment options. The pace was scary. I began worrying about my ability (and honestly, desire) to keep current.

When the fateful day came that I stayed awake at night worrying if I had provided the “best” treatment advice available, I knew that I had to make a MAJOR effort to regain/retain currency, or get the hell out of the way for those with the drive and energy to take it on. I was shape-shifting into a dinosaur.

Instead, I morphed into a happy computer database geek for the last few years of my working career and left the agonizing worry behind. I probably saved a few lives in making this change which kind of makes me a SuperHero, right? (No Attaboy‘s needed here!)

 

2. YOUNG folks begin to talk “around” me. My road to invisibility is slowly being built as kids in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s no longer view me as a source of infinite wisdom, knowledge and authority. Omnipotence Lost.

I can see it coming at me in my world because I know a few decades back, I began looking at my elders in a similar way. I found myself viewing them as pseudo-dinosaurs who deserved respect, but bit-by-bit I realized that I wasn’t putting as much weight or blind belief in their words. The new world was passing them by.

Akin to my first point above, the younger generation(s) can see that older people are struggling to keep up with the humongous social and technological changes that are overtaking us. I’m pretty sure the earthquake – the massive turning point – was when we found seniors’ living rooms filled with VCR’s that flashed 12:00 incessantly.

 

3. INVESTMENT tenets. I’ve been an amateur “investment analyst” for decades, developing a toolbox of skills that have helped provide me and my family a reasonable standard-of-living despite a relatively small income.

It has been a stimulating hobby that just happened to have a financial payday attached. But… big but (not BUTT, not yet at least!)… these investing tools I relied on for decades are slipping because of rapid technology change.

For sure, the principles and tenets of analysis are still valid, but they reflect a world of much slower change. As I’ve told my own kids, ten years ago I could, for example, count on big banks and large industries that were well-managed to produce good returns to me as a shareholder for many many years to come.

Now, because of disruptive technology and logarithmically fast research efforts, the strongest of the strong can be knocked off their pedestal overnight. We are making buggy-whip makers of almost every “old” company in weeks and months instead of years and decades. We can only guess who the winners and losers might be.

The only solution I can come up with at this moment is to hold a large, diversified bag of well-run “new age” companies, knowing that it will only require a couple of winners to make a successful portfolio. 

……………..

So my friends… I’ve got my eyes wide open, bobbing like a prize boxer, as I (Yoda) try to dodge the meteor that threatens my relevant existence.

We’re all in the same ring, floating like butterflies, doing the magic dance of keeping up.

It’s fascinating and dizzying, exciting and scary.

Do you think the real dinosaurs saw the meteor before it finally hit?

THE EXPLOSION OF A SONG

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Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes.
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall and we break
We fall and we make our mistakes.
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When so many have died
Then I’m willin’ to- then I’m willin’ to-
Wait for it… Wait for it… Wait for it…

Lin Manuel Miranda (from Broadway play Hamilton)

Yes, wait for it… I discovered a Netflix show this week that has me beautifully intrigued and inspired.

I hope you won’t find this post too musically nerdy as a river of thoughts has me floating lazily through Songland this week.

The show is called SONG EXPLODER and explores pretty much what its title suggests.

Podcaster Hrishikesh Hirway interviews an accomplished songwriter (and oftimes performer) and “explodes” one song, digging deeply into the evolution and construction of something they’ve written.

So far, I’ve only watched the Alicia Keys and Lin Manuel Miranda segments. I’m hooked.

Although the documentary series dissects only the anatomy of songs, I’d love it if they extrapolated this format in future, taking the “explode” concept into other art forms like novel writing or painting.

Typically, as outside observers of art, we see only the end result and then interpret the story without guidance as to how the creation process was undertaken.

SONG EXPLODER shows us this creative insight.

In my own pursuit of songwriting, and perhaps in your pursuit of whatever your passion might be, to see and hear the thought behind the creation is helpful. We like to see and hear stories where we can see ourselves reflected; this show does that.

Comfortingly, my quest to write songs seems surprisingly similar to those of the rich and famous in this show (Larry, you’re not rich or famous!).

Here’s the twist: in this week’s post I thought I would “explode” the production of a short instrumental sample that I recorded and mixed here in my home studio/office.

The piece is unpretentiously called Love Songs, from James Taylor’s 1975 album Gorilla (I popped another of Taylor’s instrumentals in a post a few weeks back). It’s a simple cover that packs a huge emotional tug for me.

Now I can’t give you the anatomy of the origin of the song itself since I didn’t write it, but I can offer you some insight into how I put it together on the recording front.

Home recording has thankfully become a relatively simple process with the incredible technology of today.

Someone with an interest and a few hundred dollars can make a musical recording that isn’t a huge leap from what was produced in high-end recording studios of 25 years ago using super-expensive equipment.

Let’s get started with my version of the song: the piece is instrumentally sparse… no bass guitar, no drums, no layers upon layers of additional instruments…. just a single simple acoustic guitar (my Martin DX1AE) and clarinet.

It took me about 5 or 6 hours of work (thank you COVID isolation) over 2 days to make this one minute instrumental happen.

My first job… listen closely to the song, read the music, and… practice.

I need to practice lots because the simpler – in the end – the music sounds to you, the better I know I’ve prepared.

The song is played in the key of D# minor or E♭minor. Some think of E♭as one of the saddest keys, expressing the dark night of the soul. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, Simon and Garfunkle’s Sounds of Silence are all in E♭minor.

See if this piece gives you a sensation of bittersweet… maybe longing or melancholy. I know I’m drawn to music that conveys a sadness. (Hmmmm… Larry, you should really see a therapist…).

Once I had the guitar part largely nailed, I began recording on my 24 track digital recording studio, a Tascam DP24SD.

With all its buttons and sliders, the Tascam looks a bit scary and pretty complicated, but can be used reasonably well with a manual in hand and about 10-20 hours of time.

I set up two mics for recording the single guitar; two so that I can “pan” the sound of each, one slightly coming from your left, and one from your right, so it gives a stereo kind of sound as if you were in a concert hall.

It took about 15 “takes” of recording this very short piece into the Tascam because little buzzes and guitar goofs (Guitarist error!) creep in, especially so when you know in your mind that you’re recording. It’s a terrible head game.

OK, next. I transfer the guitar recording into my Mac computer with a USB connector cable. I then transfer the file into a software program that comes free with all Mac desktop computers called GARAGEBAND. The price is definitely right…

GARAGEBAND allows me to make all sorts of mystical musical manipulations.

I could take these guitar files and transform the piece into a screaming rock anthem fit for Queen if I chose to, but this boy ain’t much of a rocker so… not today!

I take each of the 2 guitar parts and give them a slightly different tone… one with a touch of echo, the other more plain and unadorned. I tilt one to the left speaker, the other to the right, and then add some reverb (vibration) and compression for a richer sound.

Now the real digital fun begins. GARAGEBAND provides me with an orchestra or band full of instruments that I can add in quite easily. I choose clarinet for this song because… well… that’s what James Taylor used, although his clarinet was made by human breath and talent.

Using the keys on my keyboard, I go through the song and “play” the clarinet part as if my keyboard was a piano, with each key a different note.

But… yikes, I make a few mistakes (OK… lots… OK… TONS!)… typos truly. Mercifully, the software is forgiving. It allows me to magically change the length and/or pitch of every note I’ve typed in, one by one.

An hour or so of patient notation manipulation and I have the clarinet part the way I’d like. Whew!

Now, the downside, and there is a downside sadly… the digital clarinet isn’t as tonally beautiful as a skilled clarinet’est… the vibrato and smooth contours I’d love to detect in the playing isn’t achievable, at least not with this free software package. Did I mention the price was right?

I now go through the whole piece as one and adjust the EQ (not the Emotional Quotient, it’s Equalization)… the basses, mid-ranges, and treble to a sound I like.

The final step is popping in a simple fade-out at the end so it finishes up smooth and warm like fine bourbon on your palate.

BAM! That’s how it’s made… EXPLODED!!

If you made it this far, congratulations and thanks for staying with me.

I hope you’re ready to listen. Here goes… LOVE SONGS

The Week That Was In A Year That Is…

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I don’t have to explain… You get it, right?

I will hold my tongue over the many surreal things that have occurred in the last 7 days… because… TEAM?…

*hear the swelling roar*

… it’s time for the coach’s pep talk! Let’s go…

You’ve been scared. You’ve been stressed. Your permanent press is gone and you’ve been tumbled dry.

The U.S. election and coronavirus have sucked the gall out of our gallbladders, the storm out of our brains, the oysters out of our shells, the prick out of our boils (Larry, that’s too far…), the life force out of so many of us.

It’s been a week of numbers galore and I am a Number’s Guy but…

TIME OUT!

• It’s recess time.

• It’s time to get past the pity party.

• It’s time for self-care and self-repair.

• It’s time to be our own leader.

• It’s time to refresh and reset on Desiderata and become centred once again.

Ommmmmmmm…. that’s better.

It’s time to get back to the things you have control over (like wearing a simple mask for a few more months); become your own lighthouse in the dark night that surrounds us for the moment, remembering that THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

It’s time to listen to beautiful music that enervates and relaxes. Here’s a pretty James Taylor/Mark Knopfler song to help (Sailing to Philadelphia); a cup of awe-inspiring guitar by Knopfler, a handful of superb harmony vocals, blended with a side of history lesson included gratis.

Get out there and bake some fancy sourdough bread… or make a Curried Shepherd’s Pie like I did this week… yup, look for some Idea Sex in whatever you love to do. I love curries, I love Shepherd’s Pie…. so why not Curried Shepherd’s Pie… here’s a recipe link.

Take care of yourself both mentally and physically. YouTube has tons of yoga and boot camp classes. There are free seminars, university and college courses to be had online (Coursera is a good example).

Try to focus on the positive things you hear and read. We all have the human tendency to focus 10 times more on the negative. It’s a part of our neanderthal survival mechanism.

We have a long way to go team but let me remind you of a few of the positive forces in our world.

1. Global life expectancy (Our World in Data) has been rising steadily since the turn of the 20th century, and has increased nearly 3 years in the last decade alone. It’s now 72.6 years old, compared to life expectancy just a century ago when most people didn’t make it to 40. No country in the world today has a lower life expectancy than the countries with the highest life expectancy in 1800.

2. Child mortality in the world is in dramatic decline (United Nations)- Global child mortality fell from 19% in 1960 to just below 4% in 2017. Average rates in Africa are now lower than the European average in 1950. In the last decade alone, child mortality fell 26%. This number will continue to dwindle.

3. Today, nearly 60% of the world’s population has access to the internet (World Bank). We passed the 50% milestone in 2018 and the trend is accelerating. With such rapid progress, internet access may soon become a universal human right.

4. More people have access to reliable electricity today than at any point in history. In 1990, around 71% of the world’s population had access; this increased to 87% in 2016. Over a billion people have gained access in the last decade. Today, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 90% of the world’s population has the use of electricity.

5. Rapid growth of solar and wind energy (Our World in Data) – solar energy generation increased twenty-fold from 2010 to 2019. During that same period, renewable energy generated by wind increased three-fold to 1,430 gigawatts. Fossil fuels will be relegated to the buggy whip makers’ museum before our grandchildren grow old.

6. The number of people in extreme poverty has fallen from nearly 1.9 billion in 1990 to about 650 million in 2018. In the last ten years, we have reduced global extreme poverty by nearly half to 9.3% in 2020 (World Bank). If it weren’t for COVID-19, that number would be even lower. For example, the World Bank estimates that if the pandemic hadn’t ravaged the world economy, the global extreme poverty rate in 2020 would be 7.9%.

Listen up. I’m not Pollyanna. I’m merely hopeful.

The world has it’s work cut out for it, but there is ample reason for hope going forward…

… hope is what we all need not just this week but everyday and every year.

Now come on in and give me a cheer on three … one, two, (oh Larry, you’re such an idiot).

Happy (Your Choice) Holiday

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I unilaterally declare November 1 as the first International Pet Peeve (IPP) Day!

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve discovered in writing this post that there is actually a Pet Peeve Week… the second full week of October… who knew!?)

Everything out there seemingly has it’s official day and flag (although I haven’t gone so far as to draw up a symbol for IPP yet).

This is a Lilliputian rant lamenting a change in our world. It’s a grain of sand in my shoes… a pea under my mattress… a first world problem, you get it.

And if I describe you in this post (heaven forbid!), please know that I accept and honour your choices and health needs.

We all have a part of us – larger or smaller- that rejects change; change irritates because we get comfortable in our patterns and routines… who wants to change their belly button fluff clean-out day from Tuesday to Thursday?

Anything new that makes us think deeply or differently, or creates a bit more labour for us is a nuisance, a fly in our soup. COVID is a full colony of flies in our soup!

Hear me out: I want to accept and embrace change where it leads to an objective improvement in the world.

I want to accept the many many rightful protests of those (you know most of them by now) whom have historically been under the thumbs of rich, white men (like myself minus the rich part).

So as I chastise you here – perhaps – for making my life a teensy bit more challenging, this is not authentic drama.

Let me move on and explain before you fall asleep…

One of my life delights, a passion you might say, is cooking. You too? Excellent!

Since the very first time I made fried rice as a 10 yr. old without realizing that rice should actually be cooked in a liquid before frying, I’ve loved to play in the kitchen.

Slicing, dicing, and piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that is a delicious ethnic dish (or baked good says my Sweet Tooth inner voice) of any sort is my “big boy sandbox” fun…

… lots and lots of ingredients and a healthy melange of various spices – although not too spicy hot in my latter years.

A good part of the joy comes in the sharing… inviting family or friends to join in on a hopefully succulent meal with maybe a splash of wine… well… this is likely the greatest reach towards heaven for me.

Here’s where my pet peeve kicks in… it’s the change part.

We are a global citizenship of 7+ billion folks with a similar number of likes, dislikes, nutritional requirements, and ailments that need attention, like the child excitedly calling out for Mommy’s awareness as she dives into the pool.

The internet (and some legitimate medical professionals) has untold stories of the horrors of dairy, grains/gluten, meat, chocolate, nuts/seeds, alcohol, the list is longer than Santa’s Naughty and Nice scroll. In millennia gone by, we were just too busy fighting the Huns and other hordes to question: Was Attila celiac? Or lactose intolerant? Or allergic to nuts, or vegan or ….

Part of our desire to live in a healthy state to 100+, as well as our desire to treat animals with respect has altered our collective perception of what we can put into our mouths and tummies.

And so… when we invite guests to share a meal nowadays, the puzzle pieces I can play with often don’t belong to the same boxed set as yours.

I scramble (but not eggs) to accommodate a lengthy list of do’s and dont’s that change with each visit. This tour of my table might require a lack of cheese, whereas the next drop-by says no chicken or perhaps tofu.

So let me say: I love you and understand your needs, but I’m sorry to say, a good deal of my “sandbox” joy has been sucked away by this Dyson vacuum of allergies, intolerances, and choices.

Like all changes thrust upon us, I’m adapting. I’m Yoda trying…

But also know when you drop in for a meal that the thinness of hair on my head is not only from my –granted – advancing age, but from the hair pulling I go through to make sumthin’ that, against growing odds, tastes like heaven for us all.

Happy IPP Holiday!