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What’s This Blog About? A Breath in the Life …

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One minute he was sitting in his car … breathing … just like you and me, perhaps laughing, maybe scared, maybe just sitting quietly thinking about things.

Then, the next he was a blood-spattered mess like we might see in a TV cop drama. DEAD.

On one hand, in the pretend world, we watch for “entertainment”, while on the other hand we cry because it’s real life and we don’t like seeing real people killed.

I know I don’t. I feel the pain.

Today I harbour dark thoughts and nauseous feelings about a cat I hit with my car in Quesnel in 1981. Yeah, 1981… 35 years ago and it still bothers me.

bullet thru window

…………

People who don’t know that I have an alter-ego known as The Man on the Fringe and that I write a blog are bit surprised and curious when I mention it.

People don’t see these alter-egos, the “super-hero capes” and masks we don’t prominently wear in day-to-day life.

We all have aspects to our lives that many acquaintances have no insight into.

I write blogs, you raise equestrian horses or Golden Retrievers, the lady you met behind the deli counter supports a Syrian refugee family and is a massage therapist on weekends.

People almost always ask, “What is your blog about?”.

Well, initially they make snide comments like, “Are you sure it’s not The Man With The Fringes, or The Man in the Fridge?” before they ask the more serious question.

And it used to be the answer was simple. The words just flowed like warm blossom honey off my tongue.

  • Men and Women
  • Venus and Mars
  • XX and XY
  • Penis and Vagina
  • The Similarities and Confusions 

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Now it’s harder to define. Partly it’s because a year and a half back, the FRINGE Man retired from his lab job.

37 years a lab tech.

For 37 years this white-coat occupation defined my life. I was an almost solitary man in a sea of women …

… a teaspoon of testosterone swirling in a large, steaming cauldron of estrogen.

A blood-testing laboratory served me up my own inner laboratory of gender observation.

It was a fun position and I enjoyed it.

And there were times I admittedly pushed the limits of acceptability … often approaching the edge of gender-inappropriateness before easing back on the throttle to stay just inside the lines of propriety.

Most times I think I succeeded in not jumping over the line, although, I confess a few might disagree. Veni Vidi Aberravi (I came I saw I flubbed).

Anyway… the lights have gone dark on that gender-based observational lab now.

It was just like this every day!!

It was just like this every day!!

So at this point in time I write about those things that interest me – just the stuff I feel inspired or bothered or excited by.

I’ve turned the microscope into my own navel, not the flesh-eating bacteria that once occupied my gaze.

For example, this week I’m bothered and saddened to hear that a 22 year-old local man whom I knew when he was a youngster – a child adopted from Nigeria to a local family here in Canada – was found murdered in a car a few days ago.

He was a cute, smiley, enthusiastic little guy who would come and watch his older brother play soccer alongside my son who was a teammate.

Almost a team mascot, he played the role of parent entertainer during unexciting moments of the match.

In my mind, I ask what events and forks in the road in the last dozen or so years brought this happy-go-lucky kid to become the victim of a “targeted” murder, as the police have described it.

What heat and pressure created an apparent lump of coal instead of the envisaged diamond?

Where had he been, what had he seen, who did he hang out with that brought him to his sad, premature, violent ending?

It reinforces in my mind that all of us change over years.

We encounter people and ideas and activities that shape who we are and where we’re going. It’s like global warming on a personal level. We barely recognize the glacial pace of change but it’s there nonetheless.

I’m a slightly different person today than I was 6 years ago. You are too.

I know the shape and dimension of who I am was altered when we spent 4 months living in Cusco, Peru those 6 years back. Learning Spanish and interacting with beautiful, generous local folks and enthusiastic, young international travellers moulded this lump of clay that I am.

Maybe it was eating guinea pig that brought about change, maybe it was the spiritual magic that emanates from Machu Picchu. I don’t know, it’s that insidious.

Every day we’re sculpted and whittled tiny-bit by tiny-bit, the canvas of our art transformed.

But that’s just an aside.

I’m writing now to explore my inner mind, to develop creative thought processes that influence not just my writing but my music and my personal interactions with the world in general. Each week is just a breath in my life.

I’ve lived most of my breaths by “rational” rules and I’m now at a time where I’m truly enjoying living my days more across the “creative” side of the tracks.

For 37 years it was pretty important to a lot of sick people that I never explored a sense of creative in my laboratory job. Creative thinking in such a scientific and rationality-based career would be dangerous, and … most likely illegal too.

Next week I’ll inhale a deep breath and another 1,000 words will exhale. Hopefully, I’ll unearth something creative buried inside.

I don’t know what that breath will look like, not yet …

… who knows … maybe I’ll write a whole blog post about the word:

SAVVOCITY

… just because it’s a cool word.

machu picchu

 

Writing For Myself …

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Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.

I saw the movie THE MARTIAN the other night.

The popcorn –meh – was only one thumb up but the film was two thumbs interstellar high.

I felt a whack of deja vu as Matt Damon, sitting solitary, totally alone on a strange planet, growing potatoes in his own shit … played Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball on a deserted island.

Blog writing is me playing Matt Damon, sitting here on Mars talking to myself … and lucky you, you get to listen in on my inner workings…

Writing affords me the opportunity to talk to myself and decide what I’m all about … I’m growing potatoes in my own shit just sitting here and looking inside myself and the world around me.

It’s like flipping a sock inside out and getting to see my own insides, smelly yes, but a part of me.

get lost

And here’s an example of something I’ve learned:

Two years ago I thought that “sure”, I might have a novel in me, so I took on the challenge of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) … an online 30 day challenge with the goal of writing a complete novel, start to finish.

NaNoWriMo was a fantastic exercise and I managed to eke out an astounding 50,000 words in a novel format in 30 days … OK, I’ll admit the end result was pretty crappy … with a few minor bursts of brilliance (if I do say so myself).

But more importantly I learned – or confirmed – something abut myself that carries over to other areas of my life .

My little life “AHA” was that I’m not one to sit for long long periods of time writing lengthy chapters. I love the idea. But that’s not good enough. NOPE.

My restless, ADHD-type personality just isn’t suited to the full-length novel form. Margaret Atwood or Stephen King ain’t in me.

But writing blog posts is the perfect pastime for those of us who enjoy writing but suffer from short attention spans.

I love writing about 1,000 words each week. Since I’ve been doing this for 3 and a half years now and still enjoy it, I think blogging and I are perfect companions.

A reasonable writing output for most serious writers is probably something along the lines of 1,000 words in a 4 hour sitting.

For me, it works out more like 200-250 words per sitting spread out in 4 one -hour bursts interspersed throughout the week.

Each post sends me down the gritty foxhole that is my mind to explore and dig through my memories and experiences and imagination.

There are countless things I find inside my head that I would have never dreamed existed and yet, by dint of some magical mystery tour, they arise and percolate to the surface like oil crude bubbling through the ground for Jed in the Beverly Hillbillies.

tightrope walker

Another lesson I’ve learned?

When pecking out a blog post:

All that matters are the words you write. Nothing else.

When you write your inner thoughts, it doesn’t matter (and it shouldn’t) what others are going to think about it.

When I write, I have to stop worrying about whether or not people are going to like my story, whether or not someone’s going to read it, whether or not they’ll care. I don’t want to hurt anyone in my writing but beyond that, the horizon is clear.

And it’s not about saying something that no one else ever thought of saying, but about saying it in my own voice. And that’s something we all have.

Writing is about finding the courage to write. Courage to say things that hopefully are meaningful but that we don’t often say out loud.

Fear is this construct usually made up inside our heads. A tiny bit of respectful fear is good … we don’t want to jump into the Niagara River above the Falls. That is a good fear.

But most fear is irrational. It’s our mind, our head, playing crappy nasty games with us trying to tell us there are gruesome monsters in the closet.

And courage is all about realizing that some things are more important than fear.

Matt Damon was all alone on a hostile planet with no one to talk to … no one to guide him. But he turned the bastard voices off, or at least down, and took one step forward and then another step and refused to say die.

We all contain the seeds of courage and the inner strength to turn down the irrational voices – living in the moment – and just live for ourselves.

It’s a tiny step, but writing these words to you is me discovering and nurturing a small seed of courage.

courage1

This Cool Word Will Improve Your Life …

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Caesura

I learned a new word this week and I love it already.

Yup, CAESURA.

See those two little slashes in the musical graphic above?

THAT is a Caesura and it means creating a momentary pause. It comes in different forms beyond music notation that have meaning in our lives.

A rioting cacophonous sound of bird calls draws me outdoors in early spring. A dark blue-toned Stellar Jay sits in the Ponderosa Pine madly squawking at me; a group of Mountain Chickadees are zooming this way and that around the yard pretending they’re Spitfire fighter planes.

Blossoms are erupting in bountiful numbers and the early morning air is scented and sweet … perhaps the daffodils, tulips, daphne and flowering almond have teamed together to make a rich perfumed blend to share with us early risers.

A few shiny sparkles of sharp-angled sunlight glint off dewy grass blades as I walk across the front lawn area.

When I wander aimlessly through my garden as I am wont to do on spring and summer early mornings, I love the concept of exercising Caesura – creating a momentary pause – as part of my spiritual side.

I take into my lungs a deep breath of clear morning air as if I were in a yoga class with instructor Marsha and absorb all that my senses can digest. Calm elation settles over me.

Some might say, “Carpe Diem” or “Seize the Day”. And I might respond, “Carpe Caesura” … “Seize the Pause”.

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Caesura plays a role in other areas of my life too.

In music, both in my teenage high-school band years and now when I play guitar and sing my own music I love the caesura … the pause … a moment in a tune when all stands still for a moment and we savour the silence and the power of the musical notes that have brought us to that point.

Years ago, John Denver sang a song (appropriately called Annie’s Song) about his then-wife Annie where he reaches a crescendo near the end:

You fill up my senses, like a night in the forest,
like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain,
like a storm in the desert, (….. caesura for a few seconds) … like a sleepy blue ocean.
You fill up my senses, come fill me again.

The caesura gives us just a second or two to feel the depth of his passion for her, making a delicious human moment of love stand still in time.

conductor pause

In my day-to-day interactions I’ve learned that the CAESURA is probably the most difficult, but most important part of interaction we have with those around us.

INTER-ACTION… the word tells me I must take action.

But, after all these years I know that my actions can have profound effects on not just me, but the other too.

If I take action too soon, too impulsively, and respond without taking a moment or day or week of caesura, I may, and often do, say something that doesn’t truly reflect my inner beliefs.

It’s a reflex, a gut reaction.

We’ve all had that sinking feeling of wishing we had said or done something differently if we hadn’t only responded so impulsively.

I don’t want my inter-actions coming from my gut alone, although times arise when our instinctive reaction is the one we end up choosing anyway.

I need time and thought and reflection to know what I really feel and think. I imagine this is why I enjoy writing blog posts; I can stand over my thoughts and view them from different angles before settling on the most appropriate.

In a 21st century world where the pace of living is faster than it has ever been, I want to live a life filled with the joys of caesura – creating a momentary pause … my morning garden walks, my musical pursuits, my personal interactions.

I like this new-to-me word Caesura, and I like what it means.

Caesura might take me a moment longer – which, for an impatient guy like me is challenging – but the pleasures, the rewards – are worth the wait.

morning garden walk

Get Paid. Get Laid. Lose Weight.

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Larry SuperHero

I’ve got to be very careful because sometimes I feel like I am a SuperHero.

It suggests power that needs to be respected and restrained.

………………….

You know how when you become a Mom or a Dad and you lose your identity? It’s like you’ve had your name de-listed from the human registry and now you’re just “Erin’s Dad”. Wherever you go in your world, people refer to you by your relationship to your children.

After blogging here for close to 2 and a half years, my given name Lawrence aka Larry is transforming into Man on the Fringe or That Blog Guy, or as my friend Pam mocks me, Man with the Frills.

When I started out in the blogosphere, I had maybe 5 or 10 visits to my site daily. Bit by bit, the numbers crept up and by the end of last year, my daily average was about 25 visits.

Now it’s usually in the range of 60-100 each day which is tiny by blog-world standards, but for me, it’s pretty significant. I really appreciate you and everyone else who sets aside a few minutes to read my stuff.

I myself pass by acres of articles and e-mails every day, so I know that it isn’t easy to attract eyeballs in today’s multimedia, ultra-connected world.  Dreaming up titles, searching for evocative photos, and using colourful language are eyeball-eliciting elements that I put to work.

My first blog post ...

My first blog post attempt …

By now, most of the people I encounter who remotely know me, are aware that I write a blog.

Some of those same people I’ve mentioned in my posts because they’ve impressed me with their extraordinary skills or talents in areas such as creativity or persistence, or their ability to inspire me to invest wisely or to stretch and keep fit. I’m always on the lookout for everyday SuperHeroes.

Anyway, I’m just beginning to stumble onto the realization that I have a power.

It’s the power of the pen, er, keyboard. Frankly, I’m not convinced that it’s truly mightier than the sword ’cause I know I don’t want to encounter some swarthy tattoo-laden hood with a sword in a dark alley and my only weapons are some hard-edged words.

That’s just scary. I don’t want to see my smelly bowels unravelled like a lengthy snake on the pavement in front of me.

However, I know from life’s experience that words do have an impact on people and their lives.

I recognize that I’m connecting with you occasionally when I run into you on the street or we’re chatting on the phone and you say, “Hey Larry, I read your post about “Paid Sex Workers for the Handicapped (this is gonna be a future post!) … it made me think of my poor friend Peter trapped in a wheelchair who’s yearning for an intimate encounter. By the way, I think you should write a blog about …insert your pet peeve or best-loved idea here… “.

I think this is the finest compliment you can give a blogger. It’s a beautiful gift that you’ve wrapped up and given to me. I honestly glow when this happens.

Blogger-gift

It tells me  you believe my words are worthy and strong enough that I’ll put my superpower to use and tell a story or represent something that you feel passionate about.

I have to be honest here. Most times I don’t use your main idea because it just doesn’t speak to me somehow. But I always try to find some hook in what you’ve said to build a story that works for me. And, of course, after writing 130+ blog posts on a weekly basis, finding a story idea that interests me can sometimes be a challenge.

I’ve been told that if you want to build an audience, powerful Blogging SuperHeroes expound on one of these three sure-fire topics that seduce and charm readersThere are a lot of approaches I can use to build a story that revolve around these 3 gems:

GET PAID, GET LAID, LOSE WEIGHT

  • GET PAID: A few of my blog posts have figured on how I go about investing my modest savings.

I have a keen interest in investing money and attempting to build a mini-fortune. Because I’ve not been hugely career driven – translate this to say I’ve never earned a huge income – my issues with money have revolved around taking the modest $$ that I have and saving at least 10% (just like The Wealthy Barber told me)… and more importantly, investing the dollars so that I can enjoy the freedom to pursue all of my ADHD interests. I usually spend about an hour each day reading and researching possible investments, normally in the area of high quality companies found on the Toronto or New York exchanges. Tim Hortons and Disney keep my financial wheels spinning … I’ll hit on this topic again, trust me!

  • GET LAID: I began this blog site with the notion that I would write about the similarities and differences between men and women. I’ve spent an entire career surrounded by a moat filled with bright women. I figure I have an insight or two that Joe Blow the Plumber lacks – of course, plumbing is no longer a man’s domain any more than cooking dinner is a woman’s.

The whole veiled background that bobs to the surface over and over when peering at issues about men and women comes down to getting laid. I usually just refer to it as plain old sex, but the underlay, the true bottom line, is where, when and how we end up between the sheets.

Human nature is deeply … I said deeply … imbedded in the intimate connection between our brains and our naughty bits. We hear about it in our political, entertainment and sports stories every single day.

And so you may have noted that I hit on this area with some frequency in my writing. Well, you can probably lay a few dollars down on the Vegas gambling tables that I’ll be expounding about this again sometime in the near future. I’m a man, and gender laws have proven that we males think about this stuff multiple times each minute. Who am I to break the law?

  • LOSE WEIGHT: Hmmm, just how many of us are totally contented when we step on the weigh scales? If you always have a serene and satisfied smile on your face during your regular weigh-ins, please feel free to ditch out here and move onto someone else’s post, I have nothing further to say to you.

I’ve lived my life on the knife’s edge of muffin tops (do we call men’s swollen bellies muffin tops?). The struggle of enjoying the sweet bliss of delicious, mouthwatering foods while keeping their caloric tonnage from remaining with me on a longer-term basis is as perennial as the moon waxing and waning, the sun rising and setting, Lindsay Lohan entering and exiting rehab.

I admit I am a weak person when food is within my grasp. I love See-Food. So, by default, my writings in this area have largely revolved around exercise. Self-control and initiative for me are mostly limited to battling calorie excess with running and swimming and biking and TRX’ing and weight-training and yoga’ing and tennis’ing and boot camping and spinning …….

Most days each week, you’ll find me involved in some sort of physical combat against calorie creep and so I write about this theme while inhaling my 3,000 calorie snacks.

……………………………..

 

By now, you can see I’m just an average everyday blogging SuperHero.

Thanks for helping me keep my cape pressed and intact by telling me that, like Sally Field on Oscar night, you sometimes like me and what I have to say.

I’m gonna try to keep this knowledge from hungrily consuming my humility, once I figure how to unleash my word power to get out of this damned phone booth.

Gibraltar -- Stuck in a British Phone Booth

Them’s Writin’ Words … A Heartbeat of Harry Hero Worship

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Photo of Harry CHAPIN

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STATEMENT: Writing blog posts is easy.

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Well, not easy… no, not easy at all. I’ve written 130 posts in the past 2 and a half years, and not one was a simple, mindless endeavour, even if you think my compositions about baginas or castration are mindless!

Dogy Balls

I only write about matters that interest me – if the subject doesn’t catch my intrigue, the words will NOT come –  while at the same time, quarrying a nugget or two in the slag pile that somehow, hopefully, will be meaningful to you in your life.

My ego doesn’t fare well if no one reads a word I publish … yes, I NEED YOU!

But when I compare the mental effort and time it takes to write a blog entry versus piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that makes up a musical song, it just seems easy.

Writing blogs and composing music are comparable to the striking differences in playing guitar and playing piano. If you’ve tried both, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

Writing a blog post – like playing guitar – is a singular, one-tracked effort. Putting one word after another is a focussed undertaking where your total concentration goes into moving forward in a single direction.

It’s kind of like becoming a killer kisser. Your entirety is devoted to the touch, taste … all of those sensations that cook up into making one other set of soft, sweet lips happy and well looked after.

But writing a song? Whole different breed of animal.

Songsmithing is a complex of musical melody, harmony and lyrics which is more like combining the left and right hand in piano. Songwriting is a boudoir threesome (like I would know!); there are parts running off in all directions. It’s pleasurable for sure (again, like I would know!), but it makes your head spin.

Sorry Ladies, but I've just GOTTA finish writing this song ... the BIG MALE FAIL

“Sorry Ladies, but I’ve just GOTTA finish writing this song” … the BIG MALE FAIL!

 

There are two independent thoughts running side-by-side inside your head and fingertips. Through exhaustive practice, you learn to separate them sufficiently to then weave them back together in a cohesive whole that makes a deliciously fragrant sonata.

If I want to write songs that are meaningful to me and – just like my blog writing – hopefully contain a snippet of something that has meaning for you too, the formulas that commercialized music depend on just don’t work very well.

Which, happily for you, brings me to the point of today’s sermon … avoiding the cliche in songwriting.

Songwriting cliche threatens to swallow us whole in today’s musical marketplace and it drives me crazy sometimes.

Don’t you – maybe even occasionally – ask yourself when listening to a song on the radio, “Who the hell let that DOG out?”. The music, the lyrics are a dog’s breakfast and still it smuggled itself past a recording studio, a bunch of music-studio talking heads, and a radio station programmer. ARGGGGG!

But there are and always have been exceptions.

One of my lifelong songwriting heroes – I have many musical heroes, but probably none as emotionally resonant – has been Harry Chapin.

Harry perished in an auto accident in the late 1970’s while only 39 years old. You might know Harry for his powerfully evocative song: Cats in the Cradle.

But Cats in the Cradle was just a miniscule sample of Harry’s ability. Harry didn’t write or sing cliches and I loved him for it.

Harry was a husband, father, writer, singer, a supporter of social causes, and most impressively, a funny and talented storyteller.

Today, 33 years after his death, I still think about him from time to time – I miss Harry like a treasured friend or brother who left behind a huge hole in my existence in his wake.

Harry had the ability to find a tiny fragment of the joy or sorrow in the life of a common man (woman) and magnify it into an opus that pierced directly into our hearts.

Over and over, Chapin sketched universal human stories in just a few short verses and choruses.

It’s an amazing skill akin to Ernest Hemingway’s famous brief 6-word story:

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn

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A few examples of Harry’s songs and the stories they told:

  • Mr. Tanner, the drycleaner, who tried opera-style singing at Carnegie Hall, just once, and was cruelly rejected by the reviewers.
  • the lonely midnight watchman in A Better Place to Be who desperately craves the love of someone, and discovers that he isn’t alone in his struggle to be held dear by others.
  • the former lovers who accidentally meet in a Taxi, and sadly realize that their young dreams weren’t fulfilled in the way they hoped.
  • the aging FM disc jockey who’s life lies in crumbles from chasing fame and fortune in WOLD
  • the truck driver rushing to get home to his “warm-breathed lover” after a long road trip in 30,000 Pounds of Bananas.

He told us stories, and like Steinbeck or Austen, his yarns entered our hearts and made us weep or smile with the fortunes of the characters he forged in his mind.

Harry Chapin, so long gone now, was a musical and storytelling saint, an inspiration to anyone who longs to tell a story.

Who of us doesn’t love a story from the sweet, innocent nights where we lay in our comfy beds listening to Daddy’s voice reading from a book, to sitting in concert halls where Stuart McLean or Garrison Keillor recite homespun yarns to us?

That was Harry … Master Storyteller. I miss you Harry… and…

I’m gonna write a blog post about you because it’s so much easier than composing a song. But one day …

 

 

 

HarryChapin

Creating Our Own News…

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Do not go where the path may lead: go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

OUCH.

I just had a birthday and in a curious way, it was a keeper.

At my age (57, ouch again) I don’t usually look forward to adding another integer to my sum (see Mom, I learned something in Mr. Warneke’s math class!). But combine a birthday with your retirement and it feels pretty special.

And because you’re reading it here now, my birthday, my retirement, have become the news.

I made a decision to publish my personal information and anyone on this blue and green globe with computer access, can be a customer of my little ego-story.

The world we live in today allows us to jump out of our consumer role and not just read or listen to the news.

We can make the news.

Let me explain more fully.

Growing up I was a paperboy. You too? Cool …

Spectator newspaper-2

Yup, every day except Sunday, I picked up a bundle of Hamilton Spectators from the street corner just down from my childhood friend Dougie Dawson’s house.

(ADHD Aside: I love people who give all of their kids names with the same first initial – two kids I can handle but 3 or more… come on Mr. and Mrs. Dawson, get a Baby Name book –  Dougie Dawson’s siblings were Diane and Donald … in my bizarro head they’re a waddling family of Disney ducks!)

I’d throw the inky newspapers into a big, off-white burlap-like sack with a long shoulder strap and head off over to Woodman Drive to plunk each of those 35 broadsheet papers in front of my customers’ doors.

I even delivered one to old Mrs. Ogilvie who, in her Scottish brogue, fingered me to the police as the 11 year-old car thief she saw driving off from in front of her building.

Can you see the look on the burly police officers’ faces when I was called down to the principal’s office at Glen Brae middle school for interrogation? Shaking in my little Grade 6 runners, I tried to squeak out answers to their probing of “where were you on the morning of blah blah blah?“. I froze up and couldn’t remember. They sent me – trembling –  across the hall to the library to try and recall a few details.

All the cops had to do was look at me. I was short for my age –  if my foot was pressing hard, pedal to the metal of a hot-wired car, my beady eyes would have been staring into the deep, dark bottom curve of the steering wheel.

Yes, it would have been a very short journey and then I’d have ended up in JUVIE, strip-searched and well on my way to a Clyde Barrow life of crime, perhaps even a White Collar Banker!

My life would be so different if Mrs. Ogilvie was right ...

My life would be so different if Mrs. Ogilvie was right …

Screw you Mrs. Ogilvie … CASE CLOSED (but only after they went after my brother Gord, the next older paperboy in my family)!

Anyway, it was a pre-digital era where the only way you or I would be seen or heard by a broader audience is if we:

  • stole a car
  • designed and built a car, or
  • got run over by a car.

But I stopped being a paperboy a little while ago now and I’ve decided that I won’t only be a consumer or delivery person of the news … I am going to create the news.

News comes in international, national, local, and personal varietals. Some of us are meant to be heard on the bigger, macro stage – the Obamas, the Putins, the Jennifer Lawrences – but really, the news I’m talking about here is on the micro level.

The headlines I’m interested in, you won’t be reading about in the Globe and Mail or see Anderson Cooper mentioning on CNN.

I’m creating a local, more personal version of the news. My edition of the news is called Man on the Fringe, and I’ve been your faithful reporter here for over 2 years and – last time I checked – 121 blog posts.

I choose to broadcast my news via this WordPress blog site, which isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. But really, making your own news isn’t about telling the whole world about yourself, it’s about telling yourself what YOU are all about.

I have a story, you have a story, everyone has a story.

Every morning we wake up and we begin to write our news story. The question becomes… will it be a momentous news day, or just another Pleasant Valley Sunday?

We can lie on our backs and look dreamily to the stars. In the ether between the chill earth and the distant cosmos there are a billion truths, and you have to choose the star that contains the truth that is yours.

Like slowly wafting snowflakes, no two truths, no two stars, no two lives are identical. You can never be identical to someone else but you can manufacture a snowflake life of beauty and meaning that reflects your beauty and your strength.

I can’t tell you what will make your news story special and unique. That is for each of us to discover.

It might be one overarching story that defines your full life existence, but more likely it will contain a gooey, messy, mixed combination of small vignettes that coalesce into a complete and complex story that becomes you.

My own story is a mosaic of writing and music and travel, fitness and woodcraft, reading and cooking and growth in its different forms. Like I said … Messy!

Make your own news, call it passion if you will, perhaps you prefer to label it “life’s shitty meaning”. The title doesn’t matter, the action is the key. Any action is better than no action. And don’t be afraid of mistakes… You’ll never look more foolish than me. Guaranteed.

Write a song: climb a hill that has intimidated you for years: practice hitting 500 putts: make a pie pastry for the first time: shear a sheep: build a spaghetti bridge: start a small business you’ve dreamed of since you were 16: make a life-sized sculpture of Taylor Swift from toilet paper.

In today’s headlines:

I’m creating my own news, and my story will be fabulous!”

 

The 1,000 Hour Rule

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10000 hours

I’m just too ADHD for Malcolm Gladwell’s renowned 10,000 hour rule of mastering something … ANYTHING.

Sure, it worked for the Beatles and for Bill Gates and countless prominent others – but like American Senator Lloyd Bentsen said to Dan Quayle during the 1988 vice-presidential debate:

I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy“.

And I am no Paul McCartney or Steve Jobs or Margaret Mead.

These are all extraordinary people who bled buckets of blood and sweat over years and years to pursue and perfect just one special thing.

Songwriting. The Personal Computer. Anthropology.

paul-mccartney

They focused their entire beings on their passion with unbounded dedication. It’s bloody admirable and I celebrate their accomplishments. It’s like they won gold medals in the Life Olympics.

But for this Man on the Fringe, anything I do for more than an hour or two at a time becomes a burden … yes, a job. Even my laboratory job that I enjoy becomes a job after 4 hours at my desk, so I’m packing it in in two weeks and indulging my ADHD side.

I accept and sometimes even celebrate that I’ll never be a master of anything.  Huh, you say? Why?

I know Mr. Miyagi would be disappointed in me… wax on, wax off… oh, go catch flies with chopsticks Mr. Miyagi!

I’m resolving to be a mini-master using the 1,000 hour rule.

Yup. 1,000 hours.

One thousand hours is no small feat.

Concentrated effort that is expended for that time frame will take you or me to a level well above the norm – whether its playing violin, sinking golf putts, or painting landscapes. It just won’t make us Anne Sophie Mutter, or Tiger Woods, or Salvador Dali.

Let’s put 1,000 hours into context ’cause it’s pretty meaningless when I just put it out there as a number.

A personal example: I’ve been writing this blog once each week (more or less) for a little more than 2 years now.

On average, I guesstimate that I spend 5-6 hours perched wiggling and squirming in front of my keyboard for each post. It’s not easy to avoid the lure of porn for such long periods. Modern man wasn’t made this way …

Putting all of my grade-school math skills into play tells me that 52 weeks x 2 years x an average of 5.5 hours… equals…

572 hours

572 hrs2

This means it’s going to take me about 182 weeks of writing these posts to reach 1,000 hrs of writing. That’s three and a half years of consistent week-in week-out blog writing at a pace of 5 and a half hours a week.

That’s a time frame I can live with. I hope – and feel confident – that my writing skills will continually improve at this pace AND it lets me do a bunch of other things I love to do all at the same time.

Take those same numbers and plug them into whatever your great interest or passion is: piano, knitting, dumpster diving, baton twirling, soap making, archery, Russian lessons, disco dancing … the list is endless but the point remains the same.

You can become really good at a number of things in just a few years with some reasonable focus and effort.

No SuperHuman skills necessary.

Man in leotard

See… anyone can do it …

If I was trying to achieve the 10,000 hour level of accomplishment, I would need to multiply my daily efforts by 2 to 10 times in order to meet the MASTER level within 4-25 years.

This is why I could never be a great entrepreneur. The passion and focus needed is not a part of my internal makeup … it just isn’t.

There’s something beautiful about doing something for the first time.

If I tried to dedicate 10,000 hours to merely one area of interest, I’d be sailing away at the end of my years with many fewer life firsts – and there are so many first adventures I don’t want to miss.

So … Paul, John, George and Ringo’s troubles are all far away with their “Yesterday”‘s fame. Bill Gates can feel relaxed sitting by his fireplace knowing I will never replace his “Windows”.

Dear Mr. Gladwell:

I’m only 1/10th the person that you write about in your excellent book (Outliers) but I’m content knowing that I can live a great life without being GREAT.

There will be no gold medal for this guy but I’ll stand on the podium all the same – silver medallion swinging in the breeze from my neck – with a smile just as big as if I was the winner.

That is, if I can fit the medal presentation in between German language class and creating a fantastic Chicken Kiev a la Julia Child .

Sincerely,

Man On The Fringe

Dilbert 10000 hr rule

Where Will I Fit “Sex” In This Blog Title?

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My first blog post...

Some dynamo’s first blog post…

I apologize profusely if I lured you into this post with a seductive SEX included in the title. It was just a teaser.

I like to write about sex, but this particular entry is just about 95% SEX-FREE, so you might want to move on if this was your prime reason for joining me today. Sorry for the inconvenience.

This post is about choices and decisions and creative sweat.

Movin’ on …

SWEAT

When I go to spin class or boot camp at the gym, I sweat… rivers, lakes, flood flashes. It’s scary, especially for those in the know who cycle next to me wearing goggles and snorkles.

When I write and publish a blog post, I sweat … drips, trickles, rivulets. I want to sweat just a little because then I know I’m sharing something with you that makes me a tiny bit uncomfortable. It’s therapy in a way, and saves me tons of $$ on shrink bills.

Either way – physical or psychological sweat – I usually come away smelling sourly acidic because of something I’ve said or done.

Sweaty spin

……………………

When I first began this extraordinary odyssey called blogging, I would spend a lot of my time trying to think of ideas and possibilities for my next post.

I wandered my cerebral garden searching for compelling thoughts and visions. There were never enough fresh blooms on my roses to keep the bouquet filled with colour and perfume.

For example, before I even finished writing this entry, I would be trying to upload the next idea for the following week. It wasn’t a bad approach, but it was a bit stressful on my inner psyche to be feeling the pressure of another and another and another.

Can you imagine being stressed by something you’ve chosen freely to do with absolutely no pay … crazy or what?

It’s kind of like when you anticipate the speech you’re going to make in front of a group at your next club or church or class meeting. You begin to worry and obsess and your kidneys start to filter more urine than normal and the idea flow gets struck with paralyzing rigor mortis because you’re trying too hard.

I love writing, but I would be a terrible reporter.

My brother Gord was a reporter for a number of  years with the Hamilton Spectator newspaper. I was green with envy when he wrote a big splashy story about the disco scene of the 1970’s. There was a large photo of him on the front page of the entertainment section wearing a white John Travolta “Saturday Night Fever” suit, arm thrust upwards in a disco pose … so cool. So handsome. Sure, groovy even.

JOHN TRAVOLTA SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1)

But aside from the occasional choice story, every day the reporter is presented with a different topic or story idea delegated to them by an assignment editor. Don’t like the assignment?…tough … suck it up Prince Nike. Just Do It!

Now with a blog, you can write about anything you desire. Love, books, quilting, skiing, kinky sex, paper clip art, prairie farming … you name it, there’s an audience for everything.

The thorny patch for me in writing blog posts is that if an idea or concept doesn’t intrigue or cause my pulse to quicken just a wee bit, then I’ve just turned the corner onto that dead end road called Writer’s Block.

It’s a dead weight that wrenches me down and I feel a sinking depression catching hold. My ADHD kicks in in a major way and all of a sudden the ping pong game of flipping into other apps or news feeds or anything not related to the blog writing takes over like a worm or virus that seeds itself maliciously into my head.

Next thing I know some porn, or worse yet, Miley appears on my computer screen.

How do I get this virus out of my head?

How do I get THIS virus out of my head?

But here’s the really neat thing for me now.

My brain has magically built some internal pathways or mechanisms that find, sort and filter for the next great idea. It’s like having a built-in personal assistant; sadly, one who won’t sit provocatively on my Mad Men lap or get me coffee (better still, Canadian Club on the rocks) in the morning.

By blogging consistently for a year and a half, mystical fairies or elves have quietly constructed an underground highway or superstructure inside me that delivers ideas without being prompted.

They’re clever little muse-makers, they know me. I’ve got too much noisy voice traffic going on in my head – beep beep – without adding in more crazed above-ground conscious freeways and cloverleaf interchanges.

This blog post highway they’ve built is a subway of ideas – it’s underground, I know it’s there, but I don’t have to look for it and drive the train.

I don’t know if my writing has improved in concocting 105 blog posts, but I can tell you that the exercise has become simpler, more streamlined.

The process of absorption through osmosis is what keeps the train running.

I’ll sometimes catch myself in discussion with someone. I’m not consciously seeking out material for writing, but I see this little person hiding in the recesses of my head, wearing a visor and horn-rimmed glasses, efficiently storing an idea into the subconscious filing cabinet for later use.

Slam, the door closes and another post awaits.

Ideas get stuffed in ...

Ideas get stuffed in …

I really like Malcolm Gladwell‘s concept of mastery in 10,000 hours. The Beatles and Bill Gates are two of his prime examples of focusing on one goal for an extended period until you become “gifted”.

I don’t know if I’ve spent 10,000 hours writing blog posts… well, let’s look into that here. I’ve written 105 posts and I spend probably about 6 or 7 hours writing each one.

Let’s test my math skills. 105 blogs times 6.5 hours = 682.5 hours, is that right? Damn, not even close to 10,000 hours. My “gift” is still being wrapped.

Anyway, my point is that the more time you honestly work at honing your abilities, your skills, your craft, in whatever area you choose, the better you become. My guitar playing and tennis game are two major examples where I know some focused practice time brings huge improvements.

…………………………

You know what is REALLY fun about writing blog posts?

Choosing a title is what gives me the most enjoyment of all.

I’ve learned that putting a sex-related title – SURPRISE –  you know something that includes the word BOOB or ASS or CASTRATION works wonders for attracting reader numbers. There is so much stuff for you to read and absorb out there that it amazes me every week that you read ANY of MY stuff.

This blog site, WORDPRESS, doesn’t tell me who is reading my posts, but it does give me the numbers of readers and which countries they come from.

I can spend hours perusing the statistics of my blog – it’s narcissistic porn to the writer.

Reader numbers are like eating chocolate, you always want more than you have (I’m sooo looking forward to Easter bunny chocolate next week, aren’t you?)

Writing a blog is easy and fun … BUT it can be hard work too. And I guess it’s the hard stuff that makes it so much more rewarding and keeps my seat in this chair.

The bottom line is that I don’t have anything very wise to say.

I’ve had a few experiences that I enjoy sharing with you, but I’m just an ordinary Joe.

An ordinary Joe who likes to sop up the salty beads of sweat, whether it’s in a gym, or at a keyboard, happily constructing sentences from fragments of my life and the great people around me.

Oh, and concocting racy SEXY blog titles!

SWEAT

EXTRA EXTRA … Don’t Quit Your Day Job! Blog Post #102

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the_old_man_in_the_mirror

Some days we can’t avoid looking at the face, the impostor that pretends it’s us in the mirror, which means that today’s blog will be one of personal reflection.

I’m a bit of an incurable dreamer.

But even I can’t dream of ever eking out a living as a writer, or a songwriter, or a singer.

“Whatever you do, don’t quit your day job”, you could say to me.

Yes, not a single penny has touched the creases of my sweaty palms, or my bank account, from setting words down here.

My only “artistic” payment was received years ago, when, occasionally, a couple of friends and I sweetly harmonized Simon and Garfunkle and James Taylor folk songs in Yellowknife bars and received “payment” in drinks … which is really the currency of choice for 20-somethings anyway.

Larry Nancy Jim YK Bar 1978 copy

Larry (me), Nancy and Jim make beautiful harmony in Yellowknife’s Hoist Room in 1978…

But for me at least, writing’s not about the money … writing has swept a veil away from my eyes and made my life more LIVABLE.

Just over a year and a half ago, I began writing these weekly messages with the goal of reaching 100 posts and then perhaps moving on to other things. Starting the blog was a nervous leap for me because I knew I would expose my messy insides to you and I worried about what you would think.

Two weeks ago while meandering, listening, observing and soaking up the cultural uniqueness of Morocco and Spain, I quietly passed through the 100 blog post mark.

There I was, living the Hemingway-esque life of Spanish cafes and cold cervezas and observing people chattering in the crowded, narrow streets. Travelling takes my mind in a slew of fresh, new directions just like the Santa Maria carried Columbus to discover new worlds.

And now, I’m stamping my childish feet, and in a fit of personal selfishness, I’ve decided to carry on writing this blog a bit longer, sharing with you my foibles and insights. How long? … how many more posts? … who knows? … But who can resist the pay?

It’s no great secret – as you’ve likely figured out by now – I don’t have any magical thoughts or special gifts or amazing intelligence (feel free to shake your head in disagreement here). Blog writing has been a challenge I put forward to myself to generate and mix together that idea sex that might connect with others in a small way.

And sort of like what I find when I’m running, I get a little “endorphin-like” high in sharing my ideas, my personal thoughts, and developing word pictures in my writing. You might get this feeling when you’re knitting, playing piano, fixing a bike, or cooking. I think it comes down to our personal passions.

I have the internet and YOU to thank for making this all possible. And for that, I’ll be happy to share ALL of my revenues with you equally!

……………………

Paying attention ...

Paying attention …

Writing makes me pay attention.

Our lives, yours and mine I’ve learned, are full of outward observation and self-discovery if we just pay attention.

I’ve realized that before I began writing these weekly blurbs, I wasn’t paying attention.

Now, when I step outside my house on a bright spring morning, I see the deep, snaking wrinkles in the orangy bark of the Ponderosa Pine trees more precisely and hear the “dee dee dee”  call of chickadees more consciously.

To write – a book, a blog, a song –  you must observe.

When I’m speaking with someone, I’m more aware of the tight smiles or hidden joy in facial expressions and tone of voice. There’s a whole lot that you and I say to others that the blind would never hear.

It’s like there’s this alternate universe that I never knew existed. How many other universes are out there that I’m not noticing?

………………………

Love Me or Hate Me … Your Choice

It’s easy to get people to hate you when you write a blog. Newspapers (usually) deal in facts, along the line of what the satirical The Onion states:

World Mortality Rate Holds Steady At 100%”

world mortality 100%

But a blog post is opinion and attitude, and not everyone shares the same opinions. I read somewhere that when you write an opinion piece, 1/3 will love you, 1/3 will hate you, and 1/3 won’t care.

I’d love it if 100% of the people who read my blog loved me and agreed with me 100% of the time. Fat chance. That’s a dream world beyond this galaxy, and would also be a bland upshot if nothing I said challenged or rubbed you in a slightly disagreeable way.

I don’t want to hurt you or anyone else with my views, but I also don’t want, like the editor of my small-town local newspaper, to write a page-full of words and end up saying nothing for fear of alienating anyone.

Most of the comments I receive back about my posts are from friends who are wonderfully positive and supportive.

When I hear the little computer “ting” of a new comment coming in, I excitedly read and absorb the message. Then I sit back and bask in the glow when the responder agrees or gives me a pat on the back. “They obviously have wonderful powers of judgment.”, I say to myself.

But when people get angry at me I get angry back – “jerk, what does he know about anything? “. Then I hold my breath for a few seconds, breathe deeply again and try to decide if their message has a positive take-away for me. Hopefully, I’ll find a nugget of sage wisdom that will become a part of my future thinking.

If not, then I try to forget it. Just doesn’t matter. Then I envision them having sex and the stupid look on their face. Breaks me up every time.

I choose to write this blog, and so I have to accept the consequences of how my message will be interpreted, right?

So whether I tell you how much I love women in high heels, or how I loath “Man Boys” –  young men that spend their lives playing video games in their parent’s basements, or how deeply I admire Steve Carell, I’ll live with the fallout if that gets under your skin.

Bottom line … I’m staying with you here for a while longer. And the fact that you are willing to take 5 or 10 minutes from your incredibly busy lives each week to read something I write, is INCREDIBLY gratifying to me.

Love Me or Hate Me … I’m The Man On The Fringe!

SALLY_FIELD

…or Hate Me, your Choice!

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