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Skills = Pleasure

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Skills & Pleasure.

I could be talking sex here… alright… I AM thinking sex here. But I’ll talk about something else, OK?

Guitar, cooking, writing, bartending, tennis, dancing, gardening, chess, biking, languages, investing, birdwatching, chocolate tasting. So many more…

Skills and knowledge; they elevate us and make us more as humans. Our lives are stories, and those areas where we thrive and grow and excel within are those that bring pleasure… and exhilaration to our story.

I crave endorphins. I love the rush, the feeling of ambrosia, beauty inside, excitement. I don’t get it from gambling in casinos, or buying lottery tickets, or injecting heroin.

I get it by doing and learning new skills.

I’m working on one right now that I never knew or even believed existed until recently.

I love playing my songs at Open Mic nights. I was on stage performing 4 songs last night: one I wrote, and one Harry Chapin tune for David because David loves ole Harry.

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My Ole Friend Harry…

Sure, it scares me. Sure, loose bowels, yada yada… but I’m doing something I really really enjoy and it’s an intense learning experience.

I’m studying the art of reading the audience to suss out what works and what doesn’t. Stand-up comedians like Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld do this all the time.

I used to think that playing the guitar reasonably well was my core strength – my manly muscle flex – and the singing part of my performance was something peripheral that folks just had to yawn about and tolerate to make the song complete.

At Open Mic I watch and wonder at Richard K. when he’s on stage. He’s an eccentric. He’s an unabashed performer, a Johnny Winter lookalike with a snowy white mane contrasted against classy black suit jacket and pants.

When Richard sings, he opens his mouth like a ferocious ocean storm, gaping wide and projecting from the calluses of his foot soles. Singing is Richard’s full body workout. It’s mesmerizing to watch as his voice pours out like a lion’s roar. I watch… and learn.

I’ve always regarded my own voice as mundane and choirboy-like, too buttery. I have dances in my dreams of parking some Kenny Rogers gravel or Keith Urban Down-Under twang in my throat.

But I’m finding that more and more often, I get compliments on my singing. Some of it is generous fatuous flattery.

However… lately… I’m coming around to the idea that there may be more to it.

EPIPHANY!

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Now, I’m starting to unbelievably believe that it’s the singing that’s my strength.

Have you ever read or heard about Frank Sinatra, and how he made a song uniquely special with his pacing and delivery of the lyrics? Sinatra wrote the book on musical phrasing.

It didn’t mean anything to me when I heard that.  How could it be? It’s merely words sung to a melody line, right?… simple, straightforward.

But no other popular singer has ever known better the combined value of exacting diction and conversational delivery. No one before Sinatra seemed to know where the deliberate pause would paint the greatest emotional impact.

Sinatra was perhaps an intuitive musician, but he was also, I believe, an analytical, scientific singer too. He knew that to inflect a word or a syllable can shift the rhythm and increase the genuineness of a lyric, and can also wash attention over an especially attractive melodic phrase.

Subtlety. Nuance.

OK, so I’m a convert. Now I evangelize as if I wander the streets passing out Watchtower pamphlets. Hallelujah.

I’ve heard scads of singers who have pleasant voices and can stay on key and – OMG, if you can’t sing on key, please get off the stage and go join Boney M and drag your fingers down someone else’s blackboard – yet don’t understand musical phrasing.

Roberta Flack had phrasing. Freddie Mercury had phrasing. Adele has phrasing in spades… her voice and cadence betrays her frailty and, by extension, her humanity. It’s a skill.

No doubt you can think of a dozen singers that insinuate themselves inside you with the timing and pacing of their approach to lyrics. You may not be aware of the effect, but it happens, trust me.

When I practice a song these days, I’ll play it over and over again, and then once more. Jackson Browne would do this for hours on end when he lived in the basement suite below the Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey in L.A. years ago.

Each time I play the song I’m working on, for example, the popular song Let Her Go by Passenger, I’ll try out many different interpretations, and work on timing and nuances within the lyric lines.

Eventually, I unearth a pattern that, to me, extracts the most emotional impact from the poetic words and rhythm. Skills and pleasure.

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Subtlety. Nuance.

Learning through practice and concentrated effort brings me a feeling of nirvana… satisfaction … and… intense pleasure.

You’ve felt this powerful perception in your world when you put in your best effort and surrendered to the sensation. The soaring awareness of endorphin-packed execution wraps you in a blissful tranquility.

We’re all a complex bundle of simplicity and complexity, perpetually incomplete humans in all areas: physical, spiritual, emotional. Our desires will never be fully answered, nor should they be.

But when I’m always ready to learn a new skill, or improve an old one, I’m once again in my “beginner’s mind”, and like a tiny child, I hold that shiny object over my head, and wonder at all that it holds…

Now that’s pleasure.

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How You Become A TOUGH MUDDER … Oo-Rah!!

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Oo-Rah!!

The mud-saturated young lady in front of me backed up, and with a trembling voice said, “No way!

She maneuvered past me on the narrow wooden platform and left me to inch myself forward. Forward on a plank raised 25 ft above and overlooking a dirty-brown manmade pond way down below me.

Despite the modest height, it feels like I’m jettisoning myself from the top of a skyscraper without a parachute.

My heart is thumping in my throat and I feel a heavy heavy lump in my gut … I know I can’t think or I’ll seize up … so I leap …

……………

I like to do ridiculous things.

Like write blogs!

When I think of dressing up like Lady Gaga … or surfing down a Nicaraguan volcano … or eating a Peruvian roast guinea pig … or starting a Tough Mudder event … I feel my pulse start to race and I get excited about life.

Last weekend my daughter and her partner talked me into joining their team to run and confront a bunch of military-type obstacles at Tough Mudder in Whistler, British Columbia. Obstacles with names like:

  • Warrior Carry
  • The Liberator
  • Berlin Walls
  • Cry Baby
  • Mud Mile 2.0
  • Birth Canal
  • Pitfall
  • Balls to the Wall
  • Kiss of Mud 2.0
  • Shawshanked
  • Walk the Plank
  • Devil’s Beard
  • Hold Your Wood 2.0
  • Everest 2.0
  • Arctic Enema 2.0
  • Cliffhanger
  • Funky Monkey 2.0
  • Dead Ringer
  • ElectroShock Therapy

……………

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Oo-Rah!!

The exuberant deep-voiced guy at the start of the Tough Mudder challenge with the red and yellow lanyard around his neck that declares “MARINES” gets us pumped and cheering …

Just 70 kilometres from here is the finish line!” … he grins naughtily with a teasing beam of white teeth knowing the course length is really 17.6 kilometres. “Give me an Oo-Rah!

Oo-Rah!!

“Today many of you are doing something for your first time… let your life be filled with firsts.”

Oo-Rah!!

About 200 of us in this every-15-minutes-released wave of craziness sing the Canadian national anthem and then enthusiastically burst under the START banner.

Four hours later, mud-caked, freezing cold from chilly downpours, scratched and scraped from slithering through mud bogs and beneath barbed wire and climbing over 12 foot high wood walls, we cross the finish line in the early evening sunshine where we receive the coveted bright orange TOUGH MUDDER headband, a T-shirt and a can of cool beer.

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Ahead of time I was psyched out anticipating that the final challenge … ELECTROSHOCK THERAPY … 10,000 volts (can the human body survive 10,000 volts? Apparently YES!) of electricity running through dangling wires that you dash through … would be hair-raising. The event organisers make this challenge sound the most dangerous and scary of all the obstacles.

But after all of the other challenges we encountered and conquered that afternoon, it just seemed so anti-climactic in the end. A few sharp zaps and it was done. EASY!

Either that or I was so glad to make it to the end of the numbness and hypothermia that I didn’t care about anything anymore. Yup, that must be it!

During and for the first few hours after finishing, the mantra running through my head was:

Been there, done that, good enough.  NO need to do it again!“…

But just as I’ve discovered over and over before – perhaps similar to the pains and strains of childbirth (like how would I know?) – the positive emotions and memories edge out the discomfort with a little time.

The discomfort of the cold mud … the icy sensation of pouring rain … the sting of menthol gas in my eyes and throat as I crawled on my belly through the murky CRY BABY obstacle … and that optimistically hopeful word “MAYBE” begins to seep back into my pores.

MAYBE means we have a growing confidence in ourselves.

MAYBE is a stepping stone through a raging river to a positive future of YES.

TOUGH MUDDER was a challenge.

But everyday life is filled with challenges too.

Work challenges, family and relationship challenges, health challenges, physical challenges, friendship challenges.

Challenges that make our bowels loose, our spirits soar, our blood pressure rise, our faces smile, our eyes shed tears, our dreams climb into the clouds.

And so long as we’re breathing when our head hits the pillow at the end of the day, we know we’ve found our way through them. It’s a good feeling when we meet and surmount challenges.

It’s just so … so … human.

MAYBE … Each of us, in our own way, day-to-day, are all TOUGH MUDDER‘s of life.

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My “TEAM GREEN+” c0-survivors post-MUDDER …

Achievement and The 7 foot Tall Dude

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I arrived at the start line of a 10k running race the other day and there was this dude in hot orange fluorescent neon shoes. He was 7 feet tall if he was an inch.

We were all gathered there at the start line – about 200 eager runners hopping nervously in the early morning chill, a bit of dew still clinging to the grass blades under our feet, all revved up and ready to go, waiting for the crack of the starter pistol or siren.

Then this oddity-of-height dude begins jumping up and down, probably to keep warm, but it looks like he’s on a trampoline or something because he floats way above the heads of the crowd.

You know just looking at him that as long as he can stay upright on those fleshy stilts sticking out beneath his shorts that he’ll cross the finish line in about 10 lopes of his supernaturally long legs, miles ahead of anyone else.

And sure enough, he did.

I used to enter running races with this imaginary vision of myself crossing the finish line, arms raised in glorious triumph … crowds of well-wishers cheering the winner … yup … ME.

Of course this is a totally imagination-based scenario because I’ve broken the tape of a race at the head of the pack … not once … nope … not even remotely close … not even when I was in my prime 20’s and ’30’s.

And I never will, but that’s OK, because I live my days like a scattergun.

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I call it my “ADHD” which probably offends those with true medically-diagnosed cases of the disorder. But, for me, it loosely describes my everyday approach to life.

My ADHD is what allows me to enjoy and feel passion for all of the things I love to do. It’s unrestrictive… it’s like the passing wind, rustling freely through a wheat field with lots of wide open space to reach towards the horizon miles off in the distance.

I like to achieve.

But my life isn’t based only on success in one area that I practice … I pursue a lot of interests each day in a lot of different regions … sports and physical activity, investing, reading, building, writing, cooking, gardening. And that’s where I find my comfort zone… my zen.

Maybe it’s a neurosis or a psychosis or a vicious brain tumour that makes it happen, I don’t know.

I’m driven, maybe even haunted, by reaching for the carrot that taunts and teases me in front of my nose.

If I can’t make my nose bleed with excitement each day with a feeling of “I made this”, or “great forward momentum“, I end my day feeling blah and uninspired, maybe the way you feel when you can’t summon your daily bowel movement routine.

Achievement is my mental “Ex-Lax“. I produce, I achieve, I feel light and unburdened.

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Not every day produces something – a blog post, a new song, a gate on the chicken coop run, a chicken parmigiana to die for – I’m proud of … many times I do get achievement “constipation”.

But I know enough that if I plug away day in and day out, leaving worrisome thoughts behind … a day arrives where the stars align and something otherworldly materializes and this is enough to keep me motivated to get up the following day and keep trying.

Maybe this is one of the reasons aging gives us confidence and understanding. We learn about our capabilities and believe in ourselves – we finally believe in our own powers that once locked us in doubter’s prison in our earlier years.

I know what I need is there inside, I just need to be patient, get in behind and push a little, and allow it to surface.

A smile will come to me as I realize that once again I’ve produced something. I’ve achieved, therefore I am …

In 1880, Leo Tolstoy, after he wrote “War and Peace“, published a book that took him 30 years to write called “The Kingdom of God is Within You“.

This book focused not on a supernatural heaven that waits us later but on the choices we can make today that can make us happy and inspired. My “ADHD” is a choice that I’ve embraced and makes me feel happy and inspired.

In the end, I feel like I’m 7 feet tall at the start of the race and I know I’m a winner.

When I’m acting in a creative, productive way, even if I don’t cross the finish line first, or have a million blog followers, or make 25% annual investing returns like Warren Buffett, I’m enjoying the process and getting my little thrills in the little things that I can make happen.

And that’s all I ask, thank you very much …

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