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A Simple Sunny Day Conversation

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… muddled darkness still filled the winter-chilled room when I slid back into my dream …

William Goldman, Nora Ephron and Aaron Sorkin sat in a haze of talkers’ block, frustratingly biting fingernails and pulling hair over a discussion of how… how and why they write their movie screenplays.

Yes…

THE William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, The Princess Bride),

Yes…

THE Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia) and

Yes…

THE Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network, Molly’s Game).

Three spirited and gifted talents, hardworking Jewish folks, mystically wired to type out brilliant lines of cinematic dialogue that the world slurps up like delicious soup from a beautiful pottery bowl in the sunshine.

…………………..

Butch Cassidy: Do you believe I’m broke already?
Etta Place: Why is there never any money, Butch?
Butch Cassidy: Well, I swear, Etta, I don’t know. I’ve been working like a dog all my life and I can’t get a penny ahead
Etta Place: Sundance says it’s because you’re a soft touch, and always taking expensive vacations, and buying drinks for everyone, and you’re a rotten gambler.
Butch Cassidy: Well that might have something to do with it.
William Goldman

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…………………..

Just like in the movies they wrote, the conversation flows like silky sap from maple trees in early spring.
 .

Why do we bother writing if it’ll all just be rain down a drain when we’re gone?’

‘And why am I trying to write lines coming from people who are smarter than me? I don’t think it can be done.’

‘Sure, and why do we make tasty foods to eat when the basic building blocks of healthy life don’t require any flavour, or at least pleasant flavour?’

All so serious.

Nora smiled and sighed loudly. Shaking her head, she tilted up to the royal blue, squinting into the sun beating down on them as they sipped margaritas on Sorkin’s back patio overlooking the resonant Pacific on California’s coast. A slew of gulls squealed and shrieked over the waves.

Guys, this is silly. There is no reason to writing.’

‘There is no reason to life. It just is.’

‘Stop obsessing about why and enjoy the trip, the process.’

You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it,‘ she added, not knowing why.

Nora was always so grounded. So sensible. Or maybe it was the tequila-tainted inebriation talking.

But of course, Nora is dead and has access to metaphysical ideas and thought that the rest of us here on earth can’t see yet.

Except dreams.

Dreams allow us that delicious fusion of combining life with death, truth with fiction, oil with water.

…………………..

Sally (on faking orgasms): “Nothing. It’s just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one time or other have done it so you do the math.”

Nora Ephron

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…………………..

People don’t talk in real life like they do in the movies. That’s the beauty of what we do.’

Real people don’t kidnap couples from the side of the road and boldly declare, “We’re Bonnie and Clyde. We rob banks!” Never been said outside of a movie theatre.’

Yeah or … “You can’t handle the truth! Son we live in a world that has walls, and those have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it, you, you lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury, you have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence while grotesque and incomprehensible, to you, saves lives.” ‘

‘That’s true, we can’t write the boring stuff, but we can take conversations and make them sound alive, believable as if it really happened just the way we wrote it. Audiences want to believe’

Believe, huh? No one believes or cares that we wrote crap for years that no producer or studio would touch.

…………………..

NEWSROOM’s Will McAvoy (to college students proudly calling America the greatest country in the world): “There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”

Aaron Sorkin

Newsroom .jpg

…………………..

Aaron jumped up and after a slight wobble, arrowed himself back into the house, returning just as quickly with a thick, yellowing manuscript in his hand.

‘Look, I wrote this screenplay for Warren Beatty years ago. It’s called Ocean of Storms. It’s embarrassing. There’s no music in this. It’s totally missing any rhythm. I wish I could write it from scratch all over again.’

‘Shit you guys… I’m dead … Sleepless no more… so listen up while you can.’

Nora leaned forward, scanning the faces of both men. Goldman and Sorkin straightened in their leisure chairs, looking all the part of schoolboys in short pants ready to be chastised by the wise schoolmarm.

‘We all want instant perfection. You want a meaning to writing or life? I’ll give you my secret. Free, keep your dimes in your pockets.’

‘You do what you do well and know that it will never be good enough.’

‘You write and you write and you get a teeny fraction better, maybe not every day but at least every year or every decade. And you capture joy like children’s marbles knowing that your abilities and understanding are tiptoeing up a mountain who’s peak is in the clouds and you’ll never see the peak no matter how high you climb because the little secret is… there is no peak.’

‘All you do is keep making the mountain higher and higher like you’re some Godless one who can build their own mountain. And once in a while you stop climbing and look around at the beautiful scenery below because the higher you climb the more magnificent the view becomes.’

‘We’re all a bunch of Shakespearean fools, or insecure Charlie Brown’s. The climber one day stumbles and falls, but the mountain still stands there for others to ascend and make larger.’

The limey margaritas tingled and settled inside in a soft, mellow pillow…

… my dreamy haze was lifting in early morning light as, in a muted unusual moment, all three, the great dialogue communicators, sat quietly, reflecting on a simple, sunny day conversation.

Sunshine on Pacific.jpg

 

 

 

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That Brand New Baby Smell…

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Mmmmmmmm. It’s like new car scent blended with cozy, fleecy blankets all rolled up in a warm, gooey cinnamon bun.

Anticipation is a magnificent thing. 

Anticipation of a Christmas work bonus… anticipation of a new baby… anticipation of a warm, fun, beach vacation… anticipation of the first splotch of ketchup on your steaming french fries… anticipation of a meeting with your probation officer. I don’t know. Anticipation.

For a few years now, I’ve been seeking out and lovingly caressing 12-string guitars to add to my happy family of stringed instruments… my current family constellation is two 6-string guitars, banjo, violin, mandolin, Peruvian charango.

Now this week I finally brought a brand new baby 12-string home. Her name is Taylor… and she’s beautiful.

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My very first set of strings was a small brown ukulele I unwrapped on my 11th Christmas. Tiny Tim (not the Dicken’s character) was popular on the Ed Sullivan Show at the time and I learned Tiptoe Through The Tulips – his signature song – before midnight announced Boxing Day’s arrival.

I’ve been strung up on stringed instruments ever since. It’s kinda my TWANG!

With my new pre-teen passion for music, I saved dimes, quarters and dollar bills from my Hamilton Spectator paper route and purchased an electric guitar and a small amp. It was simply gorgeous.

I took some lessons from a local long-haired R&B rock and roller. He taught me some bar chords and I got hooked on the drug of harmony.

I loved playing that guitar and emulating my big brother Gord’s rock band (Sands of Time?) that played songs like Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, the Surfaris’ Wipeout, the Box Tops’ The Letter and that super-cool sixties guitar song, Eric Burden and the Animals’ House of the Rising Sonthere is a house in New Orleans

In Grade 7 I played the Bee Gees rock ballad I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You at my middle school’s talent show. There was a sad poignancy in its lyric I liked. I figured I was a pop star and when little pixie Anne Pekaruk smiled at me afterwards and said I was really good, I might have come close to my first spontaneous orgasm.

Over the years I’ve added to my string collection.

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Maybe the World’s Most Perfect Instrument?

I borrowed my sister Betty’s classical guitar during my poverty-prone college years. My teenage head was filled with grandiose visions of becoming an Elton John rock star. I wrote bad songs while learning a bit about fingerpicking styles from a girlfriend who dumped me for another “John Denver”-like guitar player.

The guitar was my solace during romantic break-ups, a diversion from studying for lab exams, and laid-back exhaustion-relaxer after 1 am McDonalds’ shifts.

After starting my first lab job, my brother Gord and I both bought banjos as a brotherly bonding experience.

In the Arctic chills of Yellowknife my buddy Jimmy sold (well, almost gave) me my first acoustic 6-string that I still own and play, a Yamaha FG-160. The strings are hard on the fingertips, but it has a nice tone to it. The Yamaha is a workhorse that holds its tuning well which is really important to someone like me who suffers the fingernails-scraping-the-blackboard sensation when he hears even a slightly out-of-tune instrument or voice. It’s a curse my friends.

For many years in the decades after I married and had kids and jobs, playing guitar or any music was left largely unloved at the bottom of the laundry pile of priority. I picked up the Yamaha occasionally and picked out my favourite Bruce Cockburn, John Denver and James Taylor songs.

The kids grew up and left for university. I looked in the mirror and saw wrinkles from happy laughter and sorrowed frowns, open lakes of shiny skin where dark, thick hair used to blossom. Elton John came out as gay and Otis Redding was dead.

music-reborn

The time to return to music was now or never.

Years were slipping by like summer days at the beach and if I let time and effort go by unseen or appreciated, well, why let regret get any sort of foothold?

My next new friend was a Martin guitar…DX1AE.

From my teen years I had harboured dreams of one day owning a Martin. What the hell is a Martin you ask?  Martin is a revered name in the guitar world.

If you watch many of the great guitar players and popular artists, the Martin manufacturer’s signature can be spotted on the headstock of the instrument. It loosely correlates to a Steinway grand piano, a Stradivarius violin. Martin denotes quality and rich sound.

I fell in love with Martin and have been strumming his soft strings for a few years now. He joins me onstage for Open Mics and the few other events where I play and… he tries to make me sound better than I truly am. Good friends are like that, they build you up.

And this brings me full life circle to this week and my long anticipated purchase of a 12-string guitar. She’s a Taylor 356ce with sensual curvaceous lines, comfortable to hold and melt into. Her strings feel soft under my fingertips, so soft when compared to many other 12-strings.

There is a full richness, an orchestral resonance to the 6 sets of double strings of a 12-string guitar.

Try listening to the Eagles’ introduction to Hotel California, or  Supertramp’s Give A Little Bit, or The Byrds or Gordon Lightfoot or the Beatles… close your eyes and there’s 12-string heaven ringing in your ears.

There’s a touch of surrendered sadness knowing my years of anticipation are over, a light mourning for a cherished friend. Anticipation is such a delicious part of our slender existence.

My job now is to retrain and transform my anticipation.

Anticipation is –at its heart –  about goals and moving forward. I thrive on the carrot of anticipation and making something – a birth, something tangible or ethereal- where nothing previously existed.

Taylor and I will be spending a fair bit of time together in the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years. It will be a friendship to remember.

It’s time to get back to play.

……………..

PS. Below is a short guitar piece (not played on a 12-string) that I want to share with you. Tommy Emmanuelle is my current “Bromance” when it comes to guitar mastery. I hope you enjoy his richly harmonic heart-swelling song, ANGELINA, as much as I do.

Do Your Memories Exceed Your Dreams?

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Loser2

I’M A LOSER. YUP …

  • I’ve never won a championship in any sport.
  • I’ve never published a bestselling book.
  • I’ve never started a hugely successful business.
  • I’ve never performed lifesaving surgery on a comatose patient.
  • I’ve never designed an art gallery.

Must I continue? A loser, right?

I just do what I love …

I dream about what I love … I hear whispers inside my head.

Just like Walter Mitty, I’m a terrible dreamer!

I wanted to be Bobby Orr, doing spins around my opponents on the hockey rink, scoring highlight goals that defied believability.

I wanted to pull on a Hamilton Tiger Cat football jersey and jump 3 feet high into the air, snatching impossible end zone passes, smashing to the turf in exultation to win the Grey Cup,  then High-5’ing Garney Henley and Angelo Mosca.

I wanted to sit down at the piano and pound out Crocodile Rock and Yellow Brick Road like Elton John, wearing goofy eyeglasses and exotic flared pants, looking out over 15,000 flickering lighters swaying back and forth through the warm summer air.

elton-john

I wanted to sit on a stool under a solitary spotlight at Centre Stage and sing out beautiful songs that made people weep, like James Taylor singing Fire and Rain … or Harry Chapin intoning Cats In The Cradle  … or John Denver singing My Sweet Lady …

I wanted to cross the finish line of a half marathon or an Ironman race, rapturously jubilant with my hands raised high as the 1st place competitor.

 

Larry Ironman 1990

Ironman Canada 1990… 650th place out of 969 competitors …

I’ve never succeeded in truly fulfilling any one of these dreams and so I can accept it if you tell me I’m a loser.

Perhaps I’m just rationalizing, but for me, reaching the top of the pinnacle, achieving the dream, has never been about winning it all.

The dream comes in making the attempt, savouring the road I’ve travelled.

I am my own jail-keeper and I decide which lights will stay turned on.

I’ll never be a loser so long as I dream and play the “games” that excite me. Just being on the playing field, feeling the grass beneath my feet, the smell of popcorn in the air, is enough.

For me, sitting on the sidelines as a couch potato, only ever watching, never trying, that’s when I become a loser.

I tried writing some songs in my teen years. They sucked.

I write songs now and most of these suck too. But I’m enjoying the process, the road I’m travelling.

So I’m not backing down this time because I know that persistence means that if I write 20 songs… one of them will be a keeper that I feel pride in.

I have one of those songs in my repertoire now and I feel really good when I sing it. I’ll even sing it in public.

JUST_PLAIN_FOLK_1977

Earlier days of performance – making music with friends Nancy and Jim in the bars of Yellowknife…

Last week, when I sang one of my songs before an Open Mic “crowd” of 30 or 35 people I felt happy inside. There were no lit up iPhones swaying to my song. But I was doing something that I love. That was a dream fulfilled.

When I ran a half marathon race last month and pulled out early because of a nasty pain in my ass (yup, a literal pain in the ass) I was still smiling. I was doing something that I love.

If my family genetics from my parents’ generation have any bearing on my life … then I have 17 years left … maybe … maybe more… but maybe less too. Seventeen more years of delightful memory-making moments.

I’m filled up with past memories, so many memories. They’re wonderful friends that fill me with joyous smiles, some sorrowful tears, many warm emotions.

I’m also filled with future dreams… adventures of all sorts, books to read, songs to sing, places to travel, people to meet.

Dreams are great expectations, friends that we have yet to meet. Dreams are filled with potential and promise.

And that, for me is what life should be. Promise, expectation, dreams.

Dreams make me tingly.

I’m embracing this being a “loser” thing because it’s what sparkles on the freshly fallen snow, it’s what illuminates the moon and stars above me, it’s what makes every breathe like scrumptious melting chocolate on my tongue.

All of this might make me a loser to some, but I sure feel like I’m winning.

Isn’t that what’s important?

Dreamer

A Moment of Sweetness at the Scotia Inn

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IMG_4248

I pulled open the glass-fronted door and entered the Super 8 Motel in Fortuna, California, just south of the state line from Oregon.

The “Tasting” Tour was 3 days in. Lots of driving and little stops here and there for a taste of what the area has to offer … and then off down the road once again.

There’s a certain sense of relief when you reach the end of a 12-hour day of a road trip. The sun is close to settling down and the muscle memory of twists, turns and rises in the asphalt is still buzzing inside, like the sensation you feel when you dismount from a horse and the movement hasn’t quite stopped yet.

A young, red-faced man sat behind the high counter in the tiny, cramped lobby and when I began to speak, he immediately began nodding his head, preparing to speak before I could finish telling him that I had made a reservation earlier for the night.

“Yeah, I’m really sorry, I just called Booking.com to tell them that they reserved you a room that I don’t have. We’re full. There’s a bikers’ gathering in town and everything’s filled right up. You could try a few of the other places nearby, but I think you’ll find the same everywhere. I’m real sorry.”

………..

Early morning that day, descending the last bit of hill to the coast and the town of Cannon Lake, Oregon was a real transition, leaving the warm sun behind at the top of the hill, falling downwards on the bending road, finally finding cooler and heavy misty-damp air at the bottom.

It took a couple of hours, driving past numerous scenic pullouts – why pullout to look at the soupy greyness greedily enveloping all of the scenic beauty? – one after the other until the sun finally pushed and burned its way through the foggy mist and the Oregon coastline finally announced its arrival.

Sandstone cliffs overlooked bay after bay where jagged rocky outbursts pushed out of the ocean floor – the salty scent of the water wafting in the gentle onshore breezes – sun speckles twinkling on the azure blue ripples of the sea.

All of the oohs and ahhs of those I had spoken to about the Oregon coastline finally meant something real to me.

…………………………..

An hour and a half later I groaned, dropping myself like a sack of potatoes into the overstuffed antique sofa in the expansive, high-ceilinged lobby of the Scotia Inn. It was a friendly haven to find after being rejected at the Super 8 in Fortuna.

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There were some streaky, orange signs of sunset through the expansive front windows, but for all purposes, night had now claimed its place – along with some grey damp fog-  in this tiny town called Scotia, about 20 miles south of Fortuna (or UnFortuna, as I like to think of it) just off Highway 101.

In the quiet, semi-darkness of the hotel lobby, I watched a 40-something man move toward the front desk. He was bent slightly at the waist as if he too had been driving in an uncomfortable position all day.

In his hand he held out a long-stemmed daisy, extended to the pretty 30’ish blond sitting behind the counter.

She smiled, a crinkle setting in the corner of her eyes and stood – “is that for me?”.

She was the girl-next-door type, pretty-faced even with no makeup and a gentle voice that told you you were at home here.

At a distance, I could see a faint blush in her cheeks. What I couldn’t discern was if her smile was a nervous, “oh my God, how do I handle this poor guy”, or perhaps, “isn’t it nice that someone is paying attention to me.”

In a nervously halting deep tenor voice, he said – “thanks for telling me about that restaurant, it was good.”

“Oh, you liked it? It’s really the only Italian food you can get in this little town, and I enjoy it there.”

The Scotia Inn is a throwback of a grand Old Dame. Built about 100 years ago, it’s fine white expanse of building was a pleasurable sight when we pulled up a half hour earlier.

Standing in front, looking up at its gables and 2nd storey windows feels like drawing back in time to an era when cars filled with men in suits and spats drove up with lovely girls in frilly dresses that their mothers would have never approved.

Cigarette smoke would drift lazily in the early evening air and the men would hurry around the car to open the door for their dates who just smiled, knowing they looked delicious, tempting but never willing to offer too much.

The blond girl at the counter took the flower, licked her lips and glanced downwards a bit shyly.

Scotia was a small quiet town and she probably saw little that would make her heart beat a bit faster.

A smatter of male attention was likely going to be the high point of her week. She would look over at the flower sitting in its vase from time to time and dream of worlds and exotic men waiting out there for her.

And as the man with dark, receding hair turned way from the counter and the winsome blond who stood with her satisfied smile, I could see that he also was slightly flushed and pink-faced.

His eyes too were a bit misted over, just like early morning Oregon fog, a dream and a smile settling into his head for the night.

80% of Life is Showing Up

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plato-quote

My favourite philosopher and great thinker/doer never lived in ancient Greece or Rome like Aristotle or Cicero. He never conquered a nation like Napoleon or Hitler. He never started a society-shaping company like Steve Jobs or Henry Ford.

Philosophers come in different shapes, genders, sizes and spring forth in every era with their shrewd and perceptive observations.

You might even consider Joan Rivers as a late, great philosopher of the recent epoch.

But for today’s post, who is this orgasmically-astute philosopher I’m referring to?

Woody Allen

Yup, the little neurotic pessimist.

Like so many others I reluctantly admire for their accomplishments (Lance Armstrong, Kevin Spacey, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump) I don’t necessarily like Woody Allen as an individual mortal.

He’s not a perfect person. I identify.

He has weaknesses and has made some poor choices. I identify.

To all appearances, he’s just an ordinary schmuck with nothing to physically separate him from the masses on a busy city sidewalk. I identify.

Some would say that being an asshole is a requirement for great accomplishments. I don’t know the answer to that one yet for sure although it seems to me there are some creative geniuses who shine as delightful human beings as well.

BUT …

Allen’s written 49 movie screenplays: directed 46 of those: acted in all but 17 of them: he’s produced some documentaries: guest hosted the Tonight Show in the 1960’s: written 3 books …  AND …  he crafts amazingly clever perspectives on the absurdities of the lives we lead.

Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go its pretty damn good.

 

Basically my wife was immature. I’d be at home in the bath and she’d come in and sink my boats.

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Some of the wisest words that I’ve ever come across about making a mark in life were spoken in an interview Woody gave a few years back after finishing his movie, Vicki Christina Barcelona. This is a long passage, but each sentence has a powerful message, so I’m giving you a big chunk to absorb, OK?

 I think that the biggest life lesson I learned as a boy that has helped me and is still with me is that you really have to discipline yourself to do the work.  

If you want to accomplish something you can’t spend a lot of time hemming and hawing, putting it off, making excuses for yourself, and figuring ways.  You have to actually do it.  

I have to go home every single day, no matter where I am in the world, no matter what I’m doing, and putting 30 to 45 minutes of practice on my clarinet because I want to play.  I have to do it.

When I want to write, you get up in the morning, go in and close the door and write.  You can’t string paper clips, and get your pad ready, and turn your phone off, and get this, get coffee made. You have to do the stuff.

Everything in life turns out to be a distraction from the real thing you want to do.  There are a million distractions and when I was a kid I was very disciplined.  I knew that the other kids weren’t.  I was the one able to do the thing, not because I had more talent, maybe less, but because they simply weren’t applying themselves.  

As a kid I wanted to do magic tricks.  I could sit endlessly in front of mirror, practicing, practicing, because I knew if you wanted to do the tricks you’ve got to do the thing.  I did that with the clarinet, when I was teaching, I did that with writing.  

This is the most important thing in my life because I see people striking out all the time.  It’s not because they don’t have talent, or because they don’t want to be, but because they don’t put the work in to do it.  They don’t have the discipline to do it.  This was something I learned myself.  

I also had a very strict mother who was no nonsense about that stuff.  She said ‘If you don’t do it, then you aren’t going to be able to do the thing.’  

It’s as simple as that.  

I said this to my daughter, if you don’t practice the guitar, when you get older you wouldn’t be able to play it.  It’s that simple.  If you want to play the guitar, you put a half hour in everyday, but you have to do it.  

This has been the biggest guiding principle in my life when I was younger and it stuck.  

I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up.  

People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen.  All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack.  They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening.  

So that is my biggest life lesson that has worked.  All others have failed me.

 

Thanks for that Woody, I couldn’t have said it any better.

I like to accomplish things, but I also lean heavily towards laziness … such a conundrum.

I’d like to stretch and attain a height of 6 ft tall but I’m too lax to go and get myself a hanging rack to lengthen my spine, so I’m stuck at 5’10 1/2″. Also, my goal of running a sub-40 minute 10K run, will just have to roll into the grave – sorry – cremation oven along with me.

Sad? Not really.

There are so many other wonderful things to focus on … and so many of them are attainable still. I’m going to leave some of those truly unattainable dreams behind and move forward with what I can do.

It’s not a failure to discard some goals and dreams, adjust course, and move on with others. It’s not a mutually exclusive thing for Dreamers to also be Realists.

One day I’ll grow sick and die.

The plaques in my arteries and little bastard cancer cells are setting up camp somewhere, adjusting their little tuxedoes, just waiting for the curtain to rise and make a special announcement.

Now is not the time to perch in my leather LazyBoy and watch the clock in anticipation. Like a boiling kettle, the Grim Reaper will come in his own time without my assistance, or invitation.

So, the race is on. The finish line banner is in place and it’s up to me to keep putting one foot in front of the other with daily practice and enthusiasm.

I’m gonna grab that sage old philosopher Woody Allen’s hand, SHOW UP AND PRACTICE.

And, no offense Woody, but as much as I admire your witticisms and accomplishments, I hope you make to the final finish line well ahead of me.

I need a lot more practice!

How To Go Out At The Top While Growing A Pair …

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HAPPY SAD

I’m struggling to write this blog post this week.

Happy Sad Knees

 

You know that game we play with infants? Yeah, the one where we pull an open hand across our face – we start with a big smile and then … as our hand slowly passes over our face the smile turns magically into a sad sad frown.

That is the week that was.

Normally each week, I unearth a blog topic that intrigues me and the words begin flowing slowly and then the current of the river picks up in pace and rhythm. The muse kicks in and it just happens.

For me, this is a jumbled week of emotions, both positive and negative. It’s all about departures.

There are doors and windows flinging open and slamming shut for me in the windy maelstrom that is life.

As I write, someone close to me is edging silently, unstoppingly, towards the exit door of life. Cancer is having its way and it’s not pretty.

Do you have one of those people in your life that you can’t believe will ever die?

They’ve always seemed invincible, and like a 250 year-old majestic cedar in the rainforest, there is no wind or lightning storm that can cause them to topple.

Until they do, suddenly, tragically, mysteriously.

All that’s left after the fall is an ugly hole and a ragged scar in the earth until the ache slowly subsides and healing begins to take hold – eventually all returns to a new normal, a normal that never quite feels like the old normal.

Cut Cedar Stump

In the same week as this happens, my long – yes, 25 crazy years long – “planned retirement” has taken place. My co-workers happily razz me as I’ve threatened to retire since I was 30 years old.

Anyway, after 37 years as a medical lab technologist, I’ve chosen to push the employment door open and leap into the thin air … thin because there’s no longer a bi-weekly parachuting paycheque providing a security cloud to reassuredly float upon. Thin too, because it’s a major upheaval to the world I’ve always known.

I said in an earlier post that the only thing we have to do is die.

All we have to do is … die.

Everything else is optional, a choice, a decision that makes us think about where we want to be and where we want to go.

It sounds simple on the surface and utterly rational, but making choices is really one of life’s more difficult assignments.

I don’t want to expire in my office chair … either literally or figuratively. I’m not the drag-him-out-by-his-boots kind of guy.

Workwise, I’ve been expiring little-by-little as the IT role I fill loses the challenges it once held. A few years ago I woke up each morning with enthusiastic thoughts about the problems I would conquer and the great feelings associated with overcoming the blockages.

But the demanding obstructions grew fewer as I began to master the part (I guess I was approaching 10,000 hours of practice!). I slowly began to give off those fouls smells of stagnation – I still enjoyed going to the office, but now mainly for the social outlet of the wonderful people I worked with.

You and I have been conditioned from our earliest infant breaths to go to elementary school, high school, college/university, get a job, marry and settle down, have kids, grandkids, then … lie down on the sofa watching the 10 o’clock news and sucking in our last inhalation … The Story of A Life.

But it’s just one story and just one path.

Make it your story and not the one handed to you like it was the only card in the deck. I’m pulling another card from the deck. You’ll be hearing more about this in my blog posts as I stumble along.

YellowBrickRoadFork

There are forks in the road, and the right decision is taking the fork that you want and not the want being pressed on you by those around you. This is harder than it looks and it’s subtle.

What does your heart say?

What does your stomach tell you?

If you wake up and don’t remember the last time you felt like skipping to work on Monday morning, then listen very carefully because the signs are whispering in your ear.

Sure, the fear is there too. But inside of your fear is a message. It’s a cry for change.

Hear the cry. Feel the tears.

Find a creative way to take a step beyond –  where you reach forward, as if stretching precariously out over the Grand Canyon and suck in the rarified air that so few have sampled.

If and when you accept the fear and move forward anyway despite the risks, you have the best junkie high ever.

skydiving

I’m starting my new life this coming week as I absorb the painful passing of someone I love.

The only thing I have to do is die.

And when the day comes that I’m lying in my deathbed, I want to know that I loved and feared and lived.

The emotions – the good, the bad, and the ugly – have all been accepted and embraced. I’m growing a pair.

For better. For worse…

… ’til death I depart.

 

 

10 Things I Would Take if My House Was Burning

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willferrellstreaking

HELP!! My house is on fire … ma’am, my eyes are up here!

Do you ever have that unsettling dream where your house is on fire?

You’re hugging the floor – thick, grey, impenetrable smoke surrounding you and clogging up your breathing passages. You crawl through the acrid lung-choking miasma and eventually – thankfully – run shivering into the street … and then you look down …

Naked … totally naked.

You’re vulnerable, you’re cold, and you’re exposed, buck naked just like when you first squeezed out into the world.

You can feel the eyes of your neighbours peering through the smoke, boring into you with pity and perhaps just a touch of jealousy at your incredibly toned body, “Wow, those clothes hide an amazing set of abs, and look at those biceps.”  – look, I have to get some enjoyment from this scenario.

The dream is scary (I hope that it has only been a dream in your life)  and it gives you a panicky feeling inside, wondering what you would possibly save if you could rescue a few items along your escape route.

You will never be put in a situation ever again that requires you to assess your life and what’s important to you more than at this moment. Your life flashes before your eyes and what do you see? What do you think? Is it a pretty picture?

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My dream at 10...

My dream at 10…

 

You know, when I was 10 years old my greatest purpose in life was to score goals in ice hockey … that was what was important to me.

I didn’t have a bucket list, or a long set of aspirations that guided me through each day.

My goal was to put a hockey puck into the back of my opponent’s net… that’s it. It was both fun and serious to me.

If my childhood home had lit up with angry hot flames, I would have saved my treasured little red velvet-covered autograph book with Gordie Howe’s signature, my hockey stick, and our family’s black and white water-spaniel Nipper.

Somewhere along the way, I left my childhood innocence behind – perhaps when my Mom died when I was 15 – and other things rose in importance. And now that I’m practically – well, let’s just say – aged like a fine cheese, my goals and the things that are important to me have changed, just as they have, no doubt, for you.

There was a book published in 2012 called The Burning House that interviews a host of people about what they would rescue from an inferno.

It’s fascinating to read and see what items others would salvage with only a moment’s notice. It’s filled with happy and often poignant impressions and desires. There’s such a slim hairline of difference between laughter and weeping sometimes.

the-burning-house

Now, imagine with me, in a metaphorical sort of way, that it wasn’t your house but your WHOLE LIFE that was on fire and you had to decide what comes with you and what goes.

Your life has just crumbled because of a meltdown of purpose and meaning.

And some omnisciently shitty devil has given you the “Sophie’s Choice” of deciding what about you will remain in the little suitcase that contains who you are.

People will often think about the tangible items they would carry from an inferno, but this blog post is a fusion of the fiery physical and the blazing soulful.

So right here, right now, I’m listing the important things, physical or psychological, that I would toss over my shoulder and drag out of the holocaust of the burning embers that threatened to destroy me. Think about it yourself … what would be on your list?

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 10 Things I Would Take if My House Was Burning

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1. My support and love system, my wife and my kids.

I’ve been so fortunate to find a stable base to springboard my life upon.

How can we pursue our objectives and desires, when the sub-structure to our personal self is crumbling or rotting? It’s the most basic of human needs and yet for so many, the most unattainable.

I’ve said before that I don’t believe in luck, but this is one area of my life that comes closest to changing my mind.

2. Guitar

Funny, but I almost feel like including this under #1 above.

My guitar (Martin DX1AE) has been a lifelong friend and comforter since I first picked one up at about the age of 10 (probably when my hockey stick first began to wane in importance).

John Denver wrote a song years ago called This Old Guitar that sort of sums up the deeper connection we can sometimes feel with the objects in our lives. Music connects us intimately with our emotions, drawing them to the surface where we find and embrace the laughter or tears or anger.

I play a lot of different instruments (none really well), but the guitar always charms its way into my arms like a long lost lover who always returns.

JimandLarry_Play_Music

Me and pal Jimmy channeling Simon and Garfunkle …

3. Courage to try new things.

If I had to wake up each morning and live life like in the movie Groundhog Day, each day lived over and over just the same, I would jump off the nearest rooftop.

A life lived repetitive, routine and colourless? No thanks. New opportunities, new experiences, new challenges, make my heart beat with just a touch more enthusiasm and spark.

That first bite of guinea pig in the high Andes Mountains of Cusco, Peru? Barbecued bull’s testicle in Athens, Greece? Drinking snake wine in Suzhou, China? Nibbling on Ptarmigan in the Canadian Arctic? Cod cheeks and tongues in Newfoundland?

Sure, maybe a bit unnerving, but who in the world would turn away and miss these chances? Well, not me at least. Mmmmmmm …

4. My memories

It’s a sign of my age that past memories are now as important to relive and enjoy as are the things to look forward to. Life is a rolling collection of experiences and moments: good, bad and indifferent.

The fond memories that sit in the rocking chair in the back corner of my mind are like a favourite TV show or movie that I can watch over and over, savouring and enjoying. These memories have a script only I could have written.

It scares me inside to think of a day when age ravages my brain cells so those memories could be locked behind a door that I’ve lost the key to.

5. Strawberry Jam and Ketchup

It’s often the really little things in life that mean the most to us.

There’s absolutely no way that my life would be as rich, sweet, and full, without the sugary and salty condiments that take the bland and boost it up a notch. A bagel or slice of buttery toast without strawberry jam? A french fry crying out for ketchup? Gotta have it … BAM!!

6. Courage to look stupid, no matter what.

It took me a LOT of years and internal embarrassment to reach the point where my father’s voice wasn’t whispering to me, “What will the neighbours think?”.

The voice now murmurs, “Larry, it just doesn’t matter.”

This blog is evidence of my growth here. I could never have revealed some of the (many) shortcomings I possess so publically in my earlier years. I like this aspect of not being afraid to be seen naked.

You may not like my new-found naked soul, but I figure that is no longer my hangup.

7. Passport

I’m Canadian by birth, and I’m also a curious traveller on this earth of the human race. But to be and to stay an explorer, we all need this little magic book that convinces stern-looking uniformed people behind glass windows all over the world to let us through their doors.

Why anyone would have a look at the photo of me inside the front cover and still allow me to pass is beyond me, but it eventually works its charm every time.

8. James Taylor “Gorilla”  /  Carole King “Rhymes and Reasons”Albums

Certain singers, certain songs define us for some reason.

I’d guess that most of us are seduced by the music of our teen years when so much personal tumult, excitement, and change is occurring. This pair of singers carried me through the journey of adolescence to adulthood and thankfully have somehow stayed around for the rest of the ride.

These are the early albums of their’s that soothed and charmed and reminded me that “You’ve Got A Friend” .

James and Carole

James and Carole

 

9. Imagination/Creativity

I talk a lot about using our inner creative powers to enrich and learn about ourselves.

I’m in constant awe of those who create – movies, books, music, art of all kinds, business solutions, personal connections.

Every one of us houses enormous potential to dream, envision and create. Beauty abounds in life when the creative spark is kindled.

This just has to come along. Escaping the fire that destroyed everything around me would bring out the need to create and re-imagine my  life.

10. Positive Attitude and Smile

Who are the people that you enjoy being around? Who makes you smile? Who makes you feel passionate and enthusiastic?

For me, it’s those surrounding me with a way of finding positivity, not 100% of the time, that’s too phony. But given the challenges of making it through the good times and not-so-good times, the ability to dig down and find something good, something worthwhile, something positive from the sweetest red roses and the rankest grey ashes is the greatest gift of all.

I want to be around those people … I want to be one of those people.

………………….

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to wake up and put on my clothes for the day.

Yes, I was naked this entire time since I opened my suitcase and exposed the items I would carry next to me through the hungry flames. You’re OK with that, right? You can breathe again, it’s over now …

Fortunately, my nighttime dreams were just a mirage, ghostly images that remind me of the ingredients of my inner spirit.

……………..

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just
Smile

Charlie Chaplin

Call Me Maybe … Nah, Call Me Mr. Lucky

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Luck Be a Lady… A Stroke of Luck … Good Luck… Luck of the Irish … Outta Luck … Better Luck Next Time … Lotsa Luck … Lucky Dog … Lucky at Cards, Unlucky in Love … Beginner’s Luck … Don’t Push Your Luck …

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I believe in luck: how else can you explain the success of those you dislike?”

Jean Cocteau

………………………….

I don’t buy lottery tickets.

I don’t go to casinos and sit at the blackjack table for hours even though you can almost smell the rich scent of cash wafting through the air of the casino.

blackjack3

I don’t visit bingo halls (except as a fundraising volunteer), even though – until a couple of years ago- you can almost smell the rich smoky tobacco flow wafting through the air of the chamber.

I don’t creep into narrow-doored massage parlours or “Cat Houses” knowing I’ll get lucky just by plunking a sweaty wad of cash or my charge card on the counter.

I didn’t get to choose my parents. I didn’t get to choose where I was born. I didn’t get to choose when I was born.

It all comes down to LUCK.

luck |lək|:

success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions

luck pictures

And yet, I’ve always rejected luck as a factor in my life. And I think I’m about half right.

For if luck doesn’t truly exist, then what words would you use to describe how I could be born at this amazingly wealthy, relatively peaceful time in history – in a tranquil locale such as Canada?

Luck is a two-headed beast.

It does exist, although maybe not in the time and place where most of us would like.

One head of the luck beast lies in our genes, our history, and in the air and atmosphere that surrounds us every day.

Luck is a prenatal event that transforms slowly as we jettison from between our Mommy’s legs.

We emerge into the light with the potential of both good and bad before us: the genes that determine a portion of what we will become, and a place in the world that will make our rise either easy or hard.

Once that first breath has been absorbed and we’ve screamed our first “WTF”, luck gradually melts and blends into the ether of a netherworld that drifts away like vanishing water vapour clouds in the hazy background of our lives.

Or maybe luck is like Santa Claus; a wonderful, red-suited, generous benefactor that gives us dreams and limitless possibilities.

By the time we reach our adulthood, the misty vision of Santa or luck is now just a faint but happy memory. We reflect on it with lament but realistic thought tells us that the true source of the gifts beneath the tree is us.

Yes Virginia, once we’re catapulted from the womb and move forward in years, we create our own luck.

I’ve often lacked patience with those who blame the world and its denizens for their fate. When the wind blows a tree over my house, I can utter the words, “Tough Luck”, but then I need to make things right, right?

When I lose a job, I can (and will) cry for a day and then find a way to make my “luck” return.

If I wait around for luck to bestow its gifts, I’ll pass my life in anxious anticipation of something out of my control.

Instead, I’ll continue to choose to make my luck and if it turns out not as well as I had hoped… Well, that’s a life lesson that I need to take and transform for my future gain.

And with any luck, that transformation won’t be happening in a casino or at a lottery ticket counter!
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  • “Go and wake up your luck.”Persian Proverb.

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PS. My friends, I’m off playing and learning in Morocco right now so the next blog post or two will be “travel blogs”. Come travel the northern part of Africa with me and see what mischief I can create. With “luck”, we’ll uncover some fun and funny happenings!!

BITCHES Have All the Answers …

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Driving along the Penticton beach strip, I looked out at the dark, foreboding, icicle-cold water of Okanagan Lake.

Just a few months ago, I had swum across this lake on a bright and balmy summer morning – my annual 2.6K cross-lake paddle with my amiga de swimming Jennifer.

IMG_0127

Today, it wasn’t really all that cold outside, maybe slightly above the freezing point, but the dusky colour of the lake and the sombre grey sky gave the impression of an Arctic-frigid kind of day.

I felt a little chill run through me as I gazed out at the small ripples on the water. Even the stately, visiting Trumpeter Swans looked shivery bobbing out there.

Motoring along just in front of me was a big, dark-toned pickup truck, the kind driven by men with tattoos that cover their entire meaty arms and shotguns in the back window.

A large black dog with a sleek, shiny coat of fur was zig-zagging across the box in the back of the truck … one side, then the other, then the other, over and over again. It was hypnotic the way she floated like a pendulum back and forth, back and forth.

Just so you know – and I know I shouldn’t make snap judgments – I’m calling the pup SHE because her owner probably likes the idea of owning a bitch.

(Aside: It’s illegal to carry untethered dogs in the back of your truck in B.C. but I don’t think doggy knew she was at risk of being jailed. She maybe even smokes forbidden pot without realizing this isn’t Washington State or Colorado… some dogs can be so nonchalant.)

Black Dog in Pickup

Anyway, I wondered.

What was this dog thinking?

Was she taking stock of her situation just for the moment at hand, or was she trying to determine if this was the life she really wanted to lead?

Searching for life’s key, she flashed a thoughtful look out in all directions, imploring, begging for the answer to find a windy pathway into her nose where she could digest its meaning.

Did this canine have a secret, a secret that I should know?

Of course. Right then, I knew the black doggy had the right approach. She was actively absorbing and questioning her life’s choices and taking stock.

If she could be so perceptive and insightful, it seemed only right that I should do the same.

But. When is the right time to take stock of your life?

Should we even try to take stock of our lives?

Should we spend those Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours to think, become curious and become masters of our own lives?

Pssst… Let me share a small secret with you.

The laws of biology dictate that our “life road” will come to a dead end at some point.

Turbulent but brilliant Steve Jobs knew that when he spoke at the 2005 Stanford University Commencement ceremony:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Steve Jobs Candle

Absorbing this important message, taking stock isn’t something we should wait until later in our lives to contemplate, is it?

When we’re driving to work, when we’re relaxing by the fire in the evening, when we’re running or knitting, or having sex – no, forget that last one – those are the times to ask ourselves if all is settled and as it should be, or are changes needed. Asking the question:

Am I living the life I thought I’d lead when, in Grade 11 Math Class, I dreamed of the future instead of listening to Mr. Warneke?”

Today, just like Steve Jobs said, I’m in the process of becoming naked.

Just like the black dog in the truck. Naked.

My young adult kids think I’m way too undressed already, and maybe they’re right. But I don’t think so.

I think they’re young like I was just a few … weeks ago. The wisdom of roaming the earth in metaphorical nakedness is something that grows cunningly inside as our hair grows grey on the outside.

Maybe someone should be really taking stock of their life choices...

Maybe someone should be really taking stock of their life choices…

Becoming who we want rather than what our friends and family and media tell us to be is a huge courageous step forward. Taking stock and being honest to ourselves can be slow, it can be difficult, maybe even painful.

There are still some parts of myself that I can’t bring myself to share with the world because of my pride and fear of embarrassment.

I’m not fully naked and I probably never will be. But there are fewer and fewer secret coves that I’m protecting, and it feels good to let go of my pride.

Taking the time to look out the window. To think. To digest the robin or chickadee songs, the views of luscious green hillsides, breathing and smelling the lilac in the air, tasting a bit of sandy grit in my teeth as dust swirls when a truck passes is useless dreck.

Maybe that’s just stuff to be ignored. Maybe. But I don’t think so.

I have less and less to lose and I have a black dog to thank for reminding me that I don’t have to hide the parts of me that used to scare me. It’s a risk that’s worth taking.

Taking stock of where I am and where I’m going is a sign of strength. I love that feeling of risk and fear.

The rush.

Like the carriage return when I hit the Publish button.

Click.

Become the “Master of Your Domain”

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the world owes me nothing

The world owes me nothing.

The world owes you nothing. Your mother owes you nothing. The lottery corporations and casinos especially owe you nothing.

Whatever freedom or flexibility or security you can gather in your world ultimately comes down to one thing. YOU!

I’ve almost retired from my job, oh, I think it’s six, no, 7 times now.

You would think I hate my job, but I don’t. For me, retirement is all about male ego and delusions of investing grandeur. It’s about dreaming.

In my little Walter Mitty mind, I’ve always been a supreme investor à la Warren Buffett and the way that one knows they’ve arrived through investing smarts, is by retiring from productive, human-helping, paid work. The important stuff.

…………….

I’ve never made a particularly good income in any job I’ve worked.

I delivered the Hamilton Spectator newspaper for years as a kid — made pennies, maybe a buck or two each week.

LARRY SPEC CARRIER TIFF

Yep … my first job …

At 15, I made a huge leap forward in income. I got a McJob — REALLY.

Starting in 1973, I flipped burgers at McDonald’s for 4 and a half years at a starting pay level of $1.55 per hour. A full 8 hour shift poured $12.40 into my bank account. It took a lot of late night shifts and weekends to pay $1,000 car insurance on top of college expenses.

But I was a good McDonald’s man; I was an All-Star McDonald’s man, and yes, there truly are such things.

McDonalds All-Star

After 4+ years of saturating myself a few times a week in beef fat and dehydrated onions, I concocted my last Big Mac, hugged my teen co-workers so long and walked out the door. Finishing pay rate?  $3.40 per hour.

I graduated from Mohawk College with a certified-sharp hypodermic needle in hand and headed north to begin work as a Medical Lab Technologist. My first professional position at Stanton Yellowknife Hospital in the chilly Northwest Territories  — $9.69 per hour.

I was rich … for almost a week.

Then I had to pay grown-ups bills like rent and heat and groceries. Have you checked the price of milk in Yellowknife? Alta 3.9 Beer and Black Tower wine are cheaper than their more nutritious counterparts which perhaps explains why I remember so little of my time in the NWT. If only I had figured a way to milk a caribou.

I’ve moved on to other lab jobs in small B.C. communities like William’s Lake and Comox and now in Penticton and Kelowna. I won’t tell you what my hourly pay rate is today because my co-workers who make $25 per hour would be right ticked off knowing that I make 8 times their take. That’s not true, but I like to think that I’m worth that much.

Suffice it to say, I make a reasonable wage for living a moderate North American middle-class lifestyle. No complaints but I’m a good many Ironman-length distances from the elite 1% so frequently bandied about in today’s news reports.

I’ve always thought I would be in the 1%. Or at least have a bank balance that pushed close to 8 figures. So why not?

…………….

The answer? I didn’t understand the 10,000 hour rule.

I was never going to strike it rich on the employment income side of the ledger, so I decided that investing what little I did earn was the fast track to untold wealth.

In my 20’s, I believed I could just waltz in, read a few magazine articles and books, and answer the phone when my broker-friend Rick called:

“Larry, buy as many shares of JuJube Inc. as you canIt’s a certain triple in 3 months“.

Soon, buckets of investing dollars would pour over me like runny No-Name catsup over steaming, fragrant French fries.

You’re not stupid. You know how that worked out. Broker-Rick got Rich, Client-Larry got broker.

But a LOT of people invest in just that fashion.

Over years, nay decades, I discovered that money was actually Heinz ketchup and flowed slowly. Cash needs a few wallops on the back-end until it begins to pour and some compounding momentum is gained. I learned that the best one to trust in making important investment decisions is myself.

Investment success is like masturbation, only YOU truly know what feels and works the best.

I had to read the investment books, re-read the books and then live the experience and learn from the experience. And continue learning from the experience.

Every minute. Every day. Every now. Over a period of years.

Blue Chip stock investing is the perfect thing for an easily distractible fella like me. I can apply myself for an hour or two, and then walk away for the rest of the day and come back to it refreshed… tomorrow.

Today,  I’ve finally spent the requisite 10,000 hours learning my investment chops. The learning will go on and maybe before I die I’ll gradually turn green and become Investment Yoda. But I doubt it.

give-me-all-your-money-you-will

Most of us spend most of our adult lives working, saving, and investing to find a lush oasis of financial security and a fountain of funds to make our days more pleasurable. For some it means monster homes and luxury vacations, for others it means freedom to serve and assist those in less fortunate circumstances.

We all want secure money for life and we’re all looking under every unturned rock to find it. There’s a multiplicity of ways to make, invest and keep money. But we each have to find one (or more) and then settle in faithfully for the 10,000-hour learning curve.

I found my niche and so I expect to keep getting rich slowly.

I might even retire on my 8th attempt.

Some believe that Jesus will save them. Or Allah. Or Buddha. Or Jehovah. Or a Lotto ticket.

Pray if you wish to a great higher power, but in the end, pick yourself up off the floor and make your luck happen.

You owe it to yourself.

Minion Dollars

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